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Sir Joshua and I endeavoured to flatter his imagination with agreeable prospects of happiness in Italy. “Nay,” said he, “I must not expect much of that; when a man goes to Italy merely to feel how he breathes the air, he can enjoy very little.”
Our conversation turned upon living in the country, which Johnson, whose melancholy mind required the dissipation of quick successive variety, had habituated himself to consider as a kind of mental imprisonment. “ Yet, sir,” said I," there are many people who are content to live in the country." JOHNSON. “Sir, it is in the intellectual world as in the physical world: we are told by natural philosophers that a body is at rest in the place that is fit for it; they who are content to live in the country are fit for the country.”
Talking of various enjoyments, I argued that a refinement of taste was a disadvantage, as they who have attained to it must be seldomer pleased than those who have no nice discrimination, and are therefore satisfied with every thing that comes in their way. JOHNSON. “Nay, sir, that is a paltry notion. Endeavour to be as perfect as you can in every respect."
I accompanied him in Sir Joshua Reynolds's coach to the entry of Bolt-court. He asked me whether I would not go with him to his house; I declined it, from an apprehension that my spirits would sink. We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage. When he had got down upon the footpavement, he called out, “Fare you well!” and, without looking back, sprang away with a kind of pathetick briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a foreboding of our long, long separation.
I remained one day more in town, to have the
chance of talking over my negotiation with the Lord Chancellor; but the multiplicity of his lordship’s important engagements did not allow of it; so I left the management of the business in the hands of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Soon after this time Dr. Johnson had the mortification of being informed by Mrs. Thrale, that “ what she supposed he never believed” was true; namely, that she was actually going to marry Signor Piozzi, an Italian musick-master.
[“ MRS. PIOZZI' TO DR. JOHNSON.
“Bath, 30th June, (1784.] “My dear sir,—The enclosed is a circular letter, which I p. 375. have sent to all the guardians; but our friendship demands somewhat more: it requires that I should beg your pardon for concealing from you a connexion which you must have heard of by many, but I suppose never believed. Indeed, my dear sir, it was concealed only to save us both needless pain. I could not have borne to reject that counsel it would have killed me to take, and I only tell it you now because all is irrevocably settled, and out of your power to prevent. I will say, however, that the dread of your disapprobation has given me some anxious moments, and though, perhaps, I am become by many privations the most independent woman in the world, I feel as if acting without a parent's consent till you write kindly to your faithful servant,
“H. L. P.”] He endeavoured to prevent it; but in vain.
[The following is the only letter of Dr. Johnson on this subject which she has published:
“ DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. PIOZZI.
“ London, July 8th, 1784. “ DEAR MADAM,
What you have done, however I may lament it, I have no pretence to resent, as it has not been in
[In the lady's own publication of the correspondence, this letter is given as from Mrs. Piozzi, and is signed with the initial of her new name; Dr. Johnson's answer is also addressed to Mrs. Piozzi, and both the letters allude to the matter as done ; yet it appears by the periodical publications of the day that the marriage did not take place until the 25th July. The editor knows not how to account for this but by supposing that Mrs. Piozzi, to avoid Johnson's importunities, had stated that as done which was only settled to be done. Any reader who is curious about this miserable mésalliance will find it most acrimoniously discussed in Baretti's Strictures in the European Magazine for 1788.-Ed.)
Letters, jurious to me: I therefore breathe out one sigh more of tendervol. ii. p. 376. ness, perhaps useless, but at least sincere.
“I wish that God may grant you every blessing, that you may be happy in this world for its short continuance, and eternally happy in a better state; and whatever I can contribute to your happiness I am very ready to repay, for that kindness which soothed twenty years of a life radically wretched.
“Do not think slightly of the advice which I now presume to offer. Prevail upon M. Piozzi to settle in England: you may live here with more dignity than in Italy, and with more security: your rank will be higher and your fortune more under your own eye. I desire not to detail all my reasons, but every argument of prudence and interest is for England, and only some phantoms of imagination seduce you to Italy.
I am afraid, however, that my counsel is vain; yet I have eased my heart by giving it.
“When Queen Mary took the resolution of sheltering herself in England, the Archbishop of St. Andrew's attempting to dissuade her, attended on her journey; and when they came to the irremeable stream that separated the two kingdoms, walked by her side into the water, in the middle of which he seized her bridle, and with earnestness proportioned to her danger and his own affection pressed her to return. The queen went forward. If the parallel reaches thus far, may
it The tears stand in my eyes.
“I am going into Derbyshire, and hope to be followed by your good wishes, for I am, with great affection, your, &c.
“SAM. JOHNSON. 'Any letters that come for me hither will be sent me."]
go no farther.
If she would publish the whole of the correspondence that passed between Dr. Johnson and her on the subject, we should have a full view of his real sentiments. As it is, our judgment must be biassed by that characteristick specimen which Sir John Hawkins has given us [in the following passage'].
[About the middle of 1784, he was, to appearance, so well, that both himself and his friends hoped that he had some years to live. He had recovered from the paralytic stroke of the last year to such
1 [Here Mr. Boswell had inserted a few lines of the passage, which the editor thinks right to give in full.-ED.)
a degree, that, saving a little difficulty in his arti- Hawk. culation, he had no remains of it: he had also p. 568. undergone a slight fit of the gout, and conquered an oppression on his lungs, so as to be able, as himself told me, to run up the whole staircase of the Royal Academy, on the day of the annual dinner there. In short, to such a degree of health was he restored, that he forgot all his complaints: he resumed sitting to Opie for his picture, which had been begun the year before, but, I believe, was never finished, and accepted an invitation to the house of a friend at Ashbourn in Derbyshire, proposing to stay there till towards the end of the summer, and, in his return, to visit Mrs. Porter, his daughter-inlaw, and others of his friends, at Lichfield.
A few weeks before his setting out, he was made uneasy by a report that the widow of his friend Mr. Thrale was about to dispose of herself in marriage to a foreigner, a singer by profession, and with him to quit the kingdom. Upon this occasion he took the alarm, and to prevent a degradation of herself, and, what as executor of her husband was more his concern, the desertion of her children, wrote to her, she then being at Bath, a letter, of which the following spurious copy was inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine for December, 1784:
“MADAM,-- If you are already ignominiously married, you are lost beyond redemption ;-if you are not, permit me one hour's conversation, to convince you that such a marriage must not take place. If, after a whole hour's reasoning, you should not be convinced, you will still be at liberty to act as you think proper. I have been extremely ill, and am still ill; but if you grant me the audience I ask, I will instantly take a post-chaise and attend you at Bath. Pray do not refuse this favour to a man who hath so many years loved and honoured you.”
That this letter is spurious, as to the language,
I have Johnson's own authority for saying; but, in
Hawk. respect of the sentiments, he avowed it, in a declara
tion to me, that not a sentence of it was his, but yet that it was an adumbration of one that he wrote upon the occasion. It may therefore be suspected, that some one who had heard him repeat the contents of the letter had given it to the public in the form in which it appeared.
What answer was returned to his friendly monition I know not, but it seems that it was succeeded by a letter' of greater length, written, as it afterwards appeared, too late to do any good, in which he expressed an opinion, that the person to whom it was addressed had forfeited her fame. The answer to this I have seen: it is written from Bath, and contains an indignant vindication as well of her conduct as her fame, an inhibition of Johnson from following her to Bath, and a farewell, concluding—“Till you
have changed your opinion of [Piozzi] let us converse no more.”
From the style of the letter, a conclusion was to be drawn that baffled all the powers of reasoning and persuasion:
“One argument she summ'd up all in,
The thing was done, and past recalling”;" which being the case, he contented himself with reflecting on what he had done to prevent that which he thought one of the greatest evils that could befal the progeny of his friend, the alienation of the affections of their mother. He looked upon the desertion of children by their parents, and the withdrawing
[It appears as if Sir J. Hawkins, who had not had the advantage of seeing the correspondence published by Mrs. Piozzi, had made some confusion about these letters. It seems clear that the first of the series must have been, not Johnson's remonstrance, but hers, (ante, p. 249), dated Bath, 30th June. To that Johnson probably replied by the letter, the contents of which are adum'brated in that of the Gentleman's Magazine.” To this she probably rejoined by the letter which Sir J. Hawkins says that he saw, to which Johnson's of the 8th July, given above, may have been the reply. Sir J. Hawkins thinks that there were three letters from Dr. Johnson, whereas it seems probable that there were but two, of which one only is preserved.--Ed.]
2 Pope and Swift's Miscellanies, “ Phyllis, or the Progress of Love."-Bos