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were immediately under their inspection, Dr. Johnson, I have thought, used to appear as if conscious of his unbecoming situation, or rather, I might say, suspicious that it was an unbecoming situation.
But it was observable, that he rather avoided the discovery of it; for when asked his opinion of the likeness of any portrait of a friend, he has generally evaded the question, and if obliged to examine it, he has held the picture most ridiculously, quite close to his eye, just as he held his book. But he was so unwilling to expose that defect, that he was much displeased with Sir Joshua, I remember, for drawing him with his book held in that manner, which, I believe, was the cause of that picture being left unfinished.” (')
336. Religion and Morality. — Good-breeding. On every occasion that had the least tendency to depreciate religion or morality, he totally disregarded all forms or rules of good-breeding, as utterly unworthy of the slightest consideration. But it must be confessed, that he sometimes suffered this noble principle to transgress its due bounds, and to extend even to those who were anywise connected with the person who had offended him.
337. Republicans. His treatment of Mr. Israel Wilkes (9) was mild in comparison of what a gentleman (3) met with from him one day at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, a barrister at law and a man of fashion, who, on discoursing with Dr. (then Mr.) Johnson on the laws and government of different nations (I remember particularly those of Venice), and happening to speak of them in terms of high approbation, “ Yes, Sir,” says Johnson, “ all republican rascals think as you do."
How the conversation ended I have forgot, it was so many years ago ; but that he made no apology
(1) [This, however, or a similar picture, was finished and engraved as the frontispiece of Murphy's edition of Dr. Johnson's works. — C.]
(2) [The brother of John Wilkes.] (3) Mr. Elliot. — Reynolds.
to the gentleman I am very sure, nor to any person present, for such an outrage against society.
338. Influence of Age. Of latter years he
grew much more companionable, and I have heard him say, that he knew himself to be so. “ In my younger days,” he would say, “ it is true I was much inclined to treat mankind with asperity and contempt; but I found it answered no good end. I thought it wiser and better to take the world as it goes. Besides, as I have advanced in life I have had more reason to be satisfied with it. Mankind have treated me with more kindness, and of course I have more kindness for them.
339. Influence of Fortune. In the latter part of his life, indeed, his circumstances were very different from what they were in the beginning. Before he had the pension, he literally dressed like a beggar (1); and from what I have been told, he as literally lived as such ; at least as to common conveniences in his apartments, wanting even a chair to sit on, particularly in his study, where a gentleman who frequently visited him whilst writing his Idlers constantly found him at his desk, sitting on one with three legs; and on rising from it, he remarked that Dr. Johnson never forgot its defect, but would either hold it in his hands or place it with great composure against some support, taking no notice of its imperfection to his visitor. Whether the visitor sat on a chair, or on a pile of folios (?), or how he sat, I never remember to have been told.
340. Ceremony to Ladies. He particularly piqued himself upon his nice observance of ceremonious punctilios towards ladies. A remarkable instance of this was his never suffering any lady to walk from his house to her carriage, through Bolt Court, unattended by himself to hand her into it (at least I have
(1) [See in Miss Hawkins's Anecdotes, No. 552., how different his appearance was after the pension. — C.)
(2) (See No. 295.)
reason to suppose it to be his general custom, from his constant performance of it to those with whom he was the most intimately acquainted); and if any obstacle prevented it from driving off, there he would stand by the door of it, and gather a mob around him ; indeed, they would begin to gather the moment he appeared handing the lady down the steps into Fleet Street. But to describe his appearance - his important air — that indeed cannot be described ; and his morning habiliments would excite the utmost astonishment in my reader, that a man in his senses could think of stepping outside his door in them, or even to be seen at home. Sometimes he exhibited himself at the distance of eight or ten doors from Bolt Court, to get at the carriage, to the no small diversion of the populace.
341. Johnson's Dress. - Miss Cotterell. His best dress was, in his early times, so very mean, that one afternoon as he was following some ladies up stairs, on a visit to a lady of fashion (Miss Cotterell) (), the servant, not knowing him, suddenly seized him by the shouls der, and exclaimed, “ Where are you going ?” striving at the same time to drag him back; but a gentleman (9) who was a few steps behind prevented her from doing or saying more, and Mr. Johnson growled all the way up stairs, as well he might. He seemed much chagrined and discomposed. Unluckily, whilst in this humour, a lady of high rank (3) happening to call upon Miss Cotterell, he was most violently offended with her for not introducing him to her
(1) [His acquaintance with this lady and her sister, who married Dean Lewis, continued to the last days of his life. He says in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, “ I know not whether I told you that my old friend Mrs. Cotterell, now no longer Miss, has called to see me. Mrs. Lewis is not well. — April 26. 1784."
It is gratifying to observe how many of Johnson's earliest friends continued so to the last. — C.]
(2) (Sir Joshua (then Mr.) Reynolds. — C.]
(3) Lady Fitzroy. Miss REYNOLDS. -- [See Boswell, vol. i. p. 228., where this story is told of the Duchess of Argyll and another lady of high rank : that other lady was no doubt the person erroneously designated by Miss Reynolds as Lady Filsroy. She probably was Elizabeth Cosby, wife of Lord Augustus Fitzroy, and grandmother of the present Duke of Grafton. — C.]
ladyship, and still more so for her seeming to show more attention to her than to him. After sitting some time silent, meditating how to down Miss Cotterell, he addressed himself to Mr. Reynolds, who sat next him, and, after a few introductory words, with a loud voice said, “ I wonder which of us two could get most money at his trade in one week, were we to work hard at it from morning till night.” I don't remember the answer ; but I know that the lady, rising soon after, went away without knowing what trade they were of. She might probably suspect Mr. Johnson to be a poor author by his dress; and because the trade of neither a blacksmith, a porter, or a chairman, which she probably would have taken him for in the street, was not quite so suitable to the place she saw him in. This incident he used to mention with great glee how he had downed Miss Cotterell, though at the same time he professed a great friendship and esteem for that lady.
342. Dr. Barnard. Forty-five." It is certain, for such kind of mortifications he never expressed any concern ; but on other occasions he has shown an amiable sorrow (') for the offence he has given, particularly if it seemed to involve the slightest disrespect to the church or to its ministers.
I shall never forget with what regret he spoke of the rude reply he made to Dr. Barnard, on his saying that men never improved after the age of forty-five.
6. That's not true, Sir,” said Johnson.
“ You, who perhaps are forty-eight, may still improve, if you will try : I wish you would set about it; and I am afraid,” he added, “ there is great room for it ;” and this was said in rather a large party of ladies and gentlemen at dinner. Soon after the ladies withdrew from the table, Dr. Johnson followed them, and sitting down by the lady of the house, he said, • I am very sorry for having spoken so rudely to the
(1) [“ He repented just as certainly, however, if he had been led to praise any person or thing by accident more than he thought it deserved ; and was on such occasions comically earnest to destroy the praise or pleasure he had unintentionally given.” — Prozzi.]
dean." « You
“ Yes,” he said, “it was highly improper to speak in that style to a minister of the Gospel, and I am the more hurt on reflecting with what mild dignity he received it.” When the dean came up into the drawing-room, Dr. Johnson immediately rose from his seat, and made him sit on the sofa by him, and with such a beseeching look for pardon, and with such fond gestures — literally smoothing down his arms and knees — tokens of penitence, which were so graciously received by the dean as to make Dr. Johnson very happy, and not a little added to the esteem and respect he had previously entertained for his character.
The next morning the dean called on Sir Joshua Reynolds with the following verses :
“ I lately thought no man alive
And ventured to assert it.
That none could controvert it.
“ 'No, Sir,' says Johnson, 't is not so;
An instance, if you doubt it.
I wish you 'd set about it.'
Encouraged thus to mend my faults,
Which way I could apply it ;
And wit- I could not buy it,
“ Then come, my friends, and try your skill;
(My books are at a distance);
you I'll live and learn, and then