« AnteriorContinua »
think of it; and had I the command of half your 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."
631. Blue Stocking Parties. (1)
Nothing could be more agreeable, nor indeed more instructive, than these parties. Mrs. Vesey had the almost magic art of putting all her company at their ease, without the least appearance of design. Here was no formal circle, to petrify an unfortunate stranger on his entrance; no rules of conversation to observe; no holding forth of one to his own distress, and the stupefying of his audience; no reading of his works by the author. The company naturally broke into little groups, perpetually varying and changing. They talked or were silent, sat or walked about, just as they pleased. Nor was it absolutely necessary even to talk sense. There was no bar to harmless mirth and gaiety : and while perhaps Dr. Johnson in one corner held forth on the moral duties, in another, two or three young people might be talking of the fashions and the Opera; and in a third, Lord Orford (then Mr. Horace Walpole) might be amusing a little group around him with his lively wit and intelligent conversation. Now and then perhaps Mrs. Vesey might call the attention of the company in general to some circumstance of news, politics, or literature, of peculiar importance; or perhaps to an anecdote, or interesting account of some person known to the company in general. Of this last kind a laughable circumstance occurred about the
(1) [This and the following are from Pennington's "Memoirs of Mrs. Carter."]
year 1778, when Mrs. Carter was confined to her bed with a fever, which was thought to be dangerous. She was attended by her brother-in-law, Dr. Douglas, then a physician in Town, and he was in the habit of sending bulletins of the state of her health to her most intimate friends, with many of whom he was well acquainted himself. At one of Mrs. Vesey's parties a note was brought to her, which she immediately saw was from Dr. Douglas. "Oh!" said she, before she opened it, "this contains an account of our dear Mrs. Carter. We are all interested in her health: Dr. Johnson, pray read it out for the information of the company." There was a profound silence; and the Doctor, with the utmost gravity, read aloud the physician's report of the happy effect which Mrs. Carter's medicines had produced, with a full and complete account of the circumstances attending them.
632. Mrs. Carter on Johnson's Death.
I see by the papers (says Mrs. Carter, in a etter to Mrs. Montagu), that Dr. Johnson is dead. In extent of learning, and exquisite purity of moral writing, he has left no superior, and I fear very few equals. His virtues and his piety were founded on the steadiest of Christian principles and faith. His faults, I firmly believe, arose from the irritations of a most suffering state of nervous constitution, which scarcely ever allowed him a moment's ease. You wonder "that an undoubted believer and a man of piety should be afraid of death;" but it is such characters who have ever the deepest sense of their imperfections and deviations from the rule of duty, of which the very best must be conscious; and such a temper of mind as is struck with awe and humility at the prospect of the last solemn sentence appears much better suited to the wretched deficiencies of the best human performances than the thoughtless security that rushes undisturbed into eternity. To
this passage the editor of Mrs. Carter's Letters subjoins: "Mrs. Carter informed the editor, that in one of the last conversations which she had with this eminent moralist, she told him that she had never known him say any thing contrary to the principles of the Christian religion. He seized her hand with great emotion, exclaiming, You know this, and bear witness to it when I am gone!'"
633. Johnson and Coxe. (1)
When I was last (says Lord Chedworth) in town I dined in company with the eminent Mr. C. (2), of whom I did not form a high opinion. He asserted, that Dr. Johnson originally intended to abuse "Paradise Lost," but being informed that the nation would not bear it, he produced the critique which now stands in the "Life of Milton," and which he admitted to be excellent. I contended that Dr. Johnson had there xpressed his real opinion, which no man was less afraid of delivering than Dr. Johnson; that the critique was written con amore; and that the work was praised with such a glow of fondness, and the grounds of that praise were so fully and satisfactorily unfolded, that it was impossible Dr. Johnson should not have felt the value of the work, which he had so liberally and rationally commended. It came out afterwards that Dr. Johnson had disgusted Mr. C. He had supped at Thrale's one night, when he sat near the upper end of the table, and Dr. Johnson near the lower end; and having related a long story which had very much delighted the company, in the pleasure resulting from which relation Dr. Johnson had not (from
(1) [From Lord Chedworth's Letters to the Rev. Mr. Crompton.]
(2) Mr. Crompton informs me, that this was the Rev. William Coxe, who had recently published his travels. — C.
his deafness and the distance at which he sat) participated, Mrs. Thrale desired him to retell it to the Doctor. C. complied, and going down to the bottom of the table, bawled it over again in Dr. Johnson's ear: when he had finished, Johnson replied, "So, Sir, and this you relate as a good thing: at which C. fired. He added to us, 66 Now, it was a good thing, because it was about the King of Poland." Of the value of the story, as he did not relate it, I cannot judge; but I am sure you will concur with me that it was not therefore necessarily a good thing because it was about a king. I think Johnson's behaviour was indefensibly rude; but, from the sample I had of C.'s conversation, I am led to suspect that Johnson's censure was not unfounded.
634. Biography. (1)
Mr. Fowke's (2) conversation was sprightly and entertaining, highly seasoned with anecdotes, many of which related to his great and venerable friend Dr. Johnson; among these, he was accustomed to relate the following: -Mr. Fowke once observed to Dr. Johnson, that, in his opinion, the Doctor's strength lay in writing biography, in which line of composition he infinitely exceeded all his competitors. "Sir," said Johnson, " I believe that is true. The dogs don't know how to write trifles with dignity."
635. Colley Cibber.
Speaking of the difficulty of getting information for the "Lives of the Poets," he said, that when he was young, and wanted to write the "Life of Dryden," he desired to be introduced to Colley Cibber, from whom
(1) [Nos. 634. and 635. are from "Original Letters; edited by R. Warner, of Bath, 1803."]
(2) [See antè, Vol. VI. pp. 136. and 140., and post, p. 254.]
he expected to procure many valuable materials for his purpose. So, Sir," said Johnson to Cibber, "I find know Mr. Dryden?" "Know him? O Lord! I was as well acquainted with him as if he had been my own brother." "Then you can tell me some anecdotes of him?" "O yes, a thousand! Why, we used to meet him continually at a club at Button's. I remember as well as if it were but yesterday, that when he came into the room in winter time, he used to go and sit close by the fire in one corner; and that in summer time he would always go and sit in the window." “Thus, Sir,” said Johnson," what with the corner of the fire in winter, and the window in summer, you see that I got much information from Cibber, of the manners and habits of Dryden." (1)
636. Family Prayers. (2)
During Dr. Johnson's visit to Oxford in June, 1784, his friend Dr. Adams expressed an earnest wish that he would compose some family prayers; upon which Johnson replied: "I will not compose prayers for you, Sir, because you can do it for yourself; but I have thought of getting together all the books of prayers which I could, selecting those which should appear to me the best, putting out some, inserting others, adding some prayers of my own, and prefixing a discourse on Prayer." (3) By the following MS., Dr. Johnson appears to have put to paper some preparatory notes on this subject:
(1) [For Boswell's version of this story, see antè, Vol. VI.