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A new home for Johnson.
which contributed so much to the happiness of his life, was owing to her desire for his conversation, is very probable and a general supposition: but it is not the truth. Mr. Murphy, who was intimate with Mr. Thrale', having spoken very highly of Dr. Johnson, he was requested to make them acquainted. This being mentioned to Johnson, he accepted of an invitation to dinner at Thrale's, and was so much pleased with his reception, both by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, and they so much pleased with him, that his invitations to their house were more and more frequent, till at last he became one of the family, and an apartment was appropriated to him, both in their house in Southwark, and in their villa at Streatham3,
Miss Burney records in May 1779, how one day at Streatham 'Mr. Murphy met with a very joyful reception; and Mr. Thrale, for the first time in his life, said he was “a good fellow;" for he makes it a sort of rule to salute him with the title of “scoundrel," or "rascal." They are very old friends; and I question if Mr. Thrale loves any man so well.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, i. 210.
From the Garrick Corres. i. 116, it seems that Murphy introduced Garrick to the Thrales. He wrote to him on May 13, 1760:'You stand engaged to Mr. Thrale for Wednesday se'ennight. You need not apprehend drinking; it is a very easy house.'
3 Murphy (Life, p. 98) says that Johnson's introduction to the Thrales contributed more than anything else to exempt him from the solicitudes of life.' He continues that 'he looks back to the share he had in that business with self congratulation, since he knows the tenderness which from that time soothed Johnson's cares at Streatham, and prolonged a valuable life.' Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale from Lichfield on July 20, 1767-I have found nothing that withdraws my affections from the friends whom I left behind,
or which makes me less desirous of reposing at that place which your kindness and Mr. Thrale's allows me to call my home? Piozzi Letters, i. 4. From Mull, on Oct. 15, 1773, he wrote:- Having for many weeks had no letter, my longings are very great to be informed how all things are at home, as you and mistress allow me to call it.' Ib. p. 166. Miss Burney in 1778 wrote that though Dr. Johnson lives almost wholly at Streatham, he always keeps his apartments in town.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, i. 58. Johnson (Works, viii. 381) tells how, in the house of Sir Thomas Abney, 'Dr. Watts, with a constancy of friendship and uniformity of conduct not often to be found, was treated for thirty-six years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all the attention that respect could dictate.' He continues :-'A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial.' It was such a coalition which he formed with the Thralesa coalition in which, though the benefits which he received were great, yet those which he conferred were still greater.
Johnson had a very sincere esteem for Mr. Thrale, as a man of excellent principles, a good scholar, well skilled in trade, of a sound understanding, and of manners such as presented the character of a plain independent English 'Squire'. As this family will frequently be mentioned in the course of the following pages, and as a false notion has prevailed that Mr. Thrale was inferiour, and in some degree insignificant, compared with Mrs. Thrale, it may be proper to give a true state of the case from the authority of Johnson himself in his own words.
'I know no man, (said he,) who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he but holds up a finger, he is obeyed. It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him in literary attainments. She is more flippant; but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar; but her learning is that of a school-boy in one of the lower forms.' My readers may naturally wish for some representation of the figures of this couple. Mr. Thrale was tall, well proportioned, and stately. As for Madam, or my Mistress3, by which epithets Johnson used to mention Mrs. Thrale, she was short, plump, and brisk. She
On this Mrs. Piozzi notes:'No, no! Mr. Thrale's manners presented the character of a gay man of the town; like Millamant, in Congreve's comedy, he abhorred the country and everything in it.' Hayward's Piozzi, i. 10. Mrs Millamant, in The Way of the World, act iv. sc. iv., says :-'I loathe the country and everything that relates to it.'
2 'It is but justice to Mr. Thrale to say, that a more ingenuous frame of mind no man possessed. His education at Oxford gave him the habits of a gentleman; his amiable temper recommended his conversation, and. the goodness of his heart made him a sincere friend.' Murphy's Johnson, p. 99. Johnson wrote of him to Mrs. Thrale :-'He must keep well, for he is the pillar of the house; and you must get well, or the house will hardly be worth propping.' Piozzi Letters, i. 340. See post, April 18,
1778. Mme. D'Arblay (Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 104) gives one reason for Thrale's fondness for Johnson's society. Though entirely a man of peace, and a gentleman in his character, he had a singular amusement in hearing, instigating, and provoking a war of words, alternating triumph and overthrow, between clever and ambitious colloquial combatants, where there was nothing that could inflict disgrace upon defeat.'
3 In like manner he called Mr. Thrale Master or My master. 'I hope Master's walk will be finished when I come back.' Piozzi Letters, i. 355. My master may plant and dig till his pond is an ocean.' Ib. p. 357. See post, July 9, 1777.
Miss Burney thus described her in 1776 She is extremely lively and chatty; and showed none of the supercilious or pedantic airs so scoffingly attributed to women of has
has herself given us a lively view of the idea which Johnson had of her person, on her appearing before him in a dark-coloured gown; You little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way. What! have not all insects gay colours'?' Mr. Thrale gave his wife a liberal indulgence, both in the choice of their company, and in the mode of entertaining them. He understood and valued Johnson, without remission, from their first acquaintance to the day of his death. Mrs. Thrale was enchanted with Johnson's conversation, for its own sake, and had also a very allowable vanity in appearing to be honoured with the attention of so celebrated a man.
Nothing could be more fortunate for Johnson than this connection. He had at Mr. Thrale's all the comforts and even luxuries of life; his melancholy was diverted, and his irregular habits lessened3 by association with an agreeable and wellordered family. He was treated with the utmost respect, and even affection. The vivacity of Mrs. Thrale's literary talk roused him
learning or celebrity; on the contrary, she is full of sport, remarkably gay, and excessively agreeable. I liked her in everything except her entrance into the room, which was rather florid and flourishing, as who should say, "It is I-No less a person than Mrs. Thrale!" However, all that ostentation wore out in the course of the visit, which lasted the whole morning; and you could not have helped liking her, she is so very entertaining-though not simple enough, I believe, for quite winning your heart.' Memoirs of Dr. Burney, ii. 88.
'Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 279. BOSWELL.
Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on Oct. 13, 1777 :-'I cannot but think on your kindness and my master's. Life has upon the whole fallen short, very short, of my early expectation; but the acquisition of such a friendship, at an age when new friendships are seldom acquired, is something
better than the general course of things gives man a right to expect. I think on it with great delight; I am not very apt to be delighted.' Piozzi Letters, ii. 7. Johnson's friends suffered from this connection. See post, March 20, 1778, where it is said that at Streatham he was in a great measure absorbed from the society of his old friends.'
3 Yet one year he recorded :— 'March 3, I have never, I thank God, since new year's day deviated from the practice of rising. In this practice I persisted till I went to Mr. Thrale's sometime before Midsummer; the irregularity of that family broke my habit of rising. I was there till after Michaelmas.' Hawkins's Johnson, p. 458, note. Hawkins places this in 1765; but Johnson states (Pr. and Med. p. 71), 'I returned from Streatham, Oct. 1, -66, having lived there more than three months.'
Johnson's SHAKSPEARE published.
to cheerfulness and exertion, even when they were alone. But this was not often the case; for he found here a constant succession of what gave him the highest enjoyment: the society of the learned, the witty, and the eminent in every way, who were assembled in numerous companies', called forth his wonderful powers, and gratified him with admiration, to which no man could be insensible.
In the October of this year he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare3, which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface, in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain. A blind indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the
1 Boswell wrote to Temple in 1775 I am at present in a tourbillon of conversations; but how come you to throw in the Thrales among the Reynoldses and the Beauclerks? Mr. Thrale is a worthy, sensible man, and has the wits much about his house; but he is not one himself. Perhaps you mean Mrs. Thrale.' Letters of Boswell, p. 192. Murphy (Life, p. 141) says:— -'It was late in life before Johnson had the habit of mixing, otherwise than occasionally, with polite company. At Mr. Thrale's he saw a constant succession of well - accomplished visitors. In that society he began to wear off the rugged points of his own character. The time was then expected when he was to cease being what George Garrick, brother to the celebrated actor, called him the first time he heard him converse. "A TREMENDOUS COMPANION."'
* Johnson wrote to Dr. Warton on Oct. 9' Mrs. Warton uses me hardly in supposing that I could forget so much kindness and civility as she showed me at Winchester.' Wooll's Warton, p. 309. Malone on this remarks :-" -'It appears that Johnson spent some time with that gentleman at Winchester in this
year.' I believe that Johnson is speaking of the year 1762, when, on his way to Devonshire, he passed two nights in that town. See Taylor's Reynolds, i. 214.
3 It was in 1745 that he published his Observations on Macbeth, as a specimen of his projected edition (ante, p. 175). In 1756 he issued Proposals undertaking that his work should be published before Christmas, 1757 (p. 318). On June 21, 1757, he writes:-'I am printing my new edition of Shakspeare' (p. 322). On Dec. 24 of the same year he says, 'I shall publish about March' (p. 323). On March 8, 1758, he writes: 'It will be published before summer. . . . I have printed many of the plays' (p. 327). In June of the same year Langton took some of the plays to Oxford (p. 336). Churchill's Ghost (Parts 1 and 2) was published in the spring of 1762 (p. 319). On July 20, 1762, Johnson wrote to Baretti, 'I intend that you shall soon receive Shakspeare' (p. 369). In October 1765 it was published.
According to Mr. Seward (Anec. ii. 464), 'Adam Smith styled it the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in any country.'
British nation to the ridicule of foreigners'. Johnson, by candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was, like that of a counsel, upon his own side of the cause: Johnson's was like the grave, well-considered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though his researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute as they might have been, which we now certainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious criticks who have followed him2. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristick excellence. Many of his notes have illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has in general exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors3.
His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch University, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches.
' George III, at all events, did not share in this blind admiration. Was there ever,' cried he, 'such stuff as great part of Shakespeare? only one must not say So. But what think you? What? Is there not sad stuff? What? What?' 'Yes, indeed, I think so, Sir, though mixed with such excellencies that 'O' cried he, laughing good-humouredly, 'I know it is not to be said! but it's true. Only it's Shakespeare, and nobody dare abuse him.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, ii. 398.
2 That Johnson did not slur his work, as has been often said, we have the best of all evidence-his own word. 'I have, indeed,' he writes (Works, v. 152), 'disappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my VOL. I.
task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt which I have not attempted to restore; or obscure which I have not attempted to illustrate.'
3 Steevens wrote to Garrick :-'To say the truth, the errors of Warburton and Johnson are often more meritorious than such corrections of them as the obscure industry of Mr. Farmer and myself can furnish. Disdaining crutches, they have sometimes had a fall; but it is my duty to remember, that I, for my part, could not have kept on my legs at all without them.' Garrick Corres. ii. 130. 'Johnson's preface and notes are distinguished by clearness of thought and diction, and by masterly common sense.' Cambridge Shakespeare, i. xxxvi.