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“I now," said Johnson to his friends, when relating what had passed, “ began to consider that I was depreciating this man in the estimation of his Sovereign, and thought it was time for me to say something that might be more favourable.” He added, therefore, that Dr. Hill was, notwithstanding, a very curious observer; and if he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he knew, he might have been a very considerable man, and
raise his reputation.
The King then talked of literary journals, mentioned particularly the “ Journal des Savans," and asked Johnson if it was well done. Johnson said it was formerly very well done, and gave some account of the persons who began it, and carried it on for some years : enlarging, at the same time, on the nature and use of such works. The King asked if it was well done now. Johnson answered, he had no reason to think that it was.1 The King then asked him if there were any other literary journals published in this kingdom, except the Monthly and Critical Reviews; and on being answered there was no other, his Majesty asked which of them was the best: Johnson answered, that the “ Monthly Review” was done with most care, the “Critical” upon the best principles ; adding, that the authors of the “Monthly Review” were enemies to the Church. This the King said he was sorry to hear.
The conversation next turned on the Philosophical Transactions, when Johnson observed that they had now a better method of arranging their materials than formerly. “Ay," said the King, “they are obliged to Dr. Johnson for that!” of magnifying objects by two or more microscopes, but by applying two object glasses to one microscope; and the advantage of diminished spherical errors by this contrivance is well known. Hill's account of the experiment is obscurely and inaccurately expressed in one or two particulars; but there can be no doubt that he is substantially right, and that Dr. Johnson's statement was altogether unfounded.- Croker.
Mr. Gibbon, however, about the same time (1763) gave a different judgment:-“I can bardly express how much I am delighted with the Journal des Savans; its characteristics are erudition, precision, and taste; but what I most admire is that impartiality and candour which distinguish the beauties and defects of a work, giving to the former duo and hearty praise, and calmly and tenderly pointing out the latter." Misc. Works, vol. ii. 4to. edit. p. 259.-Lockhart.
for his Majesty had heard and remembered the circum. stance, which Johnson himself had forgot.
His Majesty expressed a desire to have the literary biography of this country ably executed, and proposed to Dr. Johnson to undertake it. Johnson signified his readiness to comply with his Majesty's wishes.
During the whole of this interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty with profound respect, but still in his firm manly manner, with a sonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the levée and in the drawing-room. After the King withdrew, Johnson showed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's conversation, and gracious behaviour. He said to Mr. Barnard, “ Sir, they may talk of the King as they will ; but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen.” And he afterwards observed to Mr. Langton, “Sir, his manners are those of as fine a gentleman as we may suppose Lewis the Fourteenth or Charles the Second.”
At Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where a circle of Johnson's friends was collected round him to hear his account of this memorable conversation, Dr. Joseph Warton, in his frank and lively manner, was very active in pressing him to mention the particulars. “Come now, Sir, this is an interesting matter; do favour us with it.” Johnson, with great good-humour, complied.
He told them, “I found his Majesty wished I should talk, and I made it my business to talk. I find it does a man good to be talked to by his Sovereign. In the first place, a man cannot be in a passion .” Here some question interrupted him, which is to be regretted, as he certainly would have pointed out and illustrated many circumstances of advantage, from being in a situation where the powers of the mind are at once excited to vigorous exertion, and tempered by reverential awe.
During all the time in which Dr. Johnson was employed in relating to the circle at Sir Joshua Reynolds's the particulars of what passed between the King and him, Dr. Goldsmith remained unmoved upon a sofa at some
1 This reminds us of Madame de Sevigné's charming naïveté, when after giving an account of Louis XIV. having danced with her, she adds, “Ah! c'est le p'us grand roi du monde!”– Croker.
distance, affecting not to join in the least in the eager curiosity of the company. He assigned as a reason for his gloom and seeming inattention, that he apprehended Johnson had relinquished his purpose of furnishing him with a Prologue to his play, with the hopes of which he had been flattered; but it was strongly suspected that he was fretting with chagrin and envy at the singular honour Dr. Johnson had lately enjoyed. At length, the frankness and simplicity of his natural character prevailed. He sprung from the sofa, advanced to Johnson, and in a kind of flutter, from imagining himself in the situation which he had just been hearing described, exclaimed, “Well, you acquitted yourself in this conversation better than I should have done; for I should have bowed and stammered through the whole of it.”
I received no letter from Johnson this year; nor have I discovered any of the correspondence he had, except the two letters to Mr. Drummond, which have been inserted for the sake of connection with that to the same gentleman in 1766. His diary affords no light as to his employment at this time. He passed three months at Lichfield : and I cannot omit an affecting and solemn scene there, as related by himself:
It is remarkable that Johnson should have seen four, if not five, of our sovereigns, and been in the actual presence of three if not four of them. Queen Anne touched him; George the First he probably never saw; but George the Second he must frequently have seen, though only in public. George the Third he conversed with on this occasion; and he once told Sir John Hawkins, that, in a visit to Mrs. Percy, who had the care of one of the young princes, at the Queen's house, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV., being a child, came into the room, and began to play about; when Johnson, with his usual curiosity, took an opportunity of asking him what books he was reading, and, in particular, inquired as to his knowledge of the Scriptures; the Prince, in his answers, gave him great satisfaction. It is possible, also, that at that visit he might have seen Prince William Henry (William IV.), who was, I think, as well as the Duke of Kent, under Mrs. Percy's care.Croker.
2 It is proper here to mention, that when I speak of his correspondence, I consider it independent of the voluminous collection of letters, which, in the course of many years, he wrote to Mrs. Thrale,—which forms a separate part of his works; and, as a proof of the high estimation set on any thing which came from his pen, was sold by that lady for the sum of fire hundred pounds.
Sunday, Oct. 18, 1767. Yesterday, Oct. 17, at about ten in the morning, I took my leave for ever of my dear old friend, Catherine Chambers, who came to live with my mother about 1724, and has been but little parted from us since. She buried my father, my brother, and my mother. She is now fifty-eight
“I desired all to withdraw, then told her that we were to part for ever; that as Christians, we should part with prayer; and that I would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire to hear me; and held up her poor hands, as she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, nearly in the following words :
Almighty and most merciful Father, whose loving kindness is over all thy works, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is grieved with sickness. Grant that the sense of her weakness may add strength to her faith, and seriousness to her repentance. And grant that by the help of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and labours of this short life, we may all obtain everlasting happiness, through Jesus CHRIst our Lord, for whose sake hear our prayers. Amen. Our Father, &c.
“I then kissed her. She told me that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of tenderness, the same hopes. We kissed, and parted. I humbly hope to meet again, and to part no more.
By those who have been taught to look upon Johnson as a man of harsh and stern character, let this tender and affectionate scene be candidly read; and let them then judge whether more warmth of heart, and grateful kindness, is often found in human nature.
We have the following notice in his devotional record :
“ August 2, 1767. I have been disturbed and unsettled for a long time, and have been without resolution to apply to study or to business, being hindered by sudden snatches."
He, however, furnished Mr. Adams with a Dedication *
Prayers and Meditations, pp. 77–8. Catherine Chambers, as Dr. Harwood informed me, died in a few days after this interview, and was buried in St. Chad's, Lichfield, on the 7th of Nov., 1767.- Croker.
Prayers and Meditations, p. 72.
to the King of that ingenious gentleman's “Treatise on the Globes,” conceived and expressed in such a manner as could not fail to be very grateful to a monarch, distinguished for his love of the sciences.
This year was published a ridicule of his style, under the title of “Lexiphanes." Sir John Hawkins ascribes it to Dr. Kenrick; but its author was one Campbell, a Scotch purser, in the navy. The ridicule consisted in applying Johnson’s “words of large meaning” to insignificant matters, as if one should put the armour of Goliath upon a dwarf. The contrast might be laughable; but the dignity of the armour must remain the same in all considerate minds. This malicious drollery, therefore, it may easily be supposed, could do no harm to its illustrious object.
TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.?
“Lichfield, Oct. 10, 1767. “ DEAR SIR,
“That you have been all summer in London is one more reason for which I regret my long stay in the country. I hope that you will not leave the town before my return. We have bere only the chance of vacancies in the passing carriages, and I have bespoken one that may, if it happens, bring me to town on the fourteenth of this month ; but this is not certain.
“It will be a favour if you communicate this to Mrs. Williams : I long to see all my friends. I am, dear Sir, your most humble servant,
“Sam. Johnson." It appears from his notes of the state of his mind, that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in 1768. Nothing of his writings was given to the public this year, except the Prologue* to his friend Goldsmith’s comedy of
i Anderson (Life of Johnson, ed. 1815, p. 230) confirms Boswell's statement. It was the production of Mr. Archibald Campbell, son of Professor Archibald Campbell, of St. Andrew's, a purser in the navy. and author of The Sale of Authors, and other tracts.—Editor.
2 This letter first appeared in the third edition, 1799, vol. ii., p. 45. 3 Prayers and Meditations, p. 81.