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triving the best means to accomplish any end, devised the following mode for completing his Dictionary, as he himself expressly described to the writer of this account. He began his task by devoting his first care to a diligent perusal of all such English writers as were most correct in their language, and under every sentence which he meant to quote he drew a line, and noted in the margin the first letter of the word under which it was to occur. He then delivered these books to his clerks, who transcribed each sentence on a separate slip of paper, and arranged the same under the word referred to. By these means he collected the several words and their different significations; and when the whole arrangement was alphabetically formed, he gave the definitions of their meanings, and collected their etymologies from Skinner, Junius, and other writers on the subject. In completing his alphabetical arrangement, he, no doubt, would recur to former dictionaries, to see if any words had escaped him; but this, which Mr. Boswell makes the first step in the business, was in reality the last; and it was doubtless to this happy arrangement that Johnson effected in a few years, what employed the foreign academies nearly half a century.
534. Miss Williams. (1)
During the summer of 1764, Johnson paid a visit to me, at my vicarage-house in Easton-Mauduit, near Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, and spent parts of the months of June, July, and August with me, accompanied by his friend Miss Williams, whom Mrs. Percy found a very agreeable companion. As poor Miss Williams, whose history is so connected with that of Johnson, has not had common justice done her by his biographers, it may be proper to mention, that, so far from being a constant source of disquiet and vexation to him, although she had been totally blind for the (1) [See ante, Vol. I. p. 274.]
last thirty years of her life, her mind was so well cultivated, and her conversation so agreeable, that she very much enlivened and diverted his solitary hours; and, though there may have happened some slight disagreements between her and Mrs. Desmoulins, which, at the moment, disquieted him, the friendship of Miss Williams contributed very much to his comfort and happiness. For, having been the intimate friend of his wife, who had invited her to his house, she continued to reside with him, and in her he had always a conversable companion; who, whether at his dinners or at his tea-table, entertained his friends with her sensible conversation. Being extremely clean and neat in her person and habits, she never gave the least disgust by her manner of eating; and when she made tea for Johnson and his friends, conducted it with so much delicacy, by gently touching the outside of the cup, to feel, by the heat, the tea as it ascended within, that it was rather matter of admiration than of dislike to every attentive observer.
Johnson was fond of disputation, and willing to see what could be said on each side of the question, when a subject was argued. At all other times, no man had a more scrupulous regard for truth; from which, I verily believe, he would not have deviated to save his life.
536. Robert Levett.
Mr. Boswell describes Levett as a man of a strange, grotesque appearance, stiff and formal in his manner.(1) This is misrepresented. He was a modest, reserved man; humble and unaffected; ready to execute any commission for Johnson; and grateful for his patronage.
(1) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 290.]
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 Rainbler," 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.]
ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
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. When the maid descended, the gentleman was gone, and poor Mrs. Johnson was much agitated by the adventure: it was the only time he ever made an effort to see her.
(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. n. 9.1