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Dining with Jack Wilkes.
[A.D. 1776. Dr. Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, 'Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes ?' he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have answered, 'Dine with Jack Wilkes, Sir! I'd as soon dine with Jack Ketch'.' I therefore, while we were sitting quietly by ourselves at his house in an evening, took occasion to open my plan thus :-' Mr. Dilly, Sir, sends his respectful compliments to you, and would be happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him on Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him—' BOSWELL. Provided, Sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have, is agreeable to you.' JOHNSON. 'What do you mean, Sir? What do you take me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world, as to imagine that I am to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to have at his table?' BOSWELL. 'I beg your pardon, Sir, for wishing to prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps he may have some of what he calls his patriotick friends with him.' JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, and what then? What care I for his patriotick friends? Poh!" BOSWELL. 'I should not be surprized to find Jack Wilkes there.' JOHNSON. 'And if Jack Wilkes should be there, what is that to me, Sir? My dear friend, let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you; but really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not meet any company whatever, occasionally.' BOSWELL. Pray forgive me, Sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me.' Thus I secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well pleased to be one of his guests on the day appointed.
Upon the much-expected Wednesday, I called on him about half an hour before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out together, to see that he was ready in time, and to
This has been circulated as if actually said by Johnson; when the truth is, it was only supposed by me. BOSWELL.
2 'Don't let them be patriots,' he said to Mr. Hoole, when he asked him to collect a city Club. Post, April 6, 1781.
Boswell's successful negotiation.'
accompany him. I found him buffeting his books, as upon a former occasion', covered with dust, and making no preparation for going abroad. 'How is this, Sir? (said I.) Don't you recollect that you are to dine at Mr. Dilly's?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I did not think of going to Dilly's: it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner at home with Mrs. Williams.' BOSWELL. But, my dear Sir, you know you were engaged to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so. He will expect you, and will be much disappointed if you don't come.' JOHNSON. 'You must talk to Mrs. Williams about this."
Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I had secured would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to shew Mrs. Williams such a degree of humane attention, as frequently imposed some restraint upon him; and I knew that if she should be obstinate, he would not stir. I hastened down stairs to the blind lady's room, and told her I was in great uneasiness, for Dr. Johnson had engaged to me to dine this day at Mr. Dilly's, but that he had told me he had forgotten his engagement, and had ordered dinner at home. Yes, Sir, (said she, pretty peevishly,) Dr. Johnson is to dine at home.'-' Madam, (said I,) his respect for you is such, that I know he will not leave you unless you absolutely desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you will be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for Dr. Johnson, and will be vexed if the Doctor neglects him to-day. And then, Madam, be pleased to consider my situation; I carried the message, and I assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come, and no doubt he has made a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted of the honour he expected to have. I shall be quite disgraced if the Doctor is not there.' She gradually softened to my solicitations, which were certainly as earnest as most entreaties to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously pleased to empower me to tell Dr. Johnson, 'That all things considered, she thought he should certainly go.' I flew back to him, still in dust, and careless of what should be the event, 'indifferent
See p. 7 of this volume. BOSWELL.
Mr. Dilly's drawing-room.
in his choice to go or stay';' but as soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams' consent, he roared, 'Frank, a clean shirt,' and was very soon drest. When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna-Green.
When we entered Mr. Dilly's drawing room, he found himself in the midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly, 'Who is that gentleman, Sir?'' Mr. Arthur Lee.'-JOHNSON. 'Too, too, too,' (under his breath,) which was one of his habitual mutterings2. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a patriot but an American3. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the court of Madrid. 'And who is the gentleman in lace ?'' Mr. Wilkes, Sir.' This information confounded him still more; he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book, sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say, were aukward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company, and he, therefore, resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.
The cheering sound of 'Dinner is upon the table,' dissolved his reverie, and we all sat down without any symptom of ill humour. There were present, beside Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was an old companion of mine when he studied physick at Edinburgh, Mr. (now Sir John) Miller, Dr. Lettsom, and Mr. Slater the druggist. Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him with so much attention and politeness, that he gained upon him insensibly. No man eat - 'Indifferent in his choice to sleep or die.' Addison's Cato, act v. sc. I.
2 See ante, i. 485. 3 He was at this time 'employed by Congress as a private and confidential agent in England.' Dr.
Franklin had arranged for letters to be sent to him, not by post but by private hand, under cover to his brother, Mr. Alderman Lee. Franklin's Memoirs, ii. 42, and iii. 415.
When Wilkes the year before,
Mr. Wilkes's assiduity.
more heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes was very assiduous in helping him to some fine veal. Pray give me leave, Sir:-It is better here --A little of the brown-Some fat, Sir-A little of the stuffing-Some gravy-Let me have the pleasure of giving you some butter-Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange; or the lemon, perhaps, may have more zest.'—' Sir, Sir, I am obliged to you, Sir,' cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his head to him with a look for some time of 'surly virtue',' but, in a short while, of complacency.
Foote being mentioned, Johnson said, 'He is not a good mimick? One of the company added, 'A merry Andrew, a buffoon.' JOHNSON. 'But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he's gone, Sir, when you think you have got him-like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is under many restraints from which Foote is free3,' WILKES. 'Garrick's wit is more like Lord Chesterfield's.' JOHNSON. 'The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly
during his mayoralty, had presented
'How when competitors like these
Can surly virtue hope to fix a friend.'
2 See ante, ii. 154.
3 Johnson had said much the same at a dinner in Edinburgh. See Boswell's Hebrides, Nov. 10, 1773. See ante, March 15, 1776, and post, Sept.
4 'To convince any man against his will is hard, but to please him against his will is justly pronounced by Dryden to be above the reach of human abilities.' The Rambler, No. 93. laugh
laugh it out. No, Sir, he was irresistible'. He upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small-beer brewer, and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small-beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote's small-beer no longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote's stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs, he told them, "This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small-beer."
Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES. 'Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now leaving the stage; but he will play Scrub all his life.' I knew that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself3, as Garrick once said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, 'I have heard Garrick is liberal'.') JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, I know that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have money, he
Foote told me that Johnson said of him, 'For loud obstreperous broadfaced mirth, I know not his equal.' BOSWELL.
2 In Farquhar's Beaux-Stratagem, Scrub thus describes his duties:'Of a Monday I drive the coach, of a Tuesday I drive the plough, on
Wednesday I follow the hounds, a
3 See ante, i. 393, note I.
4 See post, April 10, 1778, and `\ April 24, 1779.