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a man of excellent principles, a good scholar, well skilled in trade, of a sound understanding, and of manners such as presented the character of a plain independent English ’squire. As this family will frequently be mentioned in the course of the following pages, and as a false notion has prevailed that Mr. Thrale was inferiour, and in some degree insignificant, compared with Mrs. Thrale, it may be proper to give a true state of the case from the authority of Johnson himself in his own words.
“ I know no man,” said be, “ who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he but holds up a finger, he is obeyed. It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him in literary attainments. She is more flippant; but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar; but her learning is that of a schoolboy in one of the lower forms.” My readers may naturally wish for some representation of the figures of this couple. Mr. Thrale was tall, well proportioned, and stately. As for Madam or my Mistress, by which epithets Johnsou used to mention Mrs. Thrale, she was short, plump, and brisk. She has herself given us a lively view of the idea which Johnson had of her person, on her appearing before him in a dark-coloured gown:
“ You little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way.
What! have not all insects gay colours?” Mr. Thrale gave his wife a liberal indulgence, both in the choice of their company, and in the mode of entertaining them. He understood and valued Johnson, without remission, from their first acquaintance to the day of his death. Mrs. Thrale was enchanted with Johnson's conversation for its own sake, and had also a very allowable vanity in appearing to be honoured with the attention of so celebrated a man.
Nothing could be more fortunate for Johnson than this connection. He had at Mr. Thrale's all the comforts and even luxuries of life: his melancholy was diverted, and his irregular habits lessened by association with an agree
i Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 279.
the case ;
able and well-ordered family. He was treated with the utmost respect, and even affection. The vivacity of Mrs. Thrale's literary talk roused him to cheerfulness and exer. tion, even when they were alone. But this was not often
for he found here a constant succession of what gave him the highest enjoyment: the society of the learned, the witty, and the eminent in every way, who were assembled in numerous companies, called forth his wonderful powers, and gratified him with admiration, to which no man could be insensible.
In the October of this year he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare, which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his preface, in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain. A blind indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the British nation to the ridicule of foreigners. Johnson, by candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was like that of a counsel upon his own side of the cause; Johnson's was like the grave, well considered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though bis researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute, as they might have been ; which we now cer
u From a letter written by Dr. Johnson to Dr. Joseph Warton, the day after the publication of his Shakspeare, Oct. 9, 1765, (See Wooll's Memoirs of Dr. Warton, 4to. 1806,) it appears that Johnson spent some time with that gentleman at Winchester in this year. In a letter written by Dr. Warton to Mr. Thomas Warton, not long afterwards, (January 28, 1766,) is a paragraph which may throw some light on various passages in Dr. Warton's edition of Pope, relative to Johnson :-“I only dined with Johnson, who seemed cold and indifferent, and scarce said any thing to me: perhaps he has heard what I said of his Shakspeare, or rather was offended at what I wrote to him as he pleases.” The letter here alluded to, it is believed, has not been preserved: at least, it does not appear in the collection above referred to.-MALONE.
tainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious criticks who have followed him. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristick excellence. Many of his notes bave illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has, in general, exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors.
His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch university, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches. Though he certainly was not without considerable merit, he wrote with so little regard to decency, and principles, and decorum, and in so hasty a manner, that his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening, when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known.”
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review of Johnson's Shakspeare. . Johnson was at first angry that Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, considering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died.
In his preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks, “ These are the petty cavils of petty minds.” Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to
He said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver when the money was paid, he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his preface to Shakspeare; which, although it excited much clamour against him at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter Johnson returned the following answer:
TO CHARLES BURNEY, ESQ. IN POLAND-STREET.
“SIR, -I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticism in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist.
“ Be pleased to make my compliments to your family. I am, Sir,
“ Your most obliged
“ SAM. JOHNSON.
" Oct. 16, 1765.”
From one of his journals I transcribe what follows: “ At church, Oct.—65. “ To avoid all singularity ; Bonaventura*. “ To come in before service, and compose my mind
* He was probably proposing to himself the model of this excellent person, who for his piety was named the Seraphick Doctor. VOL. I.
by meditation, or by reading some portions of scripture. Tetty.
“If I can hear the sermon, to attend it, unless attention be more troublesome than useful.
“ To consider the act of prayer as a reposal of myself npon God, and a resignation of all into his holy hand.”
THE END OF VOL. I.
PRINTED BY TALBOYS AND WIIEELER, OXFORD.