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nevolence.” It was hard to refuse “a good, worthy man who asked you to try his cellar. This, according to Johnson, was mere conceit, implying an exaggerated estimate of your importance to your entertainer. Reynolds gallantly took up the opposite side, and produced the one recorded instance of a Johnsonian blush.
“I won't argue any more with you, sir,” said Johnson, who thonght every man to be elevated who drank wine, "you are too far gone.' “I should have thought so indeed, sir, had I made such a speech as you have now done,” said Reynolds; and Johnson apologized with the aforesaid blush,
The explosion was soon over on this occasion. Not long afterwards Johnson attacked Boswell so fiercely at a dinner at Reynolds's, that the poor disciple kept away for a week. They made it up when they met next, and Johnson solaced Boswell's wounded vanity by highly commending an image made by him to express his feelings." I don't care how often or how high Johnson tosses me when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are present.
The phrase may recall one of Johnson's happiest illustrations. When some one said in his presence that a congê d'élire might be considered as only a strong recommendation, “Sir," replied Johnson, “it is such a recommendation as if I should throw you out of a two-pair of stairs window, and recommend you to fall soft.”
It is perhaps time to cease these extracts from Boswell's reports. The next two years were less fruitful. In 1779 Boswell was careless, though twice in London, and in 1780 he did not pay his annual visit. Boswell has partly filled up the gap by a collection of sayings made by Langton, some passages from which have been quoted, and his correspondence gives various details. Garrick died in January of 1779, and Beauclerc in March, 1780. Johnson himself seems to have shown few symptoms of increasing age; but a change was approaching, and the last years of his life were destined to be clouded, not merely by physical weakness, but by a change of circumstances which had great influence upon his happiness.
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOHNSON'S LIFE.
In following Boswell's guidance we have necessarily seen only one side of Johnson's life ; and probably that side which had least significance for the man himself.
Boswell saw in him chiefly the great dictator of conversation ; and
though the reports of Johnson's talk represent his character in spite of some qualifications with unusual fulness, there were many traits very inadequately revealed at the Mitre or the Club, at Mrs. Thrale's, or in meetings with Wilkes or Reynolds. We may catch some glimpses from his letters and diaries of that inward life which consisted generally in a long succession of struggles against an oppressive and often paralysing melancholy. Another most noteworthy side to his character is revealed in his relations to persons too humble for admission to the tables at which he exerted a despotic sway. Upon this side Johnson was almost entirely loveable. We often have to regret the imperfection of the records of
That best portion of a good man's life,
Everywhere in Johnson's letters and in the occasional anecdotes, we come upon indications of a tenderness and untiring benevolence which would make us forgive far worse faults than have ever been laid to his charge. Nay, the very asperity of the man's outside becomes endeared to us by the association. His irritability never vented itself against the helpless, and his rough impatience of fanciful troubles implied no want of sympathy for real sorrow. One of Mrs. Thrale's anecdotes is intended to show Johnson's harshness :-“When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America, ‘Prythee, my dear,' said he, have done with canting ; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks and roasted for Presto's supper ? Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.” The counter version, given by Boswell is, that Mrs. Thrale related her cousin's death in the midst of a hearty supper, and that Johnson, shocked at her want of feeling, said, “Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your rela tions were spitted like those larks, and roasted for Presto's supper.' Taking the most unfavourable version, we may judge how much real indiffereuce to human sorrow was implied by seeing how Johnson was affected by a loss of one of his humblest friends. It is but one case of many. In 1767, he took leave, as he notes in his diary, of his “ dear old friend, Catherine Chambers,” who had been for about forty-three years in the service of his family. “I desired all to withdraw," he says, “then told her that we were to part for ever, and, as Christians, we should part with prayer, and that I would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire to hear me, and held up her poor hands as she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, in nearly the following words? which shall not be repeated here—“I then kissed her," he adds. “She told me that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt,
and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of kindness, the same hopes. We kissed and parted—I humbly hope to meet again and part
A man with so true and tender a heart could say serenely, what with some men would be a mere excuse for want of sympathy, that he “hated to hear people whine about metaphysical distresses when there was so much want and hunger in the world.” He had a sound and righteous contempt for all affectation of excessive sensibility. Suppose, said Boswell to him, whilst their common friend Baretti was lying under a charge of murder, “that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged." "I should do what I could,” replied Johnson, "to bail him, and give him any other assistance ; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer."
“Would you eat your dinner that day, sir ?” asks Boswell. Yes, sir; and eat it as if he were eating with me. Why, there's Baretti, who's to be tried for his life to-morrow. Friends have risen up for him upon every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that syin pathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind." Boswell illustrated the subject by saying that Tom Davies had just written a letter to Foote, telling him that he could not sleep from concern about Baretti, and at the same time recommending a young man who kept a pickleshop. Johnson summed up by the remark: " You will find these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling. Johnson never objected to feeling, but to the waste of feeling
In a similar vein he told Mrs. Thrale that a “surly fellow” like himself had no compassion to spare for “wounds given to vanity and softness," whilst witnessing the common sight of actual want in great cities. On Lady Tavistock’s death, said to have been caused by grief for her husband's loss, he observed that her life might have been saved if she had been put into a small chandler's shop, with a child to
When Mrs. Thrale suggested that a lady would be grieved because her friend had lost the chance of a fortune, She will suffer as much, perhaps," he replied, as your horse did when your cow miscarried.” Mrs. Thrale testifies that he once reproached her sternly for complaining of the dust. When he knew, he said, how many poor families would perish next winter for want of the bread which the drought would deny, he could not bear to hear ladies sighing for rain on account of their complexions or their clothes. While reporting such sayings, she adds, that he loved the poor as she never saw any one else love them, with an earnest desire to make them happy. His charity was unbounded; he proposed to allow himself one hundred a year out of the three hundred of his pension ; but the Thrales could never discover that he really spent upon himself more than 701., or at most 801. He had numerous dependants, abroad as well as at home, who “ did not like to see him latterly, unless he brought 'em money.' He filled his pockets with small cash, which he distributed to beggars in defiance of political economy.
When told that the recipients only laid it out upon gin and tobacco, he replied that it was savage to deny then the few coarse pleasures which the richer disdained. Numerous instances are given of more judicious charity. When, for example, a Benedictine monk, whom he had seen in Paris, became a Protestant, Johnson supported him for some months in London, till he could get a living. Once coming home late at night, he found a poor woman lying in the street. He carried her to his house on his back, and found that she was reduced to the lowest stage of want, poverty, and disease. He took care of her at his own charge, with all tenderness, until she was restored to health, and tried to have her put into a virtuous way of living. His house, in his later years, was filled with various waifs and strays, to whom he gave hospitality and sometimes support, defending himself by saying that if he did not help them nobody else would. The head of his household was Miss Wisliams, who had been a friend of his wife's, and after coming to stay with him, in order to undergo an operation for cataract, became a permanent inmate of his house. She had a small income of some 401. a year, partly from the charity of connexions of her father's, and partly arising from a little book of mescellanies published by subscription. She was a woman of some sense and cultivation, and when she died (in 1783) Johnson said that for thirty years she had been to him as a sister. Boswell's jealousy was excited during the first period of his acquaintance, when Goldsmith one night went home with Johnson, crying “ I go to Miss Williams”—a phrase which implied admission to an intimacy from which Boswell was as yet excluded. Boswell soon obtained the coveted privilege, and testifies to the respect with which Johnson always treated the inmates of his family. Before leaving her to dine with Boswell at the hotel, he asked her what little delicacy should be sent to her from the tavern. Poor Miss Wil. liams, however, was peevish, and, according to Hawkins, had been known to drive Johnson out of the room by her reproaches, and Boswell's delicacy was shocked by the supposition that she tested the ful. ness of cups of tea, by putting her finger inside. We are glad to know that this was a false impression, and, in fact, Miss Williams, however unfortunate in temper and circumstances, seems to have been a lady by manners and education.
The next inmate of this queer household was Robert Levett, a man who had been a waiter at a coffee-house in Paris frequented by surgeons. They had enabled him to pick up some of their art, and he set up as an obscure practiser in physic amongst the lower people" in London. He took from them such fees as he could get, including provisions, sometimes, unfortunately for him, of the potable kind.
He was once entrapped into a queer marriage, aud Johnson had to arrange a separation from his wife. Johnson, it seems, had a good opinion of his medical skill, and more or less employed his services in that capacity. He attended his patron at his breakfast ; breakfasting, said Percy, “on the crust of a roll, which Johnson threw to him after tearing out the crumb.” The phrase, it is said, goes too far; Johnson always took pains that Levett should be treated rather as a friend than as a dependant.
Besides these humble friends, there was a Mrs. Desmoulins, the daughter of a Lichfield physician. Johnson had had some quarrel with the father in his youth for revealing a confesssion of the mental disease which tortured him from early years. He supported Mrs. Desmoulins none the less, giving house-room to her and her daughter, and making her an allowance of half a-guinea a week, a sum equal to a twelfth part of his pension. Francis Barber has already been mentioned, and we have a dim vision of a Miss Carmichael, who completed what he facetiously called his “seraglio.' It was anything but a happy family. He summed up their relations in a letter to Mrs. Thrale. “Williams,” he says, hates everybody ; Levett hates Desmoulins, and does not love Williams ; Desmoulins hates them both ; Poll (Miss Carmichael) loves none of them.” Frank Barber complained of Miss Williams's authority, and Miss Williams of Frank's insubordination. Intruders who had taken refuge under his roof brought their children there in his absence, and grumbled if their dinners were ill-dressed. The old man bore it all, relieving himself by an occasional growl, but reproaching any who ventured to join in the growl for their indifference to the sufferings of poverty. Levett died in January, 1782 ; Miss Williams died, after a lingering illness, in 1783, and Johnson grieved in solitude for the loss of his testy companions. A poem, composed upon Levett's death, records his feelings in language which wants the refinement of Goldsmith or the intensity of Cowper's pathos, but which is yet so sincere and tender as to be more impressive than far more elegant compositions. It will be a fitting close to this brief indication of one side of Johnson's character, too easily overlooked in Boswell's pages, to quote part of what Thackeray truly calls the “sacred verses
upon Levett :
Well tried through many a varying year
See Levett to the grave descend,
Of every friendless name the friend.
In misery's darkest cavern known,
His ready help was ever nigh ;
And lonely want retired to die.
ACME BIOG. JII.—7.