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1781. life of
other man? Are there not as interesting varieties in such a life? As a literary life it may be Ætat. 72.
very entertaining.” Boswell. < But it must be better surely, when it is diversified with a little active variety—such as his having gone to Jamaica;--orhis having gone to the Hebrides.” Johnson was not displeased at this.
Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer's devil. ReYNOLDS. “A Printer's devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.” Johnson. “ Yes, Sir. But I suppose he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him ;--the woman had a bottom of good sense.” The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, “Where's the merriment?” Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, " I say the woman was fundamentally sensible;" as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.
He and I walked away together ; we stopped a 1781. little while by the rails of the Adelphi, looking on
Ætat. 72. the Thames, and I said to him with some emotion, that I was now thinking of two friends we had lost, who once lived in the buildings behind us, Beauclerk and Garrick. Ay, Sir, (said he, tenderly) and two such friends as cannot be supplied.”
For some time after this day I did not see him very often, and of the conversation which I did enjoy, I am sorry to find I have preserved but little. I was at this time engaged in a variety of other matters, which required exertion and assiduity, and necessarily occupied almost all my time.
One day having spoken very freely of those who were then in power, he said to me, “ Between ourselves, Sir, I do not like to give opposition the satisfaction of knowing how much I disapprove of the ministry.” And when I mentioned that Mr. Burke had boasted how quiet the nation was in George the Second's reign, when Whigs were in power, compared with the present reign, when Tories governed ;
" Why, Sir, (said he) you are to consider that Tories having more reverence for government, will not oppose with the same violence as Whigs, who being unrestrained by that principle, will oppose by
This month he lost not only Mr. Thrale, but another friend, Mr. William Strahan, Junior, printer, the eldest son of his old and constant friend, Printer to his Majesty.
TO MRS. STRAHAN.
“ The grief which I feel for the loss of a very kind friend, is sufficient to make me know how much you
suffer by the death of an amiable son: a man, of whom I think it may be truly said, that no one knew him who does not lament him. I look upon myself as having a friend, another friend, taken from me,
66 Comfort, dear Madam, I would give you, if I could ; but I know how little the forms of consolation can avail. Let me, however, counsel you not to waste your health in unprofitable sorrow, but go to Bath, and endeavour to prolong your own life ; but when we have all done all that we can, one friend must in time lose the other.
$ I am, dear Madam,
“ Your most humble servant, April 23, 1781,
“ SAM. JOHNSON,"
On Tuesday, May 8, I had the pleasure of again dining with him and Mr. Wilkes, at Mr. Dilly's. No negociation was now required to bring them together ; for Johnson was so well satisfied with the foriner interview, that he was very glad to meet Wilkes again, who was this day seated between Dr. Beattie and Dr. Johnson; (between Truth and Reason, as General Paoli said, when I told him of it.) Wilkes. “ I have been thinking, Dr. Johnson, that there should be a bill brought into parliament that the controverted elections for Scotland should be tried in that country, at their own Abbey of Holy
Rood House, and not here; for the consequence of 1781. trying them here is, that we have an inundation of
Ætat. 72. Scotchmen, who come up and never go back again. Now here is Boswell, who is come upon the election for his own county, which will not last a fortnight.” Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, I see no reason why they should be . tried at all; for, you know, one Scotchman is as good as another.” Wilkes. “ Pray, Boswell, how much may be got in a year by an Advocate at the Scotch bar ?" BOSWELL. “ I believe, two thousand pounds.” Wilkes. “ How can it be possible to spend that money in Scotland ?" John
Why, Sir, the money may be spent in England; but there is a harder question. If one man in Scotland gets possession of two thousand pounds, what remains for all the rest of the nation?" WILKES. “ You know, in the last war, the immense booty which Thurot carried off by the complete plunder of seven Scotch isles; he re-embarked with three and six-pence.” Here again Johnson and Wilkes joined in extravagant sportive raillery upon the supposed poverty of Scotland, which Dr. Beattie and I did not think it worth our while to dispute.
The subject of quotation being introduced, Mr. Wilkes censured it as pedantry. JOHNSON. - , Sir, it is a good thing; there is a community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world."
“ Upon the continent they all quote the vulgate Bible. Shak, speare is chiefly quoted here; and we quote also Pope, Prior, Butler, Waller, and sometimes Cowley."
We talked of Letter-writing. Johnson. “ It is now become so much the fashion to publish letters, that in order to avoid it, I put as little into mine as
1781. I can." BOSWELL,
“ Do what you will, Sir, you cannot avoid it. Should you even write as ill as you Ætat, 72.
can, your letters would be published as curiosities :
Behold a miracle! instead of wit, * See two dull lines with Stanhope's pencil writ.”
He gave us an entertaining account of Bet Flint, a woman of the town, who, with some eccentrick talents and much effrontery, fore d herself upon his acquaintance. “ Bet (said he) wrote her own Life in verse, which she brought to me, wishing that I would furnish her with a Preface to it. (Laughing.) I used to say of her, that she was generally slut and drunkard ;--occasionaly, whore and thief. She had, however, genteel lodgings, a spinnet on which she played, and a boy that walked before her chair. Poor Bet was taken up on a charge of stealing a counterpane, and tried at the Old Bailey. Chief Justice
who loved a wench, summed up favourably, and she was acquitted. After which, Bet said, with nson,
whose memory was wonderfully retentive, remema bered the first four lines of this curic is production, which have been communicated to me by a young lady of his acquaintance :
“ When first I drew my vital breath,
« nto this gay and gaudy world. [The account which Johnson had received on this occasion, was not quite accurate. Bet was tried at the Old Bailey in September 1758, not by the Chief Justice here alluded to, (who however tried another cause on the same day,) but before Sir William Moreton, Recorder ; and she was acquitted, not in consequence. of any favourable summing up of the Judge, but because the Prosecutrix, Mary Walthow, could not prove that the goods charged to have been stolen, [a counterpane, a silver spoon, two napkins, &c.] were her property.