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offended by Molly Aston's preference of his lordship to him.1 I can by no means join in the censure bestowed by Johnson on his lordship, whom he calls "poor Lyttelton," for returning thanks to the Critical Reviewers, for having "kindly commended" his "Dialogues of the Dead." Such acknowledgments," says my friend, 66 never can be proper, since they must be paid either for flattery or for justice." In my opinion the most upright man, who has been tried on a false accusation, may, when he is acquitted, make a bow to his jury. And when
1 Let not my readers smile to think of Johnson's being a candidate for female favour. Mr. Peter Garrick assured me, that he was told by a lady, that in her opinion Johnson was a very seducing man." Disadvantages of person and manner may be forgotten, where intellectual pleasure is communicated to a susceptible mind; and that Johnson was capable of feeling the most delicate and disinterested attachment, appears from the following letter which is published by Mrs. Thrale, with some others to the same person, of which the excellence is not so apparent:
"TO MISS BOOTHBY.
Though I am afraid your illness leaves you little leisure for the reception of airy civilities, yet I cannot forbear to pay you my congratulations on the new year; and to declare my wishes that your years to come may be many and happy. In this wish, indeed, I include myself, who have none but you on whom my heart reposes; yet surely I wish your good, even though your situation were such as should permit you to communicate no gratifications to, dearest, dearest Madam, your, &c. SAM. JOHNSON."
There is still a slight mistake in the text. It was not Molly Aston, but Hill Boothby, for whose affections Johnson and Lord Lyttelton were rival candidates. See Mrs. Piozzi's "Anecdotes," p. 160. After mentioning the death of Mrs. Fitzherbert (who was a daughter of Mr. Meynel, of Bradley, in Derbyshire), and Johnson's high admiration of her, she adds, " The friend of this lady, Miss Boothby, succeeded her in the management of Mr. Fitzherbert's family, and in the esteem of Dr. Johnson; though he told me, she pushed her piety to bigotry, her devotion to enthusiasm; that she somewhat disqualified herself for the duties of this life, by her perpetual aspirations after the next: such was, however, the purity of her mind, he said, and such the graces of her manner, that Lord Lyttelton and he used to strive for her preference with an emulation that occasioned hourly disgust, and ended in lasting animosity. 'You may see,' said he to me, when the Poets' Lives were printed, 'that dear Boothby is at my heart still.'"
Miss Hill Boothby, who was the only daughter of Brook Boothby, Esq., and his wife, Elizabeth Fitzherbert, was somewhat older than Johnson. She was born October 27, 1708, and died January 16, 1756. Six letters addressed to her by Johnson in the year 1755, are printed in Mrs. Piozzi's Collection; and a Prayer composed by him on her death may be found in his "Prayers and Meditations." His affection for her induced him to preserve and bind up in a volume thirty-three of her letters, which were purchased from the widow of his servant, Francis Barber, and published by R. Phillips, in 1805.
But highly as he valued this lady, his attachment to Miss Molly Aston (afterwards Mrs. Brodie), appears to have been still more ardent. He burned (says Mrs. Piozzi) many letters in the last week [of his life], I am told, and those written by his mother drew from him a flood of tears, when the paper they were written on was all consumed Mr. Sastres saw him cast a melancholy look upon their ashes which he took up and examined, to see if a word was still legible. Nobody has ever mentioned what became of Miss Aston's letters, though he once told me himself, they should be the last papers he would destroy, and added these lines with a very faltering voice:
"Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part,
And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart;
Life's idle business at one gasp be o'er,
The Muse forgot, and thou beloved no more."
Additions to Mrs. Piozzi's Collection of Dr. Johnson's Letters.-MALONE.
those who are so much the arbiters of literary merit, as in a considerable degree to influence the public opinion, review an author's work placido lumine, when I am afraid mankind in general are better pleased with severity, he may surely express a grateful sense of their civility
Various Readings in the Life of LYTTELTON.
"He solaced [himself] his grief by writing a long poem to her memory.
'The production rather [of a mind that means well than thinks vigorously] as it seems of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions.
"His last literary [work] production.
"[Found the way] undertook to persuade."
As the introduction to his critical examination of the genius and writings of Young, he did Mr. Herbert Croft, then a barrister of Lincoln's-inn, now a clergyman, the honour to adopt a Life of Young written by that gentleman, who was the friend of Dr. Young's son, and wished to vindicate him from some very erroneous remarks to his prejudice. Mr. Croft's performance was subjected to the revision of Dr. Johnson, as appears from the following note to Mr. John Nichols :1
"This Life of Dr. Young was written by a friend of his son. What is crossed with black is expunged by the author; what is crossed with red is expunged by me. If you find anything more that can be well omitted, I shall not be sorry to see it yet shorter."
It has always appeared to me to have a considerable share of merit, and to display a pretty successful imitation of Johnson's style. When I mentioned this to a very eminent literary character, he opposed me vehemently, exclaiming, "No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength." This was an image so happy, that one might have thought he would have been satisfied with it; but he was not. And setting his mind again to work, he added, with exquisite felicity, "It has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspiration."
Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man; and mentions, that his parish was indebted to the good-humour of the author of The Night Thoughts' for an assembly and a bowling-green." A letter from a noble foreigner is quoted, in which he is said to have been "very pleasant in conversation."
Mr. Langton, who frequently visited him, informs me, that there was an air of benevolence in his manner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what has been called the Augustan age of England; and that he showed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then pass1 "Gentleman's Magazine," vol. iv. p. 10.-BUSWELL. 2 The late Mr. Burke.-MALONE.
ing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.
An instance at once of his pensive turn of mind, and his cheerfulness of temper, appeared in a little story which he himself told to Mr. Langton, when they were walking in his garden: "Here," said he, “I had put a handsome sun-dial, with this inscription, Eheu fugaces! which (speaking with a smile) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off!"1
It gives me much pleasure to observe, that however Johnson may have casually talked, yet when he sits, as an ardent judge zealous to his trust, giving sentence" upon the excellent works of Young, he allows them the high praise to which they are justly entitled. "The Universal Passion' (says he) is indeed a very great performance,-his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth."
But I was most anxious concerning Johnson's decision upon "Night Thoughts," which I esteem as a mass of the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced; and was delighted to find this character of that work: "In his 'Night Thoughts,' he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflection and striking allusions: a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme but with disadvantage." And afterwards, "Particular lines are not to be regarded ; the power is in the whole; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent aud endless diversity."
But there is in this poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the pathetic beyond almost any example that I have seen. He who does not feel his nerves shaken and his heart pierced by many passages in this extraordinary work, particularly by that most affecting one which describes the gradual torment suffered by the contemplation of an object of affectionate attachment visibly and certainly decaying into dissolution, must be of a hard and obstinate frame.
To all the other excellencies of "Night Thoughts" let me add the great and peculiar one, that they contain not only the noblest sentiments of virtue, and contemplations on immortality, but the Christian Sacrifice, the Divine Propitiation, with all its interesting circumstances, and con
1 The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that he passed an evening with Dr. Young, at Lord Melcombe's (then Mr. Doddington), at Hammersmith. The Doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Doddington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind. "No, Sir," replied the Doctor, "it is a very fine night. THE LORD is abroad." -BOSWELL.
solations to "a wounded spirit," solemnly and poetically displayed in such imagery and language, as cannot fail to exalt, animate, and soothe the truly pious. No book whatever can be recommended to young persons, with better hopes of seasoning their minds with vital religion, than "Young's Night Thoughts."
In the Life of Swift, it appears to me that Johnson had a certain degree of prejudice against that extraordinary man, of which I have elsewhere had occasion to speak. Mr. Thomas Sheridan imputed it to a supposed apprehension in Johnson, that Swift had not been sufficiently active in obtaining for him an Irish degree when it was solicited ; but of this there was not sufficient evidence; and let me not presume to charge Johnson with injustice, because he did not think so highly of the writings of this author, as I have done from my youth upwards. Yet that he had an unfavourable bias is evident, were it only from that passage in which he speaks of Swift's practice of saving, as, "first ridiculous and at last detestable:" and yet after some examination of circumstances, finds himself obliged to own, that "it will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expense better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give."
One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's Life should be often inculcated: 66 It may be justly supposed, that there was in his conversation, what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, an ambition of momentary equality, sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has estab lished as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul; but a great mind disdains to hold anything by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension."
Various Readings in the Life of SWIFT.
"Charity may be persuaded to think that it might be written by a man of a peculiar [opinions] character, without ill intention.
"He did not [disown] deny it.
"[To] by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was [indebted for] advanced to his benefices.
"[With] for this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley.
"Sharpe, whom he [represents] describes as 'the harmless tool of others' hate.'
"Harley was slow because he was [irresolute] doubtful.
"When [readers were not many] we were not yet a nation of readers.
[Every man who] he that could say he knew him.
"Every man of known influence has so many [more] petitions [than] which
1 See vol. i. p. 97.-BOSWELL.
he [can] cannot grant, that he must necessarily offend more than he [can gratify] gratifies.
"Ecclesiastical [preferments] benefices.
"Swift [procured] contrived an interview.
[As a writer] In his works he has given very different specimens.
"On all common occasions he habitually [assumes] affects a style of [superiority] arrogance.
'By the [omission] neglect of those ceremonies.
"That their merits filled the world [and] or that there was no [room for] hope of more."
I have not confined myself to the order of the "Lives," in making my few remarks. Indeed a different order is observed in the original publication, and in the collection of Johnson's Works. And should it be objected, that many of my various readings are inconsiderable, those who make an objection will be pleased to consider, that such small particulars are intended for those who are nicely critical in composition, to whom they will be an acceptable selection.
Spence's Anecdotes," which are frequently quoted and referred to in Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," are in a manuscript collection, made by the Rev. Mr. Joseph Spence,1 containing a number of particulars concerning eminent men. To each anecdote is marked the name of the person on whose authority it is mentioned. This valuable collection is the property of the Duke of Newcastle, who, upon the application of Sir Lucas Pepys, was pleased to permit it to be put into the hands of Dr. Johnson, who I am sorry to think made but an awkward return. "Great assistance, says he, "has been given me by Mr. Spence's Collection, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of public acknowledgment:" but he has not owned to whom he was obliged; so that the acknowledgment is unappropriated to his Grace.
While the world in general was filled with admiration of Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," there were narrow circles in which prejudice and resentment were fostered, and from which attacks of different sorts issued against him. By some violent Whigs he was arraigned of injustice to Milton; by some Cambridge men of depreciating Gray; and his expressing with a dignified freedom what he really thought of George Lord Lyttelton, gave offence to some of the friends of that nobleman, and particularly produced a declaration of war against him
1 The Reverend Joseph Spence, A.M., rector of Great Harwood, in Buckinghamshire, and Prebendary of Durham, died at Byfleet, in Surrey, August 20, 1768. He was a Fellow of New College, in Oxford, and held the office of Professor of Poetry in that University from 1728 to 1738.-MALONE.
2 From this disreputable class, I except an ingenious though not satisfactory defence of Hammond, which I did not see till lately, by the favour of its author, my amiable friend, the Rev. Mr. Bevill, who published it without his name. It is a juvenile performance, but elegantly written, with classical enthusiasm of sentiment, and yet with a becoming modesty and great respect for Dr. Johnson.-BOSWELL.