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498. Mrs. Cobb. Poor Moll Cobb, as Dr. Johnson used to call her, is gone to her long home. Johnson spoke with uniform contempt both of the head and heart of this personage. “How should Moll Cobb be a wit ? ” would he exclaim, in a room full of company.
“ Cobb has read nothing, Cobb knows nothing; and where nothing has been put into the brain, nothing can come of it, to any purpose of rational entertainment."
- Then why is Dr. Johnson so often her visiter ? "O! I love Cobb - I love Moll Cobb for her impudence.” The despot was right in his premises, but his conclusion was erroneous. Little as had been put into Mrs. Cobb's brain, much of shrewd, biting, and humorous satire was native in the soil, and has often amused very superior minds to
499. Lucy Porter. After a gradual decay of a few months, we have lost dear Lucy Porter ('), the earliest object of Dr. Johnson's love. In youth, her fair clean complexion, bloom, and rustic prettiness, pleased the men. More than once she might have married advantageously; but as to the enamoured affections,
High Taurus' snow, fann'd by the eastern wind,
Was not more cold."
Spite of the accustomed petulance of her temper, and odd perverseness, since she had no malevolence, I regret her as a friendly creature, of intrinsic worth, with whom, from childhood, I had been intimate. She was one of those few beings who, from a sturdy singularity of temper, and some prominent good qualities of head and heart, was enabled, even in her days of scanty maintenance, to make society glad to receive and pet the grown spoiled child. Affluence was not hers till it came to her in her fortieth year, by the death of her eldest brother. From the
She died at
(1) (Miss Porter survived Dr. Johnson just thirteen months. Lichfield, in her seventy-first year, January 15. 1786.)
that period, she had boarded with Dr. Johnson's mother, who still kept that bookseller's shop by which her husband had supplied the scanty means of subsistence. Meantime, Lucy Porter kept the best company in our little city, but would make no engagement on market days, lest Granny, as she called Mrs. Johnson, should catch cold by serving in the shop. By these good traits in her character, were the most respectable inhabitants of Litchfield induced to bear, with kind smiles, her mulish obstinacy and perverse contradictions. Johnson himself set the example, and extended to her that compliant indulgence which he showed not to any other person. I have heard her scold him like a school-boy, for soiling her floor with his shoes; for she was clean as a Dutchwoman in her house, and exactly neat in her person. Dress, too, she loved in her odd way; but we will not assert that the Graces were her handmaids. Friendly, cordial, and cheerful to those she loved, she was more esteemed, more amusing, and more regretted, than many a polished character, over whose smooth, but insipid surface, the attention of those who have mind passes listless and uninterested.
500. Dinner at Dilly's – Jane Harry. The following are the minutes of that curious conversation (") which passed at Mr. Dilly's, on the 15th of April, 1778, in a literary party, formed by Dr. Johnson, Mr. Boswell, Dr. Mayo, and others, whom Mrs. Knowles and myself had been invited to meet, and in which Dr. Johnson and that lady disputed so earnestly. It commenced with Mrs. Knowles saying : — “I am to ask thy indulgence, Doctor, towards a gentle female to whom thou usedst to be kind, and who is uneasy in the loss of that kindness. Jenny Harry weeps at the consciousness that thou wilt not speak to her.” Johnson. “Madam, I hate the odious wench, and desire you will not talk to me about her.” KNOWLES. “Yet what is her crime, Doctor ?" Johnson. “ Apostacy, Madam ; apostacy from the community in which she was educated." KNOWLES. “
(1) (See Boswell, vol. iv. pp. 155, 157, n.]
the quitting one community for another cannot be a crime, if it is done from motives of conscience. Hadst thou been educated in the Romish church, I must suppose thou wouldst have abjured its errors, and that there would have been merit in the abjuration.” Johnson. “ Madam, if I had been educated in the Roman Catholic faith, I believe I should have questioned my right to quit the religion of my fathers; therefore, well may I hate the arrogance of a young wench, who sets herself up for a judge on theological points, and deserts the religion in whose bosom she was nurtured.” KNOWLES." She has not done so ; the name and the faith of Christians are not denied to the sectaries." JOHNSON. “ If the name is not, the common sense is.” KNOWLES. “I will not dispute this point with thee, Doctor, at least at present; it would carry us too far. Suppose it granted, that, in the mind of a young girl, the weaker arguments appeared the stronger, her want of better judgment should excite thy pity, not thy resentment.” JOHNSON. “ Madam, it has my anger and my contempt, and always will have them.” KNOWLES. « Consider, Doctor, she must be sincere. Consider what a noble fortune she has sacrificed.” Johnson. “Madam, madam, I have never taught myself to consider that the association of folly can extenuate guilt.” KNOWLES. “ Ah! Doctor, we cannot rationally suppose that the Diety will not pardon a defect in judgment (supposing it should prove one) in that breast where the consideration of serving Him, according to its idea, in spirit and truth, has been a preferable inducement to that of worldly interest.” Johnson. “Madam, I pretend not to set bounds to the mercy of the Deity ; but I hate the wench, and shall ever hate her. I hate all impudence; but the impudence of a chit’s apostacy I nauseate.” KNOWLES. “Jenny is a very gentle creature. She trembles to have offended her parent, though far removed from his presence; she grieves to have offended her guardian; and she is sorry to have offended Dr. Johnson, whom, she loved, admired, and honoured.” Johnson.“ Why, then, Madam, did she not consult the man whom she pretends to have loved, admired, and honoured, upon her Madam, you
new-fangled scruples? If she had looked up to that man with any degree of the respect she professes, she would have supposed his ability to judge of fit and right, at least equal to that of a raw wench just out of her primer.” KNOWLES. “Ah! Doctor, remember it was not from amongst the witty and the learned that Christ selected his disciples, and constituted the teachers of his precepts. Jenny thinks Dr. Johnson great and good ; but she also thinks the gospel demands and enjoins a simpler form of worship than that of the Established Church ; and that it is not in wit and eloquence to supersede the force of what appears to her a plain and regular system, which cancels all typical and mysterious ceremonies, as fruitless and even idolatrous; and ask only obedience to its injunctions, and the ingenuous homage of a devout heart." Johnson. “ The homage of a fool's head,
you will pester me about the ridiculous wench.” Knowles. “ If thou choosest to suppose her ridiculous, thou canst not deny that she has been religious, sincere, disinterested. Canst thou believe that the gate of Heaven will be shut to the tender and pious mind, whose first consideration has been that of apprehended duty ?” Johnson. Pho, pho, Madam, who says it will ?” KNOWLES. “ Then if Heaven shuts not its gate, shall man shut his heart? If the Deity accept the homage of such as sincerely serve him under every form of worship, Dr. Johnson and this humble girl will, it is to be hoped, meet in a blessed eternity, whither human animosity must not be carried.”
JOHNSON. “ Madam, I am not fond of meeting fools anywhere ; they are detestable company, and while it is in my power to avoid conversing with them, I certainly shall exert that power ; and so you may tell the odious wench, whom you have persuaded to think herself a saint, and of whom you will, I suppose, make a preacher ; but I shall take care she does not preach to me.” — The loud and angry tone in which he thundered out these replies to his calm and able antagonist, frightened us all, except Mrs. Knowles, who gently, not sarcastically, smiled at his injustice. Mr.
Boswell whispered me,
“I never saw this mighty lion so chafed before.” (1)
501. Boswell's “ Tour to the Hebrides." The general style of Boswell's Tour is somewhat too careless, and its egotism is ridiculous; but surely to the cold-hearted and fastidious reader only, will it seem ridiculous. The slipshod style is richly compensated by the palpable fidelity of the interesting anecdotes ; the egotism, by that good-humoured ingenuousness with which it is given, and by its unsuspecting confidence in the candour of the reader. The incidents, and characteristic traits of this valuable work, grapple our attention perforce. How strongly our imagination is impressed when the massive Being is presented to it, stalking, like a Greenland bear, over the barren Hebrides, roaming round the black rocks and lonely coasts, in a small boat, on rough seas, and saluting the celebrated Flora Macdonald in the Isle of Sky! (0)
(1) [“ Boswell's Life of Johnson is out. It contains the memorable conversation at Dilly's, but without that part of it of which I made minutes. This omission is surely unjustifiable, as I gave Mr. Boswell my memoir, and I am sure it contains nothing but what was said by Mrs. Knowles and the despot." SEWARD, May 19. 1791. – For Boswell's reasons for leaving out the lady's communication, see Life, vol. iv. p. 15.; and for Mrs. Knowles's own version of this conversation, see post, No. 616.)
(2) [" To see Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great champion of the English Tories, salute Miss Flora Macdonald in the Isle of Sky, was a striking sight; for though somewhat congenial in their notions, it was very improbable they should meet here."— Boswell. It is stated in the account of the rebellion, published under the title of Ascanius,' that she was the daughter of Mr. Macdonald, a tacksman or gentleman-farmer, of Melton, in South Uist, and was, in 1746, about twenty-four years old. It is also said, that her portrait was painted in London in 1747, for Commodore Smith, in whose ship she had been brought prisoner from Scotland. Dr. Johnson says of her to Mrs. Thrale, “She must then have been a very young lady; she is now not old ; of a pleasing person, and elegant behaviour. She told me that she thought herself honoured by my visit; and I am sure that whatever regard she bestowed on me was liberally repaid. • If thou likest her opinions, thou wilt praise her virtue.' She was carried to London, but dismissed without a trial, and came down with Malcolm Macleod, against whom sufficient evidence could not be procured. She and her husband are poor, and are going to try their fortune in America. Sic rerum volvitur orbis.” – Letters, i. 153. They did emigrate to America ; but returned to Sky, where she died on the 4th March, 1790, leaving a son, Colonel John Macdonald, now, as I am informed, residing at Exeter, and a daughter still alive in Sky, married to a Macleod, a distant relation of the Yacleod. - Croker. It is remarkable that this distinguished lady signed her name Flory, instead of the more classical orthography. Her marriage contract, which is in my possession, bears the name spelled Flory.- Walter Scott.