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ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
BY ARTHUR MURPHY, ESQ. (1)
I ENJOYED the conversation and friendship of that excellent man more than thirty years. I thought it an honour to be so connected, and to this hour I reflect on his loss with regret: but regret, I know, has secret bribes, by which the judgment may be influenced, and partial affection may be carried beyond the bounds of truth. In the present case, however, nothing needs to be disguised, and exaggerated praise is unnecessary.
575. First Interview.
It was in the summer 1754, that I became acquainted with Dr. Johnson. The cause of his first visit is related by Mrs. Piozzi nearly in the following manner :— "Mr. Murphy being engaged in a periodical paper, the 'Gray's Inn Journal,' was at a friend's house in the country, and, not being disposed to lose pleasure for business, wished to content his bookseller by some unstudied essay. He therefore took up a French Journal Littéraire, and, translating something he liked, sent it away to town. Time, however, discovered that he translated from the French a 6 Rambler,' which had been taken from the English without acknowledgment.
(1) [From "An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson, LL. D." prefixed to his Works; and first published in 1792.] .
Upon this discovery, Mr. Murphy thought it right to make his excuses to Dr. Johnson. He went next day,
and found him covered with soot, like a chimneysweeper, in a little room, as if he had been acting Lungs' in the Alchymist, making ether. This being told by Mr. Murphy in company, Come, come,' said Dr. Johnson, the story is black enough; but it was a happy day that brought you first to my house.' this first visit, I by degrees grew intimate with Dr. Johnson.
576. Lord Bolingbroke.
The first striking sentence that I heard from Dr. Johnson was in a few days after the publication of Lord Bolingbroke's posthumous works. Mr. Garrick asked him, "If he had seen them?” Yes, I have seen them." "What do you think of them?" "Think of them!" He made a long pause, and then replied: "Think of them! A scoundrel and a coward! A scoundrel, who spent his life in charging a gun against Christianity; and a coward, who was afraid of hearing the report of his own gun; but left half a crown to a hungry Scotchman to draw the trigger after his death."
577. Picture of Himself.
Johnson's reflections on his own life and conduct were always severe; and, wishing to be immaculate, he destroyed his own peace by unnecessary scruples. He tells us, that, when he surveyed his past life, he discovered nothing but a barren waste of time, with some disorders of body, and disturbances of mind very near to madness. His life, he says, from his earliest youth, was wasted in a morning bed; and his reigning sin was a general sluggishness, to which he was always inclined, and, in part of his life, almost compelled, by morbid melancholy and weariness of mind. This was
his constitutional malady, derived, perhaps, from his father, who was, at times, overcast with a gloom that bordered on insanity.
In a Latin poem, to which he has prefixed as a title гNQOI ΣEATTON, he has left a picture of himself, drawn with as much truth, and as firm a hand, as can be seen in the portraits of Hogarth or Sir Joshua Reynolds. The learned reader will find the original poem in the first volume of his Works; and it is hoped that a translation, or rather imitation, of so curious a piece will not be improper in this place:
66 AFTER REVISING AND ENLARGING THE ENGLISH LEXICON, OR
"When Scaliger, whole years of labour past,
And weary of his task, with wond'ring eyes,
"Yes, you had cause, great Genius, to repent;
To you were given the large expanded mind,
'Twas yours on eagle wings aloft to soar,
And amidst rolling worlds the Great First Cause explore;
(1) See Scaliger's epigram on this subject, communicated without doubt by Dr. Johnson, Gent. Mag. 1748. — M.
To fix the æras of recorded time,
And live in ev'ry age and ev'ry clime;
Record the chiefs, who propt their country's cause;
"Yet warn'd by me, ye pigmy Wits, beware,
"A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortune chill.
"My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er,
I seek, at midnight clubs, the social band;
But midnight clubs, where wit with noise conspires, Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires,
Delight no more: I seek my lonely bed,
I mourn all night, and dread the coming day.
"Whate'er I plan, I feel my powers confined
I boast no knowledge glean'd with toil and strife,
I view myself, while Reason's feeble light
A dreary void, where fears with grief combined
"What then remains? Must I in slow decline
And in that labour drudge my life away?" (1)
Such is the picture for which Dr. Johnson sat to himself. He gives the prominent features of his character; his lassitude, his morbid melancholy, his love of fame, his dejection, his tavern parties, and his wandering reveries, Vacua mala somnia mentis, about
(1) [This spirited translation, or rather imitation, is by Mr. Murphy.]