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BY MR. STOCKDALE. (1)
The Tale of a Tub.
543. Swift ABOUT the year 1770, I was invited by the lively and hospitable Tom Davies to dine with him, to meet some interesting characters. Dr. Johnson was of the party, and this was my first introduction to him: there were others, with whom every intelligent mind would have wished to converse, Dr. Goldsmith and Mr. Meyer, the elegant miniature painter. Swift was one of our convivial subjects; of whom it was Dr. Johnson's invariable custom to speak in a disparaging manner. We gave our sentiments, and undoubtedly of high panegyric, on the Tale of a Tub; of which Dr. Johnson insisted, in his usual positive manner, that it was impossible that Swift should have been the author, it was so eminently superior to all his other works. I expressed my own conviction, that it was written by Swift, and that, in many of his productions, he showed a genius not unequal to the composition of the Tale of a Tub. The Doctor desired me to name one.
(1) [From "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Percival Stockdale," 2 vols. 8vo. 1809. To this gentleman, the "Belfield" of Miss Burney's "Cecilia," Johnson was, upon several occasions, a kind protector. He was, for some years, the Doctor's neighbour, both in Johnson's Court and Bolt Court. For Miss Jane Porter's character of him, see antè, Vol. III. p. 122. n.]
plied, that I thought Gulliver's Travels not unworthy of the performance he so exclusively admired. He would not admit the instance; but said, that "if Swift was really the author of the Tale of a Tub, as the best of his other performances were of a very inferior merit, he should have hanged himself after he had written it."
544. The Journal to Stella.
Johnson said on the same day, "Swift corresponded minutely with Stella and Mrs. Dingley, on his importance with the ministry, from excessive vanity that the women might exclaim, 'What a great man Dr. Swift is!" "
Among other topics, Warburton claimed our attention. Goldsmith took a part against Warburton, whom Johnson strenuously defended, and, indeed, with many strong arguments, and with bright sallies of eloquence. Goldsmith ridiculously asserted, that Warburton was a weak writer. This misapplied characteristic Dr. Johnson refuted. I shall never forget one of the happy metaphors with which he strengthened and illustrated his refutation. "Warburton," said he, may be absurd, but he will never be weak: he flounders well."
546. Johnson's Cat.
If I wanted the precedents, examples, and authority of celebrated men, to warrant my humble regard and affection for a cat, either in my boyish or maturer years (that useful, and indeed amiable, but infamously harassed and persecuted creature), those precedents I might easily produce. Montaigne has recorded his cat, in his usual facetiousness, but in an affectionate manner. And as the insolence of Achilles, and the sternness of Telamonian Ajax, were subdued by a Briseis and a
Tecmessa, I have frequently seen the ruggedness of Dr. Johnson softened to smiles and caresses, by the inarticulate, yet pathetic, expressions of his favourite Hodge.
547. Charles the Twelfth.
Charles the Twelfth was guilty of a deed which will eternally shade the glory of one of the most splendid periods that are presented to us in history the murder of Patkal. Dr. Johnson remarked to me, when we were conversing on this tragical subject, that Charles had nine years of good and nine of bad fortune; that his adverse events began soon after the execution of Patkal, and continued to his death. Johnson may be pronounced to have been superstitious; but I own that I was sensibly struck with the force of the observation.
548. Pope's Homer.
Lord Lyttelton told me, that on a visit to Mr. Pope, while he was translating the Iliad, he took the liberty to express to that great poet his surprise, that he had not determined to translate Homer's poem into blank verse; as it was an epic poem, and as he had before him the illustrious example of Milton, in the Paradise Lost. Mr. Pope's answer to Lord Lyttelton was, that "he could translate it more easily into rhyme." I communicated this anecdote to Dr. Johnson; his remark to me was, I think, very erroneous in criticism,—" Sir, when Pope said that, he knew that he lied."
When Dr. Johnson and I were talking of Garrick, I observed, that he was a very moderate, fair, and pleasing companion; when we considered what a constant influx had flowed upon him, both of fortune and fame, to throw him off his bias of moral and social selfgovernment. Sir," replied Johnson, in his usual emphatical and glowing manner," you are very right
in your remark; Garrick has undoubtedly the merit of a temperate and unassuming behaviour in society; for more pains have been taken to spoil that fellow, than if he had been heir apparent to the empire of India !"
When Garrick was one day mentioning to me Dr. Johnson's illiberal treatment of him, on different occasions; "I question," said he, "whether, in his calmest and most dispassionate moments, he would allow me the high theatrical merit which the public have been so generous as to attribute to me." I told him, that I would take an early opportunity to make the trial, and that I would not fail to inform him of the result of my experiment. As I had rather an active curiosity to put Johnson's disinterested generosity fairly to the test, on this apposite subject, I took an early opportunity of waiting on him, to hear his verdict on Garrick's pretensions to his great and universal fame. I found him in very good and social humour; and I began a conversation which naturally led to the mention of Garrick. I said something particular on his excellence as an actor; and I added, " But pray, Dr. Johnson, do you really think that he deserves that illustrious theatrical character, and that prodigious fame, which he has acquired?” "Ob, Sir," said he," he deserves every thing that he has acquired, for having seized the very soul of Shakspeare; for having embodied it in himself; and for having extended its glory over the world." I was not slow in communicating to Garrick the answer of the Delphic oracle. The tear started in his eye"Oh! Stockdale," said he, "such a praise from such a man! - this atones for all that has passed."
I called on Dr. Johnson one morning, when Mrs. Williams, the blind lady, was conversing with him. She was telling him where she had dined the day before. "There were several gentlemen there," said she," and
when some of them came to the tea-table, I found that there had been a good deal of hard drinking." She closed this observation with a common and trite moral reflection; which, indeed, is very ill-founded, and does great injustice to animals - "I wonder what pleasure men can take in making beasts of themselves!" "I wonder, Madam," replied the Doctor, "that you have not penetration enough to see the strong inducement to this excess; for he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.'
551. Mrs. Bruce.
Mrs. Bruce, an old Scotch lady, the widow of Captain Bruce, who had been for many years an officer in the Russian service, drank tea with me one afternoon at my lodgings in Bolt Court, when Johnson was one of the company. She spoke very broad Scotch; and this alarmed me for her present social situation. "Dr. Johnson,” said she," you tell us, in your Dictionary, that in England oats are given to horses; but that in Scotland they support the people. Now, Sir, I can assure you, that in Scotland we give oats to our horses, as well as you do to yours in England." I almost trembled for the widow of the Russian hero; I never saw a more contemptuous leer than that which Johnson threw at Mrs. Bruce: however, he deigned her an answer, "I am very glad, Madam, to find that you treat your horses as well as you treat yourselves." I was delivered from my panic, and I wondered that she was so gently set down.