Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

that she was likewise affected. I commended the Thrales with great good will to God. May my petitions have been heard !”

279. Johnson's Charity. Almost throughout his life, poverty and distressed circumstances seemed to be the strongest of all recommendations to his favour. When asked by one of his most intimate friends, how he could bear to be surrounded by such necessitous and undeserving people as he had about him, his answer was,

“ If I did not assist them no one else would, and they must be lost for want.”

280. Rapidity of Composition. “ I wrote,” said Johnson, “ the first seventy lines of the “

Vanity of Human Wishes,” in the course of one morning, in that small house beyond the church at Hampstead. The whole number was composed before I committed a single couplet to writing. The same method I pursued in regard to the Prologue on opening Drury Lane Theatre. I did not afterwards change more than a word in it, and that was done at the remonstrance of Garrick. I did not think his criticism just, but it was necessary that he should be satisfied with what he was to utter.”

281. Mimicry. - Humour. Gesticular mimicry and buffoonery Johnson hated, and would often huff Garrick for exercising it in his presence; but of the talent of humour he had an almost enviable portion. To describe the nature of this faculty, as he was wont to display it in his hours of mirth and relaxation, I must say that it was ever of that arch and dry kind, which lies concealed under the appearance of gravity, and which acquiesces in an error for the purpose of refuting it.

282. Invitations to Dinner. Invitations to dine with those whom he liked he so seldom declined, that to a friend of his, he said, “I never but once, upon a resolution to employ myself in study,

balked an invitation out to dinner, and then I stayed at home and did nothing."

283. Asperity of Manner. There was more asperity in Johnson's manner of expression than in his natural disposition ; for I have heard that, in many instances, and in some with tears in his eyes, he has apologised to those whom he had offended by contradiction or roughness of behaviour.

284. Reynolds's Portrait of Johnson. The picture of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which was painted for Mr. Beauclerk, and is now Mr. Langton's, and scraped in mezzotinto by Doughty, is extremely like him ; there is in it that appearance of a labouring working mind, of an indolent reposing body, which he had to a very great degree. Indeed, the common operations of dressing, shaving, &c., were a toil to him ; he held the care of the body very cheap. He used to say, that a man who rode out for an appetite consulted but little the dignity of human nature.

285. Johnson's last Illness. A few days after the remnant of the Ivy Lane Club had dined with him [Feb. 1784.], Dr. Johnson sent for me, and informed me that he had discovered in himself the symptoms of a dropsy; and, indeed, his very much increased bulk, and the swollen appearance of his legs, seemed to indicate no less. He told me, that he was desirous of making a will, and requested me to be one of his executors : upon my consenting, he gave me to understand that he meant to make a provision for his servant, Frank, of about 701. a year for his life, and concerted with me a plan for investing a sum sufficient for the purpose : at the same time he opened to me the state of his circumstances, and the amount of what he had to dispose of.

În a visit which I made him in a few days, in consequence of a very pressing request to see me, I found him labouring under great dejection of mind.

He bade me draw near him, and said he wanted to enter into a serious conversation with me; and, upon my expressing a willingness to join in it, he, with a look that cut me to the heart, told me that he had the prospect of death before him, and that he dreaded to meet his Saviour. (') I could not but be astonished at such a declaration, and advised him, as I had done once before, to reflect on the course of his life, and the services he had rendered to the cause of religion and virtue, as well by his example as his writings; to which he answered, that he had written as a philosopher, but he had not lived like one. In the estimation of his offences, he reasoned thus: “Every man knows his own sins, and also what grace he has resisted : but, to those of others, and the circumstances under which they were committed, he is a stranger : he is, therefore, to look on himself as the greatest sinner that he knows of.” () At the conclusion of this argument, which he strongly enforced, he uttered this passionate exclamation, “ Shall I, who have been a teacher of others, myself be a castaway !”

Much to the same purpose passed between us in this and other conversations that I had with him ; in all which I could not but wonder, as much at the freedom with which he opened his mind, and the compunction he seemed to feel for the errors of his past life, as I did at his making choice of me for his confessor, knowing full well how meanly qualified I was for such an office.

It was on a Thursday () that I had this conversation with him ; and here, let not the supercilious lip of scorn protrude itself, while I relate that, he declared his intention to devote the whole of the next day to fasting, humiliation, and such other devotional exercises as became a man in his situation. On the Saturday following I made him a visit, and, upon entering his room, observed in his countenance such a serenity, as indicated that some

(1) This, and other expressions of the like kind, which he uttered to me, should put to silence the idle reports that he dreaded annihilation.

(2) I find the above sentiment in “ Law's Serious Call to a Derout and Holy Life," a book which Johnson was very conversant with, and often commended.

(3) [It appears from Johnson's own letters, that the event itself took place on Thursday, 19th February.-C.)

remarkable crisis of his disorder had produced a change in his feelings. He told me that, pursuant to the resolution he had mentioned, he had spent the preceding day in an abstraction from all worldly concerns; that, to prevent interruption, he had, in the morning, ordered Frank not to admit any one to him ; and, the better to enforce the charge, had added these awful words, “ For your master is preparing himself to die.” He then mentioned to me, that, in the course of this exercise, he found himself relieved from that disorder which had been growing on him, and was become very oppressing, the dropsy, by a gradual evacuation of water to the amount of twenty pints, a like instance whereof he had never before experienced ; and asked me what I thought of it.

I was well aware of the lengths that superstition and enthusiasm will lead men, and how ready some are to attribute favourable events to supernatural causes, and said, that it might savour of presumption to say that, in this instance, God had wrought a miracle ; yet, as divines recognise certain dispensations of his providence, recorded in the Scripture by the denomination of returns of prayer, and his omnipotence is now the same as ever, I thought it would be little less than criminal to ascribe his late relief to causes merely natural, and that the safer opinion was, that he had not in vain humbled himself before his Maker. He seemed to acquiesce in all that I said on this important subject; and, several times, while I was discoursing with him, cried out, “It is wonderful, very wonderful !”

His zeal for religion, as manifested in his writings and conversation, and the accounts extant that attest his piety, have induced the enemies to his memory to tax him with superstition. To that charge I oppose his behaviour on this occasion, and leave it to the judgment of sober and rational persons, whether such an unexpected event as that above mentioned would not have prompted a really superstitious man to some more passionate exclamation than that it was “wonderful.” (')

(1) Doubtless there are men who look upon all religious exercises as supertition, and upon prayer and other acts of devotion as evidences of a weak mind.

« VorigeDoorgaan »