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In his colloquial intercourse, Johnson's compliments were studied, and therefore lost their effect : his head dipped lower; the semicircle in which it revolved was of greater extent; and his roar was deeper in its tone when he meant to be civil. His movement in reading, which he did with great rapidity, was humorously described after his death, by a lady, who said, that “ his head swung seconds."
The usual initial sentences of his conversation led some to imagine that to resemble him was as easy as to mimic him, and that, if they began with " Why, Sir,” or “I know no reason,
or “ If any man chooses to think,” or “ If you mean to say,” they must, of course, “talk John
That his style might be imitated, is true; and that its strong features made it easier to lay hold on it than on a milder style, no one will dispute.
553. The Economy of Bolt Court. What the economy of Dr. Johnson's house may have been under his wife's administration, I cannot tell; but, under Miss Williams's management, and indeed, afterwards, when he was overcome at the misery of those around him, it always exceeded my expectation, as far as the condition of the apartment into which I was admitted could enable me to judge. It was not, indeed, his study: amongst his books he probably might bring Magliabecchi to recollection ; but I saw him only in the decent drawing-room of a house, not inferior to others on the same local situation, and with stout old-fashioned mahogany table and chairs.
He was a liberal customer to his tailor, and I can remember that his linen was often a strong contrast to the colour of his hands.
554. Bennet Langton. On one occasion, I remember Johnson's departing from his gentleness towards Mr. Langton, and in his irritation showing some inconsistency of ideas. I went with my father to call in Bolt Court one Sunday after church. There were many persons in the Doctor's drawing-room, and among them Mr. Langton, who stood leaning against the post of an open door, undergoing what I suppose the giver of it would have called an “ objurgation.” Johnson, on my father's entrance, went back to explain the cause of this, which was no less than that Mr. Langton, in his opinion, ought then to have been far on his road into Lincolnshire, where he was informed his mother wasvery ill. Mr. Langton's pious affection for his mother could not be doubted, — she was a parent of whom any son might have been proud; but this was a feeling which never could have been brought into the question by her son : the inert spirit, backed, perhaps, by hope, and previous knowledge of the extent of similar attacks, prevailed ; and Johnson's arguments seemed hitherto rather to have riveted Mr. Langton's feet to the place where he was, than to have spurred him to quit it. My father, thus referred to, took up
the subject, and a few half-whispered sentences from him made Mr. Langton take his leave; but, as he was quitting the room, Johnson, with one of his howls, and his indescribable, but really pathetic slow semi-circuits of his head, said most energetically, “Do, Hawkins, teach Langton a little of the world.”
555. Mrs. Thrale. On the death of Mr. Thrale, it was concluded by some, that Johnson would marry the widow; by others, that he would entirely take up
his residence in her house ; which, resembling the situation of many other learned men, would have been nothing extraordinary or censurable. The path he would pursue was not evident; when, on a sudden, he came out again, and sought my father with kind eagerness.
. Calls were exchanged : he would now take his tea with us; and in one of those evening visits, which were the pleasantest periods of my knowledge of him, saying, when taking leave, that he was leaving London, Lady Hawkins said, “I
“I suppose you are going to Bath ?” Why should you suppose so ?" said he.
Because," said my
mother, « I hear Mrs. Thrale is gone there."
“ I know nothing of Mrs. Thrale," he roared out ; “ good evening to you. The state of affairs was soon made known.
556. Warburton. To Warburton's great powers he did full justice. He did not always, my brother says, agree with him in his notions ; “but,” said he, “ with all his errors, si non errasset, fecerat ille minus." Speaking of Warburton's contemptuous treatment of some one who presumed to differ from him, I heard him repeat with much glee the coarse expressions in which he had vented this feeling, that there could be no doubt of his hearty approbation.
557. Sex. He said, he doubted whether there ever was a man who was not gratified by being told that he was liked by the
558. Reading and Study. Speaking of reading and study, my younger brother heard him say, that he would not ask a man to give up his important interests for them, because it would not be fair ; but that, if any man would employ in reading that time which he would otherwise waste, he would answer for it, if he were a man of ordinary endowment, that he would make a sensible man. “ He might not,” said he, “make a Bentley, but he would be a sensible man.”
559. Thurlow.—Burke. - Boswell. It may be said of Johnson, that he had a peculiar individual feeling of regard towards his many and various friends, and that he was to each what I might call the indenture or counterpart of what they were to him. My brother says, that any memoirs of his conversations with Lord Thurlow or Burke would be invaluable: to the former he acknowledged that he always “talked his best ;” and the latter would, by the force of his own powers, have tried those of Johnson to the utmost. But still the inquisitive world, that world whose inquisitiveness has tempted almost to sacrilege, would not have been satisfied without the minor communications of Boswell, though he sometimes sorely punctured his friend to get at what he wanted.
560. Complainers. It is greatly to the honour of Johnson, that he never accustomed himself to descant on the ingratitude of mankind, or to comment on the many causes he had to think harshly of the world. He said once to my youngest brother, “ I hate a complainer.” This hatred might preserve him from the habit.
561. Envy. - Dr. Taylor. Johnson was, with all his infirmities, bodily and mental, less of the thorough-bred irritabile genus of authors, than most of his compeers : he had no petty feelings of animosity, to be traced only to mean causes.
He said of some one, indeed, that he was “a good hater," as if he approved the feeling ; but I understand by the expression, that it was at least a justifiable, an honest and avowed aversion, that obtained this character for its possessor. But still more to his honour is it, that his irritability was not excited by the most common cause of mortification. He saw the companion of his studies and the witness of his poverty, Taylor, raised by the tide of human affairs to bloating affluence, and, I should presume,
with pretensions of every kind, far, very far inferior to his : yet I do not recollect having ever heard of a sigh excited by his disparity of lot. That he envied Garrick, while he loved and admired him, is true ; but it was under the pardonable feeling of jealousy, in seeing histrionic excellence so much more highly prized, than that which he knew himself to possess.
562. Reynolds's “ Discourses." On Johnson's death, Mr. Langton said to Sir John Hawkins, “ We shall now know whether he has or has not assisted Sir Joshua in his · Discourses ;'" but Johnson had assured Sir John, that his assistance had never exceeded the substitution of a word or two, in preference to what Sir Joshua had written.
563. “ Mr. James Boswell.” My father and Boswell grew a little acquainted ; and when the Life of their friend came out, Boswell showed himself very uneasy under an injury, which he was much embarrassed in defining. He called on my father, and being admitted, complained of the manner in which he was enrolled amongst Johnson's friends, which was as “ Mr. James Boswell of Auchinleck.” Where was the offence? It was one of those which a complainant hardly dares to embody in words : he would only repeat, “ Well
, but Mr. James Boswell ! surely, surely, Mr. James Boswell! !!” “ I know,” said my father, “Mr. Boswell, what you mean ; you would have had me say that Johnson undertook this tour with The Boswell.' He could not indeed absolutely covet this mode of proclamation ; he would perhaps have been content with “ the celebrated,” or “the well-known,” but he could not confess quite so much ; he therefore acquiesced in the amendment proposed, but he was forced to depart without any promise of correction in a subsequent edition.