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face, with tolerably pretty features, though in the shadeless blankness of flaxen hair and eye-brows, —and a clean fair skin. These, I am told, were the sum total of her charms in the years of bloom, and that her figure had never any elegance. If beauty of face, and grace of form, had ever been hers, they are not properties to raise esteem, while, over the splendour and nobleness of intellectual qualities, the hoary virginity of fifty-two could not well have cast any dimness.
I have a consciousness of obligation to you, my dear Madam, on the ground of this publication, besides the kindness, which makes it a token of your amity. I always visited, and received visits from Doctor Johnson, on every residence of his in our town, excepting only the few days in which you were here with him. A shyness between Mrs Lucy Porter and myself, the only estrangement that ever happened between us, and which had no continuance, unfortunately for me, existed at that period, depriving me of the desired pleasure of waiting upon you.
Greatly as I admired Johnson's talents, and revered his knowledge, and formidable as I felt the powers to be of his witty sophistry, yet did a certain quickness of spirit, and zeal for the reputation of my favourite authors, irresistibly urge me to defend them against his spleenful injustice :
a temerity, which I was well aware made him dislike me, notwithstanding the coaxing regard he always expressed for me on his first salutations on returning to Lichfield. The breath of opposition soon used to collect the dark clouds on his horizon,
“ Who sat to give his little senate laws.”
Since I see so many Lichfield people mentioned in these letters, whose visits were not much more frequent than mine, and whose talents had no sort of claim to lettered attention, there can be no great vanity in believing that he would not pass me over in total silence. Therefore is it that I thank you for your suppressions. I must have been pained by the consciousness of going down to posterity with the envenomed arrows of Johnson's malevolence sticking about me; though I am well aware, from the recording spirit of his less benevolent biographers, that it is the fate of numbers to bear them, whose virtues and abilities are superior to mine.
I cannot imagine what anonymous poem it could be, which it appears, from these letters, that he was solicited to read on one of his visits to Lichfield in 1781. Not a creature among
the number of his visitors, whom he mentions, are capable of being enough interested about any poetic effort to have requested his attention to it. I never shewed him, or asked his opinion about a single line of mine, either in print or manuscript, nor of any unpublished work of others. To me he almost invariably spoke with strong dislike of all our celebrated female writers, except yourself. As I so carefully avoided all conversation that could lead to the subject of my compositious, it was the only way he had of imparting that mortification to my literary self-love, which it was the first joy of his gloomy spirit to impart to every
person, at times.
That any human being, male or female, could endeavour to draw Johnson's attention to their own writings, is to me astonishing. How little insight into character must they, who made the rash, the vain attempt, have possessed !
Once, however-perhaps as a reward for the unobtrusive disposition of my muse, he paid an high compliment, in my presence, to my Elegy on Cook. He was speaking favourably of the Columbia of Madame Bocage, and added, “ she describes many things well, but nothing so well as you have described the seas, and shores, round the South Pole." I blushed, curtsied, and instantly turned the conversation into a different channel.
Another time, when I was not present, he spoke very handsomely indeed of my writings, in a large company at Mrs Porter's—but that was because his opinion about them was asked with an air and manner which unmasked to his penetration the motive of the inquiry; and he scorned to become subservient to other people's malice. I could have taught my enemies how to have obtained from Johnson that contempt of my compositions, which, for the power of repeating, their ill-will was on fire ;-but it must have been effected by shrewder management
than they were up to. The last Gentleman's Magazine, or rather, the poor critic whom its ingenious and worthy editor employs in the poetic article, Midases it away most gloriously over our friend's noble descriptive poem, the Mount Blanc, presenting the palm it refuses him to one of the most veritable descendents of Sternhold and Hopkins, that ever blotted paper. It is thus that our Zoiluses to genius,
“ Suckle fools, and chronicle small beer.”
Believe me, dearest Madam, much gratified and honoured by what you said to Doctor Johnson upon my inquiries of him after Miss Susan Thrale, and that I am, on every account, your obliged and faithful servant.
Rev. WM. BAGSHOT STEVENS, of Repton,
Lichfield, March 10, 1788. It were indeed ungrateful if I could impute the gratifying opinion you express of my writings to disingenuous flattery, whatever check I may put upon self-love, by concluding you partial. Far from desiring to have such agreeable illusions dispersed, I take pride and pleasure in every proof of their continuance.
Your * sonnet is strikingly in the manner of Milton's sonnets,-to me scarcely less dear than his longer compositions.
* The following is the sonnet alluded to, written by Mr Stevens.
To him, whose taste with just and curious eye,
Compares the trophies of poetic praise,
Or ought of later date, that dares to vie,
Of ancient genius; and to him, whose mind