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(said he) I was a fierce fellow, and pretended to be very angry, and Thomas was a good-natured fellow, and pretended to be very sorry: so, there the matter ended.
Somebody was praising Corneille one day in opposition to Shakspeare: "Corneille is to Shakspeare (re-) plied Mr. Johnson) as a clipped hedge is to a forest."
Of a much admired poem, when extolled as beautiful (he replied)"That it had indeed the beauty of a bubble: e the colours are gay (said he) but the substance slight.'
Of James Harris's Dedication to his Hermes, I have heard him observe, that though but fourteen lines long, there were six grammatical faults in it. A friend was praising the style of Dr. Swift; Mr. Johnson did not find himself in the humour to agree with him: the critic was driven from one of his performances to the other. At length you must allow me, said the gentleman, that theret are strong facts in the account of the Four last Years of Queen Anne." Yes, surely, Sir, (replies Johnson) and so there are in the Ordinary of Newgate's Account."
When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin, killed in America-"Prithee, my dear (said he) have done with canting: how would the world be worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were spitted, at once like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper?' Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.
I was observing to the Doctor, that an acquaintance lost the almost certain hope of a good estate that had been long expected. Such a one will grieve (said I) at her friend's disappointment. "She will suffer as much perhaps (said he) as your horse did when your cow miscarried."
The piety of Dr. Johnson was exemplary and edifying: he was punctiliously exact to perform every public duty enjoined by the church, and his spirit of devotion had an energy that affected all who ever saw him pray in private. The coldest and most languid hearers of the word must have felt themselves animated by his manner of reading the holy scriptures; and to pray by his sick bed, required a strength of body as well as of mind, so vehement were his manners, and his tones of voice so pathetic. I have many times made it my request
request to heaven that I might be spared the sight of his death; and I was spared it!
Mr. Johnson, though in general a gross feeder, kept fast in Lent, particularly the holy week, with a rigour very dangerous to his general health.
On some occasion, when he was musing over the fire, in our drawing-room at Streatham, a young genfleman called to him suddenly, and I supposed he thought disrespectfully, in these words: Mr. Johnson, would you advise me to marry?" I could advise no man to marry, Sir (returns for answer in a very angry tone Dr. Johnson) who is not likely to propagate understanding," and so left the room.
Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned some picture as excellent. "It has often grieved me, Sir (said Mr. Johnson, to see so much mind as the science of painting requires, laid out upon such perishing materials: why do not you oftner make use of copper? I could wish your superiority in the art you profess, to be preserved in stuff more durable than canvas." Sir Joshua urged the difficulty of procuring a plate large enough for historical subjects, and was going to raise farther observations: "What foppish obstacles are these! (exclaims on a sudden Dr. Johnson :) Here is Thrale has a thousand ton of copper; you may paint it all round if you will, I suppose; it will serve him to brew in afterwards; Will it not, Sir? (to my husband, who sat by). Such speeches may appear offensive to many, but those who knew he was too blind to discern the perfections of an art which applics itself immediately to our eyesight, must acknowledge he was not wrong.
He delighted no more in music than painting; he was almost as deaf as he was blind; travelling with Dr. Johnson was for these reasons tiresome enough. Mr. Thrale loved prospects, and was mortified that his friend could not enjoy the sight of those different dispositions of wood and water, hill and valley, that travelling through England and France affords a man. But when he wished to point them out to his companion : "Never heed such nonsense," would be the reply;
a blade of grass is always a blade of grass, whether
in one country or another let us, if we do talk, talk about something? men and women are my subjects of enquiry; let us see how these differ from those we have left behind."
When at Versailles, the people showed us the theatre. As we stood on the stage looking at some machinery for playhouse purposes: Now we are here, what shall we act, Mr. Johnson? The Englishman at Paris? "No, no (replied he) we will try to act Henry the Fifth." His dislike of the French was well known to both nations, I believe.
Johnson's own notions about eating, however, were nothing less then delicate; a leg of pork boiled till it dropped from the bone, a veal pye with plums and sugar, or the outside of a salt buttock of beef, were his favourite dainties; with regard to drink, his liking was for the strongest, as it was not the flavour, but the effect he sought for, and professed to desire; and when I first knew him, he used to pour capillaire into his port wine. For the last twelve years, however, he left off all fermented liquors. To make himself some amends indeed, he took his chocolate liberally, pouring in large quantities of cream, or even melted butter; and was so fond of fruit, that though he usually ate seven or eight large peaches of a morning before breakfast begun, and treated them with proportionate attention after dinner again, yet I have heard him protest that he never had quite so much as he wished of wall-fruit, except once in his life, and that was when we were all together at Ombersley, the seat of my Lord Sandys.
After a very long summer, particularly hot and dry, I was wishing naturally, but thoughtlessly, for some rain to lay the dust as we drove along the Surrey roads." Լ cannot bear (replied he, with much asperity and an altered look) when I know how many poor families will perish next winter for want of that bread which the present drought will deny them, to hear ladies sighing for rain, only that their complexions may not suffer from the heat, or their clothes be incommoded by the dust;—for shame, leave off such foppish lamentations," and study to relieve those whose distresses are real.”
With advising others to be charitable, however, Dr. Johnson did not content himself. He gave away all he had, and all he ever had gotten, except the two thousand pounds he left behind; and the very small portion of his income which he spent upon himself, with all our calculation, we never could make more than seventy, or at most fourscore pounds a year, and he pretended to allow himself a hundred. He had numberless dependents out of doors as well as in, "who (as he expressed it) did not like to see him latterly, unless he brought them money." For those people he used frequently to raise contributions on his richer friends; and this (says he) is one of the thousand reasons which ought to restrain a man from drony solitude and useless retirement."
The Doctor was very athletic. Garrick told a good story of him. He said, that in their young days, when some strolling players came to Litchfield, our friend had fixed his place upon the stage, he got himself a chair accordingly; which, leaving for a few minutes, he found á man in it at his return, who refused to give it back at the first entreaty: Mr. Johnson, however, who did not think it worth his while to make a second, took chair and man, and all together, and threw them all at once into the pit. I asked the Doctor if this was a fact.? "Garrick has not spoiled it in the telling (said he) it is very near true to be sure."
Mr. Beauclerk too related one day, how on some occasion he ordered two large mastiffs into his parlour, to show a friend who was conversant in canine beauty and excellence, how the dogs quarrelled, and fastening on each other, alarmed all the company, except Johnson, who, seizing one in one hand by the cuff of the neck, the other in the other hand, said gravely, "Come, gentlemen! where's your difficulty? put one dog out at the door, and I will show this fierce gentleman the way out of the window," which, lifting up the mastiff and the sash, he contrived to do very expeditiously, and much to the satisfaction of the affrighted company. We inquired as to the truth of this curious recital." The dogs have been somewhat magnified, I believe, Sir, (was the
reply) they were, as I remember, two stout young pointers; but the story has gained but little."
I have forgotten the year, but it could scarcely, I think, be later than 1765 or 1766, that he was called abruptly from our house after dinner, and returning in about three hours, said, he had been with an enraged author, whose landlady pressed him for payment within doors, while the bailiffs beset him without; that he was drinking himself drunk with Madeira to drown care, and fretting over a novel, which, when finished, was to be his whole fortune; but he could not get it done for distraction, nor could he step out of doors to offer it to sale. Mr. Johnson, therefore, set away the bottle, and went to the bookseller, recommending the performance, and desiring some immediate relief; which, when he brought back to the writer, he called the woman of the house directly, to partake of punch, and pass their time in merriment.
It was not till ten years after, I dare say, that something in Dr. Goldsmith's behaviour struck me with an idea that he was the very man, and then Johnson confessed that it was so; the novel was the charming Vicar of Wakefield.
There was a Mr. Boyce too, who wrote some very elegant verses printed in the Magazines of twenty-five years ago, of whose ingenuity and distress I have heard Dr. Johnson tell some curious anecdotes; particularly, that when he was almost perishing with hunger, and some money was produced to purchase him a dinner, he got a bit of roast beef, but could not eat it without ketchup, and laid out the last half guinea he possessed in truffles and mushrooms, eating them in bed too, for want of clothes, or even a shirt to set up in.
Mr. Johnson foved late hours extremely, or more properly, hated early ones. Nothing was more terrifying to him than the idea of retiring to bed, which he never would call going to rest, or suffer another to call so. "I lie down (said he) that my acquaintance may sleep; but I lie down to endure oppressive misery, and soon rise again to pass the night in anxiety and pain. By this: pathetic manner, which no one ever possessed in so eminent a degree, he used to shock me from quitting B 6