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growth, and operated so strongly through his future life.
I have often heard my mother say she perfectly remembered his wife. He has recorded of her that beauty which existed only in his imagination. She had a very red face, and very indifferent features ; and her manners in advanced life, for her children were all grown up when Johnson first saw her, had an unbecoming excess of girlish levity, and disgusting affectation. The rustic prettiness, and artless manners of her daughter, the present Mrs Lucy Porter, had won Johnson's youthful heart, when she was upon a visit at my grandfather's in Johnson's school-days. Disgusted by his unsightly form, she had a personal aversion to him, nor could the beautiful + verses he addressed to her, teach her to endure him. The nymph, at length, returned to her parents at Birmingham, and was soon forgotten. Business taking Johnson to Birmingham, "on the death of his own father, and calling upon his coy mistress there, he found her father dying. He passed all his leisure hours at Mr Porter's, attending his sick-bed, and, in a few months after his death,
* Rev. Jolin Hunter, master of the Lichfield Frce School, by whom Johnson was educated.
+ See the Verses on receiving a myrtle from a Lady, inserted in Mr Boswell's Life of Johnson.
asked Mrs Johnson's consent to marry the old widow. After expressing her surprise at a request so extraordinary—“ no, Sam, my willing consent you will never have to so preposterous a union. You are not twenty-five, and she is turned fifty. If she had any prudence, this request had never been made to me.
Where are your means of subsistence ? Porter has died poor, in consequence of his wife's expensive habits. You have great talents, but, as yet, have turned them into no profitable channel.”—“Mother, I have not deceived Mrs Porter: I have told her the worst of me; that I am of mean extraction; that I have no money; and that I have had an uncle hanged. She replied, that she valued no one more or less for his descent; that she had no more money than myself; and that, though she had not had a relation hanged, she had, fifty who deserved hanging.”
And thus became accomplished this very curious amour. Adieu, Sir, go on and prosper in your arduous task of presenting to the world the portrait of Johnson's mind and manners. If faithful, brilliant will be its lights, but deep its shades.
MRS KNOWLES *.
March 27, 1785. So your fair friend, Mrs Hunter, disavows poetic inspiration. This is being very ungrateful to the god of the silver bow, and the nine nymphs in his train. I give her credit for a very feeling heart; but it might have thrilled, and glowed, and melted long enough before it had produced such verses as I have seen of hers, unless she had obtained those delphic irradiations which she, thankless princess as she is, disclaims. When she assures me that they were produced without any efforts of study, I do not doubt her veracity, but the belief doubles my conviction of her obligations to their high mightinesses on the mountain. When you and she would exalt simplicity, that nymph of the valley, into your patron and inspir
* The celebrated quaker lady who worked the King's picture so admirably in worsted. When Molly Morris of Rageby, she was stiled the beauty of Staffordshire. She survived her husband, Dr Knowles, an eminent physician in London, many years, and died February 4, 1807, aged 80.
ing goddess, you put me in mind of the children of Israel worshipping the calf in Horeb. That gentle-faced idol was just as capable of protecting them, as she is of producing the wit and oratory of Mrs Knowles, and the poetry of Mrs Hunter. O! to be sure it was simplicity solely who set “ Mary Knowles upon one leg in the temple of fame*.” Arch and humorous imagination was no agent in producing that odd idea ! -but, in truth, all that Simplicity ever did for that gentlewoman was to put on her cap.
Mr Boswell has applied to me for Johnsonian records for his life of the despot. If he inserts them unmutilated, as I have arranged them, they will contribute to display Johnson's real character to the public; that strange compound of great talents, weak and absurd prejudices, strong, but unfruitful devotion; intolerant fierceness ; compassionate munificence, and corroding envy. I was fearful that Mr Boswell's personal attachment would have scrupled to throw in those dark shades which truth commands should be employ ed in drawing the Johnsonian portrait ; but these fears are considerably dissipated by the style of Mr Boswell's acknowledgments for the materials I had sent him, and for the perfect impartiality
* Alluding to a humorous description of herself in one of her letters.
with which I had spoken of Johnson's virtues and faults. He desires I will send him the minutes I made at the time of that, as he justly calls it, tremendous * conversation at Dilly's, between you and him, on the subject of Miss Harry's commencing quaker. Boswell had so often spoke to me, with regret, over the ferocious, reasonless, and unchristian violence of his idol that night, it looks impartial beyond my hopes, that he requests me to arrange it. I had omitted to send it in the first collection, from my hopelessness that Mr Boswell would insert it in his life of the Colossus. Time may have worn away those deep-indented lines of bigot fierceness from the memory of the biographer, and the hand of affection may not be firm enough to resolve upon engraving them.
0! yes, as you observe, dreadful were the horrors which attended poor Johnson's dying state. His religion was certainly not of that nature which sheds comfort on the deathbed-pillow. I believe his faith was sincere, and therefore could not fail to reproach his heart, which had swelled with pride, envy, and hatred, through the whole course of his existence But religious feeling, on
* Mr Boswell has strangely mutilated, abridged, and changed the minutes sent him of this conversation. The reader will find them faithfully given in a letter further on, addressed to Mrs Mompesson, and dated December 31, 1785.