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1763. Shrubbery and the fragrant parterre appeared in gay succession. It has been
generally circulated and believed that he was a mere fool in conversationo; but, in truth, this has been greatly exaggerated. He had, no doubt, a more than common share of that hurry of ideas which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes produces a laughable confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un etourdi, and from vanity and an eager desire of being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. His person was short, his countenance coarse and vulgar, his deportment that of a scholar aukwardly affecting the easy gentleman. Those who were in any way distinguished, excited envy in him to fo ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly credible. When accompanying two beautiful young ladies with their mother on a tour in France, he was seriously angry that more attention was paid to them than to him; and once at the exhibition of the Fantoccini, in London, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet was made to toss a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, and exclaimed with some warmth, “ Pfhaw! I can do it better myself.”
He, I am afraid, had no settled system of any sort, so that his conduct must not be strictly scrutinised; but his affections were social and generous, and when he had money he gave it away very liberally. His desire of imaginary consequence predominated over his attention to truth. When he began to rise into notice, he said he had a brother who was Dean of Durham, a fiction so easily detected, that it is wonderful how he should have been so inconsiderate as to hazard it. He boasted to me at this time of the power
pen in commanding money, which I believe was true in a certain degree, though in the instance he gave he was by no means correct. He told me that he had fold a novel for four hundred pounds. This was his “ Vicar of
In allusion to this, Mr. Horace Walpole, who admired his writings, said he was
for shortness call's Noll,
Wakefield.” But Johnson informed me, that he had made the bargain for Goldsmith, and the price was sixty pounds. “ And, Sir, (said he) a sufficient price too, when it was sold; for then the fame of Goldsmith had not been elevated, as it afterwards was, by his · Traveller ;' and the bookseller had such faint hopes of profit by his bargain, that he kept the manuscript by him a long time, and did not publish it till after the Traveller had appeared. Then, to be sure, it was accidentally worth more money.”
Mrs. Piozzi? and Sir John Hawkins & have strangely mis-stated the history of Goldsmith's situation and Johnson's friendly interference, when this novel was fold. I shall give it authentically from Johnson's own exact narration :
“ I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was drest, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, fold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill 9.”
My next meeting with Johnson was on Friday the ist of July, when and I and Dr. Goldsmith supped together at the Mitre. I was before this tiime pretty well acquainted with Goldsmith, who was one of the brightest
1 Anecdotes of Johnson, p. 119.
: Life of Johnson, p. 420. 9 It may not be improper to annex here Mrs. Piozzi's account of this transaction, in her own words, as a specimen of the extreme inaccuracy with which all her anecdotes of Dr. Johnson are related, or rather discoloured and distorted. “ I have forgotten the year, but it could scarcely I think be later than 1765 or 1766, that he was called abruptly from our house after dinner, and returning in about three hours, said he had been with an enraged authour, whose landlady pressed him for payment within doors, while the bailiffs beset him without; that he was drinking himself drunk with Madeira, to drown care, and fretting over a novel, which, when finished, was to be his whole fortune, but he could not get it done for distraction, nor could he step out of doors to offer it for sale. Mr. Johnson, therefore, fet away the bottle, and went to the bookseller, recommending the performance, and desiring fome immediate relief; which when he brought back to the writer, he called the woman of the house directly to partake of punch, and pass their time in merrie ment." Anecdotes of Johnson, p. 119.
1763. ornaments of the Johnsonian school. Goldsmith's respectful attachment to Ærat. 54. Johnson was then at its height; for his own literary reputation had not yet
distinguished him so much as to excite a vain desire of competition with his great master. He had increased my admiration of the goodness of Johnson's heart, by incidental remarks in the course of conversation, such as, when I mentioned Mr. Levet, whom he entertained under his roof, “ He is poor and honest, which is recommendation enough to Johnson ;” and when I wondered that he was very kind to a man of whom I had heard a very bad character, “ He is now become miserable, and that insures the protection of Johnson.”
Goldsmith attempted this evening to maintain, I suppose from an affectation of paradox, that knowledge was not desirable on its own account, for it often was a source of unhappiness. Johnson. Why, Sir, that knowledge may in some cases produce unhappiness, I allow. But, upon the whole, knowledge per fe is certainly an object which every man would wish to attain, although, perhaps, he may not take the trouble necessary for attaining it.”
Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated political and biographical writer, being mentioned, Johnson said, “ Campbell is a man of much knowledge, and has a good share of imagination. His · Hermippus Redivivus’ is very enterraining, as an account of the Hermetick philofophy, and as furnishing a curious history of the extravagancies of the human mind. If it were merely imaginary, it would be nothing at all. Campbell is not always rigidly careful of truth in his conversation ; but I do not believe there is any thing of this carelessness in his books. Campbell is a good man, a pious man. I am afraid he has not been in the inside of a church for many years '; but he never passes a church without pulling off his hat. This shews that he has good principles. I used to go pretty often to Campbell's on a Sunday evening, till I began to consider that the shoals of Scotchmen who Aocked about
"I am inclined to think that he was misinformed as to this circumstance. I own I am jealous for my worthy friend Dr. John Campbell. For though Milton could without remorse absent him self from publick worship, I cannot. On the contrary, I have the same habitual impressions upon my mind, with those of a truly venerable Judge, who said to Mr. Langton, “ Friend Langton, if I have not been at church on Sunday, I do not feel myself eafy." Dr. Campbell was a sincerely religious man. Lord Macartney, who is eminent for his variety of knowledge, and attention to men of talents, and knew him well, told me, that when he called on him in a morning, he found him reading a chapter in the Greek New Testament, which he informed his Lordship was his conftant practice. The quantity of Dr. Campbell's composition is almost incredible, and his labours brought him large profits. Dr. Joseph Warton told me that Johnson faid of him, “ He is the richest authour that ever grazed the common of literature.”
him might probably say, when any thing of mine was well done, “Ay, ay, he has learnt this of CAWMELL!”
He talked very contemptuously of Churchill's poetry, observing, that “it had a temporary currency, only from its audacity of abuse, and being filled with living names, and that it would sink into oblivion.” I ventured to hint that he was not quite a fair judge, as Churchill had attacked him violently. Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, I am a very fair judge. He did not attack me violently till he found I did not like his poetry; and his attack on me shall not prevent me from continuing to say what I think of him, from an apprehension that it may be ascribed to resentment. No, Sir, I called the fellow a blockhead at first, and I will call him a blockhead still. However, I will acknowledge that I have a better opinion of him now, than I once had; for he hias shewn more fertility than I expected. To be sure, he is a tree that cannot produce good fruit: he only bears crabs. But, Sir, a tree that produces a great many crabs is better than a tree which produces only a few.”
In this depreciation of Churchill's poetry I could not agree with him. It is very true that the greatest part of it is upon the topicks of the day, on which account, as it brought him great fame and profit at the time, it must proportionally Nide out of the publick attention as other occasional objects succeed. But Churchill had extraordinary vigour both of thought and expression. His portraits of the players will ever be valuable to the true lovers of the drama ; and his strong caricatures of several eminent men of his age, will not be forgotten by the curious. Let me add, that there are in his works many passages which are of a general nature ; and his “ Prophecy of Famine" is a poem of no ordinary merit. It is, indeed, falsely injurious to Scotland; but therefore may be allowed a greater share of invention.
Bonnel Thornton had just published a burlesque “Ode on St. Cecilia's day, adapted to the ancient British musick, viz. the salt-box, the Jew's-harp, the marrow-bones and cleaver, the hum-strum or hurdy-gurdy, &c.” Johnson praised its humour, and seemed much diverted with it. He repeated the following passage:
“ In strains more exalted the falt-box shall join,
Up and down leaps the Aap, and with rattling rebounds."
1763. I mentioned the periodical paper called The Connoisseur. He said it Ætat.
wanted matter.-No doubt it has not the deep thinking of Johnson's writings. 54• But surely it has just views of the surface of life, and a very sprightly man
His opinion of The World was not much higher than of the Connoiffeur.
Let me here apologize for the imperfect manner in which I am obliged to exhibit Johnson's conversation at this period. In the early part of my acquaintance with him, I was so wrapt in admiration of his extraordinary colloquial talents, and so little accustomed to his peculiar mode of expression, that I found it extremely difficult to recollect and record his conversation with its genuine vigour and vivacity. In progress of time, when my mind was, at it were, strongly impregnated with the Johnsonian æther, I could, with much more facility and exactness, carry in my memory and commit to paper the exuberant variety of his wisdom and wit.
At this time Miss Williams, as she was then called, though she did not reside with him in the Temple under his roof, but had lodgings in Bolt-court, Fleet-street, had so much of his attention, that he every night drank tea with her before he went home, however late it might be, and she always fat up for him. This, it may be fairly conjectured, was not alone a proof of his regard for her, but of his own unwillingness to go into solitude before that unseasonable hour at which he had liabituated himself to expect the oblivion of repose. Dr. Goldsmith, being a privileged man, went with him this night, strutting away, and calling to me with an air of fuperiority, like that of an esoterick over an exoterick disciple of a sage of antiquity, “I go to Miss Williams.” I confess, I then envied him this mighty privilege, of which he seemed so proud; but it was not long before I obtained the same mark of distinction.
On Tuesday the 5th of July, I again visited Johnson. He told me he had looked into the poems of a certain pretty voluminous modern writer, which had lately come out, but could find no thinking in them. Boswell. “Is there not imagination in them, Sir?” Johnson. “ Why, Sir, there is in them what was imagination, but it is no more imagination in him, than found is found in the echo. And his diction too is not his own. We have long ago feen whiterobed innocence, and flower-bespangled meads.”
Talking of London, he observed, Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the shewy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human