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418. Dr. Warton.
Dr. Warton's reception of Dr. Johnson was rather rapturous than glad. Dr. Warton was always called an enthusiast by Dr. Johnson, who, at times, when in gay spirits, and with those with whom he trusted their ebullition, would take off Dr. Warton with the strongest humour; describing, almost convulsively, the ecstasy with which he would seize upon the person nearest to him, to hug in his arms, lest his grasp should be eluded, while he displayed some picture, or some prospect, and indicated, in the midst of contortions and gestures that violently and ludicrously shook, if they did not affright his captive, the particular point of view, or of design, that he wished should be noticed.
419. Johnson's Humility.
From Dr. Johnson's internal humility, it is possible that he was not himself aware of the great chasm that separated him from the herd of mankind, when not held to it by the ties of benevolence or of necessity. To talk of humility and Dr. Johnson together, may, perhaps, make the few who remember him smile, and the many who have only heard of him stare. But his humility was not that of thinking more lowlily of himself than of others; it was simply that of thinking so lowlily of others, as to hold his own conscious superiority of but small scale in the balance of intrinsic excellence.
420. Visit to Dr. Burney.
I shall now give in detail a narrative of the first appearance of Dr. Johnson at my father's residence in St. Martin's Lane, the house of Sir Isaac Newton. Mrs. and Miss Thrale, Miss Owen, and Mr. Seward, came long before Lexiphanes. Mrs. Thrale is a pretty woman still, though she has some defect in the mouth that looks like a cut, or scar; but her nose is very handsome, her complexion very fair; she has the embonpoint charmant, and her eyes are blue and lustrous. She is extremely lively and chatty; and showed none of the supercilious or pe
dantic airs, so freely, or, rather, so scoffingly attributed to women of learning or celebrity; on the contrary, she is full of sport, remarkably gay, and excessively agreeable. I liked her in every thing except her entrance into the room, which was rather florid and flourishing, as who should say, "It's I! no less a person than Mrs. Thrale!"
The conversation was supported with a great deal of vivacity, as usual when il Signor Padrone is at home. This confab. was broken up by a duet between your Hettina and, for the first time to company-listeners, Suzette. In the midst of this performance, Dr. Johnson was announced. Every body rose to do him honour; and he returned the attention with the most formal courtesy. My father then, having welcomed him with the warmest respect, whispered to him that music was going forward; which he would not, my father thinks, have found out; and placing him on the best seat vacant, told his daughters to go on with the duet; while Dr. Johnson, intently rolling towards them one eye, for they say he does not see with the other, made a grave nod, and gave a dignified motion with one hand, in silent approvance of the proceeding.
But now I am mortified to own, that he is, indeed, very ill-favoured. Yet he has naturally a noble figure; tall, stout, grand, and authoritative: but he stoops horribly; his back is quite round: his mouth is continually opening and shutting, as if he were chewing something; he has a singular method of twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands: his vast body is in constant agitation, see-sawing backwards and forwards: his feet are never a moment quiet; and his whole great person looked often as if it were going to roll itself, quite voluntarily, from his chair to the floor.
His dress, considering the times, and that he had meant to put on all his best becomes, for he was engaged to dine with a very fine party at Mrs. Montagu's, was as much out of the common road as his figure. He had a large, full, bushy wig, a snuff-colour coat, with gold buttons (or, peradventure, brass), but no ruffles to his doughty
fists; and not, I suppose, to be taken for a Blue, though going to the Blue Queen, he had on very coarse black worsted stockings.
He is shockingly near-sighted; a thousand times more so than either my Padre or myself. He did not even know Mrs. Thrale, till she held out her hand to him; which she did very engagingly. After the first few minutes, he drew his chair close to the piano-forte, and then bent down his nose quite over the keys, to examine them, and the four hands at work upon them; till poor Hetty and Susan hardly knew how to play on, for fear of touching his phiz; or, which was harder still, how to keep their countenances. When the duet was finished, my father introduced Hettina to him, as an old acquaintance, to whom, when she was a little girl, he had presented his Idler. His answer to this was imprinting on her pretty face — not a half touch of a courtly salute - but a good, real, substantial, and very loud kiss. Every body was obliged to stroke their chins, that they might hide their mouths.
Beyond this chaste embrace, his attention was not to be drawn off two minutes longer from the books, to which he now strided his way. He pored over them, shelf by shelf, almost brushing them with his eye-lashes from near examination. At last fixing upon something that happened to hit his fancy, he took it down, and, standing aloof from the company, which he seemed clean and clear to forget, he began, without further ceremony, and very composedly. to read to himself; and as intently as if he had been alone in his own study. We were all excessively provoked: for we were languishing, fretting, expiring to hear him talk not to see him read! what could that do for us?
They talked of Mr. Garrick, and his late exhibition before the King; to whom, and to the Queen and Royal Family, he has been reading Lethe in character; c'est à dire, in different voices, and theatrically. Mr. Seward gave an amusing account of a fable which Mr. Garrick
had written by way of prologue, or introduction, upon this occasion. In this he says, that a blackbird, grown old and feeble, droops his wings, &c., and gives up singing; but, upon being called upon by the eagle, his voice recovers its powers, his spirits revive, he sets age at defiance, and sings better than ever. "There is not,' said Dr. Johnson, "much of the spirit of fabulosity in this fable; for the call of an eagle never yet had much tendency to restore the warbling of a blackbird. "Tis true, the fabulists frequently make the wolves converse with the lambs; but then, when the conversation is over, the lambs are always devoured: and, in that manner, the eagle, to be sure, may entertain the blackbird; but the entertainment always ends in a feast for the eagle."
"They say," cried Mrs. Thrale, "that Garrick was extremely hurt by the coldness of the King's applause ; and that he did not find his reception such as he had expected." "He has been so long accustomed," said Mr. Seward, "to the thundering acclamation of a theatre, that mere calm approbation must necessarily be insipid, nay, dispiriting to him."
"Sir," said Dr. Johnson, " he has no right, in a royal apartment, to expect the hallooing and clamour of the one-shilling gallery. The King, I doubt not, gave him as much applause as was rationally his due. And, indeed, great and uncommon as is the merit of Mr. Garrick, no man will be bold enough to assert that he has not had his just proportion both of fame and profit. He has long reigned the unequalled favourite of the public; and therefore nobody, we may venture to say, will mourn his hard lot, if the King and the Royal Family were not transported into rapture upon hearing him readLethe.' yet, Mr. Garrick will complain to his friends; and his friends will lament the King's want of feeling and taste. But then. Mr. Garrick will kindly excuse the King. He will say that his Majesty might, perhaps, be thinking of something else! that the affairs of America might, possibly, occur to him or some other subject. of state, more important, perhaps, than Lethe.' But though he will candidly say this himself, he will not easily forgive his friends if they do not contradict him!"
"Garrick," he said, "is accused of vanity; but few men would have borne such unremitting prosperity with greater, if with equal, moderation. He is accused, too, of avarice, though he lives rather like a prince than an actor. But the frugality he practised when he first appeared in the world, has put a stamp upon his character ever since. And now, though his table, his equipage, and his establishment, are equal to those of persons of the most splendid rank, the original stain of avarice still blots his name. And yet, had not his early, and perhaps necessary economy fixed upon him the charge of thrift, he would long since have been reproached with that of luxury."
Another time he said of him, "Garrick never enters a room, but he regards himself as the object of general attention, from whom the entertainment of the company is expected. And true it is, that he seldom disappoints that expectation: for he has infinite humour, a very just proportion of wit, and more convivial pleasantry than almost any man living. But then off, as well as on the stage, he is always an actor; for he holds it so incumbent upon him to be sportive, that his gaiety, from being habitual, is become mechanical; and he can exert his spirits at all times alike, without any consultation of his disposition to hilarity."
422. Streatham." Evelina."
Dr. Johnson, however undesignedly, was the cause of the new author's invitation to Streatham, from being the first person who there had pronounced the name of "Evelina ;" and that previously to the discovery that its unknown writer was the daughter of a man whose early enthusiasm for Dr. Johnson had merited his warm acknowledgments. The curiosity of the Doctor, however, though certainly excited, was by no means so powerful as to allure him from his chamber one moment before his customary time of descending to dinner; and the new author had three or four hours to pass in constantly augmenting trepidation for the prospect of seeing him, which so short a time before would have sufficed for her delight, was now chequered by the consciousness that she could