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BY GEORGE STEEVENS, ESQ.
307. Johnson and Richardson. DR. JOHNSON confessed himself to have been sometimes in the power of bailiffs. Richardson, the author of
Clarissa," was his constant friend on such occasions. “I remember writing to him,” said Johnson, “ from a sponging house ; and was so sure of my deliverance through his kindness and liberality, that, before his reply was brought, I knew I could afford to joke with the rascal who had me in custody, and did so, over a pint of adulterated wine, for which, at that instant, I had no money to pay.”
308. Eyesight.—Spectacles. It has been observed, that Johnson had lost the sight of one of his eyes. Mr. Ellis, an ancient gentleman (author of a very happy burlesque translation of the thirteenth book, added to the Æneid by Maffei Vegio), was in the same condition ; but, some years after, while he was at Margate, the sight of his eye unexpectedly returned, and that of his fellow became as suddenly extinguished. Concerning the particulars of this singular but authenticated event, Dr. Johnson was studiously inquisitive, and not with reference to his own case. Though he never made use of glasses to assist his sight, he said he could recollect no production of art to which man has superior obliga
tions. He mentioned the name of the original inventor of spectacles () with reverence, and expressed his wonder that not an individual, out of the multitudes who had
profited by them, had, through gratitude, written the life of so great benefactor to society.
309. Pope's “ Messiah.” “ I have been told, Dr. Johnson,” says a friend, “ that your translation of Pope's · Messiah' was made either as a common exercise or as an imposition for some negligence you had been guilty of at college.
“ No, Sir," replied the Doctor : “at Pembroke the former were always in prose, and to the latter I would not have submitted. I wrote it rather to show the tutors what I could do, than what I was willing should be done. It answered my purpose ; for it convinced those who were well enough inclined to punish me, that I could wield a scholar's weapon, as often as I was menaced with arbitrary inflictions. Before the frequency of personal satire had weakened its effect, the petty tyrants of colleges stood in awe of a pointed remark, or a vindictive epigram. But since every man in his turn has been wounded, no man is ashamed of a scar.”
310. Ballad Metre. When Dr. Percy first published his collection of ancient English ballads, perhaps he was too lavish in commendation of the beautiful simplicity and poetic merit he supposed himself to discover in them. This circumstance provoked Johnson to observe one evening at Miss Reynolds's tea-table, that he could rhyme as well, and as elegantly, in common narrative and conversation.
« For instance,” says he, —
“ As with my hat upon my hcad
I walk'd along the Strand,
With his hat in his hand. (2)
(1) The inventor of spectacles is said to have been a monk at Fisa, who lived at the end of the thirteenth century, and whose name was Spina.
(1) [See post, No. 364., where this anecdote is told in the vague manner and
Or, to render such poetry subservient to my own immediate use,
“ I therefore pray thee, Renny dear,
That thou wilt give to me,
Another dish of tea.
“ Nor fear that I, my gentle maid,
Shall long detain the cup,
Have drunk the liquor up.
“ Yet hear, alas ! this mournful truth,
Nor hear it with a frown;-
As I can gulp it down."
And thus he proceeded through several more stanzas, till the reverend critic cried out for quarter. Such ridicule, however, was unmerited.
311. Night Composition. Night," Mr. Tyers has told us, “ was Johnson's time for composition.” But this assertion, if meant for a general one, can be refuted by living evidence. Almost the whole Preface to Shakspeare, and no inconsiderable part of the “ Lives of the Poets,” were composed by daylight, and in a room where a friend (") was employed by him in other investigations.
His studies were only continued through the night, when the day had been preoccupied, or proved too short for his undertakings. Respecting the fertility of his genius, the resources of his learning, and the accuracy of his judgment, the darkness and the light were both alike.
312. Bolingbroke and Mallet. When in his latter years he was reminded of his
on the imperfect authority of Mr. Cradock. To have deliberately composed and circulated a parody on his friend's poem would have been a very different thing from a sportive improvisation over the tea-table. -C.)
(1) [Mr. Steevens himself.]
forcible sarcasm against Bolingbroke and Mallet ('), the Doctor exclaimed, “ Did I really say so ?” “Yes, Sir.” He replied, “ I am heartily glad of it.”
313. Capel. “ You knew Mr. Capel (o), Dr. Johnson?” “ Yes, Sir ;
I have seen him at Garrick's." “And what think you of his abilities ?" "
They are just sufficient, Sir, to enable him to select the black hairs from the white ones, for the use of the periwig makers. Were he and I to count the grains in a bushel of wheat for a wager, he would certainly prove the winner.”
314. Collins and Steevens. — Mrs. Johnson's Death.
When one Collins, a sleep-compelling divine of Hertfordshire, with the assistance of counsellor Hardinge, published a heavy half-crown pamphlet against Mr. Steevens, Garrick asked the Doctor, what he thought of this attack on his coadjutor. “ I regard Collins's performance,” replied Johnson, “as a great gun without
powder or shot.” * When the same Collins afterwards appeared as editor of Capel's posthumous notes on Shakspeare, with a preface of his own, containing the following words,“ A sudden and most severe stroke of affliction has left my mind too much distracted to be capable of engaging in such a task (that of a further attack on Mr. Steevens), though I am prompted to it by inclination as well as duty,"
the Doctor asked to what misfortune the foregoing words referred. Being told that the critic had lost his wife, Johnson added, “I believe that the loss of teeth may deprave the voice of a singer, and that lameness will impede the motions of a dancing master, but I have not yet been taught to regard the death of a wife as the grave of literary exertions. When my dear Mrs. Johnson expired, I sought relief in my studies, and strove to lose the recollection of her in the toils of literature. Perhaps, however, I wrong the feelings of this poor fellow. His
(1) (See No. 576.]
(2) The annotator of Shakspeare.