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Aetat. 55.] A severe attack of hypochondria.
It was his custom to observe certain days with a pious abstraction; viz. New-year's-day, the day of his wife's death, Good Friday, Easter-day, and his own birth-day. He this year says' :-'I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for JESUS CHRIST's sake. Amen?'
Such a tenderness of conscience, such a fervent desire of improvement, will rarely be found. It is, surely, not decent in those who are hardened in indifference to spiritual improvement, to treat this pious anxiety of Johnson with contempt.
About this time he was afflicted with a very severe return of the hypochondriack disorder, which was ever lurking about him. He was so ill, as, notwithstanding his remarkable love of company, to be entirely averse to society, the most fatal symptom of that malady. Dr. Adams told me, that as an old friend he was admitted to visit him, and that he found him in a deplorable state, sighing, groaning, talking to himself, and restlessly walking from room to room. He then used this emphatical expression of the misery which he felt: 'I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits3.'
Talking to himself was, indeed, one of his singularities ever since I knew him. I was certain that he was frequently uttering pious ejaculations; for fragments of the Lord's Prayer have been distinctly overheard. His friend Mr. Thomas Davies, of whom Churchill says,
It was on his birth-day that he said this. He wrote on the same day: 'I have outlived many friends. I have felt many sorrows. I have made few improvements.'
"Prayers and Meditations, p. 58. BOSWELL. In his Vision of Theodore (Works, ix. 174) he describes the state of mind which he has recorded in his Meditations :-' There were others whose crime it was rather to neglect Reason than to disobey her; and who retreated from the heat and
tumult of the way, not to the bowers of Intemperance, but to the maze of Indolence. They had this peculiarity in their condition, that they were always in sight of the road of Reason, always wishing for her presence, and always resolving to
3 See Appendix F.
It used to be imagined at Mr. Thrale's, when Johnson retired to a window or corner of the room, by perceiving his lips in motion, and I i 2 'That
'That Davies hath a very pretty wife','
when Dr. Johnson muttered 'lead us not into temptation,' used with waggish and gallant humour to whisper Mrs. Davies, 'You, my dear, are the cause of this.'
He had another particularity, of which none of his friends ever ventured to ask an explanation. It appeared to me some superstitious habit, which he had contracted early, and from which he had never called upon his reason to disentangle him. This was his anxious care to go out or in at a door or passage by a certain number of steps from a certain point, or at least so as that either his right or his left foot, (I am not certain which,) should constantly make the first actual movement when he came close to the door or passage. Thus I conjecture: for I have, upon innumerable occasions, observed him suddenly stop, and then seem to count his steps with a deep earnestness; and when
Francis.] It was during the American War. BURNEY. Boswell in his Hebrides (Oct. 12, 1773) records, 'Dr. Johnson is often uttering pious ejaculations, when he appears to be talking to himself; for sometimes his voice grows stronger, and parts of the Lord's Prayer are heard.' In the
same passage he describes other 'particularities,' and adds in a note:
It is remarkable that Dr. Johnson should have read this account of some of his own peculiar habits, without saying anything on the subject, which I hoped he would have done.' See post, Dec. 1784,
' Churchill's Poems, i. 16. See ante, p. 391.
It is in vain to try to find a meaning in every one of his particularities, which, I suppose, are mere habits contracted by chance; of which every man has some that are more or less remarkable.' Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 12, 1773. The love of symmetry and order, which is natural to the mind of man, betrays him sometimes into very whimsical fancies. "This noble principle," says a French author, "loves to amuse itself on the most trifling occasions. You may see a profound philosopher," says he, "walk for an hour together in his chamber, and industriously treading at every step upon every other board in the flooring." The Spectator, No. 632.
he had neglected or gone wrong in this sort of magical movement, I have seen him go back again, put himself in a proper posture to begin the ceremony, and, having gone through it, break from his abstraction, walk briskly on, and join his companion'. A strange instance of something of this nature, even when on horseback, happened when he was in the isle of Sky2. Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed him to go a good way about, rather than cross a particular alley in Leicester-fields; but this Sir Joshua imputed to his having had some disagreeable recollection associated with it.
That the most minute singularities which belonged to him, and made very observable parts of his appearance and manner, may not be omitted, it is requisite to mention, that while talking or even musing as he sat in his chair, he commonly held his head to one side towards his right shoulder, and shook it in a tremulous manner, moving his body backwards and forwards, and rubbing his left knee in the same direction, with the palm of his hand. In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, or what is called chewing the cud, sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen, and sometimes protruding it against his upper gums in front, as if pronouncing quickly under his breath, too, too, too: all this accompanied sometimes with a thoughtful look, but more frequently with a smile. Generally when he had concluded a period, in the course of a dispute, by which time he was a good deal exhausted by violence and
'Mr. S. Whyte (Miscellanea Nova, p. 49) tells how from old Mr. Sheridan's house in Bedford-street, opposite Henrietta-street, with an operaglass he watched Johnson approaching. I perceived him at a good distance working along with peculiar solemnity of deportment, and an awkward sort of measured step. Upon every post as he passed along, he deliberately laid his hand; but missing one of them, when he had got at some distance, he seemed suddenly to recollect himself, and immediately returning carefully per
formed the accustomed ceremony, and resumed his former course, not omitting one till he gained the crossing. This, Mr. Sheridan assured me, was his constant practice.'
Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. p. 316. BOSWELL. 'The day that we left Talisker, he bade us ride on. He then turned the head of his horse back towards Talisker, stopped for some time; then wheeled round to the same direction with ours, and then came briskly after us.' Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 12, 1773.
Illness of Joshua Reynolds.
vociferation, he used to blow out his breath like a Whale. This I supposed was a relief to his lungs; and seemed in him to be a contemptuous mode of expression, as if he had made the arguments of his opponent fly like chaff before the wind.
I am fully aware how very obvious an occasion I here give for the sneering jocularity of such as have no relish of an exact likeness; which to render complete, he who draws it must not disdain the slightest strokes. But if witlings should be inclined to attack this account, let them have the candour to quote what I have offered in my defence.
He was for some time in the summer at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, on a visit to the Reverend Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore. Whatever dissatisfaction he felt at what he considered as a slow progress in intellectual improvement, we find that his heart was tender, and his affections warm, as appears from the following very kind letter:
'TO JOSHUA REYNOLDS, ESQ., IN LEICESTER-FIELDS, LONDON. 'DEAR SIR,
'I did not hear of your sickness till I heard likewise of your recovery, and therefore escaped that part of your pain, which every man must feel, to whom you are known as you are known to me.
'Having had no particular account of your disorder, I know not in what state it has left you. If the amusement of my company can exhilarate the languor of a slow recovery, I will not delay a day to come to you; for I know not how I can so effectually promote my own pleasure as by pleasing you, or my own interest as by preserving you, in whom, if I should lose you, I should lose almost the only man whom I call a friend.
'Pray let me hear of you from yourself, or from dear Miss Reynolds'. Make my compliments to Mr. Mudge. I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate
'And most humble servant,
'At the Rev. Mr. Percy's, at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, (by
Castle Ashby,) Aug. 19, 1764.'
Sir Joshua's sister, for whom Johnson had a particular affection, and to whom he wrote many letters which I have seen, and which I am
sorry her too nice delicacy will not permit to be published. BoSWELL 'Whilst the company at Mr. Thrale's were speculating upon a microscope
Johnson at Cambridge.
1765: ÆTAT. 56.]-EARLY in the year 1765 he paid a short visit to the University of Cambridge, with his friend Mr. Beauclerk. There is a lively picturesque account of his behaviour on this visit, in The Gentleman's Magazine for March 1785, being an extract of a letter from the late Dr. John Sharp. The two following sentences are very characteristical:
'He drank his large potations of tea with me, interrupted by many an indignant contradiction, and many a noble sentiment.''Several persons got into his company the last evening at Trinity, where, about twelve, he began to be very great; stripped poor Mrs. Macaulay to the very skin, then gave her for his toast, and drank her in two bumpers'.'
The strictness of his self-examination and scrupulous Christian humility appear in his pious meditation on Easter-day this
'I purpose again to partake of the blessed sacrament; yet when I consider how vainly I have hitherto resolved at this annual commemoration of my Saviour's death, to regulate my life by his laws, I am almost afraid to renew my resolutions.'
The concluding words are very remarkable, and shew that he laboured under a severe depression of spirits.
'Since the last Easter I have reformed no evil habit, my time has been unprofitably spent, and seems as a dream that has left nothing behind. My memory grows confused, and I know not how the days pass Good Lord deliver me?!'
No man was more gratefully sensible of any kindness done to
for the mind, Johnson exclaimed :— "I never saw one that would bear it, except that of my dear Miss Reynolds, and hers is very near to purity itself." Northcote's Reynolds, i. 80. Once, says Northcote, there was a coolness between her and her brother. She wished to set forth to him her grievances in a letter. Not finding it easy to write, she consulted Johnson, who offered to write a letter himself, which when copied should pass as her own.' This he did. It began:-'I am well aware that complaints are always odious, but complain I must.' Such a letter
as this she saw would not pass with Sir Joshua as her own, and so she could not use it. Ib. p. 203. Of Johnson's letters to her Malone published one, and Mr. Croker several more. Mme. D'Arblay, in the character she draws of her (Memoirs of Dr. Burney, i. 332), says that 'Dr. Johnson tried in vain to cure her of living in an habitual perplexity of mind and irresolution of conduct, which to herself was restlessly tormenting, and to all around her was teazingly wearisome.'
See Appendix C.
2 Pr. and Med. p. 61. Boswell.