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EXTRACTS RELATING TO JOHNSON FROM THE DIARY AND LETTERS OF MADAME
D’ARBLAY. (LOND. COLBURN, 1842.)
(Vol. I., page 38.)
Thrale made my father and me sit on each side of her. I said that I hoped I did not take Dr. Johnson's place—for he had not yet appeared.
“No," answered Mrs. Thrale, “ he will sit by you, which I am sure will give him great pleasure.”
Soon after we were seated, this great man entered. I have so true a veneration for him, that the very sight of him inspires me with delight and reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which he is subject; for he has almost perpetual convulsive movements, either of his hands, lips, feet, or knees, and sometimes of all together.
Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him, and he took his place. We had a noble dinner, and a most elegant dessert. Dr. Johnson, in the middle of dinner, asked Mrs. Thrale what was in some little pies that were near him.
“Mutton," answered she, “so I don't ask you to eat any, because I know you despise it.”
“No, madam, no,” cried he; “I despise nothing that is good of its sort; but I am too proud now to eat of it. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!”
“ Miss Burney,” said Mrs. Thrale, laughing, “ you must take great care of your heart if Dr. Johnson attacks it; for I assure you he is not often successless."
“What's that you say, madam ?” cried he; are you making mischief between the young lady and me already ?”
A little while after he drank Miss Thrale's health and mine, and then added :
“ 'Tis a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies well, without wisbing them to become old women !”
“But some people,” said Mr. Seward, “ are old and young at the same time, for they wear so well that they never look old.” “No, sir, no,” cried the doctor, laughing ;
66 that never yet was; you might as well say they are at the same time tall and short. I remember an epitaph to that purpose, which is in
(I have quite forgot what, and also the name it was made upon, but the rest I recollect exactly :)
lies buried here; So early wise, so lasting fair, That none,
unless her years you told, Thought her a child, or thought her old."
Mrs. Thrale then repeated some lines in French, and Dr. Johnson some more in Latin. An epilogue of Mr. Garrick's to “ Bonduca" was then mentioned, and Dr. Johnson said it was a miserable performance, and everybody agreed it was the worst he had ever made.
“And yet," said Mr. Seward, “it has been very much admired; but it is in praise of English valour, and so I suppose the subject made it popular.”
“I don't know, sir,” said Dr. Johnson, anything about the subject, for I could not read on till I came to it; I got through half a dozen lines, but I could observe no other subject than eternal dulness. I don't know what is the matter with David; I am afraid he is grown superannuated, for his prologues and epilogues used to be incomparable.”
Nothing is so fatiguing,” said Mrs. Thrale, “as the life of a wit: he and Wilks are the two oldest men of their ages I know ; for they have both worn themselves out by being eternally on the rack to give entertainment to others."
David, madam,” said the doctor, looks much older than he is; for his face has had double the business of any other man's; it is never at rest; when he speaks one minute he has quite a different countenance to what he assumes the next; I don't believe he ever kept the same look for half an hour together in the whole course of his life; and such an eternal, restless, fatiguing
play of the muscles must certainly wear out a man's face before its real time." 60 yes,”
;" cried Mrs. Thrale, “we must certainly make some allowance for such wear and tear of a man's face."
The next name that was started was that of Sir John Hawkins : and Mrs. Thrale said, “Why now, Dr. Johnson, he is another of those whom you suffer nobody to abuse but yourself; Garrick is one, too; for if any other person speaks against him, you browbeat him in a minute!"
“ Why, madam,” answered he, they don't know when to abuse him, and when to praise him; I will allow no man to speak ill of David that he does not deserve; and as to Sir John, why really I believe him to be an honest man at the bottom: but to be sure he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must be owned he has a degree of brutality, and a tendency to savageness,
that cannot easily be defended."
We all laughed, as he meant we should, at this curious manner of speaking in his favour, and he then related an anecdote that he said he knew to be true in regard to his meanness.
He said that Sir John and he once belonged to the same club, but that as he eat no supper after the first night of his admission, he desired to be excused paying his share.
“And was he excused ?”
“Oh yes; for no man is angry at another for being inferior to himself ! we all scorned him, and admitted his plea. For my part, I was such a fool as to pay my share for wine, though I never tasted any. But Sir John was a most unclubable man!”
“ And this,” continued he, “ reminds me of a gentleman and lady with whom I travelled once; I suppose I must call them gentleman and lady, according to form, because they travelled in their own coach and four horses. But at the first inn where we stopped, the lady called for—a pint of ale! and when it came, quarrelled with the waiter for not giving full measure.—Now, Madame Duval could not have done a grosser thing !
Oh, how everybody laughed! and to be sure I did not glow at all, nor munch fast, nor look on my plate, nor lose any part of my usual composure ! But how grateful do I feel to this dear Dr. Johnson, for never naming me and the book as belonging one to the other, and yet making an allusion that showed his thoughts led to it, and, at the same time, that seemed to justify the character as being natural! But, indeed, the delicacy I
met with from him, and from all the Thrales, was yet more flattering to me than the praise with which I have heard they have honoured my book.
(Vol. I., page 49.) [Aug. 1778.] At tea we all met again, and Dr. Johnson was gaily sociable. He gave a very droll account of the children of Mr. Langton.
“Who,” he said, “ might be very good children if they were let alone; but the father is never easy when he is not making them do something which they cannot do; they must repeat a fable, or a speech, or the Hebrew alphabet; and they might as well count twenty, for what they know of the matter : however, the father says half, for he prompts every other word. But he could not have chosen a man who would have been less entertained by such means."
“I believe not!” cried Mrs. Thrale: “nothing is more ridi. culous than parents cramıning their children's nonsense down other people's throats. I keep mine as much out of the way as I can.”
“ Yours, madam," answered he, are in nobody's way; no children can be better managed or less troublesome; but your fault is, à too great perverseness in not allowing anybody to give them anything. Why should they not have a cherry, or a gooseberry, at well as bigger children ?"
“ Because they are sure to return such gifts by wiping their hands upon the giver's gown or coat, and nothing makes children more offensive.
People only make the offer to please the parents, and they wish the poor children at Jericho when they
“But, madam, it is a great deal more offensive to refuse them. Let those who make the offer look to their own gowns and coats, for when you interfere they only wish you at Jericho.”
“ It is difficult,” said Mrs. Thrale,“ to please everybody."
Indeed, the freedom with which Dr. Johnson condemns whatever he disapproves, is astonishing; and the strength of words he uses would, to most people, be intolerable; but Mrs. Thrale seems to have a sweetness of disposition that equals all her other excellences, and far from making a point of vindicating herself, she generally receives his admonitions with the most respectful silence.
(Vol. I., page 61.) [Aug. 1778.] We got home late, and had the company of Mr. E and of Mr. Rose Fuller, a young man who lives at Streatham, and is nephew of the famous Rose Fuller; and whether Dr. Johnson did not like them, or whether he was displeased that we went out, or whether he was not well, I know not; but he never opened his mouth, except in answer to a question, till he bid us good night.
SATURDAY MORNING.—Dr. Johnson was again all himself; and so civil to me!—even admiring how I dressed myself! Indeed, it is well I have so much of his favour; for it seems he always speaks his mind concerning the dress of ladies, and all ladies who are here obey his injunctions implicitly, and alter whatever he disapproves. This is a part of his character that much surprises me; but notwithstanding he is sometimes so absent, and always so near-sighted, he scrutinises into every part of almost everybody's appearance. They tell me of a Miss Brown, who often visits here, and who has a slovenly way of dressing. " And when she comes down in a morning," says Mrs. Thrale, “ her hair will be all loose, and her cap half off; and then Dr. Johnson, who sees something is wrong, and does not know where the fault is, concludes it is in the cap, and says, My dear, what do you wear such a vile cap
I'll change it, sir,' cries the poor girl, "if you don't like it.' Ay, do,' he says; and away runs poor Miss Brown; but when she gets on another, it's the same thing, for the cap has nothing to do with the fault. And then she wonders that Dr. Johnson should not like the cap, for she thinks it very pretty. And so on with her gown, which he also makes her change; but if the poor girl were to change through all her wardrobe, unless she could put her things on better, he would still find fault.”
When Dr. Johnson was gone, she told me of my mother's being obliged to change her dress.
“Now,” said she, “ Mrs. Burney had on a very pretty linen jacket and coat, and was going to church; but Dr. Johnson, wbo, I
suppose, did not like her in a jacket, saw something was the matter, and so found fault with the linen: and he looked and peered, and then said, “Why, madam, this won't do! you must not go to church so!' So away went poor Mrs. Burney and changed her gown! And when she had done so, he did not like it, but he did not know why ; so he told her she should not