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member that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. Strahan; but God made hell.”
78. Story-telling.– Foote. — Hawkins Browne. Dr. Johnson did not, I think, much delight in that kind of conversation which consists in telling stories :
Every body,” said he, “tells stories of me, and I tell stories of nobody. I do not recollect," added he, “ that I have ever told you, that have been always favourites, above three stories; but I hope I do not play the old fool, and force people to hear uninteresting narratives, only because I once was diverted with them myself.”
He was not, however, an enemy to that sort of talk from the famous Mr. Foote, si whose happiness of manner in relating was such," he said, “as subdued arrogance and roused stupidity: His stories were truly like those of Biron in Love's Labour Lost,' so very attractive,
That aged ears play'd truant with his tales,
“ Of all conversers, however," added he, “the late Hawkins Browne was the most delightful with whom I ever was in company : his talk was at once so elegant, so apparently artless, so pure, and so pleasing, it seemed a perpetual stream of sentiment, enlivened by gaiety, and sparkling with images.
79. George Psalmanazar.- Sick-beds. When I asked Dr. Johnson, who was the best man he had ever known ? “ Psalmanazar," was the unexpected reply: he said, likewise, “that though a native of France, as his friend imagined, he possessed more of the English language than any one of the other foreigners who had separately fallen in his way. Though there was much esteem however, there was I believe but little confidence between them ; they conversed merely about general topics, religion and learning, of which both were undoubtedly stupendous examples; and, with regard to
true Christian perfection, I have heard Johnson say, “ that George Psalmanazar's piety, penitence, and virtue exceeded almost what we read as wonderful, even in the lives of saints.'
I forget in what year it was that this extraordinary person lived and died at a house in Old Street, where Mr. Johnson was witness to his talents and virtues, and to his final preference of the Church of England, after having studied, disgraced, and adorned so many modes of worship. The name he went by was not supposed by his friend to be that of his family, but all inquiries were vain : his reasons for concealing his original were penitentiary; he deserved no other name than that of the impostor, he said. That portion of the Universal History which was written by him does not seem to me to be composed with peculiar spirit, but all traces of the wit and the wanderer were probably worn out before he undertook the work. His pious and patient endurance of a tedious illness, ending in an exemplary death, confirmed the strong impression his merit had made upon the mind of Mr. Johnson. “ It is so very difficult, said he, “always for a sick man not to be a scoundrel. Oh! set the pillows soft, here is Mr. Grumbler o’coming: Ah! let no air in for the world, Mr. Grumbler will be here presently."
This perpetual preference is so offensive where the privileges of sickness are besides supported by wealth, and nourished by dependence, that one cannot much wonder that a rough mind is revolted by them. It was however at once comical and touchant" (as the French call it), to observe Mr. Johnson so habitually watchful against this sort of behaviour, that he was often ready to suspect himself of it; and when one asked him gently how he did, “ Ready to become a scoundrel, Madam, would commonly be the answer :
66 with a little more spoiling you will, I think, make me a complete rascal.”
80. Johnson and Goldsmith. Johnson made Goldsmith a comical answer one day, when seeming to repine at the success of Beattie's
“Essay on Truth,” — “ Here's such a stir," said he, “ about a fellow that has written one book, and I have written many."
“Ah, doctor,” says his friend, “there go two and forty sixpences you know to one guinea.”
They had spent an evening with Eton Graham' too; I remember hearing it was at some tavern. His heart was open, and he began inviting away ; told what he could do to make his college agreeable, and begged the visit might not be delayed. Goldsmith thanked him, and proposed setting out with Mr. Johnson for Buckinghamshire in a fortnight; “ Nay hold, Dr. Minor," says the other, “I did not invite you."
Many such mortifications arose in the course of their intimacy to be sure, but few more laughable than when the newspapers had tacked them together as the pedant and his flatterer in “ Love's Labour Lost.” Dr. Goldsmith came to his friend, fretting and foaming, and vowing vengeance against the printer, &c., till Mr. Johnson, tired of the bustle, and desirous to think of something else, cried out at last,“ Why, what would'st thou have, dear doctor ! who the plague is hurt with all this nonsense ? and how is a man the worse, I wonder, in his health, purse, or character, for being called Holofernes ?” do not know,” replies the other, “how you may relish being called Holofernes, but I do not like at least to play Goodman Dull."
81. Abuse and Flattery. - Hannah More. Dr. Johnson was famous for disregarding public abuse. When the people criticised and answered his pamphlets,
“Why now, these fellows are only advertising my book,” he would say ; “it is surely better a man should be abused than forgotten.” When Churchill nettled him however, it is certain he felt the sting, or that poet's works would hardly have been left out of the edition. But of that I have no right to decide : the booksellers, perhaps, did not put Churchill on their list. I know Mr. Johnson was exceedingly zealous to declare how very
little he had to do with the selection. Churchill's 1 [The Rev. George Graham, author of “ Telemachus, a Mask.”]
works, too, "might possibly be rejected by him upon a higher principle; the highest indeed, if he was inspired by the same laudable motive which made him reject every authority for a word in his dictionary, that could only be gleaned from writers dangerous to religion or morality : —“I would not,” said he, “ send people to look for words in a book, that by such a casual seizure of the mind might chance to mislead it for ever." sequence of this delicacy, Mrs. Montagu once observed, that were an angel to give the imprimatur, Dr. Johnson's works were among those very few which would not be Jessened by a line. That such praise, from such a lady, should delight him, is not strange; insensibility in a case like that, must have been the result alone of arrogance acting on stupidity.
Mr. Johnson had, indeed, no dislike to the commend. ations which he knew he deserved :
“ What signifies protesting so against flattery !” would he cry;
" when a person speaks well of one, it must be either true or false, you know; if true, let us rejoice in his good opinion ; if he lies, it is a proof at least that he loves more to please me, than to sit silent when he need say nothing."
That natural roughness of his manner, so often mentioned, would, notwithstanding the regularity of his notions, burst through them all from time to time ; and he once bade a very celebrated lady', who praised him with too much zeal perhaps, or perhaps too strong an emphasis (which always offended him), “ consider what her flattery was worth, before she choked him with it.” A few more winters passed in the talking world, showed him the value of that friend's commendations however ; and he was very sorry for the disgusting speech he made her.
82. Conversation without Effort. I used to think Mr. Johnson's determined preference of a cold monotonous talker over an emphatical and violent one, would make him quite a favourite among the men of ton, whose insensibility, or affectation of perpetual calmness,
1 [Hannah More. See Boswell, vol. vii. p. 137. ; and see also post, Nos. 451–472.]