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Johnson. "Nay, my dear lady, don't talk so. Mr. Long's character is very short. It is nothing. He fills a chair. He is a man of genteel appearance, and that is all. I know nobody who blasts by praise as you do : for whenever there is exaggerated praise, every. body is set against a character. They are provoked to attack it. Now there is Pepys :' you praised that man with such dispropor. tion, that I was incited to lessen him, perhaps more than he deserves. His blood is upon your head. By the same principle, your malice defeats itself ; for your censure is too violent. And yet (looking to her with a leering smile) she is the first woman in the world could she but restrain that wicked tongue of hers ;—she would be the only woman, could she but command that little whirligig."
Upon the subject of exaggerated praise I took the liberty to say, that I thought there might be very high praise given to a known character which deserved it, and therefore it would not be exaggerated. Thus, one might say of Mr. Edmund Burke, he is a very wonderful man.
Johnson. “No, Sir, you would not be safe, if another man had a mind perversely to contradict. He might answer, • Where is all the wonder? Burke is, to be sure, a man of uncommon abilities; with a great quantity of matter in his mind, and a great fluency of language in his mouth. But we are not to be stunned and astonished by him. So you see, Sir, even Burke would suffer, not from any fanlt of his own, but from your folly.”
Mrs. Thrale mentioned a gentleman who had acquired a fortune of four thousand a year in trade, but was absolutely miserable because he could not talk in company ; so miserable, that he was impelled to lament his situation in the street to * *****, whom he hates, and who he knows despises him. “I am a most unhappy
Here Johnson condescended to play upon the words long and short. But little did he know that, owing to Mr. Long's reserve in his presence, he was talking thus of a gentleman distinguished amongst his acquaintance for acuteness of wit; and to whom, I think, the French expression, “Il pétille d'esprit,” is particularly suited. He has gratified me by mentioning that he heard Dr. Johnson say, “Sir, if I were to lose Boswell, it would be a limb amputated."
2 William Weller Pepys, Esq., one of the masters in the High Court of Chancery, and well known in polite circles. My acquaintance with him is not sufficient to enable me to speak of him from my own judgment. But I know that both at Eton and Oxford he was the intimate friend of the late Sir James Macdonald, the Marcellus of Scotland, whose extraordinary talents, learning, and virtues will ever be remembered with admiration and regret.
man,” said he.
“I am invited to conversations ; I go to conversations; but, alas ! I have no conversation.” Johnson. “Man commonly cannot be successful in different ways. This gentleman has spent, in getting four thousand pounds a year, the time in which he might have learnt to talk ; and now he cannot talk.” Mr. Perkins made a shrewd and droll remark : “If he had got his four thousand a year as a mountebank, he might have learnt to talk at the same time that he was getting his fortune.”
Some other gentlemen came in. The conversation concerning the person whose character Dr. Johnson had treated so slightingly, as he did not know his merit, was resumed. Mrs. Thrale said, “You think so of him, Sir, because he is quiet, and does not exert himself with force. You'll be saying the same thing of Mr. ****** there, who sits as quiet.” This was not well bred ; and Johnson did not let it pass without correction. “Nay, Madam, what right have you to talk thus ? Both Mr. ****** and I have reason to. take it ill. You may talk so of Mr. ******
; but why do you make me do it? Have I said anything against Mr. ******? You have set him, that I might shoot him : but I have not shot him.”
One of the gentlemen said he had seen three folio volumes of Dr. Johnson's sayings collected by me. “I must put you right, Sir," said I ; "for I am very exact in authenticity. You could not see folio volumes, for I have none : you might have seen some in quarto and octavo. This is an inattention which one should guard against.” Johnson. Sir, it is a want of concern about veracity. He does not know that he saw any volumes. If he had seen them he could have remembered their size."
Mr. Thrale appeared very lethargic to-day. I saw him again on Monday evening, at which time he was not thought to be in immediate danger : but early in the morning of Wednesday the 4th he cxpired. Upon that day there was a call of the Literary Club ; but Johnson apologised for his absence by the following note :
“ Wednesday (4th April). “Mr. Johnson knows that Sir Joshua Reynolds and the other gentlemen will excuse his incompliance with the call, when they are told that Mr. Thrale died this morning.”
Johnson was in the house, and thus mentions the event :
“Good Friday, April 13th, 1781.-On Wednesday, 11th, was buried my dear friend Thrale, who died on Wednesday, 4th ; and with him were buried many of my hopes and pleasures. About five, I think, on Wednesday morning he expired. I felt almost the last flutter of his pulse, and looked for the last time upon the face that for fifteen years had never been turned upon me but with respect or benignity.? Farewell. May God, that delighteth in mercy, have had mercy on thee! I had constantly prayed for him sometime before his death. The decease of him, from whose friendship I had obtained many opportunities of amusement, and to whom I turned my thoughts as to a refuge from misfortunes, has left me heavy. But my business is with myself.” (Pr. and Med., p. 187.)?
Mr. Thrale's death was a very essential loss to Johnson, who, although he did not foresee all that afterwards happened, was sufficiently convinced that the comforts which Mr. Thrale's family afforded him would now in a great measure cease. He, however, continued to show a kind attention to his widow and children as long as it was acceptable ; and he took upon him, with a very earnest concern, the office of one of his executors ; the importance of which seemed greater than usual to him, from his circumstances having been always such that he had scarcely any share in the real business of life. His friends of the Club were in hopes that Mr. Thrale might have made a liberal provision for him for his life, which, as Mr. Thrale left no son and a very large fortune, it would have been highly to his honour to have done ; and, considering Dr. Johnson's age, could not have been of long duration ; but he beqneathed him only two hundred pounds, which was the legacy given to each of his executors. I could not but be somewhat diverted by hearing Johnson talk in a pompous manner of his new office, and particularly of the concerns of the brewery, which it was at last resolved should be sold. Lord Lucan tells a very good
1 Johnson's expressions on this oocasion remind us of Isaac Walton's eulogy on Whitgift, in his Life of Hooker. “He lived to be present at the expiration of her (Queen Elizabeth's) last breath, and to behold the closing of those eyes that had long looked upon him with reverence and affection."-KEARNEY.
? At a subsequent date he added, on the same paper :-"18th September. My first know. ledge of Thrale was in 1765. I enjoyed his favor for almost a fourth part of my life.” This ascertains the date of the commencement of the acquaintance with the Thrales, which Mrs. Thrale left rather vague.-C.
story, which, if not precisely exact, is certainly characteristical ; that when the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson appeared bustling about, with an inkhorn and pen in his buttonhole, like an exciseman ; and on being asked what he really considered to be the value of the property which was to be disposed of, answered, “We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.” ?
TO MRS. THRALE.
“London, April 5, 1781. “DEAREST MADAM, -0f your injunctions to pray for you and write to you, I hope to leave neither unobserved; and I hope to find you willing in a short time to alleviate your trouble by some other exercise of the mind. I am not without my part of the calamity. No death since that of my wife has ever oppressed me like this. But let us remember that we are in the hands of Him who knows when to give and when to take away, who will look upon us with mercy through all our variations of existence, and who invites us to call on him in the day of trouble. Call upon him in this great revolution of life, and ca!! with confidence. You will then find comfort for the past, and support for the future. He that has given you happiness in marriage, to a degree of which, without personal knowledge, I should have thought the description fabulous, can give you another mode of happiness as a mother, and at last the happiness of losing all temporal cares in the thoughts of an eternity in heaven.
“I do not exhort you to reason yourself into tranquillity. We must first pray, and then labour ; first implore the blessing of God, and those means which he puts into our hands. Cultivated ground has few weeds; a mind occupied by lawful business has little room for useless regret.
“We read the will to-day; but I will not fill my first letter with any account than that, with all my zeal for your advantage, I am satisfied ; and that the other executors, more used to consider property than I, commended it for wisdom and equity. Yet why should I not tell you that you have five hundred pounds for your immediate expenses, and two thousand pounds a year, with both the houses, and all the goods ?
“Let us pray for one another, that the time, whether long or short, that
1 The brewery was sold by Dr. Johnson and his brother executor, to Messrs. BARCLAY, , PERKINS & Co., for 135,0001. While on his Tour to the Hebrides, in 1773, Johnson mentioned that Thrale “paid 20,0001. a year to the revenue, and that he had four vats, each of which held 1,600 barrels, above a thousand hogsheads.” The establishment is now the largest of its kind in the world. The buildings extend over ten acres, and the machinery includes two steam engines. The store-cellars contain 126 vats, varying in their contents from 4,000 bar. rels down to 500. About 160 horses are employed in conveying beer to different parts of London. The quantity brewed in 1826 was 380,180 barrels, upon which a duty of ten shillings the barrel, or 180,0901. was paid to the revenue; and in the last year, the malt consumed exceeded 100,000 quarters.--1835.
shall yet be granted us, may be well spent; and that when this life, which at the longest is very short, shall come to an end, a better may begin which shall never end."
On Friday, April 6, he carried me to dine at a club which, at his desire, had been lately formed at the Queen's Arms in St. Paul's Churchyard. He told Mr. Hoole that he wished to have a city Club, and asked bim to collect one ; but, said he, “Don't let them be patriots.” The company were to-day very sensible, well-behaved men. I have preserved only two particulars of his conversation. He said he was glad Lord George Gordon had escaped, rather than that a precedent should be established for hanging a man for constructive treason, which, in consistency with his true, manly, constitational Toryism, he considered would be a dangerous engine of arbitrary power. And upon its being mentioned that an opulent and very indolent Scotch nobleman, who totally resigned the management of his affairs to a man of knowledge and abilities, bad claimed some merit by saying, " The next best thing to managing a man's own affairs well is being sensible of incapacity, and not attempting it, but having a full confidence in one who can do it." Johnson. “Nay, Sir, this is paltry. There is a middle course. Let a man give application ; and depend upon it he will soon get above a despicable state of helplessness, and attain the power of acting for himself.”
On Saturday, April 7, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's with Governor Bouchier and Captain Orme, both of whom had been long in the East Indies ; and, being men of good sense and observation, were very entertaining. Johnson defended the oriental regulation of different castes of men, which was objected to as totally destructive of the hopes of rising in society by personal merit. He showed that there was a principle in it sufficiently plausible by analogy. “We see,” said he, “in metals that there are different species ; and so likewise in animals, though one species may not differ very widely from another, as, in the species of dogs, the cur, the spaniel, the mastiff. The Bramins are the mastiffs of mankind."
On Thursday, April 12, I dined with him at a bishop's, where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Berenger, and some more company.