Page images

Dr. Johnson's resentment. The narrative we present in his own words :

"We talked of a gentleman (Mr. Langton) who was running out his fortune in London, and I said, We must get him out of it. All his friends must quarrel with him, and that will soon drive him away.' Johnson: Nay, sir, we'll send you to him; if your company does not drive a man out of his house, nothing will.' This was a horrible shock, for which there was no visible cause. I afterwards asked him why he had said so harsh a thing. Johnson: Because, sir, you made me angry about the Americans.' Boswell: But why did you not take your revenge directly?' Johnson (smiling): Because, sir, I had nothing ready. A man cannot strike till he has his weapons. This," adds Boswell," was a candid and pleasant confession." *

Dr. Johnson made a second attack a fortnight afterwards, which Boswell endured with less patience. On the 2nd May they met at Sir Joshua Reynolds'. The wits of Queen Anne's reign were talked of, when Boswell exclaimed, "How delightful it must have been to have lived in the society of Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot, Gay, and Bolingbroke! We have no such society in our days." Sir Joshua answered, "I think, Mr. Boswell, you might be satisfied with your great friend's conversation." "Nay, sir, Mr. Boswell is right," said Johnson, "every man wishes for preferment, and if Boswell had lived in those days he would have obtained promotion." "How so, sir?" asked Sir Joshua. Why, sir," said Johnson, "he would have had a high place in the Dunciad.” Boswell felt so much hurt that, contrary to his custom, he omits the conversation. refers to the occurrence in these terms:

[ocr errors]

"Life of Johnson."


† Mr. Croker relates the anecdote on the authority of the Marquess of Wellesley, who received it from Mr. Thomas Sydenham. That gentleman got the story from Mr. Knight, to whom it was communicated by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

"On Saturday, May 2, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, when there was a very large company, and a great deal of conversation; but owing to some circumstance, which I cannot now recollect, I have no record of any part of it, except that there were several people there by no means of the Johnsonian school, so that less attention was paid to him than usual, which put him out of humour, and upon some imaginary offence from me, he attacked me with such rudeness that I was vexed and angry, because it gave those persons an opportunity of enlarging upon his supposed ferocity, and ill-treatment of his best friends. I was so much hurt, and had my pride so much roused, that I kept away from him for a week, and perhaps might have kept away much longer, nay, gone to Scotland without seeing him again, had we not fortunately met and been reconciled."

The reconciliation is thus described :

"On Friday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Langton's. I was reserved and silent, which I supposed he perceived, and might recollect the cause. After dinner, when Mr. Langton was called out of the room and we were by ourselves, he drew his chair near to mine and said, in a tone of conciliating courtesy, 'Well, how have you done?' Boswell: Sir, you have made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. You know, my dear sir, no man has a greater respect and affection for you, or would sooner go to the end of the world to serve you. Now to treat me so- He insisted that I had interrupted, which I assured him was not the case, and proceeded, But why treat me so before people who neither love you nor me?' 'Well, I'm sorry for it. I'll make it up to you twenty different ways, as you please.' Boswell: 'I said to-day to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you tossed me sometimes, I don't care how often or how high he tosses me when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are present. I think this is a pretty good image, sir.' Johnson: Sir, it is one of the happiest I have ever heard.""

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Boswell left London on the 19th of May. On his return to Edinburgh he was seized with an irrepressible longing for an early settlement in London, and forthwith communicated his sentiments to Dr. Johnson. He had the following answer :

"I wish you would a little correct or restrain your imagination, and imagine that happiness such as life admits may be had at other places as well as London. Without affecting stoicism, it may be said that it is our business to exempt ourselves as much as we can from the power of external things. There is but one solid basis of happiness, and that is, the reasonable hope of a happy futurity. This may be had everywhere. I do not blame your preference of London to other places, for it is really to be preferred if the choice is free; but few have the choice of their place or their manner of life, and mere pleasure ought not to be the prime motive of action."

In August Mrs. Boswell gave birth to her third son, who was christened James. Dr. Johnson sent suitable congratulations.

In March, 1779, Boswell again repaired to the metropolis. He spent Good Friday with Dr. Johnson, attending him at both diets of worship in St. Clement's Church. Johnson, he relates, preferred silent meditation during the interval of worship, and for his improvement handed him "Les Pensées de Paschal," a book which he perused with reverence. On Easter Sunday he worshipped in St. Paul's, and afterwards dined with Dr. Johnson.

A letter to Mr. Temple, which Boswell commenced at London on the 31st May, and finished at Newcastle on the 8th June, contains the following passages :

"Had you been in London last week, you would have seen your friend sadly changed for a little. So trifling a matter as letting the nails of my great toes grow into the flesh, particularly in one foot, produced so much pain and inflammation and lameness and apprehension, that I was confined to bed, and my spirits sank to dreary dejection. I am now much

better, but still unable to walk; and having received a very wise letter from my dear, sensible, valuable wife, that although my father is in no immediate danger, his indisposition is such that I ought to be with him, I have resolved to set out to-morrow, being the very first day after completing another term at the Temple. Is it not curious that at times we are in so happy a frame that not the least trace of former inisery or vexation is left upon the mind? But is not the contrary, too, experienced? -Gracious Author of our being, do Thou bring us at length to steady felicity. What a strange, complicated scene is this life! It always strikes me that we cannot seriously, closely, and clearly examine almost any part of it. We are at pains to bring up children, just to give them an opportunity of struggling through cares and fatigues; but let us hope for gleams of joy here, and a blaze hereafter. I got into the fly at Buckden, and had a very good journey. An agreeable young widow nursed me, and supported my lame foot on her knee. Am I not fortunate in having something about me that interests most people at first sight in my favour? You ask me

about Lowth's 'Isaiah.' I never once heard it mentioned till I asked Dr. Johnson about it. I do not think Lowth an engaging man; I sat a good while with him this last spring. He said Dr. Johnson had great genius. I give you this as a specimen of his talk, which seemed to me to be neither discriminating, pointed, nor animated; yet he certainly has much curious learning, and a good deal of critical sagacity. . . I did not know Monboddo's new book, 'The Metaphysics of the Ancients,' had been advertised. I expect it will be found to be a very wonderful performance. I think I gathered from a conversation with him that he believes the 'metempsychosis.'

On his arrival in Edinburgh, learning that the celebrated Mr. John Wesley was on a visit to the city, Boswell waited on him with a letter from Dr. Johnson. The writer expressed a wish that "worthy and religious men should be acquainted with each other." Mr. Wesley received Boswell with politeness, but did not encourage any closer intimacy.

For two months after his return to Scotland Boswell despatched no letters to Dr. Johnson. He in this fashion made. trial of his friend's fidelity. At length receiving a letter from the Doctor inquiring for his welfare, he resolved "never again to put him to the test." *

The friendship which subsisted between Mrs. Boswell and Mrs. Stuart, wife of the second son of John, third Earl of Bute, has been referred to. Boswell was, we have seen, also a favourite with Mrs. Stuart. To her regard for him Boswell delighted to refer, however, inopportunely. In his Boswelliana he relates that Lord Mountstuart having remarked that he resembled Charles Fox, Colonel Stuart (Mrs. Stuart's husband) ejaculated, "You are much uglier." Boswell replied, looking his tormentor in the face, "Does your wife think so, Colonel James?" Colonel Stuart knew Boswell intimately, and, in common with his wife, enjoyed his humour and excused his egotism. Being in command of the Bedfordshire Militia, he invited Boswell to accompany him and the regiment to London and some other stations. Boswell readily complied. He delighted "to accompany a man of sterling good sense, information, discernment, and conviviality," and he hoped in his society "to have a second crop, in one year, of London and Johnson."

On Monday, 4th October, Boswell waited on Dr. Johnson, thereafter attending him daily during a fortnight's residence in London. On the 18th October he departed for Chester, in company with Colonel Stuart. He tarried a few hours at Lichfield, where he visited some of Dr. Johnson's relatives. His proceedings at Chester are related in the following letter to Mr. Temple, dated Edinburgh, 4th January, 1780:

From London, after an excellent fortnight there, I accom

* "Life of Johnson."

« PreviousContinue »