페이지 이미지

geon, of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her son. He said, "She had too much good sense to be vain, but she knew her son's value." Her piety was not inferiour to her understanding; and to her must be ascribed those early impressions of religion upon the mind of her son, from which the world afterwards derived so much benefit. He told me, that he remembered distinctly having had the first notice of heaven, "a place to which good people went," and hell," a place to which bad people went," communicated to him by her, when a little child in bed with her; and that it might be the better fixed in his memory, she sent him to repeat it to Thomas Jackson, their man-servant; he not being in the way, this was not done; but there was no occasion for any artificial aid for its preservation.

In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular, which can throw light on the progress of his mind, is interesting. That he was remarkable, even in his earliest years, may easily be supposed; for, to use his own words in his life of Sydenham,

That the strength of his understanding, the accuracy of his discernment, and the ardour of his curiosity, might have been remarked from his infancy, by a diligent observer, there is no reason to doubt. For there is no in stance of any man, whose history has been minutely related, that did not in every part of life discover the same proportion of intellectual vigour."

In all such investigations it is certainly unwise to pay too much attention to incidents which the credulous relate with eager satisfaction, and the more scrupulous or witty inquirer considers only as topicks of ridicule: yet there is a traditional story of the infant Hercules of toryism, so curiously characteristick, that I shall not withhold it. It was communicated to me in a letter from Miss Mary Adye, of Lichfield.

"When Dr. Sacheverel was at Lichfield, Johnson was

not enough. It was not till about 1768, that I thought to calculate the returns of my father's trade, and by that estimate his probable profits. This, I believe, my parents never did."-MALOne.

not quite three years old. My grandfather Hammond observed him at the cathedral perched upon his father's shoulders, listening and gaping at the much celebrated preacher. Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson, how he could possibly think of bringing such an infant to church, and in the midst of so great a crowd. He answered, because it was impossible to keep him at home; for, young as he was, he believed he had caught the publick spirit and zeal for Sacheverel, and would have staid for ever in the church, satisfied with beholding him."

Nor can I omit a little instance of that jealous independence of spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him. The fact was acknowledged to me by himself, upon the authority of his mother. One day, when the servant who used to be sent to school to conduct him home, had not come in time, he set out by himself, though he was then so near-sighted, that he was obliged to stoop down on his hands and knees to take a view of the kennel before he ventured to step over it. His schoolmistress, afraid that he might miss his way, or fall into the kennel, or be run over by a cart, followed him at some distance. He happened to turn about and perceive her. Feeling her careful attention as an insult to his manliness, he ran back to her in a rage, and beat her, as well as his strength would permit.

Of the power of his memory, for which he was all his life eminent to a degree almost incredible, the following early instance was told me in his presence at Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the common-prayer book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, "Sam, you must get this by heart." She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: but by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him fol"What's the matter?" said she. lowing her. "" I can say it," he replied; and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.

But there has been another story of his infant precocity generally circulated, and generally believed, the truth of which I am to refute upon his own authority. It is told", that, when a child of three years old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it; upon which, it is said, he dictated to his mother the following epitaph:

Here lies good master duck,

Whom Samuel Johnson trod on;

If it had liv'd, it had been good luck,
For then we'd had an odd one.

There is surely internal evidence that this little composition combines in it what no child of three years old could produce, without an extension of its faculties by immediate inspiration; yet Mrs. Lucy Porter, Dr. Johnson's stepdaughter, positively maintained to me, in his presence, that there could be no doubt of the truth of this anecdote, for she had heard it from his mother. So difficult is it to obtain an authentick relation of facts, and such authority may there be for errour; for he assured me, that his father made the verses, and wished to pass them for his child's. He added, "my father was a foolish old man; that is to say, foolish in talking of his children "."

m Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, by Hester Lynch Piozzi, p. 11. Life of Dr. Johnson by sir John Hawkins, p. 6.

" This anecdote of the duck, though disproved by internal and external evidence, has, nevertheless, upon supposition of its truth, been made the foundation of the following ingenious and fanciful reflections of Miss Seward, amongst the communications concerning Dr. Johnson with which she has been pleased to favour me :-" These infant numbers contain the seeds of those propensities which through his life so strongly marked his character, of that poetick talent which afterwards bore such rich and plentiful fruits; for, excepting his orthographick works, every thing which Dr. Johnson wrote was poetry, whose essence consists not in numbers, or in jingle, but in the strength and glow of a fancy to which all the stores of nature and of art stand in prompt administration; and in an eloquence which conveys their blended illustrations in a language 'more tuneable than needs or rhyme or verse to add more harmony.'

[ocr errors]

"The above little verses also show that superstitious bias which grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength,' and, of late years particularly, injured his happiness, by presenting to him the gloomy side of religion, rather

Young Johnson had the misfortune to be much afflicted with the scrofula, or kingsevil, which disfigured a countenance naturally well formed, and hurt his visual nerves. so much, that he did not see at all with one of his eyes, though its appearance was little different from that of the other. There is amongst his prayers, one inscribed, "When my eye was restored to its use," which ascertains a defect that many of his friends knew he had, though I never perceived it". I supposed him to be only nearsighted; and indeed I must observe, that in no other respect could I discern any defect in his vision; on the contrary, the force of his attention and perceptive quickness made him see and distinguish all manner of objects, whether of nature or of art, with a nicety that is rarely to be found. When he and I were travelling in the Highlands of Scotland, and I pointed out to him a mountain which I observed resembled a cone, he corrected my inaccuracy, by showing me, that it was indeed pointed at the top, but that one side of it was larger than the other. And the ladies with whom he was acquainted agree, that no man was more nicely and minutely critical in the elegance of female dress. When I found that he saw the romantick beauties of Islam, in Derbyshire, much better than I did, I told him that he resembled an able performer upon a bad instrument. How false and contemptible then are all the remarks which have been made to the prejudice either of his candour or of his philosophy, founded upon a supposition that he was almost blind. It has been said that he

than that bright and cheering one which gilds the period of closing life with the light of pious hope."

This is so beautifully imagined, that I would not suppress it. But, like many other theories, it is deduced from a supposed fact, which is, indeed, a fiction *. BOSWELL.

* Johnson always evinced mortification at his father's anxiety to exhibit him as an infant prodigy. "That," said he to Mrs. Piozzi," is the great misery of late marriages; the unhappy produce of them becomes the plaything of dotage." Anecdotes, p. 14.-Ed.

[ocr errors][merged small]

P Speaking himself of the imperfection of one of his eyes, he said to Dr. "the dog was never good for much."-BURNEY.


contracted this grievous malady from his nursea. His mother, yielding to the superstitious notion, which, it is wonderful to think, prevailed so long in this country, as to the virtue of the regal touch; a notion which our kings encouraged, and to which a man of such inquiry and such judgment as Carte could give credit; carried him to London', where he was actually touched by queen Anne3. Mrs.

¶ "I was, by my father's persuasion, put to one Marclew, commonly called Bellison, the servant or wife of a servant of my father, to be nursed, in Georgelane. Here it was discovered that my eyes were bad, and an issue was cut in my left arm. Dr. Swinfen told me that the scrofulous sores which afflicted me proceeded from the bad humours of the nurse, whose son had the same distemper, and was likewise short-sighted, but both in a less degree. My mother thought my diseases derived from her family. In ten weeks I was taken home, a poor diseased infant, nearly blind. Dr. Swinfen used to say, he never knew any child reared with so much difficulty." See " An Account of the Life of Dr. Johnson, from his birth to his eleventh year, written by himself;" from which work, though of little general value, the above extract is made.-ED.

r He was only thirty months old when his mother took him up to London. His mother then purchased for him a small silver cup and spoon, which cup, said he, "was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two teaspoons, and, till my manhood, she had no more." See An Account, etc. as above, p. 18.--ED.

s Edward the confessor is said to have transmitted this royal gift of healing to his successors. In Stow's Annals may be found an account of the first cure of the kind which the benevolent Saxon monarch performed. A piece of gold was given to all those who were touched, which may partially exculpate the poorer part of our ancestors from the imputation of implicit credulity. Fabian Phillips, in his treatise on Purveyance, asserts, that the angels issued by the kings of England on these occasions amounted to a charge of three thousand pounds per annum, p. 257. Queen Elizabeth was so tired of touching those who desired to be cured of the evil, that, in Gloucestershire, during one of her progresses, she told those who were pressing on her, that God only could relieve them from their complaints. Fuller's Ch. Hist. p. 146, citing Cambden's Elizabeth. Gemelli, the famous traveller, also gives an account of sixteen hundred persons being presented for this purpose to Louis XIV. on Easter Sunday, 1686. Gemelli was himself present at this ceremony, and says the words used were, "Le Roi te touche, Dieu te guérisse." Every Frenchman received fifteen sous, and every foreigner thirty, after being touched: to some of the supposed patients the king said, Are you sick too? For other curious particulars on this interesting subject, see Barrington on Ancient Statutes, p. 107. Queen Anne was the last of our sovereigns who practised this delusion. In the London Gazette for 1707, is a proclamation, inviting her diseased subjects to submit themselves to her healing hand. The ritual for this office may be found in bishop Sparrow's Collection of Articles, Canons, etc. and in most of our common-prayer books printed in queen Anne's time.-ED.

« 이전계속 »