Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

Aetat. 67.] Johnson's various acquaintance.

21

his observation, it would have afforded a very rich fund of instruction and entertainment. The suddenness with which his accounts of some of them started out in conversation, was not less pleasing than surprising. I remember he once observed to me, 'It is wonderful, Sir, what is to be found in London. The most literary conversation that I ever enjoyed, was at the table of Jack Ellis, a money-scrivener behind the Royal Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine generally once a week'

Volumes would be required to contain a list of his numerous and various acquaintance, none of whom he ever forgot; and could describe and discriminate them all with precision and vivacity. He associated with persons the most widely different in manners, abilities, rank, and accomplishments3. He was at

This Mr. Ellis was, I believe, the last of that profession called Scriveners, which is one of the London companies, but of which the business is no longer carried on separately, but is transacted by attornies and others. He was a man of literature and talents. He was the authour of a Hudibrastick version of Maphæus's Canto, in addition to the Æneid; of some poems in Dodsley's Collections; and various other small pieces; but being a very modest man, never put his name to anything. He shewed me a translation which he had made of Ovid's Epistles, very prettily done. There is a good engraved portrait of him by Pether, from a picture by Fry, which hangs in the hall of the Scriveners' company. I visited him October 4, 1790, in his ninety-third year, and found his judgment distinct and clear, and his memory, though faded so as to fail him occasionally, yet, as he assured me, and I indeed perceived, able to serve him very well, after a little recollection. It was agreeable to observe, that he was free from the discontent and fretfulness which too often mo

lest old age. He in the summer of that year walked to Rotherhithe, where he dined, and walked home in the evening. He died on the 31st of December, 1791. BOSWELL. The version of Maphæus's 'bombastic' additional Canto is advertised in the Gent. Mag. 1758, p. 233. The engraver of Mr. Ellis's portrait in the first two editions is called Peffer. 2 'Admiral Walsingham boasted that he had entertained more miscellaneous parties than any other man in London. At one time he had received the Duke of Cumberland, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Nairne the optician, and Leoni the singer. It was at his table that Dr. Johnson made that excellent reply to a pert coxcomb who baited him during dinner. "Pray now," said he to the Doctor, "what would you give, old gentleman, to be as young and sprightly as I am?” Why, Sir, I think," replied Johnson, "I would almost be content to be as foolish." Cradock's Memoirs, i. 172.

[ocr errors]

3 Dr. Johnson almost always prefers the company of an intelligent man of the world to that of a scholar.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, i. 241.

once

22

Johnson's extensive knowledge.

[A.D. 1776. once the companion of the brilliant Colonel Forrester of the Guards, who wrote The Polite Philosopher, and of the aukward and uncouth Robert Levet; of Lord Thurlow, and Mr. Sastres, the Italian master; and has dined one day with the beautiful, gay, and fascinating Lady Craven, and the next with good Mrs. Gardiner3, the tallow-chandler, on Snow-hill.

On my expressing my wonder at his discovering so much of the knowledge peculiar to different professions, he told me, 'I learnt what I know of law, chiefly from Mr. Ballow, a very able man. I learnt some, too, from Chambers; but was not so teachable then. One is not willing to be taught by a young man.' When I expressed a wish to know more about Mr. Ballow, Johnson said, 'Sir, I have seen him but once these twenty years. The tide of life has driven us different ways.' I was sorry at the time to hear this; but whoever quits the creeks of private connections, and fairly gets into the great ocean of London, will, by imperceptible degrees, unavoidably experience such cessations of acquaintance,

'My knowledge of physick, (he added,) I learnt from Dr. James, whom I helped in writing the proposals for his Dictionary and also a little in the Dictionary itself. I also learnt from Dr. Lawrence, but was then grown more stubborn.'

A curious incident happened to-day, while Mr. Thrale and I sat with him. Francis announced that a large packet was brought to him from the post-office, said to have come from

[blocks in formation]

Aetat. 67.]

A new gaming-club.

23

Lisbon, and it was charged seven pounds ten shillings. He would not receive it, supposing it to be some trick, nor did he even look at it. But upon enquiry afterwards he found that it was a real packet for him, from that very friend in the East Indies of whom he had been speaking; and the ship which carried it having come to Portugal, this packet, with others, had been put into the post-office at Lisbon.

I mentioned a new gaming-club', of which Mr. Beauclerk had given me an account, where the members played to a desperate extent. JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this is mere talk. Who is ruined by gaming? You will not find six instances in There is a strange rout made about deep play: whereas you have many more people ruined by adventurous trade, and yet we do not hear such an outcry against it.' THRALE. 'There may be few people absolutely ruined by deep play; but very many are much hurt in their circumstances by it.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and so are very many by other kinds of expence.' I had heard him talk once before in the same manner; and at Oxford he said, 'he wished he had learnt to play at cards?. The truth, however, is, that he loved to display his ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in conversation maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong, but in supporting which, his reasoning and wit would be most conspicuous3. He would begin thus: 'Why, Sir, as to

'Horace Walpole, writing of May in this year, says that General Smith, an adventurer from the East Indies, who was taken off by Foote in The Nabob, being excluded from the fashionable club of young men of quality at Almack's, had, with a set of sharpers, formed a plan for a new club, which, by the excess of play, should draw all the young extravagants thither. They built a magnificent house in St. James's-street, and furnished it gorgeously.' Journal of the Reign of George III, ii. 39.

2 He said the same when in Scotland. Boswell's Hebrides, under Nov. 22, 1773. On the other hand, in The Rambler, No. 80, he wrote:→ 'It is scarcely possible to pass an

hour in honest conversation, without being able, when we rise from it, to please ourselves with having given or received some advantages; but a man may shuffle cards, or rattle dice, from noon to midnight, without tracing any new idea in his mind, or being able to recollect the day by any other token than his gain or loss, and a confused remembrance of agitated passions, and clamorous altercations.'

3 Few reflect,' says Warburton, ' on what a great wit has so ingenuously owned, That wit is generally false reasoning.' The wit was Wycherley. See his letter xvi. to Pope in Pope's Works. Warburton's Divine Legation, i. xii.

the

24

Johnson's pleasure in contradiction. [A.D. 1776.

the good or evil of card-playing-' 'Now, (said Garrick,) he is thinking which side he shall take'.' He appeared to have a pleasure in contradiction, especially when any opinion whatever was delivered with an air of confidence2; so that there was hardly any topick, if not one of the great truths of Religion andMorality, that he might not have been incited to argue, either for or against. Lord Elibank3 had the highest admiration of his powers. He once observed to me, 'Whatever opinion Johnson maintains, I will not say that he convinces me; but he never fails to shew me, that he has good reasons for it.' I have heard Johnson pay his Lordship this high compliment: 'I never was in Lord Elibank's company without learning something*.'

We sat together till it was too late for the afternoon service. Thrale said he had come with intention to go to church with us. We went at seven to evening prayers at St. Clement's church, after having drank coffee; an indulgence, which I understood Johnson yielded to on this occasion, in compliment to Thrale". On Sunday, April 7, Easter-day, after having been at St. Paul's Cathedral, I came to Dr. Johnson, according to my usual

I

'Perhaps no man was ever more happy than Dr. Johnson in the extempore and masterly defence of any cause which, at the given moment, he chose to defend.' Stockdale's Memoirs, i. 261.

2 Burke, in a letter that he wrote in 1771 (Corres. i. 330), must have had in mind his talks with Johnson, 'Nay,' he said, 'it is not uncommon, when men are got into debates, to take now one side, now another, of a question, as the momentary humour of the man and the occasion called for, with all the latitude that the antiquated freedom and ease of English conversation among friends did, in former days, encourage and excuse.' H. C. Robinson (Diary, iii. 485) says that Dr. Burney 'spoke with great warmth of affection of Dr. Johnson, and said he was the kindest creature in the world when he thought he was loved and respected by others. He

would play the fool among friends, but he required deference. It was necessary to ask questions and make no assertion. If you said two and two make four, he would say, 'How will you prove that, Sir?' Dr. Burney seemed amiably sensitive to every unfavourable remark on his old friend.'

3 Patrick Lord Elibank, who died in 1778. BosWELL. See Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 12, 1773.

Yet he said of him :-'Sir, there is nothing conclusive in his talk.' See post, p. 57.

5

Johnson records of this Good Friday: My design was to pass part of the day in exercises of piety, but Mr. Boswell interrupted me; of him, however, I could have rid myself; but poor Thrale, orbus et exspes, came for comfort, and sat till seven, when we all went to church.' Pr. and Med. p. 146.

custom.

Aetat. 67.]

The contract of marriage.

25

custom. It seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and placid in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of the most joyful event in the history of our world, the resurrection of our LORD and SAVIOUR, who, having triumphed over death and the grave, proclaimed immortality to mankind'.

I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who maintained, that her husband's having been guilty of numberless infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they were reciprocal. JOHNSON. This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party-Society; and if it be considered as a vow-GOD: and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another's property with his own hand.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia". JOHNSON. 'This lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.'

Mr. Macbean3, authour of the Dictionary of ancient Geography, came in. He mentioned that he had been forty years absent from Scotland. 'Ah, Boswell! (said Johnson, smiling,) what

Johnson's entries at Easter shew this year, and some of the following years, more peace of mind than hitherto. Thus this Easter he records, 'I had at church some radiations of comfort.... When I received, some tender images struck me. I was so mollified by the concluding address to our Saviour that I could not utter it.' Pr. and Med. pp. 146, 149. 'Easter-day, 1777, I was for some time much distressed, but at last obtained, I hope from the God

[blocks in formation]
« ElőzőTovább »