صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

The infirmity to which Mr. Pope allndes, appeared to me also, as I have elsewhere observed, to be of the convulsive kind, and of the nature of that distemper called St. Vitus's dance : and in this opinion I am confirmed by the description which Sydenham gives of that disease. "This disorder is a kind of convulsion. It manifests itself by halting or unsteadiness of one of the legs, which the patient draws after him like an ideot. If the hand of the same side be applied to the breast, or any other part of the body, he cannot keep it a moment in the same posture, but it will be drawn into a different one by a convulsion, notwithstanding all his efforts to the contrary." Sir Joshua Reynolds, however, was of a different opinion, and favoured me with the following paper.

"Those motions or tricks of Dr. Johnson are improperly called convulsions. He could sit motionless, when he was told so to do, as well as any other man. My opinion is, that it proceeded from a hahit which he had indulged himself in, of accompanying his thoughts with certain untoward actions, and those actions always appeared to me as if they were meant to reprobate some part of his past conduct. Whenever he was engaged in conversation, such thoughts were sure to rush into his mind; and, for this reason, any company, any employment whatever, he pre- • ferred to being alone. The great business of his life (he said) was to escape from himself; this disposition he considered as the disease of his mind, which nothing cured but company.

"One instance of his absence of mind and particularity, as it is characteristic of the man, may be worth relating. When he and I took a journey together into the West, we visited the late Mr. Banks of Dorsetshire; the conversation turning upon pictures, which Johnson could not well see, he retired to a corner of the room, stretching out his right leg as far as he could reach before him, then bringing up his left leg, •and stretching his right still further on. The old gentleman observing him, went up to him, and in a very courteous manner assured him, though it was not a new house, the flooring was perfectly safe. The Doctor started from his reverie, like a person waked out of his sleep, but spoke not a word."

While we are on this subject, my readers may not be displeased with another anecdote, communicated to me by the same friend, from the relation of Mr. Hogarth,

Johnson used to be a pretty freqnent visitor at the house of Mr. Richardson, author of Clarissa, and other novels of extensive reputation. Mr. Hogarth came one day to see Richardson, soon after the execution of Dr. Cameron, for having taking arms for the house of Stuart in 1745-6; and being a warm partisan of George the Second, he observed to Richardson, that certainly there must have been some very unfavourable circumstances lately discovered in this particular case, which had induced the King to approve of au execution for rebellion so long after the time when it was committed, as this had the appearance of putting a man to death in cold blood, and was very unlike his Majesty's usual clemency. While he was talking, he perceived a person standing at a window in the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself about in a strange ridiculous manner. He concluded that he was au ideot, whom his relations had pot under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very good man. To his great surprize, however, this figure stalked forwards to where he and Mr. Richardson where sitting, and all at once took up the argument, and burst out into an invective against George the Second, as one, who, upon all occasions, was unrelenting and barbarou*; mentioning many instances, particularly, that when an officer of high rank had been acquitted by a CourF~Martial, George the Second had with his own hand struck his name off the list. In short, he displayed such a power of eloquence, that Hogarth looked at him with astonishment, and actually imagined that this ideot had been at the moment inspired. Neither Hogarth nor Johnson were made known to each other at this interview.

Iu 1740 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine the " Preface," t "the Life of Admiral Blake,"* and the first parts of those of " Sir Francis Drake"* and " Philip Barretier,"* both which he finished the following year. He also wrote an " Essay on Epitaphs,"* and an Epitaph on Phillips, a Musician,"* which was afterwards published with some pieces of bis, in Mrs. Williams's Miscellanies. This Epitaph is so exquisitely beautiful, that I remember even Lord Kaines, strangely prejudiced as he was against Dr. Johnson, was compelled to allow it very high praise. It has been ascribed to Mr. Garrick, from its appearing at first with the signature G; but 1 have heard Mr. Garrick declare, that it was written by Dr. Johnson, and give the following account of the manner in which it was composed. Johnson and he were sitting together; when, amongst other things, Garrick repeated an Epitaph upon this Phillips by a Dr. Wilkes, in these words:

"Exalted soul! whose harmony could please
"The love-sick virgin, aud the gouty ease;
"Could jarring discord, like Amphion, move
"To beauteous order and harmonious love;
"Rest here in peace, till angels bid thee rise,
"And meet thy blessed Saviour in the skies."

Johnson shook his head at these common-place funereal lines, and said to Garrick, " I think, Duvy, I can make a better." Then stirring about his tea for a little while, in a state of meditation, he almost extempore produced the following verses:

"Phillips, whose touch harmonious could remove
"The pangs of guilty power or hopeless love;
*• Rest here, distress'd by poverty n0 more,
"Here find that calm thou gav'st so oft before;
"Sleep, undisturb'd, within this peaceful shrine,
"Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!"

At the same time that Mr. Garrick favoured me with this anecdote, he repeated a very pointed Epigram by Johnson, on George the Second and Colley Cibber, which has never yet appeared, and of which I know not the exact date. Dr. Johuson afterwards gave it to me himself:

"Augustus still survives in Maro's strain,
"And Spenser's verse prolongs Eliza's reign;
"Great George's acts let tuneful Cibber sing;
"For Nature form'd the Poet for the King."

In 1741 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine " the Preface,"f '* Conclusion of his Lives of Drake and Barretier,"* " A free translation of the Jests of Hierocles, with an Intrnductinn ;"f and, 1 think, the following pieces:" Debate on the Proposal of Parliament to Cromwell, to assume the Title of King, abridged, modified, and digestetT;"f "Translation of Abbe Guyon'* Dissertation on the Amazons ;"f " Translation of Fontenelle's Panegyrick on Dr. Morin."f Two notes upon this appear to me undoubtedly his. He this year, and the two following, wrote the Parliamentary Debates. He told me himself, that he was the sole composer of them for those three years only. He was not, however, precisely exact in his statement, which he mentioned from hasty recollection; for it is sufficiently evident, that his composition of them began November 19, 1740, and ended February 23, 1742-3.

It appears from some of Cave's letters to Dr. Birch, that Cave had better assistance for that branch of his Magazine, than has been generally supposed; and that he was indefatigable in getting it made as perfect as he could.

Thus, 21st July, 1735, " I trouhleyou with the inclosed, because you

said you could easily correct what is here given for Lord C Id's

speech. I beg you will do so as soon as you can for me, because the month is far advanced."

And 15th July, 1737, " As you remember the debates so far as to perceive the speeches already printed are not exact, I beg the favour that you will peruse the inclosed, and, in the best manner your memory will serve, correct the mistaken passages, or add any thing that is omitted. I should be very glad to have something of the Duke of N le's

speech, which would he particularly of service.

"A gentleman has Lord Bathurst's speech to add something to."

And July 3, 17 U, " You will see what stupid, low, abominable stuff is put upon your noble and learned friend's character, such as I should quite reject, and endeavour to do something better towards doing justice to the character. But as I cannot expect to attain my desire in that respect, it would be a great satisfaction, as well as an honour to our work to have the favour of the genuine speech. It is a method that several have been pleased to take, as I could show, but I think myself under a restraint. I shall say so far, that I have had some by a third hand, which 1 understood well enough to come from the first, others by penny-post, and others by the speakers themselves, who have been pleased to visit St. John's Gate, and show particular marks of their being pleased."

There is no reason, I believe, to doubt the veracity of Cave. It is, however, remarkable, that none of these letters are in thjyear.- during which Johnson alone furnished the Debates, and one of them is in the very year after he ceased from that labour. Johnson told me, that as soou as he found that the speeches were thought genuine, he determined that he would write no more of them ; " for he would not be accessary to the propagation of falsehood." And such was the tenderness of his conscience, that a short time before his death he expressed his regret for his having been the author of fictions, which passed for realities.

He nevertheless agreed with me in thinking, that the debates which he had framed were to be valued as orations upon questions of public importance. They have accordingly been collected in volumes, properly arranged, and recommended to the notice of parliamentary speakers by a preface, written by no inferior hand. I must, however, observe, that although there is'in those debates a wonderful store of political information, aud very powerful eloquence, I cannot agree that they exhibit the manner of each particular speaker, as Sir John Hawkins seems to think. But indeed, what opinion cau we have of his judgment, and taste in public speaking, who presumes to give, as the characteristics of two celebrated orators, " the deep-mouthed rancour-of Pulteney, and the yelpiog pertinacity of Pitt."

This year I find that his tragedy of Irene had been for some time ready for the stage, and that his necessities made him desirous of getting as much as he could for it, without delay; for there is the following letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, in the same volume of manuscripts in the British Musenm, from which I copied those above quoted. They were most obligingly pointed out to me by Sir William Musgrave, one of the Curators of that noble repository.

"Sept. 9. 1741.

"I hAVE put Mr. Johnson's play into Mr. Gray's hands, in order to sell it to him, if he is inclided to buy it; but I doubt whether he will or Dot. He would dispose of the copy, and whatever advantage may be made by acting it. Would your society, or any gentlemen, or body of men that you know, take such a bargain? He and I are very unfit to deal with theatrical persons. Fleetwood was to have acted it lust season, but Johnson's diffidence or * prevented it."

I have already mentioned that " Irene," was not brought into public notice till Garrick was manager of Drury-lane theatre.

In 1742 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine the "Preface,"f the "Parliamentary Debates" * *' Essay on the Account of the Conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough,"* then the popular topic of conversation. This Essay is a short but masterly performance. We find him in No. 13 of his Rambler, censuring a profligate sentiment in that" Account," and again insisting upon it strenuously in conversation. An Account of the Life of Peter Burman,"* I believe chiefly taken from a foreign publication; as, indeed, he could not himself know much about Burman ;" Additions to his Life of liarretier ;"• "The Life of Sydenham,"* afterwards prefixed to Dr. Swan's edition of his works ; " Proposals for printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Cata

'There is no erasure here, but a mere blank; to fill up which may be an exercise for ingenious conjecture.

logue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford."* His account of that celebrated collection of books, in which he displays the importance to literature, of what the French call a catalogue raisonni, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers with admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of books were written by him. He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for £\ 3,000, a sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of .his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost: yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. "Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop; it was in my own chamber."

A very diligent observer may trace him where we should not easily suppose him to be found. I have no doubt that he wrote the little abridgement entitled " Foreign History," in the Magazine for December. To prove it, 1 shall quote the Introduction. "As this is that season of the year in which Nature may be said to command a suspension of hostilities, and which seems intended, by putting a short stop to violence and slaughter, to afford time for malice to relent, and animosity to subside ; we can scarce expect any other account than of plans, negociations and treaties, of proposals for peace, and preparations for war." As also this passage: " Let those who despise the capacity of the Swiss, tell us by what wonderful policy, or by what happy conciliation of interests it is brought to pass, that in a body made up of different communities and different religions, there should be no civil commotions, though the people are so warlike, that to nominate and raise an army is the same."

I am obliged to Mr. Astle for his ready permission to copy the two following letters, of which the originals are in his possession. Their contents shew that they were written about this time, and that Johnson was now engaged in preparing an historical account of the British Parliament,

» To Mr. Cave. ,

"Si a, [2Vo date.]

"I Relieve I am going to write a long letter, and have therefore taken a whole sheet of paper. The first thing to be written about is our historical design.

"You mentioned the proposal of printing in numbers, as an alteration in the scheme, but I believe you mistook, some way or other, my meaning; 1 had no other view than that you might rather print too many of five sheets, thav of five and thirty.

"With regard to what I shall say on the manner of proceeding, I would have it understood as wholly indifferent to me, and my opinion only, not my resolution. Emptoris sit eligere.

No. I. IC

« السابقةمتابعة »