Page images
PDF
EPUB

ceived the intelligence with a profusion of thanks, Steevens hastened to change his attire, all the while repeating his gratitude for the information that had saved him from an appearance so improper in the front row of a front box. 'I would not,' added he, for ten pounds have seemed so retrograde to any general observance.'

“ He would sometimes found his dislikes on very slender circumstances. Happening one day to mention Mr. Flexman, a dissenting minister, with some compliment to his exact memory in chronological matters; the doctor replied, “Let me hear no more of him, sir. That is the fellow who made the index to my Ramblers, and set down the name of Milton thus:-Milton, Mr. John.'

Mr. Steevens adds this testimony: “ It is unfortunate, however, for Johnson, that his particularities and frailties can be more distinctly traced than his good and amiable exertions.

Could the many bounties he studiously concealed, the many acts of humanity he performed in private, be displayed with equal circumstantiality, his defects would be so far lost in the blaze of his virtues, that the latter only would be regarded.” [Dr. Johnson said he always mistrusted romantick Hawk.

Apoph. virtue, as thinking it founded on no fixed principle.

He used to say that where secrecy or mystery began, vice or roguery was not far off.

Being once asked if he ever embellished a story“No,” said he; "a story is to lead either to the knowledge of a fact or character, and is good for nothing if it be not strictly and literally true ?."

“Round numbers,” said he, “are always false.”

“ Watts's Improvement of the Mind” was a very Ibid. favourite book with him; he used to recommend it, p. 198.

p. 197.

1 [See ante, v. iii. p. 320.-Ed.]

Hawk.

p. 197.

Ed.

as he also did “Le Dictionnaire portatif” of the Apoph. Abbé L'Avocat.

He has been accused of treating Lord Lytteiton roughly in his life of him ; he assured a friend, however, that he kept back a very ridiculous anecdote of him, relative to a question he put to a great divine of his time.]

[The following letters (which reached the editor too late for their chronological place) will show how violently, and on what slight grounds, the friends of Lord Lyttleton resented Johnson's treatment of him. Now, that personal feelings have subsided, the readers of the Life will wonder at Mr. Pepys's extravagant indignation ; and we have already seen that Johnson cared so little about the matter that he was willing that the Life should have been written for him by one of Lord Lyttelton's friends'.

[blocks in formation]

“ I have within these few days received the following paragraph in a letter from a friend of mine in Ireland:-Johnson’s Characters of some Poets breathe such inconsistency, such absurdity, and such want of taste and feeling, that it is the opinion of the Count of Narbonne ?, Sir N. Barry, and myself, that Mrs. Montague should expose him in a short publication. He deserves it almost as much as Voltaire-if not, Lytteltoni gratiá, do it yourself.'

“ I met him some time ago at Streatham', and such a day did we pass in disputation upon the life of our dear friend Lord Lyttelton as I trust it will never be my fate to pass again! The moment the cloth was removed he challenged me to come Mont. out (as he called it), and say what I had to object to his Life MSS. of Lord Lyttelton. This (you see) was a call which, however disagreeable to myself and the rest of the company, I could not but obey, and so to it we went for three or four hours without ceasing. He once observed that it was the duty of a biographer to state all the failings of a respectable character. I never longed to do any thing so much as to assume his own principle, and to go into a detail which I could suppose his biographer might in some future time think necessary; but I contented myself with generals. He took great credit for not having mentioned the coarseness of Lord Lyttelton's manners. I told him that if he would insert that? in the next edition, I would excuse him all the rest. We shook hands, however, at parting, which put me much in mind of the parting between Jaques and Orlando--'God be with you ; let us meet as seldom as we can! Fare you well; I hope we shall be better strangers!' We have not met again till last Tuesday, and then I must do him the justice to say that he did all in his power to show me that he was sorry for the former attack.”

1 [Ante, vol. iv. p. 320 and 427, n.--Ed.]

2 (Robert Jephson, Esq., author of Braganza and the Count de Narbonne see ante, v. ii. p. 89., where there seems reason to believe that Johnson and Mr. Jephson were no great friends. He died in 1803. ED.]

3 [See ante, vol. iv. p. 454.-ED.]

“ MR. PEPYS TO MRS. MONTAGU.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Tunbridge W'ells, 5th Oct. 1781. “When I read your application of the words · Be angry

and

Mont. sin not,' I could not help exclaiming, How admirable is it to MSS. see the person who perhaps is most angry, and who has certainly the most reason to be so, the foremost to restrain, not only her own emotions, but those of others, within the bounds of justice and humanity!

But, my dear madam, what hurts me all this while is, not that Johnson should go unpunished, but that our dear and respectable friend should go down to posterity with that artful and studied contempt thrown upon his character which he so little deserved, and that a man who (notwithstanding the little foibles he might have) was in my opinion one of the most exalted patterns of virtue, liberality, and benevolence, not to mention the high rank which he held in literature, should be handed down to succeeding generations under the appellation of poor Lyttelton! This, I must own, vexes and disquiets me whenever I think of it; and had I the command of half

your *[On the principle

“Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes”Pepys thought, justly enough, that a charge of coarseness of manner made by Johnson against Lord Lyttelton would be so ridiculous as to defeat all the rest of his censure. -Ed.] VOL. V.

Q

powers, tempered as they are with that true moderation and justice, he should not sleep within his silent grave, I do not say unrevenged (because that is not what I wish) but unvindicated, and unrescued from that contempt which has been so industriously and so injuriously thrown upon him. But enough of this subject, which must be disagreeable to us both.”

Hawk. Johnson's account of Lord Lyttelton's envy to Apoph. p. 198. Shenstone for his improvements in his grounds, &c.

was confirmed by an ingenious writer. Spence was in the house for a fortnight with the Lytteltons before they offered to show him Shenstone's place.

To some lady who was praising Shenstone's poems very much, and who had an Italian greyhound lying by the fire, he said, “ Shenstone holds amongst poets the same rank your dog holds amongst dogs: he has not the sagacity of the hound, the docility of the spaniel, nor the courage of the bull-dog, yet he is still a pretty fellow.”

Johnson spoke Latin with great fluency and elegance. He said, indeed, he had taken great pains about it.

Dr. Johnson and Dr. Sumner of Harrow were dining one day, with many other persons, at Mrs. Macaulay's". She had talked a long time at dinner about the natural equality of mankind. Johnson, when she had finished her harangue, rose up from the table, and with great solemnity of countenance, and a bow to the ground, said to the servant, who was waiting behind his chair, “Mr. John, pray be seated in my place, and permit me to wait upon you in my turn: your mistress says, you hear, that we are all equal."

Being asked whether he had read Mrs. Macaulay's second volume of the “ History of England”-“No, sir,” says he, “nor her first neither.”

· [See ante, vol. iii. p. 440.-ED.]

[ocr errors]

199.

When some one was lamenting Foote's unlucky Hawk.

Apoph. fate in being kicked in Dublin, Johnson said he was glad of it. “He is rising in the world (said he): when he was in England, no one thought it worth while to kick him."

He was much pleased with the following repartee : Fiat experimentum in corpore vili, said a French physician to his colleague, in speaking of the disorder of a poor man that understood Latin, and who was brought into an hospital; Corpus non tam vile est, says the patient, pro quo Christus ipse non dedignatus est mori.

Johnson used to say a man was a scoundrel that was afraid of any thing.

To his censure of fear' in general, he made, however, one exception—with respect to the fear of death, timorum maximus: he thought that the best of us were but unprofitable servants, and had much reason to fear.

When some one asked him whether they should introduce Hugh Kelly, the authour, to him—“ No, sir,” says he, “I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read :" yet when his play was acted for the benefit of his widow, Johnson furnished a prologue.

He repeated poetry with wonderful energy and feeling. He was seen to weep whilst he repeated Goldsmith's character of the English in his “ Traveller," beginning “Stern o'er each bosom?,” &c.

He held all authours very cheap that were not satisfied with the opinion of the publick about them. He used to say that every man who writes thinks

[See ante, vol. iii. p. 173.—ED.)
- A favourite passage, see ante, vol. iii. p. 40.-ED.]

« PreviousContinue »