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Sir Joshua Reynold's Dinners.-Goldsmith's Epitaph.The Round Robin.- Employment of Time.—Blair's Sermons. Easter Day. Prayer. Sir Alexander Dick. Shaw's Erse Grammar. Johnson engages to write "The Lives of the English Poets." — Edward Dilly.—Correspondence.—Charles O'Connor.- Dr. Zachary Pearce's Posthumous Works. Prologue to Hugh Kelly's " Word to the Wise."
How very false is the notion that has gone round the world of the rough, and passionate, and harsh manners of this great and good man! That he had cccasional sallies of heat of temper, and that he was sometimes, perhaps, too "easily provoked" by absurdity and folly, and sometimes too desirous of triumph in colloquial contest, must be allowed. The quickness both of his perception and sensibility disposed him to sudden explosions of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness of wit was a strong and almost irresistible incitement. To adopt one of the finest images in Mr. Home's "Douglas,"
"On each glance of thought Decision followed, as the thunderbolt Pursues the flash!".
I admit that the beadle within him was often so eager
to apply the lash, that the judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient deliberation.
That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may be granted; but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be supposed that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a club in his hand to knock down every one who approached him. On the contrary, the truth is, that by much the greatest part of his time he was civil, obliging, nay, polite in the true sense of the word; so much so, that many gentlemen who were long acquainted with him never received, or even heard a strong expression from him.
LETTER 248. TO MRS. THRALE.
"May 22. 1776.
"On Friday and Saturday I dined with Dr. Taylor, who is in discontent, but resolved not to stay much longer to hear the opinions of lawyers, who are all against him. On Sunday I dined at Sir Joshua's house on the hill [Richmond], with the Bishop of St. Asaph [Shipley]: the dinner was good, and the bishop is knowing and conversible." (1)
(1) This praise of Sir Joshua's dinner was not a matter of course; for his table, though very agreeable, was not what is usually called a good one, as appears from the following description given of it by Mr. Courtenay (a frequent and favourite guest) to Sir James Mackintosh :
"There was something singular in the style and economy of Sir Joshua's table that contributed to pleasantry and good humour; a coarse inelegant plenty, without any regard to order and arrangement. A table, prepared for seven or eight, was often compelled to contain fifteen or sixteen. When this pressing difficulty was got over, a deficiency of knives, forks, plates, and glasses succeeded. The attendance was in the same style; and it was absolutely necessary to call instantly for beer, bread, or wine, that you might be supplied with them before the first course was over. once prevailed on to furnish the table with decanters and glasses at dinner, to save time, and prevent the tardy manœuvres of two or three occasional undisciplined domestics. As these accelerating utensils were demolished in the course of service, Sir Joshua could never be persuaded to replace
LETTER 249. TO HENRY THRALE, ESQ.
"June 3. 1776.
"My Mistress writes as if she was afraid that I should make too much haste to see her. Pray tell her that there is no danger. The lameness of which I made mention in one of my notes has improved into a very serious and troublesome fit of the gout. I creep about and hang by both hands. I enjoy all the dignity of lameness. I receive ladies and dismiss them sitting. 'Painful pre-eminence !'"
The following letters concerning an Epitaph which he wrote for the monument of Dr. Goldsmith, in Westminster Abbey, afford at once a proof of his unaffected modesty, his carelessness as to his own writings, and of the great respect which he entertained for the taste and judgment of the excellent and eminent person to whom the first and last are addressed :
LETTER 250. TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. "May 16. 1776.
"DEAR SIR,-I have been kept away from you, I know not well how, and of these vexatious hindrances
them. But these trifling embarrassments only served to enhance the hilarity and singular pleasure of the entertainment. The wine, cookery, and dishes were but little attended to; nor was the fish or venison ever talked of or recommended. Amidst this convivial, animated bustle among his guests, our host sat perfectly composed; always attentive to what was said, never minding what was eat or drank, but left every one at perfect liberty to scramble for himself. Temporal and spiritual peers, physicians, lawyers, actors, and musicians, composed the motley group, and played their parts without dissonance or discord. At five o'clock precisely dinner was served, whether all the invited guests were arrived or not. Sir Joshua was never so fashionably ill-bred as to wait an hour perhaps for two or three persons of rank or title, and put the rest of the company out of humour by this invidous distinction. His friends and intimate acquaintance will ever love his memory, and will long regret those social hours, and the cheerfulness of that irregular, convivial table, which no one has attempted to revive or imitate, or was indeed qualified to supply." -- C.
I know not when there will be an end. I therefore send
you the poor dear Doctor's epitaph. Read it first yourself; and if you then think it right, show it to the Club. I am, you know, willing to be corrected. If you think any thing much amiss, keep it to yourself till we come together. I have sent two copies, but prefer the card. The dates must be settled by Dr. Percy. I am, Sir, &c. "SAM. JOHNSON."
LETTER 251. FROM MISS REYNOLDS.
"Richmond Hill, June 21. 1776.
"SIR, You saw by my last letter that I knew nothing of your illness, and it was unkind of you not to tell me what had been the matter with you; and you should have let me know how Mrs. Thrale and all the family were; but that would have been a sad transgression of the rule you have certainly prescribed to yourself of writing to some sort of people just such a number of lines. Be so good as to favour me with Dr. Goldsmith's Epitaph; and if you have no objection, I should be very glad to send it to Dr. Beattie. I am writing now to Mrs. Beattie, and can scarce hope she will ever excuse my shameful neglect of writing to her, but by sending her something curious for Dr. Beattie.
"I don't know whether my brother ever mentioned to you what Dr. Beattie said in a letter he received from him the beginning of last month. As I have his letter here, I will transcribe it. 'In my third Essay, which treats of the advantages of classical learning, I have said something of Dr. Johnson, which I hope will please him; I ought not to call it a compliment, for it expresses nothing but the real sentiments of my heart. I can never forget the many and great obligations I am under to his genius and to his virtue, and I wish for an opportunity of testifying my gratitude to the world.'
"My brother says he has lost Dr. Goldsmith's Epi
taph, otherwise I would not trouble you for it. Indeed I should or I ought have asked if you had any objection to my sending it, before I did send it. I am, my good Sir, &c. "FRANCES REYNOLDS."
LETTER 252. TO MISS REYNOLDS.
"June 21. 1776.
"DEAREST MADAM,-You are as naughty as you can be. I am willing enough to write to you when I have any thing to say. As for my disorder, as Sir Joshua saw me, I fancied he would tell you, and that I needed not tell you myself. Of Dr. Goldsmith's Epitaph, I sent Sir Joshua two copies, and had none myself, If he has lost it, he has not done well. But I suppose I can recollect it, and will send it to you. — I am, Madam, &c. SAM. JOHNSON.
"P.S.-All the Thrales are well, and Mrs. Thrale has a great regard for Miss Reynolds."
LETTER 253. TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
"June 22. 1776.
66 SIR, Miss Reynolds has a mind to send the Epitaph to Dr. Beattie; I am very willing, but having no copy, cannot immediately recollect it. She tells me you have lost it. Try to recollect, and put down as much as you retain; you perhaps may have kept what I have dropped. The lines for which I am at a loss are something of rerum civilium sive naturalium. (1) It was a sorry trick to lose it; help me if you can.—I am, Sir, your most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
"The gout grows better, but slowly."
(1) These words must have been in the other copy. They are not in that which was preferred. — C.