« PreviousContinue »
A person who Apoph.
for you? at a time too when you were not fishing for a compliment ?” He laughed at this with a complacent approbation. Old Mr. Sheridan observed, upon my mentioning it to him, “ He liked your compliment so well, he was willing to take it with pun sauce.” [Though no great friend to puns, he once, Hawk. by accident, made a singular one. A affected to live after the Greek manner, and to anoint himself with oil, was one day mentioned : Johnson, in the course of conversation on the singularity of his practice, gave him the denomination of this man of Greece (or grease, as you please to take it)]. For my own part, I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed; and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation.
Had Johnson treated at large De Claris Oratoribus, he might have given us an admirable work. When the Duke of Bedford attacked the ministry as vehemently as he could, for having taken upon them to extend the time for the importation of corn, Lord Chatham, in his first speech in the House of Lords, boldly avowed himself to be an adviser of that measure. “My colleagues," said he, “as I was confined by indisposition, did me the signal honour of coming to the bedside of a sick man, to ask his opinion. But, had they not thus condescended, I should have taken up my bed and walked, in order to have delivered that opinion at the Council-board." Mr. Langton, who was present, mentioned this to Johnson, who observed, “Now, sir, we see that he took these words as he found them, without considering, that though the expression in Scripture, take up thy bed and walk, strictly suited the instance of the sick man restored to health and strength, who would of course be supposed to carry his bed with him, it could not be proper in the case of a man who was lying in a
state of feebleness, and who certainly would not add to the difficulty of moving at all, that of carrying his bed 1 »
When I pointed out to him in the newspaper one of Mr. Grattan's animated and glowing speeches in favour of the freedom of Ireland, in which this expression occurred (I know not if accurately taken): “ We will persevere, till there is not one link of the English chain left to clank upon the rags of the meanest beggar in Ireland:"-" Nay, sir,” said Johnson, “ don't you perceive that one link cannot clank?"
Mrs. Thrale has published®, as Johnson's, a kind of parody or counterpart of a fine poetical passage in
a one of Mr. Burke's speeches on American taxation. It is vigorously but somewhat coarsely executed; and I am inclined to suppose, is not quite correctly exhibited. I hope he did not use the words “ vile agents” for the Americans in the House of Parliament; and if he did so, in an extempore effusion, I wish the lady had not committed it to writing.
Mr. Burke uniformly showed Johnson the greatest respect; and when Mr. Townshend, now Lord Sydney, at a period when he was conspicuous in opposition, threw out some reflection in parliament upon the grant of a pension to a man of such political principles as Johnson; Mr. Burke, though then of the same party with Mr. Townshend, stood warmly forth in defence of his friend, to whom, he justly observed, the pension was granted solely on account of his eminent literary merit. I am well assured, that Mr. Townshend's attack upon Johnson was the occasion of his “hitching in a rhyme”;" for that in the original
1 [Lord Chatham meant, in his strong metaphorical way, to say, that his desire to do that public duty would have operated a miracle on him; so that Johnson's remark seems hypercritical.-ED.] [See ante, vol. ii. p.
128.Ed.) 3 I rather believe that it was in consequence of his persisting in clearing the
copy of Goldsmith's character of Mr. Burke, in his
Retaliation,” another person's name stood in the couplet where Mr. Townshend is now introduced :
Though fraught with all learning kept straining his throat,
To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote.” It may be worth remarking among the minutiæ of my collection, that Johnson was once drawn to serve in the militia, the trained bands of the city of London, and that Mr. Rackstrow, of the Museum in Fleet-street, was his colonel. It may be believed he did not serve in person; but the idea, with all its circumstances, is certainly laughable. He upon that occasion provided himself with a musket, and with a sword and belt, which I have seen hanging in his closet.
He was very constant to those whom he once employed, if they gave him no reason to be displeased. When somebody talked of being imposed on in the purchase of tea and sugar, and such articles: “That will not be the case,” said he, “ if you go to a stately shop, as I always do. In such a shop it is not worth their while to take a petty advantage.
An authour of most anxious and restless vanity being mentioned, “Sir," said he, “there is not a young sapling upon Parnassus more severely blown about by every wind of criticism than that poor fellow.”
The difference, he observed, between a well-bred and an ill-bred man is this: “One immediately attracts your liking, the other your aversion. You love the one till you find reason to hate him; you hate the other till you find reason to love him.”
gallery of the House of Commons, in spite of the earnest remonstrances of Burke and Fox, one evening when Garrick was present.-MACKINTOSH.]
· [Probably Mr. Perceval Stockdale. See ante, vol. ii. p. 116.-Ed.]
The wife of one of his acquaintance had fraudulently made a purse for herself out of her husband's fortune. Feeling a proper compunction in her last moments, she confessed how much she had secreted; but before she could tell where it was placed, she was seized with a convulsive fit and expired. Her husband said, he was more hurt by her want of confidence in him, than by the loss of his money. “I told him," said Johnson, “that he should console himself; for perhaps the money might be found, and he was sure that his wife was gone."
A foppish physician once reminded Johnson of his having been in company with him on a former occasion : “I do not remember it, sir.” The physician still insisted; adding that he that day wore so fine a coat that it must have attracted his notice. “Sir," said Johnson,“ had you been dipped in Pactolus, I should not have noticed you.”
He seemed to take a pleasure in speaking in his own style; for when he had carelessly missed it, he would repeat the thought translated into it. Talking of the comedy of “ The Rehearsal,” he said, “It has not wit enough to keep it sweet.” This was easy;
” he therefore caught himself, and pronounced a more round sentence: “It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.”
He censured a writer of entertaining Travels for assuming a feigned character, saying (in his sense of the word), “ He carries out one lie; we know not how many he brings back.” At another time, talking
1 [Lady Knight tells this anecdote in her papers on Miss Williams (Europ. Mag. 1799), but she does not call the lady the wife of one of his acquaintance. -ED.)
? [See ante, v. ii. p. 116. En.]
3 [Perhaps Dr. Thomas Campbell's work on Ireland, see ante, vol. iii. p. 213; but the editor suspects it was some more recent publication.-ED.]
of the same person, he observed, “Sir, your assent to a man whom you have never known to falsify is a debt: but after you have known a man to falsify, your assent to him then is a favour.”
Though he had no taste for painting, he admired much the manner in which Sir Joshua Reynolds treated of his art, in his “Discourses to the Royal Academy.” He observed one day of a passage in them, “I think I might as well have said this myself;" and once when Mr. Langton was sitting by him, he read one of them very eagerly, and expressed himself thus: “Very well, Master Reynolds ; very well, indeed. But it will not be understood.”
When I observed to him that Painting was so far inferiour to Poetry, that the story or even emblem which it communicates must be previously known, and mentioned as a natural and laughable instance of this, that a little miss on seeing a picture of Justice with the scales, had exclaimed to me, “ See, there's a woman selling sweetmeats;" he said, “Painting, sir, can illustrate, but cannot inform."
[For painting he certainly had no taste, no ac- Reyn. quired taste, for his sight was worse even than his hearing.] [He even to Mrs. Piozzi professed such Piozzi scorn of it, as to say that he should sit very quietly A.nee in a room hung round with pictures of the greatest masters, and never feel the slightest disposition to turn them, if their backs were outermost, unless it might be for the sake of telling Sir Joshua that he had turned them. In one instance, however, he admitted that painting required a considerable exercise of mind; yet even on that occasion he betrayed what Mrs. Thrale calls his “scorn of the art.” Sir Joshua Reynolds mentioned some picture as excellent. “ It has often grieved me, sir,” said Dr. p. 75.