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Johnson did all he could to console his wife; but told Mrs. Williams, "Her son is uniformly undutiful; so I conclude, like many other sober men, he might once in his life be drunk, and in that fit nature got the better of his pride." 541. Mrs. Williams.
Mrs. Williams was never otherwise dependent on Dr. Johnson, than in that sort of association, which is little known in the great world. They both had much to struggle through; and I verily believe, that whichever held the purse, the other partook what want required. She was, in respect to morals, more rigid than modern politeness admits; for she abhorred vice, and was not sparing of anger against those who threw young folks into temptation. Her ideas were very just in respect to the improvement of the mind, and her own was well stored. I have several of her letters: they are all written with great good sense and simplicity, and with a tenderness and affection, that far excel all that is called politeness and elegance. I have been favoured with her company some weeks at different times, and always found her temper equal, and her conversation lively. I never passed hours with more pleasure than when I heard her and Dr. Johnson talk of the persons they valued, or upon subjects in which they were much interested. One night I remember Mrs. Williams was giving an account of the Wilkinsons being at Paris, and having had consigned to their care the letters of Lady Wortley Montagu, on which they had bestowed great praise. The Doctor said, "Why, Madam, there might be great charms to them in being intrusted with honourable letters; but those who know better of the world, would have rather possessed two pages of true history." One day that he came to my house to meet many others, we told him that we had arranged our party to go to Westminster Abbey, would not he go with us? "No," he replied; No," he replied; "not while I
can keep out." Upon our saying, that the friends of a lady had been in great fear lest she should make a certain match for herself, he said, "We that are his friends have had great fears for him." I talked to Mrs. Thrale much of dear Mrs. Williams. She said she was highly born; that she was very nearly related to a Welsh peer; but that, though Dr. Johnson had always pressed her to be acquainted with her, yet she could not; she was afraid of her. I named her virtues; she seemed to hear me as if I had spoken of a newly discovered country.
542. Johnson's Character.
I think the character of Dr. Johnson can never be better summed up than in his own words in "Rasselas," chapter 42. He was master of an infinite deal of wit, which proceeded from depth of thought, and of a humour which he used sometimes to take off from the asperity of reproof. Though he did frequently utter very sportive things, which might be said to be playing upon the folly of some of his companions, and though he never said one that could disgrace him, yet I think, now that he is no more, the care should be to prove his steady uniformity in wisdom, virtue, and religion. His political principles ran high, both in church and state: he wished power to the king and to the heads of the church, as the laws of England have established; but I know he disliked absolute power, and I am very sure of his disapprobation of the doctrines of the church of Rome; because, about three weeks before we came abroad, he said to my Cornelia, "You are going where the ostentatious pomp of church ceremonies attracts the imagination; but, if they want to persuade you to change your religion, you must remember, that, by increasing your faith, you may be persuaded to become a Turk." If these were not the words, I have kept up to the express meaning.
BY MR. STOCKDALE. (1)
543. Swift- The Tale of a Tub.
ABOUT the year 1770, I was invited by the lively and hospitable Tom Davies to dine with him, to meet some interesting characters. Dr. Johnson was of the party, and this was my first introduction to him: there were others, with whom every intelligent mind would have wished to converse, Dr. Goldsmith and Mr. Meyer, the elegant miniature painter. Swift was one of our convivial subjects; of whom it was Dr. Johnson's invariable custom to speak in a disparaging manWe gave our sentiments, and undoubtedly of high panegyric, on the Tale of a Tub; of which Dr. Johnson insisted, in his usual positive manner, that it was impossible that Swift should have been the author, it was so eminently superior to all his other works. I expressed my own conviction, that it was written by Swift, and that, in many of his productions, he showed a genius not unequal to the composition of the Tale of a Tub. The Doctor desired me to name one. I re
(1) [From "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Percival Stockdale," 2 vols. 8vo. 1809. To this gentleman, the "Belfield" of Miss Burney's "Cecilia," Johnson was, upon several occasions, a kind protector. He was, for some years, the Doctor's neighbour, both in Johnson's Court and Bolt Court. For Miss Jane Porter's character of him, see antè, Vol. III. p. 122. n.]
plied, that I thought Gulliver's Travels not unworthy of the performance he so exclusively admired. He would not admit the instance; but said, that "if Swift was really the author of the Tale of a Tub, as the best of his other performances were of a very inferior merit, he should have hanged himself after he had written it."
544. The Journal to Stella.
Johnson said on the same day, "Swift corresponded minutely with Stella and Mrs. Dingley, on his importance with the ministry, from excessive vanity- that the women might exclaim, 'What a great man Dr. Swift is!""
Among other topics, Warburton claimed our attention. Goldsmith took a part against Warburton whom Johnson strenuously defended, and, indeed, with many strong arguments, and with bright sallies of eloquence. Goldsmith ridiculously asserted, that Warburton was a weak writer. This misapplied characteristic Dr. Johnson refuted. I shall never forget one of the happy metaphors with which he strengthened and illustrated his refutation. "Warburton," said he, may be absurd, but he will never be weak: he flounders well"
546. Johnson's Cat.
If I wanted the precedents, examples, and authority of celebrated men, to warrant my humble regard and affection for a cat, either in my boyish or maturer years (that useful, and indeed amiable, but infamously harassed and persecuted creature), those precedents I might easily produce. Montaigne has recorded his cat, in his usual facetiousness, but in an affectionate manner. And as the insolence of Achilles, and the sternness of Telamonian Ajax, were subdued by a Briseis and a
Tecmessa, I have frequently seen the ruggedness of Dr. Johnson softened to smiles and caresses, by the inarticulate, yet pathetic, expressions of his favourite Hodge.
547. Charles the Twelfth.
Charles the Twelfth was guilty of a deed which will eternally shade the glory of one of the most splendid periods that are presented to us in history—the murder of Patkal. Dr. Johnson remarked to me, when we were conversing on this tragical subject, that Charles had nine years of good and nine of bad fortune; that his adverse events began soon after the execution of Patkal, and continued to his death. Johnson may be pronounced to have been superstitious; but I own that I was sensibly struck with the force of the observation.
548. Pope's Homer.
Lord Lyttelton told me, that on a visit to Mr. Pope, while he was translating the Iliad, he took the liberty to express to that great poet his surprise, that he had not determined to translate Homer's poem into blank verse; as it was an epic poem, and as he had before him the illustrious example of Milton, in the Paradise Lost. Mr. Pope's answer to Lord Lyttelton was, that "he could translate it more easily into rhyme." I communicated this anecdote to Dr. Johnson; his remark to me was, I think, very erroneous in criticism,—" Sir, when Pope said that, he knew that he lied."
When Dr. Johnson and I were talking of Garrick, I observed, that he was a very moderate, fair, and pleas ing companion; when we considered what a constant influx had flowed upon him, both of fortune and fanie, to throw him off his bias of moral and social selfgovernment. "Sir," replied Johnson, in his usual emphatical and glowing manner, you are very right