« VorigeDoorgaan »
as the palladium of our religion: I hope that no profane hands will venture to touch it."
630. "Life of Lord Lyttelton."-Mr. Pepys. (1)
I have within these few days received the following paragraph in a letter from a friend of mine in Ireland: -"Johnson's Characters of some Poets breathe such inconsistency, such absurdity, and such want of taste and feeling, that it is the opinion of the Count of Narbonne (2), Sir N. Barry, and myself, that Mrs. Montagu should expose him in a short publication. He deserves it almost as much as Voltaire - if not, Lytteltoni gratiâ, do it yourself." I met him some time ago at Streatham (3), and such a day did we pass in disputation upon the life of our dear friend Lord Lyttelton, as I trust it will never be my fate to pass again! The moment the cloth was removed he challenged me to come out (as he called it), and say what I had to object to his Life of Lord Lyttelton. This, you see, was a call which, however, disagreeable to myself and the rest of the company, I could not but obey, and so to it we went for three or four hours without ceasing. He once observed, that it was the duty of a biographer to state all the failings of a respectable character. I never
(1) From a Letter from Mr. Pepys to Mrs. Montagu, in the Montagu MSS., dated August 4. 1781. It shows how very violently, and on what slight grounds, the friends of Lord Lyttelton resisted Johnson's treatment of him. Now that personal feelings have subsided, the readers of the Life will wonder at Mr. Pepys's extravagant indignation; and we have already seen (antè, Vol. VII. p. 334. and Vol. VIII. p. 28.), that Johnson cared so little about the matter, that he was willing that the Life should have been written for him, by one of Lord Lyttelton's friends.-C.
(2) Robert Jephson, Esq., author of "Braganza," and the "Count de Narbonne," — see antè, Vol. III. p. 90., where there seems reason to believe that Johnson and Mr. Jephson were no great friends. He died in 1803. — C.
(3) [See antè, Vol. IX. p. 49.]
longed to do any thing so much as to assume his own principle, and go into a detail which I could suppose his biographer might, in some future time, think necessary; but I contented myself with generals. He took great credit for not having mentioned the coarseness of Lord Lyttelton's manners. I told him, that if he would insert that (1) in the next edition, I would excuse him all the rest. We shook hands, however, at parting; which put me much in mind of the parting between Jaques and Orlando -God be with you; let us meet as seldom as we can! Fare you well; I hope we shall be better strangers!' (2) We have not met again till last Tuesday, and then I must do him the justice to say, that he did all in his power to show me that he was sorry for the former attack. But what hurts me all this while is, not that Johnson should go unpunished, but that our dear and respectable friend should go down to posterity with that artful and studied contempt thrown upon his character which he so little deserved, and that a man who (notwithstanding the little foibles he might have) was in my opinion one of the most exalted patterns of virtue, liberality, and benevolence, not to mention the high rank which he held in literature, should be handed down to succeeding generations under the appellation of poor Lyttelton! This, I must own, vexes and disquiets me whenever I
(1) On the principle
Quis tulerit Gracches de seditione querentes ".
Pepys thought, justly enough, that a charge of coarseness of manners made by Johnson against Lord Lyttelton would be so ridiculous as to defeat all the rest of his censure. — C.
(2) ["Now," says Dr. Johnson, the moment he was gone, "is Pepys gone home hating me, who love him better than I did before he spoke in defence of his dead friend; but though I hope I spoke better who spoke against him, yet all my eloquence will gain me nothing but an honest man for my enemy." Piozzi, see antè, Vol. IX. p. 49.]
think of it; and had I the command of half your powers, tempered as they are with that true moderation and justice, he should not sleep within his silent grave, I do not say unrevenged (because that is not what I wish) but unvindicated, and unrescued from that contempt which has been so industriously and so injuriously thrown upon him."
631. Blue Stocking Parties. (1)
Nothing could be more agreeable, nor indeed more instructive, than these parties. Mrs. Vesey had the almost magic art of putting all her company at their ease, without the least appearance of design. Here was no formal circle, to petrify an unfortunate stranger on his entrance; no rules of conversation to observe; no holding forth of one to his own distress, and the stupefying of his audience; no reading of his works by the author. The company naturally broke into little groups, perpetually varying and changing. They talked or were silent, sat or walked about, just as they pleased. Nor was it absolutely necessary even to talk sense. There was no bar to harmless mirth and gaiety : and while perhaps Dr. Johnson in one corner held forth on the moral duties, in another, two or three young people might be talking of the fashions and the Opera; and in a third, Lord Orford (then Mr. Horace Walpole) might be amusing a little group around him with his lively wit and intelligent conversation. Now and then perhaps Mrs. Vesey might call the attention of the company in general to some circumstance of news, politics, or literature, of peculiar importance; or perhaps to an anecdote, or interesting account of some person known to the company in general. Of this last kind a laughable circumstance occurred about the
(1) [This and the following are from Pennington's "Memoirs of Mrs. Carter."]
year 1778, when Mrs. Carter was confined to her bed with a fever, which was thought to be dangerous. She was attended by her brother-in-law, Dr. Douglas, then a physician in Town, and he was in the habit of sending bulletins of the state of her health to her most intimate friends, with many of whom he was well acquainted himself. At one of Mrs. Vesey's parties a note was brought to her, which she immediately saw was from Dr. Douglas. "Oh!" said she, before she opened it," this contains an account of our dear Mrs. Carter. We are all interested in her health: Dr. Johnson, pray read it out for the information of the company." There was a profound silence; and the Doctor, with the utmost gravity, read aloud the physician's report of the happy effect which Mrs. Carter's medicines had produced, with a full and complete account of the circumstances attending them.
632. Mrs. Carter on Johnson's Death.
I see by the papers (says Mrs. Carter, in a letter to Mrs. Montagu), that Dr. Johnson is dead. In extent of learning, and exquisite purity of moral writing, he has left no superior, and I fear very few equals. His virtues and his piety were founded on the steadiest of Christian principles and faith. His faults, I firmly believe, arose from the irritations of a most suffering state of nervous constitution, which scarcely ever allowed him a moment's ease. You wonder "that an undoubted believer and a man of piety should be afraid of death;" but it is such characters who have ever the deepest sense of their imperfections and deviations from the rule of duty, of which the very best must be conscious; and such a temper of mind as is struck with awe and humility at the prospect of the last solemn sentence appears much better suited to the wretched deficiencies of the best human performances than the thoughtless security that rushes undisturbed into eternity. To
this passage the editor of Mrs. Carter's Letters subjoins: -"Mrs. Carter informed the editor, that in one of the last conversations which she had with this eminent moralist, she told him that she had never known him say any thing contrary to the principles of the Christian religion. He seized her hand with great emotion, exclaiming, You know this, and bear witness to it when I am gone!""
633. Johnson and Coxe. (1)
When I was last (says Lord Chedworth) in town I dined in company with the eminent Mr. C. (2), of whom I did not form a high opinion. He asserted, that Dr. Johnson originally intended to abuse "Paradise Lost," but being informed that the nation would not bear it, he produced the critique which now stands in the "Life of Milton," and which he admitted to be excellent. I contended that Dr. Johnson had there expressed his real opinion, which no man was less afraid of delivering than Dr. Johnson; that the critique was written con amore; and that the work was praised with such a glow of fondness, and the grounds of that praise were so fully and satisfactorily unfolded, that it was impossible Dr. Johnson should not have felt the value of the work, which he had so liberally and rationally commended. It came out afterwards that Dr. Johnson had disgusted Mr. C. He had supped at Thrale's one night, when he sat near the upper end of the table, and Dr. Johnson near the lower end; and having related a long story which had very much delighted the company, in the pleasure resulting from which relation Dr. Johnson had not (from
(1) [From Lord Chedworth's Letters to the Rev. Mr. Crompton.]
(2) Mr. Crompton informs me, that this was the Rev. William Coxe, who had recently published his travels.- C.