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615. Johnson's Watch, and Punch-bowl.
The ensuing is an answer to one of my interrogatory epistles. It is from my friend, the Rev. Hugh Pailye, canon of Lichfield : -"I certainly am in possession of Dr. Johnson's watch, which I purchased from his black servant, Francis Barber. His punch-bowl is likewise in my possession, and was purchased by the Rev. Thomas Harwood, the historian of Lichfield. It was bought at Mrs. Harwood's sale, by John Barker Scott, Esq., who afterwards presented it to me."
616. Dialogue at Dilly's, between Mrs. Knowles and Dr. Johnson. (1)
MRS. K. Thy friend, Jenny Harry, desires her kind respects to thee, Doctor.
DR. J. To me ! Tell me not of her! I hate the odious wench for her apostacy: and it is you, Madam, who have seduced her from the Christian religion.
MRS. K. This is a heavy charge, indeed. I must beg leave to be heard in my own defence: and I entreat the attention of the present learned and candid company, desiring they will judge how far I am able to clear myself of so cruel an accusation.
DR. J. (much disturbed at this unexpected challenge) said, You are a woman, and I give you quarter.
MRS. K. I will not take quarter. There is no sex in souls; and, in the present cause, I fear not even Dr. Johnson himself. -("Bravo!" was repeated by the company, and silence ensued.)
(1) [See antè, Vol. VII. p. 142. and 144.; and p. 15. of this volume. "The narrative of Boswell," says Mr. Nichols (Lit Illust., vol. iv. p. 831.), not proving satisfactory to Molly Knowles (as she was familiarly styled), she gave the Dialogue between herself and the sturdy moralist, in her own manner, in the Gent. Mag. vol. lxi. p. 500." In 1805, Mrs. Knowles had it reprinted in a small pamphlet. She died in 1807, at the age of eighty.]
DR. J. Well then, Madam, I persist in my charge, that you have seduced Miss Harry from the Christian religion.
MRS. K. If thou really knewest what were the principles of the Friends, thou wouldst not say she had departed from Christianity. But, waving that discussion for the present, I will take the liberty to observe, that she had an undoubted right to examine and to change her educational tenets, whenever she supposed she had found them erroneous: as an accountable creature, it was her duty so to do.
DR. J. Pshaw! pshaw !
- An accountable creature! Girls accountable creatures! It was her duty to remain with the church wherein she was educated; she had no business to leave it.
MRS. K. What! not for that which she apprehended to be better? According to this rule, Doctor, hadst thou been born in Turkey, it had been thy duty to have remained a Mahometan, notwithstanding Christian evidence might have wrought in thy mind the clearest conviction! and, if so, then let me ask, how would thy conscience have answered for such obstinacy at the great and last tribunal ?
DR. J. My conscience would not have been answerable.
MRS. K. Whose, then, would?
DR. J. Why the state, to be sure. In adhering to the religion of the state as by law established, our implicit obedience therein becomes our duty.
MRS. K. A nation, or state, having a conscience, is a doctrine entirely new to me, and, indeed, a very curious piece of intelligence; for I have always understood that a government, or state, is a creature of time only; beyond which it dissolves, and becomes a nonentity. Now, gentlemen, can your imagination body forth this monstrous individual, or being, called a state, composed of millions of people? Can you behold it stalking forth
into the next world, loaded with its mighty conscience, there to be rewarded or punished, for the faith, opinions, and conduct, of its constituent machines called men? Surely the teeming brain of Poetry never held up to the fancy so wondrous a personage! (When the laugh occasioned by the personification was subsided, the Doctor very angrily replied,)
DR. J. I regard not what you say as to that matter. I hate the arrogance of the wench, in supposing herself a more competent judge of religion than those who educated her. She imitated you, no doubt; but she ought not to have presumed to determine for herself in so important an affair.
MRS. K. True, Doctor, I grant it, if, as thou seemest to imply, a wench of twenty years be not a moral agent.
DR. J. I doubt it would be difficult to prove those deserve that character who turn Quakers.
MRS. K. This severe retort, Doctor, induces me charitably to hope thou must be totally unacquainted with the principles of the people against whom thou art so exceedingly prejudiced, and that thou supposest us a set of infidels or deists.
DR. J. Certainly, I do think you little better than deists.
MRS. K. This is indeed strange; 'tis passing strange, that a man of such universal reading and research, has not thought it at least expedient to look into the cause of dissent of a society so long established, and so conspicuously singular !
DR. J. Not I, indeed! I have not read your Barclay's Apology; and for this plain reason I never thought it worth my while. You are upstart sectaries, perhaps the best subdued by a silent contempt.
MRS. K. This reminds me of the language of the rabbis of old, when their hierarchy was alarmed by the increasing influence, force, and simplicity of dawning
truth, in their high day of worldly dominion. We meekly trust, our principles stand on the same solid foundation of simple truth; and we invite the acutest investigation. The reason thou givest for not having read Barclay's Apology, is surely a very improper one for a man whom the world looks up to as a moral philosopher of the first rank; a teacher, from whom they think they have a right to expect much information. To this expecting, inquiring world, how can Dr. Johnson acquit himself, for remaining unacquainted with a book translated into five or six different languages, and which has been admitted into the libraries of almost every court and university in Christendom! (Here the Doctor grew very angry, still more so at the space of time the gentlemen allowed his antagonist wherein to make her defence; and his impatience excited Mr. Boswell himself in a whisper to say, "I never saw this mighty lion so chafed before!")
The Doctor again repeated, that he did not think the Quakers deserved the name of Christians.
MRS. K. Give me leave, then, to endeavour to convince thee of thy error, which I will do by making before thee, and this respectable company, a confession of our faith. Creeds, or confessions of faith, are admitted by all to be the standard whereby we judge of every denomination of professors. - (To this, every one present agreed; and even the Doctor grumbled out his assent.)
MRS. K. Well, then, I take upon me to declare, that the people called Quakers do verily believe in the Holy Scriptures, and rejoice with the most full and reverential acceptance of the divine history of facts as recorded in the New Testament. That we, consequently, fully believe those historical articles summed up in what is called the Apostle's Creed, with these two exceptions only, to wit, our Saviour's descent into hell, and the resurrection of the body. These mysteries we humbly leave just as they stand in the holy text; there being, from that
ground, no authority for such assertion as is drawn up in the Creed. And now, Doctor, canst thou still deny to us the honourable title of Christians?
DR. J. Well! I must own I did not at all suppose you had so much to say for yourselves. However, I cannot forgive that little slut, for presuming to take upon herself as she has done.
MRS. K. I hope, Doctor, thou wilt not remain unforgiving; and that you will renew your friendship, and joyfully meet at last in those bright regions where pride and prejudice can never enter!
DR. J. Meet her! I never desire to meet fools any where. – (This sarcastic turn of wit was so pleasantly received, that the Doctor joined in the laugh: his spleen was dissipated; he took his coffee, and became, for the remainder of the evening, very cheerful and entertaining.)
617. Rebuke to a talkative Lady. (1)
He was one day in conversation with a very talkative lady, of whom he appeared to take very little notice. Why, Doctor, I believe you prefer the company of men to that of the ladies." "Madam," replied he, "I am very fond of the company of ladies; I like their beauty, I like their delicacy, I like their vivacity, and I like their silence."
618. Building without a Scaffold.
Johnson was much pleased with a French expression made use of by a lady towards a person whose head was confused with a multitude of knowledge, at which he had not arrived in a regular and principled way, “Il a bâti sans échafaud,”· " he has built without his scaffold."
(1) [Anecdotes 617. to 629. were communicated by William Seward, Esq., author of " Biographiana," to Isaac Reed, Esq., for insertion in the European Magazine.]