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Death of Dr. James.
[A.D. 1776. present Majesty. I am happy to think, that he lived to see the Crown at last recover its just influence'.
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James' was dead. I thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom he had lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-traveller much: but he only said, 'Ah! poor Jamy.' Afterwards, however, when we were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness, 'Since I set out on this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a young one;-Dr. James, and poor Harry3. (Meaning Mr. Thrale's son.)
Having lain at St. Alban's, on Thursday, March 28, we breakfasted the next morning at Barnet. I expressed to him a weakness of mind which I could not help; an uneasy apprehension that my wife and children, who were at a great distance from me, might, perhaps, be ill. 'Sir, (said he,) consider how foolish you would think it in them to be apprehensive that you are ill4.' This sudden turn relieved me for the moment; but I afterwards perceived it to be an ingenious fallacy. I might, to be sure, be satisfied that they had no reason to be apprehensive about me, because I knew that I myself was well: but we might have a mutual anxiety, without
1 See post, March 18, 1784.
Newbery, the publisher, was the vendor of Dr. James's famous powder. It was known that on the doctor's death a chemist whom he had employed meant to try to steal the business, under the pretence that he alone knew the secret of the preparation. A supply of powders enough to last for many years was laid in by Newbery in anticipation, while James left an affidavit that the chemist was never employed in the manufacture. He, however, asserted that James was deprived of his mental faculties when the affidavit was made. Evidence against this was collected and published; the conclusion to the Preface being written by Johnson. A Bookseller of the Last Century, p. 138. See ante, i. 159.
3 Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on
the charge of folly; because cach was, in some degree, uncertain as to the condition of the other.
I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London, that metropolis which we both loved so much, for the high and varied intellectual pleasure which it furnishes'. I experienced immediate happiness while whirled along with such a companion, and said to him, 'Sir, you observed one day at General Oglethorpe's', that a man is never happy for the present, but when he is drunk. Will you not add,--or when driving rapidly in a post-chaise3?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, you are driving
rapidly from something, or to something.'
Talking of melancholy, he said, 'Some men, and very thinking men too, have not those vexing thoughts. Sir Joshua Reynolds is the same all the year round. Beauclerk, except when ill and in pain, is the same. But I believe most men have them in the degree in which they are capable of having them. If I were in the country, and were distressed by that malady, I would force myself to take a book; and every time I did it I should find it the easier. Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking".'
We stopped at Messieurs Dillys, booksellers in the Poultry; from whence he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr.
1 See ante, ii. 75.
2 Ante, April 10, 1775.
3 See ante, March 21, 1776, and post, Sept. 19, 1777.
* The phrase 'vexing thoughts,' is, I think, very expressive. It has been familiar to me from my childhood; for it is to be found in the Psalms in Metre, used in the churches (I believe I should say kirks) of Scotland, Psal. xliii. v. 5;
'Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
What should discourage thee? And why with vexing thoughts art thou
Disquieted in me?'
Some allowance must no doubt be made for early prepossession. But at a maturer period of life, after looking at various metrical versions of the Psalms, I am well satisfied
that the version used in Scotland is, upon the whole, the best; and that it is vain to think of having a better. It has in general a simplicity and unction of sacred Poesy; and in many parts its transfusion is admirable. BOSWELL.
5 Burke and Reynolds are the same one day as another,' Johnson said, post, under Sept. 22, 1777. Boswell celebrates Reynolds's 'equal and placid temper,' ante, i. 1. On Aug. 12, 1775, he wrote to Temple:"It is absurd to hope for continual happiness in this life; few men, if any, enjoy it. I have a kind of belief that Edmund Burke does; he has so much knowledge, so much animation, and the consciousness of so much fame.' Letters of Boswell, p. 212.
See ante, i. 446.
The projected tour to Italy.
Thrale's, in the Borough. I called at his house in the evening, having promised to acquaint Mrs. Williams of his safe return; when, to my surprize, I found him sitting with her at tea, and, as I thought, not in a very good humour: for, it seems, when he had got to Mr. Thrale's, he found the coach was at the door waiting to carry Mrs. and Miss Thrale, and Signor Baretti, their Italian master, to Bath'. This was not shewing the attention which might have been expected to the 'Guide, Philosopher, and Friend,' the Imlac3 who had hastened from the country to console a distressed mother, who he understood was very anxious for his return. They had, I found, without ceremony, proceeded on their intended journey. I was glad to understand from him that it was still resolved that his tour to Italy with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale should take place, of which he had entertained some doubt, on account of the loss which they had suffered; and his doubts afterwards proved to be well-founded. He observed, indeed very justly, that 'their loss was an additional reason for their going abroad; and if it had not been fixed that he should have been one of the party, he would force them out; but he would not advise them unless his advice was asked, lest they might suspect that he recommended what he wished on his own account.' I was not pleased that his intimacy
Baretti says, that abruptly proposed to start for Bath, as wishing to avoid the sight of the funeral. She had no man-friend to go with her,' and so he offered his services. Johnson at that moment arrived. 'I expected that he would spare me the jaunt, and go himself to Bath with her; but he made no motion to that effect.' European Mag. xiii. 315. It was on the evening of the 29th that Boswell found Johnson, as he thought, not in very good humour. Yet on the 30th he wrote to Mrs. Thrale, and called on Mr. Thrale. On April 1 and April 4 he again wrote to Mrs. Thrale. He would have gone a second time, he says, to see Mr. Thrale, had he not been made to understand that when he was wanted he would be sent for. Piozzi Letters, i. 309–314.
2 Pope, Essay on Man, iv. 390. Boswell twice more applies the same line to Johnson, post, June 3, 1781, and under Dec. 13, 1784.
3 Imlac consoles the Princess for the loss of Pekuah. 'When the clouds of sorrow gather over us, we see nothing beyond them, nor can imagine how they will be dispelled; yet a new day succeeded to the night, and sorrow is never long without a dawn of ease. But they who restrain themselves from receiving comfort do as the savages would have done, had they put out their eyes when it was dark.' Rasselas, ch. 35. Keep yourself busy,' wrote Johnson to Mrs. Thrale, and you will in time grow cheerful. New prospects may open, and new enjoyments may come within your reach.' Piozzi Letters, i. 315.
The enthusiasm of curiosity.
with Mr. Thrale's family, though it no doubt contributed much to his comfort and enjoyment, was not without some degree of restraint not, as has been grossly suggested, that it was required of him as a task to talk for the entertainment of them and their company; but that he was not quite at his ease; which, however, might partly be owing to his own honest pride -that dignity of mind which is always jealous of appearing too compliant.
On Sunday, March 31, I called on him, and shewed him as a curiosity which I had discovered, his Translation of Lobo's Account of Abyssinia, which Sir John Pringle had lent me, it being then little known as one of his works'. He said, 'Take no notice of it,' or 'don't talk of it.' He seemed to think it beneath him, though done at six-and-twenty. I said to him, 'Your style, Sir, is much improved since you translated this.' He answered with a sort of triumphant smile, 'Sir, I hope it is.' On Wednesday, April 3, in the morning I found him very busy putting his books in order, and as they were generally very old ones, clouds of dust were flying around him. He had on a pair of large gloves such as hedgers use. His present appearance put me in mind of my uncle, Dr. Boswell's description of him, 'A robust genius, born to grapple with whole libraries.'
I gave him an account of a conversation which had passed between me and Captain Cook, the day before, at dinner at Sir John Pringle's3; and he was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated circumnavigator, who set me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts given by Dr. Hawkesworth of his Voyages. I told him that while I was with the Captain, I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next voyage. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages.' BOSWELL. But one is carried away with the general grand and indistinct notion of A VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD.'
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, but a man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general.' I said I was certain that a great part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be conjecture, because they had not enough of the language of those countries to understand so much as they have related. Objects falling under the observation of the senses might be clearly known; but every thing intellectual, every thing abstract-politicks, morals, and religion, must be darkly guessed. Dr. Johnson was of the same opinion. He upon another occasion, when a friend mentioned to him several extraordinary facts, as communicated to him by the circumnavigators, slily observed, 'Sir, I never before knew how much I was respected by these gentlemen; they told me none of these things.'
He had been in company with Omai, a native of one of the South Sea Islands, after he had been some time in this country. He was struck with the elegance of his behaviour, and accounted for it thus: Sir, he had passed his time, while in England, only in the best company; so that all that he had acquired of our manners was genteel. As a proof of this, Sir, Lord Mulgrave and he dined one day at Streatham; they sat with their backs to the light fronting me, so that I could not see distinctly; and there was so little of the savage in Omai, that I was afraid to speak to either, lest I should mistake one for the other'.'
We agreed to dine to-day at the Mitre-tavern, after the rising of the House of Lords, where a branch of the litigation concerning the Douglas Estate, in which I was one of the counsel, was to come on. I brought with me Mr. Murray, Solicitor-General of Scotland, now one of the Judges of the Court of Session, with the title of Lord Henderland. I mentioned Mr. Solicitor's relation, Lord Charles Hay3, with whom I knew Dr. Johnson
'Mme. D'Arblay (Memoirs of Dr. Burney, i, 284) describes 'the perfect ease with which Omai managed a sword which he had received from the King, and which he had that day put on for the first time in order to go to the House of Lords.' He is the 'gentle savage' in Cowper's Task, i. 632.
2 See ante, ii. 50.
3 Voltaire (Siècle de Louis XV, ch. xv.), in his account of the battle of Fontenoy, thus mentions him :'On était à cinquante pas de distance.... Les officiers anglais saluèrent les Français en ôtant leurs chapeaux.... Les officiers des gardes françaises leur rendirent le salut.