페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

To the same. “ DEAR FRANCIS, I hope you mind your business. I design you shall stay with Mrs. Clapp these holidays. If you are invited out you may go, if Mr. Ellis gives leave. I have ordered you some cloaths, which you will receive, I believe, next week. My compliments to Mrs. Clapp and to Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Smith, &c. I am

“ Your affectionate

“ Sam. JOHNSON. " December 7, 1770."

During this year there was a total cessation of all correspondence between Dr. Johnson and me, without any coldness on either side, but merely from procrastination, continued from day to day; and as I was not in London, I had no opportunity of enjoying his company and recording his conversation. To supply this blank, I shall present my readers with some Collectanea, obligingly furnished to me by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell, of Falkland, in Ireland, some time assistant preacher at the Temple, and for many years the social friend of Johnson, who spoke of him with a very kind regard.'

My acquaintance with that great and venerable character com. menced in the year 1754. I was introduced to him by Mr. Grierson,' his Majesty's printer at Dublin, a gentleman of uncommon learning, and great wit and vivacity. Mr. Grierson died in Germany, at the age of twenty-seven. Dr. Johnson highly respected his abilities, and often observed, that he possessed more extensive knowledge than any man of his years he had ever known.

His industry was equal to his talents; and he particularly excelled in every species of philological learning, and was, perhaps, the best critick of the age he lived in.

“I must always remember with gratitude my obligation to Mr. Grierson, for the honour and happiness of Dr. Johnson's acquaintance and friendship, which continued uninterrupted and undimin. ished to his death: a connection, that was at once the pride and happiness of my life.

“ What pity it is, that so much wit and good sense as he continually exhibited in conversation, should perish unrecorded! Few persons quitted his company without perceiving themselves wiser and better than they were before. On serious subjects he flashed

* Son of the learned Mrs. Grierson, who was patronised by the late Lord Granville, and was the editor of several of the classicks.

1 He died, Mr. Croker says, so lately

as the year 1818.

[ocr errors]

the most interesting conviction upon his auditors; and upon lighter topicks, you might have supposed--Albano musas de monte locutas.

“Though I can hope to add but little to the celebrity of so exalted a character, by any communications I can furnish, yet out of pure respect to his memory, I will venture to transmit to you some qanecdotes concerning him, which fell under my own observation. The very minutiæ of such a character must be interesting, and may be compared to the filings of diamonds.

“In politicks he was deemed a Tory, but certainly was not so in the obnoxious or party sense of the term ; for while he asserted the legal and salutary prerogatives of the crown, he no less respected the constitutional liberties of the people. Whiggism, at the time of the Revolution, he said, was accompanied with certain principles; but latterly, as a mere party distinction under Walpole and the Pelhams, was no better than the politicks of stock-jobbers, and the religion of infidels.

“He detested the idea of governing by parliamentary corruption, and asserted most strenuously, that a prince steadily and conspicuously pursuing the interests of his people, could not fail of parliamentary concurrence. A prince of ability, he contended, might and should be the directing soul and spirit of his own administration ; in short, his own minister, and not the mere head of a party: and then, and not till then, would the royal dignity be sincerely respected.

“ Johnson seemed to think, that a certain degree of crown influence over the Houses of Parliament, (not meaning a corrupt and shameful dependence,) was very salutary, nay even necessary, in our mixed government. For, (said he,) if the members were under no crown influence, and disqualified from receiving any gratification from Court, and resembled, as they possibly might, Pym and Haslerig, and other stubborn and sturdy members of the long Parliament, the wheels of government would be totally obstructed. Such men would oppose, merely to shew their power, from envy, jealousy, and perversity of disposition; and not gaining themselves, would hate and oppose all who did : not loving the person of the prince, and conceiving they owed him little gratitude, from the mere spirit of insolence and contradiction, they would oppose and thwart him upon all occasions.'

“ The inseparable imperfection annexed to all human governments, consisted, he said, in not being able to create a sufficient fund of virtue and principle to carry the laws into due and effectual execution. Wisdom might plan, but virtue alone could execute. And where could sufficient virtue be found ? A variety of delegated, and often discretionary powers must be entrusted somewhere;

X х

which, if not governed by integrity and conscience, would necessarily be abused, till at last the constable would sell his for a shilling.

“ This excellent person was sometimes charged with abetting slavish and arbitrary principles of government. Nothing in my opinion could be a grosser calumny and misrepresentation; for how can it be rationally supposed, that he should adopt such pernicious and absurd opinions, who supported his philosophical character vith so much dignity, was extremely jealous of his personal liberty and independence, and could not brook the smallest appearance of neglect or insult, even from the highest personages ?

“ But let us view him in some instances of more familiar life.

“His general mode of life, during my acquaintance, seemed to be pretty uniform. About twelve o'clock I commonly visited him, ind frequently found him in bed, or declaiming over his tea, which le drank very plentifully. He generally had a levee of morning visitors, chiefly men of letters; Hawksworth, Goldsmith, Murphy, Langton, Steevens, Beauclerk, &c. &c. and sometimes learned ladies, particularly I remember a French lady of wit and fashion doing him the honour of a visit. He seemed to me to be considered a: a kind of public oracle, whom every body thought they had a right to visit and consult; and doubtless they were well rewarded. I never could discover how he found time for his compositions. He declaimed all the morning, then went to dinner at a tavern, wiere he commonly staid late, and then drank his tea at some friend's house, over which he loitered a great while, but seldom took supper. I fancy he must have read and wrote chiefly in the night, for I can scarcely recollect that he ever refused going with me to a tavern, and he often went to Ranelagh, which he deemed a pace of innocent recreation.

“ He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who watched him, between his house and the tavern where he dined. He walked the streets at all hours, and said he was never robbed, for the rogues knew he had little money, nor had the appearance of taving much.

Though the most accessible and communicative man alive, yet when he suspected he was invited to be exhibited, he constantly spurned the invitation.

“ Two young women from Staffordshire visited him when I was present, to consult him on the subject of Methodism, to which they were inclined. Come, (said he,) you pretty fools, dine with Maxwell and me at the Mitre, and we will talk over that subject ;' which they did, and after dinner he took one of them upon his knee, and fondled her for half an hour together.

t

“ Upon a visit to me at a country lodging near Twickenham, he asked what sort of society I had there. I told him, but indifferent; as they chiefly consisted of opulent traders, retired from business. He said, he never much liked that class of people; • For, Sir, (said he) they have lost the civility of tradesmen, without acquiring the manners of gentlemen.'

“ Johnson was much attached to London : he observed, that a man stored his mind better there, than any where else; and that in remote situations a man's body might be feasted, but his mind was starved, and his faculties apt to degenerate, from want of exercise and competition. No place, he said, cured a man's vanity o: arrogance, so well as London; for as no man was either great oi good per se, but as compared with others not so good or great, he was sure to find in the metropolis many his equals, and some his superiours. He observed, that a man in London was in less danger of falling in love indiscreetly, than any where else ; for there the difficulty of deciding between the conflicting pretensions of a vas variety of objects, kept him safe. He told me, that he hal frequently been offered country preferment, if he would consent o take orders; but he could not leave the improved society of the capital, or consent to exchange the exhilarating joys and splendd decorations of publick life, for the obscurity, insipidity, and uriformity of remote situations.

“ Speaking of Mr. Harte, Canon of Windsor, and writer of • The History of Gustavus Adolphus,' he much commended him is a scholar, and a man of the most companionable talents he had ever known. He said, the defects in his history proceeded nit from imbecility, but from foppery.

“ He loved, he said, the old black letter books; they were rich in matter, though their style was inelegant; wonderfully so, conside:ing how conversant the writers were with the best models of antiquity.

“ Burton's · Anatomy of Melancholy,' he said, was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.

“ He frequently exhorted me to set about writing a History o Ireland, and archly remarked, there had been some good Irish writers, and that one Irishman might at least aspire to be equal to another. He had great compassion for the miseries and distresses of the Irish nation, particularly the Papists; and severely reprobated the barbarous debilitating policy of the British government, which he said was the most detestable mode of persecution. To a gentleman, who hinted such policy might be necessary to support the authority of the English government, he replied by saying, • Let the authority of the English government perish, rather than be maintained by iniquity. Better would it be to restrain the turbulence of the natives by the authority of the sword, and to make them amenable to law and justice by an effectual and vigorous police, than to grind them to powder by all manner of disabilities and incapacities. Better (said he,) to hang or drown people at once, than by an unrelenting persecution to beggar and starve them. The moderation and humanity of the present times have, in some measure, justified the wisdom of his observations.

“Dr. Johnson was often accused of prejudices, nay, antipathy, with regard to the natives of Scotland. Surely, so illiberal a prejudice never entered his mind : and it is well known, many natives of that respectable country possessed a large share in his esteem ; nor were any of them ever excluded from his good offices, as far as opportunity permitted. True it is, he considered the Scotch, nationally, as a crafty, designing people, eagerly attentive to their own interest, and too apt to overlook the claims and pretensions of other people. While they confine their benevolence, in a manner, exclusively to those of their own country, they expect to share in the good offices of other people. Now (said Johnson,) this principle is either right or wrong; if right, we should do well to imitate such conduct; if wrong, we cannot too much detest it.'

Being solicited to compose a funeral sermon for the daughter of a tradesman, he naturally enquired into the character of the deceased; and being told she was remarkable for her humility and condescension to inferiours, he observed, that those were very laudable qualities, but it might not be so easy to discover who the lady's inferiours were.

“Of a certain player he remarked, that his conversation usually threatened and announced more than it performed; that he fed you with a continual renovation of hope, to end in a constant succession of disappointment.

"When exasperated by contradiction, he was apt to treat his opponents with too much acrimony; as 'Sir, you don't see your way through that question : '-'Sir, you talk the language of ignorance. On my observing to him that a certain gentleman had remained silent the whole evening, in the midst of a very brilliant

1

Sheridan, Mr. Croker speculates. But Mr. John Taylor (“Records ”) says it was generally understood that Macklin was intended. • Macklin was fond of talking,' he adds, “and generally had all

the talk to himself, for the company were unwilling to interrupt a man of his very advanced age, expecting that something of historical, political, or theatrical matter would be learned from him."

66

« 이전계속 »