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related the story to Mrs. Thrale. A friend, from whom I had the story, was present; and it was not at the house of a noblaan. On the observation being made by the master of the house on a gentleman's contradicting Johnson, that he talked for the honour, &c. the gentleman muttered in a low voice, 'I see no honour in it;' and Dr. Johnson said nothing: so all the rest (though bien trouvée) is mere garnish."
I have have had occasion several times, in the course of this work, to point out the incorrectness of Mrs. Thrale as to particulars which consisted with my own knowledge. But indeed she has, in flippant terms enough, expressed her disapprobation of that anxious desire of authenticity which prompts a person who is to record conversations to write them down at the moment. Unquestionably, if they are to be recorded at all, the sooner it is done the better. This lady herself says, "To recollect, however, and to repeat the sayings of Dr. Johnson, is almost all that can be done by the writers of his life; as his life, at least since my acquaintance with him, consisted in little else than talking, when he was not employed in some serious piece of work." She boasts of her having kept a common-place book; and we find she noted, at one time or other, in a very lively manner, specimens of the conversation of Dr. Johnson, and of those who talked with him: but had she done it recently, they probably would have been less erroneous, and we should have been relieved from those disagreeable doubts of their authenticity with which we must now peruse them.
She says of him, "He was the most charitable of mortals, without being what we call an active friend. Admirable at giving counsel, no man saw his way so clearly; but he would not stir a finger for the assistance of tho to whom he was willing enough to give advice." And again, on the same page, "If you wanted a slight favonr, you must apply to people of other dispositions; for not a step would Johnson move to obtain a man a vote in a society, to repay a compliment which might be useful or pleasing, to write a letter of request, &c., or to obtain a hundred pounds a year more for a friend who perhaps had already two or three. No force could urge him to diligence, no importunity could conquer his resolution to stand still."
It is amazing that one who had such opportunities of knowing Dr. Johnson should appear so little acquainted with his real character. I am sorry this lady does not advert, that she herself contradicts the assertion of his being obstinately defective in the petites morales, in the little endearing charities of social life, in conferring smaller favours; for she says, "Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others, I think; and innumerable are the prefaces, sermons, lectures, and dedications which he used to make for people who begged of him." I am certain that a more active friend has rarely been found in any age. This work, which I fondly hope will rescue his memory from obloquy, contains a thousand instances of his benevolent exertions in almost every way that can be conceived; and particularly in employing his pen with a generous readiness for those to whom its aid could be useful Indeed his obliging activity in doing little offices of kindness, both by letters and personal application, was one of the most remarkable features in his character; and for the truth of this I can appeal to a number of his respectable friends: Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Burke, Mr. Windham, Mr. Malone, the Bishop of Dromore, Sir William Scott, Sir Robert Chambers. And can Mrs. Thrale forget the advertisements which he wrote for her husband at the time of his election contest; the epitaphs on him and her mother; the playful and even rifling verses for the amusement of her and her daughters; his corresponding with her children, and entering into their minute concerns, which shows him in the most amiable light?
She relates, that Mr. Cholmondeley* unexpectedly rode up to Mr. Thrale's carriage. in which Mr. Thrale, and she, and Dr. Johnson were travelling; that he paid them all his proper compliments; but observing that Dr. Johnson, who was reading, did not see him, "tapped him gently on the shoulder. ''Tis Mr. Cholmondeley," says my husband. 'Well,
*George James Cholmondeley. Esq, grandson of George, third Earl of Cholmondeley, and one of the commissioners of excise; a gentleman respected for his abilities and elegance of manners.-B. He died in Feb. 1831, at 79.-C
Sir-and what if it is Mr. Cholmondeley?' says the other, sternly, just lifting his eyes a moment from his book, and returning to it again with renewed avidity " This surely conveys a notion of JohnsoL, as i he had been grossly rude to Mr. Cholmondeley, a gentleman whom he always loved and esteemed. If, therefore, there was an absolute necessity for mentioning the story at all, it might have been thought that her tenderness for Dr. Johnson's character would have disposed her to state anything that would soften it. Why, then, is there a total silence as to what Mr. Cholmondeley told her?-that Johnson, who had known him from his earliest years, having been made sensible of what had doubtless a strange appearance, took occasion, when he afterwards met him, to make a very courteous and kind apology. There is another little circumstance which I cannot but remark. Her book was published in 1785; she had then in her possession a letter from Dr. Johnson, dated in 1777, which begins thus: "Cholmondeley's story shocks me, if it be true, which I can hardly think, for I am utterly unconscious of it; I am very sorry, and very much ashamed." Why, then, publish the anecdote? Or if she did, why not add the circumstances, with which she was well acquainted? In his social intercourse, she thus describes him: "Ever musing till he was called out to converse, and conversing till the fatigue of his friends, or the promptitude of his own temper to take offence, consigned him back again to silent meditation." Yet in the same book shie 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 he 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, excess104
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 perfor.n this unpleasant task.
Projected Tour to Italy-Reynolds-Thurlow-Rev. Mr. Bagshaw-Excursion to Staffordshire and Derbyshire-Correspondence-Air Balloons-Last Visit to Lichfield-Uttoxeter-The Learned Pig-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 mortage 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 sea!, and convey it to him: had I sent it directly to him, I should have seemed to overlook the favour of your intervention."
TO THE LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR.
"September, 1784. "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 risted 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 like you are able to bestow. I shall now live mihi carior, with a higher opinion of my own merit. I am, my Lord, &c.
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 handwriting.