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537. Mr. Thrale.
Of Mr. Thrale, Johnson has given a true character in a Latin epitaph, inscribed on his monument in Streatham church. This most amiable and worthy gentleman certainly deserved every tribute of gratitude from the Doctor and his literary friends; who were always welcome at his hospitable table. It must therefore give us great concern to see his origin degraded by any of them, in a manner that might be extremely injurious to his elegant and accomplished daughters, if it could not be contradicted; for his father is represented to have been a common drayman ; whereas, he was well known to have been a respectable citizen, who increased a fortune, originally not contemptible, and proved his mind had been always liberal, by giving a superior education to his son.
538. "The Rambler."
Mr. Boswell objects to the title of "Rambler," which he says, was ill-suited to a series of grave and moral discourses, and is translated into Italian, " Il Vagabondo," as also because the same title was afterwards given to a licentious magazine. These are curious reasons. But, in the first place, Mr. Boswell assumes, that Johnson intended only to write a series of papers on grave and moral" subjects; whereas, on the contrary, he meant this periodical paper should be open for the reception of every subject, serious or sprightly, solemn or familiar, moral or amusing; and therefore endeavoured to find a title as general and unconfined as possible. He acknowledged, that "The Spectator" was the most happily chosen of all others, and "The Tatler the next to it: and after long consideration how to fix a third title, equally capacious and suited to his purpose, he suddenly thought upon "The Ram
bler" (1); and it would be difficult to find any other that so exactly coincided with the motto he has adopted in the title-page
"Quo me cunque rapit tempestas deferor hospes."
539. Fear of Death.
Mr. Boswell states, that "Dr. Johnson's conduct, after he had associated with Savage and others, was not so strictly virtuous, in one respect, as when he was a younger man. (2) This seems to have been suggested by Mr. Boswell, to account for Johnson's religious terrors on the approach of death; as if they proceeded from his having been led by Savage to vicious indulgences with the women of the town, in his nocturnal rambles. This, if true, Johnson was not likely to have confessed to Mr. Boswell, and therefore must be received as a pure invention of his own. But if Johnson ever conversed with those unfortunate females, it is believed to have been in order to reclaim them from their dissolute life, by moral and religious impressions; for to one of his friends he once related a conversation of that sort which he had with a young female in the street, and that, asking her what she thought she was made for, her reply was, "she supposed to please the gentlemen." His friend intimating his surprise, that he should have had communications with street-walkers, implying a suspicion that they were not of a moral tendency, Johnson expressed the highest indignation that any other motive could ever be suspected.
(1) [A paper, entitled "The Rambler," appeared in 1712. Only one number of it seems to have escaped the ravages of time: this is in the British Museum.]
(2) [See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 395.]
BY LADY KNIGHT. (1)
540. Mrs. Johnson.
MRS. WILLIAMS's account of Johnson's wife was, that she had a good understanding and great sensibility, but inclined to be satirical. Her first husband died insolvent her sons were much disgusted with her for her second marriage; perhaps because they, being struggling to get advanced in life, were mortified to think she had allied herself to a man who had not any visible means of being useful to them. However, she always retained her affection for them. While they resided in Gough Court, her son, the officer, knocked at the door, and asked the maid if her mistress was at home? She answered, "Yes, Sir; but she is sick in bed." "O!" says he, "if it is so, tell her that her son Jervas called to know how she did ;" and was going away. The maid begged she might run up to tell her mistress, and, without attending his answer, left him. Mrs. Johnson, enraptured to hear her son was below, desired the maid to tell him she longed to embrace him. descended, the gentleman was gone, Johnson was much agitated by the adventure: it was the only time he ever made an effort to see her.
When the maid and poor Mrs.
(1) [From a paper transmitted by Lady Knight, at Rome, to Mr. Hoole. Lady Knight was the mother of Miss Cornelia Knight, the accomplished author of "Dinarbas," "Marcus Flaminius," and other ingenious works. See antè, Vol. I. p. 275.; and Vol. III. p. 9.]
Johnson did all he could to console his wife; but told Mrs. Williams, "Her son is uniformly undutiful; so I conclude, like many other sober men, he might once in his life be drunk, and in that fit nature got the better of his pride."
541. Mrs. Williams.
Mrs. Williams was never otherwise dependent on Dr. Johnson, than in that sort of association, which is little known in the great world. They both had much to struggle through; and I verily believe, that whichever held the purse, the other partook what want required. She was, in respect to morals, more rigid than modern politeness admits; for she abhorred vice, and was not sparing of anger against those who threw young folks into temptation. Her ideas were very just in respect to the improvement of the mind, and her own was well stored. I have several of her letters: they are all written with great good sense and simplicity, and with a tenderness and affection, that far excel all that is called politeness and elegance. I have been favoured with her company some weeks at different times, and always found her temper equal, and her conversation lively. I never passed hours with more pleasure than when I heard her and Dr. Johnson talk of the persons they valued, or upon subjects in which they were much interested. One night I remember Mrs. Williams was giving an account of the Wilkinsons being at Paris, and having had consigned to their care the letters of Lady Wortley Montagu, on which they had bestowed great praise. The Doctor said, “Why, Madam, there might be great charms to them in being intrusted with honourable letters; but those who know better of the world, would have rather possessed two pages of true history." One day that he came to my house to meet many others, we told him that we had arranged our party to go to Westminster Abbey, would not he go with us? "No," he replied; "not while I
can keep out." Upon our saying, that the friends of a lady had been in great fear lest she should make a certain match for herself, he said, "We that are his friends have had great fears for him." I talked to Mrs. Thrale much of dear Mrs. Williams. She said she was highly born; that she was very nearly related to a Welsh peer; but that, though Dr. Johnson had always pressed her to be acquainted with her, yet she could not; she was afraid of her. I named her virtues; she seemed to hear me as if I had spoken of a newly discovered country.
542. Johnson's Character.
I think the character of Dr. Johnson can never be better summed up than in his own words in "Rasselas," chapter 42. He was master of an infinite deal of wit, which proceeded from depth of thought, and of a humour which he used sometimes to take off from the asperity of reproof. Though he did frequently utter very sportive things, which might be said to be playing upon the folly of some of his companions, and though he never said one that could disgrace him, yet I think, now that he is no more, the care should be prove his steady uniformity in wisdom, virtue, and religion. His political principles ran high, both in church and state: he wished power to the king and to the heads of the church, as the laws of England have established; but I know he disliked absolute power, and I am very sure of his disapprobation of the doctrines of the church of Rome; because, about three weeks before we came abroad, he said to my Cornelia, "You are going where the ostentatious pomp of church ceremonies attracts the imagination; but, if they want to persuade you to change your religion, you must remember, that, by increasing your faith, you may be persuaded to become a Turk." If these were not the words, I have kept up to the express meaning.