Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

people distinguished in some way, in any way I think for Rousseau and St. Austin would have been equally welcome to his table and to his kindness: the lady, however, was of another way of thinking ; her first care was to preserve her husband's soul from corruption ; her second, to keep his estate entire for their children : and I owed my good reception in the family to the idea she had entertained that I was fit company for Fitzherbert, whom I loved extremely They dare not,' said she, swear, and take other conversation-liberties before you.'I asked if her husband returned her regard ? “ He felt her influence too powerfully,” replied Mr. Johnson : “no man will be fond of what forces him daily to feel himself inferior. She stood at the door of her paradise in Derbyshire, like the angel with the flaming sword, to keep the devil at a distance. But she was not immortal, poor dear! she died, and her husband felt at once afflicted and released.” I inquired if she was handsome ? “ She would have been handsome for a queen,” replied the panegyrist; “ her beauty had more in it of majesty than of attraction, more of the dignity of virtue than the vivacity of wit.”

73. Miss Boothby. The friend of this lady, Miss Boothby, succeeded her in the management of Mr. Fitzherbert's family, and in the esteem of Dr. Johnson ; though he told me she pushed her piety to bigotry, her devotion to enthusiasm ; that she somewhat disqualified herself for the duties of this life, by her perpetual aspirations after the next : such was, however, the purity of her mind, he said, and such the graces of her manner, that Lord Lyttelton and he used to strive for her preference with an emulation that occasioned hourly disgust, and ended in lasting animosity. “ You may see,

said he to me, when the Poets' Lives were printed, “that dear Boothby is at my heart still." She would delight in that fellow Lyttelton's company though, all that I could do; and I cannot forgive even his memory the preference given by a mind like hers.”

1 (Notwithstanding the mention of the heart,” in this anecdote and in Johnson's letter to this lady in January 1755 (see Boswell, vol. viii. p. 28.), there seems no reason to suppose that (as Miss Seward asserted) this was really an affair of the heart “ an early attachment.” The other letters, of which Boswell says “ that their merit is not so apparent,” are written in still warmer terms of affection. Miss Boothby is a “sweet angel," and a “ dear angel," and his "heart is full of tenderness;" but when the whole series of letters are read, it will be seen that the friendship began late in the life of both parties; that it was wholly platonic, or, to speak more properly, spiritual ; and that the letters in which these very affectionate expressions occur were written when Johnson believed that Miss Boothby was dying. It must also be observed, that it is very unlikely that Johnson should seriously confess that he had been so unjust to Lord Lyttelton from any private pique ; and it seems, by his letters to Mrs. Thrale (April 1779), that he had no such feeling towards Lyttelton, and that he had applied to his lordship's friends to write the life; and finally, it is to be noted, Lord Lyttelton married his second lady in 1749, and Johnson does not seem to have known Miss Boothby till 1754. In short, I have no doubt, nor will any one who reads the letters and considers how little person intercourse there could have been between Miss Boothby and Dr. Johnson, that the whole story is a mistake, founded, perhaps, on some confusion between Miss Boothby and Miss Aston, and countenanced, it must be admitted, by the warm expressions of the letters. — C.]

I have heard Baretti say, that when this lady died, Dr. Johnson was almost distracted with his grief; and that the friends about him had much ado to calm the violence of his emotion.

74. Death of Mrs. Johnson. Dr. Taylor too related once to Mr. Thrale and me, that when he lost his wife, the negro Francis ran away, though in the middle of the night, to Westminster, to fetch Dr. Taylor to his master, who was all but wild with excess of sorrow, and scarce knew him when he arrived : after some minutes, however, the doctor proposed their going to prayers, as the only rational method of calming the disorder this misfortune had occasioned in both their spirits. Time, and resignation to the will of God, cured every breach in his heart before I made acquaintance with him, though he always persisted in saying he never rightly recovered the loss of his wife. It is in allusion to her that he records the observation of a female critic, as he calls her, in Gay's Life ; and the lady of great beauty and elegance, mentioned in the criticisms upon Pope's epitaphs, was Miss Molly Aston. spoken of in his strictures upon Young's poetry is the writer of these Anecdotes.

[ocr errors]

He was

75. Improvvisation. --- Metastasio. Mr. Johnson did indeed possess an almost Tuscan power of improvvisation : when he called to my daughter, who was consulting with a friend about a new gown and dressed hat she thought of wearing at an assembly, thus suddenly, while she hoped he was not listening to their conversation,

“ Wear the gown, and wear the hat,

Snatch thy pleasures while they last ;
Hadst thou nine lives like a cat,

Soon those nine lives would be past.” It is impossible to deny to such little sallies the power of the Florentines, who do not permit their verses to be ever written down (though they often deserve it), because, as they express it, cosi se perderebbi la poca glória.

As for translations, we used to make him sometimes run off with one or two in a good humour. praising this song of Metastasio,

“ Deh, se piacermi vuoi,

Lascia i sospetti tuoi,
Non mi turbar conquesto

Molesto dubitar:
Chi ciecamente crede,
Impegna a serbar fede ;
Chi sempre inganno aspetta,

Alletta ad ingannar.”
“ Should you like it in English,” said he, “thus ?

Would you hope to gain my heart,
Bid your teasing doubts depart ;
He who blindly trusts, will find
Faith from every generous mind ;
He who still expects deceit,

Only teaches how to cheat.' Mr. Baretti coaxed him likewise one day at Streatham out of a translation of Emirena's speech to the false courtier Aquileius, and it is probably printed before now, as I think two or three people took copies; but perhaps it has slipped their memories.

Ah ! tu in corte invecchiasti, e giurerei
Che fra i pochi non sei tenace ancora

Dell'antica onestà: quando bisogna,
Saprai sereno in volto
Vezzeggiare un nemico; acciò vi cada,
Aprirgli innanzi un precipizio, e poi
Piangerne la caduta. Offrirti a tutti
E non esser che tuo ; di false lodi
Vestir le accuse, ed aggravar le colpe
Nel farne la difesa, ognor dal trono
I buoni allontanar ; d'ogni castigo
Lasciar l'odio allo scettro, e d'ogni dono
Il merito usurpar : nascosto
Sotto un zelo apparente un empio fine,
Ne fabbricar che sulle altrui rouine.”

Grown old in courts, thou art not surely one

Who keeps the rigid rules of ancient honour ;
Well skill'd to soothe a foe with looks of kindness,
To sink the fatal precipice before him,
And then lament his fall with seeming friendship :
Open to all, true only to thyself,
Thou know'st those arts which blast with envious praise,
Which aggravate a fault with feign'd excuses,
And drive discountenanced virtue from the throne :
That leave the blame of rigour to the prince,
And of his every gift usurp the merit;
That hide in seeming zeal a wicked purpose,
And only build upon another's ruin.”

These characters Dr. Johnson, however, did not delight in reading, or in hearing of: he always maintained that the world was not half as wicked as it was represented ; and he might very well continue in that opinion, as he resolutely drove from bim every story that could make him change it; and when Mr. Bickerstaff's flight confirmed the report of his guilt, and my husband said, in answer to Johnson's astonishment, that he had long been a suspected man: “ By those who look close to the ground, dirt will be seen, Sir,” was the lofty reply : “I hope I see things from a greater distance.” 76. Whining Wives. Sleepy-souled Wives. - Honey

suckle Wives. I pitied a friend before him, who had a whining wife that found every thing painful to her, and nothing pleasing.—“He does not know that she whimpers,

filled up.

says Johnson;

“ when a door has creaked for a fortnight together, you may observe — the master will scarcely give sixpence to get it oiled.”

Of another lady, more insipid than offensive, I once heard him say, “ She has some softness indeed, but so has a pillow.” And when one observed in reply, that her husband's fidelity and attachment were exemplary, notwithstanding this low account at which her perfections were rated — “ Why, Sir,” cries the Doctor, “ being married to those sleepy-souled women, is just like playing at cards for nothing: no passion is excited, and the time is

I do not, however, envy a fellow one of those honeysuckle wives for my part, as they are but creepers at best, and commonly destroy the tree they so tenderly cling about.”

77. Wales and Scotland. For a lady of quality, since dead, who received us at her husband's seat in Wales with less attention than he had long been accustomed to, he had a rougher denunciation : “ That woman,” cries Johnson, “is like sour small beer, the beverage of her table, and produce of the wretched country she lives in : like that, she could never have been a good thing, and even that bad thing is spoiled.” This was in the same vein of asperity, and I believe with something like the same provocation, that he observed of a Scotch lady, “ that she resembled a dead nettle; were she alive," said he, “she would sting."

Mr. Johnson's hatred of the Scotch is so well known, and so many of his bons mots expressive of that hatred have been already repeated in so many books and pamphlets, that 't is perhaps scarcely worth while to write down the conversation between him and a friend of that nation who always resides in London, and who at his return from the Hebrides asked him, with a firm tone of voice, what he thought of his country?. “ That it is a very vile country to be sure, Sir,” returned for answer Dr. Johnson. « Well, Sir !” replies the other, somewhat mortified, “ God made it." “Certainly he did,' answers Mr. Johnson again ; “but we must always re

« VorigeDoorgaan »