Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

year, and never was thrown or conquered. Mr. Johnson was very conversant in the art of attack and defence by boxing, which science he had learned from his uncle Andrew, I believe. Because he saw Mr. Thrale one day leap over a cabriolet stool, to show that he was not tired after a chace of fifty miles or morc, he suddenly jumped over it too; but in a way so strange and so unweildy, that our terror lest he should break his bones, took from us even the power of laughing.

Michael Johnson was past fifty years old when he married his wife, who was upwards of forty, yet I think her son told me she remained three years childless before he was born into the world, who so greatly contributed to improve it." In three years more she brought another son, Nathaniel, who lived to be twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, and of whose manly spirit I have heard his brother speak with pride and pleasure.

Their father, Michael, died of an inflammatory fever, at the age of seventy-six, as Mr. Johnston told me; their mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual decay. She was slight in her person, he said, and rather below than above the common size. So excellent was her character, and so blameless her life, that when an oppressive neighbour' once endeavoured to take from her a little field she possessed, he could persuade no attorney to undertake the cause against a woman so beloved in her narrow circle.

At the age of two years Mr. Johnson was brought up to London by his mother, to be touched by Queen Anne, for the scrophulous evil, which terribly afflicted his childhood, and left such marks as greatly disfigured a countenance naturally harsh and rugged, besides doing irreparable damage to the auricular organs, which never could perform their functions since I knew him; and it was owing to that horrible disorder, too, that one eye was perfectly useless to him ; tbat defect however, was not observable, the eyes looked both alike.

The trick which most parents play with their chil-, dren, of showing off their newly-acquired accomplishments, disgusted Mr. Johnson beyond expression; he had been treated so himself, he said, till he absolutely

loathed

loathed his father's caresses, because he knew they were sure to precede some unpleasing display of his early abilities, and he used, when neighbours came a-visiting, to run up a tree, that he might not be found and exhibited, such, as no doubt he was, a prodigy of early understanding. His epitaph upon the duck hę killed, by treading on it, at five years old

[ocr errors]

is a striking example of an early expansion of mind, and knowledge of language; yet he always seemed more mortificd at the recollection of. the bustle his parents. made with his wit, than pleased with the thoughts of possessing it. “That” (said he to me one day) " is the great misery of late marriages; the unhappy produce of them becomes the plaything of dotage: an old man's child," continued he, “ leads much such a life, I think, as a little boy's dog, teized with aukward fondness, and forced, perhaps, to sit up and beg, as we call it, to divert a company, who at last go away complaining of their disagreeable entertainment.”

Dr. Johnson first learned to read of his mother and her old maid Catharine, in whose lap he well remembered sitting while she explained to him the story of St. George and the Dragon.

At eight years old he went to school, for his health would not perinit him to be sent sooner. When he was about nine years old, having got the play of Hamlet in his hand, and reading it quietly in his father's kitchen, he kept on steadily enough, till coming to the ghost seene, he suddenly hurried up stairs to the street-door that he might see people about him.

Mr. Johnson was himself exceedingly disposed to the general indulgence of children, and was even scrupulously and ceremoniously attentive not to offend them: he had strongly persuaded himself of the difficulty people always find to erase carly impressions either of kindness or resentment, and said, he should never have ,

B2

SO

so loved his mother when a man, had she not given hin coffee, she could ill afford, to gratify his appetite when a boy.” If you had had children, Sir, said I, would you have taught them any thing? I hope (replied he) that I should leave willingly lived on bread and water to obtain instruction for them.

The remembrance of what had passed in his own childhood, made Mr. Johnson very solicitous to preserve the felicity of children; and when he had persuaded Dr. Sumner to remit the tasks usually given to fill up boys' time during the holidays, he rejoiced exceedingly in the success of his negociation, and told me that he had never ceased representing to all the eminent school-masters in England, the absurd tyranny of poisoning the hour of 'permitted pleasure, by keeping future nisery before the children's eyes, and tempting them by bribery or falsehood to evade it.

At the age of eighteen, Dr. Johnson quitted school, and escaped from the tuition of those he hated or those he despised.

Of his college life I have heard but little. Dr. Johnson delighted in his own partiality for Oxford; and one day at my house, entertained five members of the other university with various instances of the superiority of Oxford, enumerating the gigantic names of many men whom it had produced, with apparent triumph. At last I said to him, Why there happens to be no less than five Cambridge men in the room now.' " I did not (said he) think of that till you told me; but the wolf don't count the sheep."

I have heard him relate how he used to sit in some coffee-house at Oxford, and turn Mason's Caracticus into ridicule, for the diversion of himself and of chance comers-in. “ 'The Elfrida (says he) was too exquisitely pretty; I could make no fun out of that.” When upon some occasions he would express his astonishment that he should have an enemy in the world, while he had been doing nothing but good to his neighbours, I used to make him recollect these circumstances : “ Why, child (said he) what harm could that do the fellow? I always thought very well of Mason for a Cambridge

man;

man; he is, I believe, a mighty blamcless character.it Such tricks were, however, the more unpardonable in Mr. Johnson, because no one could harangue like him about the difficulty always found in forgiving petty injuries, or in provoking by needless offence.

Mr. Johnson made us all laugh one day, because I had received a remarkable fine Stilton cheese as a present froin some person who had packed and directed it carefully, but without mentioning whenco it came. Mr. Thrale, desirous to know who we were obliged to, asked every friend as they came in, but nobody owned it : “ Depend upon it, Sir, (says Johnson) it was sent by Junius."

The False Alarm, his first and favourite pamphlet, was written at our house between eight o'clock on Wednesday night and twelve o'clock on Thursday nights we read it to Mr. Thrale when he came very late home from the House of Commons.

Facility of writing, and dilatoriness ever to write, Mr. Johnson always retained, from the days that he lay a-bed, and dictated his first publication to Mr. Hector, who acted as his amanuensis, to the moment he made me copy out those variations in Pope's Homer, which were printed in the Poets' Lives :-The finne Rambler on the subject of Procrastination was hastily composed, as I have heard, in Sir Joshua Reynolds's parlour, while the boy waited to carry it to the press: and numberless are the instances of his writing under immediate pressure of importunity or distress. He told me that the character of Sober in the Idler, was by himself intended as his own portrait; and that he had his own outset into life in his eye when he wrote the Eastern story of Gelaleddin. Of the allegorical papers in the Rambler, Labour and Rest was his favourite; but Serotinus, the man who returns late in life to receive honours in his native country, and meets with mortification instead of respect, was by him considered as a master-piece in the science of life and manners. The character of Prospero in the fourth volume, Garrick took to be his; and I have heard the author say, that he never forgave the offence. Sophron was likewise a picture drawn from reality; and by GeB 3

lidus lidus, the philosopher, he meant to represent Mr Coulon, a mathematician, who formerly lived at Rochester. The man immortalised for purring like a cat, was, as he told me, one Busby, a proctor in the Commons. He uho barked so ingeniously, and then called the drawer to drive away the dog, was father to Dr. Salter of the Charterhouse. He who sung a song, and by correspondent motions of his arm chalked out a giant on the wall, was one Riehardson, an attorney. The letter signed Sunday, was written by Miss Talbot; and he fancied the billets in the first volume of the Rambler, were sent him by Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone. The papers contributed by Mrs. Carter, had much of his esteem, though he always blamed me for preferring the letter signed Charjessa to the allegory where religion and superstition are, indeed, most masterly delineated. ..

Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others, I think; and innumerable are the prefaces, sermons, lectures, and dedications, which he used to make for people who begged of him. Mr. · Murphy related in his and my hearing one day, and he did not deny it, that when Murphy joked him the week before for having been so diligent of late between Dodd's sermon and Kelly's prologue, that Dr. Johnson replied." Why Sir, when they come to me with a dead stay-maker and a dying parson, what can a man do ?” He said, however, “that he hated to give away literary performances, or even to sell them too cheaply: the next generation shall not accuse me (added he) of beating down the price of literature: one hates, besides, ever to give that which one has been accustomed to sell ; would not you, Sir, (turning to Mr. Thrale) ra- . ther give away money than porter ?” 2 When Davies printed the Fugitive Pieces without his knowledge or consent; How, said I, would Pope have raved, had he been served so! 66 We should never (replied he) have heard the last on't, to be sure ; but, then Pope was a narrow man: I will, however, (added he) storm and bluster myself a little this time;"-SO went to London in all the wrath lie could muster up. At his return, I asked how the affair ended ? “Why

(said

« PoprzedniaDalej »