« VorigeDoorgaan »
672. “ Vesuvius Cæsar.” I have heard (says Mr. W. E. Surtees) my grandmother, a daughter, by his first wife, of 'the Dean of Ossory (who married secondly Miss Charlotte Cotterell,) speak of Dr. Johnson, as having frequently seen him in her youth. On one occasion, probably about 1762-3, he spent a day or two in the country with her father, and went with the family to see the house of a rich merchant. The owner -all bows and smiles — seemed to exult in the opportunity of displaying his costly articles of virtù to his visitor, and, in going through their catalogue, observed, “ And this, Dr. Johnson, is Vesuvius Cæsar.” My grandmother, then but a girl, could not suppress a titter; when the Doctor turned round, and thus, alike to the discomfiture of the merchant and herself, sternly rebuked her aloud, “What is the child laughing at? Ignorance is a subject for pity, not for laughter."
673. Story-telling. (') Dr. Johnson, having had a general invitation from Lord Lansdowne to see Bow-wood, his Lordship's seat in Wiltshire, he accordingly made him a visit, in company with Cumming, the Quaker, a character at that time well known as the projector of the conquest of Senegal. They arrived about dinner-time, and were received with such respect and good-breeding, that the Doctor joined in the conversation with much pleasantry and good-humour. He told several stories of his acquaintance with literary characters, and in particular repeated the last part of his celebrated letter to Lord Chesterfield, desiring to be dismissed from all further patronage.
Whilst “ the feast of reason and the flow of soul” was thus enjoying, a gentleman of Lord Lansdowne's acquaintance from London happened to arrive; but being too late for dinner, his Lordship was making his apologies, and added, “ But you have lost a better thing than dinner, in not being here
(1) [This and the eight following are from the European Magazine, edited at the time by Isaac Reed, Esq.]
time enough to hear Dr. Johnson repeat his charming letter to Lord Chesterfield, though I dare say the Doctor will be kind enough to give it to us again.” “ Indeed, my Lord,” says the Doctor (who began to growl the moment the subject was mentioned), “ I will not : I told the story just for my own amusement, but I will not be dragged in as story-teller to a company.
674. Pomponius Gauricus. Dr. Johnson had planned a book on the model of Robinson Crusoe. Pomponius Gauricus, a learned Neapolitan, who had dabbled in alchemy, &c., suddenly disappeared in the year 1530, and was heard of no more. The supposed life of this man the Doctor had resolved to write." I will not,” said he, shipwreck my hero on an uninhabited island, but will carry him up to the summit of San Pelegrini, the highest of the Apennines ; where he shall be made his own biographer, passing his time among the goat-herds,” &c.
675. Character of Boswell. Boswell was a man of excellent natural parts, on which he had engrafted a great deal of general knowledge. His talents as a man of company were much heightened by his extreme cheerfulness and good nature. Mr. Burke said of him, that he had no merit in possessing that agreeable faculty, and that a man might as well assume to himself merit in possessing an excellent constitution. Mr. Boswell professed the Scotch and the English law ; but had never taken very great pains on the subject. His father, Lord Auchinleck, told him one day, that it would cost him more trouble to hide his ignorance in these professions, than to show his knowledge. This Mr. Boswell owned he had found to be true. Society was his idol; to that he sacrificed every thing : his eye glistened, and his countenance brightened up, when he saw the human face divine ; and that person must have been very fastidious indeed, who did not return him the same compliment when he came into a room. Of his Life of Johnson, who can say too much, or praise it too highly ? What is Plutarch's bio
graphy to his ? so minute, so appropriate, so dramatic ! “ How happy would the learned world have been,” said the present acute and elegantly minded Bishop of Here
“ had Pericles, Plato, or Socrates possessed such a friend and companion as Mr. Boswell was to Dr. Johnson ! ”
676. Johnson's Agility. A gentleman of Lichfield meeting the Doctor returning from a walk, inquired how far he had been ? The Doctor replied, he had gone round Mr. Levet's field (the place where the scholars play) in search of a rail that he used to jump over when a boy ; "and,” says the Doctor in a transport of joy, “I have been so fortunate as to find it. I stood,” said he, “gazing upon it some time with a degree of rapture, for it brought to my mind all my juvenile sports and pastimes, and at length I determined to try my skill and dexterity ; I laid aside my hat and wig, pulled off my coat, and leapt over it twice.” Thus the great Dr. Johnson, only three years before his death, was, without hat, wig, or coat, jumping over a rail that he had used to fly over when a school-boy.
Amongst those who were so intimate with Dr. Johnson as to have him occasionally an intimate in their families, it is a well-known fact, that he would frequently descend from the contemplation of subjects the most profound imaginable to the most childish playfulness. It was no uncommon thing to see him hop, step, and jump; he would often seat himself on the back of his chair, and more than once has been known to propose a race on some grassplat adapted to the purpose.
He was very intimate with and much attached to Mr. John Payne, once a bookseller in Paternoster Row, and afterwards Chief Accountant of the Bank. Mr. Payne was of a very diminutive appearance, and once when they were together on a visit with a friend at some distance from town, Johnson in a gaiety of humour proposed to run a race with Mr. Payne. The proposal was accepted ; but, before they had proceeded more than half the intended distance, Johnson caught his little adversary
(1) [The Rev. Dr. John Butler.]