« PreviousContinue »
and particularly in employing his pen with a generous readiness for those to whom its aid could be useful. Indeed his obliging activity in doing little offices of kindness, both by letters and personal application, was one of the most remarkable features in his character; and for the truth of this I can appeal to a number of his respectable friends: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, Mr. Malone, the Bishop of Dromore, Sir William Scott, Sir Robert Chambers. And can Mrs. Thrale forget the advertisements which he wrote for her husband at the time of his election contest; the epitaphs on him and her mother; the playful and even trifling verses for the amusement of her and her daughters; his corresponding with her children, and entering into their minute concerns, which shows him in the most amiable light?
She relates, that Mr. Cholmondeley' unexpectedly rode up to Mr. Thrale's carriage, in which Mr. Thrale, and she, and Dr. Johnson were travelling; that he paid them all his proper compliments, but observing
that Dr. Johnson, who was reading, did not see Piozzi, him, “ tapped him gently on the shoulder. "'Tis Mr.
Cholmondeley,' says my husband. “Well, sir-and what if it is Mr. Cholmondeley ?' says the other, sternly, just lifting his eyes a moment from his book, and returning to it again with renewed avidity." This surely conveys a notion of Johnson, as if he had been grossly rude to Mr. Cholmondeley, a gentleman whom he always loved and esteemed. If, therefore, there was an absolute necessity for mentioning the story at all, it might have been thought that her tenderness for Dr. Johnson's character would
i George James Cholmondeley, Esq., grandson of George, third Earl of Cholmondeley, and one of the commissioners of excise; a gentleman respected for his abilities and elegance of manners.-BOSWELL. (He died in Feb. 1831, æt. 79, as this sheet was passing through the press. It is odd that the editor should have had the same remark to make as to Mr. Chamberlain Clark and Mr. Jod. drell so nearly at the same time: ante, p. 160 and 170.--ED.)
have disposed her to state any thing that could soften it. Why then is there a total silence as to what Mr. Cholmondeley told her?—that Johnson, who had known him from his earliest years, having been made sensible of what had doubtless a strange appearance, took occasion, when he afterwards met him, to make a very courteous and kind apology. There is another little circumstance which I cannot but remark. Her book was published in 1785; she had then in her possession a letter from Dr. Johnson, dated in 1777, Letters,
vol. ii. which begins thus : “ Cholmondeley's story shocks me, if it be true, which I can hardly think, for I am utterly unconscious of it: I am very sorry, and very much ashamed.” Why then publish the anecdote? Or if she did, why not add the circumstances, with which she was well acquainted'?
In his social intercourse she thus describes him : Piozzi, “Ever musing till he was called out to converse, and p. 23. conversingtill the fatigue of his friends, or the promptitude of his own temper to take offence,consigned him back again to silent meditation." Yet in the same book she tells us, “ He was, however, seldom inclined
Ibid. to be silent when any moral or literary question was p. 13.12. started; and it was on such occasions that, like the sage in · Rasselas,' he spoke, and attention watched his lips ; he reasoned, and conviction closed his periods.” His conversation, indeed, was so far from ever fatiguing his friends”, that they regretted when
· [See ante, vol. iv. p. 190. Let it be observed that here is no charge of falsehood or inaccuracy; the story is admitted to be true, but Mr. Boswell asks, “why did she not relate the apology which Johnson made to Mr. Chol. mondeley ?" It does not appear that she knew it: and finally Mr. Boswell inquires, “ why publish so unfavourable an anecdote?” Why, it might be asked in return, has Mr. Boswell published fifty as unfavourable ?-ED.]
? (Mr. Boswell himself tells us that Johnson kept such late hours that he would frequently outsit all his company. Surely Mrs. Piozzi was justified in saying, in a colloquial style, that such a conversation had ended from “the fatigue of his friends.” Ante, vol. iv. p. 56. There can be no doubt that after her deplorable marriage she lost much of her reverence and regard for Dr. Johnson, and many her observations and expressions are tinged with vexation and anger; but they do not, in the editor's opinion, ever amount to any thing like a falsification of facts.-Ep.)
it was interrupted or ceased, and could exclaim in Milton's language,
“ With thee conversing, I forget all time." I certainly, then, do not claim too much in behalf of my illustrious friend in saying, that however smart and entertaining Mrs. Thrale’s “ Anecdotes” are, they must not be held as good evidence against him; for wherever an instance of harshness and severity is told, I beg leave to doubt its perfect authenticity; for though there may have been some foundation for it, yet, like that of his reproof to the “very celebrated lady,” it may be so exhibited in the narration as to be very unlike the real fact.
The evident tendency of the following anecdote is
to represent Dr. Johnson as extremely deficient in afPiozzi, fection, tenderness, or even common civility. “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 the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper?—Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.” I suspect this too of exaggeration and distortion. I allow that he made her an angry speech; but let the circumstances fairly appear, as told by Mr. Baretti, who was present?:
“ Mrs. Thrale, while supping very heartily upon larks, laid down her knife and fork, and abruptly exclaimed, ‘0, my dear Johnson, do you know what has happened? The last letters from abroad have brought us an account that our poor cousin's head was taken off by a cannon-ball.' Johnson, who was
[It must be recollected that Baretti's evidence is, in this case, worse than nothing, he having become a most brutal libeller of Mrs. Piozzi; but even if his version were the true one, Mr. Boswell should have seen that it made Dr. Johnson's illustration much more personally and pointedly offensive than as told by Mrs. Piozzi. -Ed.]
shocked both at the fact and her light unfeeling manner of mentioning it, replied, · Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and dressed for Presto’s
It is with concern that I find myself obliged to animadvert on the inaccuracies of Mrs. Piozzi's
Anecdotes,” and perhaps I may be thought to have dwelt too long upon her little collection. from Johnson's long residence under Mr. Thrale's roof, and his intimacy with her, the account which she has given of him may have made an unfavourable and unjust impression, my duty, as a faithful biographer, has obliged me reluctantly to perform this unpleasing task
Having left the pious negotiation, as I called it, in the best hands, I shall here insert what relates to it. Johnson wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds on July 6, as follows: “ I am going, I hope, in a few days, to try the air of Derbyshire, but hope to see you before I go. Let me, however, mention to you what I have much at heart. If the chancellor should continue his attention to Mr. Boswell's request, and confer with you on the means of relieving my languid state, I am very desirous to avoid the appearance of asking
· Upon mentioning this to my friend Mr. Wilkes, he, with his usual readi. ness, pleasantly matched it with the following sentimental anecdote. He was invited by a young man of fashion at Paris to sup with him and a lady, who had been for some time his mistress, but with whom he was going to part. He said to Mr. Wilkes that he really felt very much for her, she was in such dis. tress, and that he meant to make her a present of two hundred louis-d'ors. Mr. Wilkes observed the behaviour of mademoiselle, who sighed, indeed, very piteously, and assumed every pathetick air of grief, but eat no less than three French pigeons, which are as large as English partridges, besides other things. Mr. Wilkes whispered the gentleman, “ We often say in England, excessive sorrow is exceeding dry, but I never heard excessive sorrow is exceeding hungry. Perhaps one hundred will do.” The gentleman took the hint.--Boswell.
? [The editor's duty has obliged him to endeavour to remove the “ unjust and unfavourable impressions” which Mr. Boswell has given of Mrs. Piozzi, but he is too well aware of the inevitable inaccuracy of all anecdotes — nay, even of those like Mr. Boswell's own, written down after short intervals—to give im. plicit confidence to Mrs. Piozzi's recollection; the chief claim of her Anecdotes to credit is, that they are confirmed in many instances by Dr. Johnson's correspondence, and in many more by Mr. Boswell's own work.-Ed.]
money upon false pretences. I desire you to represent to his lordship, what, as soon as it is suggested, he will perceive to be reasonable, – that, if I grow much worse, I shall be afraid to leave my physicians, to suffer the inconveniences of travel, and pine in the solitude of a foreign country ;—that, if I grow much better, of which indeed there is now little appearance, I shall not wish to leave my friends and my domestick comforts, for I do not travel for pleasure or curiosity; yet if I should recover, curiosity would revive. In my present state I am desirous to make a struggle for a little longer life, and hope to obtain some help from a softer climate. Do for me what
He wrote to me July 26: “I wish your affairs could have permitted a longer and continued exertion of your zeal and kindness. They that have your kindness may want your ardour. In the mean time I am very feeble and very dejected.”
By a letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds I was informed, that the lord chancellor had called on him, and acquainted him that the application had not been successful; but that his lordship, after speaking highly in praise of Johnson, as a man who was an honour to his country, desired Sir Joshua to let him know, that on granting a mortgage of his pension', he should draw on his lordship to the amount of five or six hundred pounds, and that his lordship explained the meaning of the mortgage to be, that he wished the business to be conducted in such a manner, that Dr. Johnson should appear to be under the least possible obligation. Sir Joshua mentioned that he had by the same post communicated all this to Dr. Johnson.
· [This offur has in the first view of it the appearance rather of a commercial than a gratuitous transaciion; but Sir Joshua clearly understood at the making it that Lord Thurlow designedly put it in that form. He was fearful that Johnson's high spirit would induce him to reject it as a donation, but thought that in the way of loan it might be accepted. ---Hawkins's Life, p. 572..Ed.]