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Stories of old college days.
Meeke had excellent parts, when we were boys together at the College: but, alas!
'Lost in a convent's solitary gloom'!' I remember, at the classical lecture in the Hall, I could not bear Meeke's superiority, and I tried to sit as far from him as I could, that I might not hear him construe.”
"As we were leaving the College, he said, “Here I translated Pope's Messiah. Which do you think is the best line in it ?-My own favourite is,
Vallis aromaticas fundit Saronica nubes".!! I told him, I thought it a very sonorous hexameter. I did not tell him, it was not in the Virgilian style'. He much regretted that his first tutor* was dead; for whom he seemed to retain the greatest regard. He said, “I once had been a whole morning sliding in Christ-Church Meadow, and missed his lecture in logick. After dinner, he sent for me to his room. I expected a sharp rebuke for my idleness, and went with a beating heart. When we were seated, he told me he had sent for me to drink a glass of wine with him, and to tell me, he was not angry with me for missing his lecture. This was, in fact, a most severe reprimand. Some more of the boys were then sent for, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon.” Besides Mr. Meeke, there was only one other Fellow of Pembroke now resident: from both of whom Johnson received the greatest civilities during this visit, and they pressed him very much to have a room in the College.
"In the course of this visit (1754,) Johnson and I walked, three
Pope, Eloisa to Abelard, 1. 38.
Husbands's Miscellany, p. 112. • De Quincey (Works, xiii. 162), after saying that Johnson did not understand Latin 'with the elaborate and circumstantial accuracy required for the editing critically of a Latin classic,' continues :— But if he had less than that, he also had more: he possessed that language in a way that no extent of mere critical knowledge could confer. He wrote it genially, not as one translating into it painfully from English, but as one using it for his original organ of thinking. And in Latin verse he expressed himself at times with the energy and freedom of a Roman.' * Mr. Jorden. See ante, p. 68.
Mr. Wise's house at Ellsfield.
or four times, to Ellsfield, a village beautifully situated about three miles from Oxford, to see Mr. Wise, Radclivian librarian, with whom Johnson was much pleased. At this place, Mr. Wise had fitted up a house and gardens, in a singular manner, but with great taste. Here was an excellent library; particularly, a valuable collection of books in Northern literature, with which Johnson was often very busy. One day Mr. Wise read to us a dissertation which he was preparing for the press, intitled, “ A History and Chronology of the fabulous Ages.” Some old divinities of Thrace, related to the Titans, and called the CABIRI, made a very important part of the theory of this piece; and in conversation afterwards, Mr. Wise talked much of his CABIRI. As we returned to Oxford in the evening, I out-walked Johnson, and he cried out Sufflamina, a Latin word which came from his mouth with peculiar grace, and was as much as to say, Put on your drag chain. Before we got home, I again walked too fast for him ; and he now cried out, “Why, you walk as if you were pursued by all the Cabiri in a body.” In an evening, we frequently took long walks from Oxford into the country, returning to supper. Once, in our way home, we viewed the ruins of the abbies of Oseney and Rewley, near Oxford. After at least half an hour's silence, Johnson said, “ I viewed them with indignation'!” We had then a long conversation on Gothick buildings; and in talking of the form of old halls, he said, “In these halls, the fire place was anciently always in the middle of the room', till the Whigs removed it on one side."--About this time there had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday; and that in the close he told his audience, that he should give them the remainder
· Boswell (Hebrides, Aug. 19, 1773) says that Johnson looked at the ruins at St. Andrew's 'with a strong indignation. I happened to ask where John Knox was buried. Dr. Johnson burst out, “ I hope in the highway. I have been looking at his reformations.”'
• In Erasmus Philipps's Diary it is recorded that in Pembroke College early in every November ‘was kept a great Gaudy (feast], when the Master dined in public, and the juniors (by an ancient custom they were obliged to observe) went round the fire in the hall.' Notes & Queries, and S. x. 443.
Rev. Mr. Meeke.
of what he had to say on the subject, the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one of our company, a Doctor of Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the University: “Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the University were not to be hanged the next morning."
'I forgot to observe before, that when he left Mr. Meeke, (as I have told above) he added, “ About the same time of life, Meeke was left behind at Oxford to feed on a Fellowship, and I went to London to get my living : now, Sir, see the difference of our literary characters !" !
The following letter was written by Dr. Johnson to Mr. Chambers, of Lincoln College, afterwards Sir Robert Chambers, one of the judges in India':
"To MR. CHAMBERS OF LINCOLN COLLEGE. * DEAR SIR,
"The commission which I delayed to trouble you with at your departure, I am now obliged to send you; and beg that you will be so kind as to carry it to Mr. Warton, of Trinity, to whom I should have written immediately, but that I know not if he be yet come back to Oxford.
'In the Catalogue of MSS. of Gr. Brit. see vol. I. pag. 18. MSS. Bodl. MARTYRIUM XV. martyrum sub Juliano, auctore Theophylacto.
'It is desired that Mr. Warton will inquire, and send word, what will be the cost of transcribing this manuscript.
• Vol. II. pag. 32. Num. 1022. 58. Coll. Nov.-Commentaria in Acta Apostol.-Comment. in Septem Epistolas Catholicas.
'He is desired to tell what is the age of each of these manuscripts : and what it will cost to have a transcript of the two first
pages of each.
* If Mr. Warton be not in Oxford, you may try if you can get it done by any body else; or stay till he comes, according to your own convenience. It is for an Italian literato.
• The answer is to be directed to his Excellency Mr. Zon, Venetian Resident, Soho-Square.
Communicated by the Reverend Mr. Thomas Warton, who had the original. BOSWELL. In the imaginary college which was to be opened by The Club at St. Andrew's, Chambers was to be the professor of the law of England. See Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 25, 1773; also post, July 5, 1773 and March 30, 1774.
* I hope,
Aetat. 45.) Johnson desires the Degree of M.A.
'I hope, dear Sir, that you do not regret the change of London for Oxford. Mr. Baretti is well, and Miss Williams'; and we shall all be glad to hear from you, whenever you shall be so kind as to write to, Sir,
• Your most humble servant,
'Sam. JOHNSON.' • Nov. 21, 1754.
The degree of Master of Arts, which, it has been observed', could not be obtained for him at an early period of his life, was now considered as an honour of considerable importance, in order to grace the title-page of his Dictionary; and his character in the literary world being by this time deservedly high, his friends thought that, if proper exertions were made, the University of Oxford would pay him the compliment'.
I presume she was a relation of Mr. Zachariah Williams, who died in his eighty-third year, July 12, 1755. When Dr. Johnson was with me at Oxford, in 1755, he gave to the Bodleian Library a thin quarto of twenty-one pages, a work in Italian, with an English translation on the opposite page. The English title-page is this: “An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, by an exact Variation of the Magnetical Needle, &c. By Zachariah Williams. London, printed for Dodsley, 1755." The English translation, from the strongest internal marks, is unquestionably the work of Johnson. In a blank leaf, Johnson has written the age, and time of death, of the authour Z. Williams, as I have said above. On another blank leaf, is pasted a paragraph from a newspaper, of the death and character of Williams, which is plainly written by Johnson. He was very anxious about placing this book in the Bodleian : and, for fear of any omission or mistake, he entered, in the great Catalogue, the title-page of it with his own hand. WARTON.-BOSWELL.
In this statement there is a slight mistake. The English account, which was written by Johnson, was the original; the Italian was a translation, done by Baretti. See post, end of 1755. MALONE. Johnson has twice entered in his own hand that 'Zachariah Williams, died July 12, 1755, in his eighty-third year,' and also on the title-page that he was 82.
· See ante, p. 154.
• The compliment was, as it were, a mutual one. Mr. Wise urged Thomas Warton to get the degree conferred before the Dictionary was published. “It is in truth,' he wrote,' doing ourselves more honour than him, to have such a work done by an Oxford hand, and so able a one too, and will show that we have not lost all regard for good
Collins the Poet.
“TO THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON. • DEAR SIR,
'I am extremely obliged to you and to Mr. Wise, for the un. common care which you have taken of my interest': if you can accomplish your kind design, I shall certainly take me a little habitation among you.
“The books which I promised to Mr. Wise', I have not been able to procure: but I shall send him a Finnick Dictionary, the only copy, perhaps, in England, which was presented me by a learned Swede: but I keep it back, that it may make a set of my own books' of the new edition, with which I shall accompany it, more welcome. You will assure him of my gratitude.
* Poor dear Collins' !-Would a letter give him any pleasure? I have a mind to write.
letters, as has been too often imputed to us by our enemies.' Wooll's Warton, p. 228.
1. In procuring him the degree of Master of Arts by diploma at Oxford.' WARTON.-BOSWELL.
* . Lately fellow of Trinity College, and at this time Radclivian librarian, at Oxford. He was a man of very considerable learning, and eminently skilled in Roman and Anglo-Saxon antiquities. He died in 1767.' WARTON.-BOSWELL. • No doubt The Rambler.
Collins (the poet) was at this time at Oxford, on a visit to Mr. Warton; but labouring under the most deplorable languor of body, and dejection of mind.' WARTON.-BOSWELL. Johnson, writing to Dr. Warton on March 8, 1754, thus speaks of Collins :— I knew him a few years ago full of hopes, and full of projects, versed in many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention. This busy and forcible mind is now under the government of those who lately would not have been able to comprehend the least and most narrow of its designs.' Wooll's Warton, i. 219. Again, on Dec. 24, 1754:— Poor dear Collins ! Let me know whether you think it would give him pleasure if I should write to him. I have often been near his state, and therefore have it in great commiseration. Ib. p. 229. Again, on April 15, 1756:—*That man is no common loss. The moralists all talk of the uncertainty of fortune, and the transitoriness of beauty: but it is yet more dreadful to consider that the powers of the mind are equally liable to change, that understanding may make its appearance and depart, that it may blaze and expire.' Ib. p. 239. See post, beginning of 1763.