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Experiments on the Constancy of Friends-Colonel James Stuart-Choice of Guardians
Adventurers to the East Indies—Poor of London-Pope's “Essay on Man "-Lord Bolingbroke-Johnson's Residences in London-Conjugal Infidelity-Roman Catholics-Helps 10 the Study of Greek—Middlesex Election-House of Commons-Right of Expulsion-George Whitfield-Philip Astley-Keeping company with Infidels-Irish Union-Vulgar Prosperity -“The Ambassador says well"-Correspondence.
I did not write to Johnson, as usual, upon my return to my family ; but tried how he would be affected by my silence. Mr. Dilly sent me a copy of a note which he received from him on the 13th of July, in these words :
“Sir, -Since Mr. Boswell's departure, I have never heard from him. Please to send word what you know of him, and whether you have sent my books to his lady. I am, &c.
My readers will not doubt that his solicitude about me was very flattering
“ July 18, 1779. “DEAR SIR,–What can possibly have happened, that keeps us two such strangers to each other? I expected to have heard from you when you came home; I expected afterwards. I went into the country and returned ; and yet there is no letter from Mr. Boswell. No ill, I hope, has happened; and if ill should happen, why should it be concealed from him who loves you? Is it a fit of humour, that has disposed you to try who can hold out longest without writing? If it be, you have the victory. But I am afraid of something bad ; get me free from my suspicions.
“My thoughts are at present employed in guessing the reason of your silence: you must not expect that I should tell you anything, if I had anything to tell. Write, pray write to me, and let me know what is or what has been the cause of this long interruption. I am, dear Sir, your most affectionate bumble servant,
“Edinburgh, July 17, 1779. “MY DEAR SIR, –What may be justly denominated a supine indolence of mind has been my state of existence since I last returned to Scotland. In a livelier state I had often suffered severely from long intervals of silence on your part; and I had even been chid by you for expressing my uneasiness. I was willing to take advantage of my insensibility, and while I could bear the experiment, to try whether your affection for me would, after an unusual silence on my part, make you write first. This afternoon I have had a very high satisfaction by receiving your kind letter of inquiry, for which I most gratefully thank you. I am doubtful if it was right to make the experiment; though I have gained by it. I was beginning to grow tender, and to upbraid myself, especially after having dreamt two nights ago that I was with you. I, and my wife, and my four children, are all well. I would not delay one post to answer your letter; but as it is late, I have not time to do more. You shall soon hear from me, upon many and various particulars; awi I shall never again put you to any test. I am, with veneration, my dear Sir, your, &c.
On the 22d of July, I wrote to him again ; and gave him au account of my last interview with my worthy friend, Mr. Edward Dilly, at his brother's house at Southill in Bedfordshire, where he died soon after I parted from him, leaving me a very kind remembrance of his regard.
I informed him that Lord Hailes, who had promised to furnish him with some anecdotes for his “Lives of the Poets,” had sent me three instances of Prior's borrowing from Gombauld, in Recueil des Poètes, tome 3, Epigram “To John I owed great obligation," p. 25. “To the Duke of Noailles," p. 32. Sauntering Jack and idle Joan,” p. 35.
My letter was a pretty long one, and contained a variety of particulars; but he, it should seem, had not attended to it ; for his next to me was as follows:
“Streatham, Sept. 9, 1779. “MY DEAR SIR,—Are you playing the same trick again, and trying who can keep silence longest ? Remember that all tricks are either knavish or childish; and that it is as foolish to make experiments upon the constancy of a friend, as upon the chastity of a wife.
“What can be the cause of this second fit of silence, I cannot conjecture ;
hut after one trick, I will not be cheated by another, nor will harass ny thoughts with conjectures about the motives of a man who, probably, acts only by caprice. I therefore suppose you are well, and that Mrs. Boswell is well too, and that the fine summer has restored Lord Auchinleck. I am much better than you left me; I think I am better than when I was in Scotland.
“I forgot whether I informed you that poor Thrale has been in great danger. Mrs. Thrale likewise has miscarried, and been much indisposed. Everybody else is well. Langton is in camp. I intend to put Lord Hailes's description of Dryden into another edition, and, as I know his accuracy, wish he would consider the dates, which I could not always settle to my own mind.
“Mr. Thrale goes to Brighthelmstone, about Michaelmas, to be jolly and ride a-hunting. I shall go to town, or perhaps to Oxford. Exercise and gaiety, or rather carelessness, will, I hope, dissipate all remains of his malady; and I likewise hope, by the change of place, to find some opportunities of growing yet better myself. I am, dear Sir, your, &c.
My readers will not be displeased at being told every slight circumstance of the manner in which Dr. Johnson contrived to amuse his solitary hours. He sometimes employed himself in chemistry, sometimes in watering and pruning a vine, sometimes in small experiments, at which those who may smile should recollect that there are moments which admit of being soothed only by trifles.'
· Which I communicated to him from his Lordship, but it has not yet been published. I have a copy of it.-B. The few notices concerning Dryden, which Lord Hailes had collected, the author afterwards gave me.-M.
2 In one of his manuscript Diaries, there is the following entry, which marks his curious minute attention :—“July 26, 1768. I shaved my nail by accident in whetting the knife, about an eighth of an inch from the bottom, and about a fourth from the top. This I measure that I may know the growth of nails; the whole is about five-eighths of an inch:” Another of the same kind appears August 7, 1779 : “ Partem brachii deætri carpo proximam et cutem pectoris circa mamillam dextram rasi, ut notum fieret quanto temporis pili renovarentur." And, “ August 15, 1783:-I cut from the vine 41 leaves, which weighed five oz. and a half, and eight scruples : I lay them upon my bookcase, to see what weight they will lose by drying."-B. Dr. Johnson was always exceeding fond of chemistry; and we made up a sort of laboratory at Streatham one summer, and diverted ourselves with drawing essences and colouring liquors. But the danger in which Mr. Thrale found his friend one day, when I was driven to London, and he had got the children and servants assembled round him to see some experiments performed, put an end to all our entertainment; as Mr. Thrale was persuaded that his short sight would have occasioned his destruction in a moment, by bringing him close to a fierce and violent flame. Indeed, it was a perpetual miracle that he did not set himself on fire reading abed, as was his constant custom, when quite unable even to keep clear of mischief with our best help; and accordingly the foretops of all his wigs were burned by the candle down to the very network. Future experiments in chemistry, however, were too dangerous, and Mr. Thrale insisted that we should do no more towards finding the philosopher's stone-Piozzi. VOL. IV.
On the 20th of September I defended myself against his suspicion of me, which I did not deserve ; and added, “Pray let us write frequently. A wbim strikes me, that we should send off a sheet once a week, like a stage-coach, whether it be full or not; nay, though it should be empty. The very sight of your handwriting would comfort me ; and were a sheet to be thus sent regularly, we should much oftener convey something, were it only a few kind words.”
My friend, Colonel James Stuart,' second son of the Earl of Bute, who had distinguished himself as a good officer of the Bedfordshire militia, had taken a public-spirited resolution to serve his country in its difficulties, by raising a regular regiment, and taking the command of it himself. This, in the heir of the immense property of Wortley, was highly honourable. Having been in Scotland recruiting, he obligingly asked me to accompany him to Leeds, then the head-quarters of his corps ;
from thence to London for a short time, and afterwards to other places to which the regiment might be ordered. Such an offer, at a time of the year when I had full leisure, was very pleasing ; especially as I was to accompany a man of sterling good sense, information, discernment, and conviviality, and was to have a second crop, in one year, of London and John
Of this I informed my illustrious friend in characteristical warm terms, in a letter dated the 30th of September, from Leeds.
On Monday, October 4, I called at bis house before he was up. He sent for me to his bedside, and expressed his satisfaction at this incidental meeting, with as much vivacity as if he had been in the gaiety of youth. He called briskly, "Frank, go and get coffee, and let us breakfast in splendour.”
During this visit to London I had several interviews with him, which it is unnecessary to distinguish particularly. I consulted him as to the appointment of guardians to my children in case of my death. “Sir," said he,“ do not appoint a number of guardians. When there are many, they trust one to another, and the business is neglected. I would advise you to choose only one ; let him be a man of respectable character, who, for his own credit, will do what is right ; let him be a rich man, so that he may be under no temp
1 Who assumed successively the names of Wortley and Mackenzie, but was best known as Mr. Stuart Wortley. He was the father of Lord Wharncliffe, and died in 1814.-C.
tation to take advantage ; and let him be a man of business, who is used to conduct affairs with ability and expertness, to whom, therefore, the execution of the trust will not be burthensome.."
“Oct. 5, 1779.—When Mr. Boswell waited on Mr. Thrale in Southwark, I directed him to watch all appearances with close attention, and bring me his observations. At his return he told me, that without previous intelligence he should not have discovered that Mr. Thrale had been lately ill.
“Oct. 8, 1779.-On Sunday the gout left my ankles, and I went very commodiously to church. On Monday night I felt my feet uneasy. On Tuesday I was quite lame; that night I took an opiate, having first taken physic and fasted. Towards morning on Wednesday the pain remitted. Bozzy came to me, and much talk we had. I fasted another day; and on Wednesday night could walk tolerably. On Thursday, finding myself mending, I ventured on my dinner, which I think has a little interrupted my convalescence. To-day I have again taken physic, and eaten only some stewed apples. I hope to starve it away. It is now no worse than it was at Brighthelmstone.”
On Sunday, October 10, we dined together at Mr. Strahan's. The conversation having turned on the prevailing practice of going
to the East Indies in quest of wealth ;-JOHNSON. “A man had better have ten thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in England, than twenty thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in India, because you must compute what you give for money ; and the man who has lived ten years in India has given up ten years of social comfort, and all those advantages which arise from living in England. The ingenious Mr. Brown, distinguished by the name of Capability Brown, told me, that he was once at the seat of Lord Clive, who had returned from India with great wealth ; and that he showed him at the door of his bed-chamber a large chest, which he said he had once had full of gold ; upon which Brown observed. “I am glad you can bear it so near your bed-chamber.' "
We talked of the state of the poor in London. Johnson. “Saunders Welch, the justice, who was once high-constable of Holborn, and had the best opportunities of knowing the state of the poor, told me, that I under-rated the number, when I computed that twenty a week, that is, above a thousand a year, died of hunger ; not absolutely of immediate hunger, but of the wasting and other