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Yet in the same book she tells us, "He was, 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." His conversation, indeed, was so far from ever fatiguing his friends, that they regretted when it was interrupted or ceased, and could exclaim in Milton's language,
"With thee conversing, I forget all time."
I certainly, then, do not claim too much in behalf of my illustrious friend in saying, that however smart and entertaining Mrs. Thrale's "Anecdotes" are, they must not be held as good evidence against him; for wherever an instance of harshness and severity is told, I beg leave to doubt its perfect authenticity; for though there may have been some foundation for it, yet, like that of his reproof to the "very celebrated lady," it may be so exhibited in the narration as to be very unlike the real fact.
The evident tendency of the following anecdote is to represent Dr. Johnson as extremely deficient in affection, tenderness, or even common civility. "When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America, Prithee, my dear (said he), have done with canting; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper?'- Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked." I suspect this too of exaggeration and distortion. I allow that he made her an angry speech; but let the circumstances fairly appear, as told by Mr. Baretti, who was present:
"Mrs. Thrale, while supping very heartily upon larks, laid down her knife and fork, and abruptly exclaimed, 'O, my dear Johnson! do you know what has happened? The last letters from abroad have brought us an account that our poor cousin's head was taken off by a cannon-ball.' Johnson, who was shocked both at the fact and her light unfeeling manner of mentioning it, replied, Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and dressed for Presto's supper.' Upon mentioning this to my friend Mr. Wilkes, he, with his usual readiness, pleasantly matched it with the following sentimental anecdote. He was invited by a young man of fashion at Paris to sup with him and a lady, who had been for some time his mistress, but with whom he was going to part. He said to Mr. Wilkes that he really felt very much for her, she was in such distress, and that he meant to make her a present of two hundred louis-d'ors. Mr. Wilkes observed the behaviour of mademoiselle, who sighed, indeed, very piteously, and assumed every pathetic air of grief, but ate
no less than three French pigeons, which are as large as English partridges, besides other things. Mr. Wilkes whispered the gentleman,We often say in England, excessive sorrow is exceeding dry, but I never heard excessive sorrow is exceeding hungry. Perhaps one hundred will do." The gentleman took the hint."
It is with concern that I find myself obliged to animadvert on the inaccuracies of Mrs. Piozzi's "Anecdotes," and perhaps I may be thought to have dwelt too long upon her little collection. But as from Johnson's long residence under Mr. Thrale's roof, and his intimacy with her, the account which she has given of him may have made an unfavourable and unjust impression, my duty, as a faithful biographer, has obliged me reluctantly to perform this unpleasing task.
Projected Tour to Italy. Reynolds. Thurlow. Rev. Mr. Bagshaw. Excursion to Staffordshire and Derbyshire. - Correspondence.
Last Visit to Lichfield. Uttoxeter.
· Air Balloons.
- Last Visit to Oxford. - Return to London. -Ancient Universal History.
HAVING left the pious negotiation, as I called it, in the best hands, I shall here insert what relates to it. Johnson wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds on July 6. as follows:
"I am going, I hope, in a few days, to try the air of Derbyshire, but hope to see you before I go. Let me, however, mention to you what I have much at heart. If the Chancellor should continue his attention to Mr. Boswell's request, and confer with you on the means of relieving my languid state, I am very desirous to avoid the appearance of asking money upon false pretences. I desire you to represent to his lordship, what, as soon as it is suggested, he will perceive to be reasonable, — that, if I grow much worse, I shall be afraid to leave my physicians, to suffer the inconveniences of travel, and pine in the solitude of a foreign country;
that, if I grow much better, of which indeed there is now little appearance, I shall not wish to leave my friends and my domestic comforts, for I do not travel
for pleasure or curiosity; yet if I should recover, curiosity would revive. In my present state I am desirous to make a struggle for a little longer life, and hope to obtain some help from a softer climate. Do for me what you can.
He wrote to me July 26.:
"I wish your affairs could have permitted a longer and continued exertion of your zeal and kindness. They that have your kindness may want your ardour. In the meantime I am very feeble and very dejected."
By a letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds I was informed that the Lord Chancellor had called on him, and acquainted him that the application had not been successful; but that his lordship, after speaking highly in praise of Johnson, as a man who was an honour to his country, desired Sir Joshua to let him know, that on granting a mortgage of his pension, he should draw on his lordship to the amount of five or six hundred pounds, and that his lordship explained the meaning of the mortgage to be, that he wished the business to be conducted in such a manner, that Dr. Johnson should appear to be under the least possible obligation. Sir Joshua mentioned that he had by the same post communicated all this to Dr. Johnson.
How Johnson was affected upon the occasion will appear from what he wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds: "Ashbourne, Sept. 9.
Many words I hope are not necessary between you and me, to convince you what gratitude is excited in my heart by the Chancellor's liberality, and your kind offices. I have enclosed a letter to the Chancellor, which, when you have read it, you will be pleased to seal with a head,
or any other general seal, and convey it to him: had I sent it directly to him, I should have seemed to overlook the favour of your intervention."
LETTER 466. TO THE LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR. (1)
"MY LORD, After a long and not inattentive observation of mankind, the generosity of your lordship's offer raises in me not less wonder than gratitude. Bounty, so liberally bestowed, I should gladly receive, if my condition made it necessary; for, to such a mind, who would not be proud to own his obligations? But it has pleased God to restore me to so great a measure of health, that if I should now appropriate so much of a fortune destined to do good, I could not escape from myself the charge of advancing a false claim. My journey to the Continent, though I once thought it necessary, was never much encouraged by my physicians; and I was very desirous that your lordship should be told of it by Sir Joshua Reynolds as an event very uncertain ; for if I grew much better, I should not be willing, if much worse, not able, to migrate. Your lordship was first solicited without my knowledge; but, when I was told that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did not expect to hear of a refusal; yet, as I have had no long time to brood hope, and have not rioted in imaginary opulence, this cold reception has been scarce a disappointment; and, from your lordship's kindness, I have received a benefit, which only men
(1) Sir Joshua Reynolds, on account of the excellence both of the sentiment and expression of this letter, took a copy of it, which he showed to some of his friends: one of whom [Lady Lucan, it is said], who admired it, being allowed to peruse it leisurely at home, a copy was made, and found its way into the newspapers and magazines. It was transcribed with some inaccuracies. I print it from the original draft in Johnson's own hand-writing.