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Johnson gave us this evening, in his happy, discriminative manner, a portrait of the late Mr. Fitzherbert of Derbyshire. "There was (said he) no sparkle, no brilliancy in Fitzherbert; but I never knew a man who was so generally acceptable. He made everybody quite easy, overpowered nobody by the superiority of his talents, made no man think worse of himself by being his rival, seemed always to listen, did not oblige you to hear much from him, and did not oppose what you said. Everybody liked him; but he had no friend, as I understand the word, nobody with whom he exchanged intimate thoughts. People were willing to think well of everything about him. A gentleman was making an affected rant, as many people do, of great feelings about "his dear son," who was at school near London; how anxious he was lest he might be ill, and what he would give to see him. "Can't you (said Fitzherbert) take a post-chaise and go to him?" This, to be sure, finished the affected man, but there was not much in it.1 However this was circulated as wit for a whole winter, and, I believe, part of a summer too; a proof that he was no very witty man. He was an instance of the truth of the observation, that a man will please more upon the whole by negative qualities than by positive; by
1 Dr. Gisborne, physician to his Majesty's household, has obligingly communicated to me a fuller account of this story than had reached Dr. Johnson. The affected gentleman was the late John Gilbert Cooper, Esq., author of a Life of Socrates, and of some poems in Dodsley's collection. Mr. Fitzherbert found him one morning, apparently, in such violent agitation, on account of the indisposition of his son, as to seem beyond the power of comfort. At length, however, he exclaimed, 'I'll write an elegy.' Mr. Fitzherbert being satisfied, by this, of the sincerity of his emotions, slily said, 'Had not you better take a post-chaise and go and see him?' It was the shrewdness of the insinuation which made the story be circulated.
never offending, than by giving a great deal of delight. In the first place, men hate more steadily than they love; and if I have said something to hurt a man once, I shall not get the better of this by saying many things to please him.'
Tuesday, September 16, Dr. Johnson having men. tioned to me the extraordinary size and price of some cattle reared by Dr. Taylor, I rode out with our host, surveyed his farm, and was shown one cow which he had sold for a hundred and twenty guineas, and another for which he had been offered a hundred and thirty. Taylor thus described to me his old schoolfellow and friend, Johnson: 'He is a man of a very clear head, great power of words, and a very gay imagination; but there is no disputing with him. He will not hear you, and having a louder voice than you, must roar you down.'
In the afternoon I tried to get Dr. Johnson to like the Poems of Mr. Hamilton of Bangor, which I had brought with me: I had been much pleased with them at a very early age: the impression still remained on my mind; it was confirmed by the opinion of my friend, the Honourable Andrew Erskine, himself both a good poet and a good critic, who thought Hamilton as true a poet as ever wrote, and that his not having fame was unaccountable. Johnson, upon repeated occasions, while I was at Ashbourne, talked slightingly of Hamilton. He said there was no power of thinking in his verses, nothing that strikes one, nothing better than what you generally find in magazines; and that the highest praise they deserved was that they were very well for a gentleman to hand about among his friends. He said the imitation of Ne sit ancillæ tibi
amor, etc., was too solemn; he read part of it at the beginning. He read the beautiful pathetic song, 'Ah, the poor shepherd's mournful fate,' and did not seem to give attention to what I had been used to think tender, elegant strains, but laughed at the rhyme, in Scotch pronunciation, wishes and blushes, reading wushus—and there he stopped. He owned that the epitaph on Lord Newhall was pretty well done. He read the 'Inscription in a Summer-house,' and a little of the imitations of Horace's Epistles; but said he found nothing to make him desire to read on. When I urged that there were some good poetical passages in the book, 'Where (said he) will you find so large a collection without some?' I thought the description of Winter might obtain his approbation :
'See Winter, from the frozen north,
Drives his iron chariot forth !
His grisly hand in icy chains
Fair Tweeda's silver flood constrains,' etc.
He asked why an 'iron chariot?' and said 'icy chains' was an old image. I was struck with the uncertainty of taste, and somewhat sorry that a poet whom I had long read with fondness, was not approved by Dr. Johnson. I comforted myself with thinking that the beauties were too delicate for his robust perceptions. Garrick maintained that he had not a taste for the finest productions of genius: but I was sensible, that when he took the trouble to analyse critically, he generally convinced us that he was right.
In the evening the Reverend Mr. Seward of Lichfield, who was passing through Ashbourne on his way home, drank tea with us. Johnson described him
thus: Sir, his ambition is to be a fine talker; so he goes to Buxton, and such places, where he may find companies to listen to him. And, sir, he is a valetudinarian, one of those who are always mending themselves. I do not know a more disagreeable character than a valetudinarian, who thinks he may do anything that is for his ease, and indulges himself in the grossest freedoms: sir, he brings himself to the state of a hog in a stye.'
Dr. Taylor's nose happening to bleed, he said, it was because he had omitted to have himself blooded four days after a quarter of a year's interval. Dr. Johnson, who was a great dabbler in physic, disapproved much of periodical bleeding. For (said he) you accustom yourself to an evacuation which Nature cannot perform of herself, and therefore she cannot help you, should you from forgetfulness or any other cause omit it; so you may be suddenly suffocated. You may accustom yourself to other periodical evacuations, because should you omit them, Nature can supply the omission; but Nature cannot open a vein to blood you.' 'I do not like to take an emetic (said Taylor), for fear of breaking some small vessels.' 'Poh! (said Johnson), if you have so many things that will break, you had better break your neck at once, and there's an end on't. You will break no small vessels!' (blowing with high derision).
I mentioned to Dr. Johnson that David Hume's persisting in his infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much. JOHNSON: 'Why should it shock you, sir? Hume owned he had never read the New Testament with attention. Here then was a man who had been at no pains to inquire into the truth of
religion, and had continually turned his mind the other way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of death would alter his way of thinking, unless God should send an angel to set him right.' I said I had reason to believe that the thought of annihilation gave Hume no pain. JOHNSON: 'It was not so, sir. He had a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he should assume an appearance of ease, than so very improbable a thing should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive theory, he cannot be sure but he may go) into an unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving all he knew. And you are to consider, that upon his own principle of annihilation he had no motive to speak the truth. The horror of death which I had always observed in Dr. Johnson, appeared strong to-night. I ventured to tell him that I had been, for moments in my life, not afraid of death: therefore I could suppose another man in that state of mind for a considerable space of time. He said 'he never had a moment in which death was not terrible to him.' He added, that it had been observed, that scarce any man dies in public, but with apparent resolution; from that desire of praise which never quits us. I said, Dr. Dodd seemed to be willing to die, and full of hopes of happiness. 'Sir (said he), Dr. Dodd would have given both his hands and both his legs to have lived. The better a man is, the more afraid is he of death, having a clearer view of infinite purity.' He owned that our being in an unhappy uncertainty as to our salvation was mysterious, and said, 'Ah! we must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things explained to us.' Even the powerful