« AnteriorContinua »
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?" 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 & pious and punctual discharge of all its duties and cere
monies. His last advice to his friends was upon this subject, and, like a second Socrates, though under sentence of death from his infirmities, their eternal welfare was his principal theme. To some he enjoined it with tears in his eyes, reminding them, "it was the dying request of a friend, who had no other way of paying the large obligations he owed them but by this advice." Others he pressed with arguments, setting before them, from the example of all religions, that sacrifices for sins were practised in all ages, and hence enforcing the belief of the Son of God sacrificing himself " to be a propitiation, not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world."
609. Johnson's Colloquial Eloquence. (1) Johnson spoke as he wrote. He would take up a topic, and utter upon it a number of the "Rambler." On a question, one day, at Miss Porter's, concerning the authority of a newspaper for some fact, he related, that a lady of his acquaintance implicitly believed every thing she read in the papers; and that, by way of curing her credulity, he fabricated a story of a battle between the Russians and Turks, then at war; and "that it might," he said, "bear internal evidence of its futility, I laid the scene in an island at the conflux of the Boristhenes and the Danube; rivers which run at the distance of a hundred leagues from each other. The lady, however, believed the story, and never forgave the deception; the consequence of which was, that I lost an agreeable companion, and she was deprived of an innocent amusement." And he added, as an extraordinary circumstance, that the Russian ambassador sent in great haste to the printer to know from
(1) [Communicated to Dr. Robert Anderson by Sir Brooke Boothby; who frequently enjoyed the company of Johnson at Lichfield and Ashbourne.]
whence he had received the intelligence. Another time, at Dr. Taylor's, a few days after the death of the wife of the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, of Bradley, a woman of extraordinary sense, he described the eccentricities of the man and the woman, with a nicety of discrimination, and a force of language, equal to the best of his periodical essays.
610. Assertion and Argument. (1)
In Boswell's Life of Johnson (2) mention is made of an observation of his respecting the manner in which argument ought to be rated. As Mr. Boswell has not recorded this with his usual precision, and as I was present at Mr. Hoole's at the time mentioned by Mr. Boswell, I shall here insert what passed, of which I have a perfect recollection. Mention having been made that counsel were to be heard at the bar of the House of Commons, one of the company at Mr. Hoole's asked Sir James Johnston if he intended to be present. He answered, that he believed he should not, because he paid little regard to the arguments of counsel at the bar of the House of Commons. "Wherefore do you pay little regard to their arguments, Sir?" said Dr. Johnson. "Because," replied Sir James, "they argue for their fee." "What is it to you, Sir," rejoined Dr. Johnson," what they argue for? you have nothing to do with their motive, but you ought to weigh their argument. Sir, you seem to confound argument with assertion, but there is an essential distinction between them. Assertion is like an arrow shot from a long bow; the force with which it strikes depends on the strength of the arm that draws it. But argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force whether shot by a boy or a giant."
(1) [From Dr, John Moore's Life of Smollett.]
The whole company was struck with the aptness and beauty of this illustration; and one of them said, "That is, indeed, one of the most just and admirable illustrations that I ever heard in my life." Sir," said Dr. Johnson, "the illustration is none of mine - you will find it in Bacon."
Expiatory Penance. (1)
During the last visit which the Doctor made to Lichfield, the friends with whom he was staying missed him one morning at the breakfast-table. On inquiring after him of the servants, they understood he had set off from Lichfield at a very early hour, without mentioning to any of the family whither he was going. The day passed without the return of the illustrious guest, and the party began to be very uneasy on his account, when, just before the supper-hour, the door opened, and the Doctor stalked into the room. A solemn silence of a few minutes ensued, nobody daring to inquire the cause of his absence, which was at length relieved by Johnson addressing the lady of the house in the following manner: "Madam, I beg your pardon for the abruptness of my departure from your house this morning, but I was constrained to it by my conscience. Fifty years ago, Madam, on this day, I committed a breach of filial piety, which has ever since lain heavy on my mind, and has not till this day been expiated. My father, you recollect, was a bookseller, and had long been in the habit of attending Uttoxeter market, and opening a stall for the sale of his books during that day. Confined to his bed by indisposition, he requested me, this time fifty years ago, to visit the market, and attend the stall in his place. But, Madam,
(1) [From Warner's "Tour through the Northern Counties of England," published in 1802. See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 378.]