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WILKES. "Had Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I should not have taken the trouble to write his eulogy, and dedicate 'MORTIMER' to him."
Mr. Wilkes held a candle to show a fine print of a beautiful female figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour of the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He afterwards in a conversation with me waggishly insisted, that all the time Johnson showed visible signs of a fervent admiration of the corresponding charms of the fair Quaker.
This record, though by no means so perfect as I could wish, will serve to give a notion of a very curious interview, which was not only pleasing at the time, but had the agreeable and benignant effect of reconciling any animosity, and sweetening any acidity, which, in the various bustle of political contest, had been produced in the minds of two men, who, though widely different, had so many things in common -classical learning, modern literature, wit and humour, and ready repartee- that it would have been much to be regretted if they had been for ever at a distance from each other.
Mr. Burke gave me much credit for this successful negociation; and pleasantly said, "that there was nothing equal to it in the whole history of the corps diplomatique."
I attended Dr. Johnson home, and had the satisfaction to hear him tell Mrs. Williams how much he had been pleased with Mr. Wilkes's company, and what an agreeable day he had passed. (1)
(1) The following is Dr. Johnson's own good-humoured
I talked a good deal to him of the celebrated Margaret Caroline Rudd, whom I had visited, induced by the fame of her talents, address, and irresistible power of fascination. (1) To a lady who disapproved of my visiting her, he said on a former occasion, "Nay, Madam, Boswell is in the right; I should have visited her myself, were it not that they have now a trick of putting every thing into the newspapers." This evening he exclaimed, "I envy him his acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd."
I mentioned a scheme which I had of making a tour to the Isle of Man, and giving a full account of it; and that Mr. Burke had playfully suggested as a motto,
"The proper study of mankind is MAN."
JOHNSON. "Sir, you will get more by the book than the jaunt will cost you; so you will have your diversion for nothing, and add to your reputation." (2)
account to Mrs. Thrale of this meeting:-"For my part I begin to settle, and keep company with grave aldermen. dined yesterday in the Poultry with Mr. Alderman Wilkes, and Mr. Alderman Lee, and Councillor Lee, his brother. There sat you the while thinking, What is Johnson doing? What should he be doing? He is breaking jokes with Jack Wilkes upon the Scotch. Such, Madam, are the vicissitudes of things! And there was Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker, that works the sutile pictures, who is a great admirer of your conversation." - C.
(1) See antè, p. 80. Her power of fascination was celebrated, because it was the fashion to suppose that she had fascinated her lover to the gallows. — C.
(2) May 14. 1776. Boswell goes away on Thursday very well satisfied with his journey. Some great men have promised to obtain him a place; and then a fig for his father and his new wife." Letters, vol. i. p. 324. — This place he never obtained, and the critical reader will observe several passages in this work, the tone of which may be attributed to his disappointment in this point. See antè, p. 58. Lord Auchinleck had lately married
On the evening of the next day, I took leave of him, being to set out for Scotland. I thanked him, with great warmth, for all his kindness. "Sir," said he, " you are very welcome. Nobody repays it with more.” (1)
Elizabeth Boswell, sister of Claude Irvine Boswell, afterwards a Lord of Session, by the title of Lord Balmuto. She was the cousin germain of her husband. Of this marriage there was no issue. - C.
(1) May 18. 1776. Boswell went away on Thursday night with no great inclination to travel northward; but who can contend with destiny? He says he had a very pleasant journey. He carries with him two or three good resolutions; I hope they will not mould on the road." - Letters, vol. p. 330.-C.
Sir Joshua Reynold's Dinners.-Goldsmith's Epitaph.The Round Robin.— Employment of Time.— Blair's Sermons. Easter Day. Prayer. Sir Alexander Dick. Shaw's Erse Grammar. - Johnson engages to write "The Lives of the English Poets." — Edward Dilly.—Correspondence.—Charles O'Connor.- Dr. Zachary Pearce's Posthumous Works. Prologue to Hugh Kelly's " Word to the Wise."
How very false is the notion that has gone round the world of the rough, and passionate, and harsh manners of this great and good man! That he had cccasional sallies of heat of temper, and that he was sometimes, perhaps, too "easily provoked" by absurdity and folly, and sometimes too desirous of triumph in colloquial contest, must be allowed. The quickness both of his perception and sensibility disposed him to sudden explosions of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness of wit was a strong and almost irresistible incitement. To adopt one of the finest images in Mr. Home's "Douglas,'
"On each glance of thought
Decision followed, as the thunderbolt
Pursues the flash!".
I admit that the beadle within him was often so eager
to apply the lasn, that the judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient deliberation.
That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may be granted; but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be supposed that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a club in his hand to knock down every one who approached him. On the contrary, the truth is, that by much the greatest part of his time he was civil, obliging, nay, polite in the true sense of the word; so much so, that many gentlemen who were long acquainted with him never received, or even heard a strong expression from him.
LETTER 248. TO MRS. THRALE.
"May 22. 1776.
"On Friday and Saturday I dined with Dr. Taylor, who is in discontent, but resolved not to stay much longer to hear the opinions of lawyers, who are all against him. On Sunday I dined at Sir Joshua's house on the hill [Richmond], with the Bishop of St. Asaph [Shipley]: the dinner was good, and the bishop is knowing and conversible." (1)
(1) This praise of Sir Joshua's dinner was not a matter of course; for his table, though very agreeable, was not what is usually called a good one, as appears from the following description given of it by Mr. Courtenay (a frequent and favourite guest) to Sir James Mackintosh :
"There was something singular in the style and economy of Sir Joshua's table that contributed to pleasantry and good humour; a coarse inelegant plenty, without any regard to order and arrangement. A table, prepared for seven or eight, was often compelled to contain fifteen or sixteen. When this pressing difficulty was got over, a deficiency of knives, forks, plates, and glasses succeeded. The attendance was in the same style; and it was absolutely necessary to call instantly for beer, bread, or wine, that you might be supplied with them before the first course was over. He was once prevailed on to furnish the table with decanters and glasses at dinner, to save time, and prevent the tardy manoeuvres of two or three occasional undisciplined domestics. As these accelerating utensils were demolished in the course of service, Sir Joshua could never be persuaded to replace