Page images
PDF
EPUB

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE WILLIAM GERARD HAMILTON

“ Nov. 19, 1783. “DEAR SIR,

“Your kind inquiries after my affairs, and your generous offers, have been communicated to me by Dr. Brocklesby I return thanks with great sincerity, having lived long enough to know what gratitude is due to such friendship; and entreat that my refusal may not be imputed to sullenness or pride. I am, indeed, in no want. Sickness is, by the generosity of my physicians, of little expense to me. But if any unexpected exigence should press me, you shall see, dear Sir, how cheerfully I can be obliged to so much liberality. I am Sir, your, &c.,

“Sam. Johnson."

I find in this, as in former years, notices of his kind attention to Mrs. Gardiner, who, though in the humble station of a tallow-chandler upon Snow Hill, was a woman of excellent good sense, pious, and charitable. She told me she had been introduced to him by Mrs. Masters, the poetess, whose volumes he revised, and, it is said, illumi. nated here and there with a ray of his own genius. Mrs. Gardiner was very zealous for the support of the Ladies' Charity School, in the parish of St. Sepulchre. It is confined to females; and, I am told, it afforded a hint for the story of “ Betty Broom” in “ The Idler.” Johnson this year, I find, obtained for it a sermon from the late Bishop of St. Asaph, Dr. Shipley, whom he, in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, characterises as “knowing and conversable;” and whom all who knew his lordship, even those who differed from him in politics, remember with much respect.

The Earl of Carlisle having written a tragedy, entitled “ The Father's Revenge," some of his lordship's friends applied to Mrs. Chapone, to prevail on Dr. Johnson to read and give his opinion of it, which he accordingly did,

1 In his will Dr. Johnson left her a book " at her election, to keep as a token of remembrance.”Malone.

She was one of his oldest friends, attended him in his last illuess, and she herself died in 1789, æt. 74.- Croker.

176

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.

1783.

in a letter to that lady. Sir Joshua Reynolds having informed me that this letter was in Lord Carlisle's possession, though I was not fortunate enough to have the honour of being known to his lordship, trusting to the general courtesy of literature, I wrote to him, requesting the favour of a copy of it, and to be permitted to insert it in my Life of Dr. Johnson. His lordship was so good as to comply with my request, and has thus enabled me to enrich my work with a very fine piece of writing, which displays both the critical skill and politeness of my illustrious friend; and perhaps the curiosity which it will excite may induce the noble and elegant author to gratify the world by the publication of a performance of which Dr. Johnson has spoken in such terms.

JOHNSON TO MRS. CHAPONE.

Nov. 28, 1783.

“ MADAM,

“By sending the tragedy to me a second time, I think that a very honourable distinction has been shown me; and I did not delay the perusal, of which I am now to tell the effect.

“ The construction of the play is not completely regular : the stage is too often vacant, and the scenes are not sufficiently connected. This, however, would be called by Dryden only a mechanical effect; which takes away little from the power of the poem, and which is seen rather than felt.

“A rigid examiner of the diction might, perhaps, wish some words changed, and some lines more vigorously terminated. But from such petty imperfections what writer was ever free?

“ The general form and force of the dialogue is of more importance. It seems to want that quickness of reciprocation which characterises the English drama, and is not always sufficiently fervid or animated.

• Of the sentiments, I remember not one that I wished omitted. In the imagery I cannot forbear to distinguish the comparison of joy, succeeding grief, to light rushing on the eye

1 A few copies only of this tragedy have been printed, and given to the author's friends.

2 Dr. Johnson having been very ill when the tragedy was first sent to bim, had declined the consideration oí it.

accustomed to darkness. It seems to have all that can be desired to make it please. It is new, just, and delightful.

“ With the characters, either as conceived or preserved, I have no fault to find; but was much inclined to congratulate a writer, who, in defiance of prejudice and fashion, made the archbishop a good man, and scorned all thoughtless applause, which a vicious churchman would have brought him.

“The catastrophe is affecting. The father and daughter both culpable, both wretched, and both penitent, divide between them our pity and our sorrow.

“ Thus, Madam, I have performed what I did not willingly undertake, and could not decently refuse. The noble writer will be pleased to remember that sincere criticism ought to raise no sesentment, because judgment is not under the control of will; but involuntary criticism, as it has still less of choice, ought to be more remote from possibility of offence. I am, &c.,

“Sam. JOHNSON.”

I consulted him on two questions of a very different nature: one, Whether the unconstitutional influence exercised by the peers of Scotland in the election of the representatives of the commons, by means of fictitious qualifications, ought not to be resisted ; the other, What in propriety and humanity should be done with old horses unable to labour. I gave him some account of my life at Auchinleck; and expressed my satisfaction that the gentlemen of the county had, at two public meetings, elected me their proses or chairman.

TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.

“ London, Dec. 24, 1783. “ DEAR SIR,

“Like all other men who have great friends, you begin to feel the pangs of neglected merit; and all the comfort that I can give you is, by telling you that you have probably more pangs to

"I could have horne my woes; that stranger, Joy,
Wounds while it smiles :--the long imprison'd wretch,
Emerging from the night of his damp cell,
Shrinks from the sun's bright beams; and that which flings

Gladness o’er all, to him is agony."

feel, and more neglect to suffer. You have, indeed, begun to complain too soon; and I hope I am the only confidant of your discontent. Your friends have not yet had leisure to gratify personal kindness; they have hitherto been busy in strengthening their ininisterial interest. If a vacancy happens in Scotland, give them early intelligence: and as you can serve government as powerfully as any of your probable competitors, you may make in some sort a warrantable claim.

“Of the exaltations and depressions of your mind you delight to talk, and I hate to hear. Drive all such fancies from you.

“On the day when I received your letter, I think, the foregoing page was written; to which one disease or another has hindered me from making any additions. I am now a little better. But sickness and solitude press me very heavily. I could bear sickness better, if I were relieved from solitude.

“ The present dreadful confusion of the public ought to make you wrap yourself up in your hereditary possessions, which, though less than you may wish, are more than you can want; and in an hour of religious retirement return thanks to God, who has exempted you from any strong temptation to faction, treachery, plunder, and disloyalty.

“ As your neighbours distinguish you by such honours as they can bestow, content yourself with your station, without neglecting your profession. Your estate and the courts will find you full employment, and your mind well occupied will be quiet.

“ The usurpation of the nobility, for they apparently usurp all the influence they gain by fraud and misrepresentation, I think it certainly lawful, perhaps your duty, to resist. What is not their own, they have only by robbery.

“Your question about the horses gives me more perplexity. I know not well what advice to give you. I can only recommend a rule which you do not want: give as little pain as you can. I suppose that we have a right to their service while their strength lasts; what we can do with them afterwards, I cannot so easily determine. But let us consider. Nobody denies that man has a right first to milk the cow, and to shear the sheep, and then to kill them for his table. May he not, by parity of reason, first work a horse, and then kill him the easiest way, that he may have the means of another horse, or food for cows and sheep ? Man is influenced in both cases by different motives of self

&c.,

interest. He that rejects the one must reject the other. I am,

“Sam. Johnson.” “A happy and pious Christmas; and many happy years to you, your lady, and children.”

The late ingenious Mr. Mickle, some time before his death, wrote me a letter concerning Dr. Johnson, in which he mentions,–

“I was upwards of twelve years acquainted with him, was frequently in his company, always talked with ease to him, and can truly say, that I never received from him one rough word.”

In this letter he relates his having, while engaged in translating the “Lusiad,” had a dispute of considerable length with Johnson, who, as usual, declaimed upon the misery and corruption of a sea life, and used this expression : It had been happy for the world, Sir, if your hero, Gama, Prince Henry of Portugal, and Columbus, had never been born, or that their schemes had never gone farther than their own imaginations.”

“This sentiment,” says Mr. Mickle, “ which is to be found in his ‘Introduction to the World Displayed,' I, in my Dissertation prefixed to the ‘Lusiad,' have controverted ; and though authors are said to be bad judges of their own works, I am not ashamed to own to a friend, that that dissertation is my favourite above all that I ever attempted in prose. Next year, when the • Lusiad' was published, I waited on Dr. Johnson, who addressed me with one of his good-humoured smiles :-Well, you have remembered our dispute about Prince Henry, and have cited me too. You have done your part very well indeed : you have made the best of your argument; but I am not convinced yet.'

•“Before publishing the “Lusiad,' I sent Mr. Hoole a proof of that part of the introduction in which I make mention of Dr. Johnson, yourself, and other well-wishers to the work, begging it might be shown to Dr. Johnson. . This was accordingly done ; and in place of the simple mention of him which I had made, he dictated to Mr. Hoole the sentence as it now stands.

“Dr. Johnson told me in 1772, that, about twenty years before that time, he himself had a design to translate the 'Lusiad,' of

« PreviousContinue »