Page images
PDF
EPUB

she did ; and upon her inquiring how he was, he answered, “I am very ill indeed, Madam. I anı very ill even when you are near me; what should I be were you at a distance ?"

He had now a great desire to go to Oxford, as his first jaunt after his illness. We talked of it for some days, and I had promised to accompany him. He was impatient and fretful to-night, because I did not at once agree to go with him on Thursday. When I considered how ill he had been, and what allowance should be made for the influence of sickness upon his temper, I resolved to indulge him, though with some inconvenience to myself, as I wished to attend the musical meeting in honour of Handel, in Westminster-Abbey, on the following Saturday.

In the midst of his own discases and pains, he was ever compassionate to the distresses of others, and actively earnest in procuring them aid, as appears from a note to Sir Joshua Reynolds, of June, in these words : “ I am ashamed to ask for some relief for a poor man, to whom I hope I have given what I can be expected to spare. The man importunes me, and the blow goes round. I am going to try another air on Thursday."

On Thursday, June 3., the Oxford post coach took us up in the morning at Bolt Court. The other two passengers were Mrs. Beresford and her daughter,

very agreeable ladies from America: they were going to Worcestershire, where they then resided. Frank had been sent by his master the day before to take places for us; and I found from the way-bill

that Dr. Johnson had made our names be put down. Mrs. Beresford, who had read it, whispered me, “ Is this the great Dr. Johnson ?” I told her it was ; so she was then prepared to listen. As she soon happened to mention, in a voice so low that Johnson did not hear it, that her husband had been a member of the American Congress, I cautioned her to beware of introducing that subject, as she must know how very violent Johnson was against the people of that country. He talked a great deal ; but am sorry I have preserved little of the conversation. Miss Beresford was so much charmed, that she said to me aside, “ How he does talk ! Every sentence is an essay.” She amused herself in the coach with knotting. He would scarcely allow this species of employment any merit. “ Next to mere idleness,” said he, “I think knotting is to be reckoned in the scale of insignificance; though I once attempted to learn knotting: Dempster's sister (looking to me) endeavoured to teach me it, but I made no progress."

I was surprised at his talking without reserve in the public post coach of the state of his affairs : “ I have,” said he, “ about the world I think above a thousand pounds, which I intend shall afford Frank an annuity of seventy pounds a year.” Indeed, his openness with people at a first interview was remakable. He said once to Mr. Langton, “ I think I am like Squire Richard (1) in “The Journey

(1) The remark is made by Miss Jenny, and not by her brother. From its smartness it would have been ill suited to one who was originally described in the drarnatis personæ as " mere whelp.” – MARKLAND.

to London," I'm never strange in a strange place.He was truly social. He strongly censured what is much too common in England among persons of condition, maintaining an absolute silence wher: unknown to each other; as, for instance, when occasionally brought together in a room before the master or mistress of the house has appeared. “Sir, that is being so uncivilised as not to understand the common rights of humanity."

At the inn where we stopped he was exceedingly dissatisfied with some roast mutton which we had for dinner. The ladies, I saw, wondered to see the great philosopher, whose wisdom and wit they had been admiring all the way, get into ill-humour from such a cause. He scolded the waiter, saying, “ It is as bad as bad can be : it is ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-drest.”

He bore the journey very well, and seemed to feel himself elevated as he approached Oxford, that magnificent and venerable seat of learning, orthodoxy, and Toryism. Frank came in the heavy coach, in readiness to attend him; and we were received with the most polite hospitality at the house of his old friend Dr. Adams, Master of Pembroke College, who had given us a kind invitation. Before we were set down, I communicated to Johnson my having engaged to return to London directly for the reason I have mentioned, but that I would hasten back to him again. He was pleased that I had made this journey merely to keep him company. He was easy and placid, with Dr. Adams, Mrs. and Miss Adams, and Mrs Kennicot, widow of the

[ocr errors]

learned Hebræan (1), who was here on a visit. He soon despatched the quiries that were made about his illness and recovery by a short and distinct narrative, and then assuming a gay air, repeated from Swift,

“ Nor think on our approaching ills,

And talk of spectacles and pills." Dr. Newton, the Bishop of Bristol, having been mentioned, Johnson, recollecting the manner in which he had been censured by that prelate (2), thus retaliated : “ Tom knew he should be dead before what he has said of me would appear. He durst not have printed it while he was alive.” Dr. ADAMS. “I believe his · Dissertations on the Prophecies' is his great work.” Johnson. “Why, Sir,

(1) See antè, Vol. III. p. 142. — C.

(2) Dr. Newton in his account of his own Life, after animadverting upon Mr. Gibbon's History, says,

“ Dr. Johnson's ' Lives of the Poets' afforded more amusement; but candour was much hurt and offended at the malevolence that predominates in every part. Some passages, it must be allowed, are judicious and well written, but make not sufficient compensation for so much spleen and ill. humour. Never was any biographer more sparing of his praise, or more abundant in his censures. He seemingly delights more in exposing ble. mishes, than in recommending beauties; slightly passes over excellences, enlarges upon imperfections, and, not content with his own severe reflections, revives old scandal, and produces large quotations from the forgotten works of former critics. His reputation was so high in the republic of letters, that it wanted not to be raised upon the ruins of others. But these essays, instead of raising a higher idea than was before entertained of his understanding, have certainly given the world a worse opinion of his temper. The bishop was therefore the more surprised and concerned for his townsman, for he respected him not only for his genius and learning, but valued him much for the more amiable part of his character -- his hur manity and charity, his morality and religion." The last sentence we may consider as the general and permanent opinion of Bishop Newton; the remarks which precede it must, by all who have read Johnson's admirable work, be imputed to the disgust and peevishness of old age. I wish they had not appeared, and that Dr. Johnson had not been provoked oy them to express himself not in respectful terms of a prelate whose labours were certainly of considerable advantage both to kterature and religion.

it is Tom's great work; but how far it is great, or how much of it is Tom's, are other questions. I fancy a considerable part of it was borrowed.” Dr. ADAMS. “He was a very successful man.” Johnson. “I don't think so, Sir. He did not get very high He was late in getting what he did get; and he did not get it by the best means. I believe he was a gross

flatterer.” I fulfilled my intention by going to London, and returned to Oxford on Wednesday the 9th of June, when I was happy to find myself again in the same agreeable circle at Pembroke College, with the comfortable prospect of making some stay. Johnson welcomed my return with more than ordinary glee.

He talked with great regard of the Honourable Archibald Campbell, whose character he had given at the Duke of Argyll's table when we were at Inverary (1), and at this time wrote out for me, in his own hand, a fuller account of that learned and venerable writer, which I have published in its proper place. Johnson made a remark this evening which struck me a good deal. “I never," said he, “ knew a nonjuror who could reason.” (?) Surely he (1) “ Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," artè, Vol. V.

C. (2) The Rev. Mr. Agutter has favoured me with a note of a dialogue between Mr. John Henderson and Dr. Johnson on this topic, as related by Mr. Henderson, and it is evidently so authentic that I shall here insert it :- HENDERSON. “What do you think, Sir, of William Law?” Johnson. “William Law, Sir, wrote the best piece of parenetic divinity; but William Law was

." Henderson. “ Jeremy Collier, Sir?” Johnsox. Jeremy Collier fought without a rival, and therefore could not claim the victory." Mr. Henderson mentioned Ken and Kettlewell; but some objections were made; at last he said, “ But, Sir, what do you think of Lesley?” Johnson. “ Charles

p. 101.

no reasoner.' <<

« PreviousContinue »