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man, and as deserving punishment for his evil deeds, as if no good had resulted from them.
“ And yet, though, to the best of my remembrance, this was the substance of Dr. Johnson's discourse in answer to the lady's observation, I am rather apprehensive that in some respects it may
be thought inconsistent with his general assertions, that man was by nature much more inclined to evil than to good. But it would ill become me to expatiate on such a subject.
“ Yet what can be said to reconcile his opinion of the natural tendency of the human heart to evil with his own zealous virtuous propensions? Nothing perhaps, at least by me, but that this opinion, I believe, was founded upon religious principles relating to original sin; and I well remember that, when disputing with a person on this subject, who thought that nature, reason, and virtue were the constituent principles of humanity, he would say, 'Nay, nay, if man is by nature prompted to act virtuously, all the divine precepts of the gospel, all its denunciations, all the laws enacted by man to restrain man from evil, had been needless.'
“It is certain that he would scarcely allow any one to feel much for the distresses of others, or whatever he thought they might feel, he was very apt to impute to causes that did no honour to human nature. Indeed I thought him rather too fond of Rochefoucault maxims. - The
very strict watch he apparently kept over his mind seems to correspond with his thorough conviction of nature's evil propensions; but it might be as likely in consequence of his dread of those peculiar ones, whatever they were, which attended, or rather constituted his mental malady, which, I have observed, might probably have incited him so often to pray; and I impute it to the same cause, that he so frequently, with great earnestness, desired his intimate acquaintance to pray for him, apparently on very slight occasions of corporeal disorder.
[Here followed an expression of surprise at his having desired a prayer from Dr. Dodd, and several particulars of that story, already amply told in vol. iii. p. 503 et seq., and in vol. iv. p. 15.]
“And another axiom of his, of the same tendency, was, that the pains and miseries incident to human life far outweighed its happiness and good. [Vol. iii. p. 226.]
“ But indeed much may be said in Dr. Johnson's justification, supposing this notion should not meet with universal approbation, having, it is probable, inbibed them in the early part of his life when under the pressure of adverse fortune, and in every period of it under
[Where passages from these “ Recollections” have been introduced in the text of the preceding volumes, these marks refer to the places where they are to be found. ED.]
the still heavier pressure and more adverse influence of Nature herself; for I have often heard him lament that he inherited from his father a morbid disposition both of body and of mind an oppressive melancholy, which robbed him of the common enjoyments of life".
“Indeed he seemed to struggle almost incessantly with some mental evil, and often by the expression of his countenance and the motion of his lips appeared to be offering up some ejaculation to Heaven to remove it. But in Lent, or near the approach of any great festival, he would generally retire from the company to a corner of the room, but most commonly behind a window-curtain, to pray, and with such energy, and in so loud a whisper, that every word was heard distinctly, particularly the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, with which he constantly concluded his devotions. Sometimes some words would emphatically escape him in his usual tone of voice 2.
“At these holy seasons he secluded himself more from society than at other times, at least from general and mixed society; and on a gentleman's sending him an invitation to dinner on Easter Eve he was highly offended, and expressed himself so in his answer.
Probably his studious attention to the secret workings of his peculiar mental infirmity, together with his experience of divine assistance co-operating with his reasoning faculties, to repel its force, may have proved in the highest degree conducive to the exaltation of his piety, and the pre-eminence of his wisdom. And I think it equally probable, that all his natural defects were conducive to that end; for being so peculiarly debarred from the enjoyment of those amusements which the eye and the ear afford, doubtless he sought more assiduously for those gratifications which scientific pursuits or philosophic meditation bestow.
“ These defects sufficiently account for his insensibility of the charms of music and of painting, being utterly incapable of receiving any delight from the one or the other, particularly from painting, his sight being more deficient than his hearing.
“Of the superficies of the fine arts, or visible objects of taste, he could have had but an imperfect idea; but as to the invisible principles of a natural good taste, doubtless he was possessed of these in the most eminent degree, and I should have thought it a strange inconsistency indeed in his character, had he really wanted a taste for music; but as a proof that he did not, I think I had need only mention, that he was remarkably fond of Dr. Burney's History of Music 3, and that he said it showed that the author understood the philosophy of music better than any man that ever wrote on that subject.
1 [This last paragraph was originally written, “terrifying melancholy, which he was sometimes apprehensive bordered on insanity.” This Miss Reynolds softened into the emark as it stands above.—ED.]
2 [See ante, vol. i. p. 196.--Ed.]
3 [Miss Reynolds will hardly convince any one that Dr. Johnson was fond of music by proving that he was fond of his friend Dr. Burney's History of Music. The truth is, he held both painting and music in great contempt, because his organs afforded him no adequate perception of either. -Ed.]
“ It is certain that, when in the company of connoisseurs, whose conversation has turned chiefly upon the merits of the attractive charms of painting, perhaps of pictures that were immediately under their inspection, Dr. Johnson, I have thought, used to appear as if conscious of his unbecoming situation, or rather, I might say, suspicious that it was an unbecoming situation.
“ But it was observable, that he rather avoided the discovery of it, for when asked his opinion of the likeness of any portrait of a friend, he has generally evaded the question, and if obliged to examine it, he has held the picture most ridiculously, quite close to his eye, just as he held his book. But he was so unwilling to expose
that defect, that he was much displeased with Sir Joshua, I remember, for drawing him with his book held in that manner, which, I believe, was the cause of that picture being left unfinished '.
“On every occasion that had the least tendency to depreciate religion or morality, he totally disregarded all forms or rules of good breeding, as utterly unworthy of the slightest consideration.
“ But it must be confessed that he sometimes suffered this noble principle to transgress its due bounds, and to extend even to those who were any ways connected with the person who had offended him.
“His treatment of Mr. Israel Wilkes [related ante, vol. iii. p. 427] was mild in comparison of what a gentleman® met with from him one day at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, a barrister-at-law and a man of fashion, who, on discoursing with Dr. (then Mr.) Johnson on the laws and government of different nations (I remember particularly those of Venice), and happening to speak of them in terms of high approbation : 'Yes, sir,' says Johnson, all republican rascals think as you do.' How the conversation ended I have forgot, it was so many years ago; but that he made no apology to the gentleman I am very sure, nor to any person present, for such an outrage against society.
“Of latter years he grew much more companionable, and I have heard him say, that he knew himself to be so. “In my younger days,' he would say, “it is true I was much inclined to treat mankind with asperity and contempt; but I found it answered no good end. I thought it wiser and better to take the world as it goes. Besides, as I have advanced in life I have had more reason to be satisfied with it. Mankind have treated me with more kindness, and of course I have more kindness for them.'
“ In the latter part of his life, indeed, his circumstances were very different from what they were in the beginning. Before he had
[This however, or a similar picture, was finished and engraved as the frontispiece of Murphy's edition of Dr. Johnson's works.-En.]
2 Mr. Elliott. Miss REYNOLDS.
the pension, he literally dressed like a beggar?; and from what I have been told, he as literally lived as such ; at least as to common conveniences in his apartments, wanting even a chair to sit on, particularly in his study, where a gentleman who frequently visited him whilst writing his Idlers constantly found him at his desk, sitting on one with three legs; and on rising from it, he remarked that Dr. Johnson never forgot its defect, but would either hold it in his hand or place it with great composure against some support, taking no notice of its imperfection to his visitor. Whether the visitor sat on a chair, or on a pile of folios?, or how he sat, I never remember to have been told.
“ It was remarkable in Dr. Johnson, that no external circumstances ever prompted him to make any apology, or to seem even sensible of their existence. Whether this was the effect of philosophic pride, or of some partial notion of his respecting high breeding, is doubtful. Strange as it may appear, he scrupled not to boast, that “no man knew the rules of true politeness better than himself;' and, stranger still, that no man more attentively practised them.'
“ He particularly piqued himself upon his nice observance of ceremonious punctilios towards ladies. A remarkable instance of this was his never suffering any lady to walk from his house to her carriage, through Bolt-court, unattended by himself to hand her into it (at least I have reason to suppose it to be his general custom, from his constant performance of it to those with whom he was the most intimately acquainted); and if any obstacle prevented it from driving off, there he would stand by the door of it, and gather a mob around him; indeed, they would begin to gather the moment he appeared handing the lady down the steps into Fleet-street. But to describe his appearance- emhis important air—that indeed cannot be described ; and his morning habiliments would excite the utmost astonishment in my reader, that a man in his senses could think of stepping outside his door in them, or even to be seen at home! Sometimes he exhibited himself at the distance of eight or ten doors from Bolt-court, to get at the carriage, to the no small diversion of the populaces. And I am certain that, to those who love laughing, a description of his dress
[See post, in Miss Hawkins's Anecdotes, how different his appearance was after the pension. -Ev.]
2 [“He had a large but not a splendid library, near 5000 volumes. Many authors, not in hostility with him, presented him with their works. But his study did not contain half his books. He possessed the chair that belonged to the Ciceronian Dr. King of Oxford, which was given him by his friend Vansittart. It answers the purposes of reading and writing, by night or by day; and is as valuable in all respects as the chair of Ariosto, as delineated in the preface to Hoole’s liberal translation of that poet. Since the rounding of this period, intelligence is brought that this literary chair is purchased by Mr. Hoole. Relicks are venerable things, and are only not to be worshipped. On the reading-chair of Mr. Speaker Onslow, a part of this historical sketch was written."_TYERS. -Ed.
3 [See ante, vol. i. p. 429.-Ed.]
from head to foot would be highly acceptable, and in general I believe be thought the most curious part of my book; but I forbear, out of respect to his memory, to give more than this slight intimation of it; for, having written a minute description of his figure, from his wig to his slippers, a thought occurred that it might probably excite some person to delineate it, and I might have the mortification to see it hung up at a printshop as the greatest curiosity ever exhibited.
“ His best dress was, in his early times, so very mean, that one afternoon as he was following some ladies up stairs, on a visit to a lady of fashion (Miss Cotterel'), the servant, not knowing him, suddenly seized him by the shoulder, and exclaimed, Where are you going?' striving at the same time to drag him back; but a gentleman who was a few steps behind prevented her from doing or saying more, and Mr. Johnson growled all the way up stairs, as well he might. He seemed much chagrined and discomposed. Unluckily, whilst in this humour, a lady of high rank 3 happening to call upon Miss Cotterel, , he was most violently offended with her for not introducing him to her ladyship, and still more so for her seeming to show more attention to her than to him. After sitting some time silent, meditating how to down Miss Cotterel, he addressed himself to Mr. Reynolds, who sat next him, and, after a few introductory words, with a loud voice said,
I wonder which of us two could get most money at his trade in one week, were we to work hard at it from morning till night. I don't remember the answer ; but I know that the lady, rising soon after, went away without knowing what trade they were of. She might probably suspect Mr. Johnson to be a poor author by his dress; and because the trade of neither a blacksmith, a porter, or a chairman, which she probably would have taken him for in the street, was not quite so suitable to the place she saw him in.
“ This incident he used to mention with great glee—how he had downed Miss Cotterel, though at the same time he professed a great friendship and esteem for that lady.
“ It is certain, for such kind of mortifications, he never expressed any concern; but on other occasions he has shown an amiable sorrow
[His acquaintance with this lady and her sister, who married Dean Lewis, continued to the last days of his life. He says in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, “I know not whether I told you that my old friend Mrs. Cotterel, now no longer Miss, has called to see me. Mrs. Lewis is not well.—26th April, 1784.” It is gratifying to observe how many of Johnson's earliest friends continued so to the last-Ed.]
» [Sir Joshua (then Mr.) Reynolds.-ED.]
3 Lady Fitzroy.-Miss REYNOLDS. (See ante, v. i. p. 228, where this story is told of the Duchess of Argyll and another lady of high rank: that other lady was no doubt the person erroneously designated by Miss Reynolds as Lady Fitzroy. She probably was Elizabeth Cosby, wife of Lord Augustus Fitzroy, and grandmother of the present Duke of Grafton. -ED.]
+["He repented just as certainly however, if he had been led to praise any person or thing by accident more than he thought it deserved ; and was on such occasions comically earnest to destroy the praise or pleasure he had unintentionally given."- Piozzi's dneca dotes, p. 75.-Ed.]