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least could have had no manner of influence to the prejudice of Dr. Johnson's character, had it not been associated with those corporeal defects above mentioned. But unhappily his untaught, uncivilized manner seemed to render every little indecorum or impropriety that he committed doubly indecorous and improper.”
MISCELLANEOUS ANECDOTES OF DR. JOHNSON.
[The editor is well aware of the general inaccuracy of what are called
anecdotes, and has accordingly admitted very few additions of that kind to either the text or notes of this work; but there are several anecdotes current in literature and society, which the reader may not be sorry to see in this place. Some of them stand on the authority of the relater; some are confirmed by, or confirmatory of anecdotes already told; others again require to be noticed either for explanation or correction; and all may be considered as fairly coming within the scope of a work the peculiar object of which is to collect into one vicw all that can elucidate the biography of Dr. Johnson.]
SOME ACCOUNT OF DR. JOHNSON
FROM MR. CUMBERLAND'S MEMOIRS.
Cumb. “Who will say that Johnson would have been such a champion Mem.
in literature--such a front-rank soldier in the fields of fame, if he vol. P. 353. had not been pressed into the service, and driven on to glory with the
bayonet of sharp necessity pointed at his back? If fortune had turned him into a field of clover, he would have laid down and rolled in it. The mere manual labour of writing would not have allowed his lassitude and love of ease to have taken the pen out of the inkhorn, unless the cravings of hunger had reminded him that he must fill the sheet before he saw the table-cloth. He might indeed have knocked down Osburne for a blockhead, but he would not have knocked him down with a folio of his own writing. He would perhaps have been the dictator of a club, and wherever he sat down to conversation, there must have been that splash of strong bold thought about him, that we might still have had a collectanea after his death ; but of prose
I guess not much, of works of labour none, of fancy perhaps something more, especially of poetry, which under favour I conceive was not his tower of strength. I think we should have had his Rasselas at all events, for he was likely enough to have written at Voltaire, and
brought the question to the test, if infidelity is any aid to wit. An Cumb. orator he must have been; not improbably a parliamentarian, and, if Mem: such, certainly an oppositionist, for he preferred to talk against the tide. He would indubitably have been no member of the Whig Club, no partisan of Wilkes, no friend of Hume, no believer in Macpherson ; he would have put up prayers for early rising, and laid in bed all day, and with the most active resolutions possible been the most indolent mortal living. He was a good man by nature, a great man by genius; we are now to inquire what he was by compulsion.
“Johnson's first style was naturally energetic, his middle style was turgid to a fault, his latter style was softened down and harmonized into periods, more tuneful and more intelligible. His execution was rapid, yet his mind was not easily provoked into exertion; the variety we find in his writings was not the variety of choice arising from the impulse of his proper genius, but tasks imposed upon him by the dealers in ink, and contracts on his part submitted to in satisfaction of the pressing calls of hungry want; for, painful as it is to relate, I have heard that illustrious scholar assert (and he never varied from the truth of fact) that he subsisted himself for a considerable
of time upon the scanty pittance of fourpence halfpenny per day. Alas! I am not fit to paint his character; nor is there need of it; Etiam mortuus loquitur : every man, who can buy a book, has bought a BosWELL: Johnson is known to all the reading world. I also knew him well, respected him highly, loved him sincerely: it was never my chance to see him in those moments of moroseness and ill-humour which are imputed to him, perhaps with truth, for who would slander him? But I am not warranted by any experience of those humours to speak of him otherwise than of a friend, who always met me with kindness, and from whom I never separated without regret. When I sought his company he had no capricious excuses for withholding it, but lent himself to every invitation with cordiality, and brought good-humour with him, that gave life to the circle he was in.
“He presented himself always in his fashion of apparel: a brown coat with metal buttons, black waistcoat and worsted stockings, with a flowing bob wig, was the style of his wardrobe, but they were in perfectly good trim, and with the ladies, which he generally met, he had nothing of the slovenly philosopher about him; he fed heartily, but not voraciously, and was extremely courteous in his commendations of any dish that pleased his palate; he suffered his next neighbour to squeeze the China oranges into his wine glass after dinner, which else perchance had gone aside and trickled into his shoes, for the good man had neither straight sight nor steady nerves.
“At the tea table he had considerable demands upon his favourite beverage, and I remember when Sir Joshua Reynolds at my house reminded him that he had drank eleven cups, he replied, “Sir, I did
Cumb. not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups Mem. of tea?' And then laughing, in perfect good-humour he added, “Sir, vol. i.
I should have released the lady from any further trouble if it had not p. 357. been for your remark; but you have reminded me that I want one of
:. the dozen, and I must request Mrs. Cumberland to round up my number. When he saw the readiness and complacency with which my wife obeyed his call, he turned a kind and cheerful look upon her, and said, Madam, I must tell you for your comfort, you have
, “, escaped much better than a certain lady did awhile ago, upon whose patience I intruded greatly more than I have done on yours; but the lady asked me for no other purpose than to make a zany of
and set me gabbling to a parcel of people I knew nothing of; so, madam, I had my revenge of her; for I swallowed five-and-twenty cups of her tea, and did not treat her with as many words. I can only say my wife would have made tea for him as long as the New River could have supplied her with water.
“ It was on such occasions he was to be seen in his happiest moments, when animated by the cheering attention of friends whom he liked, he would give full scope to those talents for narration in which I verily think he was unrivalled both in the brilliancy of his wit, the flow of his humour, and the energy of his language. Anecdotes of times past, scenes of his own life, and characters of humorists, enthusiasts, crack-brained projectors, and a variety of strange beings that he had chanced upon, when detailed by him at length, and garnished with those episodical remarks, sometimes comic, sometimes grave, which he would throw in with infinite fertility of fancy, were a treat, which though not always to be purchased by five-and-twenty cups of tea, I have often had the happiness to enjoy for less than half the number.
“He was easily led into topics ; it was not easy to turn him from them ; but who would wish it? If a man wanted to show himself off by getting up and riding upon him, he was sure to run restive and kick him off; you might as safely have backed Bucephalus, before Alexander had lunged him. Neither did he always like to be over-fondled; when a certain gentleman out-acted his part in this way, he is said to have demanded of him, “What provokes your risibility, sir? Have I said any thing that you understand? Then I ask pardon of the rest of the company.' But this is Henderson's anecdote of him, and I won't swear he did not make it himself. The following apology, however, I myself drew from him ; when speaking of his tour, I observed to him upon some passages as rather too sharp upon a country and people who had entertained him so handsomely : Do you think so, Cumbey ?' he replied ; “then I give you leave to say, and you may quote me for it, that there are more gentlemen in Scotland than there are shoes.'
“But I don't relish these sayings, and I am to blame for retailing Cumb. them; we can no more judge of men by these droppings from their Mem. lips, than we can guess at the contents of the river Nile by a pitcher of its water. If we were to estimate the wise men of Greece by Laertius's
scraps of their sayings, what a parcel of old women should we account them to have been!
" When Mr. Colman, then manager of Covent-garden theatre, protested against Goldsmith's last comedy, when as yet he had not struck upon a name for it, Johnson stood forth in all his terrors as champion for the piece, and backed by us, his clients and retainers, demanded a fair trial. Colman again protested; but, with that salvo for his own reputation, liberally lent his stage to one of the most eccentric productions that ever found its way to it, and She Stoops to Conquer was put into rehearsal.
“We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle hard for our author: we accordingly assembled our strength at the Shakspeare Tavern in a considerable body for an early dinner, where Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul of the corps: the poet took post silently by his side, with the Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Fitzherbert', Caleb Whitefoord, and a phalanx of North-British pre-determined applauders, under the banner of Major Mills, all good men and true. Our illustrious friend was in inimitable glee, and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and complacently as my friend Boswell would have done any day, or every day of his life. In the mean time we did not forget our duty, and though we had a better comedy going on, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were pre-concerted, so were our signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon in a manner that gave every one his cue where to look for them, and how to follow them up.
“We had amongst us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond, of amiable memory,
who was gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and at the same time the most contagious laugh, that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenuous friend fairly forewarned us that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did that was planted on a battery. He desired therefore to have a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honour to be deputed to that
[A mistake. “She Stoops to Conquer" was played on Monday the 15th March, 1773. Mr. Fitzherbert died early in 1772.--Ed.] VOL. V.
Cuinb. office. I planted him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, Mem. vol. i.
in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to p. 368. give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the
theatre. The success of our manœuvres was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sate in the front row of a side box, and when he laughed, every body thought themselves warranted to roar. In the mean time my friend Drummond followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic, that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances, that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author; but, alas ! it was now too late to rein him in; he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now unluckily he fancied that he found a joke in almost every thing that was said ; so that nothing in nature could be more mal-a-propos than some of his bursts every now and then were.
These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage; but we carried our play through, and triumphed not only over Colman's judgment, but our own.
“ I have heard Dr. Johnson relate with infinite humour the circumstance of his rescuing Goldsmith from a ridiculous dilemma by the purchase-money of his Vicar of Wakefield, which he sold on his behalf to Dodsley, and, as I think, for the sum of ten pounds only'. He had run up a debt with his landlady for board and lodging of some few pounds, and was at his wits' end how to wipe off the score and keep a roof over his head, except by closing with a very staggering proposal on her part, and taking his creditor to wife, whose charms were very far from alluring, whilst her demands were extremely urgent. In this crisis of his fate he was found by Johnson in the act of meditating on the melancholy alternative before him. He showed Johnson his manuscript of The Vicar of Wakefield, but seemed to be without any plan, or even hope, of raising money upon the disposal of it: when Johnson cast his eye upon it, he discovered something that gave him hope, and immediately took it to Dodsley, who paid down the price above-mentioned in ready money, and added an eventual condition upon its future sale. Johnson described the precautions he took in concealing the amount of the sum he had in hand, which he prudently administered to him by a guinea at a time. In the event he paid off the landlady's score, and redeemed the person of his friend from her embraces. Goldsmith had the joy of finding his ingenious work succeed beyond his hopes, and from that time began to place a confidence in the resources of his talents, which thence
[Another mistake. See ante, vol. i. p. 427. But it would really seem as if Dr. Johnson himself sometimes varied in telling this story, for Hawkins, Mrs. Piozzi, Cum. berland and Boswell, all have diffcrent versions. The least credible seems to be Cum. berland's.-Ed.]