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384. Lives of the Poets.
Mrs. Gastrel was on a visit at Mr. Hervey's, in London, at the time that Johnson was writing the Rambler: the printer's boy would often come after him to their house, and wait while he wrote off a paper for the press in a room full of company. A great portion of the Lives of the Poets was written at Stow-Hill: he had a table by one of the windows, which was frequently surrounded by five or six ladies engaged in work or conversation. Mrs. Gastrel
had a very valuable edition of Bailey's Dictionary, to which she often referred. She told him that Miss Seward said that he had made poetry of no value by his criticism. Why, my dear lady," replied he, "if silver is dirty, it is not the less valuable for a good scouring."
A large party had one day been invited to meet the Doctor at Stow-Hill: the dinner waited far beyond the usual hour, and the company were about to sit down, when Johnson appeared at the great gate; he stood for some time in deep contemplation, and at length began to climb it, and, having succeeded in clearing it, advanced with hasty strides towards the house. On his arrival Mrs. Gastrel asked him, "if he had forgotten that there was a small gate for foot passengers by the side of the carriage entrance." "No, my dear lady, by no means," replied the Doctor; “but I had a mind to try whether I could climb a gate now as I used to do when I was a lad.”
386. Cato's Soliloquy.
One day Mrs. Gastrel set a little girl to repeat to him Cato's soliloquy, which she went through very correctly. The Doctor, after a pause, asked the child, "What was to bring Cato to an end ?" She said, it was a knife. "No, my dear, it was not so." My aunt Polly said it was a knife." "Why aunt Polly's knife may do, but it was a dagger, my dear." He then asked her the meaning of "bane and antidote," which she was unable to give. Mrs. Gastrel said, "You cannot expect so young a child
to know the meaning of such words." He then said, My dear, how many pence are there in sixpence ?” "I cannot tell, Sir," was the half-terrified reply. On this, addressing himself to Mrs. Gastrel, he said, "Now, my dear lady, can any thing be more ridiculous than to teach a child Cato's soliloquy, who does not know how many pence there are in sixpence ?”
The ladies at Stow-Hill would occasionally rebuke Dr. Johnson for the indiscriminate exercise of his charity to all who applied for it. "There was that woman," said one of them, "to whom you yesterday gave half-a-crown, why she was at church to-day in long sleeves and ribands." Well, my dear," replied Johnson, "and if it gave the woman pleasure, why should she not wear them?"
388. Gilbert Walmesley.
He had long promised to write Mr. Walmesley's epitaph, and Mrs. W. waited for it, in order to erect a monument to her husband's memory; procrastination, however, one of the Doctor's few failings, prevented its being finished; he was engaged upon it in his last illness, and when the physicians, at his own request, informed him of his danger, he pushed the papers from before him, saying, "It was too late to write the epitaph of another, when he should so soon want one himself."
"ne Amdle of a letter from Ailbert. Wat weshy, to J. Belson,
He & another Neighbour of mine one M. Johnson,
most Affect." hum Serv, Gill Walmerley
Lichfield, Mar. 2.1736, 173.9