« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
she had great powers of pleasing ; that she was lively, insinuating, and intelligent.
• I knew her not till the vivacity of her youth had long been extinguished, and I confess I looked in vain for the traces of former ability. I wish to have your opinion, Sir, of what she was, you who knew her so well in her best days.
“My dear, when thy mother told thee Aston was handsome, thy mother told thee truth: She was very handsome. When thy mother told thee that Aston loved to abuse her neighbours, she told thee truth; but when thy mother told thee that Aston had any marked ability in that same abusive business, that wit gave it zest, or imagination colour, thy mother did not tell thee truth. No, no, Madam, Aston's understanding was not of any strength, either native or acquired.”
But, Sir, I have heard you say, that her sister's husband, Mr Walmsley, was a man of bright parts, and extensive knowledge; that he was also a man of strong passions, and, though benevolent in a thcusand instances, yet irascible in as many. It is well known, that Mr Walmsley was considerably governed by this lady; as witness Mr Hinton's constant visits, and presence at bis table, in despite of its master's avowed aversion. Could it be, that, without some marked intellectual
she could obtain absolute dominion over such a man ?
“ Madam, I have said, and truly, that Walmsley had bright and extensive powers of mind; that they had been cultivated by familiarity with the best authors, and by connections with the learned and polite. It is a fact, that Aston obtained nearly absolute dominion over his will; it is no less a fact, that his disposition was irritable and violent. But Walmsley was a man; and there is no man who can resist the repeated attacks of a furious woman. Walmsley had no alternative but to submit, or turn her out of doors."
I have procured, from Mr Levett, of this city, the inclosed copy of an original * letter of Dr Johnson's. Though its style may not bear the stamp of its author's genius, yet it is illumed with a soft ray of filial piety, which cannot fail to cast its portion of additional lustre, however small, on the amiable side of the Johnsonian medal.
The genuine lovers of the poetic science look with anxious eyes to Mr Boswell, desiring that every merit of the stupendous mortal may be shewn in its fairest light; but expecting also, that impartial justice, so worthy of a generous mind,
* This letter appears in Mr Boswell's Life of Dr Jobnson.
which the popular cry cannot influence to flatter the object of discrimination, nor yet the yearnings of remembered amity induce, to invest that object with unreal perfection, injurious, from the severity of his censures, to the rights of others.
There can be no doubt of the authenticity of that little anecdote of Johnson's infancy; the verses he made at three years old, on having killed, by treading upon it, his eleventh duck. Mrs Lucy Porter is a woman of the strictest veracity; and more conscientious creature could not live than old Mrs Johnson, who, I have heard Mrs Porter say, has often mentioned the circumstance to her. It is curious to remark, in these little verses, the poetic seed which afterwards bore plenteous fruits, of so rich a lustre and flavour. Every thing Johnson wrote was poetry; for the poetic essence consists not in rhyme and measure, which are only its trappings, but in that strength, and glow of the fancy, to which all the works of art and nature stand in prompt administration ; in that rich harmony of period,
6 More tunable than needs the metric powers
We observe, also, in those infant verses, the seeds of that superstition which grew with his growth, and operated so strongly through his future life.
I have often heard my mother say she perfectly remembered his wife. He has recorded of her that beauty which existed only in his imagination. She had a very red face, and very indifferent features ; and her manners in advanced life, for her children were all grown up when John son first saw her, had an unbecoming excess of girlish levity, and disgusting affectation. The rustic prettiness, and artless manners of her daughter, the present Mrs LucyPorter, had won Johnson's youthful heart, when she was upon a visit at my grandfather's in Johnson's school-days. Disgusted by his unsightly form, she had a personal aversion to him, nor could the beautiful verses he addressed to her, teach her to endure him, The nymph, at length, returned to her parents at Birmingham, and was soon forgotten. Business taking Johnson to Birmingham, on the death of his own father, and calling upon his coy mistress there, he found her father dying. He passed all his leisure hours at Mr Porter's, attending his sick-bed, and, in a few months after his death, asked Mrs Johnson's consent to marry the old widow. After expressing her surprise at a request so extraordinary—“ no, Sam, my willing consent
* Rev. Jolin Hunter, master of the Lichfield Free School, by whom Johnson was educated. + See the Verses on receiving a myrtle from a Lady,
inserted in Mr Boswell's Life of Johnson.
will never have to so preposterous a union. You are not twenty-five, and she is turned fifty. If she had any prudence, this request had never been made to me.
Where are your means of subsistence ? Porter has died
Porter has died poor, in consequence of his wife's expensive habits. You have great talents, but, as yet, have turned them into no profitable channel." " Mother, I have not deceived Mrs Porter: I have told her the worst of me; that I am of mean extraction; that I have no money; and that I have had an uncle hanged. She replied, that she valued no one more or less for his descent; that she had no more money than myself; and that, though she had not had a relation hanged, she had fifty who deserved hanging."
And thus became accomplished this very curious amour. Adieu, Sir, go on and prosper in your arduous task of presenting to the world the portrait of Johnson's mind and manners. If faithful, brilliant will be its lights, but deep its shades.