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THE CLUB, as it stood MARCH 10. 1835.
The Earl of Aberdeen, P.S.A.
At the meetings of the club the chair is taken in rotation by the members, according to the alphabetical arrangement of their names ; the only permanent officer being the treasurer.
Mr. Malone was the first treasurer; and upon his decease, in 1812, Sir Henry Charles Englefield was elected to that office, which however, on account of weakness of sight, he resigned in 1814; when the Rev. Dr. Charles Burney was chosen, and continued to be treasurer until his death, which took place in December, 1817; and on the 10th of March 1818, Mr. Hatchett, the present treasurer, was elected
[No. II. - CAMBRIDGE.
ACCOUNT OF JOHNSON'S VISIT TO
CAMBRIDGE, IN 1765.
(See p. 284. antè. This little narrative was first published in
the New Monthly Magazine for December 1818.] Arter despairing for some time of being able to send you a narrative of Johnson's journey to Cambridge, worthy of your acceptance, I now hope, through the assistance of a dear and very old friend, to transmit you something not derogatory to its illustrious subject. The gentleman here alluded to is the Rev. J. Lettice, then Fellow of Sidney College (since rector of Peasmarsh, Sussex), of whose merits, as a writer, the public is already well apprized, and whom, in the following narrative, I shall always mention as my friend.
My first introduction to Dr. Johnson was owing to the following circumstance. My friend and I had agreed upon attempting a new translation of Plutarch's Lives; but prevously, as I was just then going to town, my friend wished me to consult Johnson about it, with whom he himself was well acquainted. In consequence, when in town, I procured an interview with Levett, who willingly next morning introduced me to breakfast with the great man. His residence was then in some old-fashioned rooms called, I think, Inner Temple Lane, No. 1. At the top of a few steps the door opened into a dark and dingy-looking old wainscoted ante-room, through which was the study, and into which, a little before noon, came rolling, as if just roused from his cabin, the truly uncouth figure of our literary Colossus, in a strange black wig, too little for him by half, but which, before our next interview, was exchanged for that very respectable brown one in which his friend, Sir Joshua, so faithfully depicted him. I am glad, however, I saw the queer black bob, as his biographers have noticed it, and as it proved that the lustre of native genius can
break through the most disfiguring habiliments. He seemed pleased to see a young Cantab in his rooms, and on my acquainting him with the business on which I had taken the liberty of consulting him, he rather encouraged our undertaking than otherwise; though, after working at it for a few months, we found the work too tedious and incompatible with other pursuits, and were obliged to relinquish it. After this, the great man questioned me about Cambridge, and whatever regarded literature, and attended to my answers with great complacency. The situation of these apartments I well remember. I called once more before I left town, but the Doctor was absent, and when Francis Barber, his black servant, opened the door to tell me so, a group of his African countrymen were sitting round a fire in the gloomy ante-room; and on their all turning their sooty faces at once to stare at me, they presented a curious spectacle. I repeatedly afterwards visited him, both in Johnson's Court and Bolt Court.
Though I meant at first to confine myself solely to his Cambridge excursion, yet, that we may not lose, as Garrick says, “one drop of this immortal man,” permit me to say a few words respecting these different calls. When alone, he sometimes asked me to take tea with him; and I can truly say, that I never found him morose or overbearing, though I freely contradicted him, with which he seemed pleased, and, in order to lead a young man into a sort of controversy or discussion, he would now and then advance what he did not think. He has been aptly compared to a ghost, as he would seldom speak first, but would sit librating in his chair till a question was asked, upon which he would promptly and fluently dilate. The reason for this seems, as a first-rate genius, who feels himself equally prepared to discuss whatever subject may be started, must deem it more to his own honour that he should not choose the topic himself. When I saw the Doctor again, after we had given up Plutarch, I told him that my friend and Professor Martyn (1) had undertaken to give an edition in English, with
(1) The Rev. Thomas Martyn, Fellow of Sidney College, and Botanical Professor, at Cambridge.
the plates, of the Herculaneum Antiquities. Johnson. “ They don't know what they have undertaken ; the engravers wil, drive them mad, Sir.” And this, perhaps, with other reasons, might prevent their executing more than one volume. At another time, he said, “ that Mr. Farmer, of your College, is a very clever man, indeed, Sir.” And on my asking him whether he knew the fact with respect to the learning of Shakspeare, before that gentleman's publication ? JOHNSON. “ Why, yes, Sir, I knew in general that the fact was as he represents it; but I did not know it, as Mr. Farmer has now taught it me, by detail, Sir.” I was several times the bearer of messages between them; and my suggesting and expressing a hope that we should some time or other have the pleasure of seeing him at Cambridge, when I should be most happy to introduce them to each other, might somewhat conduce to his taking the journey I am about to describe.
The last time I called upon him was long after the Cambridge visit, and I found with him Mr. Strahan, his son the Vicar of Islington, and two or three other gentlemen, one of whom was upon his legs taking leave, and saying, “Well, Doctor, as you know I shall set off to-morrow, what shall I say for you to Mrs. Thrale, when I see her ?” Johnson. 6 Why, Sir, you may tell her how I am: but no, Sir, no, she knows that already; and so when you see Mrs. Thrale, you will say to her what it is predestined that you are to say to her, Sir." Amidst the general laugh occasioned by this sally, thegentleman retired; and the Doctor, joining in the merriment, proceeded, “ for you know, Sir, when a person has said or done any thing, it was plainly predestinated that he was to say or do that particular thing, Sir.” I recollect but one more interview with him in town; but to describe that would lead me so far out of my way at present, that I believe I must defer this to some future communication.
Of the journey I principally intended to describe, there is as I observed, a short account, by Dr. Sharp, in the Gentle man's Magazine for March, 1785, in which he there addresses his friend, “ I have had Johnson in the chair in which I am now writing. He came down on Saturday with a Mr. Beauelerk, who has a friend at Trinity (a Mr. Lester, or Leicester). Caliban, you may be sure, was not roused from his lair till next day noon. He was not heard of till Monday afternoon, when I was sent for home to two gentlemen unknown. He drank his large potations of tea with me, interrupted by many an indignant contradiction, and many a noble sentiment, &c He had a better wig than usual, but one whose curls were not, like Sir Cloudesley's, formed for eternal buckle.'
He went to town next morning; but as it began to be known that he was in the University, several persons got into his company the last evening at Trinity.” And then his conclusion is equally foolish and indecent: “ where about twelve he began to be very great, stripped poor Mrs. Macaulay to the skin, then gave her for a toast, and drank her in two bumpers.” Who these several persons were, will appear in the sequel.
When I mentioned a wish to introduce him to our common friend Farmer, the Doctor did not seem disinclined to the proposal ; and it was on a Saturday in the beginning of March, 1765, that, having accepted the offer of Topham Beauclerk, Esq. to drive him down in his phaeton, they arrived at the Rose Inn, Cambridge. My friend, of Sidney, had the honour to be the only gownsman sent for by the great man to spend the first evening with him, though Mr. Beauclerk had pro bably also his friend from Trinity. Next morning, though Caliban, as Sharp saucily calls him, might have been time enough out of his lair, yet I admire his prudence and good sense in not appearing that day at St. Mary's, to be the general gaze during the whole service. Such an appearance at such a time and place might have turned, as it were, a Christian church into an idol temple; but vanity consorts not with real excellence. He was, however, heard of that day, for he was with the above party, with the addition, perhaps, of another friend of his, our respectable Greek Professor, Dr. Lort; but whether or not I was myself of my friend's Sunday party, we can neither of us clearly recollect. To my inquiries concerning this Sidney symposium, my friend has returned the following