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did I ever hear her mention any of the promissory sparkles which doubtless burst forth, though no records of them are within my knowledge. I cannot meet with any contemporary of those his very youthful days. They are all, I fear, like my poor mother, gone to their eternal home, and thus are our fountains of juvenile intelligence dried up. Mrs Lucy Porter, who, were she in health, could communicate more than she would take the trouble of doing, is following apace her illustrious father-in-law. She is now too ill to be accessible to any of her friends, except Mr Pearson; and were it otherwise, I do not believe that a kneeling world would obtain from her the letters you wish for. On inquiring after Dr Johnson, she has often read one of his recent epistles. As she read, I secretly wondered to perceive that they contained no traces of genius. They might have been any person's composition. When this is the case, it is injudicious to publish such inconclusive testimonies. Several letters of his have appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, that could interest no one by their intrinsic vigour. They will be eagerly read because they are Johnson's; but I have often thought, that we never rise from any composition by the pen of the illustrious, with exactly the same degree of respect for the talents of the author with which we sat down to peruse it; our mass of admiration is either increased or diminished. If it is but by a single grain, that grain is something. His letter to the Chancellor is a very stiff, indifferent performance, tinctured with a sort of covert resentment to the King, that looks ungrateful for past obligations. I wonder how he could bear the thoughts of such a request being made to his Majesty, since he had a capital of three thousand pounds, out of which he might have drawn to support the expence of continental travelling. You request the conversation * that passed between Johnson and myself in company, on the subject of Mrs Elizabeth Aston of Stowe Hill, then living, with whom he always past so much time when he was in Lichfield, and for whom he professed so great a friendship. ‘I have often heard my mother say, Doctor, that Mrs Elizabeth Aston was, in her youth, a very beautiful woman; and that, with all the censoriousness and spiteful spleen of a very bad temper, she had great powers of pleasing; that she was lively, insinuating, and intelligent. “I knew her not till the vivacity of her youth had long been extinguished, and I confess I looked in vain for the traces of former ability. I wish to have your opinion, Sir, of what she was, you who knew her so well in her best days.” “My dear, when thy mother told thee Aston was handsome, thy mother told thee truth: She was very handsome. When thy mother told thee that Aston loved to abuse her neighbours, she told thee truth; but when thy mother told thee that Aston had any marked ability in that same abusive business, that wit gave it zest, or imagination colour, thy mother did not tell thee truth. No, no, Madam, Aston's understanding was not of any strength, either native or acquired.” “But, Sir, I have heard you say, that her sister's husband, Mr Walmsley, was a man of bright parts, and extensive knowledge; that he was also a man of strong passions, and, though benevolent in a thousand instances, yet irascible in as many. It is well known, that Mr Walmsley was considerably governed by this lady; as witness Mr Hinton's constant visits, and presence at his table, in despite of its master's avowed aversion. Could it be, that, without some marked intellectual
* This conversation, though requested by Mr Boswell, the author believes is not inserted in that Gentleman’s Life of Johnson ; at least, not in the first edition. Mrs Aston's sister, Mrs Gastrill, being alive when it was published, was, doubtless, the reason why this anecdote was suppressed.
powers, she could obtain absolute dominion over such a man o'
“Madam, I have said, and truly, that Walmsley had bright and extensive powers of mind; that they had been cultivated by familiarity with the best authors, and by connections with the learned and polite. It is a fact, that Aston obtained nearly absolute dominion over his will; it is no less a fact, that his disposition was irritable and violent. But Walmsley was a man; and there is no man who can resist the repeated attacks of a furious woman. Walmsley had no alternative but to submit, or turn her out of doors.”
I have procured, from Mr Levett, of this city, the inclosed copy of an original *letter of Dr Johnson's. Though its style may not bear the stamp of its author's genius, yet it is illumed with a soft ray of filial piety, which cannot fail to cast its portion of additional lustre, however small, on the amiable side of the Johnsonian medal.
The genuine lovers of the poetic science look with anxious eyes to Mr Boswell, desiring that every merit of the stupendous mortal may be shewn in its fairest light; but expecting also, that impartial justice, so worthy of a generous mind, which the popular cry cannot influence to flatter the object of discrimination, nor yet the yearnings of remembered amity induce, to invest that object with unreal perfection, injurious, from the severity of his censures, to the rights of others.
* This letter appears in Mr Boswell's Life of Dr Johnson.
There can be no doubt of the authenticity of that little anecdote of Johnson's infancy; the verses he made at three years old, on having killed, by treading upon it, his eleventh duck. Mrs Lucy Porter is a woman of the strictest veracity; and a more conscientious creature could not live than old Mrs Johnson, who, I have heard Mrs Porter say, has often mentioned the circumstance to her. It is curious to remark, in these little verses, the poetic seed which afterwards bore plenteous fruits, of so rich a lustre and flavour. Everything Johnson wrote was poetry; for the poetic essence consists not in rhyme and measure, which are only its trappings, but in that strength, and glow of the fancy, to which all the works of art and nature stand in prompt administration; in that rich harmony of period,
“More tunable than needs the metric powers
We observe, also, in those infant verses, the seeds of that superstition which grew with his