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After some weeks, Johnson sent to request the sight of his old com- Letters, panion, whose feeble health held him
vol. ii. for some weeks away
more, and who, when he came, urged that feebleness as an excuse for appearing no sooner at the call of friendship in distress; but Johnson, who was then, as he expressed it, not sick but dying, told him a story of a lady, who many years before lay expiring in such tortures as that cruel disease, a cancer, naturally produces, and begged the conversation of her earliest intimate to soothe the incredible sufferings of her body, and relieve the approaching terrors of her mind; but what was the friend's apology for absence ? Oh, my dear,' said she, ' I have
really been so plagued and so pained of late by a nasty whitlow, that indeed it was quite impossible for me till to-day to attend my Lucy's call.' I think this was not more than two days before his dissolution.
“Some Lichfield friends fancied that he had half a mind to die where he was born, but that the hope of being buried in Westminster Abbey overpowered the inclination ; but Dr. Johnson loved London, and many people then in London, whom I doubt not he sincerely wished to see again, particularly Mr. Sastres ', for whose person some of the following letters manifest a strong affection, and of whose talents I have often heard him speak with great esteem. tleman has told me, that his fears of death ended with his hope of recovery, and that the latter days of his life passed in calm resignation to God's will, and a firm trust in his mercy
“ He burned many letters in the last week, I am told; and those written by his mother drew from him a flood of tears, when the paper they were written on was all consumed. Mr. Sastres saw him cast a melancholy look upon their ashes, which he took up and examined, to see if a word was still legible. Nobody has ever mentioned what became of Miss Aston's letters, though he once told me himself they should be the last papers he would destroy, and added these lines with a very faltering voice:
• Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part,
p. 160), it
In addition to his pleasantry about the French academy (vol. i. Piozzi,
be told, that when some person complimented him Anec. on his superiority to the French, he replied, “Why, what could you p. 41. expect, dear sir, from fellows that eat frogs?”
· [Sastres was the countryman and friend of Piozzi, and the lady therefore wishes to attribute to Dr. Johnson an extraordinary fondness for Signior Sastres, as if it gave some degree of countenance to her own miserable folly. Ed.]
“When Mr. Rose, of Hammersmith', contending for the preference of Scotch writers over the English, after having set up his authors like nine-pins, while the Doctor kept bowling them down again ; at last, to make sure of victory, he named Ferguson upon Civil Society, and praised the book for being written in a new manner.
"I do not, said Johnson, 'perceive the value of this new manner; it is only like Buckinger”, who had no hands, and so wrote with his feet.'
“When I (Mrs Piozzi,) knowing what subject he would like best to talk on, asked him how his opinion stood towards the question between Pascal and Soame Jennings about number and numeration ? as the French philosopher observes, that infinity, though on all sides astonishing, appears most so when connected with the idea of number; for the notions of infinite number, and infinite number we know there is, stretches one's capacity still more than the idea of infinite space: “such a notion indeed,' adds Pascal, é can scarcely find room in the human mind.' The English author on the other hand exclaims, · Let no man give himself leave to talk about infinite number, for infinite number is a contradiction in terms; whatever is once numbered we all see cannot be infinite. “I think,' said Dr. Johnson after a pause, ‘we must settle the matter thus : numeration is certainly infinite, for eternity might be employed in adding unit to unit; but every number is in itself finite, as the possibility of doubling it easily proves: besides, stop at what point you will, you find yourself as far from infinitude as ever.'
His spirit of devotion had an energy that affected all who ever saw him pray in private. The coldest and most languid hearers of the word must have felt themselves animated by his manner of reading the Holy Scriptures; and to pray by his sick bed required strength of body as well as of mind, so vehement were his manners, and his tones of voice so pathetic.
Though Dr. Johnson kept fast in Lent, particularly the holy week, with a rigour very dangerous to his general health ; and had left off wine (for religious motives as I always believed, though he did not own it), yet he did not hold the commutation of offences by voluntary penance, or encourage others to practise severity upon themselves. He even once said, “that he thought it an error to endeavour at pleasing God by taking the rod of reproof out of his hands 3.'
“Mr. Thrale had a very powerful influence over the Doctor, and could make him suppress many rough answers: he could likewise prevail on him to change his shirt, his coat, or his plate, almost before it came indispensably necessary.
[It is presumed that Mrs. Piozzi meant Dr. Rose, of Chiswick.–Ed.] ? (A person born without hands, who contrived to produce very fine specimens of penmanship.-Ed.)
3 [He certainly left it off on account of his health, but no doubt considered it a pious duty to do so, if it disordered his mind. Ante, vol. ii. p. 8.-Ed.]
“ He once observed of a Scotch lady who had given him some kind Piozzi, of provocation by receiving him with less attention than he expected, * that she resembled a dead nettle ; if she were alive she would sting.'
He rejected from his Dictionary every authority for a word “that p. 140. could only be gleaned from writers dangerous to religion or morality - I would not,' said he, ‘send people to look in a book for words, that by such a casual seizure of the mind might chance to mislead it for ever.'
“ Dr. Johnson never gave into ridiculous refinements either of p. 147. speculation or practice, or suffered himself to be deluded by specious appearances. “I have had dust thrown in my eyes too often,' would he say, 'to be blinded so. Let us never confound matters of belief with matters of opinion.' Some one urged in his presence the preference of hope to possession; and, as I remember, produced an Italian sonnet on the subject. “Let us not,' cried Johnson, amuse ourselves with subtilties and sonnets, when speaking about that hope, which is the follower of faith and the precursor of eternity ; but if you only mean those air-built hopes which to-day excites and to-morrow will destroy, let us talk away, and remember that we only talk of the pleasures of hope; we feel those of possession, and no man in his senses would change the last for the first : such hope is a mere bubble, that by a gentle breath may be blown to what size you will almost, but a rough blast bursts it at once. Hope is an amusement - rather than a good, and adapted to none but very tranquil minds.'
“Of the pathetic in poetry he never liked to speak, and the only p. 154. passage I ever heard him applaud as particularly tender in any common book was Jane Shore's exclamation in the last act,
“ It was not however from the want of a susceptible heart that he hated to cite tender expressions, for he was more strongly and more violently affected by the force of words representing ideas capable of affecting him at all, than any other man in the world, I believe; and when he would try to repeat the celebrated Prosa Ecclesiastica pro Mortuis, as it is called, beginning Dies ira, Dies illa, he could never pass the stanza ending thus, Tantus labor non sit cassus, without bursting into a flood of tears; which sensibility I used to quote against him when he would inveigh against devotional poetry, and protest that all religious verses were cold and feeble, and unworthy the subject, which ought to be treated with higher reverence, he said, than either poets or painters could presume to excite or bestow.”
One of his friends had a daughter about fourteen years old, “ fat p. 190. and clumsy: and though the father adored, and desired others to adore her, yet being aware perhaps that she was not what the French
66 all over
Piozzi, call pétrie des graces, and thinking, I suppose, that the old maxim, of Anec.
beginning to laugh at yourself first where you have any thing ridiculous about you, was a good one, he comically enough called his girl Trundle when he spoke of her; and many who bore neither of them any ill-will felt disposed to laugh at the happiness of the appellation. See now,' said Dr. Johnson, 'what haste people are in to be hooted. Nobody ever thought of this fellow nor of his daughter, could he but have been quiet himself, and forborne to call the
eyes of the world on his dowdy and her deformity. But it teaches one to see at least, that if nobody else will nickname one's children, the parents will e'en do it themselves.'
“ He had for many years a cat which he called Hodge, that kept always in his room at Fleet-street; but so exact was he not to offend the human species by superfluous attention to brutes, that when the creature was grown sick and old, and could eat nothing but oysters, Dr. Johnson always went out himself to buy Hodge's dinner, that Francis the black’s delicacy might not be hurt, at seeing himself employed for the convenience of a quadruped.”
He was very fond of travelling, and would have gone the world; for the very act of going forward was delightful to him, and he gave himself no concern about accidents, which he said never happened: nor did the running away of the horses on the edge of a precipice between Vernon and St. Denys in France convince him to the contrary; ‘for nothing came of it,' he said, except that Mr. Thrale leaped out of the carriage into a chalk-pit, and then came up again, looking as white ! When the truth was, all our lives were saved by the greatest providence ever exerted in favour of three human creatures; and the part Mr. Thrale took from desperation was the likeliest thing in the world to produce broken limbs and death.
“ Yet danger in sickness he did not contemplate so steadily. One day, when he thought himself neglected by the non-attendance of Sir Richard Jebb, he conjured me to tell him what I thought of him, and I made him a steady, but as I thought a very gentle harangue, in which I confirmed all that the doctor had been saying, how no present danger could be expected; but that his age and continued ill health must naturally accelerate the arrival of that hour which can be escaped by none. “And this,' said Johnson, rising in great anger, ‘is the voice of female friendship, I suppose, when the hand of the hangman would be softer.'
“ Another day, when he was ill, and exceedingly low-spirited, and persuaded that death was not far distant, I appeared before him in a dark-coloured gown, which his bad sight, and worse apprehensions, made him mistake for an iron grey. Why do you delight,' said he, 'thus to thicken the gloom of misery that surrounds me? is not here sufficient accumulation of horror without anticipated mourning ?'
• This is not mourning, sir,' said I, drawing the curtain, that the Piozzi
Anec. light might fall upon the silk, and show it was a purple mixed with green. Well, well,' replied he, changing his voice, you little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way.
What! have not all insects gay colours?' “He was no enemy to splendour of apparel, or pomp of equipage: * Life,' he would say, “is barren enough surely with all her trappings; let us therefore be cautious how we strip her. In matters of still higher moment he once observed, when speaking on the subject of sudden innovation, 'He who plants a forest may doubtless cut down a hedge: yet I could wish methinks that even he would wait till he sees his young plants grow.'
“His equity in giving the character of living acquaintance ought p. 234. not undoubtedly to be omitted in his own, whence partiality and prejudice were totally excluded, and truth alone presided in his tongue: a steadiness of conduct the more to be commended, as no man had stronger likings or aversions.
“When Mr. Thrale built the new library at Streatham, and hung p. 228. up over the books the portraits of his favourite friends, that of Dr. Johnson was last finished, and closed the number.” Upon this occasion Mrs. Thrale summed up Dr. Johnson's character in the following
“Gigantic in knowledg“, in virtue, in strength,
Our company closes with Johnson at length;