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I wished to have stayed at Birmingham to-night, to have talked more with Mr. Hector; friend was impatient to reach his native city; so we drove on that stage in the dark, and were long pensive and silent.
came within the focus of the Lichfield lamps, "Now said he,) we are getting out of a state of death.'
We put up at the Three Crowns, not one of the great inns, but a good old fashioned one, which was kept by Mr. Wilkins, and was the very next house to that in which Johnson was born and brought up, and which was still his own property. We had a comfortable supper, and got into high spirits. I felt all my Toryism glow in this old capital of Staffordshire. I could have offered incense genio loci; and I indulged in libations of ale, with Boniface, in “The Beaux Stratagem,” recommends with such an eloquent jollity.
Next morning he introduced me to Mrs. Lucy Porter, his step-daughter. She was now an old maid, with much simplicity of manner. She had never been in London. Her brother, a Captain in the navy, had left her a fortune of ten thousand pounds; about a third of which she had laid out in building a stately house, and making a handsome garden, in an elevated situation in Lichfield. Johnson, when here by himself, used to live at her house. She reverenced him, and he had a parental tenderness for her.
We then visited Mr. Peter Garrick. “Sir, (said he) I don't know but if Peter had cultivated all the arts of gaiety as much as David has done, he might have been as brisk and lively. Depend upon it, Sir,
vivacity is much an art, and depends greatly on habit.”
I saw here, for the first time, oat ale; and oat cake, not hard as in Scotland, but soft like a Yorkshire cake, were served at breakfast. It was pleasant to me to find, that "Oats," the food of horses, were so much used as the food of the people in Dr. Johnson's own town. He expatiated in praise of Lichfield and its inhabitants, who, he said, were "the most sober, decent people in England, the genteelest in proportion to their wealth, and spoke the purest English.” I doubted as to the last article of this eulogy; for they had several provincial sounds; as there, pronounced like fear, instead of like fair; once, pronounced woon se, instead of wunse or wonse. Johnson himself never got entirely free of those provincial accents. Garrick sometimes used to take him off, squeezing a lemon into a punch-bowl, with uncouth gesticulations, looking round the company, and calling out, “Who's for poonsh?”
Very little business appeared to be going forward in Lichfield. “Surely, Sir, (said I.) you are an idle set of people.” “Sir, said Johnson, we are a city of philosophers, we work with our heads, and make the boobies of Birmingham work for us with their hands."
On Monday, March 25, we breakfasted at Mrs. Lucy Porter's. Johnson had sent an express to Dr. Taylor's, acquainting him of our being at Lichfield, and Taylor had returned an answer that his postchaise should come for us this day. While we sat at breakfast, Dr. Johnson received a letter by the post, which seemed to agitate him very much. When he had read it. he exclaimed, “One of the most
dreadful things that has happened in my time." The phrase my time, like the word aye, is usually understood to refer to an event of a public or general nature. I imagined something like an assassination of the King-like a gunpowder plot carried into execution or like another fire of London. When asked, "What is it, Sir?” he answered, "Mr. Thrale has lost his only son!” This was, no doubt, a very great affliction to Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, which their friends would consider accordingly; but from the manner in which the intelligence of it was com
municated by Johnson, it appeared for the moment , to be comparatively small. I, however, soon felt a
sincere concern, and was curious to observe, how Dr. Johnson would be affected. He said, “This is a total extinction to their family, as much as if they were sold into captivity." Upon my mentioning that Mr. Thrale had daughters, who might inherit his wealth ;—“Daughters, (said Johnson, warmly,) he'll no more value his daughters than," I was going to speak.—“Sir, (said he,) don't you know how you yourself think? Sir, he wishes to propagate his name?” In short, I saw male succession strong in his mind, even where there was no name, no family of any long standing. I said, it was lucky he was not present when this misfortune happened. JOHNSON. “It is lucky for me. People in distress never think that you feel enough.' BOSWELL. “And, Sir, they will have the hope of seeing yoni, which will be a relief in the meantime; and when you get to them, the pain will be so far abated, that they will be capable of being consoled by you, which, in the first violence of it, I believe, would not be the case.” Jouxson. “No, Sir; violent pain
of mind, like violent pain of body, must be severely felt.” BOSWELL. “I own, Sir, I have not so much feeling for the distress of others, as some people have, or pretend to have; but I know this, that I would do all in my power to relieve them.” Johnson. "Sir, it is affectation to pretend to feel the distress of others, as much as they do themselves. It is equally so, as if one should pretend to feel as much pain while a friend's leg is cutting off, as he does. No, Sir; you have expressed the rational and just nature of sympathy. I would have gone to the extremity of the earth to have preserved this boy."
He was soon quite calm. The letter was from Mr. Thrale's clerk, and concluded, “I need not say how much they wish to see you in London.” He said, “We shall hasten back from Taylor's.”
Here I shall record some fragments of my friend's conversation during this jaunt.
“Never speak of a man in his own presence. It is always indelicate, and may be offensive."
“Questioning is not the mode of the 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."
Dr. Taylor's large, roomy post-chaise, drawn by four stout, plump horses, and driven by two steady,
jolly postilions, conveyed us to Ashbourne; where I found my friend's school-fellow 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. Dr. Taylor had a considerable political interest in the county of Derby, which he employed to support the Devonshire family; for, though the school-fellow 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 particilar 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.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London.
We stopped at Messieurs Dilly's, booksellers in the Poultry; from whence he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr. Thrale's in the Borough. I called at his house in the evening, having promised to acquaint Mrs. Williams of his safe return; when, to my surprise, I found him sitting with her at tea, and, as I thought, not a very good humor; for, it seems, when he had got to Mr. Thrale's, he found the coach was at the door waiting to carry Mrs. and Miss Thrale, and Signor Baretti, their Italian master, to Bath. This was not showing the attention