« PreviousContinue »
tion ?” But immediately recovering himself, whether from unwillingness to be deceived or to appear deceived, or whether from real good humour, he kept up the joke: “ Nay, but if any body were to answer the paragraph, and contradict it, I'd have a reply, and would say, that he who contradicted it was no friend either to Vestris or me. For why should not Doctor Johnson add to his other powers a little corporeal agility ? Socrates learnt to dance at an advanced age, and Cato learnt Greek at an advanced age. Then it might proceed to say, that this Johnson, not content with dancing on the ground, might dance on the rope; and they might introduce the elephant dancing on the rope. A nobleman’ wrote a play called • Love in a Hollow Tree.' He found out that it was a bad one, and therefore wished to buy up all the copies and burn them. The Duchess of Marlborough had kept one; and when he was against her at an election, she had a new edition of it printed, and prefixed to it, as a frontispiece, an elephant dancing on a rope, to show that his lordship’s writing comedy was as awkward as an elephant dancing on a rope.”
On Sunday, April 1, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, with Sir Philip Jennings Clerk and Mr. Perkins, who had the superintendence of Mr. Thrale's brewery, with a salary of five hundred pounds a year. Sir Philip had the appearance of a gentleman of ancient family, well advanced in life. He wore his own white hair in a bag of goodly size, a black velvet coat, with an embroidered waistcoat, and very rich laced ruffles; which Mrs. Thrale said were oldfashioned, but which, for that reason, I thought the more respectable, more like a Tory; yet Sir Philip was then in opposition in parliament. “Ah! Sir,” said Johnson, “ancient ruffles and modern principles do not agree.” Sir Philip defended the opposition to the American war ably and with temper, and I joined him. He said the majority of the nation was against the ministry. Johnson. “İ, Sir, am against the ministry; but it is for having too little of that of which opposition thinks they have too much. Were I minister, if any man wagged his finger against me, he should be turned out; for that which it is in the power
- 1 William, the first Viscount Grimston.
of government to give at pleasure to one or to another should be given to the supporters of government. If you will not oppose at the expense of losing your place, your opposition will not be honest, you will feel no serious grievance; and the present opposition is only a contest to get what others have. Sir Robert Walpole acted as I would do. As to the American war, the sense of the nation is with the ministry. The majority of those who can understand is with it; the majority of those who can only hear is against it; and as those who can only hear are more numerous than those who can understand, and opposi. tion is always loudest, a majority of the rabble will be for opposition."
This boisterous vivacity entertained us; but the truth in my opinion was, that those who could understand the best were against the American war, as almost every man now is, when the question has been coolly considered.
Mrs. Thrale gave high praise to Mr. Dudley Long (now North). JOHNSON. “Nay, my dear lady, don't talk so. Mr. Long's character is very short. It is nothing. He filis a chair. He is a man of genteel appearance, and that is all. I know nobody who blasts by praise as you do: for whenever there is exaggerated praise, every body is set against a character. They are provoked to attack it. Now there is Pepys:? you praised that man with such disproportion, that I was incited to lessen him, perhaps more than he deserves. His blood is upon your head. By the same principle, your malice defeats itself; for your censure is too violent. And yet (looking to her with a leering smile)
? Here Johnson condescended to play upon the word long and short. But little did he know that, owing to Mr. Long's reserve in his presence, he was talking thus of a gentleman distinguished amongst his acquaintance for acuteness of wit; and to whom, I think, the French expression, “Il pétille d'esprit," is particularly suited. He has gratified me by mentioning that he heard Dr. Johnson say, “ Sir, if I were to lose Boswell, it would be a limb amputated.”
2 William Weller Pepys, Esq., one of the masters in the High Court of Chancery, and well known in polite circles. My acquaintance with him is not sufficient to enable me to speak of him from my own judgment. But I know that both at Eton and Oxford he was the intimate friend of the late Sir James Macdonald, the Marcellus of Scotland, whose extraordinary talents, learning, and virtues will ever be remombered with admiration and regret.
she is the first woman in the world, could she but restrain that wicked tongue of hers ;-she would be the only woman, could she but command that little whirligig.”
Upon the subject of exaggerated praise I took the liberty to say, that I thought there might be very high praise given to a known character which deserved it, and therefore it would not be exaggerated. Thus, one might say of Mr. Edmund Burke, he is a very wonderful man. JOHNSON. “No, Sir you would not be safe, if another man had a mind perversely to contradict. He might answer, · Where is all the wonder? Burke is, to be sure a man of uncommon abilities ; with a great quantity of matter in his mind, and a great fluency of language in his mouth. But we are not to be stunned and astonished by him.' So you see, Sir, even Burke would suffer, not from any fault of his own, but from your folly.”
Mrs. Thrale mentioned a gentleman who had acquired a fortune of four thousand a year in trade, but was absolutely miserable because he could not talk in company; so miserable, that he was impelled to lament his situation in the street to *****, whom he hates, and who he knows despises him. “I am a most unhappy man,” said he. “I am invited to conversations; I go to conversations ; but, alas! I have no conversation.” JOHNSON. “ Man commonly cannot be successful in different ways. This gentleman has spent, in getting four thousand pounds a year, the time in which he might have learnt to talk ; and now he cannot talk.” Mr. Perkins make a shrewd and droll remark: “If he had got his four thousand a year as a mountebank, he might have learnt to talk at the same time that he was getting his fortune.”
Some other gentlemen came in. The conversation concerning the person whose character Dr. Johnson had treated so slightingly, as he did not know his merit, was resumed. Mrs. Thrale said, “You think so of him, Sir, because he is quiet, and does not exert himself with force. You'll be saying the same thing of Mr. ***** there, who sits as quiet.” This was not well bred ; and Johnson did not let it pass without correction. “Nay, Madam, what right have you to talk thus ? Both Mr. ***** and I have reason to take it ill. You may talk so of Mr. ***** ; but why do you
make me do it? Have I said anything against Mr.***** ? You have set him; that I might shoot him : but I have not shot him.”
One of the gentlemen said he had seen three folio volumes of Dr. Johnson's sayings collected by me. “I must put you right, Sir,” said I; “for I am very exact in authenticity. You could not see folio volumes, for I have none: you might have seen some in quarto and octavo. This is an inattention which one should guard against.” JOHNSON, “ Sir, it is a want of concern about veracity. He does not know that he saw any volumes. If he had seen them, he could have remembered their size."
Mr. Thrale appeared very lethargic to-day. I saw him again on Monday evening, at which time he was not thought to be in immediate danger: but early in the morning of Wednesday the 4th he expired. Johnson was in the house and thus mentions the event: “I felt almost the last flutter of his pulse, and looked for the last time upon the face that for fifteen years had never been turned upon me but with respect and benignity." 1 Upon that day there was a call of the Literary Club, but Johnson apologised for his absence by the following note :
“ Wednesday (4th April). “Mr. Johnson knows that Sir Joshua Reynolds and the other gentlemen will excuse his incompliance with the call, when they are told that Mr. Thrale died this morning."
Mr. Thrale's death was a very essential loss to Johnson, who, although be did not foresee all that afterwards happened, was sufficiently convinced that the comforts which Mr. Thrale's family afforded him would now in a great measure cease. He, however, continued to show a kind attention to his widow and children as long as it was acceptable; and he took upon him, with a very earnest concern, the office of one of his executors; the importance of which seemed greater than usual to him, from his circumstances having been always such that he had scarcely any share in the real business of life. His friends of the Club were in hopes that Mr. Thrale might have made a
1 Prayers and Meditations, p. 184. First Edition, 1785.
liberal provision for him for his life, which, as Mr. Thrale left no son and a very large fortune, it would have been highly to his honour to have done ; and, considering Dr. Johnson's age, could not have been of long duration ; but he bequeathed him only two hundred pounds, which was the legacy given to each of his executors. I could not but be somewhat diverted by hearing Johnson talk in a pompous manner of his new office, and particularly of the concerns of the brewery, which it was at last resolved should be sold. Lord Lucan tells a very good story, which, if not precisely exact, is certainly characteristical; that when the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson appeared bustling about, with an ink-horn and pen in his buttonhole, like an exciseman; and on being asked what he really considered to be the value of the property, which was to be disposed of, answered, “ We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice."
On Friday, April 6, he carried me to dine at a club, which, at his desire, had been lately formed at the Queen's Arms in St. Paul's Churchyard. He told Mr. Hoole that he wished to have a city Club, and asked him to collect one; but, said he, “ Don't let them be patriots,” The company were to-day very sensible, well-behaved men. I have
1 The brewery was sold by Dr. Johnson and his brother executor, to Messrs. Barclay, Perkins, & Co., for £135,000. While on his Tour to the Hebrides, in 1773, Johnson mentioned that Thrale “ paid £20,000 a year to the revenue, and that he had four vats, each of which held 1,600 barrels, above a thousand hogsheads." The establishment in Park Street, in the Borough, is now the largest of its kind in the world. The buildings extend over ten acres, and the machinery includes two steam-engines. The store-cellars contain 126 vats, varying in their contents from 4,000 barrels down to 500. About 160 horses are employed in conveying beer to different parts of London. The quantity brewed in 1826 was 380,180 barrels, upon which a duty of ten shillings the barrel, £180,090, was paid to the revenue; and, in the last year, the malt consumed exceeded 100,000 quarters.— Wright, 1835.
2 It seems unfeeling to have dined at a tavern the day but one after poor Thrale's death ; but he was afraid to indulge his own morbid grief. He writes, April 9, to Mrs. Thrale, “ Our sorrow has different effects; you are withdrawn into solitude, and I am driven into company.” And again (April 12),“ I give it (my uneasiness) little vent, and amuse it as I cun." Letters, vol. ii. p. 195-198.-Croker.