« PreviousContinue »
• Yet hear, alas ! this mournful truth,
Nor hear it with a frown ;-
As I can gulp it down.'
And thus he proceeded through several more stanzas, till the reverend critic cried out for quarter. Such ridicule, however, was unmerited.
“Night,' Mr. Tyers has told us, was Johnson's time for composition.' But this assertion, if meant for a general one, can be refuted by living evidence. Almost the whole preface to Shakspeare, and no inconsiderable part of the Lives of the Poets, were composed by daylight, and in a room where a friend I was employed by him in other investigations. His studies were only continued through the night when the day had been preoccupied, or proved too short for his undertakings. Respecting the fertility of his genius, the resources of his learning, and the accuracy of his judgment, the darkness and the light were both alike.
“Mrs. Thrale,' Mr. Tyers also reports, “knew how to spread a table with the utmost plenty and elegance;' but all who are acquainted with this lady's domestic history must know, that in the present instance Mr. Tyers' praise of her is unluckily bestowed. Her husband superintended every
dinner set before his guests. After his death she confessed her total ignorance in culinary arrangements. Poor Thrale studied an art of which he loved the produce, and to which he expired a martyr. Johnson repeatedly, and with all the warmth of earnest friendship, assured him he was nimis edax rerum, and that such unlimited indulgence of his palate would precipitate his end.
“When in his latter years he was reminded of his forcible sarcasm against Bolingbroke and Mallet (v. i. p. 255), the doctor exclaimed, • Did I really say so?' 'Yes, sir.' He replied, 'I am heartily glad of it.'
You knew Mr. Capel", Dr. Johnson?' Yes, sir ; I have seen him at Garrick's.' ' And what think you of his abilities?' They are just sufficient, sir, to enable him to select the black hairs from the white ones, for the use of the perriwig makers. Were he and I to count the grains in a bushel of wheat for a wager, he would certainly prove the winner.'
“When one Collins, a sleep-compelling divine of Hertfordshire, with the assistance of counsellor Hardinges, published a heavy halfcrown pamphlet against Mr. Steevens, Garrick asked the doctor
what he thought of this attack on his coadjutor. “I regard Collins’s Steevens performance,' replied Johnson, “as a great gun without powder or
Mag. shot.' When the same Collins afterwards appeared as editor of vol. Iv. Capel's posthumous notes on Shakspeare, with a preface of his own, p. 258. containing the following words—A sudden and most severe stroke of affliction has left my mind too much distracted to be capable of engaging in such a task (that of a further attack on Mr. Steevens), though I am prompted to it by inclination as well as duty,' the doctor asked to what misfortune the foregoing words referred. Being told that the critic had lost his wife, Johnson added, “I believe that the loss of teeth may deprave the voice of a singer, and that lameness will impede the motions of a dancing master, but I have not yet been taught to regard the death of a wife as the grave of literary exertions. When my dear Mrs. Johnson expired, I sought relief in my studies, and strove to lose the recollection of her in the toils of literature. Perhaps, however, I wrong the feelings of this poor fellow. His wife might have held the pen in his name. Hinc illæ lachryma. Nay, I think I observe, throughout his two pieces, a woman's irritability, with a woman's impotence of revenge. Yet such were Johnson's tender remembrances of his own wife, that after her death, though he had a whole house at command, he would study nowhere but in a garret. Being asked the reason why he chose a situation so incommodious, he answered, · Because in that room only I never saw Mrs. Johnson.'
Though you brought a tragedy, sir, to Drury-lane, and at one time were so intimate with Garrick, you never appeared to have much theatrical acquaintance.' 'Sir, while I had, in common with other dramatic authors, the liberty of the scenes, without considering my admission behind them as a favour, I was frequently at the theatre. At that period all the wenches knew me, and dropped me a curtsy as they passed on to the stage. But since
Goldsmith's last comedy!, I scarce recollect having seen the inside of a playhouse. To speak the truth, there is small encouragement there for a man whose sight and hearing are become so imperfect as mine. I may add, that, Garrick and Henderson excepted, I never met with a performer who had studied his art, or could give an intelligible reason for what he did 2'
“On the night before the publication of the first edition of his Shakspeare, he supped with some friends in the Temple, who kept him up, ‘nothing loth,' till past five the next morning. Much pleasantry was passing on the subject of commentatorship, when, all on a sudden, the doctor, looking at his watch, cried out, “This is sport
1 [See ante, p. 401.-Ed.)
2 (This was probably before his acquaintance with Mr. Kemble and Mrs. Siddons, which took place only the year before his death, vol. v. p. 130.--Ed.]
Steevens to you, gentlemen ; but you do not consider there are at most only
“Once, and but once, he is known to have had too much wine ; a circumstance which he himself discovered, on finding one of his sesquipedalian words hang fire. He then started up, and gravely observed, 'I think it time we should go to bed.'
“ If • a little learning is a dangerous thing' on any speculative subject, it is eminently more so in the practical science of physic. Johnson was too frequently his own doctor. In October, just before he came to London, he had taken an unusual dose of squills, but without effect. He swallowed the same quantity on his arrival here, and it produced a most violent operation. He did not, as he afterwards confessed, reflect on the difference between the perished and inefficacious vegetable he found in the country, and the fresh and potent one of the same kind he was sure to meet with in town. · You find me at present,' says he, ‘suffering from a prescription of my
When I am recovered from its consequences, and not till then, I shall know the true state of my natural malady. From this period, he took no medicine without the approbation of Heberden. What follows is known by all, and by all lamented—ere now perhaps-even by the prebends of Westminster 1,
“ Johnson asked one of his executors, a few days before his death, • Where do you intend to bury me?' He answered, “ In Westminster Abbey. “Then,' continued he, “if my friends think it worth while to give me a stone, let it be placed over me so as to protect my body.'
“ On the Monday after his decease he was interred in Westminster Abbey. The corpse was brought from his house in Bult-court to the hearse, preceded by the Rev. Mr. Butt and the Rev. Mr. Strahan, about twelve o'clock. The following was the order of the procession:
“ Hearse and six. “ The executors, viz. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir John Hawkins, and William Scott, LL. D. in a coach and four.
“ Eight coaches and four, containing the Literary Club, and others of the doctor's friends, invited by the executors; viz. Dr. Burney, Mr. Malone, Mr. Steevens, the Rev. Mr. Strahan, Mr. Ryland, Mr. Hoole, Dr. Brocklesby, Mr. Cruikshanks, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Low, Mr. Paradise, General Paoli, Count Zenobia, Dr. Butter, Mr. Holder, Mr. Seward, Mr. Metcalf, Mr. Sastres, Mr. Des Moulins, the Rev. Mr. Butt, Dr. Horsley, Dr. Farmer, Dr. Wright; to whom may be added, Mr. Cooke (who was introduced by Dr. Brocklesby), and the doctor's faithful servant, Francis Barber.
(This sarcasm against the prebendaries of Westminster, and particularly against Johnson's friend Dr. Taylor, who was one of them, will be explained presently.Ev.)
“Two coaches and four, containing the pall-bearers, viz. Mr. Steevens Burke, Mr. Wyndham, Sir Charles Bunbury, Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. London
Mag. Colman, and Mr. Langton.
vol. lv. “ After these followed two mourning coaches and four, filled with p. 402. gentlemen who, as volunteers, honoured themselves by attending this funeral. These were the Rev. Mr. Hoole, the Rev. Mr. East, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Mickle, Mr. Sharp, Mr. C. Burney, and Mr. G. Nichol.
“ Thirteen gentlemen's carriages closed the procession, which reached the Abbey a little before one.
“ The corpse was met at the west door by the prebendaries in residence, to the number of six, in their surplices and doctor's hoods; and the officers of the church, and attendants on the funeral, were then marshalled in the following order:
“ Two vergers.
The Rev. Mr. Strahan.
The rest two and two.
“ The Rev. Dr. Taylor performed the burial service, attended by some gentlemen of the Abbey; but it must be regretted by all who continue to reverence the hierarchy, that the cathedral service was withheld' from its invariable friend; and the omission was truly offensive to the audience at large.”
· How this omission happened, we are unable to account. Perhaps the executors should have asked for it; but at all events it should have been performed. That the fees for opening the ground were paid, was a matter of indispensable necessity; and there can be no doubt, from the liberality of the present dean and chapter, but they will be returned, as was offered in the case of Dryden, and was done in that of St. Evremond, who “died," says Atterbury, “ renouncing the christian religion;" yet the church of Westminster thought fit, in honour to his memory, to give his body room in the Abbey, and allow him to be buried there gratis, so far as the chapter were concerned, though he left 8001. sterling behind him, which is thought every way an unaccountable piece of management. How striking the contrast between St. Evremond and Johrson !-STEEVENS. [See ante, vol. v. p. 352, Mr. Tyers's note. It is supposed that the fees were not returned, and it is to be added, that all Dr. Johnson's friends, but especially Mr. Malorie and Mr. Steevens, were indignant at the mean and selfish spirit which the dean and chapter exhibited on this occasion ; but they were especially so against Dr. Taylor, not only for not having prevailed on his colleagues to show more respect to his old friend, but for the unfeeling manner in which he himself performed the burial service. It must, on the other hand, be confessed that Lord St. Helens corroborates the suspicion noticed by Mr. Boswell (ante, vol. iv. p. 32), that Johnson's attention to Taylor was prompted rather by the hopes of a legacy than by any very sincere friendship; fór his lordship says that it was well known at Ashbourne that
Letters, vol. i.
“When Mrs. Thrale was going to visit some country friends, Dr. Johnson gave her the following excellent advice: Do not make them speeches. Unusual compliments, to which there is no stated and prescriptive answer, embarrass the feeble, who know not what to say, and disgust the wise, who, knowing then to be false, suspect them to be hypocritical.'
“ Dr. Johnson was no complainer of ill usage. I never heard him even lament the disregard shown to Irene, which however was a violent favourite with him; and much was he offended when having asked me once, 'what single scene afforded me most pleasure of all our tragic drama,' I, little thinking of his play's existence, named, perhaps with hasty impropriety, “the dialogue between Syphax and Juba, in Addison's Cato. "Nay, nay,' replied he, if you are for declamation, I hope my two ladies have the better of them all.' This piece, however, lay dormant many years, shelfed (in the manager's phrase) from the time Mr. Peter Garrick presented it first on Fleetwood's table, to the hour when his brother David obtained due influence on the theatre, on which it crawled through nine nights, supported by cordials, but never obtaining popular applause. I asked him then to name a better scene; he pitched on that between Horatio and Lothario, in Rowe's Fair Penitent; but Mr. Murphy showed him afterwards that it was borrowed from Massinger, and had not the merit of originality.
“ He was once angry with his friend Dr. Taylor of Ashbourne, for recommending to him a degree of temperance, by which alone his life could have been saved, and recommending it in his own unaltered phrase too, with praiseworthy intentions to impress it more forcibly. This quarrel, however, if quarrel it might be called, which was mere sullenness on one side and sorrow on the other, soon healed of itself, mutual reproaches having never been permitted to widen the breach, and supply, as is the common practice among coarser disputants, the original and perhaps almost forgotten cause of dispute.
Taylor used to contrive to let some of his familiar friends discover, as if by accident, that he had remembered them in his will; and there was reason to suppose that he had for some time practised a similar device upon Johnson. It seems certain that the intercourse between these old friends, never very cordial or well assorted, had become less frequent in the latter years of Johnson's life; and that Taylor was not seen at the death-bedside, nor honoured by a legacy of remembrance in the will of his oldest friend.---The following passage, in one of Dr. Johnson's letters to Mrs. Thrale, which no doubt relates to Dr. Taylor, gives us no great idea of his elegance or literature, nor of Johnson's regard for him :-"[Taylor) has let out another pound of blood, and is come to town, brisk and vigorous, fierce and fell, to drive on his law-suit. Nothing in all life now can be more profligater than what he is ; and if in case that so be, that they persist for to resist him, he is resolved not to spare no money, nor no time. He is, I believe, thundering away. His solicitor has turned him off; and I think it not unlikely that he will tire his lawyers. But now don't you talk.”—Ed.]
(Some scattered anecdotes by Mrs. Piozzi having been by mistake omitted in what might have been a fitter place, are added here that the collection may be complete. -Ed.]