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lady, one evening, being in a large party, was called upon after supper for her toast, and seeming embarrassed, she was desired to give the ugliest man she knew; and she immediately named Dr. Goldsmith, on which a lady' on the other side of the table rose up and reached across to shake hands with her, expressing some desire of being better acquainted with her, it being the first time they had met; on which Dr. Johnson said, “ Thus the ancients, on the commencement of their friendships, used to sacrifice a beast betwixt them."
Sir Joshua, I have often thought, never gave a more striking proof of his excellence in portrait-painting, than in giving dig. nity to Dr. Goldsmith's countenance, and yet preserving a strong likeness. But he drew after his mind, or rather his genius, if I may be allowed to make that distinction; assimilating the one with his conversation, the other with his works.
Dr. Goldsmith's cast of countenance, and indeed his whole figure from head to foot, impressed every one at first sight with an idea of his being a low mechanic; particularly, I believe, a journeyman tailor. A little concurring instance of this I well remember. One day at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, in company with some gentlemen and ladies, he was relating with great indignation an insult he had just received from some gentleman he had accidently met (I think at a coffee-house). The fellow," he said “ took me for a tailor!” on which all the party either laughed aloud or showed they suppressed a laugh.
Dr. Johnson seemed to have much more kindness for Goldsmith, than Goldsmith had for him. He always appeared to be overawed by Johnson, particularly when in company with people of any consequence, always as if impressed with some fear of disgrace; and, indeed, well he might. I have been witness to many mortifications he has suffered in Dr. Johnson's company: one day in particular, at Sir Joshua's table, a gentleman to whom he was talking his best stopped him, in the midst of his discourse, with “Hush! hush! Dr. Johnson is going to say something."
At another time, a gentleman who was sitting between Dr. Johnson and Dr. Goldsmith, and with whom he had been disputing, remarked to another, loud enough for Goldsmith to hear him, “ That he had a fine time of it, between Ursa major and Ursa minor !”
Mr. Baretti used to remark, with a smile, that Dr. Johnson always talked his best to the ladies. But, indeed, that was his general practice to all who would furnish him with a subject worthy of his discussion ; for, what was very singular in him, he would rarely, if ever, begin any subject himself, but would sit silent till something was particularly addressed to him, and if that happened to lead to any scientific or moral inquiry, his benevolence, I believe, more immediately incited him to expatiate on it for the edification of the ignorant than for any other motive whatever.
One day, on a lady's telling hin' that she had read Parnell's “Hermit” with dissatisfaction, for she could not help thinking that thieves and murderers, who were such immediate ministers from heaven of good to man, did not deserve such punishments as our laws inflict, Dr. Johnson spoke such an eloquent oration, so deeply philosophical, as indeed afforded a most striking instance of the truth of Baretti's observation, but of which, to my great regret, I can give no corroborating proof, my memory furnishing me with nothing more than barely the general tendency of his arguments, which was to prove, that though it might be said that wicked men, as well as the good, were ministers of God, because in the moral sphere the good we enjoy and the evil we suffer are administered to us by man, yet, as Infinite Goodness could not inspire or influence man to act wickedly, but, on the contrary, it was his divine property to produce good out of evil, and as man was endowed with free-will to act, or to refrain from acting wickedly, with knowledge of good and evil, with conscience to admonish and to direct him to choose the one and reject the other, he was, therefore, as criminal in the sight of God and of man, and as deserving punishment for his evil deeds, as if no good had resulted from them.
And yet, though, to the best of my remembrance, this was the substance of Dr. Johnson's discourse in answer to the lady's observation, I am rather apprehensive that, in some respects, it may be thought inconsistent with his general assertions, that man was by nature much more inclined to evil than to good. But it would ill become me to spatiate on such a subject.
Yet, what can be said to reconcile his opinion of the natural tendency of the human heart to evil with his own zealous virtuous propensions ? Nothing, perhaps, at least by me, but that this opinion, I believe, was founded upon religious principles relating to original sin; and I well remember that, when disputing with a person on this subject, who thought that nature, reason and virtue were the constituent principles of humanity, he would say,
· Nay, nay, if man is by nature prompted to act virtuously, all the divine precepts of the Gospel, all its denunciations, all the laws enacted by man to restrain man from evil, had been needless."
It is certain that he would scarcely allow any one to feel much for the distresses of others; or whatever he thought they might feel, he was very apt to impute to causes that did no honour to human nature. Indeed, I thought him rather too fond of Rochefoucault maxims. The
very strict watch he apparently kept over his mind seems to correspond with his thorough conviction of nature's evil propensions ; but it might be as likely in consequence of his dread of those peculiar ones, whatever they were, which attended, or rather constituted, his mental malady which, I have observed, might probably have incited him so often to pray ; and I impute it to the same cause, that he so frequently, with great earnestness, desired his intimate acquaintance to pray for him, apparently on very slight occasions of corporeal disorder.
An axiom of his was, that the pains and miseries incident to human life far outweighed its happiness and good. But much may be said in Dr. Johnson's justification, supposing this notion should not meet with universal approbation, he having, it is probable, imbibed it in the early part of his life, when under the pressure of adverse fortune, and in every period of it under the still heavier pressure and more adverse influence of Nature herself; for I have often heard him lament that he inherited from his father a morbid disposition both of body and of mind—an oppressive melancholy, which robbed him of the common enjoyments of life.'
Indeed, he seemed to struggle almost incessantly with some mental evil, and often, by the expression of his countenance and the motion of his lips, appeared to be offering up some ejaculation to Heaven to remove it. But in Lent, or near the approach of any great festival, he would generally retire from the company to a corner of the room, but most commonly behind a windowcurtain, to pray, and with such energy, and in so loud a whisper,
! This last paragraph was originally written,“ terrifying melancholy, which he was sometimes apprehensive bordered on insanity.” This Miss Reynolds softened into the remark as it stands above.-Croker.
that every word was heard distinctly, particularly the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, with which he constantly concluded his devotions. Sometimes some words would emphatically escape
him in his usual tone of voice. Probably his studious attention to the secret workings of his peculiar mental infirmity, together with his experience of divine assistance co-operating with his reasoning faculties, to repel its force, may have proved in the highest degree conducive to the exaltation of his piety, and the pre-eminence of his wisdom. And I think it equally probable, that all his natural defects were conducive to that end ; for being so peculiarly debarred from the enjoyment of those amusements which the eye and the ear afford, doubtless he sought more assiduously for those gratifications which scientific pursuits or philosophic meditation bestow.
These defects sufficiently account for his insensibility of the charms of music and of painting, being utterly incapable of receiving any delight from the one or the other, particularly from painting, his sight being more deficient than his hearing.
Of the superfices of the fine arts, or visible objects of taste, he could have had but an imperfect idea ; but as to the invisible principles of a natural good taste, doubtless he was possessed of these in the most eminent degree, and I should have thought it a strange inconsistency indeed in his character, had he really wanted a taste for music ; but as a proof that he did not, I think I had need only mention, that he was remarkably fond of Dr. Burney's “History of Music," and that he said it showed that the author understood thc philosophy of music better than any man that ever wrote on that subject.
It is certain that, when in the company of connoisseurs, whose conversation has turned chiefly upon the merits of the attractive charms of painting, perhaps of pictures that were immediately under their inspection, Dr. Johnson, I have thought, used to appear as if conscious of his unbecoming situation, or rather, I might say, suspicious that it was an unbecoming situation.
But it was observable, that he rather avoided the discovery of it; for when asked his opinion of the likeness of any portrait of a friend, he has generally evaded the question, and if obliged to examine it, he has held the picture most ridiculously, quite close to his eye, just as he held his book. But he was so unwilling to expose that defect, that he was much displeased with Sir Joshua, I remember, for drawing him with his book held in that manner, which, I believe, was the cause of that picture being left unfinished. On every
occasion that had the least tendency to depreciate religion or morality, he totally disregarded all forms or rules of good-breeding, as utterly unworthy of the slightest consideration. But it must be confessed, that he sometimes suffered this noble principle to transgress its due bounds, and to extend even to those who were anywise connected with the person who had offended him.
Johnson's dislike of Mr. Wilkes was so great that it extended even to his connections. He happened to dine one day at Sir Joshua Reynolds's with a large and distinguished company, amongst which were Mr. Wilkes's brother, Israel, and his lady. In the course of conversation, Mr. Israel Wilkes was about to make some remarks, when Johnson suddenly stopped him with, “I hope, Sir, what you are going to say may be better worth hearing than what
you have already said.” This rudeness shocked and spread a gloom over the whole party, particularly as Mr. Israel Wilkes was a gentleman of a very amiable character and of refined taste, and, what Dr. Johnson little suspected, a very loyal subject. Johnson afterwards owned to me that he was very sorry that he “ snubbed Wilkes, as his wife was present. I replied that he should be sorry
No," said Johnson, who was very reluctant to apologize for offences of this nature; regret it because his wife was by.” I believe that he had no kind of motive for this incivility to Mr. I. Wilkes but disgust at his brother's political principles.
His treatment of Mr. Israel Wilkes was mild in comparison of what a gentleman ? met with from him one day at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, a barrister at law and a man of fashion, who, on discoursing with Dr. (then Mr.) Johnson on the laws and government of different nations (I remember particularly those of Venice), and happening to speak of them in terms of high approbation :
1 Yes, Sir,” says Johnson, “ all republican rascals think as you do.”
How the conversation ended I have forgot, it was so many years ago ; but that he made no apology to the gentleman I am
1 This unfinished but very tine picture was painted for Mrs. Thrale, but rejected by her on account of Johnson's dislike to it. At Şir Joshua's death it passed into the possession of Malone, and by descent to the Rev. H. Rooper, by whom it was sold to Mr. Agnew in June, 1883.- Editor. 2 Mr. Elliot.—Reynolds.