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day: the family and Mr. Scott only were present, who, in a jocose way, clapped him on the back, and said, “ What's all this, my dear Sir ? Why you, and I, and Hercules, you know, were all troubled with melancholy.” As there are many gentlemen of the same name, I should say, perhaps, that it was a Mr. Scott who married Miss Robinson, and that I think I have heard Mr. Thrale call him George Lewis, or George Augustus, I have forgot which. He was a very large man, however, and made out the triumvirate with Johnson and Hercules comically enough. The Doctor was so delighted at his odd sally, that he suddenly embraced him, and the subject was immediately changed. I never saw Mr. Scott but that once in my life.
Dr. Johnson was liberal enough in granting literary assistance to others,' I think ; and innumerable are the prefaces, sermons, lectures, and dedications which he used to make for people who begged of him. Mr. Murphy related in his and my hearing one day, and he did not deny it, that when Murphy joked him the week before for having been so diligent of late between Dodd's sermon and Kelly's prologue, that Dr. Johnson replied, “Why, Sir, when they come to me with a dead stay-maker and a dying parson, what can a man do ?” He said, however, that “he hated to give away literary performances, or even to sell them too cheaply : the next generation shall not accuse me (added he) of beating down the price of literature : one hates, besides, ever to give that which one has been accustomed to sell; would not you, Sir (turning to Mr. Thrale), rather give away money than
Mr. Johnson had never, by his own account, been a close student, and used to advise young people never to be without a book in their pocket, to be read at bye-times when they had nothing else to do. “ It has been by that means (said he to a boy at our house one day) that all my knowledge has been gained, except what I have picked up by running about the world with my wits ready to observe, and my tongue ready to talk. is seldom in a humour to unlock his book-case, set his desk in order, and betake himself to serious study ; but a retentive memory will do something, and a fellow shall have strange credit given him, if he can but recollect striking passages from different books, keep the authors separate in his head, and bring his stock.
See Life, vol. iv., June 30, 1784.
of knowledge artfully into play: How else (added he) do the gamesters manage when they play for more money than they are worth?” His Dictionary, however, could not, one would think, have been written by running up and down; but he really did not consider it as a great performance; and used to say, he might have done it easily in two years, had not his health received several shocks during the time."
When Mr. Thrale, in consequence of this declaration, teized him in the year 1768 to give a new edition of it, because (said he) there are four or five gross faults : “ Alas, Sir (replied Johnson), there are four or five hundred faults, instead of four or five; but you do not consider that it would take me up three whole months labour, and when the time was expired the work would not be done.” When the booksellers set him about it however some years after, he went cheerfully to the business, said he was well paid, and that they deserved to have it done carefully. His reply to the person who complimented him on its coming out first, mentioning the ill success of the French in a similar attempt, is well known; and, I trust, has been often recorded : “Why, what would you expect, dear Sir (said he), from fellows that eat frogs ? I have however often thought Dr. Johnson more free than prudent in professing so loudly his little skill in the Greek language: for though he considered it as a proof of a narrow mind to be too careful of literary reputation, yet no man could be more enraged than he, if an enemy, taking advantage of this confession, twitted him with his ignorance ; and I remember when the king of Denmark was in England, one of his noblemen was brought by Mr. Colman to see Dr. Johnson at our country-house; and having heard, he said, that he was not famous for Greek literature, attacked him on the weak side ; politely adding, that he chose that conversation on purpose to favour himself. Our Doctor, however, displayed so copious, so compendious a knowledge of authors, books, and every branch of learning in that language, that the gentleman appeared astonished. When he was gone home (says Johnson), “Now for all this triumph, I
thank Thrale's Xenophon here, as I think, excepting that one, I have not looked in a Greek book these ten years ; but see what haste my dear friends were all in (continued he) to tell this poor innocent foreigner that I knew nothing of Greek! Oh, no, he knows nothing of Greek!” with a loud burst of laughing.
When Davies printed the “Fugitive Pieces" without his knowledge or consent;? “ How," said I, “would Pope have raved, had he been served so ?” “We should never (replied he) have heard the last on't, to be sure; but then Pope was a narrow man: I will however (added he) storm and bluster myself a little this time; -so went to London in all the wrath he could muster up. At his return I asked how the affair ended : “Why (said he), I was a fierce fellow, and pretended to be very angry, and Thomas was a good-natured fellow, and pretended to be very sorry : so there the matter ended : I believe the dog loves me dearly. Mr. Thrale (turning to my husband), what shall you and I do that is good for Tom Davies ? We will do something for him, to be sure.'
Of Pope as a writer he had the highest opinion, and once when a lady at our house talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to Pope's : "I fear not, Madam (said he), the little fellow has done wonders.” His superior reverence of Dryden notwithstanding still appeared in his talk as in his writings; and when some one mentioned the ridicule thrown on him in the
Rehearsal,” as having hurt his general character as an author : “On the contrary (says Mr. Johnson), the greatness of Dryden's reputation is now the only principle of vitality which keeps the duke of Buckingham's play from putrefaction."
It was not very easy however for people not quite intimate with Dr. Johnson, to get exactly his opinion of a writer's merit, as he would now and then divert himself by confounding those who thought themselves obliged to say to-morrow what he had said yesterday; and even Garrick, who ought to have been better acquainted with his tricks, professed himself mortified, that one time when he was extolling Dryden in a rapture that I suppose disgusted his friend, Mr. Johnson suddenly challenged him to produce twenty lines in a series that would not disgrace the poet and his admirer. Garrick produced a passage that he had once heard the Doctor commend, in which he now found, if I remember rightly, sixteen faults, and made Garrick look silly at his own table. When I told Mr. Johnson the story, Why, what a monkey was David now (says he), to tell of his own disgrace ! And in the course of that hour's chat he told me, how he used to teize Garrick by commendations of the tomb scene in Congreve's
Mourning Bride,” protesting that Shakespeare had in the same
" See Life, vol. ii., p. 251.
line of excellence nothing as good : “ All which is strictly true (said he); but that is no reason for supposing Congreve is to stand in competition with Shakespeare: these fellows know not how to blame, nor how to commend.” I forced him one day, in a similar humour, to prefer Young's description of Night to the so much admired ones of Dryden and Shakespeare, as more forcible, and more general. Every reader is not either a lover or a tyrant, but every reader is interested when he hears that
“ Creation sleeps; 'tis as the general pulse
“ This (said he) is true; but remember that taking the compositions of Young in general, they are but like bright steppingstones over a miry road: Young froths, and foams, and bubbles sometimes very vigorously; but we must not compare the noise made by your tea-kettle here with the roaring of the ocean."
Somebody was praising Corneille one day in opposition to Shakespeare: “Corneille is to Shakespeare (replied Mr. Johnson) as a clipped hedge is to a forest.” When we talked of Steele's “ Essays,” “ They are too thin (says our Critic) for an Englishman's taste: mere superficial observations on life and manners, without erudition enough to make them keep, like the light French wines, which turn sour with standing a while for want of body, as we call it."
Of a much admired poem, when extolled as beautiful (he replied), " That it had indeed the beauty of a bubble: the colours are gay (said he), but the substance slight.” Of James Harris's Dedication to his “Hermes” I have heard him observe, that, though but fourteen lines long, there were six grammatical faults in it. A friend was praising the style of Dr. Swift; Mr. Johnson did not find himself in the humour to agree with him: the critic was driven from one of his performances to the other. At length you must allow me, said the gentleman, that there are strong facts in the account of the Four last Years of Queen Anne: Yes surely, Sir (replies Johnson), and so there are in the Ordinary of Newgate's account.” This was like the story which Mr. Murphy tells, and Johnson always acknowledged: How Mr. Rose of Hammersmith, contending for the preference of Scotch writers over the English, after having set up his authors like nine-pins, while the Doctor kept bowling them down again ; at last, to
make sure of victory, he named Ferguson upon Civil Society, and praised the book for being written in a new manner. “I do not (says Johnson) perceive the value of this new manner; it is only like Buckinger, who had no hands, and so wrote with his feet.” Of a modern Martial, when it came out : “ There are in these verses (says Dr. Johnson) too much folly for madness, I think, and too much madness for folly.” If, however, Mr. Johnson lamented, that the nearer he approached to his own times, the more enemies he should make, by telling biographical truths in his “ Lives of the later Poets," what may I not apprehend, who, if I relate anecdotes of Mr. Johnson, am obliged to repeat expressions of severity, and sentences of contempt ? Let me at least soften them a little, by saying, that he did not hate the persons he treated with roughness, or despise them whom he drove from him by apparent scorn. He really loved and respected many whom he would not suffer to love him. And when he related to me a short dialogue that passed between himself and a writer of the first eminence in the world, when he was in Scotland, I was shocked to think how he must have disgusted him. “ Dr. asked me (said he), why I did not join in their public worship when among them ? for (said he) I went to your churches often when in England.” “So (replied Johnson), I have heard that the Siamese sent ambassadors to Louis Quatorze, but I never heard that the king of France thought it worth his while to send ambassadors from his court to that of Siam.” He was no gentler with myself, or those for whom I had the greatest regard. When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America ?
Prithee, my dear (said he), have done with canting: how would the world be worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper ?” Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.When we went into Wales together, and spent some time at Sir Robert Cotton's at Lleweny, one day at dinner I meant to please Mr. Johnson particularly with a dish of very young peas. not they charming?" said I to him, while he was eating them.· Perhaps (said he) they would be so—to a pig.” I only instance these replies, to excuse my mentioning those he made to others.
When a well-known author published his poems in the year
For Baretti's version of this story, see Life, vol. iv., June 30, 1784.