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TO MR. ELPHINSTONE. (1)
April 20. 1749.
I have for a long time intended to answer the letter which you were pleased to send me, and know not why I have delayed it so long, but that I had nothing particular either of inquiry or information to send you; and the same reason might still have the same consequence, but I find in my recluse kind of life that I am not likely to have much more to say at one time than at another, and that therefore I may endanger, by an appearance of neglect long continued, the loss of such an acquaintance as I know not where to supply. I therefore write now to assure you how sensible I am of the kindness you have always expressed to me, and how much I desire the cultivation of that benevolence which perhaps nothing but the distance between us has hindered from ripening before this time into friendship. Of myself I have very little to say, and of any body else less; let me however be
(1) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 245.]
allowed one thing, and that in my own favour · dear Sir, yours, &c.
that I am,
LETTER 475. TO MISS BOOTHBY. (1)
Saturday (1), [Dec. 27. 1755.]
DEAREST DEAR, I am extremely obliged to you for the kindness of your inquiry. After I had written to you, Dr. Lawrence came, and would have given some oil and sugar, but
(1) See antè, Vol. I. p. 85., Vol. VIII. p. 28., and Vol. IX. p. 57. Miss Hill Boothby was the daughter of Mr. Brook Boothby and his second lady, Elizabeth Fitzherbert. Mr. Boothby was the son of Sir William, the second Baronet, by Miss Hill Brooke, and the father of Sir Brooke, the fourth Baronet. Miss Boothby was above a year older than Dr. Johnson. Though her mother's name was Fitzherbert, she was but distantly related to the Tissington family. She was attached to Mrs. Fitzherbert by an enthusiastic and spiritualised friendship, and on her death Miss Boothby devoted herself to the care of her six children. The Rev. Richard Graves, author of the "Spiritual Quixote," was for some time domestic chaplain at Tissington; and as my venerable and amiable friend, Lord St. Helens, informs me, described in that novel the several members of that family, and their visiters, with great accuracy. It may be as well to preserve here the key which Lord St. Helens has given me to the characters introduced into the novel:
Sir William Forrester
L. P. Meynell, Esq., of Bradley Park,
Catherine Fitzherbert, afterwards Mrs.
Miss Hill Boothby.
Mr. Nicholas Thornhill.
Mr. C. Pratt, afterwards Lord Camden.
Even the inferior characters were drawn from the life. The Jacobite barber was one Daniel Shipley; George, the butler, was John Latham; and Molly, the lady's maid, was Mary Etches, afterwards married to Latham; Wildgoose, the hero, was supposed to be a portrait of Mr. Graves's own brother; and Lord St. Helens adds, that although the author, to heighten the contrast between him and his brother, describes himself as a sporting parson, he was really no such thing, but, on the contrary, a worthy and conscientious parish priest. There is an account of him in the "Public Characters" for 1800. Lord St. Helens does not recollect to have heard how Dr. Johnson's acquaintance with his parents began, but thinks it not improbable that Dr. Lawrence, who had married a Derbyshire lady, may have been the original link of acquaintance. — C.
(2) Probably Saturday, 27th of December, 1755. These undated notes it is not easy to arrange; but the order I have assigned to them seems probable, and is consistent with the contents. It seems that, while Johnson was labouring under some kind of feverish cold, Miss Boothby herself fell ill of a disease, of which she died in a fortnight.-C.
I took rhenish and water, and recovered my voice. I yet cough much, and sleep ill. I have been visited by another doctor to-day; but I laughed at his balsam of Peru. I fasted on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and felt neither hunger nor faintness. I have dined yesterday and to-day, and
found little refreshment. I am not much amiss; but can no more sleep than if my dearest lady were angry at, Madam, your, &c.
TO THE SAME.
December 30. 1755.
DEAR MADAM, It is again midnight, and I am again alone. With what meditation shall I amuse this waste hour of darkness and vacuity? If I turn my thoughts upon myself, what do I perceive but a poor helpless being, reduced by a blast of mind to weakness and misery? How my present distemper was brought upon me I can give no account, but impute it to some sudden succession of cold to heat; such as in the common road of life cannot be avoided, and against which no precaution can be taken.
Of the fallaciousness of hope and the uncertainty of schemes, every day gives some new proof; but it is seldom heeded, till something rather felt than seen awakens attention. This illness, in which I have suffered something, and feared much more, has depressed my confidence and elation; and made me consider all that I had promised myself, as less certain to be attained or enjoyed. I have endeavoured to form resolutions of a better life; but I form them weakly, under the consciousness of an external motive. Not that I conceive a time of sickness, a time improper for recollection and good purposes, which I believe diseases and calamities often sent to produce, but because no man can know how little his performance will answer to his promises; and designs are nothing in human eyes till they are realised by execution.
Continue, my dearest, your prayers for me, that no good resolution may be vain. You think, I believe, better of me
than I deserve. I hope to be in time what I wish to be; and what I have hitherto satisfied myself too readily with only wishing.
Your billet brought me, what I much wished to have, a proof that I am still remembered by you at the hour in which I most desire it.
The Doctor [Lawrence] is anxious about you. He thinks you too negligent of yourself; if you will promise to be cautious, I will exchange promises, as we have already exchanged injunctions. However, do not write to me more than you can easily bear; do not interrupt your ease to write at all.
Mr. Fitzherbert sent to-day to offer me some wine; the people about me say I ought to accept it. I shall therefore be obliged to him if he will send me a bottle.
There has gone about a report that I died to-day, which I mention, lest you should hear it and be alarmed. You see that I think my death may alarm you; which, for me, is to think very highly of earthly friendship. I believe it arose from the death of one of my neighbours. You know Des Cartes' argument, "I think; therefore I am."
It is as good
I might give
a consequence, I write; therefore I am alive." another, "I am alive; therefore I love Miss Boothby;" but that I hope our friendship may be of far longer duration than life. I am, dearest Madam, with sincere affection, yours,
TO THE SAME.
Wednesday, Dec. 31. 1755.
MY SWEET ANGEL, I have read your book, I am afraid you will think without any great improvement; whether you can read my notes, I know not. You ought not to be offended; I am perhaps as sincere as the writer. In all things that terminate here I shall be much guided by your influence, and should take or leave by your direction; but I cannot receive my religion from any human hand. I desire however to be instructed, and am far from thinking myself perfect.