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This surely conveys a notion of Johnson, as if he had been grossly rude to Mr. Cholmondeley, a gentleman whom he always loved and esteemed. If, therefore, there was an absolute necessity for mentioning the story at all, it might have been thought that her tenderness for Dr. Johnson's character would have disposed her to state anything that could soften it. Why then is there a total silence as to what Mr. Cholmondeley told her ? —that Johnson, who had known him from his earliest years, having been made sensible of what had doubtless a strange appearance, took occasion, when he afterwards met him, to make a very courteous and kind apology. There is another little circumstance which I cannot but remark. Her book was published in 1785; she had then in her possession a letter from Dr. Johnson, dated in 1777, which begins thus: “ Cholmondeley's story shocks me, if it be true, which I can hardly think, for I am utterly unconscious of it: I am very sorry, and very much ashamed.” Why then publish the anecdote? Or, if she did, why not add the circumstances, with which she was well acquainted ?
In his social intercourse she thus describes him :“ Ever musing till he was called out to converse, and conversing till the fatigue of his friends, or the promptitude of his own temper to take offence, consigned him back again to silent meditation." Yet in the same book she tells us, “He was, however, seldom inclined to be silent when any moral or literary question was started ; and it was on such occasions that, like the sage in 'Rasselas,' he spoke, and attention watched his lips; he reasoned, and conviction closed his periods."
His conversation, indeed, was so far from ever fatiguing his friends, that they regretted when it was interrupted or ceased, and could exclaim in Milton's larguage,
“With thee conversing, I forgot all time.” I certainly, then, do not claim too much in behalf of my illustrious friend in saying, that however smart and entertaining Mrs. Thrale's “ Anecdotes” are, they must not
i Letters to Mrs. Thrale, vol. ii., p. 12. 2 Anecdotes. [Johnsoniana, p. 13.]
3 Ibid. [p. 119.]
be held as good evidence against him ; for wherever an instance of harshness and severity is told, I beg leave to doubt its perfect authenticity; for though there may have been some foundation for it, yet, like that of his reproof to the “ very celebrated lady," it may be so exhibited in the narration as to be very unlike the real fact.
The evident tendency of the following anecdote 1 is to represent Dr. Johnson as extremely deficient in affection, tenderness, or even common civility.
“When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America.—Prithee, my dear (said he), have done with canting ; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto’s supper ? — Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.”
I suspect this too of exaggeration and distortion. I allow that he made her an angry speech; but let the circumstances fairly appear, as told by Mr. Baretti, who was present :
“Mrs. Thrale, while supping very heartily upon larks, laid down her knife and fork, and abruptly exclaimed, “O, my dear Johnson ! do you know what has happened? The last letters from abroad have brought us an account that our poor cousin's head was taken off by a cannon-ball.' Johnson, who was shocked both at the fact and her light unfeeling manner of mentioning it, replied, “Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and dressed for Presto's
1 Anecdotes. [Johnsoniana, p. 28.]
2 Upon mentioning this to my friend Mr. Wilkes, he, with his usual readiness, pleasantly matched it with the following sentimental anecdote. He was invited by a young man of fashion at Paris to sup with him and a lady, who had been for some time his mistress, but with whom he was going to part. He said to Mr. Wilkes that he really felt very much for her, she was in such distress, and that he meant to make her a present of two hundred louis-d’ors. Mr. Wilkes observed the behaviour of mademoiselle, who sighed, indeed, very piteously, and assumed every pathetic air of grief, but ate no less than three French pigeons, which are as large as English partridges, besides other things. Mr. Wilkes whispered the gentleman, “ We often say in England, excessive sorrow is exceeding dry, but I never heard excessive sorrow is exceeding hungry. Perhaps one hundred will do.” The gentleman took the bint.
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
It is with concern that I find myself obliged to animadvert on the inaccuracies of Mrs. Piozzi's “ Anecdotes,” and perhaps I may be thought to have dwelt too long upon her little collection. But as from Johnson's long residence under Mr. Thrale's roof, and his intimacy with her, the account which she has given of him may have made an unfavourable and unjust impression, my duty, as a faithful biographer, has obliged me reluctantly to perform this unpleasing task.
Having left the pious negotiation, as I called it, in the best hands, I shall here insert what relates to it. Johnson wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds, on July 6, as follows :
“I am going, I hope, in a few days, to try the air of Derbyshire, but hope to see you before I go. Let me, however, mention to you what I have much at heart. If the Chancellor should continue his attention to Mr. Boswell's request, and confer with you on the means of relieving my languid state, I am very desirous to avoid the appearance of asking for money upon false pretences. I desire you to represent to his lordship, what, as as soon as it is suggested, he will perceive to be reasonable, that, if I grow much worse, I shall be afraid to leave my physicians, to suffer the inconveniences of travel, and pine in the solitude of a foreign country ;—that if I grow much better, of which indeed there is now little appearance, I shall not wish to leave my friends and my domestic comforts, for I do not travel for pleasure or curiosity ; yet if I should recover, curiosity would revive. In my present state I am desirous to make a struggle for a little longer life, and to hope to obtain some help from a softer climate. Do for me what you can.”
He wrote to me July 26':
"I wish your affairs could have permitted a longer and continued exertion of your zeal and kindness. They that have your kindness may want your ardour. In the meantime I am very very feeble and very dejected.”
By a letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds I was informed that the Lord Chancellor had called on him, and acquainted him that the application had not been successful; but that his lordship, after speaking highly in praise of Johnson, as
a man who was an honour to his country, desired Sir Jɔshua to let him know, that on granting a mortgage of his pension, he should draw on his lordship to the amount of five or six hundred pounds, and that his lordship explained the meaning of the mortage to be, that he wished the business to be conducted in such a manner, that Dr. Johnson should appear to be under the least possible obligation. Sir Joshua mentioned that he had by the same post communicated all this to Dr. Johnson.
How Johnson was affected upon the occasion will appear from what he wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds :
“ Ashbourne, Sept. 9. “Many words I hope are not necessary between you and me, to convince you what gratitude is excited in my heart by the Chancellor's liberality, and your kind offices.
“I have enclosed a letter to the Chancellor, which, when you have read it, you will be pleased to seal with a head, or any other general seal, and convey it to him : had I sent it directly to him, I should have seemed to overlook the favour of your intervention.”
TO THE LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR,
“September, 1784. “ MY LORD,
“ After a long and not inattentive observation of mankind, the generosity of your lordship's offer raises in me not less wonder than gratitude. Bounty, so liberally bestowed, I should gladly receive, if my condition made it necessary; for, to such a mind, who would not be proud to own his obligations ? But it has pleased God to restore me to so great a measure of health, that if I should now appropriate so much of a fortune destined to
Sir Joshua Reynolds, on account of the excellence both of the sentiment and expression of this letter, took a copy of it, which he showed to some of his friends : one of whom [Lady Lucan, it is said.-C.], who admired it, being allowed to peruse it leisurely at home, a copy was made, and found its way into the newspapers and magazines. It was transcribed with some inaccuracies. I print it from the original draft in Johnson's own handwriting.
do good, I could not escape from myself the charge of advancing a false claim. My journey to the Continent, though I once thought it necessary, was never much encouraged by my physicians; and I was very desirous that your lordship should be told of it by Sir Joshua Reynolds as an event very uncertain ; for if I grew much better, I should not be willing, if much worse, not able, to migrate. Your lordship was first solicited without my knowledge ; but, when I was told that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did not expect to hear of a refusal ; yet, as I have had no long time to brood hope, and have not rioted in imaginary opulence, this cold reception has been scarce a disappointment; and, from your lordship's kindness, I have received a benefit, which only men like you are able to bestow. I shall now live mihi carior, with a higher opinion of my own merit. I am, my Lord, &c., “Sam. Johnson.”
Upon this unexpected failure I abstain from presuming to make any remarks, or to offer any conjectures.'
i This affair soon became a topic of conversation, and it was stated that the cause of the failure was the refusal of the King himself ; but from the following letter it appears that the matter was never mentioned to his Majesty ; that, as time pressed, Lord Thurlow proposed the before. mentioned arrangement as from himself—running the risk of obtaining the King's subsequent approbation when he should have an opportunity of mentioning it to his Majesty. This affords some, and yet not a satisfactory, explanation of the device suggested by Lord Thurlow of Johnson's giving him a mortgage on his pension. But it still seems very strange that Boswell, who evidently was much pained at the idea that the King had been the obstacle, should have been kept in ignorance of the real state of the case, as by the following letter, which I found in the Reynolds' papers, it appears he was.
“ LORD THURLOW TO Sir J. REYNOLDS.
“ Thursday, Nov. 18, 1784. “Dear Sir,
“My choice, if that had been left me, would certainly have been that the matter should not have been talked of at all. The only object I regarded was my own pleasure, in contributing to the health and comfort of a man whom I venerate sincerely and highly for every part, without exception, of his exalted character. This you know I proposed to do, as it might be without any expense--in all events at a rate infinitely below the satisfaction I proposed to myself. It would have suited the purpose better if nobody had heard of it, except Dr. Johnson, you, and J. Boswell. But the chief objection to the rumour is, that his Majesty is supposed to have refused it. Had that been so, I should not