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possibility to be pleased, and that is false dignity indeed which is content to depend upon others.”
137. Conversation. The saying of the old philosopher, who observes, that “ he who wants least is most like the gods, who want nothing," was a favourite sentence with Dr. Johnson ; who on his own part required less attendance, sick or well, than ever I saw any human creature. Conversation was all he required to make him happy ; and when he would have tea made at two o'clock in the morning, it was only that there might be a certainty of detaining his companions round him. On that principle it was that he preferred winter to summer, when the heat of the weather gave people an excuse to stroll about, and walk for pleasure in the shade, while he wished to sit still on a chair, and chat day after day, till somebody proposed a drive in the coach ; and that was the most delicious moment of his life. “But the carriage must stop sometime," as he said, “and the people would come home at last ;” so his pleasure was of short duration.
138. Love of a Coach. I asked him why he doated on a coach so? and received for answer, that “in the first place, the company was shut in with him there ; and could not escape, as out of a room : in the next place, he heard all that was said in a carriage, where it was my turn to be deaf :” and very impatient was he at my occasional difficulty of hearing. On this account he wished to travel all over the world; for the very act of going forward was delightful to him, and he gave himself no concern about accidents, which he said never happened: nor did the running away of the horses on the edge of a precipice between Vernon and St. Denys in France convince him to the contrary ; “for nothing came of it,” he said, “ except that Mr. Thrale leaped out of the carriage into a chalk-pit, and then came up again, looking as white !" — when the truth was, all their lives were saved by the greatest providence ever exerted in favour of three human creatures ; and the part Mr. Thrale took from desperation was the likeliest thing in the world to produce broken limbs and death.
139. Fear. Fear was indeed a sensation to which Mr. Johnson was an utter stranger, excepting when some sudden apprehension seized him that he was going to die; and even then he kept all his wits about him, to express the most humble and pathetic petitions to the Almighty: and when the first paralytic stroke took his speech from him, he instantly set about composing a prayer in Latin, at once to deprecate God's mercy, to satisfy himself that his mental powers remained unimpaired, and to keep them in exercise, that they might not perish by permitted stagnation.
When one day he had at my house taken tincture of antimony instead of emetic wine, for a vomit, he was himself the person to direct us what to do for him, and managed with as much coolness and deliberation, as if he had been prescribing for an indifferent person.
Though on another occasion, when he had lamented in the most piercing terms his approaching dissolution, and conjured me solemnly to tell him what I thought, while Sir Richard Jebb was perpetually on the road to Streatham, and Mr. Johnson seemed to think himself neglected if the physician left him for an hour only, I made him a steady, but as I thought a very gentle harangue, in which I confirmed all that the doctor had been saying, how no present danger could be expected; but that his age and continued ill health must naturally accelerate the arrival of that hour which can be escaped by none : “ And this,' says Johnson, rising in great anger, “is the voice of female friendship, I suppose, when the hand of the hang. man would be softer!”
Another day, when he was ill, and exceedingly lowspirited, and persuaded that death was not far distant, I appeared before him in a dark-coloured gown, which his bad sight and worse apprehensions made him mistake for an iron-grey. Why do you delight,” said he, “thus to thicken the gloom of misery that surrounds me? Is not here sufficient accumulation of horror without antici. pated mourning ?” “ This is not mourning, Sir,” said Î, drawing the curtain, that the light might fall upon the silk, and show it was a purple mixed with green.“ Well, well,” replied he, changing his voice, “you little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way.
1 [See Boswell, Vol. VIII. p. 223.]
What I have not all insects gay colours ?” I relate these instances chiefly to show that the fears of death itself could not suppress his wit, his sagacity, or his temptation to sudden resentment.
140. Don Quixote. “ Alas, Madam !” said he, one day, “ how few books are there of which one ever can possibly arrive at the last page! Was there ever yet any thing written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress? After Homer's Iliad, Mr. Johnson confessed that the work of Cervantes was the greatest in the world, speaking of it I mean as a book of entertainment.
141. French Literature. Dr. Johnson was a great reader of French literature, and delighted exceedingly in Boileau's works. Molière I think he had hardly sufficient taste of; and he used to condemn me for preferring La Bruyère to the Duc de Rochefoucault, “who,” he said, “ was the only gentleman writer who wrote like a professed author.”
142. Life of a Sailor. - The life of a sailor was also a continued scene of danger and exertion,” he said, “and the manner in which time was spent on shipboard would make all who saw a cabin envy a gaol.” The roughness of the language used on board a man-of-war, where he passed a week on a visit to Captain Knight, disgusted him terribly. He asked an officer what some place was called, and received for answer, that it was where the loplolly man kept his loplolly: a reply, he considered, not unjustly, as disrespectful, gross, and ignorant ; for though I have been led to mention Dr. Johnson's tenderness towards poor people, I do not wish to mislead my readers, and make them think he had any delight in mean manners or coarse expressions.
143. Dress. Even dress itself, when it resembled that of the vulgar, offended him exceedingly; and when he had condemned me many times for not adorning my children with more show than I thought useful or elegant, I presented a little girl to him who came o’visiting one evening covered with shining ornaments, to see if he would approve of the appearance she made. When they were gone home,
Well, Sir,” said I, “ how did you like little miss ? I hope she was fine enough.” “ It was the finery of a beggar,” said he, “and you know it was ; she looked like a native of Cow Lane dressed up to be carried to Bartholomew fair."
His reprimand to another lady for crossing her little child's handkerchief before, and by that operation dragging down its head oddly and unintentionally, was on the same principle. “ It is the beggar's fear of cold,” said he, “ that prevails over such parents, and so they pull
the poor thing's head down, and give it the look of a baby that plays about Westminster Bridge, while the mother sits shivering in a niche.”
It was indeed astonishing how he could remark such minuteness with a sight so miserably imperfect; but no accidental position of a riband escaped him, so nice was his observation, and so rigorous his demands of propriety. When I went with him to Lichfield, and came down stairs to breakfast at the inn, my dress did not please him, and he made me alter it entirely before he would stir a step with us about the town, saying most satirical things concerning the appearance I made in a riding-habit; and adding, “'T is very strange that such eyes as yours cannot discern propriety of dress: if I had a sight only half as good, I think I should see to the centre.”
My compliances, however, were of little worth : what really surprised me was the victory he gained over a lady
little accustomed to contradiction, who had dressed herself for church at Streatham one Sunday morning in a manner he did not approve, and to whom he said such sharp and pungent things concerning her hat, her gown, &c. that she hastened to change them, and returning quite another figure received his applause, and thanked him for his reproofs, much to the amazement of her husband, who could scarcely believe his own ears.
Another lady, whose accomplishments he never denied, came to our house one day covered with diamonds, feathers, &c., and he did not seem inclined to chat with her as usual.
I asked him why? when the company was gone. “ Why; her head looked so like that of a woman who shows puppets,” said he, “and her voice so confirmed the fancy, that I could not bear her to-day; when she wears a large cap, I can talk to her.”
When the ladies wore lace trimmings to their clothes, he expressed his contempt of the reigning fashion in these terms: -“ A Brussels trimming is like bread sauce, said he; “it takes away the glow of colour from the gown, and gives you nothing instead of it; but sauce was invented to heighten the flavour of our food, and trimming is an ornament to the manteau, or it is nothing. Learn,” said he, “ that there is propriety or impropriety in every thing, how slight soever, and get at the general principles of dress and of behaviour ; if you then transgress them, you will at least know that they are not observed.” 144. Mrs. Piozzi's Account of her Rupture with
Johnson. All these exactnesses in a man who was nothing less than exact himself, made him extremely impracticable as an inmate, though most instructive as a companion, and useful as a friend. Mr. Thrale, too, could sometimes overrule his rigidity, by saying coldly, “ There, there, now we have had enough for one lecture, Dr. Johnson ; we will not be upon education any more till after dinner, if you please, ” - or some such speech : but when there was nobody to restrain his dislikes, it was extremely dif