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from one in Johnson's collections for the "Rambler;" which, I believe, he never employed, but which was certainly too good to be lost. (1)
669. Dr. Bernard.
Mr. Monney told me he had often met Johnson, and imitated his manner very happily. Johnson came on a visit to the president of his college (Jesus) at Oxford, Dr. Bernard. Dr. Bernard ventured to put a joke upon Johnson; but being terrified by a tremendous snarl, "Indeed, indeed, Doctor, believe me,' said he, "I meant nothing." "Sir,” said Johnson, "if you mean nothing, say nothing!" and was quiet for the rest of the evening.
670. Johnson's "Letters."
Johnson's Letters to Mrs. Thrale raise him, if possible, still higher than ever in my esteem and veneration. His wonderful insight into the real springs of human actions is often apparent where he trifles most; and when he summons his powers, he pours new and unexpected light, even on the clearest and most obvious topics. His fertility of logical invention is probably unrivalled.
Boswell, from his open, communicative, good-humoured vanity, which leads him to display events and feelings that other men, of more sound judgment, though slighter pretensions, would have studiously concealed, has depressed himself below his just level in public estimation. His information is extensive; his talents far from despicable; and he seems so exactly adapted, even by his very foibles, that we might almost suppose him purposely created to be the chronicler of
Johnson. A pleasing and instructive pocket-companion might be formed by a judicious selection from his copious repertory of Johnson's talk.
672. "Vesuvius Cæsar."
I have (says Mr. W. E. Surtees) heard my grandmother, a daughter, by his first wife, of the Dean of Ossory (who married secondly Miss Charlotte Cotterell, see Vol. II. p. 152.), speak of Dr. Johnson, as having frequently seen him in her youth. On one occasion, probably about 1762-3, he spent a day or two in the country with her father, and went with the family to see the house of a rich merchant. The ownerall bows and smiles—seemed to exult in the opportunity of displaying his costly articles of virtù to his visitor, and, in going through their catalogue, observed, “ And this, Dr. Johnson, is Vesuvius Cæsar." My grandmother, then but a girl, could not suppress a titter, when the Doctor turned round, and thus, alike to the discomfiture of the merchant and herself, sternly rebuked her aloud, "What is the child laughing at? Ignorance is a subject for pity—not for laughter."
673. Story-telling. (1)
Dr. Johnson, having had a general invitation from Lord Lansdowne to see Bow-wood, his Lordship's seat in Wiltshire, he accordingly made him a visit, in company with Cumming, the Quaker, a character at that time well known as the projector of the conquest of Senegal. They arrived about dinner-time, and were received with such respect and good-breeding, that the Doctor joined in the conversation with much pleasantry and good-humour. He told several stories of his acquaintance with literary characters, and in particular repeated the last part of his celebrated letter to Lord Ches
(1) [This and the eight following are from the European Magazine, edited at the time by Isaac Reed, Esq.]
terfield, desiring to be dismissed from all further patronage. Whilst the feast of reason and the flow of soul was thus enjoying, a gentleman of Lord Lansdowne's acquaintance from London happened to arrive; but being too late for dinner, his Lordship was making his apologies, and added, "But you have lost a better thing than dinner, in not being here time enough to hear Dr. Johnson repeat his charming letter to Lord Chesterfield, though I dare say the Doctor will be kind enough to give it to us again." "Indeed, my Lord," says the Doctor (who began to growl the moment the subject was mentioned), "I will not: I told the story just for my own amusement, but I will not be dragged in as storyteller to a company."
674. Pomponius Gauricus.
Dr. Johnson had planned a book on the model of Robinson Crusoe. Pomponius Gauricus, a learned Neapolitan, who had dabbled in alchemy, &c., suddenly disappeared in the year 1530, and was heard of no more. The supposed life of this man the Doctor had resolved to write. "I will not," said he, "shipwreck my hero on an uninhabited island, but will carry him up to the summit of San Pelegrini, the highest of the Apennines; where he shall be made his own biographer, passing his time among the goat-herds," &c.
675. Character of Boswell.
Boswell was a man of excellent natural parts, on which he had engrafted a great deal of general knowledge. His talents as a man of company were much heightened by his extreme cheerfulness and good nature. Mr. Burke said of him, that he had no merit in possessing that agreeable faculty, and that a man might as well assume to himself merit in possessing an excel
and the English law; but had never taken very grea pains on the subject. His father, Lord Auchinleck, told him one day, that it would cost him more trouble to hide his ignorance in these professions, than to show his knowledge. This Mr. Boswell owned he had found to be true. Society was his idol; to that he sacrificed every thing his eye glistened, and his countenance brightened up, when he saw the human face divine; and that person must have been very fastidious indeed, who did not return him the same compliment when he came into a room. Of his Life of Johnson, who can say too much, or praise it too highly? What is Plutarch's biography to his? so minute, so appropriate, so dramatic. "How happy would the learned world have been," said the present acute and elegantly minded Bishop of Hereford (1), "had Pericles, Plato, or Socrates possessed such a friend and companion as Mr. Boswell was to Doctor Johnson !"
676. Johnson's Agility.
A gentleman of Lichfield meeting the Doctor returning from a walk, inquired how far he had been? The Doctor replied, he had gone round Mr. Levet's field (the place where the scholars play) in search of a rail that he used to jump over when a boy, “and," says the Doctor in a transport of joy, "I have been so fortunate as to find it: I stood," said he, "gazing upon it some time with a degree of rapture, for it brought to my mind all my juvenile sports and pastimes, and at length I determined to try my skill and dexterity; I laid aside my hat and wig, pulled of my coat, and leapt over it twice." Thus the great Dr. Johnson, only three years before his death, was, without hat, wig, or coat, jumping over a rail that he had used to fly over when a school-boy.
Amongst those who were so intimate with Dr. Johnson (1) [The Rev. Dr. John Butler.]
as to have him occasionally an intimate in their families, it is a well known fact that he would frequently descend from the contemplation of subjects the most profound imaginable to the most childish playfulness. It was no uncommon thing to see him hop, step, and jump; he would often seat himself on the back of his chair, and more than once has been known to propose a race on some grassplat adapted to the purpose. He was very intimate and much attached to Mr. John Payne, once a bookseller in Paternoster Row, and afterwards Chief Accountant of the Bank. Mr. Payne was of a very diminutive appearance, and once when they were together on a visit with a friend at some distance from town, Johnson in a gaiety of humour proposed to run a race with Mr. Payne - the proposal was accepted; but, before they had proceeded more than half of the intended distance, Johnson caught his little adversary up in his arms, and without any ceremony placed him upon the arm of a tree which was near, and then continued running as if he had met with a hard match. He afterwards returned with much exultation to release his friend from the no very pleasant situation in which he had left him.
677. Boswell's Life of Johnson.
Cowper, the poet, speaking of Boswell's Life of Johnson, observed, that though it was so much abused, it presented the best portrait that had ever been given of the great English moralist; adding, that mankind would be gratified indeed, if some contemporary of Shakspeare and Milton had given the world such a history of those unrivalled poets.
678. Party Heat.
Doctor, afterwards Dean Maxwell, sitting in company with Johnson, they were talking of the violence of parties, and what unwarrantable and insolent lengths