« PreviousContinue »
Letters, with whom I most delighted to converse. The sense of my
own diseases, and the sight of the world sinking round me, op-
“I read your last kind letter with great delight; but when
mind? - How
“I sat to Mrs. Reynolds yesterday for my picture, perhaps the tenth time; and I sat for three hours with the patience of mortal born to bear."
"TO MISS REYNOLDS.
“ 24th August, 1783.
Letters, vol. ii.
“ TO MRS. THRALE.
“ London, 26th August, 1783. Things stand with me much as they have done for some time. Mrs. Williams fancies now and then that she grows better, but her vital powers appear to be slowly burning out. Nobody thinks, however, that she will very soon be quite wasted; and as she suffers me to be of very little use to her, I have determined to pass some time with Mr. Bowles, near Salisbury, and have taken a place for Thursday.
“Some benefit may be perhaps received from change of air, some from change of company, and some from mere change of place. It is not easy to grow well in a chamber where one has long been sick, and where every thing seen, and every person speaking, revives and impresses images of pain. Though it be true that no man can run away
from himself, yet
may escape from many causes of useless uneasiness. That the mind is its own place is the boast of a fallen angel that had learned to lie !! External locality has great effects, at least upon all embodied
' [" Paradise Lost," book i. line 254.--ED.]
beings. I hope this little journey will afford me at least some suspense of melancholy."]
Toward the end of August he went as far as the neighbourhood of Salisbury, to Heale, the seat of William Bowles, Esq. a gentleman whom I have heard him praise for exemplary religious order in his family. In his diary I find a short but honourable mention of this visit :-“ August 28, I came to Heale without fatigue. 30. I am entertained quite to my mind.”
" TO DR. BROCKLESBY.
“ Heale, near Salisbury, 29th August, 1783. “DEAR SIR,— Without appearing to want a just sense of your kind attention, I cannot omit to give an account of the day which seemed to appear in some sort perilous. I rose at five, and went out at six ; and having reached Salisbury about nine, went forward a few miles in my friend's chariot. I was no more wearied with the journey, though it was a high-hung, rough coach, than I should have been forty years ago. We shall now see what air will do. The country is all a plain; and the house in which I am, so far as I can judge from my window, for I write before I have left my chamber, is sufficiently pleasant.
“Be so kind as to continue your attention to Mrs. Williams. It is great consolation to the well, and still greater to the sick, that they find themselves not neglected; and I know that you will be desirous of giving comfort, even where you have no great hope of giving help.
“ Since I wrote the former part of the letter, I find that by the course of the post I cannot send it before the thirty-first.
- SAM. JOHNSON.”
I am, &c.
While he was here, he had a letter from Dr. Brocklesby, acquainting him of the death of Mrs. Williams, which affected him a good deal. Though for several years her temper had not been complacent, she had valuable qualities, and her departure left a blank in his house. Upon this occasion he, according to his habitual course of piety, composed a prayer .
* Prayers and Meditations, p. 226.-BOSWELL.
[“DR. BROCKLESBY TO DR. JOHNSON.
“ 6th September, 1783. “Mrs. Williams, from mere inanition, has at length paid the great debt to nature about three o'clock this morning. She died without a struggle, retaining her faculties entire to the very last; and, as she expressed it, having set her house in order, was prepared to leave it at the last summons of nature.”
" TO MRS. THRALE.
“ London, 22d Sept. 1783. “Poor Williams has, I hope, seen the end of her afflictions. She acted with prudence, and she bore with fortitude. She has left me.
Thou thy weary task hast done,
“ Had she had good-humour and prompt elocution, her universal curiosity and comprehensive knowledge would have made her the delight of all that knew her. She left her little to your charity-school."]
I shall here insert a few particulars concerning him, with which I have been favoured by one of his friends.
“ He had once conceived the design of writing the Life of Oliver Cromwell, saying, that he thought it must be highly curious to trace his extraordinary rise to the supreme power from so obscure a beginning. He at length laid aside his scheme, on discovering that all that can be told of him is already in print; and that it is impracticable to procure any authentick information in addition to what the world is already in possession of ?.
[Dirge in Cymbeline.Ed.) ? Mr. Malone observes, “ This, however, was entirely a mistake, as appears from the Memoirs published by Mr. Noble. Had Johnson been furnished with the materials which the industry of that gentleman has procured, and with others which it is believed are yet preserved in manuscript, he would, wiihout doubt, have produced a most valuable and curious history of Croir well's life.”-Bos
I may add, that, had Johnson given us a Life of Croniwell, we should not have been disgusted in numberless instances with "Niy Lord Protector”
“ He had likewise projected, but at what part of his life is not known, a work to show how small a quantity of REAL FICTION there is in the world; and that the same images, with very little variation, have served all the authours who have ever written."
“His thoughts in the latter part of his life were frequently employed on his deceased friends. He often muttered these or such like sentences : Poor man! and then he died.'»
'Speaking of a certain literary friend, 'He is a very pompous puzzling fellow,' said he: ‘he lent me a letter once that somebody had written to him, no matter what it was about; but he wanted to have the , letter back, and expressed a mighty value for it: he hoped it was to be met with again; he would not lose it for a thousand pounds. I laid my hand upon it soon afterwards, and gave it him. I believe I said I was very glad to have met with it. 0, then he did not know that it signified any thing. So you see, when the letter was lost it was worth a thousand pounds, and when it was found it was not worth a farthing.'”
“ The style and character of his conversation is pretty generally known: it was certainly conducted in conformity with a precept of Lord Bacon, but it is not clear, I apprehend, that this conformity was either perceived or intended by Johnson. The precept alluded to is as follows: In all kinds of speech, either pleasant, grave, severe, or ordinary, it is convenient to speak leisurely, and rather drawlingly than hastily: because hasty speech confounds the memory,
and “My Lady PROTECTRESS ;” and certainly the brutal ruffian who presided in the bloody assembly that murdered their sovereign would have been characterised by very different epithets than those which are applied to him in this work, where we find him described as “the BOLD and DETERMINED Bradshaw.”—MALONE.
and oftentimes, besides the unseemliness, drives a man either to stammering, a non-plus, or harping on that which should follow; whereas a slow speech confirmeth the memory, addeth a conceit of wisdom to the hearers, besides a seemliness of speech and countenance 1.' Dr. Johnson's method of conversation was certainly calculated to excite attention, and to amuse and instruct (as it happened), without wearying or confusing his company. He was always most perfectly clear and perspicuous; and his language was so accurate, and his sentences so neatly constructed, that his conversation might have been all printed without any correction. At the same time, it was easy and natural; the accuracy of it had no appearance of labour, constraint, or stiffness: he seemed more correct than others by the force of habit, and the customary exercises of his powerful mind.”
“ He spoke often in praise of French literature. *The French are excellent in this,' he would say, they have a book on every subject.' From what he had seen of them he denied them the praise of superior politeness, and mentioned, with very visible disgust, the custom they have of spitting on the floors of their apartments. This,' said the doctor, “is as gross a thing as can well be done; and one wonders how any man, or set of men, can persist in so offensive a practice for a whole day together : one should expect that the first effort towards civilization would remove it even among savages.'
“ Baxter's Reasons of the Christian Religion' he thought contained the best collection of the evidences of the divinity of the Christian system.”
“ Chymistry was always an interesting pursuit with
1 Hints for Civil Conversation.- Bacon's Works, 4to. vol. i. p. 571.NALONE