Page images

always make their appearance where they have a right to do it."

Of the same gentleman's mode of living, he said, “Sir, the servants, instead of doing what they are bid, stand round the table in idle clusters, gaping upon the guests; and seem as unfit to attend a company, as to steer a man of war.”

A dull country magistrate gave Johnson a long, tedious account of his exercising his criminal jurisdiction, the result of which was his having sentenced four convicts to transportation. Johnson, in an agony of impatience to get rid of such a companion, exclaimed, “I heartily wish, Sir, that I were a fifth.”

Johnson was present when a tragedy was read, in which there occurred this line:

“Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free." The company having admired it much, “I cannot agree with you,” said Johnson : “it might as well be said,

“ Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.” He was pleased with the kindness of Mr. Cator, who was joined with him in Mr. Thrale's important trust, and thus describes him: “ There is much good in his character, and much usefulness in his knowledge.” He found a cordial solace at that gentleman's seat at Beckenham, in Kent, which is indeed one of the finest places at which I ever was a guest; and where I find more and more a hospitable welcome.

Johnson seldom encouraged general censure of any profession; but he was willing to allow a due share of merit to the various departments necessary in civilised life. In a splenetic, sarcastical, or jocular frame of mind, however, he would sometimes utter a pointed saying of that nature. One instance has been mentioned? where he gave a sudden satirical stroke to the character of an attorney. The too indiscriminate admission to that employment, which requires both abilities and integrity, has given rise to injurious reflections, which are totally inapplicable to many

i Letters to Mrs. Thrale, vol. ii., p. 284.

2 See vol. ii. p. 125.

very respectable men who exercise it with reputation and honour.

Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, “I don't understand you, Sir;" upon which Johnson observed, “Sir, I have found you an argument, but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

Talking to me of Horry Walpole (as Horace, now Earl of Orford, was often called), Johnson allowed that he got together a great many curious little things, and told them in an elegant manner. Mr. Walpole thought Johnson a more amiable character after reading his Letters to Mrs. Thrale: but never was one of the true admirers of that great man. We may suppose a prejudice conceived, if he ever heard Johnson's account to Sir George Staunton, that when he made speeches in parliament for the Gentleman's Magazine, " he always took care to put Sir Robert Walpole in the wrong, and to say every thing he could against the electorate of Hanover.” The celebrated Heroic Epistle, in which Johnson is satirically introduced, has been ascribed both to Mr. Walpole and Mr. Mason. One day at Mr. Courtenay's, when a gentleman expressed his opinion that there was more energy in that poem than could be expected from Mr. Walpole ; Mr. Warton, the late laureate, observed, “It may have been written by Walpole, and buckram'd by Mason.”

He disapproved of Lord Hailes, for having modernised the language of the ever memorable John Hales of Eton,in an edition which his lordship published of that writer's works. “An author's language, Sir,” said he, “is a characteristical part of his composition, and is also characteristical of the age in which he writes. Besides, Sir, when the language is changed, we are not sure that the sense

1 It is now (1804) known that the Heroick Epistle was written by Mason.-Malone.

3 John Hales, fellow of Eton, was an eminent scholar and divine, and a suffering loyalist under the Commonwealth ; but I think he owes the title of ever memorable, by wbich he is distinguished, to his being, by the partiality of a friendly editor, Bishop Pearson, so styled in the title-page to his Golden Remains, published in 1659.-Croker.

3 In 3 vols. sm. 8vo. Foulis, Glasgow.-Editor.

is the same. No, Sir: I am sorry Lord Hailes has done this."

Here it may be observed, that his frequent use of the expression. No, Sir, was not always to intimate contradiction: for he would do so when he was about to enforce an affirmative proposition which had not been denied, as in the instance last mentioned. I used to consider it as a kind of flag of defiance; as if he had said, “Any argument you may offer against this is not just. No, Sir, it is not.” It was like Falstaff's “I deny your major.” ?

Sir Joshua Reynolds having said that he took the altitude of a man's taste by his stories and his wit, and of his understanding by the remarks which he repeated; being always sure that he must be a weak man who quotes com. mon things with an emphasis as if they were oracles; Johnson agreed with him ; and Sir Joshua having also observed that the real character of a man was found out by his amusements, Johnson added, “Yes, Sir; no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures."

I have mentioned Johnson's general aversion to a pun. He once, however, endured one of mine. When we were talking of a numerous company in which he had distinguished himself highly, I said, “Sir, you were a cod surrounded by smelts. Is not this enough for you? at a time too when you were not fishing for a compliment?" He laughed at this with a complacent approbation. Old Mr. Sheridan observed, upon my mentioning it to him, “He liked your compliment so well, he was willing to take it with pun sauce.” For my own part, I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed; and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation.

Had Johnson treated at large De Claris Oratoribus, he might have given us an admirable work. When the Duke of Bedford attacked the ministry as vehemently as he

Sir James Mackintosh remembers that while spending the Christmas of 1793 at Beaconsfield, Mr. Burke said to him, “ Johnson showed more powers of mind in company than in his writings; but he argued only for victory; and when he had neither a paradox to defend, nor an antagonist to crush, he would preface his assent with Why, no, Sir." --Croker.

could, for having taken upon them to extend the time for the importation of corn, Lord Chatham, in his first speech in the House of Lords, boldly avowed himself to be an adviser of that measure. “My colleagues," said he, “as I was confined by indisposition, did me the signal honour of coming to the bedside of a sick man, to ask his opinion. But, had they not thus condescended, I should have taken up my bed and walked, in order to have delivered that opinion at the Council-board.” Mr. Langton, who was present, mentioned this to Johnson, who observed, “Now, Sir, we see that he took these words as he found them, without considering, that though the expression in Scripture, Take up thy bed and walk, strictly suited the instance of the sick man restored to health and strength, who would of course be supposed to carry his bed with him, it could not be proper in the case of a man who was lying in a state of feebleness, and who certainly would not add to the difficulty of moving at all, that of carrying his bed.”

When I pointed out to him in the newspaper one of Mr. Grattan's animated and glowing speeches in favour of the freedom of Ireland, in which this expression occurred (I know not if accurately taken): “ We will persevere, till there is not one link in the English chain left to clank upon the rags of the meanest beggar in Ireland :-“Nay, Sir,” said Johnson, “don't you perceive that one link cannot clank ?"

Mrs. Thrale has published, as Johnson's, a kind of parody or counterpart of a fine poetical passage in one of Mr. Burke's speeches on American taxation. It is vigorously but somewhat coarsely executed ; and, I am inclined to suppose, is not quite correctly exhibited. I hope he did not use the words “ vile agentsfor the Americans in the House of Parliament; and if he did so, in an extempore effusion, I wish the lady had not committed it to writing.

Mr. Burke uniformly showed Johnson the greatest respect; and—when Mr. Townshend, now Lord Sydney, at a period when he was conspicuous in opposition, threw out some reflection in parliament upon the grant of a pension

1 Johnsoniana, p. 20.

to a man of such political principles as Johnson-Mr Burke, though then of the same party with Mr. Townshend, stood warmly forth in defence of his friend, to whom, he justly observed, the pension was granted solely on account of his eminent literary merit. I am well assured, that Mr. Townshend's attack upon Johnson was the occasion of his “ hitching in a rhyme;" for that in the original copy of Goldsmith's character of Mr. Burke, in his “ Retaliation,” another person's name stood in the couplet where Mr. Townshend is now introduced :

“Though fraught with all learning yet straining his throat, To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote.” 1

It may be worth remarking, among the minutive of my collection, that Johnson was once drawn to serve in the militia, the trained bands of the city of London, and that Mr. Rackstrow, of the museum in Fleet Street, was his colonel. It may be believed he did not serve in person ; but the idea, with all its circumstances, is certainly laughable. He upon that occasion provided himself with a musket, and with a sword and belt, which I have seen hanging in his closet.

He was very constant to those whom he once employed, if they gave him no reason to be displeased. When somebody talked of being imposed on in the purchase of tea and sugar, and such articles : “ That will not be the case," said he, “ if you go to a stately shop, as I always do. In such a shop it is not worth their while to take a petty advantage.

An author of most anxious and restless vanity being mentioned ;—“Sir,” said he,“ there is not a young sapling upon Parnassus more severely blown about by every wind of criticism than that poor fellow.”

The difference, he observed, between a well-bred and an ill-bred man is this : “ One immediately attracts your liking, the other your aversion. You love the one till you

1 I rather believe tbat it was in consequence of his persisting in clear. ing the gallery of the House of Commons, in spite of the earnest remon. strances of Burke and Fox, one evening when Garrick was present. Mackintosh.Croker.

« PreviousContinue »