« PreviousContinue »
a few days of his death I give on the authority of Mr. John Nichols :
“He said, that the Parliamentary Debates were the only part of his writings which then gave him any compunction : but that at the time he wrote them he had no conception he was imposing upon the world, though they were frequently written from very slender materials, and often from none at all,— the mere coinage of his own imagination. He never wrote any part of his works with equal velocity. Three columns of the magazine in an hour was no uncommon effort, which was faster than most persons could have transcribed that quantity.
"Of his friend Cave he always spoke with great affection. Yet,' said he, “Cave (who never looked out of his window but with a view to the Gentleman's Magazine) was a penurious paymaster; he would contract for lines by the hundred, and expect the long hundred; but he was a good man, and always delighted to have his friends at his table.'
“When talking of a regular edition of his own works, he said, that he had power (from the booksellers) to print such an edition, if his health admitted it; but had no power to assign over any edition, unless he could add notes, and so alter them as to make them new works; which his state of health forbade him to think of. 'I may possibly live,' said he, ‘or rather breathe, three days, or perhaps three weeks; but find myself daily and gradually weaker.'
“ He said at another time, three or four days only
followed Dr. Johnson to the grave as a mourner, and in contemplating his character, applied to it a fine passage from Cicero, which might equally suit his own: “Intentum enim animum quasi arcum habebat, nec languescens succumbebat senectuti.” When some one censured Johnson's general rudeness in society, he replied with equal consideration and truth, “It is well, when a man comes to die, if he has nothing worse to accuse liimself of than some harshness in conversation." He often remarked, that Johnson was greater in discourse than even in writing, and that Boswell's Life was the best record of his powers. In 1790 he was one of the committee formed to erect a statue to his memory.---Prior's Life of Burke, vol, i, p. 454 ED.]
before his death, speaking of the little fear he had Nichols. of undergoing a chirurgical operation, 'I would give one of these legs for a year more of life, I mean of comfortable life, not such as that which I now suffer;' -and lamented much his inability to read during his hours of restlessness. “I used formerly,' he added, ‘when sleepless in bed, to read like a Turk.'
“ Whilst confined by his last illness, it was his regular practice to have the church service read to him by some attentive and friendly divine. The Rev. Mr. Hoole performed this kind office in my presence for the last time, when, by his own desire, no more than the litany was read; in which his responses were in the deep and sonorous voice which Mr. Boswell has occasionally noticed, and with the most profound devotion that can be imagined. His hearing not being quite perfect, he more than once interrupted Mr. Hoole with, 'Louder, my dear sir, louder, I entreat you, or you pray in vain!'-and, when the service was ended, he, with great earnestness, turned round to an excellent lady who was present, saying, “I thank you, madam, very heartily, for your kindness in joining me in this solemn exercise. Live well, I conjure you; and you will not feel the compunction at the last which I now feel!' So truly humble were the thoughts which this great and good man entertained of his own approaches to religious perfection.
“ He was earnestly invited to publish a volume of Devotional Exercises; butt his (though he listened
1 [There is a slight error in Mr. Nichols's account, as appears by the following communication from the Rev. Mr. Hoole himself, now rector of Poplar : “My mother was with us when I read prayers to Dr. Johnson, on Wednesday, December 8th; but not for the last time, as is stated by Mr. Nichols, for I attended him again on Friday, the 10th. I must here mention an incident which shows how ready Johnson was to make amends for any little incivility. When I called upon him, the morning after he had pressed me rather roughly to read louder, he săid, I was peevish yesterday; you must forgive me: when you are as old and as sick as I am, perhaps you may be peevish too." I have heard him make many apologies of this kind.”—Ep.]
Nichols. to the proposal with much complacency, and a large
sum of money was offered for it) he declined, from motives of the sincerest modesty.
“He seriously entertained the thought of translating Thuanus. He often talked to me on the subject; and once, in particular, when I was rather wishing that he would favour the world, and gratify his sovereign, by a Life of Spenser (which he said that he would readily have done had he been able to obtain any new materials for the purpose), he added, *I have been thinking again, sir, of Thuanus : it would not be the laborious task which you have supposed it. I should have no trouble but that of dictation, which would be performed as speedily as an amanuensis could write.»
On the same undoubted authority' I give a few articles which should have been inserted in chronological order, but which, now that they are before me, I should be sorry to omit:
“ Among the early associates of Johnson, at St. John's Gate, was Samuel Boyse, well known by his ingenious productions; and not less noted for his imprudence?. It was not unusual for Boyse to be a
[This, and the few next paragraphs, were in a note in former editions.-Ed.] ? (See ante, p. 71. Sir J. Hawkins has preserved the following tragi-comic petition, addressed by Boyse, frem a sponging-house, to Cave, the printer, in 1742.
INSCRIPTION FOR ST. LAZARUS'S CAVE.
“ Hodie, teste cælo summo,
Sine pane, sine nummo;
Pro a te favore dato.
“ALCÆUS." “ Vulgo, domo spongiatoria.”
When Boyse's wife died, this strange man put his lap-dog into mourning by tying a black riband round his neck, and so carried the dog about in his arms to show his taste and sensibility. See Hawkins, p. 159. -En.]
customer to the pawnbroker. On one of these occa- Nichols. sions, Dr. Johnson collected a sum of money to redeem his friend's clothes, which in two days after were pawned again. “The sum,” said Johnson, ‘was collected by sixpences, at a time when to me sixpence was a serious consideration.'
Speaking one day of a person for whom he had a real friendship, but in whom vanity was somewhat too predominant, he observed, that 'Kelly was so fond of displaying on his sideboard the plate which he possessed, that he added to it his spurs. For my part,' said he, 'I never was master of a pair of spurs, but once; and they are now at the bottom of the ocean. By the carelessness of Boswell's servant, they were dropped from the end of the boat, on our return from the Isle of Sky?”
The late Reverend Mr. Samuel Badcock having been introduced to Dr. Johnson by Mr. Nichols, some years before his death, thus expressed himself in a letter to that gentleman :
“How much I am obliged to you for the favour you did me in introducing me to Dr. Johnson ! Tantùm vidi Virgilium. But to have seen him, and to have received a testimony of respect from him, was enough. I recollect all the conversation, and shall never forget one of his expressions. Speaking of Dr. P*******, (whose writings, I saw, he estimated at a low rate,) he said, “You have proved him
(Hugh Kelly, the dramatic author, who died in Gough-square in 1777, æt. 38. Kelly's first introduction to Johnson was not likely to have pleased a person of “predominant vanity.” After having sat a short time, he got up to take his leave, saying, that he feared a longer visit might be troublesome. 76 Not in the least, sir.” Johnson is said to have replied, “ I had forgotten that you were in the room.”—ED.)
? [ Ante, vol. ii. p. 394.--Ed.]
3 (Chiefly known as a Monthly Reviewer, and for a controversy with Dr. Priestly, whose friend and admirer he had previously been. He had been bred a dissenter, but conformed to the established church, and was ordained in 1787, He died soon after, in May, 1788, æt. 41.-Ed.]
1 (Priestly..Ed.] VOL. V.
as deficient in probity as he is in learning.' I called him an · Index-Scholar;' but he was not willing to allow him a claim even to that merit. He said, that he borrowed from those who had been borrowers themselves, and did not know that the mistakes he adopted had been answered by others.' I often think of our short, but precious visit, to this great man. I shall consider it as a kind of an era in my life.”
It is to the mutual credit of Johnson and divines of different communions, that although he was a steady church of England man, there was, nevertheless, much agreeable intercourse between him and them. Let me particularly name the late Mr. La Trobe', and Mr. Hutton, of the Moravian profession. His intimacy with the English Benedictines at Paris has been mentioned ; and as an additional proof of the charity in which he lived with good men of the
· [The son of Mr. La Trobe has published (in the Christian Observer for January, 1828), “in order," as he says, “that the tradition may not be lost," a corroboration of some remarks, which appeared in that work for the October and November preceding, on the last days of Dr. Johnson. Mr. La Trobe's statement tends, as far as it goes, to confirm the opinion already, it is hoped, universally entertained, that Johnson's death was truly christian. But Mr. La Trobe had little to tell, and of that little unfortunately the prominent facts are indisputably erroneous. Nr. La Trobe states, that“Dr. Johnson had during his last illness sent every day to know when his father, who was then out of town, would come back. The moment he arrived he went to the doctor's house, but found him speechless, though sensible. Mr. La Trobe addressed to him some religious exhortation, which Johnson showed by pressing his hand, and other signs, that he understood, and was thankful for. He expired the next morning, and Mr. La Trobe always regretted not having been able to attend Dr Johnson sooner, according to his wish.” The reader will see that the inference suggested by this statement is, that Dr. Johnson wished for the spiritual assistance of Mr. La Trobe, in addition (or it might even be inferred, in preference) to that of his near and dear friends, Mr. Hoole and Dr. Strahan, clergymnen of the established church. Now the facts of the case essentially contradict Mr. La Trobe's account, and any inferences which might be deducible from it. Doctor Johnson, as will be seen in the Diaries of Sir J. Hawkins and Mr. Windham, was not speechless the day before his death, nor did he die next morning (which seems mentioned as the reason why Mr. La Trobe's visit was not repeated), but in the evening. And, which is quite conclusive, it appears from Mr. Hoole's Diary, that Mr. La Trobe's visit to Dr. Johnson's residence (and his son admits there was but one) took place about eleven o'clock in the forenoon of the 10th, three days before Dr. Johnson's death; that Mr. La Trobe did not even sce him ; and that it was in the course of that very day that Mr. Hoole read prayers to him and a small congregation of friends. So little can anecdotes at second hand be trusted.Ed.]