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DEATH OF THRALE'S SON
widow lady, had each a house and garden, and pleasure-ground, prettily situated upon Stowhill, a gentle eminence, adjoining to Lichfield. Johnson walked away to dinner there, leaving me by myself without any apology ; I wondered at this want of that facility of manners, from which a man has no difficulty in carrying a friend to a house where he is intimate ; I felt it very unpleasant to be thus left in solitude in a country town, where I was an entire stranger, and began to think myself unkindly deserted : but I was soon relieved, and convinced that my friend, instead of being deficient in delicacy, had conducted the matter with perfect propriety, for I received the following note in his handwriting : “Mrs. Gastrel, at the lower house on Stowhill, desires Mr. Boswell's company to dinner at two." accepted of the invitation, and had here another proof how amiable his character was in the opinion of those who knew him best. I was not informed, till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrel's husband was the clergyman, who, while he lived at Stratford
on, where he was proprietor of Shakspeare's garden, with Gothic barbarity cut down his mulberry-tree,* and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours. His lady, I have reason to believe, on the same authority, participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts of our immortal bard deem almost a species of sacrilege.
After dinner Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to Mrs. Thrale on the death of her son. I said it would be very distressing to Thrale, but she would soon forget it, as she had so many things to think of. JOHNSON: “No, Sir, Thrale will forget it first. She has many things that she may think of. He has many things that he must think of." This was a very just remark upon the different effects of those light pursuits which occupy a vacant and easy mind, and those serious engagements which arrest attention, and keep us from brooding over grief.
He observed of Lord Bute, “ It was said of Augustus that it would have been better for Rome that he had never been born, or had never died. So it would have been better for this nation if Lord Bute had never been minister, or had never resigned."
In the evening we went to the Town Hall, which was converted
Amor See an accurate and animated statement of Mr. Gastrel's barbanty, by Mr. Malone, in a note on "Some account of the Life of William Sbakspeare.''prefixed to his admirable edition of that poet's
STOWHILL works, vol. i, p. 118.
The residence of Mrs. Aston and Mrs. Gastrel.
into a temporary theatre, and saw “ Theodosius,” with “ The Stratford Jubilee." I was happy to see Dr. Johnson sitting in a conspicuous part of the pit, and receiving affectionate homage from all his acquaintance. We were quite gay and merry. I afterwards mentioned to him that I condemned myself for being so, when poor Mr. and Mrs. Thrale were in such distress. JOHNSON: "You are wrong, Sir ; twenty years hence Mr. and Mrs. Thrale will not suffer much pain from the death of their son. Now, Sir, you are to consider that distance of place, as well as distance of time, operates upon the human feelings. I would not have you be gay in the presence of the distressed, because it would shock them ; but you may be gay at a distance. Pain for the loss of a friend, or of a relation whom we love, is occasioned by the want which we feel. In time, the vacuity is filled with something else; or sometimes the vacuity closes up of itself.”
From an engraving by S. Rawle after a drawing by J. Jackson
DR. JOHNSON'S WILLOW, AND ST. CHADS, NEAR LICHFIELD This interesting tree, which Johnson admired, and invariably visited when he came to Lichfield, survived until 1830; a second tree, planted from the original in 1831, was blown down in a gale in October, 1881. A third willow, being a descendant from the first, is now to be seen close to the Stone reservoir embankment.
Mr. Seward and Mr. Pearson, another clergyman here, supped with us at our inn, and after they left us, we sat up late as we used to do in London.
Here I shall record some fragments of my friend's conversation during this jaunt.
“ Marriage, Sir, is much more necessary to a man than to a woman : for he is much less able to supply himself with domestic comforts. You will recollect my saying to some ladies the other day that I had often wondered why young women should marry, as they have so much more freedom, and so much more attention paid to them while unmarried, than when married. I indeed did not mention the strong reason for their marrying—the mechanical reason.” BOSWELL : “Why, that is a strong one. But does not imagination make it much more important than it is in reality ? Is it not, to a certain degree, a delusion in us as well as in women ?” JOHNSON: “Why, yes, Sir ; but it is a delusion that is always beginning again.
JOHNSON ON MARRIAGE
BOSWELL : “I don't know but there is upon the whole more misery than happiness produced by that passion.” JOHNSON : “I don't think so, Sir."
“Never speak of a man in his own presence. It is always indelicate, and may be offensive.
“Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It is assuming a superiority, and it is particularly wrong to question a man concerning himself. There may be parts of his former life which he may not wish to be made known to other persons, or even brought to his own recollection."
“A man should be careful never to tell tales of himself to his own disadvantage. People may be amused and laugh at the time, but they will be remembered and brought out against him upon some subsequent occasion.”
Much may be done if a man puts his whole mind to a particular object. By doing so, Norton * has made himself the great lawyer that he is allowed to be.”
I mentioned an acquaintance of mine, a secretary, who was a very religious man, who not only attended regularly on public worship with those of his communion, but made a particular study of the Scriptures, and even wrote a commentary on some parts of them, yet was known to be very licentious in indulging himself with women ; maintaining that men are to be saved by faith alone, and that the Christian religion had not prescribed any fixed rule for the intercourse between the sexes. JOHNSON : “Sir, there is no trusting to that crazy piety.”
I observed that it was strange how well Scotchmen were known to one another in their own country, though born in very distant counties; for we do not find that the gentlemen of neighbouring counties in England are mutually known to each other. Johnson, with his usual acuteness, at once saw and explained the reason of this ; Why, Sir, you have Edinburgh, where the gentlemen from all your counties meet, and which is not so large but they are all known. There is no such common place of collection in England, except London, where, from its great size and diffusion, many of those who reside in contiguous counties of England may long remain unknown to each other."
[Sir Fletcher Norton, afterwards Speaker of the House of Commons, and in 1782 created Baron Grantley. M.]
By courtesy of Messrs. A. C. Lomar's successors THE OLD GUILD OR TOWN HALL, LICHFIELD where theatrical performances were sometimes given, before the theatre was built. Here on March 25th, 1776, Johnson and Boswell witnessed
the performance of " Theodosius ” and “ The Stratford Jubilee.”
JOHNSON RETURNS TO LONDON
Johnson and Boswell Visit Dr. Taylor at Ashbourne-At Derby, Dr. Butter-Love Marriages—“The
Ladies of the Present Day"-Death of Dr. James—St. Albans-Return to London-Johnson Goes to the Borough-Lobo's “ Account of Abyssinia ”—Johnson Arranges his Books—Voyages—OmaiSoldiers and Sailors-Pity-Education-Maclaurin—Good Friday and Easter-Johnson's Hope of Visiting Italy-Joseph Fowke- Jack Ellis--Gaming-Dr. Cheyne's Books—Dinner at Mr. Thrale's
Murphy-Flatman's Poems—The Reviews. On Tuesday, March 26, there came for us an equipage properly suited to a weathly well-beneficed clergyman : Dr. Taylor's large, roomy post-chaise, drawn by four stout plump horses, and driven by two steady jolly postilions, which conveyed us to Ashbourne ; where I found my friend's schoolfellow living upon an establishment perfectly corresponding with his substantial creditable equipage ; his house, garden, pleasure-grounds, table, in short everything good, and no scantiness appearing. Every man should form such a plan of living as he can execute completely. Let him not draw an outline wider than he can fill up. I have seen many skeletons of show and magnificence which excite at once ridicule and pity. Dr. Taylor had a good estate of his own, and good preferment in the Church, being a prebendary of Westminster, and rector of Bosworth. He was a diligent justice of the peace, and presided over the town of Ashbourne, to the inhabitants of which I was told he was very liberal ; and as a proof of this it was mentioned to me he had, the preceding winter, distributed two hundred pounds among such of them as stood in need of his assistance. He had consequently a considerable political interest in the county of Derby, which he employed to support the Devonshire family ; for, though the schoolfellow and friend of Johnson, he was a Whig. I could not perceive in his character much congeniality of any sort with that of Johnson, who, however, said to me, “Sir, he has a very strong understanding." His size, and figure, and countenance, and manner, were that of a hearty English squire, with the parson superinduced : and I took particular notice of his upper-servant, Mr. Peters, a decent grave man, in purple clothes, and a large white wig, like the butler or major domo of a bishop.
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Taylor met with great cordiality; and Johnson soon gave him the same sad account of their schoolfellow, Congreve, that he had given to Mr. Hector ; adding a remark of such moment to the rational conduct of a man in the decline of life, that deserves to be imprinted upon every mind : “ There is nothing against which an old man should be so much upon his guard as putting himself to nurse." Innumerable have been the melancholy instances of men once distinguished for firmness, resolution, and spirit, who in their latter days have been governed like children, by interested female artifice.
Dr. Taylor commended a physician who was known to him and Dr. Johnson, and said, “I fight many battles for him, as many people in the country dislike him." JOHNSON: “But you should consider, Sir, that by every one of your victories he is.
a loser ; for, every man of whom you get the better will be very angry, and resolve not to employ him : whereas if people get the better of you in argument about him,
, they'll think, We'll send for Dr. [Butter] nevertheless." This was an observation deep and sure in human nature.*
Next day we talked of a book † in which an eminent judge was arraigned before the bar of the public, as having pronounced an unjust decision in a great cause. Dr. Johnson maintained that this publication would not give any uneasiness to the judge. For (said he), either he acted honestly, or he meant to do injustice. If he acted honestly, his own consciousness will protect him ; if he meant to do injustice, he will be glad to see the man who attacks him, so much vexed.”
Next day, as Dr. Johnson had acquainted Dr. Taylor of the reason for his returning speedily to London, it was resolved that we should set out after dinner. A few of Dr. Taylor's neighbours were his guests that day.
Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of one who had attained to the state of the philosophical wise man, that is, to have no want of anything. " Then, Sir (said I), the savage is a wise man.” “Sir (said he), I do not mean simply being without-but not having a want.' I maintained, against this proposition, that it was better to have fine clothes, for instance, than not to feel the want of them. JOHNSON : “ No, Sir ; fine clothes are good only as they supply the want of other means of procuring respect. Was Charles the Twelfth, think you, less respected for his coarse blue coat and black stock ? And you find the King of Prussia dresses plain, because the dignity of his character is sufficient.” I here brought myself into a scrape, for I heedlessly said, “Would not you, Sir, be the better for velvet embroidery ? ” JOHNSON: "Sir, you put an end to all argument when you introduce your opponent himself. Have you no better manners ?
There is your want." I apologised by saying I had mentioned him as an instance of one who wanted as little as any man in the world, and yet, perhaps, might receive some additional lustre from dress.
Having left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped to change horses at Derby, and availed ourselves of a moment to enjoy the conversation of my countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there. He was in great indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia had been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against it. “I am glad (said he) that Parliament has had the spirit to throw it out. You wanted to take advantage of the timidity of our scoundrels” (meaning, I suppose, the Ministry). It may be observed that he used the epithet scoundrel, Very commonly, not quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but as a strong term of disapprobation; as when he abruptly answered Mrs. Thrale, who had asked him how he did, “ Ready to become a scoundrel, Madam ; with a little more spoiling, you will, I think, make me a complete rascal : "I-he meant, easy to become a capricious and self-indulgent valetudinarian ; a character for which I have heard him express great disgust. · Johnson had with him, upon this jaunt, “ Il Palmerino d'Inghilterra,”a romance praised by Cervantes ; but did not like it much. He said, he read it for the language, by way of preparation for his Italian expedition.-Welay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I mentioned that old Mr. Sheridan complained of the ingratitude of Mr. Wedderburn and General Fraser,
[Dr. Butter, who afterwards came to practise in London, attended Johnson in his last illness. Ir died in March. 1805, aged seventy-nine. -Croker.] † (Andrew Stuart's Letter to Lord Mansfield on the Douglas Cause."-Croker.]
Anecdotes of Johnson," p. 176.