« AnteriorContinua »
ANECDOTES, OPINIONS, AND REMARKS,
BY VARIOUS PERSONS.
597. Osborne knocked down with a Folio. (1) TOM OSBORNE, the bookseller, was one of "that mercantile rugged race to which the delicacy of the poet is sometimes exposed" (2); as the following anecdote will more fully evince. Mr. Johnson being engaged by him to translate a work of some consequence, he thought it a respect which he owed his own talents, as well as the credit of his employer, to be as circumspect in the performance of it as possible. In consequence of which, the work went on, according to Osborne's ideas, rather slowly in consequence, he frequently spoke to Johnson of this circumstance; and, being a man of a coarse mind, sometimes by his expressions made him feel the situation of dependence. Johnson, however, seemed to take no notice of him, but went on according to the plan which he had prescribed to himself. Osborne, irritated by what he thought an unnecessary delay, went one day into the room where Johnson was sitting, and abused him in the most illiberal manner: amongst other things, he told Johnson, "he had been much mistaken in his man ; that he was recommended to him as a good scholar, and
(1) [Nos. 596-607. are from the "Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D." 8vo., published by G. Kearsley, in 1785. For Boswell's favourable notice of this little work see antè, Vol. VIII. p. 44.]
(2) Johnson's Life of Dryden.
a ready hand but he doubted both; for that Tom such-a-one would have turned out the work much sooner; and that being the case, the probability was, that by this here time the first edition would have moved off." Johnson heard him for some time unmoved; but, at last, losing all patience, he seized a huge folio, which he was at that time consulting, and, aiming a blow at the bookseller's head, succeeded so forcibly, as to send him sprawling to the floor. Osborne alarmed the family with his cries; but Johnson, clapping his foot on his breast, would not let him stir till he had exposed him in that situation; and then left him, with this triumphant expression: "Lie there, thou son of dulness, ignorance, and obscurity!" (')
Johnson was not unacquainted with Savage's frailties; but, as he, a short time before his death, said to a friend, on this subject, "he knew his heart, and that was never intentionally abandoned; for, though he generally mistook the love for the practice of virtue, he was at all times a true and sincere believer."
599. Trotter's Portrait of Johnson.
The head at the front of this book is esteemed a good likeness of Johnson; indeed, so much so, that when the Doctor saw the drawing, he exclaimed, "Well, thou art an ugly fellow; but still, I believe thou art like the original." The Doctor sat for this picture to Mr. Trotter, in February, 1782, at the request of Mr. Kearsley, who had just furnished him with a list of all
(1) ["The identical book with which Johnson knocked down Osborne (Biblia Græca Septuaginta, fol. 1594. Frankfort; the note written by the Rev.- Mills) I saw in February, 1812, at Cambridge, in the possession of J. Thorpe, bookseller; whose catalogue, since published, contains particulars authenticating this assertion." Nichols: Lit, Anéc. viii. p. 446.]
his works; for he confessed he had forgot more than half what he had written. His face, however, was capable of great expression, both in respect to intelligence and mildness; as all those can witness who have seen him in the flow of conversation, or under the influence of grateful feelings.
600. Hawkesworth's "Ode on Life."
Sometime previous to Hawkesworth's publication of his beautiful "Ode on Life," he carried it down with him to a friend's house in the country to retouch. Johnson was of this party; and, as Hawkesworth and the Doctor lived upon the most intimate terms, the former read it to him for his opinion. "Why, Sir," says Johnson, "I can't well determine on a first hearing; read it again, second thoughts are best." Hawkesworth did so; after which Johnson read it himself, and approved of it very highly. Next morning at breakfast, the subject of the poem being renewed, Johnson, after again expressing his approbation of it, said he had but one objection to make to it, which was, that he doubted its originality. Hawkesworth, alarmed at this, challenged him to the proof, when the Doctor repeated the whole of the poem, with only the omission of a few lines. "What do you say to that, Hawkey?" said the Doctor. Only this," replied the other, "that I shall never repeat any thing I write before you again; for you have a memory that would convict any author of plagiarism in any court of literature in the world." I have now the poem before me, and I find it contains no less than sixty-eight lines.
601. Projected Dictionary of Commerce.
Soon after the publication of the English Dictionary, Johnson made a proposal to a number of booksellers, convened for that purpose, of writing a Dictionary of Trade and Commerce. This proposal went round the
room without any answer, when a well-known son of the trade, remarkable for the abruptness of his manners, replied, " Why, Doctor, what the devil do you know of trade and commerce?" The Doctor very modestly answered, "Why, Sir, not much, I must confess, in the practical line; but I believe I could glean, from different authors of authority on the subject, such materials as would answer the purpose very well."
602. Johnson's powerful Memory.
It is not the readiness with which Johnson applied to different authors, that proves so much the greatness of his memory, as the extent to which he could carry his recollection upon occasions. I remember one day, in a conversation upon the miseries of old age, a gentleman in company observed, he always thought Juvenal's description of them to be rather too highly coloured. Upon which the Doctor replied, "No, Sir, I believe not; they may not all belong to an individual, but they are collectively true of old age." Then rolling about his head, as if snuffing up his recollection, he suddenly broke out
"Ille humero, hic lumbis," &c.
"Et nigrâ veste senescant."
603. Emigration from Scotland.
The emigration of the Scotch to London being a conversation between the Doctor and Foote, the latter said he believed the number of Scotch in London were as great in the former as the present reign. "No, Sir!" said the Doctor, you are certainly wrong in your belief: but I see how you're deceived; you can't distinguish them now as formerly, for the fellows all come here breeched of late years.'
604. Mr. Thrale.
"Pray, Doctor," said a gentleman to him, "is Mr. Thrale a man of conversation, or is he only wise and silent?" 66 Why, Sir, his conversation does not show the minute hand; but he strikes the hour very correctly."
605. Scotch Gooseberries.
On Johnson's return from Scotland, a particular friend of his was saying, that now he had had a view of the country, he was in hopes it would cure him of many prejudices against that nation, particularly in respect to the fruits. "Why, yes, Sir," said the Doctor; "I have found out that gooseberries will grow there against a south wall; but the skins are so tough, that it is death to the man who swallows one of them."
Being asked his opinion of hunting, he said, "It was the labour of the savages of North America, but the amusement of the gentlemen of England.”
607. Mrs. Thrale's Marriage with Piozzi.
When Johnson was told of Mrs. Thrale's marriage with Piozzi, the Italian singer, he was dumb with surprise for some moments; at last, recovering himself, he exclaimed with great emotion, "Varium et mutabile semper fœmina!"
608. Johnson's Dying Advice.
Johnson was, in every sense of the word, a true and sincere believer of the Christian religion. Nor did he content himself with a silent belief of those great mysteries by which our salvation is principally effected, but by a pious and punctual discharge of all its duties and cere