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him I called on him, not without some anxiety, as I had heard that he had been very ill; but found him so well as to be in very high spirits; of which he soon made me aware, because, the conversation happening to turn about Otaheite, he recollected that Omiah had often conquered me at chess; a subject on which, whenever chance brought it about, he never failed to rally me most unmercifully, and made himself mighty merry with. This time, more than he had ever done before, he pushed his banter on at such a rate, that at last he chafed me, and made me so angry, that, not being able to put a stop to it, I snatched up my hat and stick, and quitted him in a most choleric mood. The skilful translator of Tasso (Mr. Hoole), who was a witness to that ridiculous scene, may tell whether the Doctor's obstreperous merriment deserved approbation or blame; but, such was Johnson, that, whatever was the matter in hand, if he was in the humour, he would carry it as far as he could; nor was he much in the habit, even with much higher folks than myself, to refrain from sallies which, not seldom, would carry him further than he intended. Vexed at his having given me cause to be angry, and at my own anger too, I was not in haste to see him again; and he heard, from more than one, that my resentment continued. Finding, at last, or supposing, that I might not call on him any more, he requested a respectable friend to tell me that he would be glad to see me as soon as possible; but this message was delivered me while making ready to go into Sussex, where I staid a month longer; and it was on my leaving Sussex, that the newspapers apprised me my friend was no more, and England had lost possibly the greatest of her literary ornaments. (1)
(1) [The interesting memoir of Baretti, in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1789, drawn up by Dr. Vincent, concludes thus: "It was not distress that compelled Baretti to take refuge in the hospitality of Mr. Thrale, as has been suggested.
ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
BY BISHOP PERCY. (1)
529. Stourbridge School.
SIR JOHN HAWKINS is not correct in saying that Johnson, in early life, had not been accustomed to the conversation of gentlemen. His genius was so distinguished, that, although little more than a schoolboy, he was admitted to the best company, both at Lichfield and Stourbridge; and, in the latter neighbourhood, had met even with George, afterwards Lord Lyttelton; with whom, having some colloquial disputes, he is supposed to have conceived that prejudice which so improperly influenced him in the Life of that worthy nobleman. But this could scarcely have happened when he was a boy of fifteen; and, therefore, it is probable he occasionally visited Stourbridge, during his residence at Birmingham, before he removed to London.
He had lately received five hundred pounds for his Spanish "Travels," but was induced by Dr. Johnson (contrary to his own determination, of never becoming a teacher of languages) to undertake the instruction of Mr. Thrale's daughters in Italian. He was either nine or eleven years almost entirely in that family, though he still rented a lodging in town; during which period he expended his own five hundred pounds, and received nothing in return for his instruction, but the participation of a good table, and a hundred and fifty pounds by way of presents. Instead of his "Strictures on Signora Piozzi," had he told this plain unvarnished tale, he would have convicted that lady of avarice and ingratitude, without incurring the danger of a reply, or exposing his memory to be insulted by her advocates."]
(1) [From communications made by Bishop Percy, to Dr. Robert Anderson.
530. Personal Peculiarities.
Johnson's countenance, when in a good humour, was not disagreeable. His face clear, his complexion good, and his features not ill formed, many ladies have thought they might not have been unattractive when he was young. Much misrepresentation has prevailed on this subject, among such as did not personally know him.
That he had some whimsical peculiarities of the nature described by Mr. Boswell, is certainly true; but there is no reason to believe they proceeded from any superstitious motives, wherein religion was concerned: they are rather to be ascribed to the "mental distempers" to which Boswell has so repeatedly alluded.
Johnson was so extremely short-sighted, that he had no conception of rural beauties; and, therefore, it is not to be wondered, that he should prefer the conversation of the metropolis to the silent groves and views of Hampstead and Greenwich; which, however delightful, he could not see. In his Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, he has somewhere observed, that one mountain was like another; so utterly unconscious was he of the wonderful variety of sublime and beautiful scenes those mountains exhibited. I was once present when the case of a gentleman was mentioned, who, having, with great taste and skill, formed the lawns and plantations about his house into most beautiful landscapes, to complete one part of the scenery, was obliged to apply for. leave to a neighbour with whom he was not upon cordial terms; when Johnson made the following remark, which at once shows what ideas he had of landscape improvement, and how happily he applied the most common incidents to moral instruction. "See how inordinate desires enslave a man! No desire can be more innocent than to have a pretty garden, yet, indulged to excess, it has made this poor man submit to beg a favour of his enemy."
531. Johnson's Manner of Composing.
Johnson's manner of composing has not been rightly understood. He was so extremely short-sighted, from the defect in his eyes, that writing was inconvenient to him; for, whenever he wrote, he was obliged to hold the paper close to his face. He, therefore, never composed what we call a foul draft on paper of any thing he published, but used to revolve the subject in his mind, and turn and form every period, till he had brought the whole to the highest correctness and the most perfect arrangement. Then his uncommonly retentive memory enabled him to deliver a whole essay, properly finished, whenever it was called for. I have often heard him humming and forming periods, in low whispers to himself, when shallow observers thought he was muttering prayers, &c. But Johnson is well known to have represented his own practice, in the following passage in his Life of Pope: "Of composition there are different methods. Some employ at once memory and invention; and, with little intermediate use of the pen, form and polish large masses by continued melitation, and write their productions only when, in their own opinion, they have completed them.'
532. Dislike of Swift.
The extraordinary prejudice and dislike of Swift, manifested on all occasions by Johnson, whose political opinions coincided exactly with his, has been difficult to account for; and is therefore attributed to his failing in getting a degree, which Swift might not choose to solicit, for a reason given below. The real cause is believed to be as follows: The Rev. Dr. Madden (1), who distinguished himself so laudably by giving premiums to the young students of Dublin College, for
(1) [See antè, Vol. II. p. 8. and 73.]
which he had raised a fund, by applying for contributions to the nobility and gentry of Ireland, had solicited the same from Swift, when he was sinking into that morbid idiocy which only terminated with his life, and was saving every shilling to found his hospital for lunatics; but his application was refused with so little delicacy, as left in Dr. Madden a rooted dislike to Swift's character, which he communicated to Johnson, whose friendship he gained on the following occasion: Dr. Madden wished to address some person of high rank, in prose or verse; and, desirous of having his composition examined and corrected by some writer of superior talents, had been recommended to Johnson, who was at that time in extreme indigence; and having finished his task, would probably have thought himself well rewarded with a guinea or two, when, to his great surprise, Dr. Madden generously slipped ten guineas into his hand. This made such an impression on Johnson, as led him to adopt every opinion of Dr. Madden, and to resent, as warmly as himself, Swift's rough refusal of the contribution; after which the latter could not decently request any favour from the University of Dublin.
533. The Dictionary.
The account of the manner in which Johnson compiled his Dictionary, as given by Mr. Boswell (1), is confused and erroneous, and, a moment's reflection will convince every person of judgment, could not be correct; for, to write down an alphabetical arrangement of all the words in the English language, and then hunt through the whole compass of English literature for all their different significations, would have taken the whole life of any individual; but Johnson, who, among other peculiarities of his character, excelled most men in con
(1) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 217.]