Page images
PDF
EPUB

and a long enjoyment of plenty and tranquillity. I am, Sir, your, &c.

SAM. Johnson.''

LETTER 395. TO THE SAME.

« Jan. 9. 1781. SIR, - Amidst the importance and multiplicity of affairs in which your great office engages you, I take the liberty of recalling your attention for a moment to literature, and will not prolong the interruption by an apology which your character makes needless.

Mr. Hoole, a gentleman long known and long esteemed in the India-house, after having translated Tasso, has undertaken Ariosto. How well he is qualified for his undertaking he has already shown. He is desirous, Sir, of your favour in promoting his proposals, and flatters me by supposing that my testimony may advance his interest.

“ It is a new thing for a clerk of the India-house to translate poets ; - it is new for a governor of Bengal to patronise learning. That he may find his ingenuity rewarded, and that learning may flourish under your protection, is the wish of, Sir, your, &c.

" SAM. JOHNSON." I wrote to him in February, complaining of have ing been troubled by a recurrence of the perplexing question of Liberty and Necessity; and mentioning that I hoped soon to meet him again in London. LETTER 396. TO MR. BOSWELL.

“ March 14. 1781. “ DEAR SIR, - I hoped you had got rid of all this hypocrisy of misery. What have you to do with Liberty and Necessity ? Or what more than to hold your tongue about it? Do not doubt but I shall be most heartily glad to see you here again, for I love every part about you but your

affectation of distress.

I have at last finished my Lives, and have laid up for you a load of copy, all out of order, so that it will amuse you a long time to set it right. Conze to me, my dear Bozzy, and let us be as happy as we can. We will go again to the Mitre, and talk old times over. I am, dear Sir, yours affectionately,

Sam. JOHNSON.”

ton Monday, March 19., I arrived in London, and

on Tuesday, the 20th, met him in Fleet Street, walking, or rather indeed moving along; for his peculiar march is thus described in a very just and picturesque manner, in a short Life (1) of him published very soon after his death: “When he walked the streets, what with the constant roll of his head, and the concomitant motion of his body, he appeared to make his way by that motion, independent of his feet.” That he was often much stared at while he advanced in this manner may easily be believed; but it was not safe to make sport of one so robust as he was.

Mr. Langton baw him one day, in a fit of absence, by a sudden start, drive the load off a porter's back, and walk forward briskly, without being conscious of what he had done. The porter was very angry, but stood still, and eyed the huge figure with much earnestness, till he was satisfied that his wisest course was to be quiet, and take up his burthen again.

Our accidental meeting in the street after a long separation was a pleasing surprise to us both. He (1) Published by Kearsley, with this well-chosen motto:

"From his cradle
He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one:
And, to add greater honours to his age
Than man could give him, he died fearing Heaven,"

SHARSPER

stepped aside with me into Falcon Court, and made kind inquiries about my family; and we were in a hurry,going different ways, I promised to call on him next day. He said he was engaged to go out in the morning. “ Early, Sir?” said I. Johnson. “Why, Sir, a London morning does not go with the sun.

I waited on him next evening, and he gave me a great portion of his original manuscript of his Lives of the Poets,” which he had preserved for me.

I found on visiting his friend, Mr. Thrale, that he was now very ill, and had removed, I suppose by the solicitation of Mrs. Thrale, to a house in Grosvenor Square. I was sorry to see him sadly changed in his appearance.

He told me I might now have the pleasure to see Dr. Johnson drink wine again, for he had lately returned to it. When I mentioned this to Johnson, he said, “I drink it now sometimes, but not socially.” The first evening that I was with him at Thrale's, I observed he poured a large quantity of it into a glass, and swallowed it greedily. Every thing about his character and manners was forcible and violent; there never was any moderation, Many a day did he fast, many a year did he refrain from wine: but when he did eat, it was voraciously ; when he did drink wine, it was copiously. He could practise abstinence, but not temperance.

Mrs. Thrale and I had a dispute whether Shakspeare or Milton had drawn the most admirable pio ture of a man. (') I was for Shakspeare, Mrs. Thrale (1) Shakspeare makes Hamlet thus describe his father :

“ See what a grace was seated on this brow :

Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself,

for Milton; and, after a fair hearing, Johnson decided for my opinion.

I told him of one of Mr. Burke's playful sallies upon Dean Marlay(): “I don't like the Deanery of Ferns; it sounds so like a barren title.” Heath (3) should have it," said I. Johnson laughed, and, condescending to trifle in the same mode of conceit, suggested Dr. Moss. (3)

He said, “ Mrs. Montagu has dropt me. (1) Now,

6 Dr.

An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald, Mercury,
New-lighted a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form, indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,

To give the world assurance of a man."
Milton thus portrays our first parent, Adam:

“ His fair large front and eye sublime declared

Absolute rule; and hyacinthin locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung

Clust'ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad”- B. The latter part of this description, “but not beneath,” &c. may very probably be ascribed to Milton's prejudices in favour of the puritans, who had a great aversion to long hair. — M.It is strange that the picture drawn by the unlearned Shakspeare should be full of classical images, and that by the learned Milton void of them. Milton's description appears to be more picturesque. - KEARNEY. — Dr. Kearney seems to have forgotten that Milton is here a mere descriptive poet, giving a kind of abstract delineation of the first man, while Shakspeare is a dramatist, speaking in the character of an enthusiastic youth, fresh from his studies, and boiling with indignation and grief, which he endeavours to conceal, or at least to moderate by these classi. cal and, what in any other case would be, pedantic allusions. -C

(1) Dr. Richard Marlay, afterwards Lord Bishop of Water. ford; a very amiable, benevolent, and ingenious man. chosen a member of the Literary Club in 1777, and died in Dublin, July 2., 1812, in his seventy-fifth year. - M.early life, I had the honour of the bishop's acquaintance and indulgent notice of my first attempts in literature. He was all that Mr. Malone says of him.

C. (2) Dr. Benjamin Heath, celebrated for a curious library, which was sold in 1810, at very high prices. — C.

(3) Dr. Charles Moss, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells. He died in 1802. —

- C. (4) See antè, p. 36. — C.

He was

In very

Sir, there are people whom one should like very

well to drop, but would not wish to be dropped by.” He certainly was vain of the society of ladies, and could make himself very agreeable to them when he chose it: Sir Joshua Reynolds agreed with me that he could. Mr. Gibbon, with his usual sneer, controverted it, perhaps in resentment of Johnson's having talked with some disgust of his ugliness, which one would think a philosopher would not mind. Dean Marlay wittily observed, “ A lady may be vain when she can turn a wolf-dog into a lap-dog."

The election for Ayrshire, my own county, was this spring tried upon a petition before a committee of the house of commons. I was one of the counsel for the sitting member (1), and took the liberty of previously stating different points to Johnson, who never failed to see them clearly, and to supply me with some good hints. He dictated to me the following note upon the registration of deeds :

" All laws are made for the convenience of the community. What is legally done should be legally recorded, that the state of things may be known, and that wherever evidence is requisite, evidence may be had. For this reason, the obligation to frame and establish a legal register is enforced by a legal penalty, which penalty is the want of that perfection and plenitude of right which a register would give. Thence it follows that this is not an objection merely legal ; for the reason on which the law stands being equitable, makes it an equitable objection."

“ This,” said he, “ you must enlarge on, when (1) Hugh Montgomery, Esq. The petitioner, however William Macdowall, Esq., was declared duly elected. - C.

« PreviousContinue »