« PreviousContinue »
Cruikshank, in which he says, “I am going to put myself into your hands:” and another, accompanying a set of his “ Lives of the Poets,” in which he says, “ I beg your acceptance of these volumes, as an acknowledgment of the great favours which you have bestowed on, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant.” I have in my possession several more letters from him to Mr. Cruikshank, and also to Dr. Mudge at Plymouth, which it would be improper to insert, as they are filled with unpleasing technical details. I shall, however, extract from his letters to Dr. Mudge such passages as show either a felicity of expression, or the undaunted state of his mind.
“My conviction of your skill, and my belief of your friendship, determine me to entreat your opinion and advice. In this state I with great earnestness desire you to tell me what is to be done. Excision is doubtless necessary to the cure, and I know not any means of palliation. The operation is doubtless painful; but is it dangerous ? The pain I hope to endure with decency; but I am loath to put life into much hazard. By representing the gout as an antagonist to the palsy, you have said enough to make it welcome. This is not strictly the first fit, but I hope it is as good as the first; for it is the second that ever confined me; and the first was ten years ago, much less fierce and fiery than this. Write, dear Sir, what you can to inform or encourage me. The operation is not delayed by any fears or objections of mine."
TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
“ London, Sept. 29, 1783. “ DEAR SIR,
“ You may very reasonably charge me with insensibility of your kindness and that of Lady Rothes, since 1 have suffered so much time to pass without paying any acknowledgment. I now, at last, return my thanks; and why I did it not sooner I ought to tell you. I went into Wiltshire as soon as I well could, and was there much employed in palliating my own malady. Disease produces much selfishness. A man in pain is looking after ease, and lets most other things go as chance may dispose of them. In the mean time I have lost a companion (Mrs. Williams), to whom I have had recourse for domestic amusement for
thirty years, and whose variety of knowledge never was exhausted; and now return to a habitation vacant and desolate. I carry about a very troublesome and dangerous complaint, which admits no cure but by the chirurgical knife. Let me have your prayers. I am, &c.,
“Sam. Johnson.” Happily the complaint abated without his being put to the torture of amputation. But we must surely admire the manly resolution which he discovered while it hung over him.
In a letter to the same gentleman he writes, “ The gout has within these four days come upon me with a violence which I never experienced before. It made me helpless as an infant.” And in another, having mentioned Mrs. Williams, he says,—“whose death following that of Levett has now made my house a solitude. She left her little substance to a charity-school. She is, I hope, where there is neither darkness, nor want, nor sorrow.”
I wrote to him, begging to know the state of his health, and mentioned that “Baxter's Anacreon, which is in the library at Auchinleck, was, I find, collated by my father in 1727 with the MS. belonging to the University of Leyden, and he has made a number of notes upon it. Would you advise me to publish a new edition of it?" His answer was dated September 30.
“ You should not make your letters such rarities, when you know, or might know, the uniform state of my health; it is very long since I heard from you ; and that I have not answered is a very insufficient reason for the silence of a friend. Your Anacreon is a very uncommon book : neither London nor Cambridge can supply a copy of that edition. Whether it should be reprinted, you cannot do better than consult Lord Hailes. Besides my constant and radical disease, I have been for these ten days much harassed with the gout; but that is now remitted. I hope God will yet grant me a little longer life, and make me less unfit to appear before him."
To the “ Ladies' Charity School,” in King Street, Snow Hill, insti. tuted in 1702, and where Mrs. Williams's portrait is still to be seen, with the notice of her benefactions thus recorded on the walls :
“1783. Mrs. Anna Williams, by gift in the 3 per cent. Stock, £200. “ 1784. Also by her will, in cash, &c., £157 148.”—P. Cunningham.
He this autumn received a visit from the celebrated Mrs. Siddons. He gives this account of it in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale: 1
“ Mrs. Siddons, in her visit to me, behaved with great modesty and propriety, and left nothing behind her to be censured or despised. Neither praise nor money, the two powerful corruptors of mankind, seem to have depraved her. I shall be glad to see her again. Her brother Kemble calls on me, and pleases me very well. Mrs. Siddons and I talked of plays; and she told me her intention of exhibiting this winter the characters of Constance, Catharine, and Isabella in Shakspeare.”
Mr. Kemble has favoured me with the following minute of what passed at this visit:
“When Mrs. Siddons came into the room, there happened to be no chair ready for her, which he observing said, with a smile,
Madam, you who so often occasion a want of seats to other people, will the more easily excuse the want of one yourself'
“Having placed himself by her, he, with great good humour, entered upon a consideration of the English drama; and, among other inquiries, particularly asked her which of Shakspeare's characters she was most pleased with. Upon her answering that she thought the character of Queen Catharine, in Henry the Eighth, the most natural: 'I think so too, Madam,' said he; and whenever you perform it, I will once more hobble out to the theatre myself.' Mrs. Siddons promised she would do herself the honour of acting his favourite part for him ; but many circumstances happened to prevent the representation of King Henry the Eighth during the doctor's life.
1 Letters, Oct. 27, vol. ii., p. 321.
? This great actor and amiable and accomplished man left the stage in 1816, and died 26th February, 1823, at Lausanne. In his own day he had no competitor in any walk of tragedy; and those (of whom I knew several) who remembered Barry, Mossop, Henderson, and Garrick, admitted, that in characters of high tragic dignity, such as Hamlet, Corio. lanus, Alexander, Cato, he excelled all his predecessors, almost as much as his sister did all actresses in the female characters of the same heroic class. I never saw any that approached to either. She, it is agreed, was never excelled, and he by Garrick alone, and by Garrick only in his universality. In such characters as I have mentioned, those who had seen both preferred Kemble, whose countenance and figure were more suited to those parts.-Croker.
3 It was acted many years after with critical attention to historical “In the course of the evening he thus gave his opinion upon the merits of some of the principal performers whom he remembered to have seen upon the stage. “Mrs. Porter in the vehemence of rage, and Mrs. Clive in the sprightliness of humour, I have never seen equalled. What Clive did best, she did better than Garrick ; but could not do half so many things well : she was a better romp than any I ever saw in nature. Pritchard, in common life, was a vulgar idiot; she would talk of her gound: but, when she appeared upon the stage, seemed to be inspired by gentility and understanding. I once talked with Colley Cibber, and thought him ignorant of the principles of his art. Garrick, Madam, was no declaimer; there was not one of his own sceneshifters who could not have spoken To be or not to be better than he did : yet he was the only actor I ever saw whom I could call a master both in tragedy and comedy ; though I liked him best in comedy. A true conception of character, and natural expression of it, were his distinguished excellences. Having expatiated, with his usual force and eloquence, on Mr. Garrick's extraordinary eminence as an acter, he concluded with this compliment to his social talents : And after all, Madam, I thought him less to be envied on the stage than at the head of a table."
Johnson, indeed, had thought more upon the subject of acting than might be generally supposed. Talking of it one day to Mr. Kemble, he said, “ Are you, Sir, one of those enthusiasts who believe yourself transformed into the very character you represent?” Upon Mr. Kemble's answering, that he had never felt so strong a persuasion himself, “ To be sure not, Sir,” said Johnson; "the thing is impossible. And if Garrick really believed himself to be that monster, Richard the Third, he deserved to be hanged every time he performed it.” accuracy, and with great success. Mrs. Siddons played Catharine ; Mr. Kemble, Wolsey ; Mr. Charles Kemble, Cromwell. There is an interesting picture, by Harlow (since engraved), of the trial scene, with portraits of all the performers.-Croker.
Mr. Kemble repeated this to me thirty years later, adding that the occasion on which he had felt himself the most affected—the most personally touched-was in playing the last scene of The Stranger with Mrs. Siddons. Her pathos, he said, in that part quite overcame him, but he always endeavoured to restrain any impulses which might interfere with his previous study of his part.-Croker, abridged.
? My worthy friend, Mr. John Nichols, was present when Mr. Hen.
A pleasing instance of the generous attention of one of his friends has been discovered by the publication of Mrs. Thrale’s Collection of Letters. In a letter to one of the Miss Thrales he writes:
“A friend, whose name I will tell you when your mamma has tried to guess it, sent to my physician to inquire whether this long train of illness had brought me into difficulties for want of money, with an invitation to send to him for what occasion required. I shall write this night to thank him, having no need to borrow."
And afterwards in a letter to Mrs. Thrale : 2
“Since you cannot guess, I will tell you, that the generous man was Gerard Hamilton. I returned him a very thankful and respectful letter."
I applied to Mr. Hamilton, by a common friend, and he has been so obliging as to let me have Johnson's letter to him upon this occasion, to adorn my collection.
derson, the actor, paid a visit to Dr. Johnson, and was received in a very courteous manner. See Gent. Mag., June, 1791.
I found among Dr. Johnson's papers the following letter to him, from the celebrated Mrs. Bellamy :
“ No. 10, Duke Street, St. James's, May 11, 1783. “The flattering remembrance of the partiality you honoured me with some years ago, as well as the humanity you are known to possess, has encouraged me to solicit your patronage at my benefit.
“ By a long Chancery suit, and a complicated train of unfortunate events, I am reduced to the greatest distress; which obliges me, once more to request the indulgence of the public. .
“Give me leave to solicit the honour of your company, and to assure you, if you grant my request, the gratification I shall feel from being patronised by Dr. Johnson will be infinitely superior to any advantage that may arise from the benefit ; as I am, with the profoundest respect, Sir, your most obedient, humble servant, “ A. G. BELLAMY."
I am happy in recording these particulars, which prove that my illustrious friend lived to think much more favourably of players tnan ne appears to have done in the early part of his life. ** Letters, vol. ii., p. 328.
2 Ibid., p. 342.