Page images
PDF
EPUB

BOSWELL PROPOSED AT THE CLUB. 377

warm approbation. Another new member was Beauclerc's friend, Lord Charlemont; and a still more important one was Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, the famous Orientalist, at that time a young lawyer of the Temple and a distinguished scholar.

To the great astonishment of the club, Johnson now proposed his devoted follower, Boswell, as a member. He did it in a note addressed to Goldsmith, who presided on the evening of the 23d of April. The nomination was seconded by Beauclerc. According to the rules of the club, the ballot would take place at the next meeting (on the 30th); there was an intervening week, therefore, in which to discuss the pretensions of the candidate. We may easily imagine the discussions that took place. Boswell had made himself absurd in such a variety of ways that the very idea of his admission was exceedingly irksome to some of the members. “ The honor of being elected into the Turk's Head Club,” said the Bishop of St. Asaph, “ is not inferior to that of being representative of Westminster and Surrey ;” what had Boswell done to merit such an honor ? What chance had he of gaining it? The answer was simple: he had been the persevering worshipper, if not sycophant of Johnson. The great lexicographer had a heart to be won by apparent affection; he stood forth authoritatively in support of his vassal. If asked to state the merits of the candidate, he summed them up in an indefinite but comprehensive word of his own coining :

- he was clubable. He moreover

[ocr errors]

gave significant hints that if Boswell were kept out he should oppose the admission of any other candidate. No further opposition was made ; in fact none of the members had been so fastidious and exclusive in regard to the club as Johnson himself; and if he were pleased, they were easily satisfied : besides, they knew that, with all his faults, Boswell was a cheerful companion, and possessed lively social qualities.

On Friday, when the ballot was to take place, Beauclerc gave a dinner, at his house in the Adelphi, where Boswell met several of the members who were favorable to his election. After dinner the latter adjourned to the club, leaving Boswell in company with Lady Di Beauclerc until the fate of his election should be known. He sat, he says, in a state of anxiety which even the charming conversation of Lady Di could not entirely dissipate. It was not long before tidings were brought of his election, and he was conducted to the place of meeting, where, beside the company he had met at dinner, Burke, Dr. Nugent, Garrick, Goldsmith, and Mr. William Jones were waiting to receive him. The club, notwithstanding all its learned dignity in the eyes of the world, could at times“ unbend and play the fool ” as well as less important bodies. Some of its jocose conversations have at times leaked out, and a society in which Goldsmith could venture to sing his

song an old woman tossed in a blanket,” could not be so very staid in its gravity. We may suppose, therefore, the jokes that had been passing among the members while awaiting

of

[ocr errors]

CHARGE OF JOHNSON.

379

the arrival of Boswell. Beauclerc himself could not have repressed his disposition for a sarcastic pleasantry. At least we have a right to presume all this from the conduct of Doctor Johnson himself.

With all his gravity he possessed a deep fund of quiet humor, and felt a kind of whimsical responsibility to protect the club from the absurd propensities of the very questionable associate he had thus inflicted on them. Rising, therefore, as Boswell entered, he advanced with a very doctorial air, placed himself behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and then delivered, ex cathedra, a mock solemn charge, pointing out the conduct expected from him as good member of the club; what he was to do, and especially what he was to avoid ; including in the latter, no doubt, all those petty, prying, questioning, gossiping, babbling habits which had so often grieved the spirit of the lexicographer. It is to be regretted that Boswell has never thought proper to note down the particulars of this charge, which, from the well-known characters and positions of the parties, might have furnished a parallel to the noted charge of Launcelot Gobbo to his dog.

a

CHAPTER XLI.

Dinner at Dilly's. — Conversations on Natural History.- In

termeddling of Boswell. — Dispute about Toleration. Johnson's Rebuff to Goldsmith; His Apology. – ManWorship. - Doctors Major and Minor. — A Farewell Visit.

FEW days after the serio-comic scene of the elevation of Boswell into the Lit

erary Club, we find that indefatigable biographer giving particulars of a dinner at the Dilly's, booksellers, in the Poultry, at which he met Goldsmith and Johnson, with several other literary characters. His anecdotes of the conversation, of course, go to glorify Dr. Johnson ; for, as he observes in his biography,“ his conversation alone, or what led to it, or was interwoven with it, is the business of this work.” Still on the present, as on other occasions, he gives unintentional and perhaps unavoidable gleams of Goldsmith's good sense, which show that the latter only wanted a less prejudiced and more impartial reporter, to put down the charge of colloquial incapacity so unjustly fixed upon him. versation turned upon the natural history of birds, a beautiful subject, on which the poet, from his recent studies, his habits of observation, and his natural tastes, must have talked with instruction and feeling ; yet, though we have much of what

The conCONVERSATIONS ON NATURAL HISTORY. 381

6 Yet

Johnson said, we have only a casual remark or two of Goldsmith. One was on the migration of swallows, which he pronounced partial ; “ the stronger ones,” said he,“ migrate, the others do not.”

Johnson denied to the brute creation the faculty of reason. “ Birds,” said he, “ build by instinct ; they never improve ; they build their first nest as well as any one they ever build.” we see,” observed Goldsmith, “ if

you
take

away a bird's-nest with the eggs in it, she will make a slighter nest and lay again.” “ Sir," replied Johnson, “that is because at first she has full time, and makes her nest deliberately. In the case you mention, she is pressed to lay, and must, therefore, make her nest quickly, and consequently it will be slight.” “ The nidification of birds,” rejoined Goldsmith, "is what is least known in natural history, though one of the most curious things in it.” While conversation was going on in this placid, agreeable, and instructive manner, the eternal meddler and busybody, Boswell, must intrude to put in a brawl. The Dillys were dissenters; two of their guests were dissenting clergymen ; another, Mr. Toplady, was a clergyman of the established church. Johnson himself was a zealous, uncompromising churchman. None but a marplot like Boswell would have thought, on such an occasion and in such company, to broach the subject of religious toleration ; but, as has been well observed, “it was his perverse inclination to introduce subjects that he hoped would produce difference and debate.” In the present instance

« PreviousContinue »