Page images
PDF
EPUB

“ 18th September. ** I flattered myself that this week would have given me a letter from you, but none has come. Write to me now and then, but direct your next to Lichfield.—I think, and I hope am sure, that I still grow better. I have sometimes good nights, but am still in my legs weak, but so much mended, that I

go to Lichfield in hope of being able to pay my visits on foot, for there are no coaches. I have three letters this day, all about the balloon: I could have been content with one. Do not write about the balloon, whatever else you may

think

proper to say.”

662d October. “ I am always proud of your approbation, and therefore was much pleased that you liked my letter. When you copied it, you invaded the chancellor's right rather than mine.—The refusal I did not expect, but I had never thought much about it, for I doubted whether the chancellor had so much tenderness for me as to ask. He, being keeper of the king's conscience, ought not to be supposed capable of an improper petition.-All is not gold that glitters, as we have often been told; and the adage is verified in your place and my favour; but if what happens does not make us richer, we must bid it welcome if it makes us wiser.-I do not at present grow better, nor much worse. My hopes, however, are somewhat abated, and a very great loss is the loss of hope ; but I struggle on as I can.”

" TO MR. JOHN NICHOLS".

“ Lichfield, 20th October. “When you were here, you were pleased, as I am told, to think my absence an inconvenience. I should certainly have been very glad to give so skilful a lover of antiquities any information about my native place, of which, however, I know not much, and have reason to believe that not much is known.Though I have not given you any amusement, I have received amusement from you. At Ashbourn, where I had very little company, I had the luck to borrow · Mr. Bowyer's Life;' a book so full of contemporary history, that a literary man must find some of his old friends. I thought that I could, now and

1

[This very respectable man, who contributed so largely to the literary and topographical history of his country, died in 1826, at the advanced age of eightythen, have told you some hints worth your

two.

“ His long life,” as his friend and biographer, Mr. Alexander Chalmers, has truly observed, was spent in the promotion of useful knowledge.” The Life of Bowyer, to which Johnson refers, was republished in 1812-15, with large additions, in nine vols. 8vo., under the title of “ Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century." It is a storehouse of facts and dates, and every man interested in literary biography must own the vast obligations which are due to its indefatigable compiler.-MARKLAND.]

notice; and perhaps we may talk a life over. I hope we shall be much together: you must now be to me what you were before, and what dear Mr. Allen was besides. He was taken unexpectedly away, but I think he was a very good man.

1.- I have made little progress in recovery. I am very weak and very sleepless; but I live on and hope."

This various mass of correspondence, which I have thus brought together', is valuable, both as an addition to the store which the publick already has of Johnson's writings, and as exhibiting a genuine and noble specimen of vigour and vivacity of inind, which neither age nor sickness could impair or diminish.

It may be observed, that his writing in every way, whether for the publick, or privately to his friends, was by fits and starts; for we see frequently that many letters are written on the same day. When he had once overcome his aversion to begin, he was, I suppose, desirous to go on, in order to relieve his mind from the uneasy reflection of delaying what he ought to do.

While in the country, notwithstanding the accumulation of illness which he endured, his mind did not lose its powers. He translated an ode of Horace 3, which is printed in his works, and composed several prayers. I shall insert one of them, which is so wise and energetick, so philosophical and so pious, that I doubt not of its affording consolation to many a sincere Christian when in a state of mind to which I believe the best are sometimes liable.

[This is the Editor's example and excuse for having brought together in a similar manner the extracts from Mrs. Thrale's correspondence.—ED.]

? [Mr. Boswell carries his panegyric a little too far; Johnson himself has assigned reasons why his letters at this period should not exhibit“ vigour and vivacity of mind." He tells Mr. Nicol that every thing was liberally provided for him at Ashbourne but conversation ; and, from his letter to Dr. Burney (p. 275), he appears to have been reduced to talk about the weather and other common-place topics. The want of society, and the fact that Johnson was then s struggling with disease,” will account for his correspondence turning so exclusively upon himself and his own complaints.-MARKLAND.]

3 [Book iv. ode vii.- Diffugere nives.---Ed.]

AGAINST INQUISITIVE AND PERPLEXING THOUGHTS. O Lord, my maker and protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from me all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required. When I behold the works of thy hands, and consider the course of thy providence, give me grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways. And while it shall please thee to continue me in this world, where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me, by thy Holy Spirit, to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous inquiries, from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved. Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."

And here I am enabled fully to refute a very unjust reflection, by Sir John Hawkins, both against Dr. Johnson and his faithful servant Mr. Francis Barber; as if both of them had been guilty of culpable neglect towards a person of the name of Heely, whom Sir John chooses to call a relation of Dr. Johnson's. The fact is, that Mr. Heely was not his relation: he had indeed been married to one of his cousins, but she had died without having children, and he had married another woman; so that even the slight connexion which there once had been by alliance was dissolved. Dr. Johnson, who had shown very great liberality to this man while his first wife was alive, as has appeared in a former part of this work', was humane and charitable enough to continue his bounty to him occasionally; but surely there was no strong call of duty upon him or upon his legatee to do more. The following letter, obligingly communicated to me by Mr. Andrew Strahan, will confirm what I have stated :

1 Ante, vol. ii. p. 31.–BosweLL.

“ TO MR. HEELY, NO. 5, IN PYE-STREET, WESTMINSTER.

“ Ashbourn, 12th August, 1784. “Sir,—As necessity obliges you to call so soon again upon me, you should at least have told the smallest sum that will supply your present want: you cannot suppose that I have much to spare. Two guineas is as much as you ought to be behind with your creditor.—If you wait on Mr. Strahan, in New-street, Fetter-lane, or, in his absence, on Mr. Andrew Strahan, show this, by which they are entreated to advance you two guineas, and to keep this as a voucher. I am, sir, your humble servant,

“ SAM. JOHNSON.”

Indeed it is very necessary to keep in mind that Sir John Hawkins has unaccountably viewed Johnson's character and conduct in almost every particular with an unhappy prejudice '.

I shall add one instance only to those which I have thought it incumbent on me to point out. Talking of Mr. Garrick's having signified his willingness to let Johnson have the loan of any of his books to assist him in his edition of Shakspeare, Sir John says (p. 444), “Mr. Garrick knew not what risk he ran by this offer. Johnson had so strange a forgetfulness of obligations of this sort, that few who lent him books ever saw them again.” This surely conveys a most unfavourable insinuation, and has been so understood. Sir John mentions the single case of a curious edition of Politian, which he tells us appeared to belong to Pembroke College, which probably had been considered by Johnson as his own for upwards of fifty years. Would it not be fairer to consider this as an inadvertence, and draw. no

[This seems but too true. Miss Hawkins confesses it in the matter of the Essex-street Club. In the case of Heely it is still more flagrant, and without any justification. We shall see presently, that in the last scene of Johnson's life a transaction took place (see sub 7th Dec. 1784) which may have had the effect of souring the feeling of Sir John towards his old friend and his servant Barber. It must, however, be recollected, that Mr. Boswell was very angry that Hawkins had anticipated him as Johnson's biographer, and was by that feeling betrayed into a great deal of injustice towards him. -Ed.]

2 [This surely is over-stated. There are many proofs that Johnson was slovenly in such matters, but no one ever thought it an imputation of so grave a nature as Mr. Boswell here chooses to represent it.—En.]

general inference? The truth is, that Johnson was so attentive, that in one of his manuscripts in my possession he has marked in two columns books borrowed and books lent.

In Sir John Hawkins's compilation there are, however, some passages concerning Johnson which have unquestionable merit. One of thein I 'shall transcribe, in justice to a writer whom I have had too much occasion to censure, and to show my fairness as the biographer of my illustrious friend: “ There was wanting in his conduct and behaviour that dignity which results from a regular and orderly course of action, and by an irresistible power commands esteem. He could not be said to be a staid man, nor so to have adjusted in his mind the balance of reason and passion, as to give occasion to say

what may be observed of some men, that all they do is just, fit, and right.” Yet a judicious friend well suggests, " It might, however, have been added, that such men are often merely just, and rigidly correct, while their hearts are cold and unfeeling; and that Johnson's virtues were of a much higher tone than those of the staid, orderly man here described.”

We now behold Johnson for the last time in his native city, for which he ever retained a warm affection, and which by a sudden apostrophe, under the word Lich, he introduces with reverence into his immortal work, “ The English Dictionary:”—Salve magna parens!!” While here, he felt a revival of

· The following circumstance, mutually to the honour of Johnson and the corporation of his native city, has been communicated to me by the Rev. Dr. Vyse from the town-clerk : “ Mr. Simpson has now before him a record of the respect and veneration which the corporation of Lichfield, in the year 1767, had for the merits and learning of Dr. Johnson. His father built the corner house in the market-place, the two fronts of which, towards Market and Broadmarket Street, stood upon waste land of the corporation, under a forty years' lease, which was then expired. On the 15th of August, 1767, at a commonhall of the bailiffs and citizens, it was ordered (and that without any solicitation), that a lease should be granted to Samuel Johnson, Doctor of Laws, of the encroachments at his house, for the term of ninety-nine years, at the old rent, which was five shillings: of which, as town-clerk, Mr. Simpson had the

« PreviousContinue »