« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
of his customary simple apologies, of "Pray, Sir, forgive me!"
Dr. Johnson, though often irritated by the officious importunity of Mr. Boswell, was really touched by his attachment. It was indeed surprising, and even affecting, to remark the pleasure with which this great man accepted personal kindness, even from the simplest of mankind; and the grave formality with which he acknowledged it even to the meanest. Possibly it was what he most prized, because what he could least command; for personal partiality hangs upon lighter and slighter qualities than those which earn solid approbation: but of this, if he had least command, he had also least want; his towering superiority of intellect elevating him above all competitors, and regularly establishing him, wherever he appeared, as the first being of the society.
As Mr. Boswell was at Streatham only upon a morning visit, a collation was ordered, to which all were assembled. Mr. Boswell was preparing to take a seat that he seemed, by prescription, to consider as his own, next to Dr. Johnson; but Mr. Seward, who was present, waived his hand for Mr. Boswell to move further on, saying, with a smile, "Mr. Boswell, that seat is Miss Burney's."
He stared, amazed; the asserted claimant was new and unknown to him, and he appeared by no means pleased to resign his prior rights. But, after looking round for a minute or two, with an important air of demanding the meaning of this innovation, and receiving no satisfaction, he reluctantly, almost resentfully, got another chair, and placed it at the back of the shoulder of Dr. Johnson while this new and unheard-of rival quietly seated herself as if not hearing what was passing; for she shrunk from the explanation that she feared might ensue, as she saw a smile stealing over every countenance, that of Dr. Johnson himself not excepted, at the discomfiture and surprise of Mr. Boswell.
Mr. Boswell, however, was so situated as not to remark it in the Doctor; and of every one else, when in that presence, he was unobservant, if not contemptuous. In truth, when he met with Dr. Johnson, he commonly for
bore even answering any thing that was said, or attending to any thing that went forward, lest he should miss the smallest sound from that voice to which he paid such exclusive, though merited, homage. But the moment that voice burst forth, the attention which it excited in Mr. Boswell amounted almost to pain. His eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant his ear almost on the shoulder of the Doctor; and his mouth dropped open to catch every syllable that might be uttered: nay, he seemed not only to dread losing a word, but to be anxious not to miss a breathing; as if hoping from it, latently, or mystically, some information.
But when, in a few minutes, Dr. Johnson, whose eye did not follow him, and who had concluded him to be at the other end of the table, said something gaily and goodhumouredly, by the appellation of Bozzy; and discovered, by the sound of the reply, that Bozzy had planted himself, as closely as he could, behind and between the elbows of the new usurper and his own, the Doctor turned angrily round upon him, and, clapping his hand rather loudly upon his knee, said in a tone of displeasure, "What do you do there, Sir? Go to the table, Sir!"
Mr. Boswell instantly, and with an air of affright, obeyed and there was something so unusual in such humble submission to so imperious a command, that another smile gleamed its way across every mouth, except that of the Doctor and of Mr. Boswell; who now, very unwillingly, took a distant seat.
But, ever restless when not at the side of Dr. Johnson, he presently recollected something that he wished to exhibit, and, hastily rising, was running away in its search when the Doctor, calling after him, authoritatively said: "What are you thinking of, Sir? Why do you get up before the cloth is removed? Come back to your place, Sir!"
Again, and with equal obsequiouness, Mr. Boswell did as he was bid; when the Doctor, pursing his lips, not to betray rising risibility, muttered half to himself: "Running about in the middle of meals! One would take you for a Brangton!" "A Brangton, Sir?" repeated Mr.
Boswell, with earnestness; "what is a Brangton, Sir?" "Where have you lived, Sir," cried the Doctor, laughing, "and what company have you kept, not to know that?"
Mr. Boswell now, doubly curious, yet always apprehensive of falling into some disgrace with Dr. Johnson, said, in a low tone, which he knew the Doctor could not hear, to Mrs. Thrale: "Pray, Ma'am, what's a Brangton? Do me the favour to tell me? Is it some animal hereabouts ?" Mrs. Thrale only heartily laughed, but without answering as she saw one of her guests uneasily fearful of an explanation. But Mr. Seward cried, "I'll tell you, Boswell I'll tell you! - if you will walk with me into the paddock: only let us wait till the table is cleared; or I shall be taken for a Brangton, too!" They soon went off together; and Mr. Boswell, no doubt, was fully informed of the road that had led to the usurpation by which he had thus been annoyed. But the Brangton fabricator took care to mount to her chamber ere they returned; and did not come down till Mr. Boswell was gone.
426. Dr. Johnson's last Illness.
On Dr. Johnson's return from Lichfield, in November 1784, my father hastened to Bolt Court, but had the grief to find his honoured friend much weakened, and in great pain; though cheerful, and struggling to revive. All of Dr. Burney's family, who had had the honour of admission, hastened to him also; but chiefly his second daughter, who chiefly and peculiarly was always demanded. She was received with his wonted, his never-failing partiality; and, as well as the Doctor, repeated her visits by every opportunity during the ensuing short three weeks of his earthly existence. She will here copy, from the diary she sent to Boulogne, an account of what, eventually, though unsuspectedly, proved to be her last interview with this venerated friend:
Nov. 25. 1784. Our dear father lent me the carriage this morning for Bolt Court. You will easily conceive how gladly I seized the opportunity for making a longer visit than usual to my revered Dr. Johnson, whose
health, since his return from Lichfield, has been deplorably deteriorated. He was alone, and I had a more satisfactory and entertaining conversation with him than I have had for many months past. He was in better spirits, too, than I have seen him, except upon our first meeting, since he came back to Bolt Court. He owned, nevertheless, that his nights were grievously restless and painful; and told me that he was going, by medical advice, to try what sleeping out of town might do for him. And then, with a smile, but a smile of more sadness than mirth! he added, "I remember that my wife, when she was near her end, poor woman! was also advised to sleep out of town and when she was carried to the lodging that had been prepared for her, she complained that the staircase was in very bad condition; for the plaster was beaten off the walls in many places. Oh!' said the man of the house, 'that's nothing; it's only the knocks against it of the coffins of the poor souls that have died in the lodging."" He forced a faint laugh at the man's brutal honesty; but it was a laugh of ill-disguised, though checked, secret anguish.
I felt inexpressibly shocked, both by the perspective and retrospective view of this relation; but, desirous to confine my words to the literal story, I only exclaimed against the man's unfeeling absurdity in making so unnecessary a confession. "True!" he cried; "such a confession, to a person then mounting his stairs for the recovery of her health, or, rather, for the preservation of her life, contains, indeed, more absurdity than we can well lay our
We talked then of poor Mrs. Thrale, but only for a moment; for I saw him so greatly moved, and with such severity of displeasure, that I hastened to start another subject; and he solemnly enjoined me to mention that
I gave him concisely the history of the Bristol milkwoman, who is at present zealously patronised by the benevolent Hannah More. I expressed my surprise at the reports generally in circulation, that the first authors that the milkwoman read, if not the only ones, were Milton and Young.