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My illustrious friend, I thought, did not sufficiently admire Shenstone. That ingenious and elegant gentleman's opinion of Johnson appears in one of his letters to Mr. Graves, dated Feb. 9, 1760. 'I have lately been reading one or two volumes of The Rambler; who, excepting against some few hardnesses 1 in his manner, and the want of more examples to enliven, is one of the most nervous, most perspicuous, most concise, [and] most harmonious prose writers I know. A learned diction improves by time.'
In the afternoon, as we were driven rapidly along in the post-chaise, he said to me 'Life has not many things better than this.'
We stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon, and drank tea and coffee; and it pleased me to be with him upon the classick ground of Shakspeare's native place.
He spoke slightingly of Dyer's Fleece.-' The subject, Sir, cannot be made poetical. How can a man write poetically of serges and druggets? Yet you will hear many people talk to you gravely of that excellent poem, The Fleece.' Having talked of Grainger's Sugar-Cane, I mentioned to him Mr. Langton's having told me, that this poem, when read in manuscript at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, had made all the assembled wits burst into a laugh, when, after much blank-verse pomp, the poet began a new paragraph thus:
'Now, Muse, let's sing of rats.'
And what increased the ridicule was, that one of the company, who slily overlooked the reader, perceived that the word had been originally mice, and had been altered to rats, as more dignified 2.
wrote these lines. I give them as they are found in the corrected edition of his Works, published after his death. In Dodsley's collection the stanza ran thus:
Whoe'er has travell'd life's dull round,
May sigh to think how oft he found
1 'He too often makes use of the abstract for the concrete.' SHENSTONE.
2 Such is this little laughable incident, which has been often related. Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who was an intimate friend of Dr. Grainger, and has a particular regard for his memory, has communicated to me the following explanation:
"The passage in question was originally not liable to such a perver.
This passage does not appear in the printed work. Dr. Grainger, or some of his friends, it should seem, having become sensible that introducing even Rats in a grave poem, might be liable to banter. He, however, could not bring himself to relinquish the idea; for they are thus, in a still more ludicrous manner, periphrastically exhibited in his poem as it now stands :
'Nor with less waste the whisker'd vermin race
Johnson said, that Dr. Grainger was an agreeable man ; a man who would do any good that was in his power. His translation of Tibullus, he thought, was very well done ; but The Sugar-Cane, a poem, did not please him1; for, he exclaimed, 'What could he make of a sugar-cane? One might as well write the "Parsley-bed, a Poem ; or "The Cabbage-garden, a Poem." BOSWELL. 'You must then pickle your cabbage with the sal atticum.' JOHNSON. 'You know there is already The Hop-Garden, a Poem: and, I think, one could say a great deal about cabbage. The poem might begin with the advantages of civilized society over a rude state, exemplified by the Scotch, who had no cabbages till Oliver Cromwell's soldiers introduced them; and one might thus shew how arts are propagated by conquest, as they were by the Roman arms.' He seemed to be much diverted with the fertility of his own fancy.
I told him, that I heard Dr. Percy was writing the history sion; for the authour having occasion in that part of his work to mention the havock made by rats and mice, had introduced the subject in a kind of mock heroick, and a parody of Homer's battle of the frogs and mice, invoking the Muse of the old Grecian bard in an elegant and well-turned manner. In that state I had seen it; but afterwards, unknown to me and other friends, he had been persuaded, contrary to his own better judgement, to alter it, so as to produce the unlucky effect above-mentioned.'
The above was written by the Bishop when he had not the Poem itself to recur to; and though the account given was true of it at one period, yet as Dr. Grainger afterwards altered the passage in question, the remarks in the text do not now apply to the printed poem.
The Bishop gives this character of Dr. Grainger :-' He was not only a man of genius and learning, but had many excellent virtues; being one of the most generous, friendly, and benevolent men I ever knew.'
1 Dr. Johnson said to me, 'Percy, Sir, was angry with me for laughing at The Sugar-Canè: for he had a mind to make a great thing of Grainger's rats.'
MEDICAL MAN'S SINGULAR HISTORY [1776
of the wolf in Great-Britain. JOHNSON. 'The wolf, Sir! why the wolf? Why does he not write of the bear, which we had formerly? Nay, it is said we had the beaver. Or why does he not write of the grey rat, the Hanover rat, as it is called, because it is said to have come into this country about the time that the family of Hanover came? I should like to see The History of the Grey Rat, by Thomas Percy, D.D., Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty,' (laughing immoderately). BOSWELL. I am afraid a court chaplain could not decently write of the grey rat.' JOHNSON. Sir, he need not give it the name of the Hanover rat.' Thus could he indulge a luxuriant sportive imagination, when talking of a friend whom he loved and esteemed.
He mentioned to me the singular history of an ingenious acquaintance. He had practised physick in various situations with no great emolument. A West-India gentleman, whom he delighted by his conversation, gave him a bond for a handsome annuity during his life, on the condition of his accompanying him to the West-Indies, and living with him there for two years. He accordingly embarked with the gentleman; but upon the voyage fell in love with a young woman who happened to be one of the passengers, and married the wench. From the imprudence of his disposition he quarrelled with the gentleman, and declared he would have no connection with him. So he forfeited the annuity. He settled as a physician in one of the Leeward Islands. A man was sent out to him merely to compound his medicines. This fellow set up as a rival to him in his practice of physick, and got so much the better of him in the opinion of the people of the island that he carried away all the business, upon which he returned to England, and soon after died.'
On Friday, March 22, having set out early from Henley, where we had lain the preceding night, we arrived at Birmingham about nine o'clock, and, after breakfast, went to call on his old schoolfellow Mr. Hector'. A very stupid maid, who opened the door, told us, that 'her master was
'Mr. Hector's house was in the Square-now known as the Old Square. It afterwards formed part of the Stork Hotel, but it was pulled down when Corporation Street was made. A marble tablet had been placed on the house at the suggestion of the late Mr. George Dawson, marking
1776] AT BIRMINGHAM WITH BOSWELL 665
gone out; he was gone to the country; she could not tell when he would return.' In short, she gave us a miserable reception; and Johnson observed, 'She would have behaved no better to people who wanted him in the way of his profession.' He said to her, 'My name is Johnson; tell him I called. Will you remember the name?' She answered with rustick simplicity, in the Warwickshire pronunciation, 'I don't understand you, Sir.'—' Blockhead, (said he,) I'll write.' I never heard the word blockhead applied to a woman before, though I do not see why it should not, when there is evident occasion for it1. He, however, made another attempt to make her understand him, and roared loud in her ear, Johnson,' and then she catched the sound.
We next called on Mr. Lloyd, one of the people called Quakers. He too was not at home; but Mrs. Lloyd was, and received us courteously, and asked us to dinner. Johnson said to me, ' After the uncertainty of all human things at Hector's, this invitation came very well.' We walked about the town, and he was pleased to see it increasing.
I talked of legitimation by subsequent marriage, which obtained in the Roman law, and still obtains in the law of Scotland. JOHNSON. I think it a bad thing; because the chastity of women being of the utmost importance, as all property depends upon it, they who forfeit it should not have any possibility of being restored to good character; nor should the children, by an illicit connection, attain the full right of lawful children, by the posteriour consent of the offending parties.' His opinion upon this subject deserves consideration. Upon his principle there may, at times, be a hardship, and seemingly a strange one, upon
the spot where 'Edmund Hector was the host, Samuel Johnson the guest.' This tablet, together with the wainscoting, the door, and the mantelpiece of one of the rooms, was set up in Aston Hall, at the Johnson Centenary, in a room that is to be known as Dr. Johnson's Room.
My worthy friend Mr. Langton, to whom I am under innumerable obligations in the course of my Johnsonian History, has furnished me with a droll illustration of this question. An honest carpenter, after giving some anecdote in his presence of the ill-treatment which he had received from a clergyman's wife, who was a noted termagant, and whom he accused of unjust dealing in some transaction with him, added, 'I took care to let her know what I thought of her.' And being asked, 'What did you say?' answered, 'I told her she was a scoundrel.'
MR. LLOYD, THE QUAKER
individuals; but the general good of society is better secured. And, after all, it is unreasonable in an individual to repine that he has not the advantage of a state which is made different from his own, by the social institution under which he is born. A woman does not complain that her brother, who is younger than her, gets their common father's estate. Why then should a natural son complain that a younger brother, by the same parents lawfully begotten, gets it? The operation of law is similar in both cases. Besides, an illegitimate son, who has a younger legitimate brother by the same father and mother, has no stronger claim to the father's estate, than if that legitimate brother had only the same father, from whom alone the estate descends.
Mr. Lloyd joined us in the street; and in a little while we met Friend Hector, as Mr. Lloyd called him. It gave me pleasure to observe the joy which Johnson and he expressed on seeing each other again. Mr. Lloyd and I left them together, while he obligingly shewed me some of the manufactures of this very curious assemblage of artificers. We all met at dinner at Mr. Lloyd's, where we were entertained with great hospitality. Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd had been married the same year with their Majesties, and like them, had been blessed with a numerous family of fine children, their numbers being exactly the same. Johnson said, 'Marriage is the best state for a man in general; and every man is a worse man, in proportion as he is unfit for the married state.'
I have always loved the simplicity of manners, and the spiritual-mindedness of the Quakers; and talking with Mr. Lloyd, I observed, that the essential part of religion was piety, a devout intercourse with the Divinity; and that many a man was a Quaker without knowing it.
As Dr. Johnson had said to me in the morning, while we walked together, that he liked individuals among the Quakers, but not the sect; when we were at Mr. Lloyd's, I kept clear of introducing any questions concerning the peculiarities of their faith. But I having asked to look at Baskerville's edition of Barclay's Apology, Johnson laid hold of it; and the chapter on baptism happening to open, Johnson remarked, 'He says there is neither precept nor