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monies. His last advice to his friends was upon this subject, and, like a second Socrates, though under sentence of death from his infirmities, their eternal welfare was his principal theme. To some he enjoined it with tears in his eyes, reminding them, "it was the dying request of a friend, who had no other way of paying the large obligations he owed them but by this advice.' Others he pressed with arguments, setting before them, from the example of all religions, that sacrifices for sins were practised in all ages, and hence enforcing the belief of the Son of God sacrificing himself " to be a propitiation, not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world."
609. Johnson's Colloquial Eloquence. (1) Johnson spoke as he wrote. He would take up a topic, and utter upon it a number of the "Rambler." On a question, one day, at Miss Porter's, concerning the authority of a newspaper for some fact, he related, that a lady of his acquaintance implicitly believed every thing she read in the papers; and that, by way of curing her credulity, he fabricated a story of a battle between the Russians and Turks, then at war; and "that it might," he said, "bear internal evidence of its futility, I laid the scene in an island at the conflux of the Boristhenes and the Danube; rivers which run at the distance of a hundred leagues from each other. The lady, however, believed the story, and never forgave the deception; the consequence of which was, that I lost an agreeable companion, and she was deprived of an innocent amusement." And he added, as an extraordinary circumstance, that the Russian ambassador sent in great haste to the printer to know from
(1) [Communicated to Dr. Robert Anderson by Sir Brooke Boothby; who frequently enjoyed the company of Johnson at Lichfield and Ashbourne.]
whence he had received the intelligence. Another time, at Dr. Taylor's, a few days after the death of the wife of the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, of Bradley, a woman of extraordinary sense, he described the eccentricities of the man and the woman, with a nicety of discrimination, and a force of language, equal to the best of his periodical essays.
610. Assertion and Argument. (1)
In Boswell's Life of Johnson (2) mention is made of an observation of his respecting the manner in which argument ought to be rated. As Mr. Boswell has not recorded this with his usual precision, and as I was present at Mr. Hoole's at the time mentioned by Mr. Boswell, I shall here insert what passed, of which I have a perfect recollection. Mention having been made that counsel were to be heard at the bar of the House of Commons, one of the company at Mr. Hoole's asked Sir James Johnston if he intended to be present. He answered, that he believed he should not, because he paid little regard to the arguments of counsel at the bar of the House of Commons. "Wherefore do you pay little regard to their arguments, Sir?" said Dr. John"Because," replied Sir James, "they argue for their fee." "What is it to you, Sir," rejoined Dr. Johnson," what they argue for? you have nothing to do with their motive, but you ought to weigh their argument. Sir, you seem to confound argument with assertion, but there is an essential distinction between them. Assertion is like an arrow shot from a long bow; the force with which it strikes depends on the strength of the arm that draws it. But argument is like an arrow from a cross-bow, which has equal force whether shot by a boy or a giant."
(1) [From Dr. John Moore's Life of Smollett.]
The whole company was struck with the aptness and beauty of this illustration; and one of them said, "That is, indeed, one of the most just and admirable illustrations that I ever heard in my life." "Sir," said Dr. Johnson, "the illustration is none of mine find it in Bacon."
- you will
- Expiatory Penance. (1)
During the last visit which the Doctor made to Lichfield, the friends with whom he was staying missed him one morning at the breakfast-table. On inquiring after him of the servants, they understood he had set off from Lichfield at a very early hour, without mentioning to any of the family whither he was going. The day passed without the return of the illustrious guest, and the party began to be very uneasy on his account, when, just before the supper-hour, the door opened, and the Doctor stalked into the room. A solemn silence of a few minutes ensued, nobody daring to inquire the cause of his absence, which was at length relieved by Johnson addressing the lady of the house in the following manner: "Madam, I beg your pardon for the abruptness of my departure from your house this morning, but I was constrained to it by my conscience. Fifty years ago, Madam, on this day, I committed a breach of filial piety, which has ever since lain heavy on my mind, and has not till this day been expiated. My father, you recollect, was a bookseller, and had long been in the habit of attending Uttoxeter market, and opening a stall for the sale of his books during that day. Confined to his bed by indisposition, he requested me, this time fifty years ago, to visit the market, and attend the stall in his place. But, Madam,
(1) [From Warner's "Tour through the Northern Counties of England," published in 1802. See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 378.]
my pride prevented me from doing my duty, and I gave my father a refusal. To do away the sin of this disobedience, I this day went in a postchaise to Uttoxeter, and going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head, and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had formerly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the inclemency of the weather; a penance by which I trust I have propitiated heaven for this only instance, I believe, of contumacy toward my father."
612. Nollekens's Bust of Johnson. (1)
When Dr. Johnson sat to Mr. Nollekens for his bust, he was very much displeased at the manner in which the head had been loaded with hair; which the sculptor insisted upon, as it made him look more like an ancient poet. The sittings were not very favourable, which rather vexed the artist, who, upon opening the street door, a vulgarity he was addicted to, peevishly whined, Now, Doctor, you did say you would give my bust half an hour before dinner, and the dinner has been waiting this long time." To which the Doctor's reply was, Bow, wow, wow." The bust is a wonderfully fine one, and very like; but certainly the sort of hair is objectionable; having been modelled from the flowing locks of a sturdy Irish beggar, originally a street pavier, who, after he had sat an hour, refused to take a shilling; stating, that he could have made more by begging.
613. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale in Nollekens's Studio.
Mrs. Thrale one morning entered Nollekens's studio, accompanied by Dr. Johnson, to see the bust of Lord
(1) [This and the two following are from "Nollekens and his Times, by John Thomas Smith, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings in the British Museum." 8vo. 1828.]
Mansfield, when the sculptor vociferated, "I like your picture by Sir Joshua very much. He tells me it's for Thrale, a brewer over the water: his wife's a sharp woman, one of the blue-stocking people." Nolly, Nolly," observed the Doctor, "I wish your maid would stop your foolish mouth with a blue-bag." At which Mrs. Thrale smiled, and whispered to the Doctor, "My dear Sir, you'll get nothing by blunting your arrows upon a block."
614. Johnson's Silver Tea-pot.
I was one morning agreeably surprised by a letter which Mrs. Maria Cosway put into my hand, written by W. Hoper, Esq., giving me permission to make a drawing of Dr. Johnson's silver tea-pot in his possession. Upon the side of this tea-pot the following inscription is engraven : "We are told by Lucian, that the earthen lamp, which had administered to the lucubrations of Epictetus, was at his death purchased for the enormous sum of three thousand drachmas: why, then, may not imagination equally amplify the value of this unadorned vessel, long employed for the infusion of that favourite herb, whose enlivening virtues are said to have so often protracted the elegant and edifying lucubrations of Samuel Johnson; the zealous advocate of that innocent beverage, against its declared enemy, Jonas Hanway? It was weighed out for sale, under the inspection of Sir John Hawkins, at the very minute when they were in the next room closing the incision through which Mr. Cruickshank had explored the ruined machinery of its dead master's thorax. So Bray (the silversmith, conveyed there in Sir John's carriage, thus hastily to buy the plate,) informed its present possessor, Henry Constantine Nowell; by whom it was, for its celebrated services, on the 1st of November, 1788, rescued from