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“ Notwithstanding all the pains that Dr. Farmer and I took to serve Dr. Percy, in regard to his Ancient Ballads,' he has left town for Ireland ('), without taking leave of either of us."
365. Roxana and Statira. Mr. Nichols, in his entertaining “ Literary Anecdotes," has justly remarked, that Johnson was not always that surly companion he was supposed to be, and gives as an instance rather an impertinent joke of mine about Alexander and his two queens, and Johnson's good-humoured reply, that “in his family it had never been ascertained which was Roxana and which was Statira ();” but I then had got experience, and pretty well knew when I might safely venture into the lion's mouth.
Baiting the Bear.” Admiral Walsingham, who sometimes resided at Windsor, and sometimes in Portugal Street, frequently boasted that he was the only man to bring together miscellaneous parties, and make them all agreeable ; and, indeed, there never before was so strange an assortment as I have occasionally met there. At one of his dinners, were the Duke of Cumberland (*), Dr. Johnson, Mr. Nairn, the optician, and Mr. Leoni, the singer : at another, Dr. Johnson, &c., and a young dashing officer, who determined, he whispered, to attack the old bear that we seemed all to stand in awe of. There was a good dinner, and during that important time Johnson was deaf to all impertinence. However, after the wine had passed rather freely, the young gentleman was resolved to bait him, and venture out a little further. “Now, Dr. Johnson, do not look so glum, but be a little gay and lively, like others : what would you give, old gentleman, to be as young and sprightly as I am?” “Why, Sir,” said he, « I think I would almost be content to be as foolish.”
(1) [See No. 310. Dr. Percy was made Bishop of Dromore in 1782.-C.) (2) Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Desmoulins. See No. 566.]
(3) (It is possible Dr. Johnson may have been acquainted with the Hon. Robert Boyle, who took the name of Walsingham ; but it is hardly possible that Dr. Johnson should have met the Duke of Cumberland at dinner without Mr. Boswell's having mentioned it. — C.)
367. Society. -- Late Hours. — Clubs. Johnson, it is well known, professed to recruit his acquaintance with younger persons, and, in his latter days, Î, with a few others, were more frequently honoured by his notice. At times he was very gloomy, and would exclaim, “Stay with me, for it is a comfort to me” — a comfort that any feeling mind would wish to administer to a man so kind, though at times so boisterous, when he seized your hand, and repeated, “Ay, Sir, but to die and go we know not where,” &c. — here his morbid melancholy prevailed, and Garrick never spoke so impressively to the heart. Yet, to see him in the evening (though he took nothing stronger than lemonade), a stranger would have concluded that our morning account was a fabrication. No hour was too late to keep him from the tyranny of his own gloomy thoughts. A gentleman venturing to say to Johnson, “ Sir, I wonder sometimes that you condescend so far as to attend a city club.” “Sir, the great chair of a full and pleasant club is, perhaps, the throne of human felicity.”
368. Lives of the Poets. I had not the honour to be at all intimate with Johnson till about the time he began to publish his Lives of the Poets; and how he got through that arduous labour is, in some measure, still a mystery to me: he must have been greatly assisted by booksellers. (') I had some time before lent him “ Euripides” with Milton's manuscript notes: this, though he did not minutely examine (see Joddrels “Euripides ”), yet he very handsomely returned it, and mentioned it in his Life of Milton. (3) In the course of conversation one day I dropped out to him, that Lord Harborough (3) (then the Rev.) was in possession of a
(1) [The original MS. is still extant, and it appears that he had very little assistance, and none at all from the booksellers. - C.]
(2) [" His • Euripides' is, by Mr. Cradock's kindness, now in my hands : the margin is sometimes noted, but I have found nothing remarkable.” – Life of Milton.-C.)
(3) [The Rev. Robert Sherrard, who became on the death of his elder brother, in 1770, fourth Earl of Harborough. — C.]
very valuable collection of manuscript poems, and that amongst them there were two or three in the handwriting of King James I. ; that they were bound up handsomely in folio, and were entitled “Sackville's Poems." These he solicited me to borrow for him, and Lord Harborough very kindly intrusted them to me for his perusal.
369. Harris's Hermes. - Tristram Shandy. Harris's Hermes was mentioned. I said, “ I think the book is too abstruse ; it is heavy.” “It is; but a work of that kind must be heavy." "A rather dull man of my acquaintance asked me,” said I, “to lend him some book to entertain him, and I offered him Harris's Hermes, and as I expected, from the title, he took it for a novel : when he returned it, I asked him how he liked it, and what he thought of it? • Why, to speak the truth,' says he, “I was not much diverted; I think all these imitations of Tristram Shandy fall far short of the original !”” This had its effect, and almost produced from Johnson a rhinoceros laugh.
370. A rude Speech. One of Dr. Johnson's rudest speeches was to a pompous gentleman coming out of Lichfield cathedral
, who said, “Dr. Johnson, we have had a most excellent discourse to-day!” “ That may be,” said Johnson ; “but, it is impossible that you should know it.”
Of his kindness to me during the last years of his most valuable life, I could enumerate many instances.
One slight circumstance, if any were wanting, would give an excellent proof of the goodness of his heart, and that to a person whom he found in distress. In such a case he was the very last man that would have given even the least momentary uneasiness to any one, had he been aware of it. The last time I saw him was just before I went to France. He said, with a deep sigh, “I wish I was going
you.” He had just then been disappointed of going to Italy. Of all men I ever knew, Dr. Johnson was the most instructive.