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BY MISS HAWKINS. (1)
552. Johnson's Person and Dress.
WHEN first I remember Johnson, I used to see him sometimes at a little distance from the house, coming to call on my father; his look directed downwards, or rather in such abstraction as to have no direction. His walk was heavy, but he got on at a great rate, his left arm always placed across his breast, so as to bring the hand under his chin; and he walked wide, as if to support his weight. Got out of a hackney coach, which had set him down in Fleet Street, my brother Henry says, he made his way up Bolt Court in the zig-zag direction of a blast of lightning; submitting his course only to the deflections imposed by the impossibility of going further to right or left.
His clothes hung loose, and the pocket on the right hand swung violently, the lining of his coat being always visible. I can now call to mind his brown hand, his metal sleeve-buttons, and my surprise at seeing him with plain wristbands, when all gentlemen wore ruffles; his coat-sleeve being very wide, showed his linen almost to his elbow. His wig in common was cut and bushy; if by chance he had one that had been dressed in separate
(1) [From the Memoirs of Letitia Hawkins (daughter of Sir John), 2 vols. 8vo. 1827.]
curls, it gave him a disagreeable look, not suited to his years or character.
In his colloquial intercourse, Johnson's compliments were studied, and therefore lost their effect: his head dipped lower; the semicircle in which it revolved was of greater extent; and his roar was deeper in its tone when he meant to be civil. His movement in reading, which he did with great rapidity, was humorously described after his death, by a lady, who said, that “ his head swung seconds."
The usual initial sentences of his conversation led some to imagine that to resemble him was as easy as to mimic him, and that, if they began with " Why, Sir," or "I know no reason, 66 or If any man chooses to think," or 66 If you mean to say," they must, of course, "talk Johnson." That his style might be imitated, is true; and that its strong features made it easier to lay hold on it than on a milder style, no one will dispute.
553. The Economy of Bolt Court.
What the economy of Dr. Johnson's house may have been under his wife's administration, I cannot tell; but, under Miss Williams's management, and, indeed, afterwards, when he was overcome at the misery of those around him, it always exceeded my expectation, as far as the condition of the apartment into which I was admitted could enable me to judge. It was not, indeed, his study amongst his books he probably might bring Magliabecchi to recollection; but I saw him only in the decent drawing-room of a house, not inferior to others on the same local situation, and with stout old-fashioned mahogany table and chairs. He was a liberal customer to his tailor, and I can remember that his linen was often a strong contrast to the colour of his hands.
554. Bennet Langton.
from his gentleness towards Mr. Langton, and in his irritation showing some inconsistency of ideas. I went with my father to call in Bolt Court one Sunday after church. There were many persons in the Doctor's drawing-room, and among them Mr. Langton, who stood leaning against the post of an open door, undergoing what I suppose the giver of it would have called an objurgation." Johnson, on my father's entrance, went back to explain the cause of this, which was no less than that Mr. Langton, in his opinion, ought then to have been far on his road into Lincolnshire, where he was informed his mother was very ill. Mr. Langton's pious affection for his mother could not be doubted,
she was a parent of whom any son might have been proud; but this was a feeling which never could have been brought into the question by her son: the inert spirit, backed, perhaps, by hope, and previous knowledge of the extent of similar attacks, prevailed; and Johnson's arguments seemed hitherto rather to have riveted Mr. Langton's feet to the place where he was, than to have spurred him to quit it. My father, thus referred to, took up the subject, and a few half-whispered sentences from him made Mr. Langton take his leave; but, as he was quitting the room, Johnson, with one of his howls, and his indescribable but really pathetic slow semi-circuits of his head, said most energetically, " Do, Hawkins, teach Langton a little of the world."
555. Mrs. Thrale.
On the death of Mr. Thrale, it was concluded by some, that Johnson would marry the widow; by others, that he would entirely take up his residence in her house; which, resembling the situation of many other learned men, would have been nothing extraordinary or censurable. The path he would pursue was not evident; when, on a sudden, he came out again, and sought my father with kind eagerness. Calls were exchanged: he
would now take his tea with us; and in one of those evening visits, which were the pleasantest periods of my knowledge of him, saying, when taking leave, that he was leaving London, Lady Hawkins said, "I suppose you are going to Bath ?" Why should you suppose so?" Because," said my mother, "I hear Mrs. "I know nothing of Mrs. Thrale," he roared out; "good evening to you." The state of affairs was soon made known.
said he. 66
Thrale is gone there."
To Warburton's great powers he did full justice. He did not always, my brother says, agree with him in his notions; "but," said he, "with all his errors, si non errasset, fecerat ille minus." Speaking of Warburton's contemptuous treatment of some one who presumed to differ from him, I heard him repeat with much glee the coarse expressions in which he had vented this feeling, that there could be no doubt of his hearty approbation.
He said, he doubted whether there ever was a man who was not gratified by being told that he was liked by the women.
558. Reading and Study.
Speaking of reading and study, my younger brother heard him say, that he would not ask a man to give up his important interests for them, because it would not be fair; but that, if any man would employ in reading that time which he would otherwise waste, he would answer for it, if he were a man of ordinary endowment, that he would make a sensible man. "He might not, said he, "make a Bentley, but he would be a sensible
559. Thurlow. - Burke. — Boswell.
It may be said of Johnson, that he had a peculiar individual feeling of regard towards his many and various friends, and that he was to each what I might call the indenture or counterpart of what they were to him. My brother says, that any memoirs of his conversations with Lord Thurlow or Burke would be invaluable: to the former he acknowledged that he always " talked his best;" and the latter would, by the force of his own powers, have tried those of Johnson to the utmost. But still the inquisitive world, that world whose inquisitiveness has tempted almost to sacrilege, would not have been satisfied without the minor communications of Boswell, though he sometimes sorely punctured his friend to get at what he wanted.
It is greatly to the honour of Johnson, that he never accustomed himself to descant on the ingratitude of mankind, or to comment on the many causes he had to think harshly of the world. He said once to my
youngest brother, "I hate a complainer." This hatred might preserve him from the habit.
Johnson was, with all his infirmities, bodily and mental, less of the thorough-bred irritabile genus of authors, than most of his compeers: he had no petty feelings of animosity, to be traced only to mean causes. He said of some one, indeed, that he was a good hater," as if he approved the feeling; but I understand by the expression, that it was at least a justifiable, an honest and avowed aversion, that obtained this character for its possessor. But still more to his honour is it, that his irritability was not excited by the most common cause of mortification. He saw the companion of his studies and the witness of his poverty, Taylor, raised