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officiousness; you have spared him the shame of solicitation, and the anxiety of suspense."
When he heard of the criticism of his enemies, he laughingly commented, “I wish that my pension were twice as large, that they might make twice as much noise." And at another time:
"It is true I cannot now curse the House of Hanover, nor would it be decent for me to drink King James's health in the wine that King George gives me to pay for. But, sir, I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of Hanover, and drinking King James's health, are amply compensated for by three hundred pounds a year.”
The pension may have accentuated a proneness to indolence, but it also relieved Johnson from the pressure of poverty and enabled him to indulge his propensity to bestow alms on all who needed his aid. He also could now “fold his legs and have his talk out," an occupation that he considered the choicest on earth. It was during the first year of his leisure that he met Boswell, the prince of biographers.
Boswell and His Biography. It is generally conceded that Boswell's biography of Johnson is one of the best in the English language. It is hardly an exaggeration to say with Macaulay that
' Boswell's book has done for him (Johnson] more than the best of his own books could do. The memory of other authors is kept alive by their works. But the memory of Johnson keeps many of his works alive.”
Who is Boswell? He was a Scotch lawyer who became acquainted with Johnson when the latter was fifty-four years old. This acquaintanceship ripened into a friendship that lasted until Johnson's death in 1784. On Boswell's part it was more than friendship; it was idolatry. He soon made it a habit to set in his note book the conversation and doings of Johnson. Croker has carefully calculated that during the twenty-one years of Boswell's acquaintanceship with Johnson the time spent with Johnson was only two hundred and seventy-six days, including the time spent on the tour in Scotland. But Boswell did not confine himself to his own observations; he gathered from all
sources, taking the greatest pains to insure accuracy, even to running, as he declares, half over London to fix a date correctly.
His custom was to write down a conversation as soon as possible after he had heard it.
“To record his sayings after some distance of time, was like preserving or pickling long-kept and faded fruits or other vegetables, which, when in that state, have little or nothing of their taste when fresh.”
When Johnson was taciturn, Boswell would use various artifices to arouse the "great Cham of literature" from lethargy to conversation, and Johnson frequently rebelled. “Sir, you have only two topics, yourself and me; I am sick of both,” he growled. And at another time he informed the persistent questioner, “Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen.” But Boswell, like Sir Gareth, never faltered in the quest, though there were times when even his patient forbearance was outraged. One time after Johnson had publicly insulted him, Boswell determined to impress Johnson by staying away from him. After an absence of six days they met at a dinner given by Langton. Johnson spoke to Boswell in a conciliatory manner, and, after Boswell explained that he had been insulted, Johnson said, “Well, I am sorry for it. I'll make it up to you in twenty different ways, as you please.” Then Boswell replied:
“I said today to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you tossed me sometimes, I don't care how often, or how high he tosses me, when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground: but I don't like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are present. I think this is a pretty good image, Sir.”
And Johnson declares, “Sir, it is one of the happiest I have ever heard."
It has been strongly intimated that Boswell was a good biographer because he was a fool; that he told the truth about Johnson because he did not know the difference between what hurt and what helped his reputation. Macaulay calls him a coxcomb, and a bore, weak, vain, pushing, curious, garrulous.” This, however, is but one side of the shield. He was generous, kindly,
good-tempered, and most important of all, not only did he love Johnson but Johnson undoubtedly loved him. “He did many foolish things," writes Mowbray Morris, “but assuredly he was no fool.” His Friends. - Foremost among those friends who played a
. large part in Johnson's life are the Thrales, whom he met in 1765. Mr. Thrale was a prosperous brewer; his wife, sixteen years younger than her husband and about thirty younger than Johnson, was a cultivated woman, vivacious, independent, sensitive, fond of books. She was as a daughter to Johnson, for sixteen years setting apart a room for him in each of her homes at Streatham and Southwark. In 1781 Mr. Thrale died and soon after the pleasant relationship was brought to an end by Mrs. Thrale's announcement that she intended to marry Piozzi, an Italian musician. Johnson was scandalized. “He hated a fiddler, and he hated a foreigner, and Piozzi was both," writes Colonel Grant. “If you have abandoned your children and your religion, God forgive your wickedness; if you have forfeited your fame and your country, may your folly do you no further mischief," cried the indignant Johnson, whose narrow and intense prejudices led him into expressions which the conduct of Mrs. Thrale, whom he had “loved, esteemed, and reverenced,” did not justify.
Johnson's friends were numerous, for he had the gracious gift of making and keeping friendships. “A man,” he once said to Reynolds, “ought to keep his friendships in constant repair,” or in his old age he would be friendless. Though Johnson had little respect for players, David Garrick, the distinguished actor, was one of his dearest friends. He allowed no one else in his presence to praise or blame Garrick, but never hesitated to express his own opinion, however derogatory. When Goldsmith said that Garrick had grossly flattered the queen, Johnson cried out, “ And as to meanness - how is it mean in a player, a showman, a fellow who exhibits himself for a shilling, to flatter his queen ?" And when Boswell intimated that it might be proper to respect a great actor, Johnson exclaimed,
“What! sir, a fellow who claps a hump upon his back and a lump on his leg and cries, 'I am Richard III'? Nay, sir, a ballad singer is a higher man, for he does two things: he repeats and he sings; there is both recitation and music in his performance — the player only recites."
When Garrick wanted to be a member of the Club, Johnson opposed it and said, “If Garrick does apply, I'll blackball him. Surely we ought to be able to sit in a society like ours ‘unelbowed by a gamester, pimp, or player !"" And yet some years later Johnson was in favor of Garrick's admission, and upon Garrick's death Johnson insisted that the Club should have a year of widowhood in which no successor should fill the vacant chair.
Richardson, the novelist, was another of Johnson's friends. As Johnson was more of a moralist than an artist, it is easy to understand why he thought Richardson a greater novelist than Fielding. “Fielding,” said he, “could tell the hour by looking at the clock; whilst Richardson knew how the clock was run." And again, " There is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's than in all Tom Jones." With this estimate of literary values, as in many other instances, modern criticism does not agree. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the artist, Edmund Burke, the most famous of British orators, Oliver Goldsmith, like Burke born in Ireland, Edward Gibbon, the great historian, were the other men whose distinguished talents added lustre to the Johnsonian group of friends.
For Burke's talent Johnson had unbounded respect. “If a man went under a shed at the same time with Burke to avoid a shower, he would say, 'This is an extraordinary man.'” Burke had equal admiration for the conversational powers of his friend. When some one regretted that Johnson had monopolized the conversation, "It is enough for me," said Burke, "to have rung the bell for him.”
Goldsmith and Johnson became acquainted about 1761. Three years later we see Johnson in the role of the good Samaritan rescuing Goldsmith from arrest for debt by loaning him a guinea, and then assisting him to find a bookseller to pay sixty pounds for the manuscript of the Vicar of Wakefield. After Goldsmith's
death in 1774 Johnson wrote the Latin inscription for the tomb in Westminster Abbey, "There was scarcely a species of writing which he did not touch, and he touched none that he did not adorn."
Macaulay's description of the meeting of the famous club brings vividly before us the group with Johnson as the ruling force:
The club-room is before us, and the table on which stands the omelet for Nugent, and the lemons for Johnson. There are assembled those heads which live forever on the canvas of Reynolds. There are the spectacles of Burke, and the tall, thin form of Langton, the courtly sneer of Beauclerk, and the beaming smile of Garrick, Gibbon tapping his snuffbox, and Sir Joshua with his trumpet in his ear. In the foreground is that strange figure which is as familiar to us as the figures of those among whom we have been brought up, the gigantic body, the huge, massy face seamed with the scars of disease, the brown coat, the black worsted stockings, the gray wig with the scorched foretop, the dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the quick. We see the eyes and mouth moving with convulsive twitches; we see the heavy form rolling; we hear it puffing; and then comes the “Why, sir!' and the 'What then, sir?' and the 'No, sir !' and the ‘You don't see your way through the question, sir!'”
Personal Characteristics. - He was a manly man, hating the pettiness that magnifies the meanness of mankind. “Those who look on the ground,” he once remarked, “cannot avoid seeing dirt." He feared God, but was fearless of men. His throwing away a pair of new shoes which an officious charitable friend had placed at his door in his Oxford days, his knocking down the publisher Osborne, and his defiance of the threatening Macpherson of Ossian fame, are typical of the man. His manliness frequently took the form of rudeness, as many an anecdote shows. Garrick's brother called him a "tremendous companion.” And Goldsmith, using a phrase from Cibber, said, “There's no arguing with Johnson, for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt-end of it.” But it is to his credit that he loved a strong opponent, did not harbor resentment when he was hard hit, was always ready for a reconciliation, and seldom lost a friend.