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646. Johnson at Langton in 1764. (1)
In early life (says Mr. Best) I knew Bennet Langton, of that ilk, as the Scotch say. With great personal claims to the respect of the public, he is known to that public chiefly as a friend of Johnson. He was a very tall, meagre, long-visaged man, much resembling a stork standing on one leg, near the shore, in Raphael's cartoon of the miraculous draught of fishes. His manners were in the highest degree polished; his conversation mild, equable, and always pleasing. I formed an intimacy with his son, and went to pay him a visit at Langton. After breakfast we walked to the top of a very steep hill behind the house. When we arrived at the summit, Mr. Langton said, " Poor, dear Dr. Johnson, when he came to this spot, turned to look down the hill, and said he was determined to take a roll down.' 6 When we understood what he meant to do, we endeavoured to dissuade him; but he was resolute, saying, he had not had a roll for a long time;' and taking out of his lesser pockets whatever might be in them-keys, pencil, purse, or pen-knife, and laying himself parallel with the edge of the hill, he actually descended, turning himself over and over till he came to the bottom." The story was told with such gravity, and with an air of such affectionate remembrance of a departed friend, that it was impossible to suppose this extraordinary freak of the great lexicographer to have been a fiction or invention of Mr. Langton. (2)
647. Dr. Dodd. (3)
Miss Seward, her father (the editor of Beaumont and Fletcher, &c.), the Rev. R. G. Robinson of Lichfield,
(1) [From "Personal and Literary Memorials," 8vo. 1829.] (2) [Johnson at the time of his visit to Langton was in his fifty-fifth year.]
(3) [This and the following have been communicated by the Rev. Hastings Robinson, Rector of Great Worley, Essex.]
and Dr. Johnson, were passing the day at the palace at Lichfield, of which Mr. Seward was the occupier. The conversation turned upon Dr. Dodd, who had been recently executed for forgery. (1) It proceeded as follows. MISS SEWARD. "I think, Dr. Johnson, you applied to see Mr. Jenkinson in his behalf." JOHNSON,
Why, yes, Madam; I knew it was a man having no interest, writing to a man who had no interest; but I thought with myself, when Dr. Dodd comes to the place of execution, he may say, 'Had Dr. Johnson written in my behalf, I had not been here, and (with great emphasis) I could not bear the thought!" (2) MISS SEWARD. "But, Dr. Johnson, would you have pardoned Dr. Dodd?" JOHNSON. "Madam, had I been placed at the head of the legislature, I should certainly have signed his death-warrant; though no law, either human or divine, forbids our deprecating punishment, either from ourselves or others."
648. "Heerd or Hard?"
In one of his visits to Lichfield, Dr. Johnson called upon Mrs. Gastrell of Stowe, near that city. She opened the Prayer-book, and pointed out a passage, with the wish that he would read it. He began, "We have heard (heerd) with our ears" she stopped him, saying, "Thank you, Doctor! you have read all I wish. merely wanted to know whether you pronounced that word heerd or hard." Madam," he replied, "heard" is nonsense ; there is but one word of that sound (hard) in the language."
(1) [Dr. Dodd was executed June 27. 1777; and Dr. Johnson left town for Lichfield on the latter end of the following month.]
(2) [For Dr. Johnson's letter to the Right Honourable Charles Jenkinson, afterwards Earl of Liverpool, see antè,
649. Johnson's Willow. (1)
This remarkable tree has been long distinguished as a favourite object of Dr. Johnson, and which he never failed to examine, whenever, after his settlement in the metropolis, he revisited his native city. The great size it had attained at that period, and its delightful situation between the cathedral and the beautiful vale of Stowe, rendered it likely to attract notice; and, from the attachment shown to it by the Doctor, it has ever since been regarded as little inferior in celebrity to Shakspeare's Mulberry, or the Boscobel Oak, and specimens of its wood have been worked into vases and other ornaments. In 1815, a great portion of the tree gave way, and since then several very large boughs have fallen. The Doctor once took an admeasurement of the tree with a piece of string, assisted by a little boy, to whom he gave half a crown for his trouble. The dimensions of the willow in 1781, when in its most flourishing condition, taken by Dr. Trevor Jones, and communicated in a letter to Dr. Johnson, are as follows: "The trunk rises to the height of twelve feet eight inches, and is then divided into fifteen large ascending branches, which, in very numerous and crowded subdivisions, spread at the top in a circular form, not unlike the appearance of a shady oak, inclining a little towards the east. The circumference of the trunk at the bottom is sixteen feet, in the middle eleven feet, and at the top, immediately below the branches, thirteen feet. The entire height of the tree is forty-nine feet, overshadowing a plain not far short of four thousand feet." (2)
(1) [Nos. 649-655. are from the Gentleman's Magazine.] [For a drawing of this willow, see Shaw's Staffordshire, and Gent. Mag. Vol. LV.]
650. Citations from Garrick.
Boswell relates (says a correspondent), that Garrick being asked by Johnson what people said of his Dictionary, told him, that among other animadversions, it was objected that he cited the authorities which were beneath the dignity of such a work, and mentioned Richardson. "Nay," said Johnson, "I have done worse than that; I have cited thee, David.” This anecdote induced me to turn over the leaves of his Dictionary, that I might note the citations from each writer. Two only I found from Garrick, viz.
"Our bard's a fabulist, and deals in fiction."
Some formal lecture, spoke with prudish face." The quotations from Richardson are at least eighty in number; almost all from his Clarissa.
651. Johnsonian Words.
In Kett's "Elements of General Knowledge," I read (says another correspondent) as follows: -"Our literature, indeed, dates a new era from the publication of Johnson's Works: many of his words are rarely to be met with in former writers, and some are purely of his own fabrication. Note,- Resuscitation, orbity, volant, fatuity, divaricate, asinine, narcotic, vulnirary, empireumatic, obtund, disruption, sensory, cremation, horticulture, germination, decussation, eximious,' &c. If these words be not peculiarly Johnson's, I know not where they are to be found!" Now, upon turning over Johnson's Dictionary, I find all the above words occur in Pope, Bacon, Wilkins, Milton, Arbuthnot, Grew, Quincy, Wiseman, Harvey, Woodward, Newton, Glanville, and Ray; except horticulture, which may be found in Tusser's Husbandry; eximious, in Lodge's Letters; and cremation, for which, at present, I have no authority. So much for the research of Mr. Kett!
66 Prayers and Meditations."
The brightest feature in Johnson's character was the perfect consciousness of his failings. This the Doctor seems to have had in the nicest degree: it always accompanied him, and, joined to his irresolution, embittered many of his days and nights. If the publication of his Prayers and Meditations still wants to be justified, let it be on this score, that they prove Johnson to have been a man whose inward struggles were always directed to overcome habits of which he was painfully conscious; that he did not seek to excuse those failings by the delusions of scepticism or sophistry, but that he prayed, resolved, and earnestly contended against them. What more have the greatest and best men in all ages done, though, perhaps, with better success? (1)
(1) This and the following prayer are not in Mr. Strahan's collection :
"Easter-day, 15th April, 1759.
"Almighty and most merciful Father, look down with pity upon my sins. I am a sinner, good Lord; but let not my sins burthen me for ever. Give me thy grace to break the chain of evil custom. Enable me to shake off idleness and sloth: to will and to do what thou hast commanded, grant me chaste in thoughts, words, and actions; to love and frequent thy worship, to study and understand thy word; to be diligent in my calling, that I may support myself and relieve others.
"Forgive me, O Lord, whatever my mother has suffered by my fault, whatever I have done amiss, and whatever duty I have neglected. Let me not sink into useless dejection; but so sanctify my affliction, O Lord, that I may be converted, and healed; and that, by the help of thy Holy Spirit, I may obtain everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
And, O Lord, so far as it may be lawful, I commend unto thy fatherly goodness my father, brother, wife, and mother, beseeching thee to make them happy for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
"O Lord, who wouldst that all men should be saved, and who knowest that without thy grace we can do nothing acceptable to thee, have mercy upon me. Enable me to break the chain of my sins, to reject sensuality in thought, and to overcome and suppress vain scruples; and to use such diligence in lawful employment as may enable me to support myself and do good to others. O Lord, forgive me the time lost in idleness; pardon the sins which I have committed, and grant that I may redeem the time mispent, and be reconciled to thee by true repentance, that I may live and die in peace, and be received to everlasting happiness. Take not from me, O Lord, thy Holy Spirit, but let me have support and comfort for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
"Transc. June 26. 1768. Of this prayer there is no date, nor can I conjecture when it was composed."