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“I thought had been a secret between you and me; and I am sure I would not have said any thing about it for the world.” “Now see,” repeated he, when he told the story, “what a figure a man makes who thus unaccountably chooses to be the frigid narrator of his own disgrace. Il volto sciolto, ed i pensieri stretti, was a proverb made on purpose for such mortals, to keep people, if possible, from being thus the heralds of their own shame: for what compassion can they gain by such silly narratives ? No man should be expected to sympathise with the sorrows of vanity. If, then, you are mortified by any ill usage, whether real or supposed, keep at least the account of such mortifications to yourself, and forbear to proclaim how meanly you are thought on by others, unless you desire to be meanly thought of by all.”
113. Superfluous Ingenuity. — Nicknames. The little history of another friend's superfluous ingenuity will contribute to introduce a similar remark. He had a daughter of about fourteen years old, as I remember, fat and clumsy : and though the father adored, and desired others to adore her, yet being aware perhaps that she was not what the French call pétrie des graces, and thinking, I suppose, that the old maxim, of beginning to laugh at yourself first where you have any thing ridiculous about you, was a good one, he comically enough called his girl Trundle when he spoke of her ; and many who bore neither of them any ill-will felt disposed to laugh at the happiness of the appellation. “See now," says Dr. Johnson, “what haste people are in to be hooted. Nobody ever thought of this fellow nor of his daughter, could he but have been quiet himself, and forborne to call the eyes of the world on his dowdy and her deformity. But it teaches one to see at least, that if nobody else will nickname one's children, the parents will e'en do it themselves.”
114. “ Blinking Sam.” All this held true in matters to Mr. Johnson of more serious consequence.
When Sir Joshua Reynolds had painted his portrait looking into the slit of his
and holding it almost close to his eye, as was his general custom, he felt displeased, and told me," he would not be known by posterity for his defects only, let Sir Joshua do his worst. I said, in reply, that Reynolds had no such difficulties about himself, and that he might observe the picture which hung up in the room where we were talking, represented Sir Joshua holding his ear in his hand to catch the sound. “ He may paint himself as deaf if he chooses,” replied Johnson ; " but I will not be blinking Sam.”
115. Shakspeare. It is chiefly for the sake of evincing the regularity and steadiness of Mr. Johnson's mind that I have given these trifling memoirs, to show that his soul was not different from that of another person, but, as it was, greater; and to give those who did not know him a just idea of his acquiescence in what we call vulgar prejudices, and of his extreme distance from those notions which the world has agreed, I know not very well why, to call romantic. It is, indeed, observable in his preface to Shakspeare, that while other critics expatiate on the creative powers
and vivid imagination of that matchless poet, Dr. Johnson commends him for giving so just a representation of human manners, “ that from his scenes a hermit might estimate the value of society, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.”
116. Choice of a Wife. The general and constant advice he gave, too, when consulted about the choice of a wife, a profession, or whatever influences a man's particular and immediate happiness, was always to reject no positive good from fears of its contrary consequences. “Do not,” said he, “ forbear to marry a beautiful woman, if you can find such, out of a fancy that she will be less constant than an ugly one ; or condemn yourself to the society of coarseness and vulgarity for fear of the expenses, or other dangers, of elegance and personal charms; which have been always acknowledged as a positive good, and for the want of which there should be always given some weighty compensation. I have, however,” continued Mr. Johnson, “ seen some prudent fellows who forbore to connect themselves with beauty lest coquetry should be near, and with wit or birth lest insolence should lurk behind them, till they have been forced by their discretion to linger life away in tasteless stupidity, and choose to count the moments by remembrance of pain instead of enjoyment of pleasure.'
117. Professions. Roger Ascham. When professions were talked of, “ Scorn,” said Mr. Johnson, “ to put your behaviour under the dominion of canters : never think it clever to call physic a mean study, or law a dry one; or ask a baby of seven years old which way his genius leads him, when we all know that a boy of seven years old has no genius for any thing except a pegtop and an apple-pie ; but fix on some business where much money may be got and little virtue risked : follow that business steadily, and do not live as Roger Ascham says the wits do, men know not how ; and at last die obscurely, men mark not where."
118. Opinion of the World. Dr. Johnson had a veneration for the voice of mankind beyond what most people will own ; and as he liberally confessed that all his own disappointments proceeded from himself, he hated to hear others complain of general injustice. I remember when lamentation was made of the neglect showed to Jeremiah Markland, a great philologist, as some one ventured to call him : -" He is a scholar, undoubtedly, Sir,” replied Dr. Johnson ; “ but remember that he would run from the world, and that it is not the world's business to run after him. I hate a fellow whom pride, or cowardice, or laziness drives into a corner, and does nothing when he is there but sit and growl ; let him come out as I do, and bark." I
[Mr. Markland, who has favoured me with many kind and useful suggestions, observes on this passage, that " Johnson's censure was undeserved. Jere
119. Retirement from the World. “The world,” added he, “is chiefly unjust and ungenerous in this, that all are ready to encourage a man who once talks of leaving it, and few things do really provoke me more, than to hear people prate of retirement, when they have neither skill to discern their own motives, nor penetration to estimate the consequences ; but while a fellow is active to gain either power or wealth,” continued he,
every body produces some hinderance to his advancement, some sage remark, or some unfavourable prediction ; but let him once say slightly, I have had enough of this troublesome bustling world, 't is time to leave it now :
Ah, dear Sir l' cries the first old acquaintance he meets, “I am glad to find you in this happy disposition : yes, dear friend ! do retire, and think of nothing but your own ease : there's Mr. William will find it a pleasure to settle all your accounts, and relieve you from the fatigue ; Miss Dolly makes the charmingest chicken broth in the world, and the cheesecakes we eat of hers once, how good they were: I will be coming every two or three days myself to chat with you in a quiet way; so snug! and tell you how matters go upon ’Change,' or in the House, or, according to the blockhead's first pursuits, whether lucrative or politic, which thus he leaves ; and lays himself down a voluntary prey to his own sensuality and sloth, while the ambition and avarice of the nephews and nieces, with their rascally adherents and coadjutors, reap the advantage, while they fatten their fool.”
miah Markland was certainly no growler. He sought for, because he loved, retirement; and rejected all the honours and rewards which were liberally offered to his acceptance. During a long life, he devoted himself unceasingly to those pursuits for which he was best fitted, collating the classics, and illustrating the Scriptures. “Sequantur alii famam, aucupentur divitias, hic illa oculis irretortis contemplatus, post terga constanter rejecit .... In solitudinem se recepit, studiis excolendis et pauperibus sublevandis unicè intentus. Such is the character given of Markland by his pupil and friend Edward Clarke.” Mrs. Piozzi's flippant expression ("a great philologist, as some one ventured to call him ") will excite a smile, when we recollect what Markland has done as a philologist, and the estimation in which he has been held both by the most learned of his contemporar os (including Johnson himself ), and the most distinguished scholars of our own time. Dr. Burney, in a tone of the highest panegyric, numbered him with Bentley, Dawes, Toup, and Porson ; and a still later writer has thus candidly enumerated his merits : “ Markland was endowed with a respectable portion of judgment and sagacity. He was very laborious, loved retirement, and spent a long life in the study of the Greek and Latin languages. For modesty, candour, literary honesty, and courteousness to other scholars, he is justly considered as the mode which ought to be proposed for the imitation of every critic." Quart. Rev. vol. vii. p. 442. : so far Mr. Markland. It is but just to all parties, that I should add, that (whatever Johnson may have said in the current of conversation, and probably in allusion to some minute and unrecorded circumstance,) he had a fixed respect for the talents and character of Markland. For it appears that, on the 20th October, 1782, he wrote to Mr. Nichols, urging bim to obtain some record of the Life of Markland, who, with Jortin and Thirlby, he calls three contemporaries of great eminence. — C.]
120. Marrying for Money. As the votaries of retirement had little of Mr. Johnson's applause, unless he knew that the motives were merely devotional, and unless he was convinced that their rituals were accompanied by a mortified state of the body, the sole proof of their sincerity which he would admit, as a compensation for such fatigue as a worldly life of care and activity requires ; so of the various states and conditions of humanity, he despised nove more, I think, than the man who marries for a maintenance : and of a friend who made his alliance on no higher principles, he said once, “Now has that fellow" (it was a nobleman of whom we were speaking) “at length obtained a certainty of three meals a day, and for that certainty, like his brother dog in the fable, he will get his neck galled for life with a collar."
121. Poverty. That poverty was an evil to be avoided by all honest means however, no man was more ready to avow : concealed poverty particularly, which he said was the general corrosive that destroyed the peace of almost every family ; to which no evening perhaps ever returned without some new project for hiding the sorrows and dangers of the next day. “ Want of money,” says Dr. Johnson, “ is sometimes concealed under pretended avarice, and sly hints of aversion to part with it; sometimes under stormy anger, and affectation of boundless rage ; but oftener still under a show of thoughtless extravagance and gay neglect; while, to a penetrating eye, none of these wretched veils suffice to keep the cruel truth from