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I am happy to be enabled by soch unquestionable authority as that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, as well as from my own knowledge, to vindicate at once the heart of Johnson and the social merit of Garrick.
In this year, except what he may have done in revising Shakspeare, we do not find that he laboured much in literature. He wrote a review of Grainger's "Sugar Cane," a poem, in the London Chronicle. He told me, that Dr. Percy wrote the greatest part of this review; but, I imagine, he (lid not recollect it distinctly, for it appears to be mostly, if not altogether, his own. He also wrote in the Critical Keview, an account f of Goldsmith's excellent poem, "The Traveller."
The ease and independence to which he had at last attained by royal munificence, increased his natural indolence. In his "Meditations," he thus accuses himself: "good Friday, April 20, 1764. I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thought, and more addicted to wine and meat."* And next morning he thus feelingly complains: "My indolence, since my last reception of the sacrament, has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wilder negligence. My thoughts have been clouded with sensuality; and, except that from the beginning of this year I have, in some measure forborne excess of strong drink, my appetites have pre. dominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year; and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me without leaving any impression." He then solemnly says, "This is not the life to which heaven is promised ;"|| and he earnestly resolves an amendment.
It was his custom to observe certain days with a pious abstraction: viz. New-year's-day, the day of his wife's death, Good Friday, Easterday, and his own birth-day. He this year says, "I have now spent fifsy-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O Gob, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."§ Such a tenderness of conscience, such a fervent desire of improvement, will rarely be found. It is, surely, not decent in those who are hardened in indifference to spiritual improvement, to treat this pious anxiety of Johnson with contempt.
About this time he was afflicted with a very severe return of the hypochondriack disorder, which was ever lurking about him. He was so ill, as, notwithstanding his remarkable love of company, to be entirely averse to society, the most fatal symptom of that malady. Pr. Adums told me, that, as an old friend he was admitted to visit him, and that he found him in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room. He then used thiseinphutical expression of the misery which he felt: "1 would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits."
J Prayers and Meditations, p. 53. || Ibid. p. 51. § Ibid. p. 584.
Talking to himself was, indeed, one of his singularities ever since I knew him. I was certain that he was frequently uttering pious ejaculations; for fragments of the Lord's Prayer have been distinctly overheard. His friend Mr. Thomas Davies, of whom Churchill says,
"That Davies hath a very pretty wife,—" when Dr. Johnson muttered—" lead us not into temptation," used with waggish and gallant humour to whisper Mrs. Davies, "You, my dear, are the cause of this."
He had another particularity, of which none of his friends even ventured to ask an explanation. It appeared to me some superstitious habit, which he had contracted early, and from which he had never called upon his reason to disentangle him. This was his anxious care to go out or in at a door or passage, by a certain number of steps from a certain point, or at least so as that either his right or his left foot, (I am not certain which,) should constantly make the first actual movement when he came close to the door or passage. Thus I conjecture: for I have, upon innumerable occasions, observed him suddenly stop, and then seem to count his steps with a deep earnestness; and when he had neglected or gone wrong in this sort of magical movement, I have seen him go back again, put himself in a proper posture to begin the ceremony, and having gone through it break from his abstraction, walk briskly on, and join his companion. A strange instance of something of this nature, even when on horseback, happened when he was in the isle of Sky. Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed him to go a good way about, rather than cross a particular alley in Leicester-fields; but this Sir Joshua imputed to his having had some disagreeable recollection associated with it.
That the most minute singularities which belonged to him, and made very observable parts of his appearance and manner, may not be omitted, it is requisite to mention, that while talking or even musing as he satin bis chair, he commonly held his head to one side towards his right shoulder, and shook it in a tremulous manner, moving his body backwards and forwards, and rubbing his left knee in the same direction, with the palm of his hand. In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, or what is called chewing the cud, sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen, and sometimes protruding it against his upper gums in front, as if pronouncing quickly under his breath, too, too too: all this accompanied sometimes with a thoughtful look, but more frequently with a smile. Generally when he had concluded a period, in the course of a dispute, by which time he was a good deal exhausted by violence and vociferation, he used to blow out his breath like a whale. This I suppose was a relief to his lungs; and seemed in him to be a contemptuous mode of expression, as if he had made the arguments of his opponent fly like chaff before the wind.
I am fully aware how very obvious an occasion I here give for the sneering jocularity of such as have no relish of an exact likeness; which
No. 3. 2 G
to render complete, he who draws it must not disdain the slightest strokes. But if witlings should be inclined to attack this account, let them have the candour to quote what I have offered in my defence.
He was for some time in the summer at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, on a visit to the Reverend Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore. Whatever dissatisfaction he felt at what he considered as a slow progress in intellectual improvement, we find that his heart was tender, and his affections warm, as appears from the following very kind letter:
"To Joshua Reynolds, Esq. In Leicester-fields, London. "dear Sir,
"I Did not hear of your sickness till I heard likewise of your recovery, and therefore escaped that part of your pain, which every man must feel, to whom ynu are known as you are known to me.
"Having had no particular account of your disorder, I know not in what state it has left you. If the amusement of my company can exhilarate the languor of a slow recovery, 1 will not delay a day to come to you; for I know not how I can so effectually promote my own pleasure as by pleasing you, or my own interest as by preserving you, in whom, if I should lose you, I should lose almost the only man whom I call a friend.
"Pray, let me bear of you from yourself, or from dear Miss Reynolds.* Make my compliments to Mr. Mudge. lam, dear Sir,
"Your most affectionate
"And most humble servant,
"sam. Johnson." ," At the Rev. Mr. Percy's, at Easton Maudit,
Northamptonshire, (by Castle AshbyJ Aug. 19, 1 764."
Early in the year 1765 he paid a short visit to the University of Cambridge, with his friend Mr. Beauclerk. There is a lively picturesque account of his behaviour on this visit, in the Gentleman's Magazine for March 1785, being an extract of a letter from the late Dr. John Sharp. The two following sentences are very characteristical: "He drank his large potations of tea with me, interrupted by many an indignant contradiction, and many a noble sentiment."——" Several persons got into his company the last evening at Trinity, where, about twelve, he began to be very great; stripped poor Mrs. Macaulay to the very skin, then gave her for his toast, and drank her in two bumpers."
The strictness of his self-examination, and scrupulous Christian humility, appear in his pious meditation on Easter-day this year.—" 1 purpose again to partake of the sacrament; yet when I consider how vainly I have hitherto resolved at this annual commemoration of my Saviour's
X Sir Joshua's sister, for whom Johnson had a particular affection, and to whom he wrote many letters which I have seen, and which 1 am sorry her too nice delicacy will not permit to be published.
death, to regulate my life by his laws, I am almost afraid to renew my resolutions."
The concluding words are very remarkable, and shew that he laboured under a severe depression of spirits. "Since the last Easter I have reformed no evil habit; my time has been unprofitably spent, and seems as a dream that has left nothing behind. My memory grows con/used, and I know not how the days pass over me. Good Lord, deliver me !" J
No man was more gratefully sensible of any kindness dona to him than Johnson. There is a little circumstance in his diary this year, which shews him in a very amiable light.
"July 2. I paid Mr. Simpson ten guineas, which he had formerly lent me in my necessity, and for which Tetty expressed her gratitude."
"July 8. I lent Mr. Simpson teu guineas more."
Here he had a pleasing opportunity of doing the same kindness to an old friend, which he had formerly received from him. Indeed his liberality as to money was very remarkable. The next article in his diary is, "July ]6th, I received seventy-five pounds. Lent Mr. Davies twenty-five."
Trinity-College, Dublin, at this time surprised Johnson with a spontaneous compliment of the highest academical honours, by creating him Doctor of Laws. The diploma, which is in my possession, is as follows.
"OMNIBUS ad quos prasentes literal pervenerint salutem. Nos Prapositus et Socii Seniores Collegii sacrosancta et individual Trinitatis Regina Elizabethan juxla Dublin, testamur, Samueli Johnson, Armigero, ob egregiam scriptorum eleganliam et utilitatem, gratiam concesiam fuisse pro gradu Doctoratus in utroque Jure, octavo die Julii, Anno Domini millesimo septingentesimo sexagesimo-quinto. In eujus rei testimoninm singulorum manvs et sigiltum quo in hisce utimur apposuimus: vicesima tertio die Julii, Anno Domini millesimo septingentesimo sexagesimoquinto.
Gul. Clement. Fran. Andrews. R. Murray.
Tuo. Wilson. Praps. Ror. Law.
Tho. Leland. Mich. Kearney."
This unsolicited mark of distinction, conferred on so great a literary character, did much honour to the judgement and liberal spirit of that learned body. Johnson acknowledged the favour in a letter to Dr. Leland, one of their number; but 1 have not been able to obtain a copy of it.
He appears this year to have been seized with a temporary fit of ambition, for he had thoughts both of studying law, and of engaging in politicks. His " Prayer before the Study of Law" is truly admirable:
"Sept. 26, 1765.
"Almighty God, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are vain, without whose blessing study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the
X Prayers and Meditations, p. 61.
doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
H'is prayer in the view of becoming a politician is entitled, "Engaging in Politicks with H—n," no doubt, his friend, the Right Honourable William Gerard Hamilton, for whom, during a long acquaintance, he had a great esteem, and to whose conversation he once paid this high compliment: " I am very unwilling to be left alone, Sir, and therefore I go with my company down the first pair of stairs, in hopes that they may, perhaps, return again; I go with you. Sir, as far as the street-door." In what particular department he intended to engage does not appear, nor can Mr. Hamilton explain. His prayer is in general terms: "Enlighten my understanding with knowledge of right, and govern my will by thy laws, that no deceit many mislead me, nor temptation corrupt me; that I may always endeavour to do good, and hinder evil." There is nothing upon the subject in his diary.
This year was distinguished by his being introduced into the family of Mr. Thrale, one of the most eminent brewers in England, and member of Parliament for the borough of Southwark. Foreigners are a little amazed when they hear of brewers, distillers, and men in similar departments of trade, held forth as persons of considerable consequence. In this great commercial country, it is natural that a situation which produces much wealth should be considered as very respectable; and, no doubt, honest industry is entitled to esteem. But perhaps, the too rapid advances of men of low extraction tends to lessen the value of that distinction by birth and gentility, which has ever been found beneficial to the grand scheme of subordination. Johnson used to give this account of the rise of Mr. Thrale's father: "He worked at six shillings a week for twenty years in the great brewery, which afterwards was his own. The proprietor of it had an only daughter, who was married to a nobleman. It was not fit that a peer should continue the business. On the old man's death, therefore, the brewery was to be sold. To find a purchaser for so larsfe a property was a difficult matter; and, after some time, it was suggested, that it would be adviseable to treat with Thrale, a sensible, active honest man, who had been employed in the house, and to trasfer the whole to him for thirty thousand pounds, security being taken upon the property. This was accordingly settled. In eleven years Thrale paid the purchase money. He acquired a large fortune, and lived to be a member of Parliament for Southwark. But what was most remarkable was the liberality with which he used bis riches. He gave his son and daughters the best education. The esteem which his good conduct procured him from the nobleman who had married his master's daughter, made him be treated with much attention; and his son, both at school and at the University of Oxford, associated with young men of the first rank. His allowance from his father, after he left college, was splendid; not less than a thousand a year. This, io