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Shortly after Garrick's death, Dr. Johnson was told in a large company, “ You are recent from
Lives of the Poets ;'why not add your friend Garrick to the number?” ,
Johnson's answer was, “I do not like to be officious ; but if Mrs. Garrick will desire me to do it, I shall be very willing to pay that last tribute to the memory of the man I loved." This sentiment was conveyed to Mrs. Garrick, but no answer was ever received.
358. Character of Johnson. Alas ! I am not fit to paint his character ; nor is there need of it ; etiam mortuus loquitur ; every man, who can buy a book, has bought a BOSWELL. Johnson is known to all the reading world. I also knew him well, respected him highly, loved him sincerely : it was never my
chance to see him in those moments of moroseness and ill-humour which are imputed to him, perhaps with truth; for who would slander him? But I am not warranted by any experience of those humours to speak of him otherwise than of a friend, who always met me with kindness, and from whom I never separated without regret.
When I sought his company he had no capricious excuses for withholding it, but lent himself to every invitation with cordiality, and brought good-humour with him, that gave life to the circle he was in.
He presented himself always in his fashion of apparel : a brown coat with metal buttons, black waistcoat, and worsted stockings, with a flowing bob wig, was the style of his wardrobe ; but they were in perfectly good trim, and with the ladies, whom he generally met, he had nothing of the slovenly philosopher about him. He fed heartily, but not voraciously, and was extremely courteous in his commendations of any dish that pleased his palate : he suffered his next neighbour to squeeze the China oranges into his wine glass after dinner ; which else perchance had gone aside and trickled into his shoes; for the good man had neither straight sight nor steady nerves.
Who will say that Johnson would have been such a champion in literature - such a front-rank soldier in the fields of fame - if he had not been pressed into the service, and driven on to glory with the bayonet of sharp necessity pointed at his back ? If fortune had turned him into a field of clover, he would have laid down and rolled in it. The mere manual labour of writing would not have allowed his lassitude and love of ease to have taken the pen out of the inkhorn, unless the cravings of hunger had reminded him, that he must fill the sheet before he saw the table-cloth. He might, indeed, have knocked down Osborne for a blockhead, but he would not have knocked him down with a folio of his own writing. He would, perhaps, have been the dictator of a club, and wherever he sat down to conversation, there must have been that splash of strong bold thought about him, that we might still have had a collectanea after his death; but of prose I guess not much, of works of labour none, of fancy perhaps something more, especially of poetry, which, under favour, I conceive was not his tower of strength. I think we should have had his “ Rasselas” at all events; for he was likely enough to have written at Voltaire, and brought the question to the test, if infidelity is any aid to wit. An orator he must have been ; not improbably a parliamentarian, and, if such, certainly an oppositionist, for he preferred to talk against the tide. He would indubitably have been no member of the Whig Club, no partisan of Wilks, no friend of Hume, no believer in Macpherson : he would have put up prayers for early rising, and laid in bed all day, and, with the most active resolutions possible, been the most indolent mortal living. He was a good man by nature, a great man by genius; we are now to inquire what he was by compulsion.
Johnson's first style was naturally energetic; his middle style was turgid to a fault, his latter style was softened down and harmonised into periods, more tuneful and more intelligible. His execution was rapid, yet his mind was not easily provoked into exertion : the variety we find in his writings was not the variety of choice arising from the impulse of his
proper genius, but tasks imposed upon him by the dealers in ink, and contracts on his part submitted to in satisfaction of the pressing calls of hungry want; for, painful as it is to relate, I have heard the illustrious scholar assert (and he never varied from the truth of fact), that he subsisted himself for a considerable space of time upon
scanty pittance of four-pence halfpenny per day. The expanse of matter which Johnson had found room for in his intellectual storehouse, the correctness with which he had assorted it, and the readiness with which he could turn to any article that he wanted to make present use of, were the properties in him which I contemplated with the most admiration. Some have called him savage; they were only so far right in the resemblance, as that, like the savage, he never came into suspicious com
in his hand and his bow and quiver at his back. In conclusion, Johnson's era was
was not wanting in men to be distinguished for their talents; yet if one was to be selected out as the first great literary character of the time, I believe all voices would concur in naming him. Let me here insert the following lines, descriptive of his character :
pany without his
ON SAMUEL JOHNSON,
Herculean strength and a Stentorian voice,
ANECDOTES BY MR. CRADOCK. (')
359. “ (Edipus.” The first time I dined in company with Dr. Johnson was at T. Davies's, Russell Street, Covent Garden, as mentioned by Mr. Boswell, in his Life of John
On mentioning my engagement previously to a friend, he said, “Do you wish to be well with Johnson ?” “ To be sure, Sir," I replied, “or I should not have taken any pains to have been introduced into his company." « Why then, Sir,” says he, “let me offer
you some advice : you must not leave him soon after dinner to go to the play ; during dinner he will be rather silent it is a very serious business with him ; between six and seven he will look about him, and see who remains, and, if he then at all likes the party, he will be very civil and communicative.” He exactly fulfilled what my friend had prophesied. Mrs. Davies did the honours of the table : she was a favourite with Johnson, who sat betwixt her and Dr. Harwood; I sat next, below, to Mr. Boswell opposite. Nobody could bring Johnson forward more civilly or properly than Davies. The subject of conver
(1) (From Mr. Cradock's Memoirs. These anecdotes are certainly very loose and inaccurate ; but, as they have been republished in the Gentleman's Magazine for January, 1828, " with some corrections and additions from the author's MS.," I think it right to notice them ; and, as they profess to be there enlarged from the MS., I copy this latter version, which differs, in some points, from the Memoirs. c.]