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his extraordinary memory. His manner of repeating deserves to be described, though, at the same time, it defeats all power of description ; but whoever once heard him repeat an ode of Horace, would be long before they could endure to hear it repeated by another.
His equity in giving the character of living acquaintance ought not undoubtedly to be omitted in his own, whence partiality and prejudice were totally excluded, and truth alone presided in his tongue : a steadiness of conduct the more to be commended, as no man had stronger likings or aversions. His veracity was, indeed, from the most trivial to the most solemn occasions, strict, even to severity; he scorned to embellish a story with fictitious circumstances, which, he used to say, took off from its real value. “ A story,” says Johnson, “ should be a specimen of life and manners; but if the surrounding circumstances are false, as it is no more a representation of reality, it is no longer worthy our attention.”
For the rest, — that beneficence which, during his life, increased the comforts of so many, may after his death be perhaps ungratefully forgotten ; but that piety which dictated the serious papers in the Rambler, will be for ever remembered ; - for ever, I think, revered. .
That ample repository of religious truth, moral wisdom, and accurate criticism, breathes indeed the genuine emanations of its great author's mind, expressed too in a style so natural to him, and so much like his common mode of conversing, that I was myself but little astonished when he told me, that he had scarcely read over one of those inimitable essays before they went to the press.
I will add one or two peculiarities more, before I lay down my pen. Though at an immeasurable distance from content in the contemplation of his own uncouth form and figure, he did not like another man much the less for being a coxcomb. I mentioned two friends who were particularly fond of looking at themselves in a glass : “ They do not surprise me at all by so doing,” said Johnson : “ they see, reflected in that glass, men who have risen from almost the lowest situations in life; one to enormous riches, the other to every thing this world can give
rank, fame, and fortune. They see, likewise, men who have merited their advancement by the exertion and improvement of those talents which God had given them; and I see not why they should avoid the mirror.”
The other singularity I promised to record is this : that though a man of obscure birth himself, his partiality to people of family was visible on every occasion ; his zeal for subordination warm even to bigotry; his hatred to innovation, and reverence for the old feudal times, apparent, whenever any possible manner of showing them occurred. I have spoken of his piety, his charity, and his truth, the enlargement of his heart, and the delicacy of his sentiments; and when I search for shadow to my portrait, none can I find but what was formed by pride, differently modified as different occasions showed it; yet never was pride so purified as Johnson's, at once from meanness and from vanity. The mind of this man was indeed expanded beyond the common limits of human nature, and stored with such variety of knowledge, that I used to think it resembled a royal pleasure-ground, where every plant, of every name and nation, flourished in the full perfection of their powers; and where, though lofty woods and falling cataracts first caught the eye, and fixed the earliest attention of beholders, yet neither the trim parterre nor the pleasing shrubbery, nor even the antiquated evergreens, were denied a place in some fit corner of the happy valley.
[The following Anecdotes, Opinions, and Reflections are from the Collection of Dr. Johnson's Letters, published by Mrs. Piozzi, in 1788.]
146. Domestic Tragedies. What is nearest us touches us most. The passions rise higher at domestic than at imperial tragedies.
147. Calamities. When any calamity is suffered, the first thing to be remembered is, how much has been escaped.
148. Grief Grief is a species of idleness; and the necessity of attention to the present preserves us, by the merciful disposition of Providence, from being lacerated and devoured by sorrow for the past.
149. Vows. All unnecessary vows are folly, because they suppose a prescience of the future which has not been given us. They are, I think, a crime, because they resign that life to chance, which God has given us to be regulated by reason; and superinduce a kind of fatuity, from which it is the great privilege of our nature to be free. I think an unlimited promise of acting by the opinion of another so wrong, that nothing, or hardly any thing, can make it right.
150. Filial Obedience. Unlimited obedience is due only to the Universal Father of heaven and earth. My parents may be mad or foolish; may be wicked and malicious ; may be erroneously religious, or absurdly scrupulous. I am not bound to compliance with mandates, either positive or negative, which either religion condemns or reason rejects.
There wanders about the world a wild notion, which extends over marriage more than over any other transaction. If Miss **** followed a trade, would it be said that she was bound in conscience to give or refuse credit at her father's choice? And is not marriage a thing in which she is more interested, and has therefore more right of choice? When I may suffer for my own crimes, when I
may be sued for my own debts, I may judge, by parity of reason, for my own happiness.
151. To-morrow. You do not tell me whither the young lovers are gone. What a life do they image in futurity! how unlike to what they are to find ! But To-morrow is an old deceiver, and his cheat never grows stale.