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(Page 134, note 2.)
THERE are at least three accounts of this altercation and three versions of the lines. Two of these versions nearly agree. The earliest is found in a letter by Richard Burke, senior, dated Jan. 6, 1773 (Burke Corres. i. 403); the second in the Annual Register for 1776, p. 223; and the third in Miss Reynolds's Recollections (Croker's Boswell, 8vo, p. 833). R. Burke places the scene in Reynolds's house. Whether he himself was present is not clear. • The dean,' he says, “asserted that after forty-five a man did not improve. “I differ with you, Sir,” answered Johnson ; "a man may improve, and you yourself have great room for improvement." The dean was confounded, and for the instant silent. Recovering, he said, “On recollection I see no cause to alter my opinion, except I was to call it improvement for a man to grow (which I allow he may) positive, rude, and insolent, and save arguments by brutality."' Neither the Annual Register nor Miss Reynolds reports the Dean's speech. But she says that soon after the ladies withdrew, Dr. Johnson followed them, and sitting down by the lady of the house (that is by herself, if they were at Sir Joshua's] he said, “I am very sorry for having spoken so rudely to the Dean.” “You very well may, Sir.” “Yes,” he said, “it was highly improper to
” speak in that style to a minister of the gospel, and I am the more hurt on reflecting with what mild dignity he received it.” If Johnson really spoke of the Dean's mild dignity, it is clear that Richard Burke's account is wrong. But it was written just after the scene, and Boswell says there was a pretty smart altercation.' Miss Reynolds continues :- When the Dean came up into the drawingroom, Dr. Johnson immediately rose from his seat, and made him sit on the sofa by him, and with such a beseeching look for pardon and with such fond gestures—literally smoothing down his arms and his knees,' &c. The Annual Register says that Barnard the next day sent the verses addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds & Co.' On the next page I give Richard Burke's version of the lines, and show the various readings.
Miss REYNOLDS's RICHARD BURKE'S VERSION.
I lately thought no man alive
And ventured to assert it ;
That none could controvert it.
*No, Sir,' says Johnson, ‘'tis not so; 'Tis
That's your mistake, and I can show
An instance, if you doubt it; You who perhaps are You, Sir, who are near forty-eight, still
May much improve, 'tis not too late;
I wish you'd set about it.'
Encouraged thus to mend my
faults, I turn'd his counsel in my thoughts, Which
way I should apply it : Learning and wit seem'd past my reach, For who can learn where none will teach? when none will
And wit-I could not buy it.
Then come, my friends, and try your skill,
Dear Knight of Plympton', teach me how
And smile serene like thine,
To such I'll tum
Like thee to turn
Thou say'st, not only skill is gain'd,
By studious imitation;
By constant application.
i Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was born at Plympton.
Miss REYNOLDS's RICHARD BURKE'S VERSION.
Thy art of pleasing teach me, Garrick, reverest (sic) Thou who reversest odes Pindarick',
A second time read o'er;
And charm us thirty more.
If I have thoughts and can't express 'em,
In terms select and terse;
And Beauclerk to converse.
Let Johnson teach me how to place
From him I'll learn to write ;
Grow as himself-polite.'
free and easy
Horace Walpole, on Dec. 27, 1775, speaks of these verses as if they were fresh. “They are an answer,' he writes, “to a gross brutality of Dr. Johnson, to which a properer answer would have been to Aling a glass of wine in his face. I have no patience with an unfortunate monster trusting to his helpless deformity for indemnity for any impertinence that his arrogance suggests, and who thinks that what he has read is an excuse for everything he says.' Horace Walpole's Letters, vi. 302. It is strange that Walpole should be so utterly ignorant of Johnson's courage and bodily strength. The date of Walpole's letter makes me suspect that Richard Burke dated his Jan. 6, 1775 (he should have written 1776), and that the blunder of a copyist has changed 1775 into 1773
1 See ante, üi. 50, note 1.
Had Boswell continued the quotation from Priestley's Illustrations of Philosophical Necessity he would have shown that though Priestley could not hate the rioters, he could very easily prosecute them.
• If as a Necessarian I cease to blame men for their vices in the ultimate sense of the word, though, in the common and proper sense of it, I continue to do as much as other persons (for how necessarily soever they act, they are influenced by a base and mischievous disposition of mind, against which I must guard myself and others in proportion as I love myself and others),' &c. Priestley's Works, iii. 508.
Of his interview with Johnson, Priestley, in his Appeal to the Public, part ii, published in 1792 (Works, xix. 502), thus writes, answering the impudent falsehood that when I was at Oxford Dr. Johnson left a company on my being introduced to it's
• In fact we never were at Oxford at the same time, and the only interview I ever had with him was at Mr. Paradise's, where we dined together at his own request. He was particularly civil to me, and promised to call upon me the next time he should go through Birmingham. He behaved with the same civility to Dr. Price, when they supped together at Dr. Adams's at Oxford. Several circumstances show that Dr. Johnson had not so much of bigotry at the decline of life as had distinguished him before, on which account it is well known to all our common acquaintance, that I declined all their pressing solicitations to be introduced to him.'
Priestley expresses himself ill, but his meaning can be made out. Parr answered Boswell in the March number of the Gent. Mag. for 1795, p. 179.
But the evidence that he brings is rendered needless by Priestley's positive statement. May peace henceforth fall on Priestley's injured name.' Mrs. Barbauld's Poems, ii. 243.
When Boswell asserts that Johnson 'was particularly resolute in not giving crotchance to men whose writings he considered as
pernicious to society,' he forgets that that very summer of 1783 he had been willing to dine at Wilkes's house (ante, iv. 259, note 2).
Dr. Franklin (Memoirs, ed. 1833, iii. 157) wrote to Dr. Price in 1784 : It is said that scarce anybody but yourself and Dr. Priestley possesses the art of knowing how to differ decently.' Gibbon (Misc. Works, i. 304), describing in 1789 the honestest members of the French Assembly, calls them a set of wild visionaries, like our Dr. Price, who gravely debate, and dream about the establishment of a pure and perfect democracy of five and twenty millions, the virtues of the golden age, and the primitive rights and equality of mankind.' Admiration of Price made Samuel Rogers, when a boy, wish to be a preacher. “I thought there was nothing on earth so grand as to figure in a pulpit. Dr. Price lived much in the society of Lord Lansdowne (Earl of Shelburne) and other people of rank; and his manners were extremely polished. In the pulpit he was great indeed.' Rogers's Table-Talk, p. 3.
The full title of the tract mentioned by Boswell is, A small Whole-Length of Dr. Priestley from his Printed Works. It was published in 1792, and is a very poor piece of writing.
Johnson had refused to meet the Abbé Raynal, the author of the Histoire Philosophique et Politique du Commerce des Deux Indes, when he was over in England in 1777. Mrs. Chapone, writing to Mrs. Carter on June 15 of that year, says :
• I suppose you have heard a great deal of the Abbé Raynal, who is in London. I fancy you would have served him as Dr. Johnson did, to whom when Mrs. Vesey introduced him, he turned from him, and said he had read his book, and would have nothing to say to him.' Mrs. Chapone's Posthumous Works, i. 172.
See Walpole's Letters, v. 421, and vi. 444.
His book was burnt by the common hangman in Paris. Carlyle's French Revolution, ed. 1857, i. 45.