Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

out that gooseberries will grow there against a south wall but the skins are so tough, that it is death to the man who swallows one of them.'

606. Hunting. Being asked his opinion of hunting, he said, “ It was the labour of the savages of North America, but the amusement of the gentlemen of England.”

607. Mrs. Thrale's Marriage with Piozzi. When Johnson was told of Mrs. Thrale's marriage with Piozzi, the Italian singer, he was dumb with surprise for some moments ; at last, recovering himself, he exclaimed with great emotion, “ Varium et mutabile semper fæmina!”

608. Johnson's Dying Advice. Johnson was, in every sense of the word, a true and sincere believer of the Christian religion. Nor did he content himself with a silent belief of those great mysteries by which our salvation is principally effected, but by a pious and punctual discharge of all its duties and ceremonies. His last advice to his friends was upon this subject, and, like a second Socrates, though under sentence of death from his infirmities, their eternal welfare was his principal theme. To some he enjoined it with tears in his eyes, reminding them “it was the dying request of a friend, who had no other way of paying the large obligations he owed them but by this advice.” Others he pressed with arguments, setting before them, from the example of all religions, that sacrifices for sins were practised in a!l ages, and hence enforcing the belief of the Son of God sacrificing himself “to be a propitiation, not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

609. Johnson's Colloquial Eloquence. (') Johnson spoke as he wrote. He would take up a topic, and utter upon it a number of the “Rambler.” On a

(1) (Communicated to Dr. Robert Anderson by Sir Brooke Boothby; who frequently enjoyed the company of Johnson at Lichfield and Ashbourne.]

question, one day, at Viss Porter's, concerning the authority of a newspaper for some fact, he related, that a lady of his acquaintance implicitly believed every thing she read in the papers; and that, by way of curing her credulity, he fabricated a story of a battle between the Russians and Turks, then at war; and “ that it might,” he said, “ bear internal evidence of its futility, I laid the scene in an island at the conflux of the Boristhenes and the Danube ; rivers which run at the distance of a hundred leagues from each other. The lady, however, believed the story, and never forgave the deception ; the consequence of which was, that I lost an agreeable companion, and she was deprived of an innocent amusement. And he added, as an extraordinary circumstance, that the Russian ambassador sent in great haste to the printer to know from whence he had received the intelligence. Another time, at Dr. Taylor's, a few days after the death of the wife of the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, of Bradley, a woman of extraordinary sense, he described the eccentricities of the man and the woman, with a nicety of discrimination, and a force of language, equal to the best of his periodical essays.

610. Assertion and Argument. (') In Boswell's Life of Johnson mention is made of an observation of his respecting the manner in which argument ought to be rated. As Mr. Boswell has not recorded this with his usual precision, and as I was present at Mr. Hoole's at the time mentioned by Mr. Boswell, I shall here insert what passed, of which I have a perfect recollection. Mention having been made that counsel were to be heard at the bar of the House of Commons, one of the company at Mr. Hoole's asked Sir James Johnson if he intended to be present. He answered, that he believed he should not, because he paid little regard to the arguments of counsel at the bar of the House of Commons. 66 Wherefore do you pay little regard to their arguments, Sir?” said Dr. Johnson. “ Because,” replied Sir James, “they argue for their fee.” “What is it to you, Sir,” rejoined Dr. Johnson, “ what they argue for ? you have nothing to do

(1) [From Dr. John Moore's Life of Smollett. ]

with their motive, but you ought to weigh their argument. Sir, you seem to confound argument with assertion, but there is an essential distinction between them. Assertion is like an arrow shot from a long bow; the force with which it strikes depends on the strength of the arm that draws it. But argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force whether shot by a boy or a giant." The whole company was struck with the aptness and beauty of this illustration ; and one of them said, “That is, indeed, one of the most just and admirable illustrations that I ever heard in my life.” “ Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “the illustration is none of mine - you will find it in Bacon."

611. Utto.ceter- Expiatory Penance. ( ) During the last visit which the Doctor made to Lichfield, the friends with whom he was staying missed him one morning at the breakfast-table. On inquiring after him of the servants, they understood he had set off from Lichfield at a very early hour, without mentioning to any of the family whither he was going. The day passed without the return of the illustrious guest, and the party began to be very uneasy on his account, when, just before the supper-hour, the door opened, and the Doctor stalked into the room. A solemn silence of a few minutes ensued, nobody daring to inquire the cause of his absence, which was at length relieved by Johnson addressing the lady of the house in the following manner : “ Madam, I beg your pardon for the abruptness of my departure from your house this morning, but I was constrained to it by my conscience. Fifty years ago, Madam, on this day, I committed a breach of filial piety, which has ever since lain heavy on my mind, and has not till this day been expiated. My father, you recollect, was a bookseller, and had long been in the habit of attending Uttoxeter market, and opening a stall for the sale of his books during that day. Confined to his bed by indisposition, he requested me, this time fifty years ago, to visit the market, and attend the

(1) (From Warner's “ Tour through the Northern Counties of England," published in 1802.)

stall in his place. But, Madam, my pride prevented me from doing my duty, and I gave my father a refusal. To do away

the sin of this disobedience, I this day went in a postchaise to Uttoxeter, and going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head, and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had for. merly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the inclemency of the weather ; a penance by which I trust I have propitiated Heaven for this only instance, I believe, of contumacy towards my father.”

612. Nollekens's Bust of Johnson. (') When Dr. Johnson sat to Mr. Nollekens for his bust, he was very much displeased at the manner in which the head had been loaded with hair ; which the sculptor insisted upon, as it made him look more like an ancient poet. The sittings were not very favourable, which rather vexed the artist, who, upon opening the street door, a vulgarity he was addicted to, peevishly whined, “Now, Doctor, you did say you would give my bust half an hour before dinner, and the dinner has been waiting this long time.” To which the Doctor's reply was, “ Bow, wow, wow.”

The bust is a wonderfully fine one, and very like ; but certainly the sort of hair is objectionable ; having been modelled from the flowing locks of a sturdy Irish beggar, originally a street pavier, who, after he had sat an hour, refused to take a shilling ; stating that he could have made more by begging. 613. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale in Nollekens's Studio.

Mrs. Thrale one morning entered Nollekens's stulio, accompanied by Dr. Johnson, to see the bust of Lord Mansfield, when the sculptor vociferated, “I like your picture by Sir Joshua very much. He tells me it's for Thrale, a brewer, over the water : his wife's a sharp woman, one of the blue-stocking people.” Nolly, Nolly,” observed the Doctor, “I wish your maid would

(1) [This and the two following are from “ Nollekens and his Times, by John Thomas Sinith, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings in the British Museumn." 8vo. 1828.)

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »