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you well!” and, without looking back, sprang away with a kind of pathetic briskness, if I may use that expression, wbich seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.
I remained one day more in town, to have the chance of talking over my negotiation with the Lord Chancellor; but the multiplicity of his lordship’s important engagements did not allow of it; so I left the management of the business in the hands of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Soon after this time Dr. Johnson had the mortification of being informed by Mrs. Thrale, that “what she supposed he never believed" l was true: namely, that she was actually going to marry Signor Piozzi, an Italian music-master. He endeavoured to prevent it; but in vain. If she would publish the whole of the correspondence that passed between Dr. Johnson and her on the subject, we should have a full view of his real sentiments. As it is, our judgment must be biassed by that characteristic specimen which Sir John Hawkins has given us :
“Poor Thrale! I thought that either her virtue or her vice would have restrained her from such a marriage. She is now become a subject for her enemies to exult over, and for her friends, if she has any left, to forget or pity." ?
It must be admitted that Johnson derived a consider. able portion of happiness from the comforts and elegancies which he enjoyed in Mr. Thrale's family; but Mrs. Thrale assures us he was indebted for these to her husband alone, who certainly respected him sincerely. Her words are, “ Veneration for his virtue, reverence for his talents, delight in his conversation, and habitual endurance of a yoke my husband first put upon me, and of which he contentedly bore his share for sixteen or seventeen years, made me go on so long with Mr. Johnson; but the perpetual confinement I will own to have been terrifying in the first years of our friendship, and irksome in the last ; nor could I pretend to sup
i Letters to Mrs. Thrale, vol. ii., p. 375.
port it without help, when my coadjutor was no more.” 1 Alas! how different is this from the declarations which I have heard Mrs. Thrale make in his lifetime, without a single murmur against any peculiarities, or against any one circumstance which attended their intimacy!
As a sincere friend of the great man whose life I am writing, I think it necessary to guard my readers against the mistaken notion of Dr. Johnson's character, which this lady's “Anecdotes” of him suggest ; for, from the very nature and form of her book, “it lends deception lighter wings to fly.”
“ Let it be remembered,” says an eminent critic, “that she has comprised in a small volume all that she could recollect of Dr. Johnson in twenty years, during which period, doubtless, some severe things were said by him; and they who read the book in two hours naturally enough suppose that his whole conversation was of this complexion. But the faet is, I have been often in his company, and never once heard him say a severe thing to any one; and many others can attest the same. When he did say a severe thing, it was generally extorted by ignorance pretending to knowledge, or by extreme vanity or affectation.
“ Two instances of inaccuracy,” adds he, are peculiarly worthy of notice.
" It is said, that natural roughness of his manner so often mentioned would, notwithstanding the regularity of his notions, burst through them all from time to time; and he once bade a very celebrated lady," who praised him with too much zeal perhaps, or perhaps too strong an emphasis (which always offended him), consider what her flattery was worth before she choked him with it.'
“Now let the genuine anecdote be contrasted with this.-The person thus represented as being harshly treated, though a very celebrated lady, was then just come to London from an
1 Anecdotes. [Johnsoniana, p. 116.]
This “critic” is no doubt Mr. Malone, whose MS. notes on Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes contain the germs of these criticisms. Mr. Malone's notes were communicated to me by Mr. Markland, who purchased the volume at the sale of the library of the late James Boswell, junior, in 1825.- Croker.
3 Anecdotes. (Johnsoniana, p. 76.] • Hannah More.- Croker.
obscure situation in the country. At Sir Joshua Reynolds's one evening, she met Dr. Johnson. She very soon began to pay her court to him in the most fulsome strain. "Spare me, I beseech you, dear Madam,' was his reply. She still laid it on. 'Pray, Madam, let us have no more of this,' he rejoined. Not paying any attention to these warnings, she continued still her eulogy. At length, provoked by this indelicate and vain obtrusion of compliments, he exclaimed, “Dearest Lady, consider with yourself what your flattery is worth, before you bestow it so freely.'
“How different does this story appear, when accompanied with all those circumstances which really belong to it, but which Mrs. Thrale either did not know or has suppressed!
“ She says in another place,' One gentleman, however, who dined at a nobleman's house in his company, and that of Mr Thrale, to whom I was obliged for the anecdote, was willing to enter the lists in defence of King William's character; and having opposed and contradicted Johnson two or three times, petulantly enough, the master of the house began to feel uneasy, and expect disagreeable consequeuces; to avoid which he said, loud enough for the doctor to hear, · Our friend here has no meaning now in all this, except just to relate at club to-morrow how he teased Johnson at dinner to-day; this is all to do himself honour.'— No, upon my word,' replied the other, “I see no honour in it, whatever you may do.'— Well, Sir' (returned Mr. Johnson sternly) if you do not see the honour, I am sure I feel the disgrace.'
“This is all sophisticated. Mr. Thrale was not in the company, though he might have related the story to Mrs. Thrale. A friend, from whom I had the story, was present, and it was not at the house of a nobleman. On the observation being made by the master of the house on a gentleman's contradicting Johnson, that he had talked for the honour, &c., the gentleman muttered in a low voice, 'I see no honour in it;' and Dr. Johnson said nothing: so all the rest (though bien trouvé) is mere garnish.”
I have had occasion several times, in the course of this work, to point out the incorrectness of Mrs. Thrale as to particulars which consisted with my own knowledge. But indeed she has, in flippant terms enough, expressed her disapprobation of that anxious desire of authenticity which
? Anecdotes. [Johnsoniana, p. 83.]
prompts a person who is to record conversations to write them down at the moment. Unquestionably, if they are to be recorded at all, the sooner it is done the better. This lady herself says,"
“To recollect, however, and to repeat the sayings of Dr. Johnson is almost all that can be done by the writers of his life; as his life, at least since my acquaintance with him, consisted in little else than talking, when he was not absolutely employed in some serious piece of work."
She boasts of her having kept a commonplace book; and we find she noted, at one time or other, in a very lively manner, specimens of the conversation of Dr. Johnson, and of those who talked with him ; but had she done it recently, they probably would have been less erroneous, and we should have been relieved from those disagreeable doubts of their authenticity with which we must now peruse them. She says of him, —
“He was the most charitable of mortals, without being what we call an active friend. admirable at giving counsel, no man saw his way so clearly: but he would not stir a finger for the assistance of those to whom he was willing enough to give advice."
And, again, on the same page,
“ If you wanted a slight favour, you must apply to people of other dispositions ; for not a step would Johnson move to obtain a man a vote in a society, to repay a compliment which might be useful or pleasing, to write a letter of request, &c., or to obtain a hundred pounds a year more for a friend who perhaps had already two or three. No force could urge him to diligence, no importunity could conquer his resolution to stand still."
It is amazing that one who had such opportunities of knowing Dr. Johnson should appear so little acquainted with his real character. I am sorry this lady does not advert, that she herself contradicts the assertion of his being obstinately defective in the petites morales, in the
Anecdotes. (Johnsoniana, p. 21.]
; Ibid. [p. 13.]
3 Ibid. [p. 79.). little endearing charities of social life in conferring smaller favours ; for she says,
“Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others, I think ; and innumerable are the prefaces, sermons, lectures, and dedications which he used to make for people who begged of him.”
I am certain that a more active friend has rarely been found in any age. This work, which I fondly hope will rescue his memory from obloquy, contains a thousand instances of his benevolent exertions in almost every way that can be conceived ; and particularly in employing his pen with a generous readiness for those to whom its aid could be useful. Indeed his obliging activity in doing little offices of kindness, both by letters and personal application, was one of the most remarkable features in his character; and for the truth of this I can appeal to a number of his respectable friends : Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, Mr. Malone, the Bishop of Dromore, Sir William Scott, Sir Robert Chambers. And can Mrs. Thrale forget the advertisements which he wrote for her husband at the time of his election contest; the epitaphs on him and her mother; the playful and even trifling verses for the amusement of her and her daughters, his corresponding with her children, and entering into their minute concerns, which shows him in the most amiable light?
She relates, that Mr. Cholmondeley: unexpectedly rode up to Mr. Thrale’s carriage, in which Mr. Thrale, and she, and Dr. Johnson were travelling; that he paid them all his proper compliments; but observing that Dr. Johnson, who was reading, did not see him, “ tapped him gently on the shoulder. "'Tis Mr. Cholmondeley,' says my husband. • Well, Sir,—and what if it is Mr. Cholmondeley?' says the other, sternly, just lifting his eyes a moment from his book, and returning to it again with renewed avidity."
| Anecdotes. [Johnsoniana, p. 24.]
2 Ibid. [p. 103.) 8 George James Cholmondeley, Esq., grandson of George, third Earl of Cholmondeley, and one of the commissioners of excise; a gentleman respected for his abilities and elegance of manners.