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The spirit of Boswell's Tour with Johnson runs clear to the last syllable. Those who are not interested in its anecdotes can have little intellectual curiosity, and no imagination. Those who are not entertained with the perpetual triumph of sarcastic wit over fair, ingenuous argument, must be sturdier moralists than ever Johnson himself affected to have been; and those who do not love the biographer, as they read, whatever imperfections they may find in the massive Being whom he so strongly characterises, can have no hearts. It is for the line of Bruce to be proud of the historian of Corsica: it is for the house of Auchinleck to boast of him who, with the most fervent personal attachment to an illustrious literary character, has yet been sufficiently faithful to the just claims of the public upon biographic fidelity, to represent him, not as his weak or prejudiced idolaters might wish to behold him,—not in the light in which they desire to contemplate Johnson who pronounce his writings to be an obscure jargon of pompous pedantry, and his imputed virtues a superstitious farrago of pharisaic ostentation, but as he was the most wonderful composition of great and absurd, of misanthropy and benevolence, of luminous intellect and prejudiced darkness, that was ever produced in the human breast.
502. Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi.
I am become acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Piozzi. Her conversation is that bright wine of the intellects which has no lees. Dr. Johnson told me truth when he said, she had more colloquial wit than most of our literary women it is indeed a fountain of perpetual flow. But he did not tell me truth when he asserted that Piozzi was an ugly dog, without particular skill in his profession. Mr. Piozzi is a handsome man, in middle life, with gentle, pleasing, and unaffected manners, and with very eminent skill in his profession. Though he has not a powerful or fine-toned voice, he sings with transcending grace and expression. I am charmed with his perfect expression or his instrument. Surely the finest sensibilities must vibrate through his frame, since they breathe so sweetly through his song! (Oct. 1787.)
503. Reading Manuscripts.
When last in Lichfield, Johnson told me that a lady in London once sent him a poem which she had written, and afterwards desired to know his opinion of it. "Madam, I have not cut the leaves; I did not even peep between them.' I met her again in company, and she again asked me after the trash: I made no reply, and began talking to another person. The next time we met, she asked me if I had yet read her poem; I answered, No, Madam, nor ever intend it."" Shocked at the unfeeling rudeness he thus recorded of himself, I replied, that I was surprised any person should obtrude their writings upon his attention; adding, that if I could write as well as Milton or Gray, I should think the best fate to be desired for my compositions was exemption from his notice. I expected a sharp sarcasm in return, but he only rolled his large head in silence. Johnson told me once, "he would hang a dog that read the Lycidas' of Milton twice." "What, then," replied I, "must become of me, who can say it by heart; and who often repeat it to myself with a delight, which grows by what it feeds upon?" "Die," returned the growler, "in a surfeit of bad taste." Thus it was that the wit and awless impoliteness of the stupendous creature bore down, by storm, every barrier which reason attempted to rear against his injustice!
504. Last Visit to Lichfield.
Oct. 29. 1784. I have lately been in the almost daily habit of contemplating a very melancholy spectacle. The great Johnson is here, labouring under the paroxysms of a disease which must speedily be fatal. He shrinks from the consciousness with the extremest horror. It is by his repeatedly expressed desire that I visit him often: yet I am sure he neither does, nor ever did, feel much regard for me; but he would fain escape, for a time, in any society, from the terrible idea of his approaching dissolution. I never would be awed, by his sarcasm or his frowns, into acquiescence with his general injustice to the
merits of other writers, with his national or party aversions; but I feel the truest compassion for his present sufferings, and fervently wish I had power to relieve them. A few days since I was to drink tea with him, by his request, at Mrs. Porter's. When I went into the room, he was in deep but agitated slumber, in an arm-chair. Opening the door with that caution due to the sick, he did not awaken at my entrance. I stood by him several minutes, mournfully contemplating the temporary suspension of those vast intellectual powers which must soon, as to this world, be eternally quenched.
Upon the servant entering to announce the arrival of a gentleman of the university, introduced by Mr. White, he awoke with convulsive starts; but, rising with more alacrity than could have been expected, he said, "Come, my dear lady, let you and I attend these gentlemen in the study." He received them with more than usual complacence; but whimsically chose to get astride upon his chair-seat, with his face to its back, keeping a trotting motion as if on horseback; but, in this odd position, he poured forth streams of eloquence, illumined by frequent flashes of wit and humour, without any tincture of malignity. His memory is considerably impaired, but his eloquence rolls on in its customary majestic torrent, when he speaks at all. My heart aches to see him labour for his breath, which he draws with great effort. It is not improbable that this literary comet may set where it rose and Lichfield receive his pale and stern remains. (')
(1) ["Dr. Johnson seems, in some respects, to have shared the fate of a proverbial prophet in his own country; for neither Miss Seward nor Dr. Darwin were partial to the great moralist."- SIR WALTER Scorт, Miscel. Prose Works, vol. iv. p. 205.]
ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
FROM THE MEMOIRS AND works of DR. PARR. (1)
505. Recommendation of Parr.
WHEN Dr. Parr determined to leave Stanmore, and to become a candidate for the school at Colchester, he applied to Dr. Johnson for letters of recommendation, which were kindly granted, as will be seen by the following extract of a letter, dated Feb. 5. 1777, from Bennet Langton to Mr. Parr:-"Yesterday morning Mr. Paradise and I went to Bolt Court; and it is, I assure you, but doing justice to Dr. Johnson's expressions, on our application, to say, that nothing could be more friendly than they were. He said he knew of few, if of any, that were so well entitled to success as yourself in an application for presiding over a seminary of education; and expressed the opinion of your possessing all the kinds of learning requisite for that purpose, in very high terms of praise."
506. Parr's Projected Life of Johnson.
For many years I spent a month's holidays in London, and never failed to call upon Johnson. I was not only admitted, but welcomed. I conversed with him upon numberless subjects of learning, politics, and common life. I traversed the whole compass of his understanding;
(1) [Nos. 505-516. of these anecdotes are selected from the Life and Works of Parr, in eight vols. 8vo. 1828; edited by Dr. John Johnstone.]
and, by the acknowledgment of Burke and Reynolds, I distinctly understood the peculiar and transcendent properties of his mighty and virtuous mind. I intended to write his life; I laid by sixty or seventy books for the purpose of writing it in such a manner as would do no discredit to myself. I intended to spread my thoughts over two volumes quarto; and if I had filled three pages, the rest would have followed. Often have I lamented my ill fortune in not building this monument to the fame of Johnson, and let me not be accused of arrogance when I add, my own! (1)
Dr. Young said of Johnson's "Rasselas," that "it was a mass of sense."
The following passage, from Johnson's character of Zachary Mudge, unites the true spirit of Christianity with the soundest wisdom: "6 66 By a solicitous examination of objections, and judicious comparison of opposite arguments, he attained what inquiry never gives but to industry and perspicuity, - a firm and unshaken settlement of conviction. But his firmness was without asperity; for, knowing with how much difficulty truth was sometimes found, he did not wonder that many missed it." The truth of the concluding sentence will be felt by every man of deep reflection; and well does it become those who are not in the habit of reflecting deeply, to weigh its moral and religious importance in mitigating their prejudices, and in restraining their invectives, upon certain difficult and momentous subjects. Glad should I be if this opinion of Johnson's were, in Johnson's words, written, like the motto of Capaneus, "in golden letters," and hung up, not only in every dissenting academy, but in every hall of
(1) [Dr. Parr has recorded the same sentiment in the note prefixed to the list of the thirty-four works which he had set apart to consult in his projected Life of Dr. Johnson:" He will ever have to lament that, amidst his cares, his sorrows, and his anxiety, he did not write the life of his learned and revered friend."- Bib. Parr, p.716.]