Page images
PDF
EPUB

because we are indebted to him for these important dis. coveries.' On this Dr. Johnson appeared well content and replied, Well, well, I believe we are; and let every man have the honour he has merited.'

“ A friend was one day, about two years before his death, struck with some instance of Dr. Johnson's great candour. Well, Sir,' said he, ' I will always say that you are a very candid man.' “Will you?' replied the doctor; 'I doubt then you will be very singular. But, indeed, Sir,' continued he, ' I look upon myself to be a man very much misunderstood. I am not an uncandid, nor am I a severe man. I sometimes say more than I mean, in jest; and people are apt to believe me serious : however, I am more candid than I was when I was younger.

As I know more of mankind, I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.'

On his return from Heale he wrote to Dr Burney:

“I came home on the 18th of September, at noon, to a very disconsolate house. You and I have lost our friends ; but you have more friends at home. My do. mestic companion is taken from me. She is much missed, for her acquisitions were many, and her curiosity universal ; so that she partook of every conversation. I am not well enough to go much out; and to sit, and eat, or fast alone, is very wearisome. I always mean to send my compliments to all the ladies."

The foregoing note produced a reply from Dr. Parr (Gent. Mag. March, 1795), in which he endeavoured to support his assertion by evidence, which, however, really contradicted him. For instead of Johnson's having solicited an interview (which was the point in dispute), Dr. Part is obliged to admit that the meeting was at Mr. Paradise's dinner-table, that Dr. Johnson did not solicit the interview, but was aware that Dr. Priestley was invited, and that he behaved to him with civility: and then Dr, Parr concludes, in a way that does little credit either to his ac. curacy or his candour, "" Should Mr. Boswell be pleased to maintain that Dr. Johnson rather consented to the interview, than almost solicited it, I shall noi object to the change of expression.” – C.

[ocr errors]

His fortitude and patience met with severe trials during this year. The stroke of the palsy has been related circumstantially; but he was also afflicted with the gout, and was besides troubled with a complaint which not only was attended with immediate inconvenience, but threatened him with a chirurgical operation, from which most men would shrink. 'The complaint was a sarcocele, which Johnson bore with uncommon firmness, and was not at all frightened while he looked forward to amputation. He was attended by Mr. Pott and Mr. Cruikshank. I have before me a letter of the 30th of Ju this year, to Mr. Cruikshank, in which he says, “ I am going to put myself into your hands :" and another, accompanying a set of his “Lives of the Poets," in which he says,

“I beg your acceptance of these volumes, as an acknowledgment of the great favours which you have bestowed on, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant.” I have in my possession several more letters from him to Mr. Cruikshank, and also to Dr. Mudge at Plymouth, which it would be improper to insert, as they are filled with unpleasing technical details. I shall, however, extract from his letters to Dr. Mudge such passages as show either a felicity of expression, or the undaunted state of his mind.

“My conviction of your skill, and my belief of your friendship, determine me to entreat your opinion and advice. In this state I with great earnestness desire you to tell me what is to be done. Excision is doubtless necessary to the cure, and I know not any means of palliation. The operation is doubtless painful ; but is it dangerous ? The pain I hope to endure with le

me.

thanks ;

cency; but I am loath to put life into much hazard. By representing the gout as an antagonist to the palsy, you have said enough to make it welcome. This is not strictly the first fit, but I hope it is as good as the first; for it is the second that ever confined me; and the first was ten years ago, much less fierce and fiery than this. Write, dear Sir, what you can to inform or encourage

The operation is not delayed by any fears or objections of mine." LETTER 442. TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.

“ London, Sept. 29. 1783. “ DEAR SIR, You may very reasonably charge me with insensibility of your kindness and that of Lady Rothes, since I have suffered so much time to pass without paying any acknowledgment. I now, at last, return my

and why I did it not sooner I ought to tell you. I went into Wiltshire as soon as I well could, and was there much employed in palliating my own malady. Disease produces much selfishness. A man in pain is looking after ease, and lets most other things go as chance shall dispose of them. In the mean time I have lost a companion (Mrs. Williams), to whom I have had recourse for domestic amusement for thirty years, and whose variety of knowledge never was exhausted ; and now return to a habitation vacant and desolate. I carry about a very troublesome and dangerous complaint, which admits no cure but by the chirurgical knife. Let me have your prayers. &c.

SAM. JOHNSON.” Happily the complaint abated without his being put to the torture of amputation. But we must surely admire the manly resolution which he discovered while it hung over him.

In a letter to the same gentleman he writes, “ The gout has within base four days come upon me with

I am,

a violence which I never experienced before. It made me helpless as an infant.” And in another, having mentioned Mrs. Williams, he says, “whose death following that of Levett has now made my house a solitude. She left her little substance to a charity-school. She is, I hope, where there is neither darkness (1), nor want, nor sorrow.”

I wrote to him, begging to know the state of his health, and mentioned that “ Baxter's Anacreon, which is in the library at Auchinleck, was, I find, collated by my father in 1727 with the MS. belong. ing to the University of Leyden, and he has made a number of notes upon it. Would you advise me to publish a new edition of it?”

His answer was dated September 30.

“ You should not make your letters such rarities, when you know, or might know, the uniform state of my health. It is very long since I heard from you ; and that I have not answered is a very insufficient reason for the silence of a friend. Your Anacreon is a very uncommon book: neither London nor Cambridge can supply a copy of that edition. Whether it should be reprinted, you cannot do better than consult Lord Hailes. Besides my constant and radical disease, I have been for these ten days much harassed with the gout; but that has now remitted. I hope God will yet grant me a little longer life, and make me less unfit to appear before him."

He this autumn received a visit from the celebrated Mrs. Siddons. He gives this account of it n one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale (Oct. 27.);

Mrs. Siddons, in her visit to me, behaved with great modesty and propriety, and left nothing behind

(1) In allusion to her blindness. — C.

to

her to be censured or despised. Neither praise not money, the two powerful corruptors of mankind, seem

ve depraved her. shall be glad to see her again. Her brother Kemble (1) calls on me, and pleases me very well. Mrs. Siddons and I talked of plays; and she told me her intention of exhibiting this winter the characters of Constance, Catharine, and Isabella (2), in Shakspeare."

Mr. Kemble has favoured me with the following minute of what passed at this visit:

“ When Mrs. Siddons came into the room, there happened to be no chair ready for her, which he observing said, with a smile, Madam, you who so often occasion a want of seats to other people will the more easily excuse the want of one yourself.'

“Having placed himself by her, he, with great good-humour, entered upon a consideration of the English drama ; and, aniong other inquiries, particularly asked her which of Shakspeare's characters she was most pleased with. Upon her answering that she thought the character of Queen Catharine, in Henry the Eighth, the most natural: 'I think so too, Madam,' said he ; and whenever you perform it, I will once more hobble out to the theatre myself.' Mrs. Si ons promised she would do herself the honour of acting his favourite part for him ; but many circumstances happened to prevent the representation of King Henry the Eighth during the doctor's life. (3)

(1) This great actor and amiable and accomplished man left the stage in 1816, and died 26th February, 1823, at Lausanne. In his own day he had no competitor in any walk of tragedy ; and those who remembered Barry, Mossop, Henderson, and Garrick admitted, that in characters of high tragic dignity, such as Hamlet, Coriolanus, Alexander, Cato, he excelled all big predecessors, almost as much as his sister did all actresses in the female characters of the same heroic class.-C.

(2) Isabella in Shakspeare's Measure for Measure. Mrs. Siddons had made her first appearance in Isabella in the Fatal Marriage.-C.

(3) It was acted many years after with critical attention to

« PreviousContinue »