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L I F E
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
ANECDOTES OF DR. JOHNSON,
BY JOHN NORTHCOTE, R. A. (1)
474. Poverty and Mortification. At the time when Sir Joshua Reynolds resided in Newport Street, he one afternoon, accompanied by his sister Frances, paid a visit to the Miss Cotterells, who lived much in the fashionable world. Johnson was also of the party on this tea visit; and, at that time, being very poor, he was, as might be expected, rather shabbily apparelled. The maid servant, by accident, attended at the door to let them in, but did not know Johnson, who was the last of the three that came in ; when the servant maid, seeing this uncouth and dirty figure of a man, and not conceiving that he could be one of the
(1) [From Northcote's “ Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds."]
company who came to visit her mistresses, laid hold of his coat just as he was going up stairs, and pulled him back again, saying, - You fellow! what is
business here? I suppose you intended to rob the house." This most unlucky accident threw poor Johnson into such a fit of shame and anger, that he roared out, like a bull, " What have I done? what have I done?” Nor could he recover himself for the remainder of the evening from this mortifying circumstance.
475. Richardson. Dr. Johnson had a great desire to cultivate the friendship of Richardson, the author of “ Clarissa ;” and, with this view, paid him frequent visits. These were received very coldly by the latter ; “ but,” observed the Doctor, in speaking of this to a friend, “ I was determined to persist till I had gained my point; because I knew very well that, when I had once overcome his reluctance and shyness of humour, our intimacy would contribute to the happiness of both.” The event veri. fied the Doctor's prediction.
476. Idle Curiosity. Dr. Johnson was displeased if he supposed himself at any time made the object of idle curiosity. When Miss Reynolds once desired him to dine at Sir Joshua's, on a day fixed upon by herself, he readily accepted the invitation ; yet, having doubts as to the importance of her companions, or of her reasons for inviting him, he added, at the same time,“ but I will not be made a show of.”
477. Clarissa." Johnson introduced Sir Joshua Reynolds and his sister to Richardson; but hinted to them, at the same time, that, if they wished to see the latter in good humour, they must expatiate on the excellencies of his “ Clarissa.”
478. Introductions and Conclusions. I have heard Sir Joshua repeat a speech which the Doctor made about the time of his writing the “ Idler,” and in which he gave himself credit in two particulars : — " There are two things,” said he, “ which I am confident I can do very well: one is, an introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner; the other is a conclusion, showing, from various causes, why the execution has not been equal to what the author promised to himself and to the public.”
479. Tea. Johnson's extraordinary, or rather extravagant, fondness for tea did not fail to excite notice wherever he went; and it is related, though not by Boswell, that whilst on his Scottish tour, and spending some time at Dunvegan, the dowager Lady Macleod having repeatedly helped him, until she had poured out sixteen cups, she then asked him, if a small basin would not save him trouble and be more agreeable ?
.I wonder, Madam," answered he roughly, “why all the ladies ask me such questions. It is to save yourselves trouble, Madam, and not me.” The lady was silent, and resumed her task.
480.“ A completely wicked Man." Dr. Johnson being in company with Sir Joshua and his sister, Miss Reynolds, and the conversation turning on morality, Sir Joshua said, he did not think there was in the world any man completely wicked. Johnson answered, “ I do not know what you mean by completely wicked.” “I mean,” returned Sir Joshua, “ a man lost to all sense of shame.” Dr. Johnson replied, that “ to be completely wicked, a man must be also lost to all sense of conscience." Sir Joshua said,
he thought it was exactly the same; he could see no difference. « What!” said Johnson, can you see no difference?
I am ashamed to hear you, or any body, utter such nonsense, when the one relates to men only, the other to God !” Miss Reynolds then observed, that when shame was lost, conscience was nearly gone. Johnson agreed, that her conclusion was very just.
481. Richardson on Painting. Dr. Johnson knew nothing of the art of painting, either in theory or practice; which is one proof that he could not be the author of Sir Joshua's “ Discourses :' indeed, his imperfect sight was some excuse for his total ignorance in that department of study. being at dinner at Sir Joshua's, in company with many painters, in the course of conversation Richardson's “ Treatise on Painting” happened to be mentioned : “ Ah !” said Johnson, “I remember, when I was at college, I by chance found that book on my stairs: I took it up with me to my chamber, and read it through, and truly I did not think it possible to say so much upon the art.”
Sir Joshua, who could not hear distinctly, desired of one of the company to be informed what Johnson had said ; and it being repeated to him so loud that Johnson heard it, the Doctor seemed hurt, and added, “ But I did not wish, Sir, that Sir Joshua should have been told what I then said.” The latter speech of Johnson denotes a delicacy in him, and an unwillingness to offend; and it evinces a part of his character, which he has not had the credit of having ever possessed.
482. “ Venice Preserved." One day, Johnson and Goldsmith meeting at Sir Joshua Reynolds's table, the conversation turned on the merits of Otway's “ Venice Preserved,” which Goldsmith highly extolled ; asserting, that of all tragedies