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105. Johnson's Pride and Severity. When I relate these various instances of contemptuous behaviour shown to a variety of people, I am aware that those who till now have heard little of Mr. Johnson will here cry out against his pride and his severity; yet I have been as careful as I could to tell them, that all he did was gentle, if all he said was rough. Had I given anecdotes of his actions instead of his words, we should, I am sure, have had nothing on record but acts of virtue differently modified, as different occasions called that virtue forth : and among all the nine biographical essays or performances which I have heard will at last be written about dear Dr. Johnson, no mean or wretched, no wicked or even slightly culpable, action will, I trust, be found, to produce and put in the scale against a life of seventy years, spent in the uniform practice of every moral excellence and every Christian perfection, save humility alone, says a critic; but that, I think, must be excepted. He was not, however, wanting even in that to a degree seldom attained by man, when the duties of piety or charity called it forth.
Lowly towards God, and docile towards the church; implicit in his belief of the gospel, and ever respectful towards the people appointed to preach it; tender of the unhappy, and affectionate to the poor, let no one hastily condemn as proud, a character which may perhaps somewhat justly be censured as arrogant. It must however be remembered again, that even this arrogance was never shown without some intention, immediate or remote, of mending some fault or conveying some instruction. Had I meant to make a panegyric on Mr. Johnson's wellknown excellencies, I should have told his deeds only, not his words — sincerely protesting, that as I never saw him once do a wrong thing, so we had accustomed ourselves to look upon him almost as an excepted being; and I should as much have expected injustice from Socrates, or impiety from Pascal, as the slightest deviation from truth and goodness in any transaction one might be engaged in with Samuel Johnson.
106. Veracity.-- Clarissa.- Amelia. His attention to veracity was without equal or example: and when I mentioned Clarissa as a perfect character ; “On the contrary," said he, “you may observe there is always something which she prefers to truth. Fielding's Amelia was the most pleasing heroine of all the romances,” he said; “but that vile broken nose, never cured, ruined the sale of perhaps the only book, which, being printed off betimes one morning, a new edition was called for before night.”
107. Lucy Porter.— Contradiction. His wife's daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter of Litchfield, whose veneration for his person and character has ever been the greatest possible, being opposed one day in conversation by a clergyman who came often to her house, and feeling somewhat offended, cried out suddenly, “ Why, Mr. Pearson,” said she, “
you are just like Dr. Johnson, I think : I do not mean that you are a man of the greatest capacity in all the world like Dr. Johnson, but that you contradict one every word one speaks, just like him.” Mr. Johnson told me the story: he was present at the giving of the reproof. It was, however, observable that with all his odd severity, he could not keep even indifferent people from teasing him with unaccountable confessions of silly conduct, which one would think they would scarcely have had inclination to reveal even to their tenderest and most intimate companions ; and it was from these unaccountable volunteers in sincerity, that he learned to warn the world against follies little known, and seldom thought on by other moralists.
108. Vows. Much of his eloquence, and much of his logic, have I heard him use to prevent men from making vows on trivial occasion ; and when he saw a person oddly perplexed about a slight difficulty, “ Let the man alone,” he would say, “and torment him no more about it: there is a vow in the case, I am convinced ; but is it not very
strange, that people should be neither afraid nor ashamed of bringing in God Almighty thus at every turn between themselves and their dinner?” When I asked what ground he had for such imaginations, he informed me, that “a young lady once told him in confidence, that she could never persuade herself to be dressed against the bell rung for dinner, till she had made a vow to Heaven, that she would never more be absent from the family meals.”
109. Scruples of Conscience. The strangest applications in the world were certainly made from time to time towards Mr. Johnson ; who by that means had an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, and could, if he pleased, tell the most astonishing stories of human folly and human weakness, that ever were confided to any man not a confessor by profession.
One day when he was in a humour to record some of them, he told us the following tale : “A person,” said he, “had for these last five weeks often called at my door, but would not leave his name, or other message; but that he wished to speak with me. At last we met, and he told me that he was oppressed by scruples of conscience. I blamed him gently for not applying, as the rules of our church direct, to his parish priest or other discreet clergyman ; when, after some compliments on his part, he told me, that he was clerk to a very eminent trader, at whose warehouses much business consisted in packing goods in order to go abroad : that he was often tempted to take paper and packthread enough for his own use, and that he had indeed done so so often, that he could recollect no time when he ever had bought any for himself.
• But probably,' said I, your master was wholly indifferent with regard to such trivial emoluments ; you
had better ask for it at once, and so take your trifles with consent.' Oh, Sir !' replies the visitor,
my master bid me have as much as I pleased, and was half angry
when I talked to him about it.' Sir,' said I, tease me no more about such airy nothings; '- and was going on to be very angry, when I
Then pray, he said,
recollected that the fellow might be mad perhaps : so I asked him when he left the counting-house of an evening? * At seven o'clock, Sir.' * And when do you go to bed, Sir ?' • At twelve o'clock.' Then,' replied I, • I have at least learned thus much by my new acquaintance ;that five hours of the four-and-twenty unemployed are enough for a man to go mad in ; so I would advise you, Sir, to study algebra, if you are not an adept already in it: your head would get less muddy, and you will leave off tormenting your neighbours about paper and packthread, while we all live together in a world that is bursting with sin and sorrow.' It is perhaps needless to add, that this visitor came no more.”
110. Luck with Pupils. He had not much luck with two boys that he used to tell of, to whom he had taught the classics, “ so that,”
they were no incompetent or mean scholars :" it was necessary, however, that something more familiar should be known, and he bid them read the History of England. After a few months had elapsed, he asked them “ if they could recollect who first destroyed the monasteries in our island ?” One modestly replied, that he did not know; the other said, Jesus Christ.
111. “ Burke in a Bag." An Irish trader at our house one day heard Dr. Johnson launch out into very great and greatly deserved praises of Mr. Edmund Burke : delighted to find his countryman stood so high in the opinion of a man he had been told so much of, “Sir," said he, "give me leave to tell something of Mr. Burke now." We were all silent, and the honest Hibernian began to relate how Mr. Burke went to see the collieries in a distant province; and “ he would go down into the bowels of the earth in a bag, and he would examine every thing : he went in a bag, Sir, and ventured his health and his life for knowledge ; but he took care of his clothes, that they should not be spoiled, for he went down in a bag.” “Well, Sir,” says Mr. Johnson, goodhumouredly, “if our friend Mund should die in any of
these hazardous exploits, you and I would write his life and panegyric together; and your chapter of it should be entitled thus : · Burke in a Bag.'
He had always a very great personal regard and particular affection for Mr. Edmund Burke, as well as an esteem difficult for me to repeat, though for him only easy to express.
And when, at the end of the year 1774, the general election called us all different
and broke up the delightful society in which we had spent some time at Beaconsfield, Dr. Johnson shook the hospitable master of the house kindly by the hand, and said, “ Farewell, my dear Sir, and remember that I wish you all the success which ought to be wished you, which can possibly be wished you indeed — by an honest man.”
112. Sorrows of Vanity. When I have told how many follies Dr. Johnson knew of others, I must not omit to mention with how much fidelity he would always have kept them concealed, could they of whom he knew the absurdities have been contented, in the common phrase, to keep their own counsel. But, returning home one day from dining at the chaplain's table, he told me, that Dr. Goldsmith had given a very comical and unnecessarily exact recital there, of his own feelings when his play was hissed ; telling the company how he went indeed to the Literary Club at night, and chatted gaily among his friends, as if nothing had happened amiss ; that to impress them still more forcibly with an idea of his magnanimity, he even sang his favourite song
about an old woman tossed in a blanket seventeen times as high as the moon : “ but all this while I was suffering horrid tortures,” said he, “and verily believe that if I had put a bit into my mouth it would have strangled me on the spot, I was so excessively ill ; but I made more noise than usual to cover all that, and so they never perceived my not eating, nor, I believe, at all imaged to themselves the anguish of my heart : but when all were gone except Johnson here, I burst out a crying, and even swore that I would never write again. “ All which, Doctor,” says Mr. Johnson, amazed at his odd frankness,