« PredošláPokračovať »
I have, indeed, been told by Mrs. Defmoulins, who, before her marriage, lived for some time with Mrs. Johnson at Hampstead, that she indulged herself in country air and nice living, at an unfuitable expence, while her husband was drudging in the smoke of London, and that she by no means treated him with that complacency which is the most engaging quality in a wife. But all this is perfectly compatible with his fondness for her, especially when it is remembered that he had a high opinion of her understanding, and that the impreffion which her beauty, real or imaginary, had originally made upon his fancy, being continued by habit, had not been effaced, though the herself was doubtless much altered for the worfe. The dreadful fhock of feparation took place in the night; and he immediately difpatched a letter to his friend, the Reverend Dr. Taylor, which, as Taylor told me, expreffed grief in the strongest manner he had ever read; fo that it is much to be regretted it has not been preferved. The letter was brought to Dr. Taylor, at his houfe in the Cloysters, Westminster, about three in the morning; and as it fignified an earnest defire to fee him, he got up, and went to Johnson as soon as he was dreffed, and found him in tears and in extreme agitation. After being a little while together, Johnson requested him to join with him in prayer. He then prayed extempore, as did Dr. Taylor; and thus, by means of that piety which was ever his primary object, his troubled mind was, in fome degree, foothed and compofed.
The next day he wrote as follows:
To the Reverend Dr. TAYLOR.
"LET me have your company and inftruction. Do not live away from me. My diftrefs is great.
Pray defire Mrs. Taylor to inform me what mourning I fhould buy for
my mother and Mifs Porter, and bring a note in writing with you. "Remember me in your prayers, for vain is the help of man. "I am, dear Sir, &c.
March 18, 1752.
That his fufferings upon the death of his wife were fevere; beyond what are commonly endured, I have no doubt, from the information of many who were then about him, to none of whom I give more credit than to Mr.
1752. Etat. 43.
Francis Barber, his faithful negro fervant, who came into his family about a
4 Francis Barber was born in Jamaica, and was brought to England in 1750 by Colonel Bathurst, father of Johnson's very intimate friend, Dr. Bathurft. He was fent, for fome time, to the Reverend Mr. Jackfon's fchool, at Barton in Yorkshire. The Colonel by his will left him his freedom, and Dr. Bathurst was willing that he should enter into Johnson's fervice, in which he continued from 1752 till Johnson's death, with the exception of two intervals; in one of which, upon fome difference with his mafter, he went and ferved an apothecary in Cheapfide, but ftill visited Dr. Johnfon occafionally; in another, when he took a fancy to go to fea. Part of the time, indeed, he was, by the kindness of his mafter, at a school in Northamptonshire, that he might have the advantage of fome learning. So early and fo lafting a connection was there between Dr. Johnfon and this humble friend.
6 Hawkins's Life of Johnfon, p. 316.
5 Prayers and Meditations, p. 19.
He deposited the remains of Mrs. Johnfon in the church of Bromley in Kent, to which he was probably led by the refidence of his friend Hawkefworth Etat. 43. at that place. The funeral fermon which he compofed for her, which was never preached, but having been given to Dr. Taylor, has been published since his death, is a performance of uncommon excellence, and full of rational and pious comfort to fuch as are depreffed by that fevere affliction which Johnfon felt when he wrote it. When it is confidered that it was written in fuch an agitation of mind, and in the fhort interval between her death and burial; it cannot be read without wonder.
From Mr. Francis Barber I have had the following authentick and artless account of the fituation in which he found him recently after his wife's death: "He was in great affliction. Mrs. Williams was then living in his house, "which was in Gough-fquare. He was bufy with the Dictionary. Mr. “Shiels, and some others of the gentlemen who had formerly written for "him, used to come about him. He had then little for himself, but frequently fent money to Mr. Shiels when in diftrefs. The friends who " vifited him at that time, were chiefly Dr. Bathurst, and Mr. Diamond, "an apothecary in Cork-ftreet, Burlington-gardens, with whom he and Mrs. "Williams generally dined every Sunday. There was a talk of his going "to Iceland with him, which would probably have happened had he lived. "There were alfo Mr. Cave, Dr. Hawkefworth, Mr. Ryland, merchant on "Tower-hill, Mrs. Mafters the poetefs, who lived with Mr. Cave, Mrs. "Carter, and sometimes Mrs. Macaulay; alfo, Mrs. Gardiner, wife of a tallow"chandler on Snow-hill, not in the learned way, but a worthy good woman; "Mr. (now Sir Joshua) Reynolds; Mr. Millar, Mr. Dodfley, Mr. Bouquet, "Mr. Payne of Paternofter-row, bookfellers; Mr. Strahan the printer, the "Earl of Orrery, Lord Southwell, Mr. Garrick."
Many are, no doubt, omitted in this catalogue of his friends, and, in particular, his humble friend Mr. Robert Levet, an obscure practiser in physick amongst the lower people, his fees being fometimes very fmall fums, fometimes whatever provifions his patients could afford him, but of fuch extensive practice in that way, that Mrs. Williams has told me, his walk was from Houndsditch to Marybone. It appears from Johnson's diary, that their acquaintance commenced about the year 1746; and fuch was Johnfon's predilection for him, and fanciful estimation of his moderate abilities, that I have heard him say he should not be fatisfied, though attended by all the College of Physicians, unless he had Mr. Levet with him. Ever fince I was acquainted with Dr. Johnson, and many years before, as I have been affured by those who knew him earlier, Mr. Levet had an apartment in his house, or his chambers,
and waited upon him every morning, through the whole courfe of his late and tedious breakfast. He was of a ftrange grotesque appearance, ftiff and formal in his manner, and feldom faid a word while any company was prefent.
The circle of his friends, indeed, at this time was extensive and various, far beyond what has been generally imagined. To trace his acquaintance with each particular perfon, if it could be done, would be a tafk, of which the labour would not be repaid by the advantage. But exceptions are to be made; one of which must be a friend fo eminent as Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was truly his dulce decus, and with whom he maintained an uninterrupted intimacy to the last hour of his life. When Johnfon lived in Castle-street, Cavendishfquare, he used frequently to vifit two ladies, who lived oppofite to him, Mifs Cotterells, daughters of Admiral Cotterell. Reynolds used alfo to vifit there, and thus they met. Mr. Reynolds, as I have obferved above, had, from the first reading of his Life of Savage, conceived a very high admiration of Johnfon's powers of writing. His converfation no lefs delighted him; and he cultivated his acquaintance with the laudable zeal of one who was ambitious of general improvement. Sir Jofhua, indeed, was lucky enough at their very first meeting to make a remark, which was fo much above the common-place ftyle of converfation, that Johnfon at once perceived that Reynolds had the habit of thinking for himself. The ladies were regretting the death of a friend, to whom they owed great obligations; upon which Reynolds obferved, "You have, however, the comfort of being relieved from a burthen of gratitude." They were fhocked a little at this alleviating fuggeftion, as too felfish; but Johnfon defended it in his clear and forcible manner, and was much pleased with the mind, the fair view of human nature, which it exhibited, like fome of the reflections of Rochefaucault. The confequence was, that he went home with Reynolds, and fupped with him.
Sir Joshua has told me a pleafant characteristical anecdote of Johnson about the time of their firft acquaintance. When they were one evening together at the Mifs Cotterells, the then Duchefs of Argyle and another lady of high rank came in. Johnson thinking that the Mifs Cotterells were too much engroffed by them, and that he and his friend were neglected, as low company of whom they were fomewhat afhamed, grew angry; and refolving to fhock their fuppofed pride, by making their great vifiters imagine that his friend and he were low indeed, he addreffed himself in a loud tone to Mr. Reynolds, faying, "How much do you think you and I could get in a week, if we were to work as hard as we could?" as if they had been common mechanicks.
His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Efq. of Langton, in Lincolnshire, another much valued friend, commenced foon after the conclufion of his Rambler, which that gentleman, then a youth, had read with fo much admiration, that he came to London chiefly with the view of endeavouring to be introduced to its authour. By a fortunate chance he happened to take lodgings in a house where Mr. Levet frequently vifited; and having mentioned his wish to his landlady, fhe introduced him to Mr. Levet, who readily obtained Johnson's permiffion to bring Mr. Langton to him; as, indeed, Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no fhyness, real or affected, but was eafy of access to all who were properly recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his levee, as his morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be called. Mr. Langton was exceedingly furprized when the fage firft appeared. He had not received the fmalleft intimation of his figure, drefs, or manner. From perufing his writings, he fancied he fhould fee a decent, well-dreft, in fhort, a remarkably decorous philofopher. Instead of which, down from his bed-chamber, about noon, came, as newly risen, a huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loofe about him. But his converfation was fo rich, fo animated, and fo forcible, and his religious and political notions fo congenial with thofe in which Mr. Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever preserved. Johnson was not the lefs ready to love Mr. Langton, for his being of a very ancient family; for I have heard him fay, with pleafure, "Langton, Sir, has a grant of a warren from Henry the Second; and Cardinal Stephen Langton, in King John's reign, was of this family."
Mr. Langton afterwards went to purfue his ftudies at Trinity College, Oxford, where he formed an acquaintance with his fellow-ftudent, Mr. Topham Beauclerk, who, though their opinions and modes of life were fo different, that it feemed utterly improbable that they should at all agree, had fo ardent a love of literature, fo acute an understanding, fuch elegance of manners, and so well discerned the excellent qualities of Mr. Langton, that they became intimate friends.
Johnson, foon after this acquaintance began, paffed a confiderable time at Oxford. He at first thought it strange that Langton fhould affociate fo much with one who had the character of being loofe, both in his principles and practice; but, by degrees, he himself was fascinated. Mr. Beauclerk's being of the St. Albans' family, and having, in fome particulars, a resemblance to Charles the Second, contributed, in Johnfon's imagination, to throw a luftre