used to be said, "We can do nothing without the blue stockings ;" and thus by degrees the title was established. Miss Hannah More has admirably described a Blue-stocking Club, in her "Bas Bleu," a poem in which many of the persons who were most conspicuous there are mentioned.

Johnson was prevailed with to come sometimes into these circles, and did not think himself too grave even for the lively Miss Monckton

[graphic][merged small]

(now Countess of Cork), who used to have the finest bit of blue at the house of her mother, Lady Galway. Her vivacity enchanted the sage, and they used to talk together with all imaginable ease. A singular instance happened one evening, when she insisted that some of Sterne's

1 This lady survived to upwards of ninety years of age, and died at her residence in New Burlington-street, in 1840.-ED.

"I am sure,"

writings were very pathetic. Johnson bluntly denied it. said she, "they have affected me."-" Why," said Johnson smiling, and rolling himself about, "that is, because, dearest, you're a dunce." When she some time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said, with equal truth and politeness, "Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not have said it."

Another evening Johnson's kind indulgence towards me had a pretty difficult trial. I had dined at the Duke of Montrose's with a very agreeable party, and his Grace, according to his usual custom, had circulated the bottle very freely. Lord Graham and I went together to Miss Monckton's, where I certainly was in extraordinary spirits, and above all fear or awe. In the midst of a great number of persons of the first rank, amongst whom I recollect, with confusion, a noble lady of the most stately decorum, I placed myself next to Johnson, and thinking myself now fully his match, talked to him in a loud and boisterous manner, desirous to let the company know how I could contend with Ajax. I particularly remember pressing him upon the value of the pleasures of the imagination, and as an illustration of my argument, asking him, "What, Sir, supposing I were to fancy that the (naming the most charming Duchess in his Majesty's dominions) were in love with me, should I not be very happy? My friend with much address evaded my interrogatories, and kept me as quiet as possible; but it may easily be conceived how he must have felt. However, when

1 Next day I endeavoured to give what had happened the most ingenious turn I could, by the following verses:


Not that with th' excellent Montrose

I had the happiness to dine;

Not that I late from table rose,

From Graham's wit, from generous wine.

It was not these alone which led

On sacred manners to encroach;

And made me feel what most I dread,'
Johnson's just frown, and self-reproach.

But when 1 enter'd, not abash'd,

From your bright eyes were shot such rays,
At once intoxication flash'd,

And all my frame was in a blaze!

But not a brilliant blaze, I own.

Of the dull smoke I'm yet asham'd;

I was a dreary ruin grown,

And not enlighten'd though inflam'd.
Victim at once to wine and love,

I hope, Maria, you'll forgive;

While I invoke the powers above,
That henceforth I may wiser live.

The lady was generously forgiving, returned me an obliging answer, and I thus obtained an Act of Oblivion, and took care never to offend again.-BOSWELL.

a few days afterwards I waited upon him and made an apology, he behaved with the most friendly gentleness.

While I remained in London this year, Johnson and I dined together at several places. I recollect a placid day at Dr. Butter's, who had now removed from Derby to Lower Grosvenor-street, London; but of his conversation on that and other occasions, during this period, I neglected to keep any regular record, and shall therefore insert here some miscellaneous articles which I find in my Johnsonian notes.

His disorderly habits, when "making provision for the day that was passing over him," appear from the following anecdote, communicated to me by Mr. John Nichols :-" In the year 1763, a young bookseller, who was an apprentice to Mr. Whiston, waited on him with a subscription to his Shakspeare;' and observing that the Doctor made no entry in any book of the subscriber's name, ventured diffidently to ask whether he would please to have the gentleman's address, that it might be properly inserted in the printed list of subscribers.-' I shall print no List of Subscribers,' said Johnson, with great abruptness: but almost immediately recollecting himself, added, very complacently, Sir, I have two very cogent reasons for not printing any list of subscribers :one, that I have lost all the names, the other, that I have spent all the money.


Johnson could not brook appearing to be worsted in argument, even when he had taken the wrong side, to show the force and dexterity of his talents. When, therefore, he perceived that his ponent gained ground, he had recourse to some sudden mode of robust sophistry. Once, when I was pressing upon him with visible advantage, he stopped me thus:-" My dear Boswell, let's have no more of this; you'll make nothing of it. I'd rather have you whistle a Scotch tune."


Care, however, must be taken to distinguish between Johnson when he talked for victory," and Johnson when he had no desire but to inform and illustrate." One of Johnson's principal talents," says an eminent friend of his,1 was shown in maintaining the wrong side of an argument, and in a splendid perversion of the truth. If you could contrive to have his fair opinion on a subject, and without any bias from personal prejudice, or from a wish to be victorious in argument, it was wisdom itself, not only convincing, but overpowering."

He had, however, all his life habituated himself to consider conversation as a trial of intellectual vigour and skill; and to this, I think, we may venture to ascribe that unexampled richness and brilliancy which appeared in his own. As a proof at once of his eagerness for colloquial distinction, and his high notion of this eminent friend, he

1 The late Right Hon. William Gerrard Hamilton.-MALONE.

[ocr errors]

once addressed him thus:-“ we now have been several hours together; and you have said but one thing for which 1 envied you.'

[ocr errors]


He disliked much all speculative desponding considerations, which tended to discourage men from diligence and exertion. He was in this like Dr. Shaw,1 the great traveller, who, Mr. Daines Barrington told me, used to say, I hate a cui bono man." Upon being asked by a friend what he should think of a man who was apt to say non est tanti;—“ That he's a stupid fellow, Sir," answered Johnson. "What would these tanti men be doing the while?" When I, in a low-spirited fit, was talking to him with indifference of the pursuits which generally engage us in a course of action, and inquiring a reason for taking so much trouble; Sir," said he, in an animated tone, "it is driving on the system of life.”


He told me that he was glad that I had, by General Oglethorpe's means, become acquainted with Dr. Shebbeare. Indeed that gentleman, whatever objections were made to him, had knowledge and abilities much above the class of ordinary writers, and deserves to be remembered as a respectable name in literature, were it only for his admirable "Letters on the English Nation," under the name of "Battista Angeloni, a Jesuit."

[ocr errors]

Johnson and Shebbeare2 were frequently named together, as having in former reigns had no predilection for the family of Hanover. The author of the celebrated "Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers,' introduces them in one line, in a list of those "who tasted the sweets of his present Majesty's reign." Such was Johnson's candid relish of the merit of that satire, that he allowed Dr. Goldsmith, as he told me, to read it to him from beginning to end, and did not refuse his praise to its execution.

Goldsmith could sometimes take adventurous liberties with him, and escaped unpunished. Beauclerk told me that when Goldsmith talked of a project for having a third theatre in London solely for the exhibition of new plays, in order to deliver authors from the supposed tyranny of managers, Johnson treated it slightingly, upon which Goldsmith said, "Ay, ay, this may be nothing to you, who can now shelter yourself behind the corner of a pension ;" and Johnson bore this with good-humour.

1 Known by his "Travels, or Observations relating to several parts of Barbary and the Levant." He was born in 1692, and died in 1751.-ED.

2 I recollect a ludicrous paragraph in the newspapers, that the King had pensioned both a He-bear and a She-bear.-BOSWELL.

Dr. Shebbeare was a physician and political writer of some repute. For his violence he was once pilloried, and twice imprisoned. Afterwards, under the administration of Lord Bute, he supported the government, and obtained a pension. He published "Letters to the People of England," "The History of the Sumatrans," and many other political tracts. He was born at Bideford, co. Devon, and died in 1788.-ED.

Johnson praised the Earl of Carlisle's poems,1 which his lordship had published with his name, as not disdaining to be a candidate for literary fame. My friend was of opinion, that when a man of rank appeared in that character, he deserved to have his merit handsomely allowed. In this I think he was more liberal than Mr. William Whitehead, in his "Elegy to Lord Villiers," in which, under the pretext of "superior toils demanding all their care, he discovers a jealousy of the great paying their court to the Muses:


[blocks in formation]

Who dare excel, thy fost'ring aid afford;

Their arts, their magic powers, with honours due
Exalt; but be thyself what they record."

Johnson had called twice on the Bishop of Killaloe before his lordship set out for Ireland, having missed him the first time. He said, 'It would have hung heavy on my heart if I had not seen him. No man ever paid more attention to another than he has done to me ; and I have neglected him, not wilfully, but from being otherwise occupied.

1 Frederick Howard, fifth Earl of Carlisle, the uncle and guardian of Lord Byron; to whom the noble poet dedicated his "Hours of Idleness," although he afterwards satirized him in his "English Bards." Some of Lord Carlisle's literary works bear the stamp of poetic genius. The tragedies of A Father's Vengeance," and "The Step-mother," have been published with a collection of his lordship's poems. He was born in 1748, and died in 1825.-ED.

2 Men of rank and fortune, however, should be pretty well assured of having a real claim to the approbation of the public as writers, before they venture to stand forth. Dryden, in his preface to "All for Love," thus expresses himself:

"Men of pleasant conversation, at least esteemed so, and endued with a trifling kind of fancy, perhaps helped out by a smattering of Latin, are ambitious to distinguish themselves from the herd of gentlemen by their poetry:

'Rarus enim fermè sensus communis in illa
Fortuna.-Juv. Sat. viii. 73.

And is not this a wretched affectation, not to be contented with what fortune has done for them, and sit down quietly with their estates, but they must call their wits in question, and needlessly expose their nakedness to public view? Not considering that they are not to expect the same approbation from sober men, which they have found from their flatterers after the third bottle. If a little glittering in discourse has passed them on us for witty men, where was the necessity of undeceiving the world? Would a man, who has an ill title to an estate, but yet is in possession of it, would he bring it out of his own accord to be tried at Westminster? We who write, if we want the talents, yet have the excuse that we do it for a poor subsistence; but what can be urged in their defence who, not having the vocation of poverty to scribble, out of mere wantonness take pains to make themselves ridiculous? Horace was certainly in the right where he said, "That no man is satisfied with his own condition." A poet is not pleased, because he is not rich; and the rich are discontented because the poets will not admit them of their number.BOSWELL.

3 This gave me very great pleasure; for there had been once a pretty smart altercation between Dr. Barnard and him, upon a question whether a man could improve himself after the age of 45; when Johnson, in a hasty humour, expressed himself in a manner not quite civil. Dr. Barnard made it the subject of a copy of pleasant verses, in which he

« VorigeDoorgaan »