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to his calm and able antagonist, frightened us all, except Mrs. Knowles, who gently, not sarcastically, smiled at his injustice. Mr. Boswell whispered me, "I never saw this mighty lion so chafed before." (1)
501. Boswell's "Tour."
The general style of Boswell's Tour is somewhat too careless, and its egotism is ridiculous; but surely to the cold-hearted and fastidious reader only, will it seem ridiculous. The slipshod style is richly compensated by the palpable fidelity of the interesting anecdotes ; the egotism, by that good-humoured ingenuousness with which it is given, and by its unsuspecting confidence in the candour of the reader. The incidents, and characteristic traits of this valuable work, grapple our attention perforce. How strongly our imagination is impressed when the massive Being is presented to it, stalking, like a Greenland bear, over the barren Hebrides, roaming round the black rocks and lonely coasts, in a small boat, on rough seas, and saluting Flora Macdonald in the Isle of Sky!
The spirit of Boswell's Tour with Johnson runs clear to the last syllable. Those who are not interested in its anecdotes can have little intellectual curiosity, and no imagination. Those who are not entertained with the perpetual triumph of sarcastic wit over fair, ingenuous argument, must be sturdier moralists than ever Johnson himself affected to have been; and those who do not love the biographer, as they read, whatever imperfections they may find in the massive Being whom
(1) ["Boswell's Life of Johnson is out. It contains the memorable conversation at Dilly's, but without that part of it of which I made minutes. This omission is surely unjustifiable, as I gave Mr. Boswell my memoir, and I am sure it contains nothing but what was said by Mrs. Knowles and the despot." SEWARD, May 19. 1791.-For Boswell's reasons for leaving out the lady's communication, see antè, Vol. VII. p. 144.; and for Mrs. Knowles's version of this conversation, see post, Part xxxii.]
he so strongly characterises, can have no hearts. It is for the line of Bruce to be proud of the historian of Corsica it is for the house of Auchinleck to boast of him who, with the most fervent personal attachment to an illustrious literary character, has yet been sufficiently faithful to the just claims of the public upon biographic fidelity, to represent him, not as his weak or prejudiced idolaters might wish to behold him,- not in the light in which they desire to contemplate Johnson who pronounce his writings to be an obscure jargon of pompous pedantry, and his imputed virtues a superstitious farrago of pharisaic ostentation,— but as he was: the most wonderful composition of great and absurd, of misanthropy and benevolence, of luminous intellect and prejudiced darkness, that was ever produced in the human breast.
502. Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi.
I am become acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi. Her conversation is that bright wine of the intellects which has no lees. Dr. Johnson told me truth when he said, she had more colloquial wit than most of our literary women: it is indeed a fountain of perpetual flow. But he did not tell me truth when he asserted that Piozzi was an ugly dog, without particular skill in his profession. Mr. Piozzi is a handsome man, in middle life, with gentle, pleasing, and unaffected manners, and with very eminent skill in his profession. Though he has not a powerful or fine-toned voice, he sings with transcending grace and expression. I am charmed with his perfect expression on his instrument. Surely the finest sensibilities must vibrate through his frame, since they breathe so sweetly through his song! (Oct. 1787.)
503. Reading Manuscripts.
When last in Lichfield, Johnson told me that a lady in London once sent him a poem which she had
written, and afterwards desired to know his opinion of it. "Madam, I have not cut the leaves; I did not even peep between them.' I met her again in company, and she again asked me after the trash: I made no reply, and began talking to another person. The next time we met, she asked me if I had yet read her poem; I answered, No, Madam, nor ever intend it."" Shocked at the unfeeling rudeness he thus recorded of himself, I replied, that I was surprised any person should obtrude their writings upon his attention; adding, that if I could write as well as Milton or Gray, I should think the best fate to be desired for my compositions was exemption from his notice. I expected a sharp sarcasm in return, but he only rolled his large head in silence.
Johnson told me once, "he would hang a dog that read the Lycidas' of Milton twice." "What, then,” replied I, "must become of me, who can say it by heart; and who often repeat it to myself with a delight, which grows by what it feeds upon? "Die," returned the growler, "in a surfeit of bad taste." Thus it was that the wit and awless impoliteness of the stupendous creature bore down, by storm, every barrier which reason attempted to rear against his injustice!
504. Last Visit to Lichfield.
Oct. 29. 1784.—I have lately been in the almost daily habit of contemplating a very melancholy spectacle. The great Johnson is here, labouring under the paroxysms of a disease which must speedily be fatal. He shrinks from the consciousness with the extremest horror. It is by his repeatedly expressed desire that I visit him often: yet I am sure he neither does, nor ever did, feel much regard for me; but he would fain escape, for a time, in any society, from the terrible idea of his approaching dissolution. I never would be awed, by his sarcasm or his frowns, into acquiescence with his general injustice to the merits of other writers,
with his national or party aversions; but I feel the truest compassion for his present sufferings, and fervently wish I had power to relieve them. A few days since I was to drink tea with him, by his request, at Mrs. Porter's. When I went into the room, he was in deep but agitated slumber, in an arm-chair. Opening the door with that caution due to the sick, he did not awaken at my entrance. I stood by him several minutes, mournfully contemplating the temporary suspension of those vast intellectual powers which must soon, as to this world, be eternally quenched.
Upon the servant entering to announce the arrival of a gentleman of the university, introduced by Mr. White, he awoke with convulsive starts; but, rising with more alacrity than could have been expected, he said, "Come, my dear lady, let you and I attend these gentlemen in the study." He received them with more than usual complacence; but whimsically chose to get astride upon his chair-seat, with his face to its back, keeping a trotting motion as if on horseback; but, in this odd position, he poured forth streams of eloquence, illumined by frequent flashes of wit and humour, without any tincture of malignity. His memory is considerably impaired, but his eloquence rolls on in its customary majestic torrent, when he speaks at all. My heart aches to see him labour for his breath, which he draws with great effort. It is not improbable that this literary comet may set where it rose, and Lichfield receive his pale and stern remains. (1)
(1) [" Dr. Johnson seems, in some respects, to have shared the fate of a proverbial prophet in his own country; for neither Miss Seward nor Dr. Darwin were partial to the great moralist." SIR WALTER SCOTT, Miscel. Prose Works, vol. iv. p. 205.]
ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
FROM THE MEMOIRS AND WORKS OF DR. PARR. (1)
505. Recommendation of Parr.
WHEN Dr. Parr determined to leave Stanmore, and to become a candidate for the school at Colchester, he applied to Dr. Johnson for letters of recommendation, which were kindly granted, as will be seen by the following extract of a letter, dated Feb. 5. 1777, from Bennet Langton to Mr. Parr : Yesterday morning Mr. Paradise and I went to Bolt Court; and it is, I assure you, but doing justice to Dr. Johnson's expressions, on our application, to say, that nothing could be more friendly than they were. He said he knew of few, if of any, that were so well entitled to success as yourself in an application for presiding over a seminary of education; and expressed the opinion of your possessing all the kinds of learning requisite for that purpose, in very high terms of praise.”
506. Parr's Projected Life of Johnson.
For many years I spent a month's holidays in London, and never failed to call upon Johnson. I was not only admitted, but welcomed. I conversed with him upon numberless subjects of learning, politics, and
(1) [Nos. 505 5-516. of these anecdotes are selected from the Life and Works of Parr, in eight vols. 8vo. 1828; edited by Dr. John Johnstone.]