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Aston (1), whom he mentions with such passionate attachment in his letters to Mrs. Thrale, was his wife's sister, a daughter of Sir Thomas Aston, a wit, a beauty, and a toast. Johnson was always fancying himself in love with some princess or other. It was when he was a school-boy, under my grandfather, that the reputation of his talents and rapid progress in the classics induced the noble-minded Walmesley to endure, at his elegant table, the low-born squalid youth here that he suffered him and Garrick to "imp their eagle wings," a delighted spectator and auditor of their efforts. It was here that Miss Molly Aston was frequently a visiter in the family of her brother-in-law, and probably amused herself with the uncouth adorations of the learned, though dirty stripling. Lucy Porter, whose visit to Lichfield had been but for a few weeks, was then gone back to her parents at Birmingham, and the brighter Molly Aston became the Laura of our Petrarch.
498. Mrs. Cobb. (2)
Poor Moll Cobb, as Dr. Johnson used to call her, is gone to her long home. Johnson spoke with uniform contempt both of the head and heart of this personage. "How should Moll Cobb be a wit?" would he exclaim, in a room full of company. "Cobb has read nothing, Cobb knows nothing; and where nothing has been put into the brain, nothing can come of it, to any purpose of rational entertainment." Somebody replied, Then why is Dr. Johnson so often her visiter?" "O! I love Cobb I love Moll Cobb for her impudence." The despot was right in his premises, but his conclusion was erroneous. Little as had been put into Mrs. Cobb's brain, much of shrewd, biting, and humorous
(1) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 85.]
satire was native in the soil, and has often amused very superior minds to her own.
499. Lucy Porter.
After a gradual decay of a few months, we have lost dear Lucy Porter (1), the earliest object of Dr. Johnson's love. In youth, her fair, clean complexion, bloom, and rustic prettiness, pleased the men. More than once she might have married advantageously; but as to the enamoured affections,
"High Taurus' snow, fann'd by the eastern wind,
Was not more cold."
Spite of the accustomed petulance of her temper, and odd perverseness, since she had no malevolence, I regret her as a friendly creature, of intrinsic worth, with whom, from childhood, I had been intimate. She was one of those few beings who, from a sturdy singularity of temper, and some prominent good qualities of head and heart, was enabled, even in her days of scanty maintenance, to make society glad to receive and pet the grown spoiled child. Affluence was not hers till it came to her in her fortieth year, by the death of her eldest brother. From the age of twenty till that period, she had boarded with Dr. Johnson's mother, who still kept that bookseller's shop by which her husband had supplied the scanty means of subsistence. Meantime, Lucy Porter kept the best company in our little city, but would make no engagement on market days, lest Granny, as she called Mrs. Johnson, should catch cold by serving in the shop. By these good traits in her character, were the most respectable inhabitants of Lichfield induced to bear, with kind smiles, her mulish obstinacy and perverse contradictions.
(1) [Miss Porter survived Dr. Johnson just thirteen months. She died at Lichfield, in her seventy-first year, January 13. 1786.]
Johnson himself set the example, and extended to her that compliant indulgence which he showed not to any other person. I have heard her scold him like a schoolboy, for soiling her floor with his shoes; for she was clean as a Dutch-woman in her house, and exactly neat in her person. Dress, too, she loved in her odd way; but we will not assert that the Graces were her handmaids. Friendly, cordial, and cheerful to those she loved, she was more esteemed, more amusing, and more regretted, than many a polished character, over whose smooth, but insipid surface, the attention of those who have mind passes listless and uninterested.
500. Dinner at Dilly's.
The following are the minutes of that curious conversation (1) which passed at Mr. Dilly's, on the 15th of April, 1778, in a literary party, formed by Dr. Johnson, Mr. Boswell, Dr. Mayo, and others, whom Mrs. Knowles and myself had been invited to meet, and in which Dr. Johnson and that lady disputed so earnestly. It commenced with Mrs. Knowles saying: "I am
to ask thy indulgence, Doctor, towards a gentle female to whom thou usedst to be kind, and who is uneasy in the loss of that kindness. Jenny Harry weeps at the consciousness that thou wilt not speak to her." JOHNSON. Madam, I hate the odious wench, and desire you will not talk to me about her." KNOWLES. "Yet, what is her crime, Doctor? JOHNSON. "Apostacy, Madam; apostacy from the community in which she was educated." KNOWLES. Surely the quitting one community for another cannot be a crime, if it is done from motives of conscience. Hadst thou been educated in the Romish church, I must suppose thou wouldst have abjured its errors, and that there would have been merit in the abjuration." JOHNSON. "Madam, if I
had been educated in the Roman Catholic faith, I believe I should have questioned my right to quit the religion of my fathers; therefore, well may I hate the arrogance of a young wench, who sets herself up for a judge on theological points, and deserts the religion in whose bosom she was nurtured." KNOWLES." She has not done so ; the name and the faith of Christians are not denied to the sectaries." JOHNSON." If the name is not, the common sense is." KNOWLES. "I will not dispute this point with thee, Doctor, at least at present; it would carry us too far. Suppose it granted, that, in the mind of a young girl, the weaker arguments appeared the strongest, her want of better judgment should excite thy pity, not thy resentment." JOHNSON. "Madam, it has my anger and my contempt, and always will have them.”
tor, she must be sincere.
KNOWLES. 66 Consider, Doc
Consider what a noble for
tune she has sacrificed." JOHNSON. “Madam, madam, I have never taught myself to consider that the association of folly can extenuate guilt." KNOWLES." Ah! Doctor, we cannot rationally suppose that the Deity will not pardon a defect in judgment (supposing it should prove one) in that breast where the consideration of serving Him, according to its idea, in spirit and truth, has been a preferable inducement to that of worldly interest." JOHNSON. 66 Madam, I pretend not to set bounds to the mercy of the Deity; but I hate the wench, and shall ever hate her. I hate all impudence; but the impudence of a chit's apostacy I nauseate.” KNOWLES. "Jenny is a very gentle creature. She trembles to have offended her parent, though far removed from his presence; she grieves to have offended her guardian; and she is sorry to have offended Dr. Johnson, whom she loved, admired, and honoured." JOHNSON. "Why, then, Madam, did she not consult the man whom she pretends to have loved, admired, and honoured, upon her new-fangled scruples? If she had looked up to
that man with any degree of the respect she professes, she would have supposed his ability to judge of fit and right, at least equal to that of a raw wench just out of her primer."
KNOWLES. "Ah! Doctor, remember it was not from amongst the witty and the learned that Christ selected his disciples, and constituted the teachers of his precepts. Jenny thinks Dr. Johnson great and good; but she also thinks the Gospel demands and enjoins a simpler form of worship than that of the Established Church; and that it is not in wit and eloquence to supersede the force of what appears to her a plain and regular system, which cancels all typical and mysterious ceremonies, as fruitless and even idolatrous; and asks only obedience to its injunctions, and the ingenuous homage of a devout heart." JOHNSON." The homage of a fool's head, Madam, you should say, if you will pester me about the ridiculous wench." KNOWLES. "If thou choosest to suppose her ridiculous, thou canst not deny that she has been religious, sincere, disinterested. Canst thou believe that the gate of Heaven will be shut to the tender and pious mind, whose first consideration has been that of apprehended duty?" JOHNSON. "Pho, pho, Madam, who says it will?" KNOWLES. "Then if Heaven shuts not its gate, shall man shut his heart? If the Deity accept the homage
of such as sincerely serve him under every form of worship, Dr. Johnson and this humble girl will, it is to be hoped, meet in a blessed eternity, whither human animosity must not be carried." JOHNSON. 66 Madam, I am not fond of meeting fools anywhere; they are detestable company, and while it is in my power to avoid conversing with them, I certainly shall exert that power; and so you may tell the odious wench, whom you have persuaded to think herself a saint, and of whom you will, I suppose, make a preacher; but I shall take care she does not preach to me.”—The loud and angry tone in which he thundered out these replies