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realised. He said that he would rather have his pension doubled than a grant of a thousand pounds ; “For," said he, “though probably I may not live to receive as much as a thousand pounds, a man would have the consciousness that he should pass the remainder of his life in splendour, how long soever it might be.” Considering what a moderate proportion an income of six hundred pounds a year bears to innumerable fortunes in this country, it is worthy of remark, that a man so truly great should think it splendour.
As an instance of extraordinary liberality of friendship, he told us, that Dr. Brocklesby had upon this occasion offered him a hundred a year for his life. A grateful tear started into his eye, as he spoke this in a faltering tone.
Sir Joshua and I endeavoured to flatter his imagination with agreeable prospects of happiness in Italy. “Nay,” said he, “I must not expect much of that. When a man goes to Italy merely to feel how he breathes the air, he can enjoy very little.”
Our conversation turned upon living in the country, which Johnson, whose melancholy mind required the dissipation of quick successive variety, had habituated himself to consider as a kind of mental imprisonment. “Yet, Sir," said I,“ there are many people who are content to live in the country.” JOHNSON : Sir, it is in the intellectual world as in the physical world : we are told by natural philosophers that a body is at rest in the place that is fit for it; they who are content to live in the country, are fit for the country.”
Talking of various enjoyments, I argued that a refinement of taste was a disadvantage, as they who have attained to it must be seldomer pleased than those who have no nice discrimination, and are therefore satisfied with everything that comes in their way. JOHNSON : “Nay, Sir: that is a paltry notion. Endeavour to be as perfect as you can in every respect.'
I accompanied him, in Sir Joshua Reynolds's coach, to the entry of Bolt-court. He asked me whether I would not go with him to his house: I declined it, from an apprehension that my spirits would sink. We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the foot-pavement, he called out, “ Fare you well;" and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.
I remained one day more in town, to have the chance of talking over my negociation with the Lord Chancellor ; but the multiplicity of his Lordship’s important engagements did not allow of it; so I left the management of the business in the hands of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
INCORRECTNESS OF Mrs. PiozziS ANECDOTES - LORD CHANCELLOR THURLOW'S BENEVOLENCR - Johnson's Letter OF THANKS TO Him — His AFFECTION FOR THE MEMORY Op his Wife - HE sets OUT FOR DERBYSHIRE AND STAFFORDSBIRE-Revisits LichfiELD AND ASHBOURNE--His LETTERS TO HIS FRIENDS His State OF HEALTH - MR. WINDHAM — Johnson VISITS CHATSWORTH-AIR BALLOONS-Johnson's OPINION OF THEIR UTILITY–MR. HOOLE-MR. NicholsThe LITERARY CLUB-DR. BurxeY-MR. LANGTOX-GENERAL CORRESPONDENCEJOHNSON AFFECTED WITH Asthma AND DROPSY — His Charity, AND LETTER TO MR. Heely.
OON after this time Dr. Joinson had the mortification of being
informed by Mrs. Thrale, that “what she supposed he never believed ”I was true ; namely, that she was actually going to marry Signor Piozzi, an Italian music master. He endeavoured to prevent it; but in vain. If she would publish the whole of the correspondence that passed between Dr. Johnson and her on the subject, we should have a full view of his real sentiments. As it is, our judgment must be biassed by that characteristic specimen which Sir John Hawkins has given us :“Poor Thrale, I thought that either lier virtue or her vice would have restrained her from such a marriage. She is now become a subject for her enemies to exult over ; and for her friends, if she has any left, to forget, or pity."
It must be admitted that Johnson derived a considerable portion of happiness from the comforts and elegancies which he enjoyed in Mr.
1 “ Letters to Mrs. Thrale," vol. ii. p. 375.-Boswell. 2 Dr. Johnson's Letter to Sir John Hawkins, “ Life," p. 570.-Boswell.
Thrale's family ; but Mrs. Thrale assures us he was indebted for these to her husband alone, who certainly respected him sincerely. Her words are
" Veneration for his virtue, reverence for his talents, delight in his conversation, and habitual endurance of a yoke my husband first put upon me, and of which he contentedly bore his share for sixteen or seventeen years, made me go on so long with Mr. Johnson ; but the perpetual confinement I will own to have been terrifying in the first years of our friendship, and irksome in the last ; nor could I pretend to support it without help, when my coadjutor was no more.”!
Alas! how different is this from the declarations which I have heard Mrs. Thrale make in his lifetime, without a single murmur against any peculiarities, or against any one circumstance which attended their intimacy.
As a sincere friend of the great man whose life I am writing, I think it necessary to guard my readers against the mistaken notion of Dr. Johnson's character, which this lady's “ Anecdotes” of him suggest ; for, from the very nature and form of her book, “it lends deception lighter wings to fly."
“Let it be remembered," says an eminent critic,2 “ that she has comprised: in a small volume all that she could recollect of Dr. Johnson in twenty years, during which period, doubtless, some severe things were said by him; and they who read the book in two hours, naturally enough suppose that his whole conversation was of this complexion. But the fact is, I have been often in his company, and never once heard him say a severe thing to any one: and many others can attest the same. When he did say a severe thing, it was generally extorted by ignorance pretending to knowledge, or by extreme vanity or affectation.
“ Two instances of inaccuracy,” added he, " are peculiarly worthy of notice.
" It is said, 3 • That natural roughness of his manner, so often mentioned, would, notwithstanding the regularity of his notions, burst through them all from time to time; and he once bade a very celebrated lady, who praised him with too much zeal perhaps, or perhaps too strong an emphasis (which always offended him) to consider what her flattery was worth, before she choked him, with it.'
“Now let the genuine anecdote be contrasted with this.—The person thus represented as being harshly treated, though a very celebrated lady, was then iust come to London from an obscure situation in the country. At Sir Joshua Reynolds’s one evening she met Dr. Johnson. She very soon began to pay her court to him in the most fulsome strain. "Spare me, I beseech you, dear Madam,' was his reply. She still laid it on. "Pray, Madam, let us have no more of this,' he rejoined. Not paying any attention to these warnings, she continued still her eulogy. At length, provoked by this indelicate and vain obtrusion of
1" Anecdotes," p. 293.-Boswell. 2 Who has been pleased to furnish me with his remarks.-BOSWELL. 3" Anecdotes," p. 183.–Boswell.
compliment, he exclaimed, “Dearest lady, consider with yourself what your flattery is worth, before you bestow it so freely.'
“How different does this story appear, when accompanied with all these circumstances which really belong to it, but which Mrs. Thrale either did not know, or has suppressed.
“She says, in another place, ' 'One gentleman, however, who dined at a nobleman's house in his company, and that of Mr. Thrale, to whom I was obliged for the anecdote, was willing to enter the lists in defence of King William's character; and having opposed and contradicted Johnson two or three times, petulantly enough, the master of the house began to feel uneasy, and expect disagreeable consequences; to avoid which he said, loud enough for the Doctor to hear, -Our friend here has no meaning now in all this, except just to relate at clab to-morrow how he teased Johnson at dinner to-day; this is all to do himself honour.—No, upon my word (replied the other), I see no honour in it, whatever you may do.-Well, Sir (returned Dr. Johnson sternly), if you do not see the honour, I am sure I feel the disgrace.'
“ This is all sophisticated. Mr. Thrale was not in the company, though he might have related the story to Mrs. Thrale. A friend, from whom I had the story, was present; and it was not at the house of a nobleman. On the observation being made by the master of the house on a gentleman's contradicting Johnson, that he had talked for the honour, &c., the gentleman muttered, in a low voice, 'I see no honour in it;' and Dr. Johnson said nothing ; so all the rest (though bien trouvée) is mere garnish.”
I have had occasion several times, in the course of this work, to point out the incorrectness of Mrs. Thrale, as to particulars which consisted with my own knowledge. But indeed she bas, in flippant terms enough, expressed her disapprobation of that anxious desire of authenticity which prompts a person, who is to record conversations, to write them down at the moment. Unquestionably, if they are to be recorded at all, the sooner it is done the better. This lady herself says:
“ To recollect, however, and to repeat the sayings of Dr. Johnson, is almost all that can be done by the writers of his Life; as his life, at least since my acquaintance with him, consisted in little else than talking, when he was not employed in some serious piece of work."
She boasts of her having kept a common-place book ; and we find she noted, at one time or other, in a very lively manner, specimens of the conversation of Dr. Johnson, and of those who talked with him ; but had she done it recently, they probably would have been less erroneous ; and we should have been relieved from those disagreeable doubts of their authenticity, with which we must now peruse them.
She says of him
“He was the most charitable of mortals, without being what we call an active friend. Admirable at giving counsel ; no man saw his way so clearly;
1" Anecdotes," p. 242.-Boswell. 3 Ibid. p. 23.-BOSWELL.
2 « Anecdotes," p. 44.-BOSWELL. 4 Ibid. p. 51.- Boswell.
but he would not stir a finger for the assistance of those to whom he was willing enough to give advice."
And again, on the same page,
“If you wanted a slight favour, you must apply to people of other dispositions; for not a step would Johnson move to obtain a man a vote in a society, to repay a compliment which might be useful or pleasing, to write a letter of request, &c., or to obtain a hundred pounds a year more for a friend who perhaps had already two or three. No force could urge him to diligence, no importunity could conquer his resolution to stand still.”
It is amazing that one who had such opportunities of knowing Dr. Johnson, should appear so little acquainted with his real character. I am sorry this lady does not advert, that she herself contradicts the assertion of his being obstinately defective in the petites morales, in the little endearing charities of social life, in conferring smaller favours; for she
“ Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others, I think; and innumerable are the Prefaces, Sermons, Lectures, and Dedications which he used to make for people who begged of him.”
I am certain that a more active friend has rarely been found in any age.
This work, which I fondly hope will rescue his memory from obloquy, contains a thousand instances of his benevolent exertions in almost every way that can be conceived ; and particularly in employing his pen with a generous readiness for those to whom its aid could be useful. Indeed, his obliging activity in doing little offices of kindness, both by letters and personal application, was one of the most remarkable features in his character ; and for the truth of this I can appeal to a number of his respectable friends,—Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, Mr. Malone, the Bishop of Dromore, Sir William Scott, Sir Robert Chambers.-And can Mrs. Thrale forget the advertisements which he wrote for her husband at the time of his election contest; the epitaphs on him and her mother ; the playful and even trifling verses, for the amusement of her and her daughters ; his corresponding with her children, and entering into their minute concerns, which shows him in the most amiable light?
She relates that
“Mr. Ch–Im—ley unexpectedly rode up to Mr. Thrale's carriage, in which Mr. Thrale, and she, and Dr. Johnson were travelling ; that he paid them all his proper compliments, but observing that Dr. Johnson, who was reading, did not see him, tapt him gently on the shoulder. "'Tis Mr. Ch-Im-ley,' says my husband. Well, Sir-and what if it is Mr. Ch-Im-ley ?' says the other, sternly, just lifting his eyes a moment from his book, and returning to it again with renewed avidity."