« PreviousContinue »
Such are the specious, but false arguments for a proposition which always 1765. will find numerous advocates, in a nation where men are every day starting Ærat. 56. up from obscurity to wealth. To refute them is needless.
To refute them is needless. The general sense of mankind cries out, with irresistible force, “ Un gentilhomme est toujours gentilhonime.”
Mr. Thrale had married Miss Hesther Lynch Salusbury, of good Welch extraction, a lady of lively talents, improved by education. That Johnson's introduction into Mr. Thrale's family, which contributed so much to the happiness of his life, was owing to her desire for his conversation, is the most probable and general supposition. But it is not the truth. Mr. Murphy, who was intimate with Mr. Thrale, having spoken very highly of Dr. Johnson, he was requested to make them acquainted. This being mentioned to Johnson, he accepted of an invitation to dinner at Thrale's, and was so much pleased with his reception, both by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, and they so much pleased with him, that his invitations to their house were more and more frequent, till at last he became one of the family, and an apartment was appropriated to him, both in their house in Southwark, and in their villa at Streatham.
Johnson had a very sincere esteem for Mr. Thrale as a man of excellent principles, a good scholar, well skilled in trade, of a sound understanding, and of manners such as presented the character of a plain independent English 'Squire. As this family will frequently be mentioned in the course of the following pages, and as a false notion has prevailed that Mr. Thrale was inferiour, and in fome degree insignificant, compared with Mrs. Thrale, it may be proper to give a true state of the case from the authority of Johnson himself, in his own words.
“ I know no man (said he,) who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he but holds up a finger, he is obeyed. It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him in literary attainments. She is more flippant; but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar; but her learning is that of a school-boy in one of the lower forms.” My readers may naturally wish for some representation of the figures of this couple. Mr. Thrale was tall, well proportioned, and stately. As for Madam, or my Mistress, by which epithets Johnson used to mention Mrs. Thrale, she was short, plump, and brisk. She has herself given us a lively view of the idea which Johnson had of her person, on her appearing before him in a dark-coloured gown: “You little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuit
1765. able in every way. What! have not all insects gay colours 6 ?” Mr. Thrale
in the mode of entertaining them. He understood and valued Johnson, with-
Nothing could be more fortunate for Johnson than this connection. He
In the October of this year he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare, which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface, in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain. A blind indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the British nation to the ridicule of foreigners. Johnson, by candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was, like that of a counsel, upon his own side of the cause : Johnson's was like the grave, well considered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though his researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute as they might have been, which we now certainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious criticks who have followed him. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristick excellence. Many of his notes have illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has, in general, exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors.
Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 279.
His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who 2765. obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch University, and wrote for the Ætat. 56. booksellers in a great variety of branches. Though he certainly was not with out considerable merit, he wrote with fo little regard to principle and decorum, and in so hasty a manner, that' his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening,. when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said, he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, “Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known.”
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review. of Johnson's Shakspeare. Johnson was at first angry that .. Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, confidering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died.
In his Preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks, “ These are the petty criticisms of petty wits.” Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary fallies, which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched for it in vain, and therefore cannot quote it.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might: but he
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver, when the money was paid, he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his Preface to Shakspeare; which although it 'excited much clamour against him at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter, , Johnson returned the following answer:
To Charles BURNEY, Esq. in Poland-street.
“ I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble,, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticisin in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit
1765. to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for Ara c. 56. another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he
designs to affift.
* Your most obliged
* And most humble servant, - Oft. 36, 3765
Trinity College, Dublin, at this time surprized Johnson with a spontaneous compliment of the highest academical honours, by creating him Doctor of Laws. The diploma, which is in my possession, is as follows:
" OMNIBUS ad quos præfentes litrre pervenerint, falutem. Nos Præpofitus et Socii feniores Collegii facrofanétæ et individuæ Trinitatis Regina Elizabetha juxta Dublin, testamur, Samueli Fohnson, Armigero, ob egregiam fcriptorum elegantiam et utilitatem, gratiam conceffam fuiffe pro gradu Doktoratus in utroque Jure, ostavo die Julii, Anno Domini millefimo feptingentefimo fexagefimo-quinto. In cujus rei testimonium fingularum manus et hgillum quo in hifce utimur appofuimus ; vicefimo tertio die Julii, Anno Domini millefimo feptingentefimo fexagefimo-quinto.
GUL. CLEMENT. FRAN. ANDREWS. R. MURRAY.
This unfolicited mark of distinction, conferred on fo great a literary character, did much honour to the judgement and liberal spirit of that learned body. Johnson acknowledged the favour in a letter to Dr. Leland, one of their number; but I have not been able to obtain a copy of it.
Both in 1764 and 1763 it should seem that he was so busily employed with his edition of Shakspeare, as to have had little leisure for any other literary exertion, or, indeed, even for private correspondence. He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years, for which it will appear that he afterwards apologised.
He was, however, at all times ready to give assistance to his friends, and others, in revising their works, and in writing for them, or greatly improving their Dedications. In that courtly species of composition no man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of his mind prevented him from ever dedicating in his own person, he wrote a very great number of Dedications
for others. Some of these, the persons who were favoured with them are 1766. unwilling should be mentioned, from a too anxious apprehension, as I think, Ætat. 57. that they might be suspected of having received larger assistance; and some, after all the diligence I have bestowed, have escaped my inquiries. He told me, a great many years ago," he believed he had dedicated to all the Royal Family round;” and it was indifferent to him what was the subject of the work dedicated, provided it were innocent. He once dedicated some Musick for the German Flute to Edward Duke of York. In writing Dedications for others, he considered himself as by no means speaking his own sentiments.
Notwithítanding his long silence, I never omitted to write to him when I had any thing worthy of communicating. I generally kept copies of my letters to him, that I might have a full view of our correspondence, and never be at a loss to understand any reference in his letters. He kept the greater part of mine very carefully; and a short time before his death was attentive enough to seal them up in bundles, and order them to be delivered to me, which was accordingly done. Amongst them I found one, of which I had not made a copy, and which I own I read with pleasure at the distance of almost twenty years. It is dated November, 1765, at the palace of Pascal Paoli, in Corte, the capital of Corsica, and is full of generous enthusiasm, After giving a sketch of what I had seen and heard in that isand, it proceeded thus : “ I dare to call this a spirited tour. I dare to challenge your approbation."
This letter produced the following answer, which I found on my arrival at Paris.
A Mr. Mr. BOSWELL, chez Mr. WATERS, Banquier, à Paris. * DEAR SIR,
“ APOLOGIES are seldom of any use. We will delay till your arrival the reasons, good or bad, which have made me such a sparing and ungrareful correspondent. Be assured, for the present, that nothing has lessened either the esteem or love with which I dismissed you at Harwich. Both have been increased by all that I have been told of you by yourself or others; and when you return, you will return to an unaltered, and, I hope, unalterable friend.
“ All that you have to fear from me is the vexation of disappointing me. No man loves to frustrate expectations which have been formed in his favour; and the pleasure which I promise myself from your journals and remarks is Nn