that it was one of his three dying requests to that great man that he should release him from it, as, of course, the most amiable of painters did. The other two requests, it will be remembered, were to read his Bible, and not to use his brush on Sundays. The good Sir Joshua gave the desired promises with a full heart, for these two great men loved one another; but subsequently discovered the Sabbatical restriction not a little irksome, and after a while resumed his former practice, arguing with himself that the Doctor really had no business to extract any such promise. The point is a nice one, and perhaps ere this the two friends have met and discussed it in the Elysian fields. If so, I hope the Doctor, grown 'angelical,' kept his temper with the mild shade of Reynolds better than on the historical occasion when he discussed with him the question of 'strong drinks.'

Against Garrick, Johnson undoubtedly cherished a smouldering grudge, which, however, he never allowed anyone but himself to fan into flame. His pique was natural. Garrick had been his pupil at Edial, near Lichfield; they had come up to town together with an easy united fortune of fourpence 'current coin o' the realm.' Garrick soon had the world at his feet and garnered golden grain. Johnson became famous too, but remained poor and dingy. Garrick surrounded himself with what only money can buy, good pictures and rare books. Johnson cared nothing for pictures — how should he ? he could not see them ; but he did care a great deal about books, and the pernickety little player was chary about lending his splendidly bound rarities to his quondam preceptor. Our sympathies in this matter are entirely with Garrick; Johnson was one of the best men that ever lived, but not to lend books to. Like Lady Slattern, he had a 'most observant thumb.' But Garrick had no real cause for complaint. Johnson may have soiled his folios and sneered at his trade, but in life Johnson loved Garrick, and in death embalmed his memory in a sentence which can only die with the English language : 'I am disappointed by that stroke of death which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.'

Will it be believed that puny critics have been found to quarrel with this colossal compliment on the poor pretext of its falsehood ? Garrick's death, urge these dullards, could not possibly have eclipsed the gaiety of nations, since he had retired from the stage months previous to his de. mise. When will mankind learn that literature is one thing, and sworn testimony another?

Johnson's relations with Burke were of a more crucial character. The author of Rasselas and The English Dictionary can never have been really jealous of Garrick, or in the very least desirous of bringing down the house ;' but Burke had done nobler things than that. He had made politics philosophical, and had at least tried to cleanse them from the dust and cobwebs of party. Johnson, though he had never sat in the House of Commons, had yet, in his capacity of an unauthorised reporter, put into the mouths of honourable members much better speeches than ever came out of them, and it is no secret that he would have liked to make a speech or two on his own account. Burke had

made many. Harder still to bear, there were not wanting good judges to say that, in their opinion, Burke was a better talker than the great Samuel himself. To cap it all, was not Burke a 'vile Whig'? The ordeal was an unusually trying one. Johnson emerges triumphant.

Though by no means disposed to hear men made much of, he always listened to praise of Burke with a boyish delight. He never wearied of it. When any new proof of Burke's intellectual prowess was brought to his notice, he would exclaim exultingly, 'Did we not always say he was a great man?' And yet how admirably did this 'poor scholar' preserve his independence and equanimity of mind! It was not easy to dazzle the Doctor. What a satisfactory story that is of Burke showing Johnson over his fine estate at Beaconsfield, and expatiating in his exuberant style on its

liberties, privileges, easements, rights, and advantages, and of the old Doctor, the tenant of a two-pair back’somewhere off Fleet Street, peering cautiously about, criticising everything, and observing with much coolness, —

*Non equidem invideo, miror magis.' A friendship like this could be disturbed but by death, and accordingly we read :

Mr. Langton one day during Johnson's last illness found Mr. Burke and four or five more friends sitting with Johnson. Mr. Burke said to him, “ I am afraid, sir, such a number of us may be oppressive to you.” “No, sir,” said Johnson, “it is not so; and I must be in a wretched state indeed when your company would not be a delight to me.” Mr. Burke, in a tremulous voice, expressive of being very tenderly affected, replied, “My dear sir, you have always been too good to me.” Immediately afterwards he went away. This was the last circumstance in the acquaintance of these two eminent men.'

But this is a well-worn theme, though, like some other well-worn themes, still profitable for edification or rebuke. A hundred years can make no difference to a character like Johnson's, or to a biography like Boswell's. We are not to be robbed of our conviction that this man, at all events, was both great and good.

Johnson the author is not always fairly

« ElőzőTovább »