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66 to be sure,
that is very
it was the one nearest in excellence to Shakspeare : when Johnson, in his peremptory manner, contradicted him, and pronounced that there were not forty good lines to be found in the whole play ; adding, “ Pooh! what stuff are these lines !
“ What feminine tales hast thou been listening to,
Of unair'd sheets, catarrh, and toothach, got
By thin-soled shoes ? ” True!” replied Goldsmith; like Shakspeare."
483. Criticisms on Goldsmith. Soon after Goldsmith's death, some people dining with Sir Joshua were commenting rather freely on some part of his works, which, in their opinion, neither discovered talent nor originality. To this Dr. Johnson listened, in his usual growling manner, for some time ; when, at length, his patience being exhausted, he rose with great dignity, looked them full in the face, and exclaimed, If nobody were suffered to abuse poor Goldy but those who could write as well, he would have few censors.”
484. Portrait of Johnson reading. In 1775, Sir Joshua painted that portrait of his friend Johnson, which represents him as reading and near-sighted. This was very displeasing to the Doctor, who, when he saw it, reproved Sir Joshua for painting him in that manner and attitude; saying,
" It is not friendly to hand down to posterity the imperfections of any man.
But, on the contrary, Sir Joshua esteemed it as a circumstance in nature to be remarked, as characterising the person represented, and therefore as giving additional value to the portrait.
485. Johnson's Pride. Of Johnson's pride, I have heard Sir Joshua himself observe, that if any man drew him into a state of obli.
gation without his own consent, that man was the first he would affront, by way of clearing off the account.
486. Trip to Plymouth. - Clouted Cream and Cider.
Reynolds's trip to Plymouth, accompanied by Dr. Johnson, took place in 1762 : when, during a visit to a neighbouring gentleman, Johnson's irregularity of conduct produced considerable alarm in the mind of their host; who, in order to gratify his guests, had placed before them every delicacy which the house afforded. On this occasion the Doctor, who seldom showed much discretion in his feeding, devoured so large a quantity of new honey and of clouted cream, which is peculiar to Devonshire, besides drinking large potations of new cider, that the entertainer found himself much em. barrassed between his anxious regard for the Doctor's health, and his fear of breaking through the rules of politeness, by giving him a hint on the subject. The strength of Johnson's constitution, however, saved him from any unpleasant consequences which might have been expected.
487. Farmer on Shakspeare. Dr. Farmer, of Cambridge, had written a most excellent and convincing pamphlet, to prove that Shakspeare knew little or nothing of the ancients but by translations. Being in company with Dr. Johnson, he received from him the following compliment upon the work: “ Dr. Farmer, you have done that which never was done before; that is, you have completely finished a controversy beyond all further doubt.” “I thank you," answered Dr. Farmer, “ for your flattering opinion of my work, but still think there are some critics who will adhere to their old opinions,— certain persons that I could name.” « Ah !” said Johnson, is that may be true; for the limbs will quiver and move after the soul is gone."
488. Johnson and Peter Pindar. Dr. Walcot, in a letter addressed to me, says:
Happening to be in company with Dr. Johnson, and observing to him, that his portrait by Reynolds was not sufficiently dignified prepared with a flat contradiction, he replied, in a kind of bull-dog growl, “ No, Sir! the pencil of Reynolds never wanted dignity nor the graces.'
489. “ Peter Paul Rubens." James MacArdell, the mezzotinto engraver, having taken a very good print from the portrait of Rubens, came with it one morning to Sir Joshua Reynolds, to inquire if he could inform him particularly of the many titles to which Rubens had a right, in order to inscribe them properly under his print; saying, he believed that Rubens had been knighted by the kings of France, Spain, and England; was secretary of state in Flanders, and to the privy seal in Spain; and had been employed in a ministerial capacity from the court of Madrid to the court of London, to negotiate a treaty of peace between the two crowns; and that he was also a magistrate of Antwerp, &c. Dr. Johnson, happening to be in the room with Sir Joshua at the time, and understanding MacArdell's inquiry, interfered rather abruptly, saying, “ Pooh ! pooh ! put his name alone under the print, Peter Paul Rubens :' that is full sufficient, and more than all the rest." This advice of the Doctor was accordingly followed.
490. Compliments. At the time that Miss Linley was in the highest esteem as a public singer, Dr. Johnson came in the evening to drink tea with Miss Reynolds; and when he entered the room, she said to him, See, Dr. Johnson, what a preference I give to your company ; for I had an offer of a place in a box at the Oratorio, to hear Miss
Linley; but I would ratner sit with you than hear Miss Linley sing." " And I, Madam,” replied Johnson,
would rather sit with you than sit upon a throne.” The Doctor would not be surpassed even in a trifling compliment.
491. Learned Ladies. Several ladies being in company with Dr. Johnson, it was remarked by one of them, that a learned woman was by no means a rare character in the present age ; when Johnson replied, “ I have known a great many ladies who knew Latin, but very few who knew English.” A lady observed, that women surpassed men in epistolary correspondence. Johnson said, “I do not know that." “ At least," said the lady, “ they are most pleasing when they are in conversation.” No, Madam,” returned Johnson,
“ I think they are most pleasing when they hold their tongues.”
492. Saying good Things. A friend of Dr. Johnson's, in conversation with him, was lamenting the disagreeable situation in which those persons stood, who were eminent for their witticisms, as they were perpetually expected to be saying good things - that it was a heavy tax on them. indeed,” said Johnson, a very heavy tax on them; a tax which no man can pay who does not steal.” 493. Burke.
Sir Joshua Reynolds. Speaking of how much Sir Joshua owed to the writings and conversation of Johnson, Mr. Burke said, that “nothing showed more the greatness of Sir Joshua's parts, than his taking advantage of both, and making some application of them to his profession, when Johnson neither understood, nor desired to understand, any thing of painting, and had no distinct idea of its nomenclature, even in those parts which had got most into use in common life."
66 It is,
ANECDOTES OF DR. JOHNSON,
BY ANNA SEWARD. (1)
494. Johnson's “ Beauties.” Love is the great softener of savage dispositions. Johnson had always a metaphysic passion for one princess or other: first, the rustic Lucy Porter, before he married her nauseous mother; next, the handsome, but haughty, Molly Aston ; next, the sublimated, methodistic, Hill Boothby, who read her bible in Hebrew; and, lastly, the more charming Mrs. Thrale, with the beauty of the first, the learning of the second, and with more worth than a bushel of such sinners and such saints. It is ridiculously diverting to see the old elephant forsaking his nature before these princesses —
6. To make them mirth, use all his might, and writhe,
His mighty form disporting.” This last and long-enduring passion for Mrs. Thrale was, however, composed equally, perhaps, of cupboard love, Platonic love, and vanity tickled and gratified, from morn to night, by incessant homage. The two first ingredients are certainly oddly heterogeneous; but Johnson, in religion and politics, in love and in hatred, was composed of such opposite and contradictory materials, as never before met in the human mind.
(1) [From “ Letters of Anna Seward, written between the years 1784 and 1807."]