Page images


Johnson, “to see so much mind as the science of painting requires, laid out upon such perishable materials: why do not you oftener 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!” exclaimed 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 afterward: will it not, sir?”] [In one of his opinions, however, on

this art, the editor confesses that he entirely concurs.] Hawk: [Talking with some persons about allegorical paintp. 208. ing, he said, “I had rather see the portrait of a dog

that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world.”]

No man was more ready to make an apology when he had censured unjustly than Johnson. When a proof-sheet of one of his works was brought to him, he found fault with the mode in which a part of it was arranged, refused to read it, and in a passion, desired that the compositor' might be sent to him. The compositor was Mr. Manning, a decent sensible man, who had composed about one half of his “Dictionary,” when in Mr. Strahan's printing-house; and a great part of his “Lives of the Poets,” when in that of Mr. Nichols; and who (in his seventy-seventh year) when in Mr. Baldwin's printing-house, composed a part of the first edition of this work concerning him. By producing the manuscript, he at


Compositor in the printing-house means, the person who adjusts the types in the order in which they are to stand for printing; and arranges what is called the form, from which an impression is taken.-BOSWELL.

once satisfied Dr. Johnson that he was not to blame. Upon which Johnson candidly and earnestly said to him, “Mr. Compositor, I ask your pardon; Mr. Compositor, I ask your pardon, again and again.”

His generous humanity to the miserable was almost beyond example. The following instance is well attested: coming home late one night, he found a poor woman lying in the street, so much exhausted that she could not walk; he took her upon his back and carried her to his house, where he discovered that she was one of those wretched females who had fallen into the lowest state of vice, poverty, and disease. Instead of harshly upbraiding her, he had her taken care of with all tenderness for a long time, at a considerable expense, till she was restored to health, and endeavoured to put her into a virtuous way of living

[Miss Reynolds says, that throughout her life she Reyn. remembered the impression she felt in his favour the first time she was in company with Dr. Johnson, on his saying, that as he returned to his lodgings, at one or two o'clock in the morning, he often saw poor children asleep on thresholds and stalls, and that he used to put pennies into their hands to buy them a breakfast?.]

He thought Mr. Caleb Whitefoord singularly happy in hitting on the signature of Papyrius Cursor to his ingenious and diverting Cross Readings of the newspapers'; it being a real name of an ancient Roman, and clearly expressive of the thing done in this lively conceit.


| The circumstance therefore alluded to in Mr. Courtenay's “ Poetical Character” of him is strictly true. My informer was Mrs. Desmoulins, who lived many years in Dr. Johnson's house.--BOSWELL.

(And this was at a time when he himself was living on pennies.--Ed.] 8 (He followed his Cross Readings by a still more witty paper on the Errors of the Press. These two laughable essays are preserved in the Foundling Hospital for Wit, and some similar publications.-Ed.]


He once in his life was known to have uttered what is called a bull: Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were riding together in Devonshire, complained that he had a very bad horse, for that even when going down hill he moved slowly step by step. Ay," said Johnson, “and when he goes up bill he stands still.

He had a great aversion to gesticulating in company. He called once to a gentleman' who offended him in that point, “Don't attitudenise.And when another gentleman thought he was giving additional force to what he uttered by expressive movements of his hands, Johnson fairly seized them, and held them down.

An authour of considerable eminence? having engrossed a good share of the conversation in the company of Johnson, and having said nothing but what was trifling and insignificant, Johnson, when he was gone, observed to us, “ It is wonderful what a difference there sometimes is between a man's powers of writing and of talking.

writes with great spirit, but is a poor talker: had he held his tongue we might have supposed him to have been restrained by modesty; but he has spoken a great deal to-day, and you have heard what stuff it was."

A gentleman having said that a conge d'elire has not, perhaps, the force of a command, but may be considered only as a strong recommendation :—“Sir,” replied Johnson, who overheard him, “it is such a recommendation, as if I should throw you out of a

1 [This is supposed to have been Sir Richard Musgrave (ante, p. 99), who had, it must be confessed, a great eagerness of manner. One day when Sir Richard was urging him with singular warmth to write the lives of the prose writers, and getting up to enforce his suit, Johnson coldly replied,

" Sit down, sir.” Piozzi, p. 225.--Ed.]

? [Perhaps Doctor Robertson. See ante, v. iv. f. 205.-Ed.]

two pair of stairs window, and recommend to you to fall soft1."

Mr. Steevens, who passed many a social hour with him during their long acquaintance, which commenced when they both lived in the Temple, has preserved a good number of particulars concerning him, most of which are to be found in the department of Apophthegms?, &c. in the collection of “ Johnson's Works. But he has been pleased to favour me with the following, which are original :

“ One evening, previous to the trial of Baretti, a Steevens consultation of his friends was held at the house of Mr. Cox, the solicitor, in Southampton-buildings, Chancery-lane. Among others present were Mr. Burke and Dr. Johnson, who differed in sentiments concerning the tendency of some part of the defence the prisoner was to make. When the meeting was over, Mr. Steevens observed that the question between him and his friend had been agitated with rather too much warmth. It may be so, sir,' replied the doctor, 'for Burke and I should have been of one opinion if we had had no audience 3.'

“ Dr. Johnson once assumed a character in which perhaps even Mr. Boswell never saw him. His curiosity having been excited by the praises bestowed

The re

1 This has been printed in other publications “ fall to the ground.But Johnson himself gave me the true expression which he had used as above; meaning

that the recommendation left as little choice in that one case as the other._BoSWELL.

2 [This is Sir J. Hawkins's collection of Johnsoniana, referred to ante, v. iii. p. 403. Such of these anecdotes as were also given by Mr. Boswell and Mrs. Piozzi have been quoted from them. Some others have been selected by the editor and placed near corresponding passages of Mr. Boswell's text. mainder, for which no particular place occurred or which were accidentally overlooked, will be here given in continuation of those supplied by Mr. Steevens, by whom Mr. Boswell (ever anxious to depreciate the merit of Sir J. Hawkins) intimates that “ most of them” were originally furnished. ED.)

3 [What an extraordinary assertion, that in a matter in which the life and death--nay, the ignominious death--of a friend was at stake, he still talked for victory! The editor has seen so much reason distrust anecdotes told from memory, that he hesitates to give implicit credit to this story. Dr. Johnson, no doubt, too often talked for victory, but not, it is to be hoped, on so serious an occasion.--Ed.]

Steevens on the celebrated Torré's fireworks at Marybone

gardens, he desired Mr. Steevens to accompany him thither. The evening had proved showery, and soon after the few people present were assembled, publick notice was given that the conductors of the wheels, suns, stars, &c. were so thoroughly watersoaked that it was impossible any part of the exhibition should be made. • This is a mere excuse,' says the doctor, • to save their crackers for a more profitable company. Let us both hold up our sticks and threaten to break those coloured lamps that surround the orchestra, and we shall soon have our wishes gratified. The core of the fireworks cannot be injured; let the different pieces be touched in their respective centres, and they will do their offices as well as ever.' Some young men who overheard him immediately began the violence he had recommended, and an attempt was speedily made to fire some of the wheels which appeared to have received the smallest damage; but to little purpose were they lighted, for most of them completely failed. The authour of “The Rambler, however, may be considered on this occasion as the ringleader of a successful riot, though not as a skilful pyrotechnist.

“ It has been supposed that Dr. Johnson, so far as fashion was concerned, was careless of his appearance in publick. But this is not altogether true, as the following slight instance may show :—Goldsmith's last comedy was to be represented during some courtmourning', and Mr. Steevens appointed to call on Dr. Johnson, and carry him to the tavern where he was to dine with other of the poet's friends. The doctor was ready dressed, but in coloured clothes; yet being told that he would find every one else in black, re

1 [" She Stoops to Conquer,” first acted in March, 1773, during a court mourning for the king of Sardinia.- ED.]

« PreviousContinue »