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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 riosity ; 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 exertiou 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 Having, after repeated reasonings, brought Dr. Johnson to agree to my removing to London, and even to furnish me with arguments in favour of what he had opposed ; I wrote to him, requesting he would write them for me. He was so good as to comply, and I shall extract that part of his letter to me, as a proof how well he could exhibit a cautious yet encouraging view of it.
“ June 11, 1784. “I remember, and entreat you to remember that virtus est vitium fugere, the first approach to riches is security from poverty. The condition upon which you have my consent to settle in London is, that your expense never exceeds your annual income. Fixing this basis of security, you cannot be hurt, and you may be very much advanced.
The loss of your Scottish business, which is all that you can lose, is not to be reckoned as any equivalent to the hopes and possibilities that open here upon you. If you succeed, the question of prudence is at an end; every body will think that done right which ends happily ; and though your expectations, of which I would not
have communicated the circumstance. It was impossible for me to take the King's pleasure on the suggestion I presumed to move.
I am an untoward solicitor. The time seemed to press, and I chose rather to take on myself the risk of his Majesty's concurrence than delay a journey which might conduce to Dr. Johnson's health and comfort.
“ But these are all trifles, and scarce deserve even this cursory explanation. The only question of any worth is whether Dr. Johnson has any wish to go abroad, or other occasion for my assistance. Indeed he should give me credit for perfect simplicity, when I treat this as merely a pleasure afforded me, and accept it accordingly: any reluctance, if he examines himself thoroughly, will certainly be found to rest, in some part or other, upon a doubt of the disposition with which I offer it.
“I am, &c.,
THURLOW." That this letter was kept from Boswell's knowledge is certain, by his obvious vexation at thinking that the refusal had come from the Kingthat it was designedly kept from him is rendered probable by the following curious circumstance. On the face of the original letter his name had been obliterated with so much care that but for the different colour of the ink and some other small circumstances, it would not have been discoverable; it is artfully done, and the sentence appears to run,
except Dr. Johnson, you, and I”—“Boswell” being erased. This looks like an uncandid trick, to defraud Boswell of his merit in this matter : but by whom the obliteration was made I cannot guess.-- Croker,
advise you to talk too much, should not be totally answered, you can hardly fail to get friends who will do for you all that your present situation allows you to hope; and if, after a few years, you should return to Scotland, you will return with a mind supplied by various conversation, and many opportunities of inquiry, with much knowledge, and materials for reflection and instruction.”
Let us now contemplate Johnson thirty years after the death of his wife, still retaining for her all the tenderness of affection.
TO THE REV. MR. BAGSHAW,
“ July 12, 1784.
“Perhaps you may remember, that in the year 1752 you committed to the ground my dear wife. I now entreat your permission to lay a stone upon her; and have sent the inscription, that, if you find it proper, you may signify your allowance.
“ You will do me a great favour by showing the place where she lies, that the stone may protect her remains.
“Mr. Ryland' will wait on you for the inscription, and procure it to be engraved. You will easily believe that I shrink from this mournful office. When it is done, if I have strength remaining, I will visit Bromley once again, and pay you part of the respect to which you have a right from, reverend Sir, your most humble servant,
“SAM. Johnson.” On the same day he wrote to Mr. Langton :
“I cannot but think that in my languid and anxious state, I have some reason to complain that I receive from you neither inquiry nor consolation. You know how much I value your friendship, and with what confidence I expect your kindness, if I
1 Mr. Ryland was one of his oldest friends, and had probably been an acquaintance of his wife's. Mr. Ryland died July 24, 1798, ætat. 81.Croker.
2 See vol. i., p. 178.-Editor.