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BY JOHN NICHOLS, ESQ. (1)
564. “ Lives of the Poets.” My intimate acquaintance with that bright luminary of literature, Johnson, did not commence till he was advanced in years ; but it happens to have fallen to my lot (and I confess that I am proud of it) to have been present at many interesting conversations in the latest periods of the life of this illustrious pattern of true piety. In the progress of his “Lives of the Poets,” I had the good fortune to conciliate his esteem, by several little services. Many of his short notes during the progress of that work are printed in the Gentleman's Magazine, and in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale he says, “I have finished the Life of Priorand now a fig for Mr. Nichols !” Our friendship, however, did not cease with the termination of those volumes.
565. Lichfield. Of his birth-place, Lichfield, Dr. Johnson always spoke with a laudable enthusiasm. “ Its inhabitants,” he said, “ were more orthodox in their religion, more pure in their language, and more polite in their manners, than any
other town in the kingdom ;” and he often lamented, that “no
(1) [From “ Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century,” in 9 vols. 8vo. -12-15.)
city of equal antiquity and worth had been so destitute of a native to record its fame and transmit its history to posterity.”
It is a
566. Roxana and Statira. Mr. Cradock informs me, that he once accompanied Dr. Johnson and Mr. Steevens to Marylebone Gardens, to see “ La Serva Padrona” performed. Mr. Steevens, being quite weary of the burletta, exclaimed, “ There is no plot; it is merely an old fellow cheated and deluded by his servant ; it is quite foolish and unnatural.” Johnson instantly replied, “Sir, it is not unnatural. scene that is acted in my family every day in my life.” This did not allude to the maid servant, however, so much, as to two distressed ladies, whom he generously supported in his house, who were always quarrelling. These ladies presided at Johnson's table by turns when there was company ; which, of course, would produce disputes. I ventured one day to say, Surely, Dr. Johnson, Roxana for this time should take place of Statira.” Sir,” replied the Doctor ; "but in my family, it has never been decided which is Roxana, and which is Statira."
567. Joseph Reed's Tragedy. It happened that I was in Bolt Court on the day when Mr. Henderson, the justly celebrated actor, was first introduced to Dr. Johnson ; and the conversation turning on dramatic subjects, Henderson asked the Doctor's opinion of “ Dido” and its author. Sir,” said Johnson, “ I never did the man an injury; yet he would read his tragedy to me.”
568. Samuel Boyse. The following particulars of the unfortunate Samuel Boyse I had from Dr. Johnson's own mouth :-“ By addressing himself to low vices, among which were gluttony and extravagance, Boyse rendered himself so contemptible and wretched, that he frequently was without the least subsistence for days together. After squandering away in a dirty
a dirty manner any money which he acquired, he has been known to pawn all his apparel.” Dr. Johnson once collected a sum of money to redeem his clothes, which in two days after were pawned again. “ This," said the Doctor, “was when my acquaintances were few, and most of them as poor as myself. The money was collected by shillings.”
569. Lauder's Forgery. On my showing Dr. Johnson Archdeacon Blackburne's “Remarks on the Life of Milton,” which were published in 1780, he wrote on the margin of p. 14., “ In the business of Lauder I was deceived; partly by thinking the man too frantic to be fraudulent.”
570. Dr. Heberden. Dr. Johnson being asked in his last illness, what physician he had sent for — “Dr. Heberden,” replied he, “ ultimum Romanorum, the last of our learned physicians."
571. Parliamentary Debates. On the morning of Dec. 7. 1784, only six days before his death, Dr. Johnson requested to see the editor of these anecdotes, from whom he had borrowed some of the early volunes of the Gentleman's Magazine, with a professed intention to point out the pieces which he had written in that collection. The books lay on the table, with many leaves doubled down, particularly those which contained'his share in the Parliamentary Debates ('); and such was the goodness of Johnson's heart, that he solemnly declared, that “the only part of his writings which then gave him any compunction, was his account of the debates in the Magazine ; but that at the time he wrote them he did not think he was imposing on the
(1) The plan of inserting a regular series of the Parliamentary Debates in the Gentleman's Magazine, was a project which Cave, the proprietor of that work, had long in contemplation before he adventured to put it in practice. At length, in July 1736, he boldly dared ; and a new era in politics, occasioned by the motion to remove the minister, Feb. 13.17 10-1, bringing on much warmer debates, Cave committed the care of this part of his monthly publication to Johnson.