« ElőzőTovább »
by no means join in the censure bestowed by John
1781. son on his Lordship, whom he calls “poor Lyttel
Ætat. 72. man.” Disadvantages of person and manner may be forgotten, where intellectual pleasure is communicated to a susceptible mind; and that Johnson was capable of feeling the most delicate and disinterested attachment, appears from the following letter, which is published by Mrs. Thrale, with some others to the same person, of which the excellence is not so apparent :
TO MISS BOOTHBY.
January, 1775. " THOUGH I am afraid your illness leaves you little leisure for the reception of airy civilities, yet I cannot forbear to pay you my congratulations on the new year; and to declare my wishes that your years to come may be many and happy. In this wish, indeed, I include myself, who have none but you on whom my heart reposes ; yet surely I wish your good, even though your situation were such as should permit you to communicate no gratifications to, dearest, dearest Madam,
“ Your, &c.
“ Sam. JOHNSON."
[There is still a slight mistake in the text. It was not Molly Aston, but Hill Boothby, for whose affections Johnson and Lord Lyttelton were rival candidates. See Mrs. Piozzi's “ Anecdotes," p. 160. After mentioning the death of Mrs. Fitzherbert (who was a daughter of Mr. Meynell of Bradley in Derbyshire,) and Johnson's high admiration of her, she adds, ". The friend of this lady, Miss Boothby, succeeded her in the management of Mr. Fitzherbert's family, and in the esteem of Dr. Johnson; though he told me, she pushed her piety to bigotry, her devotion to enthusiasm; that she somewhat disqualified herself for the duties of this life, by her perpetual aspirations after the next : such was, however, the purity of her mind, he said, and such the graces of her manner, that Lord Lyttelton and he used to strive for her preference with an emulation that occasioned hoinly disgust, and ended in lasting animosity. You may see (said he to me, when the Poets' Lives were printed,) that dear Boothby is at my heart still.”
Miss Hill Boothby, who was the only daughter of Brook Boothby, Esq. and his wife, Elizabeth Fitzherbert, was somewhat older
1781. ton," for returning thanks to the Critical Reviewers, for having
kindly commended” his “ Dialogues of Etat. 72.
the Dead." Such “ acknowledgements (says my friend) never can be proper, since, they must be paid either for flattery or for justice.” In my opinion, the most upright man, who has been tried on a false acPusation, may, when he is acquitted, make a bow to his jury. And when those, who are so much the arbiters of literary merit, as in a considerable degree to influence the publick opinion, review an authour's work, placilo lumine, when I am afraid mankind in general are better pleased with severity, he may surely express a grateful sense of their civility.
than Johnson. She was born October 27, 1708, and died January 16, 1756. Six Letters addressed to her by Johnson in the year 1755, are printed in Mrs. Piozzi's Collection ; and a Prayer composed by him on her death may be found in his “ Prayers and Meditations." His affection for her induced him to preserve and bind up in a volume thirty three of her Letters, which were pure chased from the widow of his servant, Francis Barber, and published by R. Phillips, in 1805.
But highly as he valued this lady, his attachment to Miss Molly Aston, (afterwards Mrs. Brodie,) appears to have been still more ardent. He burned (says Mrs. Piozzi,) many letters in the last week [of his life], I am told, and those written by his mother drew from him a flood of tears, when the paper they were written on was all consumed. - Mr. Sastres saw him cast a melancholy look upon their ashes, which he took up and examined, to see if a word was still legible.---Nobody has ever mentioned what became of Miss Aston's letters, though he once told me himself, they should be the last papers he would destroy, and added these lines with a very faultoring voice :
“ Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part,
Life's idle business at one gasp be o'er,
Additions to Mrs. Piozzi's Collection of
Dr. Johnson's Letters. M.]
Various Readings in the Life of LYTTELTON. 1782. “ He solaced [himself] his grief by writing a long
Ætat. 71, poem to her memory.
“. The production rather [of a mind that means well than thinks vigorously] as it seems of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions. “ His last literary (work] production.
[Found the way] undertook to persuade.
As the introduction to his critical examination of the genius and writings of Young, he did Mr. Herbert Croft, then a Barrister of Lincoln's Inn, now a clergyman, the honour to adopt a Life of Young written by that Gentleman, who was the friend of Dr. Young's son, and wished to vindicate him from some very erroneous remarks to his prejudice. Mr. Croft's performance was subjected to the revision of Dr. Johnson, as appears from the following note to Mr. John Nichols:?
“ This Life of Dr. Young was written by a friend of his son. What is crossed with black is expunged by the authour, what is crossed with red is expunged by me. If you find any thing more that can be well omitted, I shall not be sorry to see it yet shorter.”
It has always appeared to me to have a considerable share of merit, and to display a pretty successful imitation of Johnson's style. When I mentioned this to a very eminent literary character, he opposed me vehemently, exclaiming, “ No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his
without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength.” This was an image so happy, that
Gentlemen's Magazine, Vol. iv. p. 10. * [The late Mr. Burke, M.]
1781. One might have thought he would have been satisfied
with it; but he was not. Ætat. 72.
And setting his mind again to work, he added, with exquisite felicity, has all the contortions of the Sybil, without the inspiration.”
Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man ; and mentions, that “ his parish was indebted to the good-humour of the authour of the Night Thoughts' for an Assembly and a Bowling Green.” A letter from a noble foreigner is quoted, in which he is said to have been “ very pleasant in conversation.”
Mr. Langton, who frequently visited him, informs me, that there was an air of benevolence in his manner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what has been called the Augustan age of England ; and that he shewed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then passing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.
An instance at once of his pensive turn of mind, and his cheerfulness of temper, appeared in a little story which he himself told to Mr. Langton, when they were walking in his garden: “ Here (said he) I had put a handsome sun-dial, with this inscription, Eheu fugaces! which (speaking with a sinile) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off."9
9 The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that he passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe's 'ien Mr. Doda
It gives me much pleasure to observe, that how- 1781. ever Johnson may have casually talked, yet when he
Ætat. 72. sits, as “ an ardent judge zealous to his trust, giving sentence” upon the excellent works of Young, he allows them the high praise to which they are justly entitled. “ The Universal Passion (says he) is indeed a very great performance,-his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth."
Bat I was most anxious concerning Johnson's decision
upon “ Night THOUGHTS,” which I esteem as a mass of the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced : and was delighted to find this character of that work: “ In his · Night THOUGHT3,' he has exhibited a very wide display of · original poetry, variegated with deep reflection and striking allusions: a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhime, but with disadvantage.” And afterwards, “ Particular lines are not to be regarded; the power is in the whole; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation, the magnifi cence of vast extent and endless diversity."
But there is in this Poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the Pathetick beyond almost any example that I have seen. He who does not feel his nerves shaken, and his heart
dington) at Hammersmith. The Doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Doddington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind. “No, Sir, (replied the Doctor) it is a very fine. night. The Lord is abroad.'