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ficult to find any body with whom he could converse, without living always on the verge of a quarrel, or of something too like a quarrel to be pleasing.
I came into the room, for example, one evening, where he and a gentleman, whose abilities we all respect exceedingly, were sitting ; a lady who walked in two minutes before me had blown 'em both into a flame, by whispering something to Mr. Seward, which he endeavoured to explain away, so as not to affront the Doctor, whose suspicions were all alive.
« And have a care, Sir,” said he, just as I came in ; “ the Old Lion will not bear to be tickled.” The other was pale with rage, the Lady' wept at the confusion she had caused, and I could only say, with Lady Macbeth,
“ You've displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting
With most admired disorder.”
Such accidents, however, occurred too often, and I was forced to take advantage of my lost lawsuit, and plead inability of purse to remain longer in London or its vicinage. I had been crossed in my intentions of going abroad, and found it convenient, for every reason of health, peace, and pecuniary circumstances, to retire to Bath, where I knew Mr. Johnson would not follow me, and where I could for that reason command some little portion of time for my own use ; a thing impossible while I remained at Streatham or at London, as my hours, carriage, and servants had long been at his command, who would not rise in the morning till twelve o'clock perhaps, and oblige me to make breakfast for him till the bell rang for dinner, though much displeased if the toilet was neglected, and though much of the time we passed together was spent in blaming or deriding, very justly, my neglect of economy, and waste of that money which might make many
| The lady's name Streatfield, as Mr. Seward told me.
She was very handsome, and a good scholar ; for she understood Greek. She was piqued at Mr. Seward's paying more attention to Dr. Johnson than to her; and on coming in, whispered, “how his bark sat on his stomach ;” alluding to the roughness which she supposed was in Dr. Johnson's conversation. — MALONE MS.
The original reason of our connection, his particularly disordered health and spirits, had been long at an end, and he had no other ailments than old age and general infirmity, which every professor of medicine was ardently zealous and generally attentive to palliate, and to contribute all in their power for the prolongation of a life so valuable. Veneration for his virtue, reverence for his talents, delight in his conversation, and habitual endurance of a yoke my husband first put upon me, and of which he contentedly bore his share for sixteen or seventeen years, made me go on so long with Mr. Johnson ; but the perpetual confinement I will own to have been terrifying in the first years of our friendship, and irksome in the last ; nor could I pretend to support it without help, when my coadjutor was no more.
To the assistance we gave him, the shelter our house afforded to his uneasy fancies, and to the pains we took to sooth or repress them, the world perhaps is indebted for the three political pamphlets, the new edition and correction of his Dictionary, and for the Poets' Lives, which he would scarce have lived, I think, and kept his faculties entire, to have written, had not incessant care been exerted at the time of his first coming to be our constant guest in the country; and several times after that, when he found himself particularly oppressed with diseases incident to the most vivid and fervent imaginations. I shall for ever consider it as the greatest honour which could be conferred on any one, to have been the confidential friend of Dr. Johnson's health ; and to have in some measure, with Mr. Thrale's assistance, saved from distress at least, if not from worse, a mind great beyond the comprehension of common mortals, and good beyond all hope of imitation from perishable beings.
145. Character of Johnson. When Mr. Thrale built the new library at Streatham, and hung up over the books the portraits of his favourite friends, that of Dr. Johnson was last finished, and closed the number. It was almost impossible not to make verses on such an accidental combination of circumstances, so I made the following ones : but, as a character written in verse will, for the most part, be found imperfect as a character, I have therefore written a prose one, with which I mean, not to complete, but to conclude these Anecdotes of the best and wisest man that ever came within the reach of my personal acquaintance, and I think I might venture to add, that of all or any of
readers : “Gigantic in knowledge, in virtue, in strength,
Our company closes with Johnson at length; So the Greeks from the cavern of Polypheme pass'd, When wisest, and greatest, Ulysses came last. To his comrades contemptuous, we see him look down On their wit and their worth with a general frown. Since from Science' proud tree the rich fruit he receives, Who could shake the whole trunk while they turn'd a few leaves. His piety pure, his morality nice — Protector of virtue, and terror of vice; In these features Religion's firm champion display'd, Shall make infidels fear for a modern crusade. While th' inflammable temper, the positive tongue, Too conscious of right for endurance of wrong, We suffer from Johnson, contented to find, That some notice we gain from so noble a mind; And pardon our hurts, since so often we've found The balm of instruction pour'd into the wound. 'Tis thus for its virtues the chemists extol Pure rectified spirit, sublime alcohol ; From noxious putrescence, preservative pure, A cordial in health, and in sickness a cure ; But exposed to the sun, taking fire at his rays, Burns bright to the bottom, and ends in a blaze.” It is usual, I know not why, when a character is given, to begin with a description of the
description of the person ; that which contained the soul of Mr. Johnson deserves to be particularly described. His stature was remarkably high, and his limbs exceedingly large : his strength was more than common, I believe, and his activity had been greater, I have heard, than such a form gave one reason to expect : his features were strongly marked, and his countenance particularly rugged; though the original complexion had certainly been fair, a circumstance somewhat unusual : bis sight was near, and otherwise imperfect ; yet his eyes, though of a light grey colour, were so wild, so piercing, and at times so fierce, that fear was, I believe, the first emotion in the hearts of all his beholders. His mind was so comprehensive, that no language but that he used could have expressed its contents ; and so ponderous was his language, that sentiments less lofty and less solid than his were, would have been encumbered, not adorned by it.
Mr.'Johnson was not intentionally, however, a pompous converser; and though he was accused of using big words, as they are called, it was only when little ones would not express his meaning as clearly, or when perhaps the elevation of the thought would have been disgraced by a dress less superb. He used to say, that “the size of a man's understanding might always be justly measured by his mirth ;” and his own was never contemptible. He would laugh at a stroke of genuine humour, or sudden sally of odd absurdity, as heartily and freely as I ever yet saw any man; and though the jest was often such as few felt besides himself, yet his laugh was irresistible, and was observed immediately to produce that of the company, not merely from the notion that it was proper to laugh when he did, but purely out of want of power to forbear it. He was no enemy to splendour of apparel or pomp of equipage -“Life," he would say, “is barren enough surely with all her trappings; let us therefore be cautious how we strip her.” In matters of still higher moment he once observed, when speaking on the subject of sudden innovation, “ He who plants a forest may doubtless cut down a hedge; yet I could wish, methinks, that even he would wait till he sees his young plants grow."
With regard to common occurrences, Mr. Johnson had, when I first knew him, looked on the still-shifting scenes of life till he was weary; for as a mind slow in its own nature, or unenlivened by information, will contentedly read in the same book for twenty times perhaps, the very act of reading it being more than half the business, and every period being at every reading better understood; while a mind more active or more skilful to comprehend its meaning is made sincerely sick at the second perusal : so a soul like his, acute to discern the truth, vigorous to embrace, and powerful to retain it, soon sees enough of the world's dull prospect, which at first, like that of the
sea, pleases by its extent, but soon, like that, too, fatigues from its uniformity; a calm and a storm being the only variations that the nature of either will admit.
Of Mr. Johnson's erudition the world has been the judge, and we who produce each a score of his sayings, as proofs of that wit which in him was inexhaustible, resemble travellers who, having visited Delhi or Golconda, bring home each a handful of Oriental pearl to evince the riches of the Great Mogul. May the public condescend to accept my ill-strung selection with patience at least, remembering only that they are relics of him who was great on all occasions; and, like a cube in architecture, you beheld him on each side, and his size still appeared undiminished.
As his purse was ever open to almsgiving, so was his heart tender to those who wanted relief, and his soul sus. ceptible of gratitude, and of every kind impression ; yet though he had refined his sensibility, he had not endangered his quiet by encouraging in himself a solicitude about trifles, which he treated with the contempt they deserve.
It was well enough known before these sheets were published, that Mr. Johnson had a roughness in his manner which subdued the saucy, and terrified the meek : this was, when I knew him, the prominent part of a character which few durst venture to approach so nearly; and which was, for that reason, in many respects, grossly and frequently mistaken ; and it was perhaps peculiar to him, that the lofty consciousness of his own superiority, which animated his looks, and raised his voice in conversation, cast likewise an impenetrable veil over him when he said nothing. His talk therefore had commonly the complexion of arrogance, his silence of superciliousness. however, seldom inclined to be silent when any moral or literary question was started : and it was on such occasions, that, like the sage in Rasselas, he spoke, and attention watched his lips ; he reasoned, and conviction closed his periods : if poetry was talked of, his quotations were the readiest ; and had he not been eminent for more solid and brilliant qualities, mankind would have united to extol