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must observe, that this obscurity (implying only his awkward uncouth appearance, his ignorance of the rules of politeness, &c.) would have gradually disappeared at a more advanced period, at least could have had no manner of influence to the prejudice of Dr. Johnson's character, had it not been associated with those corporeal defects above mentioned. But, unhappily, his untaught, uncivilised manner seemed to render every little indecorum or impropriety that he committed doubly indecorous and improper.
ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
BY MR. CUMBERLAND. (')
355. Johnson at the Tea-table. At the tea-table he had considerable demands upon his favourite beverage, and I remember when Sir Joshua Reynolds at my house reminded him that he had drunk eleven cups, he replied, “ Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, whyshould you number up my cups of tea?” And then laughing, in perfect good-humour he added, “Sir, I should have released the lady from any further trouble, if it had not been for your remark; but you have reminded me, that I want one of the dozen, and I must request Mrs. Cumberland to round up my number.”
number.” When he saw the readiness and complacency with which my wife obeyed his call, he turned a kind and cheerful look upon her, and said, “Madam, I must tell you for your comfort, you have escaped much better than a certain lady did awhile ago, upon whose patience I intruded greatly more than I have done on yours; but the lady asked me for no other purpose than to make a zany of me, and set me gabbling to a parcel of people I knew nothing of; so, Madam, I had my revenge of her ; for I swallowed five-and-twenty cups of her tea, and did not treat her with as many words.” I can only say my wife would have made tea
(1) (From Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, Esq., written by himself, 1807.]
for him as long as the New River could have supplied her with water.
It was on such occasions he was to be seen in his happiest moments, when, animated by the cheering attention of friends whom he liked, he would give full scope to those talents for narration in which I verily think he was unrivalled, both in the brilliancy of his wit, the flow of his humour, and the energy of his language. Anecdotes of times past, scenes of his own life, and characters of humorists, enthusiasts, crack-brained projectors, and a variety of strange beings that he had chanced upon, when detailed by him at length, and garnished with those episodical remarks, sometimes comic, sometimes grave, which he would throw in with infinite fertility of fancy, were a treat, which, though not always to be purchased by fiveand-twenty cups of tea, I have often had the happiness to enjoy for less than half the number.
He was easily led into topics : it was not easy to turn him from them; but who would wish it? If a man wanted to show himself off by getting up and riding upon him, he was sure to run restive and kick him off; you might as safely have backed Bucephalus, before Alexander had lunged him. Neither did he always like to be overfondled: when a certain gentleman out-acted his part in this way, he is said to have demanded of him, " What provokes your risibility, Sir ? Have I said any thing that you understand ? Then I ask pardon of the rest of the company.' But this is Henderson's anecdote of him, and I won't swear he did not make it himself. The following apology, however, I myself drew from him : when speaking of his Tour, I observed to him upon some passages, as rather too sharp upon a country and people who had entertained him so handsomely : “Do you think so, Cumbey ?” he replied ; " then I give you leave to say, and you may quote me for it, that there are more gentlemen in Scotland than there are shoes.”
356. “ She Stoops to Conquer. When Mr. Colman, then manager of Covent Garden theatre, protested against Goldsmith's last comedy, when
as yet he had not struck upon a name for it, Johnson stood forth in all his terrors as champion for the piece, and backed by us, his clients and retainers, demanded a fair trial. Colman again protested ; but, with that salvo for his own reputation, liberally lent his stage to one of the most eccentric productions that ever found its way to it, and “ She Stoops to Conquer” was put into rehearsal.
We were not over-sanguine of success, but perfectly determined to struggle hard for our author. We accordingly assembled our strength at the Shakspeare Tavern in a considerable body for an early dinner, where Samuel Johnson took the chair at the head of a long table, and was the life and soul of the corps : the poet took post silently by his side, with the Burkes, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Caleb Whitefoord, and a phalanx of North-British predetermined applauders under the banner of Major Mills, all good men and true. Our illustrious friend was in inimitable glee, and poor Goldsmith that day took all his raillery as patiently and complacently as my friend Boswell would have done any day, or every day of his life. In the mean time, we did not forget our duty ; and though we had a better comedy going on, in which Johnson was chief actor, we betook ourselves in good time to our separate and allotted posts, and waited the awful drawing up of the curtain. As our stations were preconcerted, so were our signals for plaudits arranged and determined upon, in a manner that gave every one his cue where to look for them, and how to follow them up
: We had amongst us a very worthy and efficient member, long since lost to his friends and the world at large, Adam Drummond, of amiable memory, who was gifted by nature with the most sonorous, and at the same time the most contagious laugh, that ever echoed from the human lungs. The neighing of the horse of the son of Hystaspes was a whisper to it; the whole thunder of the theatre could not drown it. This kind and ingenuous friend fairly forewarned us, that he knew no more when to give his fire than the cannon did that was planted on a battery. He desired therefore to have a flapper at his elbow, and I had the honour to be deputed to that office. I planted
him in an upper box, pretty nearly over the stage, in full view of the pit and galleries, and perfectly well situated to give the echo all its play through the hollows and recesses of the theatre.
The success of our maneuvres was complete. All eyes were upon Johnson, who sat in the front row of a side box, and when he laughed, every body thought themselves warranted to roar.
In the mean time, my friend Drummond followed signals with a rattle so irresistibly comic, that, when he had repeated it several times, the attention of the spectators was so engrossed by his person and performances, that the progress of the play seemed likely to become a secondary object, and I found it prudent to insinuate to him that he might halt his music without any prejudice to the author : but, alas ! it was now too late to rein him in; he had laughed upon my signal where he found no joke, and now unluckily he faneied that he found a joke in almost every thing that was said ; so that nothing in nature could be more mal-à-propos than some of his bursts every now and then were.
These were dangerous moments, for the pit began to take umbrage ; but we carried our play through, and triumphed not only over Colman's judgment, but our
357. Garrick and Johnson. Garrick was followed to the Abbey by a long extended train of friends, illustrious for their rank and genius. I saw old Samuel Johnson standing beside his grave, at the foot of Shakspeare's monument, and bathed in tears. A few succeeding years laid him in earth ; and though the marble shall preserve for ages the exact resemblance of his form and features, his own strong pen has pictured out a transcript of his mind, that shall outlive that and the very language which he laboured to perpetuate. Johnson's best days were dark; and only when his life was far in the decline, he enjoyed a gleam of fortune long withheld. Compare him with his countryman and contemporary last mentioned, and it will be one instance among many, that the man who only brings the muse's bantlings into the world has a better lot in it than he who has the credit of begetting them.