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properly; that I should endeavour to learn behaviour, and such cant: but when I replied, that she ought to tell me what to do, and what to avoid, her admonitions were commonly, for that time at least, at an end."
This, I fear, was however at best a momentary refuge, found out by perverseness. No man knew better than Johnson in how many nameless and numberless actions behaviour consists: actions which can scarcely be reduced to rule, and which come under no description. Of these he retained so many very strange ones, that I suppose no one who saw his odd manner of gesticulating, much blamed or wondered at the good lady's solicitude concerning her son's behaviour.
Though he was attentive to the peace of children in general, no man had a stronger contempt than he for such parents as openly profess that they cannot govern their children. (says he) is an army governed ? Such people, for the most part, multiply prohibitions till obedience becomes impossible, and authority appears absurd ; and never suspect that they tease their family, their friends, and themselves, only because conversation runs low, and something must be said.”
Of parental authority, indeed, few people thought with a lower degree of estimation. I one day mentioned the resignation of Cyrus to his father's will, as related by Xenophon, when, after all his conquests, he requested the consent of Cambyses to his marriage with a neighbouring princess; and I added Rollin's applause and recommendation of the example. “Do perceive then (says Johnson), that Xenophon on this occasion commends like a pedant, and Père Rollin applauds like a slave ? If Cyrus by his conquests had not purchased emancipation, he had conquered to little purpose indeed. Can you bear to see the folly of a fellow who has in his care the lives of thousands, when he begs his papa permission to be married, and confesses his inability to decide in a matter which concerns no man's happiness but his own ?”—Mr. Johnson caught me another time reprimanding the daughter of my housekeeper for having sat down unpermitted in her mother's presence. “ Why, she gets her living, does she not (said he), without her mother's help? Let the wench alone,” continued he. And when we were again out of the women's sight who were concerned in the dispute : “ Poor people's children, dear Lady (said he) never respect them: I did not respect my own mother, though I loved her: and one
you not 1 See Life, vol. i., p. 31.
day, when in anger she called me a puppy, I asked her if she knew what they called a puppy's mother.” We were talking of a young fellow who used to come often to the house ; he was about fifteen years old, or less, if I remember right, and had a manner at once sullen and sheepish. “ That lad (says Mr. Johnson) looks like the son of a schoolmaster; which (added he) is one of the very worst conditions of childhood : such a boy has no father, or worse than none; he never can reflect on his parent but the reflection brings to his mind some idea of pain inflicted, or of sorrow suffered.”
I will relate one thing more that Dr. Johnson said about babyhood before I quit the subject; it was this : “ That little people should be encouraged always to tell whatever they hear particularly striking, to some brother, sister, or servant, immediately before the impression is erased by the intervention of newer occurrences. He perfectly remembered the first time he ever heard of Heaven and Hell (he said), because when his mother had made out such a description of both places as she thought likely to seize the attention of her infant auditor, who was then in bed with her, she got up, and dressing him before the usual time, sent him directly to call a favourite workman in the house, to whom she knew he would communicate the conversation while it was yet impressed upon his mind. The event was what she wished, and it was to that method chiefly that he owed his uncommon felicity of remembering distant occurrences, and long past conversations."
At the age of eighteen Dr. Johnson quitted school, and escaped from the tuition of those he hated or those he despised. I have heard him relate very few college adventures. He used to say that our best accounts of his behaviour there would be gathered from Dr. Adams and Dr. Taylor, and that he was sure they would always tell the truth. He told me however one day, how, when he was first entered at the university, be passed a morning, in compliance with the customs of the place, at his tutor's chamber ; but finding him no scholar, went no more. In about ten days after, meeting the same gentleman, Mr. Jordan, in the street, he offered to pass by without saluting him; but the tutor stopped, and enquired, not roughly neither, What he had been doing ? Sliding on the ice," was the reply :
and so turned away with disdain. He laughed very heartily at the recollection of his own insolence, and said they endured it from him with wonderful acquiescence, and a gentleness that, whenever he thought of it, astonished himself. He told me too, that when he made his first declamation, he wrote over but one copy, and that coarsely; and having given it into the hand of the tutor who stood to receive it as he passed, was obliged to begin by chance and continue on how he could, for he had got but little of it by heart; so fairly trusting to his present powers for immediate supply, he finished by adding astonishment to the applause of all who knew how little was owing to study. A prodigious risque, however, said some one : “Not at all (exclaims Johnson), no man I suppose leaps at once into deep water who does not know how to swim.”
I doubt not but this story will be told by many of his biographers, and said so to him when he told it me on the 18th of July, 1773.
“And who will be my biographer (said he), do you think?” “Goldsmith, no doubt,” replied I, “and he will do it the best among us." “ The dog would write it best to be sure, replied he; but his particular malice towards me, and general disregard for truth, would make the book useless to all, and injurious to my
character." Oh! as to that,” said I, “ we should all fasten upon him, and force him to do you justice; but the worst is, the Doctor does not know your life; nor can I tell indeed who does, except Dr. Taylor of Ashbourne.” “Why Taylor," said he, " is better acquainted with my heart than any man or woman now alive; and the history of my Oxford exploits lies all between him and Adams; but Dr. James knows my very early days better than he. After my coming to London to drive the world about a little, you must all go to Jack Hawkesworth for anecdotes : I lived in great familiarity with him (though I think there was not much affection) from the year 1753 till the time Mr. Thrale and you took me up. I intend, however, to disappoint the rogues, and either make you write the life, with Taylor's intelligence; or, which is better, do it myself, after outliving you all. I am now (added he), keeping a diary, in hopes of using it for that purpose some time.” Here the conversation stopped, from my accidentally looking in an old magazine of the year 1768, where I saw the following lines with his name to them, and asked if they were his.
VERSES SAID TO BE WRITTEN BY DR. SAMUEL Johnson, AT THE
GIVEN A SPRIG OF MYRTLE.
Adorn Philander's head, or grace his tumb." Why now, do but see how the world is gaping for a wonder ! (cries Mr. Johnson) I think it is now just forty years ago that a young fellow had a sprig of myrtle given him by a girl he courted, and asked me to write him some verses that he might present her in return. I promised, but forgot; and when he called for his lines at the time agreed on-Sit still a moment (says I), dear Mund, and I'll fetch them thee—so stepped aside for five minutes, and wrote the nonsense you now keep such a stir about."
Upon revising these Anecdotes, it is impossible not to be struck with shame and regret that one treasured no more of them up; but no experience is sufficient to cure the vice of negligence: whatever one sees constantly, or might see constantly, becomes uninteresting; and we suffer every trivial occupation, every slight amusement, to hinder us from writing down, what indeed we cannot chuse but remember; but what we should wish to recollect with pleasure, unpoisoned by remorse for not remembering more. While I write this, I neglect impressing my mind with the wonders of art, and beauties of nature, that now surround me; and shall one day, perhaps, think on the hours I might have profitably passed in the Florentine Gallery, and refi ing on Raphael's St. John at that time, as upon Johnson's conversation in this moment, may justly exclaim of the months spent by me most delightfully in Italy,
“ That I priz'd every hour that pass'd by ;
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before;
But now they are past, and I sigh
Dr. Johnson delighted in his own partiality for Oxford; and one day, at my house, entertained five members of the other university with various instances of the superiority of Oxford, enumerating the gigantic names of many men whom it had produced, with apparent triumph. At last I said to him, “Why there happens to be no less than five Cambridge men in the
“I did not (said he) think of that till you told me; but the wolf don't count the sheep.” When the company were retired, we happened to be talking of Dr. Barnard, the Provost of Eton, who died about that time; and after a long and just eulogium on his wit, his learning, and his goodness of heart : “He was the only man too (says Mr. Johnson quite seriously) that did justice to my good breeding; and you may observe that I am well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity. No man, (continued he, not observing the amazement of his hearers) no man is so cautious not to interrupt another; no man thinks it so necessary to appear attentive when others are speaking; no man so steadily refuses preference to himself, or so willingly bestows it on another, as I do; no body holds so strongly as I do the necessity of ceremony, and the ill effects which follow the breach of it: yet people think me rude; but Barnard did me justice.” “'Tis pity,” said I, laughing, “ that he had not heard you compliment the Cambridge men after dinner to-day.” Why (replied he) I was inclined to down them sure enough; but then a fellow deserves to be of Oxford that talks so." I have heard him at other times relate how he used to sit in some coffee-house there, and turn M- 's C-r-ct-c-s into ridicule for the diversion of himself and of chance comers-in. “ The Elf—da (says he) was too exquisitely pretty; I could make no fun out of that.” When upon some occasions he would express his astonishment that he should have an enemy in the world, while he had been doing nothing but good to his neighbours, I used to make him recollect these circumstances : “Why child (said he), what harm could that do the fellow ? I always thought very well of M-n for a Cambridge man; he is, I believe, a mighty blameless character.” Such tricks were, however, the more unpardonable in Mr. Johnson, because no one could harangue like him about the difficulty always found in for