Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

not, as heretofore, be in his presence only for her own gratification, without any reciprocity of notice.

The morning was passed in the library, and to Doctor Burney and his daughter was passed deliciously : Mrs. Thrale, much amused by the presence of two persons so peculiarly situated, put forth her utmost powers of pleasing. “I wish you had been with us last night, Dr. Burney,” she said ; " for thinking of what would happen to-day, we could talk of nothing in the world but a certain sweet book ; and Dr. Johnson was so full of it, that he quite astonished us. He has got those incomparable Brangtons quite by heart, and he recited scene after scene of their squabbles, and selfishness, and forwardness, till he quite shook his sides with laughter. But his greatest favourite is the Holborn beau, as he calls Mr. Smith. Such a fine varnish, he says, of low politeness ! such struggles to appear the fine gentleman! such a determination to be genteel ! and, above all, such profound devotion to the ladies,— while openly declaring his distaste to matrimony ! All this Mr. Johnson pointed out with so much comicality of sport, that, at last, he got into such high spirits, that he set about personating Mr. Smith himself. We all thought we must have died no other death than that of suffocation, in seeing Dr. Johnson handing about any thing he could catch, or snatch at, and making smirking bows, saying he was all for the ladies, - every thing that was agreeable to the ladies, &c. &c., “except,” says he, “ going to church with them : and as to that, though marriage, to be sure, is all in all to the ladies, marriage to a man — is the devil !” And then he pursued his personifications of his Holborn beau, till he brought him to what Mr. Johnson calls his climax ; which is his meeting with Sir Clement Willoughby at Madame Duval's, where a blow is given at once to his self-sufficiency, by the surprise and confusion of seeing himself so distanced ; and the hopeless envy with which he looks up to Sir Clement, as to a meteor such as he himself had hitherto been looked up to at Snow Hill, that give a finishing touch to his portrait. And all this comic humour of character, he says, owes its effect to contrast ; for without Lord Orville, and Mr. Villars, and that melancholy and gentleman-like half-starved Scotchman, poor Macartney, the Brangtons, and the Duvals, would be less than nothing ; for vulgarity, in its own unshadowed glare, is only disgusting.”

423. Introduction to Johnson.

"No,"

When at last we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and myself sit on each side of her. I said, I hoped I did not take the place of Dr. Johnson ; for, to my great consternation, he did not even yet appear, and I began to apprehend he meant to abscond. answered Mrs. Thrale; “ he will sit next to you, — and that, I am sure, will give him great pleasure.”

Soon after we were all marshalled, the great man entered. Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him with an emphasis upon my name that rather frightened me, for it seemed like a call for some compliment. But he made me a bow the most formal, almost solemn, in utter silence, and with his eyes bent downwards. I felt relieved by this distance, for I thought he had forgotten, for the present at least, both the favoured little book and the invited little scribbler ; and I therefore began to answer the perpetual addresses to me of Mrs. Thrale with rather more ease. But by the time I was thus recovered from my panic, Dr. Johnson asked my father what was the composition of some little pies on his side of the table ; and, while my father was endeavouring to make it out, Mrs. Thrale said, “Nothing but mutton, Mr. Johnson, so I don't ask you to eat such poor patties, because I know you despise them.”

“ No, Madam, no !” cried Dr. Johnson, “I despise nothing that is good of its sort. But I am too proud now (smiling] to eat mutton pies. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!” “Miss Burney,” cried Mrs. Thrale, laughing, “you must take great care of your heart, if Mr. Johnson attacks it ; for I assure you he is not often successless!”

- What's that you say, Madam?” cried the Doctor ; “are you making mischief between the young lady and me already ?”

A little while afterwards, he drank Miss Thrale's health and mine together, in a bumper of lemonade; and then added, “It is a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies to be well, without wishing them to become old women !” “If the pleasures of longevity were not gradual,” said my father, “if we were to light upon them by a jump or a skip, we should be cruelly at a loss how to give them welcome.” “ But some people,” said Mr. Seward, “are young and old at the same time; for they wear so well, that they never look old.” “No, Sir, no !cried the Doctor ; “that never yet was, and never will be. You might as well say they were at the same time tall and

Though I recollect an epitaph — I forget upon whom to that

purpose :

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

My father then mentioned Mr. Garrick's epilogue to “ Bonduca,” which Dr. Johnson called a miserable performance; and which every body agreed to be the worst that Mr. Garrick had ever written. “ And yet,” said Mr. Seward, “it has been very much admired. But it is in praise of English valour, and so, I suppose, the subject made it popular.” “I do not know, Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “any thing about the subject, for I could not read till I came to any. I got through about half a dozen lines; but for subject, I could observe no other than

perpetual dulness. I do not know what is the matter with David. I am afraid he is becoming superannuated ; for his prologues and epilogues used to be incomparable.”

“ Nothing is so fatiguing,” said Mrs. Thrale, “ as the life of a wit. Garrick and Wilkes are the oldest men of their age that I know ; for they have both worn themselves out prematurely by being eternally on the rack to entertain others.” David, Madam," said the Doctor, “ looks much older than he is, because his face has had double the business of any other man's. It is never at rest. When he speaks one minute, he has quite a different countenance to that which he assumes the next. I do not believe he ever kept the same look for half an hour together in the whole course of his life. And such a perpetual play of the muscles must certainly wear a man's face out before his time.”

While I was cordially laughing at this idea, the Doctor, who had probably observed in me some little uneasy trepidation, and now, I suppose, concluded me restored to my usual state, suddenly, though very ceremoniously, as if to begin some acquaintance with me, requested that I would help him to some brocoli. This I did; but when he took it, he put on a face of humorous discontent, and said, “Only this, Madam? You would not have helped Mr. Macartney so parsimoniously!”

He affected to utter this in a whisper ; but to see him directly address me, caught the attention of all the table, and every one smiled, though in silence ; while I felt so surprised and so foolish, so pleased and so ashamed, that I hardly knew whether he meant my Mr. Macartney, or spoke at random of some other. This, however, he soon put beyond all doubt, by very composedly adding, while contemptuously regarding my imputed parsimony on his plate : “Mr. Macartney, it is true, might have most claim to liberality, poor fellow! for how, as Tom Brangton shrewdly remarks, should he ever have known what a good dinner was, if he had never come to England ?” Perceiving, I suppose — for it could not be very difficult to discern — the commotion into which this explication put me; and the stifled disposition to a contagious laugh, which was suppressed, not to add to my embarrassment; he quickly, but quietly, went on to a general discourse upon Scotland, descriptive and political.

From Scotland, the talk fell, but I cannot tell how, upon some friend of Dr. Johnson's, of whom I did not catch the name; so I will call him Mr. Three Stars,

;

of whom Mr. Seward related some burlesque anecdotes, from which Mr. *** was warmly vindicated by the Doctor. “ Better say no more, Mr. Seward,” cried Mrs. Thrale, “ for Mr. *** is one of the persons that Mr. Johnson will suffer no one to abuse but himself. Garrick

* * *

وو

As to

非 * * *

is another : for if any creature but himself says a word against Garrick, Mr. Johnson will brow-beat him in a moment.” “Why, Madam, as to David,” answered the Doctor, very calmly, “it is only because they do not know when to abuse and when to praise him ; and I will allow no man to speak any ill of David, that he does not deserve.

- why really I believe him to be an honest man, too, at the bottom : but, to be sure, he is rather penurious ; and he is somewhat mean ; and it must be owned he has some degree of brutality ; and is not without a tendency to savageness, that cannot well be defended.”

We all laughed, as he could not help doing himself, at such a curious mode of taking up his friend's justification. And he then related a trait of another friend who had belonged to some club (') that the Doctor frequented, who, after the first or second night of his admission, desired, as he ate no supper, to be excused paying his share for the collation. “And was he excused, Sir?” cried my father. “ Yes, Sir; and very readily. No man is angry with another for being inferior to himself. We all admitted his plea publicly — for the gratification of scorning him privately! For my own part, I was fool enough to constantly pay my share for the wine, which I never tasted. But my poor friend Sir John, it cannot well be denied, was but an unclubbable man." How delighted was I to hear this master of languages, this awful, this dreaded Lexiphanes, thus sportively and gaily coin burlesque words in social comicality !

I don't know whether he deigned to watch me, but I caught a glance of his eye that seemed to show pleasure in perceiving my surprise and diversion ; for with increased glee of manner he proceeded : — “ This reminds me of a gentleman and lady with whom I once travelled. I suppose I must call them gentleman and lady, according to form, because they travelled in their own coach and four horses. But, at the first inn where we stopped to water the cattle, the lady called to a waiter for – a pint of

(1) At the date of this letter, I knew not that the club to which Dr. Johnson alluded was that which was denominated his own, - or The Literary Club.

« VorigeDoorgaan »