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ANECDOTES AND REMARKS,
BY JOSEPH BARETTI.
526. Acquaintance with Johnson. (')
My connection with Dr. Johnson, though quite close and quite familiar, during a great number of years, was nevertheless, like every other intimacy, subject at intervals to the vicissitudes of coincidence and discrepance in opinion; not that I ever dreamt of any equality between our powers of pronouncing judgment in ambiguous and questionable cases, but in mere consequence of that untoward cast of mind which often makes this and that and t'other object appear to Mr. Joseph of such a form, of such a size, of such and such a quality, when Mr. Samuel conceives them all to be greatly different, if not the absolute reverse. Not unfrequently, therefore, were our debates on divers topics, now of more, now of less, importance. To them, and to a multitude of disquisitions I heard from him on innumerable matters, I am indebted for the best part of that little knowledge I have; and if there is any kind of rectitude and fidelity in my ideas, I will ever remember, with gratitude as well as pride, that I owe more of it to him and to his books, than to any other man I ever knew, or any other books I ever studied. However, in spite
(1) [From Baretti's "Strictures on Signora Piozzi's publication of Dr. Johnson's Letters."]
of my obsequiousness to his great superiority, and my ready submission to most of his dictates, never could I implicitly adopt some few of his principal notions and leading opinions, though ever so ardently desirous of conforming all mine to those of a man, whose innate and acquired faculties, as far as my judgment reaches, were never equalled by any of his most far-famed contemporaries. One of the points on which my friend and I most widely differed, and most frequently disputed, especially during the last seven or eight years of his life, was certainly that of his Mistress's excellence, or no excellence; and every body knows that his Mistress, as he emphatically called her, was my pretty Hester Lynch, alias Mrs. Thrale, alias La Piozzi.
527. Johnson and the Thrales.
The Signora Piozzi says, that "while she remained at Streatham or at London, her carriage and servants were not entirely at her command," but at Johnson's. But, in the name of goodness, had she not told us, in her "Anecdotes," that "the Doctor wanted as little as the gods, and required less attendance, sick or well, than she ever saw any human creature?" It is a fact, not to be denied, that, when at Streatham or in the Borough, Johnson wanted nothing else from her servants, than to be shaved once in three days, as he was almost beardless; and as for her carriage, never once during the whole time of their acquaintance did he borrow, much less command it, for any purpose of his own. Either she in hers, or Mr. Thrale in his, took him from town to Streatham without the least inconvenience to either; and he was brought back generally on Saturdays by Mr. Thrale, who repaired every day to the Borough about his affairs presently after breakfast. When Johnson went to them or from them in town, he constantly made use of an hackney, and would have been greatly offended had Madam ever offered to order the horses out of the stable on his sole account. True it is, that Johnson was not lavish of his money when he began to have any to save, but he scorned to be considered as oversaving it; and of this we have a pretty lively proof,
38. vol. ii. of his Letters, where he rebukes Mr. Thrale for wishing to have him brought to Brighthelmstone by Dr. Burney, that he might not be at the expense of a post-chaise or of the stage-coach: "Burney is to bring me," says Johnson. "Pray why so? Is it not as fit that I should bring Burney? My Master is in his old lunes,' and so am I." This asperity of language proves how ticklish Johnson was on the most distant supposition that he grudged expense when necessary.
It is not true, that Dr. Johnson "would often not rise till twelve, and oblige her to make breakfast for him till the bell rang for dinner." It is a constant fact, that, during Johnson's acquaintance with the Thrale family, he got the habit of rising as early as other folks, nor ever made Mr. Thrale stay a single moment for his breakfast, knowing that his business called him away from the breakfast table about ten o'clock every morning, except Sundays; nor had Mr. Thrale quitted the table a moment but the Doctor swallowed his last cup, and Madam was at liberty to go about her hens and turkeys, leaving him to chat with me or any body else that happened to be there, or go up in his room, which was more usual, from whence he did not stir till dinner-time.
Johnson's austere reprimands and unrestrained upbraidings, when face to face with Madam, always delighted Mr. Thrale, and were approved even by her children and I remember to this purpose a piece of mortification she once underwent by a trait de naïveté of poor little Harry, some months before he died. Harry," said his father to him, on entering the room, "are you listening to what the Doctor and mamma are about ?" "Yes, papa," answered the boy. "And," quoth Mr. Thrale, "what are they saying?" "They are disputing," replied Harry; "but mamma has just such a chance against Dr. Johnson, as Presto would have if he were to fight Dash." Dash was a large dog, and Presto but a little one.. The laugh this innocent observation produced was so very loud and hearty, that Madam, unable to stand it, quitted the room in such a mood as was still more laughable than the boy's pertinent remark, though she
muttered "it was very impertinent." However, a short turn in the pleasure-ground soon restored her to her usual elasticity, made her come back to give us tea, and the puny powers of Presto were mentioned no more.
528. Baretti's Rupture with Dr. Johnson. (1)
My story may be a lesson to eager mortals to mistrust the duration of any worldly enjoyment; as even the best cemented friendship, which I consider as the most precious of earthly blessings, is but a precarious one, and subject, like all the rest, to be blasted away in an unexpected moment, by the capriciousness of chance, and by some one of those trifling weaknesses, unaccountably engrafted even in the noblest minds that ever showed to what a pitch human nature may be elevated. About thirteen months before Dr. Johnson went the way of all flesh, my visits to him grew to be much less frequent than they used to be, on account of my gout and other infirmities, which permitted not my going very often from Edward Street, Cavendish Square, to Bolt Court, Fleet Street, as it had been the case in my better days; yet, once or twice every month, I never failed to go to him, and he was always glad to see "the oldest friend he had in the world;" which, since Garrick's death, was the appellation he honoured me with, and constantly requested me to see him as often as I could. One day-and, alas! it was the last time I saw him-I called on him, not without some anxiety, as I had heard that he had been very ill; but found him so well as to be in very high spirits; of which he soon made me aware, because, the conversation happening to turn about Otaheite, he recollected that Omiah had often conquered me at chess; a subject on which, whenever chance brought it about, he never failed to rally me most unmercifully, and made himself mighty merry with. This time, more than he had ever done before, he pushed his banter on at such a rate, that at last he chafed me, and made me so angry, that, not being able to put a stop to it, I snatched up my hat and stick, and
(1) [From "Tolondron: Speeches to John Bowle, about his edition of Don Quixote," 1786.]
quitted him in a most choleric mood. The skilful translator of Tasso, Mr. Hoole, who was a witness to that ridiculous scene, may tell whether the Doctor's obstreperous merriment deserved approbation or blame; but, such was Johnson, that, whatever was the matter in hand, if he was in the humour, he would carry it as far as he could; nor was he much in the habit, even with much higher folks than myself, to refrain from sallies which, not seldom, would carry him further than he intended. Vexed at his having given me cause to be angry, and at my own anger too, I was not in haste to see him again; and he heard, from more than one, that my resentment continued. Finding, at last, or supposing, that I might not call upon him any more, he requested a respectable friend to tell me that he would be glad to see me as soon as possible; but this message was delivered me while making ready to go into Sussex, where I staid a month longer; and it was on my leaving Sussex, that the newspapers apprised me my friend was no more, and England had lost possibly the greatest of her literary ornaments. (1)
(1) [The interesting memoir of Baretti, in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1789, drawn up by Dr. Vincent, concludes thus: "It was not distress that compelled Baretti to take refuge in the hospitality of Mr. Thrale, as has been suggested. He had lately received five hundred pounds for his Spanish “Travels," but was induced by Dr. Johnson (contrary to his own determination, of never becoming a teacher of languages) to undertake the instruction of Mr. Thrale's daughters in Italian. He was either nine or eleven years almost entirely in that family, though he still rented a lodging in town; during which period he expended his own five hundred pounds, and received nothing in return for his instruction, but the participation of a good table, and a hundred and fifty pounds by way of presents. Instead of his "Strictures on Signora Piozzi," had he told this plain unvarnished tale, he would have convicted that lady of avarice and ingratitude, without incurring the danger of a reply, or exposing his memory to be insulted by her advocates."]