« PreviousContinue »
consider whether the publication will really do any good ; next, whether by printing and distributing a very small number, you may not attain all that you propose; and, what perhaps I should have said first, whether the letter, which I do not now perfectly remember, be fit to be printed.
“ If you can consult Dr. Robertson, to whom I am a little known, I shall be satisfied about the propriety of whatever he shall direct. If he thinks that it should be printed, I entreat him to revise it; there may, perhaps, be some negligent lines written, and whatever is amiss, he knows very well how to rectify:
“ Be pleased to let me know, from time to time, how this excellent design
“ Make my compliments to young Mr. Drummond, whom I hope you will live to see such as you desire him.
“ I have not lately seen Mr. Elphinston, but believe him to be prosperous. I shall be glad to hear the same of you, for I am, Sir,
« Your affectionate humble servant, “ Johnson's-court, Fleet-street,
To the fame.
“ I RETURNED this week from the country, after an absence of near six months, and found your letter, with many others, which I should have answered sooner, if I had sooner seen them.
“ Dr. Robertson's opinion was surely right. Men should not be told of the faults which they have mended. I am glad the old language is taught, and honour the translator as a man whom God has distinguished by the high office of propagating his word.
“ I must take the liberty of engaging you in an office of charity. Mrs. Heely, the wife of Mr. Heely, who had lately fome office in your theatre, is my near relation, and now in great distress. They wrote me word of their situation some time ago, to which I returned them an answer which raised hopes of more than it is proper for me to give them. Their representation of their affairs I have discovered to be such as cannot be trusted ; and at this distance, though their case requires hatte, I know not how to act. She, or her daughters, may be heard of at Canongate Head. I must beg, Sir, that you
3 This paragraph shews Johnson's real estimation of the character and abilities of the celebrated Scottish Historian, however lightly, in a moment of caprice, he may have spoken of his works.
after them, and let me know what is to be done. I am willing to go to ten pounds, and will transmit you such a sum, if upon examination you find it likely to be of use. If they are in immediate want, advance them what you think proper. What I could do, I would do for the women, having no great reason to pay much regard to Heely himself 4.
“ I believe you may receive some intelligence from Mrs. Baker, of the theatre, whose letter I received at the same time with yours, and to whom, if you see her, you will make my excuse for the seeming neglect of answer
“ Whatever you advance within ten pounds shall be immediately returned to you, or paid as you fall order. I trust wholly to your judgement.
“ I am, Sir, &c. " London, Johnson's-court, Fleet.
SAM. Johnson," street, Oct. 24, 1767.
Mr. Cuthbert Shaws, alike distinguished by his genius, misfortunes, and misconduct, published this year a poem, called “ The Race, by Mercurius Spur, Esq.” in which he whimsically made the living poets of England contend for pre-eminence of fame by running:
“ Prove by their heels the prowess of the head.”
“ Here Johnson comes,-unbleft with outward grace,
(For even Wit is brought to-bed with pain) :
And, like an angry lion, shakes his mane.
Aught human with so horrible a mien,
Debating whether they should stay or run,
* This is the person concerning whom Sir John Hawkins has thrown out very unwarrantable reflections both against Dr. Johnson and Mr. Francis Barber. 5 See an account of him in the European Magazine, January, 1786.
“ With gentle speech she warns him now to yield,
The Honourable Thomas Hervey and his lady having unhappily disagreed, and being about to separate, Johnson interfered as their friend, and wrote him a letter of expoftulation, which I have not been able to find; but the substance of it is ascertained by a letter to Johnson, in answer to it, which Mr. Hervey printed. The occasion of this correspondence between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hervey, was thus related to me by Mr. Beauclerk. “ Tom Hervey had a great liking for Johnson, and in his will had left him a legacy of fifty pounds. One day he said to me, · Johnson may want this money now, more than afterwards. I have a mind to give it him directly. Will you be so good as to carry a fifty pound note from me to him ?' This I positively refused to do, as he might, perhaps, have knocked me down for insulting him, and have afterwards put the note in his pocket. But I faid, if Hervey would write him a letter, and enclose a fifty pound note, I should take care to deliver it. He accordingly did write him a letter, mentioning that he was only paying a legacy a little sooner. To his letter he added, "P.S. I am going to part with my wife.' Johnson then wrote to him, saying nothing of the note, but remonstrating with him against parting with his wife."
When I mentioned to Johnson this story, in as delicate terms as I could, he told me that the fifty pound note was given to him by Mr. Hervey in consideration of his having written for him a pamphlet against Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, who, Mr. Harvey imagined, was the authour of an attack upon him; but that it was afterwards discovered to be the work of a garretteer, who wrote “ The Fool:” so the pamphlet against Sir Charles was not printed.
In February, 1767, there happened one of the most remarkable incidents of Johnson's life, which gratified his monarchical enthusiasm, and which he loved to relate with all its circumstances, when requested by his friends. This was his being honoured by a private conversation with his Majesty, in the library at the Queen's house. He had frequently visited those splendid rooms Pp 2
and noble collection of books', which he used to say was more numerous and curious than he supposed any person could have made in the time which the King had employed. Mr. Barnard, the librarian, took care that he should have every accommodation that could contribute to his ease and convenience, while indulging his literary taste in that place; so that he had here a very agreeable resource at leisure hours.
His Majesty having been informed of his occasional visits, was pleased to signify a desire that he should be told when Dr. Johnson came next to the library. Accordingly, the next time that Johnson did come, as soon as he was fairly engaged with a book, on which, while he fat by the fire, he seemed quite intent, Mr. Barnard stole round to the apartment where the King was, and, in obedience to his Majesty's commands, mentioned that Dr. Johnson was then in the library. His Majesty said he was at leisure, and would go to him ; upon which Mr. Barnard took one of the candles that stood on the King's table; and lighted his Majesty through a suite of rooms, till they came to a private door into the library, of which his Majesty had the key. Being entereds Mr. Barnard stepped forward hastily to Dr. Johnson, who was still in a profound study, and whispered him, “Sir, here is the King." Johnson started up, and stood still. His Majesty approached hiin, and at once was courteously easy 7.
His Majesty began by observing, that he understood he came sometimes to the library; and then mentioning his having heard that the Doctor had been
• Dr. Johnson had the honour of contributing his assistance towards the formation of this library; for I have read a long letter from him to Mr. Barnard, giving the most masterly instructions on the subject. I wished much to have gratified my readers with the perusal of this letter, and have reason to think that his Majesty would have been graciously pleased to permit its publication; but Mr. Barnard, to whom I applied, declined it “ his own account.”
? The particulars of this conversation I have been at great pains to collect with the utmost authenticity, from Dr. Johnson's own detail to myself ; from Mr. Langton, who was present when he gave an account of it to Dr. Joseph Warton, and several other friends, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's ; from Mr. Barnard; from the copy of a letter written by the late Mr. Strahan the printer, to Bishop Warburton; and from a minute, the original of which is among the papers of the late Sir James Caldwell, and a copy of which was most obligingly obtained for me from his fon Sir John Caldwell, by Sir Francis Lumm. To all these gentlemen I beg leave to make my grateful acknowledgements, and particularly to Sir Francis Lumm, who was pleased to take a great deal of trouble, and even had the minute laid before the King by Lord Caermarthen, now Duke of Leeds, one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, who announced to Sir Francis the Royal pleasure concerning it by a letter, in these words : “ I have the King's commands to assure you, Sir, how sensible his Majesty is of your attention in communicating the minute of the conversation previous to its publication. As there appears no objection to your complying with Mr. Boswell's wishes on the subject, you are at full liberty to deliver it to that gentleman, to make such use of in his Life of Dr. Johnson, as he may think proper,”'
lately at Oxford, asked him if he was not fond of going thither. To which 1767. Johnson answered, that he was indeed fond of going to Oxford sometimes, Ætat. 58. but was likewise glad to come back again. The King then asked him what they were doing at Oxford. Johnson answered, he could not much commend their diligence, but that in some respects they were mended, for they had put their press under better regulations, and were at that time printing Polybius. He was then asked whether there were better libraries at Oxford or Cambridge. He answered, he believed the Bodleian was larger than any they had at Cambridge; at the same time adding, “ I hope, whether we have more books or not than they have at Cambridge, we fall make as good use of them as they do.” Being asked whether All-Souls or Christ Church library was the largest, he answered, “ All-Souls library is the largest we have, except the Bodleian.”
Aye, (faid the King,) that is the publick library.”
His Majesty enquired if he was then writing any thing. He answered, he was not, for he had pretty well told the world what he knew, and must now read to acquire more knowledge. The King, as it should seem with a view to urge him to rely on his own stores as an original writer, and to continue his labours, then said, “I do not think you borrow much from any body.” . Johnson said, he thought he had already done his part as a writer. “ I should have thought so too, (said the King,) if you had not written fo well.”Johnson observed to me, upon this, that “ No man could have paid a handfomer compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay. It was decisive.” When asked by another friend, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, whether he made any reply to this high compliment, he answered, “ No, Sir. When the King had said it, it was to be fo. It was not for me to bandy civilities with my sovereign.” Perhaps no man who had spent his whole life in courts could have shewn a more nice and dignified sense of true politeness, than Johnson did in this instance.
His Majesty having observed to him that he supposed he must have read a great deal; Johnson answered, that he thought more than he read; that he had read a great deal in the early part of his life, but having fallen into ill health, he had not been able to read much, compared with others : for instance, he said he had not read much compared with Dr. Warburton. Upon which the King said, that he heard Dr. Warburton was a man of such general knowledge, that you could scarce talk with him on any subject on which he was not qualified to speak; and that his learning resembled Garrick's acting, in its univerfality. His Majesty then talked of the controversy between Warburton and Lowth, which he seemed to have read, and asked Johnson what he thought of it. Johnson answered, “ Warburton has most general,