« PoprzedniaDalej »
gizing for the liberty I had taken, asked him if I could help it. He placidly answered, "Why, Sir, I do not think you could have helped it." I said that I had, for once in my life, felt half an inclination to commit theft. It had come into my mind to carry off those two volumes, and never see him inore. Upon my inquiring how this would have affected him, "Sir," said he, "I believe I should have gone mad."1
During his last illness, Johnson experienced the steady and kind attachment of his numerous friends. Mr. Hoole has drawn up a narrative of what passed in the visits which he paid him during that time, from the 10th of November to the 13th of December, the day of his death, inclusive, and has favoured me with a perusal of it, with permission to make extracts, which I have done. Nobody was more attentive to him than Mr. Langton, to whom he tenderly said, Te teneam moriens deficiente manu. And I think it highly to the honour of Mr. Windham, that his important occupations as an active statesman did not prevent him from paying assiduous respect to the dying sage whom he revered. Mr. Langton informs me, that one day he found Mr. Burke and four or five more friends sitting with Johnson. Mr. Burke said to him, ‘I am afraid, Sir, such a number of us may be oppressive to you.'-'No, Sir,' said Johnson, it is not so; and I must be in a wretched state, indeed, when your company would not be a delight to me.' Mr. Burke, in a tremulous voice, expressive of being very tenderly affected, replied, My dear Sir, you have always been too good to me.' Immediately afterwards he went away. This was the last circumstance in the acquaintance of these two eminent men."
The following particulars of his conversation within a few days of his death, I give on the authority of Mr. John Nichols : 8
One of these volumes, Sir John Hawkins informs us, he put into his pocket; for which the excuse he states is, that he meant to preserve it from falling into the hands of a person whom he describes so as to make it sufficiently clear who is meant; "having strong reasons," said he, " to suspect that this man might find and make an ill use of the book." Why Sir John should suppose that the gentleman alluded to would act in this manner, he has not thought fit to explain. But what he did was not approved of by Johnson; who, upon being acquainted of it without delay by a friend, expressed great indignation, and warmly insisted on the book being delivered up; and, afterwards, in the supposition of his missing it, without knowing by whom it had been taken, he said, "Sir, I should have gone out of the world distrusting half mankind." Sir John next day wrote a letter to Johnson, assigning reasons for his conduct; upon which Johnson observed to Mr. Langton, "Bishop Sanderson could not have dictated a better letter. I could almost say Melius est sic pænituisse quam non errasse." The agitation into which Johnson was thrown by this incident, probably made him hastily burn those precious records which must ever be regretted.-BOSWELL.
2 Mr. Langton, whose name so often occurs in these volumes, survived Johnson several years. He died at Southampton, Dec. 18, 1801.-MALONE.
3 On the sane undoubted authority I give a few articles, which should have been inserted in chronological order; but which, now that they are before me, I should be sorry to omit:
"In 1736, Dr. Johnson had a particular inclination to have been engaged as an
"He said that the Parliamentary Debates were the only part of his writings which then gave him any compunction; but that at the time he wrote them, he had no conception he was imposing upon the world, though they were frequently written from very slender materials, and often from none at all-the mere coinage of his own imagination. He never wrote any part of his works with equal velocity. Three columns of the Magazine in an hour was no uncommon effort, which was faster than most persons could have transcribed that quantity.
"Of his friend Cave, he always spoke with great affection. Yet,' said he, Cave (who never looked out of his window but with a view to the Gentleman's Magazine) was a penurious paymaster; he would contract for lines by the hundred, and expect the long hundred; but he was a good man, and always delighted to have his friends at his table.'
When talking of a regular edition of his own works, he said, that he had power (from the booksellers) to print such an edition, if his
assistant to the Reverend Mr. Budworth, then head master of the Grammar-school at Brewood, in Staffordshire, an excellent person, who possessed every talent of a perfect instructor of youth, in a degree which (to use the words of one of the brightest ornaments of literature, the Reverend Dr. Hurd, Bishop of Worcester) has been rarely found in any of that profession since the days of Quintilian.' Mr. Budworth, who was less known in his lifetime, from that obscure situation to which the caprice of fortune oft condemns the most accomplished characters, than his highest merit deserved,' had been bred under Mr. Blackwell, at Market Bosworth, where Johnson was some time an usher which might naturally lead to the application. Mr. Budworth was certainly no stranger to the learning or abilities of Johnson, as he more than once lamented his having been under the necessity of declining the engagement, from an apprehension that the paralytic affection, under which our great Philologist laboured through life, might become the object of imitation or of ridicule, among his pupils." Captain Budworth, his grandson, has confirmed to me this anecdote.
Among the early associates of Johnson, at St. John's Gate, was Samuel Boyse, well known by his ingenious productions; and not less noted for his imprudence. It was not unusual for Boyse to be a customer to the pawnbroker. On one of these occasions, Dr. Johnson collected a sum of money to redeem his friend's clothes, which in two days after were pawned again. 'The sum,' said Johnson, was collected by sixpences, at a time when to me sixpence was a serious consideration.'
"Speaking one day of a person for whom he had a real friendship, but in whom vanity was somewhat too predominant, he observed, that Kelly was so fond of displaying on his sideboard the plate which he possessed, that he added to it his spurs. For my part, said he, I never was master of a pair of spurs but once, and they are now at the bottom of the ocean. By the carelessness of Boswell's servant, they were dropped from the end of the boat, on our return from the Isle of Sky.""
The late Reverend Mr. Samuel Badcock, having been introduced to Dr. Johnson by Mr. Nichols, some years before his death, thus expressed himself in a letter to that gentleman:
"How much I am obliged to you for the favour you did me in introducing me to Dr. Johnson! Tantum vidi Virgilium. But to have seen him, and to have received a testimony of respect from him was enough. I recollect all the conversation, and shall never forget one of his expressions. Speaking of Dr. P. (whose writings, I saw, he estimated at a low rate, he said, 'You have proved him as deficient in probity as he is in learning. I called him an Index scholar; but he was not willing to allow him a claim even to that merit. He said, that he borrowed from those who had been borrowers themselves, and did not know that the mistakes he adopted had been answered by others.' I often think of our short, but precious, visit to this great man. I shall consider it as a kind of an era in my life."-BOSWELL
health admitted it; but had no power to assign over any edition, unless he could add notes, and so alter them as to make them new works, which his state of health forbade him to think of. 'I may possibly live,' said he, or rather breathe, three days, or perhaps three weeks; but find myself daily and gradually weaker.'
"He said at another time, three or four days only before his death, speaking of the little fear he had of undergoing a chirurgical operation, 'I would give one of these legs for a year more of life-I mean of comfortable life, not such as that which I now suffer;' and lamented much his inability to read during his hours of restlessness. I used formerly,' he added, when sleepless in bed, to read like a Turk.'
"Whilst confined by his last illness, it was his regular practice to have the church-service read to him by some attentive and friendly divine. The Rev. Mr. Hoole performed this kind office in my presence for the last time, when, by his own desire, no more than the litany was read; in which his responses were in the deep and sonorous voice which Mr. Boswell has occasionally noticed, and with the most profound devotion that can be imagined. His hearing not being quite perfect, he more than once interrupted Mr. Hoole, with Louder, my dear Sir, louder, I entreat you, or you pray in vain !'-and when the service was ended, he, with great earnestness, turned round to an excellent lady who was present, saying, 'I thank you, Madam, very heartily, for your kindness in joining me in this solemn exercise. Live well, I conjure you; and you will not feel the compunction at the last, which I now feel.' So truly humble were the thoughts which this great and good man entertained of his own approaches to religious perfection.
"He was earnestly invited to publish a volume of Devotional Exercises; but this (though he listened to the proposal with much complacency, and a large sum of money was offered for it) he declined, from motives of the sincerest modesty.
"He seriously entertained the thought of translating' Thuanus.' He often talked to me on the subject, and once in particular, when I was rather wishing that he would favour the world, and gratify his sovereign, by a Life of Spenser (which he said that he would readily have done, had he been able to obtain any new materials for the purpose), he added, 'I have been thinking again, Sir, of "Thuanus ;" it would not be the laborious task which you have supposed it. I should have no trouble but that of dictation, which would be performed as speedily as an amanuensis could write.'
It is to the mutual credit of Johnson and divines of different communions, that although he was a steady Church of England man, there was, nevertheless, much agreeable intercourse between him and them. Let me particularly name the late Mr. La Trobe, and Mr. Hutton, of the Moravian profession. His intimacy with the English Benedictines at Paris, has been mentioned; and as an additional proof of the charity
in which he lived with good men of the Romish Church, I am happy in this opportunity of recording his friendship with the Rev. Thomas Hussey, D.D., his Catholic Majesty's Chaplain of Embassy at the Court of London, that very respectable man, eminent not only for his powerful eloquence as a preacher, but for his various abilities and acquisitions. Nay, though Johnson loved a Presbyterian the least of all, this did not prevent his having a long and uninterrupted social connexion with the Rev. Dr. James Fordyce, who,
since his death, hath gratefully celebrated him in a warm strain of devotional composition.
Amidst the melancholy clouds which hung over the dying Johnson, his characteristical manner showed itself on different occasions.
When Dr. Warren, in the usual style, hoped that he was better, his answer was, "No, Sir; you cannot conceive with what acceleration I advance towards death."
A man whom he had never seen before was employed one night to sit up with him. Being asked next morning how he liked his attendant, his answer was, "Not at all, Sir; the fellow's an idiot; he is as awkward as a turnspit when first put into the wheel, and as sleepy as a dormouse."
Mr. Windham having placed a pillow conveniently to support him, he thanked him for his kindness, and said, "That will do-all that a pillow can do."
He repeated with great spirit a poem, consisting of several stanzas, in four lines, in alternate rhyme, which he said he had composed some years before, on occasion of a rich, extravagant young gentleman's coming of age, saying, he had never repeated it but once since he composed it, and had given but one copy of it. That copy was given to Mrs. Thrale, now Piozzi, who has published it in a book which she entitles "British Synonimy," but which is truly a collection of entertaining remarks and stories, no matter whether accurate or not. Being a piece of exquisite satire, conveyed in a strain of pointed vivacity and humour, and in a manner of which no other instance is to be found in Johnson's writings, I shall here insert it.
1 In 1780. See his letter to Mrs. Thrale, dated August 8, 1780:-"You have heard in the papers how is come to age. I have enclosed a short song of congratulation, which you must not show to anybody. It is odd that it should come into anybody's head. I hope you will read it with candour; it is, I believe, one of the author's first essays in that way of writing, and a beginner is always to be treated with tenderness."MALONE.
Ling ring year, at length is flown;
Call the Betseys, Kates, and Jennies,
All that prey on vice and folly
Wealth, my lad, was made to wander,
Call the jockey, call the pander,
Bid them come and take their fill.
When the bonny blade carouses,
Should the guardian friend or mother
Scorn their counsel, scorn their pother,
As he opened a note which his servant brought to him, he said, " An odd thought strikes me—we shall receive no letters in the grave.”
He requested three things of Sir Joshua Reynolds :-To forgive him thirty pounds which he had borrowed of him; to read the Bible; and never to use his pencil on a Sunday. Sir Joshua readily acquiesced.
Indeed he showed the greatest anxiety for the religious improvement of his friends, to whom he discoursed of its infinite consequence. He begged of Mr. Hoole to think of what he had said, and to commit it to writing; and upon being afterwards assured that this was done, pressed his hands, and in an earnest tone thanked him. Dr. Brocklesby having attended him with the utmost assiduity and kindness as his physician and friend, he was peculiarly desirous that this gentleman should not entertain any loose speculative notions, but be confirmed in the truths of Christianity, and insisted on his writing down in his presence, as nearly as he could collect it, the import of what passed on the subject; and Dr. Brocklesby having complied with the request, he made him