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Death of Mrs. Williams. Conversation. French
Literature. - Dr. Priestley. Candour, Mrs. Siddons. Mrs. Porter. Kitty Clive. Mrs. Pritchard. John Philip Kemble. George Anne Bellamy. Lord Carlisle's Tragedy. Unconstitutional Influence of the Scotch Peers. Old Horses:
Mickle's “ Lusiad.” Ossian. Rules for the Essex Head Club.
In August he went as far as the neighbourhood of Salisbury, to Heale, the seat of William Bowles, Esq., a gentleman whom I have heard him praise for exemplary religious order in his family. In his diary I find a short but honourable mention of this visit:
August 28., I came to Heale without fatigue. 30. I am entertained quite to my mind.”
LETTER 441. TO DR. BROCKLESBY.
“ Heale, near Salisbury, Aug. 29. 1788. “ DEAR SIR, - Without appearing to want a just sense of your kind attention, I cannot omit to give an account of the day which seemed to appear in some sort perilous. I rose at five, and went out at six; and naving reached Salisbury about nine, went forward a few miles in my friend's chariot. I was no more wearied with the journey, though it was a high-hung,
rough coach, than I should have been forty years ago. We shall now see what air will do. The country is all a plain ; and the house in which I am, so far as 1 caus judge from my window, for I write before I have left my chamber, is sufficiently pleasant.
“ Be so kind as to continue your attention to Mrs. Williams. It is great consolation to the well, and still greater to the sick, that they find themselves not neglected; and I know that you will be desirous of giving comfort, even where you have no great hope of giving help.
“ Since I wrote the former part of the letter, I find that by the course of the post I cannot send it before the thirty-first. I am, &c. SAM. JOHNSON.” 7 While he was here, he had a letter from Dr. Brocklesby, acquainting him of the death of Mrs. Williams, which affected him a good deal. Though for several years her temper had not been complacent, she had valuable qualities, and her de. parture left a blank in his house. Upon this occasion (1) he, according to his habitual course of piety, composed a prayer. (?)
I shall here insert a few particulars concerning (1) Prayers and Meditations, p. 226.
(2) In his letter to Miss Susannah Thrale, Sept. 9., he thus writes:
“ Pray shew mamma this passage of a letter from Dr. Brocklesby: • Mrs. Williams, from mere inanition, has at length paid the great debt to nature, about three o'clock this morning (Sept. 6.). She died without a struggle, retaining her faculties entire to the very last ; and, as skje ex. pressed it, having set her house in order, was prepared to leave it at the last summons of nature
In his letter to Mrs. Thrale, Sept. 22., he adds:“Poor Williams has, I hope, seen the end of her a fiictions She acted with prudence, and she bore with fortitude. She has left me,
'Thou thy weary task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.' Had she had good humour and prompt elocution, her universal curiosity and comprehensive knowledge would have made her the delight of all that knew her. She left her little to your charity-school." - M.
him, with which I have been favou: ed by one of his friends.
« He had once conceived the design of writing the Lite of Oliver Cromwell, saying, that he thought it must be highly curious to trace his extraordinary rise to the supreme power from so obscure a beginning. He at length laid aside his scheme, on discovering that all that can be told of him is already in print; and that it is impracticable to procure any authentic information in addition to what the world is already in possession of. (')"
" He had likewise projected, but at what part of his life is not known, a work to show how small a quantity of REAL FICTION there is in the world ; and that the same images, with very little variation, have served all the authors who have ever written.”
“ His thoughts in the latter part of his life were frequently employed on his deceased friends. He often muttered these or such like sentences : ' Poor man ! and then he died.'"
Speaking of a certain literary friend, 'He is a very pompous puzzling fellow,' said he: - he lent me a letter once that somebody had written to him, no matter what it was about; but he wanted to have the letter back, and expressed a mighty value for it: he hoped it was to be met with again; he would not lose it for a thousand pounds. I laid my hand upon it soon afterwards, and
I believe I said I was very glad to have met with it. ), then he did not know that it signified any thing. So you see, when the letter was lost it was
gave it him.
(1) Mr. Malone observes, “ This, however, was entirely a mistake, as appears from the Memoirs published by Mr. Noble. Had Johnson been furnished with the materials which the industry of that gentleman has procured, and with others which it is believed are yet preserved in manuscript, he would, withou doubt, have produced a most valuable and curious history of Cromwell's life.”
worth a thousand pounds, and when it was found it was not worth a farthing.'
“ The style and character of his conversation is pretty generally known: it was certainly conducted in con. formity with a precept of Lord Bacon, but it is not clear, I apprehend, that this conformity was either perceived or intended by Johnson. The precept alluded to is as follows: 'In all kinds of speech, either pleasant, grave, severe, or ordinary, it is convenient to speak leisurely, and rather drawlingly than hastily: because hasty speech confounds the memory, and oftentimes, besides the unseemliness, drives a man either to stammering, a non-plus, or harping on that which should follow; whereas a slow speech confirmeth the memory, addeth a conceit of wisdom to the hearers, besides a seemliness of speech and countenance.' (1) Dr. Johnson's method of conversation was certainly calculated to excite attention, and to amuse and instruct (as it happened), without wearying or confusing his company. He was always most perfectly clear and perspicuous; and his language was so accurate, and his sentences so neatly constructed, that his conversation might have been all printed without any correction. At the same time, it was easy and natural; the accuracy of it had no appearance of labour, constraint, or stiffness : he seemed more correct than others by the force of habit, and the customary exercises of his powerful mind."
“ He spoke often in praise of French literature. · The French are excellent in this,' he would say,
they have a book on every subject. From what he had seen of them he denied them the praise of superio. politeness, and mentioned, with very visible disgust, the custom they have of spitting on the floors of their apartments. This,' said the doctor, 'is as gross a thing as can well be done; and one wonders how any
(1) Hints for Civil Conversation.-Bacon's Works, 4to. vol. i. p. 571. — M.
man, or set of men, can persist in so offensive a practice for a whole day together : one should expect that the first effort towards civilisation would remove it even among savages.'
“ Baxter's - Reasons of the Christian Religion 'he thought contained the best collection of the evidences of the divinity of the Christian system.”
Chymistry was always an interesting pursuit with Dr. Johnson. Whilst he was in Wiltshire, he attended some experiments that were made by a physician at Salisbury on the new kinds of air. In the course of the experiments frequent mention being made of Dr. Priestley, Dr. Johnson knit his brows, and in a stern manner inquired, 'Why do we hear so much of Dr. Priestley (1) ?' He was very properly answered, 'Sir,
(1) I do not wonder at Johnson's displeasure when the name of Dr. Priestley was mentioned; for I know no writer who has been suffered to publish more pernicious doctrines. I shall instance only three. First, Materialism; by which mind is denied to human nature; which, if be. Jieved, must deprive us of every elevated principle. Secondly, Necessity ; or the doctrine that every action, whether good or bad, is included in an unchangeable and unavoidable system ; a notion utterly subversive of moral government. Thirdly, that we have no reason to think that the future world (which, as he is pleased to inform us, will be adapted to our merely improved nature) will be materially different from this ; which, if believed, would sink wretched mortals into despair, as they could no longer hope for the “rest that remaineth for the people of God, or for that happiness which is revealed to us as something beyond our present conceptions, but would feel themselves doomed to a continuation of the uneasy state under which they now groan. I say nothing of the petulant intemperance with which he dares to insult the venerable establishments of his country. As a specimen of his writings, I shall quote the following passage, which appears to me equally absurd and impious, and which might have been re. torted upon him by the men who were prosecuted for burning his house. “ I cannot,” says he, “as a necessarian (meaning necessitarian], hate any man; because I consider him as being, in all respects, just what God har made him to:be ; and also as doing, with respect to me, nothing but what he was expressly designed and appointed to do: God being the only cause, and men nothing more than the instruments in his hands to execute all his pleasure." -Ilustrations of Philosophical Necessity, p. 111. The Reverend Dr. Parr, in a late tract, appears to suppose that Dr. Johnson not only en. dured, but almost solicited, an interview with Dr. Priestley. In justice to Dr. Johnson, I declare my firm belief that he never did. My illustrious friend was particularly resolute in not giving countenance to men whose writings he considered as pernicious to society. I was present at Oxford when Dr. Price, even before he had rendered himself so generally obnoxious by his zeal for the French revolution, came into
company where Johnson was, who instantly left the room. Much more would he have re. probated Dr. Priestley. Whoever wishes to see a perfect deineation of this Literary Jack of all Trades may find it in an ingenious tract, entitled “ A Small Whole-Length of Dr. Priestley)" printed for Rivingtons, in St. Paul's Churchyard.-B.