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188. Talk of the Sick.
The first talk of the sick is commonly of themselves; but if they talk of nothing else, they cannot complain if they are soon left without an audience.
189. "The Rambler," in Russian.
The chaplain of the factory at Petersburg relates, that "The Rambler” is now, by the command of the Empress, translating into Russian; and has promised when it is printed to send me a copy. Grant, O Lord! that all who shall read my pages may become more obedient to thy laws; and when the wretched writer shall appear before thee, extend thy mercy to him, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
190. Confidence with respect to Futurity.
I never thought confidence with respect to futurity any part of the character of a brave, a wise, or a good man. Bravery has no place where it can avail nothing; wisdom impresses strongly the consciousness of those faults, of which it is itself perhaps an aggravation; and goodness, always wishing to be better, and imputing every deficience to criminal negligence, and every fault to voluntary corruption, never dares to suppose the condition of forgiveness fulfilled, nor what is wanting in the crime supplied by penitence. This is the state of the best; but what must be the condition of him whose heart will not suffer him to rank himself among the best, or among the good? Such must be his dread of the approaching trial, as will leave him little attention to the opinion of those whom he is leaving for ever; and the serenity that is not felt, it can be no virtue to feign.
191. "Dying with a Grace."
Write to me no more about dying with a grace! When you feel what I have felt in approaching eternity,
1 ["I have since heard that the report was not well founded; but the elation discovered by Johnson, in the belief that it was true, showed a noble ardour for literary fame."- BOSWELL, Vol. VIII. p. 274.]
in fear of soon hearing the sentence of which there is no revocation, you will know the folly my wish is, that you may know it sooner. The distance between the grave and the remotest point of human longevity, is but very little; and of that little no path is certain. You knew all this, and I thought that I knew it too; but I know it now with a new conviction. May that new conviction not be vain!
192. "Irene."-" Cato."-" Fair Penitent."
Dr. Johnson was no complainer of ill. I never heard him even lament the disregard shown to " Irene," which, however, was a violent favourite with him; and much was he offended when, having asked me once, "What single scene afforded me most pleasure of all our tragic drama," I, little thinking of his play's existence, named, perhaps with hasty impropriety, "the dialogue between Syphax and Juba, in Addison's Cato.'" Nay, nay,” replied he, "if you are for declamation, I hope my two ladies have the better of them all." This piece, however, lay dormant many years, shelfed (in the manager's phrase) from the time Mr. Peter Garrick presented it first on Fleetwood's table, to the hour when his brother David obtained due influence on the theatre, on which it crawled through nine nights, supported by cordials, but never obtained popular applause. I asked him then to name a better scene; he pitched on that between Horatio and Lothario, in Rowe's " Fair Penitent;" but Mr. Murphy showed him afterwards that it was borrowed from Massinger, and had not the merit of originality.
193. Profession of an Actor.-Garrick.-Mrs. Siddons.
It is well known that Johnson despised the profession of an actor. When Garrick was talked of as candidate for admission into the Literary Club, many years ago, — "If he does apply," says the Doctor to Mr. Thrale, "I'll blackball him.' Who, Sir? Mr. Garrick, your friend, your companion, blackball him!" "Why, Sir, I love my little David dearly; better than all or any of his
flatterers do; but surely one ought to sit in a society like
'Unelbow'd by a gamester, pimp, or player.""
In spite of this ill-founded contempt, he persuaded himself to treat Mrs. Siddons with great politeness; and said, when she called on him at Bolt Court, and Frank could not immediately provide her with a chair, "You see, Madam, wherever you go there are no seats to be got."
194. Johnson's last Illness and Death.
Dr. Johnson was once angry with his friend Dr. Taylor of Ashbourne, for recommending to him a degree of temperance by which alone his life could have been saved, and recommending it in his own unaltered phrase too, with praiseworthy intentions to impress it more forcibly. This quarrel, however, if quarrel it might be called, which was mere sullenness on one side and sorrow on the other, soon healed of itself, mutual reproaches having never been permitted to widen the breach, and supply, as is the common practice among coarser disputants, the original and perhaps almost forgotten cause of dispute. After some weeks, Johnson sent to request the sight of his old companion, whose feeble health held him away for some weeks more, and who, when he came, urged that feebleness as an excuse for appearing no sooner at the call of friendship in distress; but Johnson, who was then, as he expressed it, not sick but dying, told him a story of a lady, who many years before lay expiring in such tortures as that cruel disease, a cancer, naturally produces, and begged the conversation of her earliest intimate to soothe the incredible sufferings of her body, and relieve the approaching terrors of her mind: but what was the friend's apology for absence? "Oh, my dear," said she, "I have really been so plagued and pained of late by a nasty whitlow, that indeed it was quite impossible for me till to-day to attend my Lucy's call." I think this was not more than two days before his dissolution.
Some Lichfield friends fancied that he had half a mind to die where he was born, but that the hope of being
buried in Westminster Abbey overpowered the inclination; but Mr. Johnson loved London, and many people then in London, whom I doubt not he sincerely wished to see again, particularly Mr. Sastres, for whose person some of his letters manifest a strong affection, and of whose talents I have often heard him speak with great esteem. That gentlemen has told me, that his fears of death ended with his hope of recovery, and that the latter days of his life passed in calm resignation to God's will, and a firm trust in his mercy.
He burned many letters in the last week, I am told; and those written by his mother drew from him a flood of tears, when the paper they were written on was all consumed. Mr. Sastres saw him cast a melancholy look upon their ashes, which he took up and examined, to see if a word was still legible. Nobody has ever mentioned what became of Miss Aston's letters, though he once told me himself, they should be the last papers he would destroy, and added these lines with a very faltering voice:
"Then from his closing eye thy form shall part,
The Muse forgot, and thou be loved no more."
And now (concludes Mrs. Piozzi) what remains? after having viewed the letters of a dead friend, whose lips while living breathed sentences of instruction, surpassed by those of no un-inspired teacher, and whose writings called in elegance to adorn, and erudition to engrave those precepts; whose life passed in the practice of refined morality, ending in a death which attested the purest faith; what remains but to reflect, that by that death no part of Johnson perished which had power by form to recommend his real excellence; nothing that did not disgrace the soul which it contained like some fine statue, the boast of Greece and Rome, plastered up into deformity, while casts are preparing from it to improve students, and diffuse the knowledge of its merit; but dazzling only with complete perfection, when the gross and awkward covering is removed.
195. Rape of the Lock.
Dr. Johnson says of Pope, "He has a few double rhymes; but always, I think, unsuccessfully, except once in the Rape of the Lock."
"The meeting points the fatal lock dissever
was the couplet Johnson meant, for I asked him.
196. Streatham Gallery.
The following is a list of the prices which the Streatham collection of portraits, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, brought at auction in May, 1816:
1 [Dr. Johnson's — infinitely the finest of these portraits, as a work of art, and second not even to Mr. Burke's as an object of national interest-passed, at Mr. Watson Taylor's sale, into the hands of Sir Robert Peel.]