Images de page

them still more valuable, he knew and practised that sort which was most applicable to the wants of his friends. To those in need he liberally opened his purse—To others he gave up his time, his interest, and his advice‘; and having an honest confidence that this last was of some weight in the world, he scarcely let a proper opportunity slip without enforcing it ; particularly to young men, whom [sic] he hoped would remember what fell from such high authority ; even to children he could be playfully instructive. (Page 112.)

Some years since the Doctor coming up Fleet-street, at about two o’clock in the morning, he was alarmed with the cries of a person seemingly in great distress. He followed the voice for some time, when, by the glimmer of an expiring lamp, he perceived an unhappy female, almost naked, and perishing on a truss of straw, who had just strength enough to tell him, ‘she was turned out by an inhuman landlord in that condition, and to beg his charitable assistance not to let her die in the street.’ The Doctor melted at her story, desired her to place her confidence in God, for that under him he would be her protector. He accordingly looked about for a coach to put her into; but there was none to be had: ‘his charity, however, worked too strong,’ to be cooled by such an accident. He kneeled down by her side, raised her in his arms, wrapped his great coat about her, placed her on his back, and in this condition carried her home to his house.

Next day her disorder appearing to be venereal, he was advised to abandon her ; but he replied, ‘ that may be as much her misfortune as her fault ; I am determined to give her the chance of a reformation’; he accordingly kept her in his house above thirteen weeks, where she was regularly attended by a physician, who recovered her.

The Doctor, during this time, learned more of her story; and finding her to be one of those unhappy women who are impelled to this miserable life more from necessity than inclination, he set

‘ To Mr. Thrale he wrote :—‘ The wanted is evidently impertinent.’ advice that is wanted is commonly Letters, ii. 162. For the assistance unwelcome, and that which is not he gave see ante, i. 180, 236, 279.


on foot a subscription, and established her in a milliner’s shop in the country, where she was living some years ago in very considerable repute ‘. (Page 24.)

His last advice to his friends was upon this subject [the religious duties], and, like a second Socrates, though under the sentence of death, from his infirmities, their eternal welfare was his principal theme—To some he enjoyned it with tears in his eyes, reminding them, ‘it was the dying request of a friend, who had no other way of paying‘ the large obligations he owed them -—but by this advice ’.’ (Page 118.)

[The five following anecdotes, attributed to Kearsley by Croker (vol. x. p. 99), are not in my edition‘ of the Life of Yohnson published by him.]

The emigration of the Scotch to London being a conversation between the Doctor and Foote, the latter said he believed the number of Scotch in London were as great in the former as the present reign. ‘No, Sir!’ said the Doctor, ‘you are certainly wrong in your belief: but I see how you're deceived ; you can’t distinguish them now as formerly, for the fellows all come here breeched of late years 3.’

‘ Pray, Doctor,’ said a gentleman to him, ‘is Mr. Thrale a man of conversation, or is he only wise and silent? ’ ‘ Why, Sir, his conversation does not show the minute hand ; but he strikes the hour very correctly ‘.’

On Johnson’s return from Scotland, a particular friend of his was saying, that now he had had a view of the country, he was

in hopes it would cure him of many prejudices against that

‘ Life, iv. 321.

’ Ante, ii. 146, 151.

3 After the Rebellion of 1745 to wear the Highland dress was forbidden by law. Any one wearing it, ‘ not being a landed man, or the son of a landed man,’ was, on conviction, ‘to be delivered over to serve as a soldier.’ The loyal Highlanders

in the Duke of Cumberland’s army had been compelled in part to adopt

the southern garb. When they passed

in review before him he said :—

‘ They look very well; have breeches,

and are the better for that.’ Foot

steps of Dr. _/0/mson in Scotland,

p. 171.

‘ Ante, i. 423; Life, i. 494.

170 Anecdoles of _/obnson pablis/zed by G. Kearsley.

nation, particularly in respect to the fruits. ‘Why, yes, Sir,’ said the Doctor; ‘I have found out that gooseberries will grow there against a south wall ; but the skins are so tough, that it is death to the man who swallows one of them ‘.’

Being asked his opinion of hunting, he said, ‘ It was the labour of the savages of North America, but the amusement of the gentlemen of England 2.’

When Johnson was told of Mrs. Thrale’s marriage with Piozzi, the Italian singer, he was dumb with surprise for some moments ; at last, recovering himself, he exclaimed with great emotion, ‘Varium et mutabile semper foemina3! ’

‘ ‘Things which grow wild here the sloe to perfection?’ Lzfe, ii. must be cultivated with great care 77. in Scotland. Pray, now, (throwing ’ For his fox-hunting see ante, i. himself back in his chair, and 287. laughing) are you ever able to bring 3 Aeneid, iv. 569.

[merged small][ocr errors]

MRS. WILLIAMS was a person extremely interesting. She had uncommon firmness of mind, a boundless curiosity’, retentive memory, and strong judgment. She had various powers of pleasing. Her personal afflictions and slender fortune she seemed to forget, when she had the power of doing an act of kindness: she was social, cheerful, and active, in a state of body that was truly deplorable. Her regard to Dr. Johnson was formed with such strength of judgment and firm esteem, that her voice never hesitated when she repeated his maxims, or recited his good deeds; though upon many other occasions her want of sight led her to make so much llse of her ear, as to affect her speech. Mrs. Williams was blind before she was acquainted with Dr. Johnson 3. She had many resources, though none very great. With the Miss Wilkinsons she generally passed a part of the year, and received from them presents, and

‘ Published by Croker (vols. i. iv. 239. ‘Had she had good humour

275 ; iii. 9; x. 48) ‘from a paper transmitted by Lady Knight to Rome to Mr. Hoole,’ and printed in the European Magazine, October, 1799.

Lady Knight was the widow of Admiral Sir Charles Knight and mother of Cornelia Knight, who had the audacity to write a continuation of Rasselas, under the name of Dinarbas. The two stories were sometimes printed in one volume.

’ Johnson wrote on her death :—‘Her acquisitions were many and her curiosity universal; so that she partook of every conversation.’ Life,

and prompt elocution, her universal curiosity and comprehensive knowledge would have made her the delight of all that knew her.’ Letters, ii. 334. ‘ Her curiosity was universal, her knowledge was very extensive, and she sustai_ned forty years of misery with steady fortitude.’ lb. P- 336

3 According to Boswell, she made his acquaintance when she came to London ‘in hopes of being cured of a cataract in both her eyes, which afterwards ended in total blindness.’ Life, i. 232.

from from the first who died, a legacy of clothes and money. The last of them, Mrs. Jane, left her an annual rent; but from the blundering manner of the will, I fear she never reaped the benefit of it. The lady left money to erect a hospital for ancient maids; but the number she had allotted being too great for the donation, the Doctor [Johnson] said, it would better to expunge the word maintain, and put in to starve such a number of old maids. They asked him what name should be given it: he replied, ‘Let it be called JENNY’S WHIM’.’ Lady Philips2 made her a small annual allowance, and some other Welsh ladies, to all of whom she was related. Mrs. Montagu, on the death of Mr. Montagu, settled upon her (by deed) ten pounds per annum 3. As near as I can calculate, Mrs. Williams had about thirty-five or forty pounds a year. The furniture she used [in her apartment in Dr. Johnson’s house] was her own 4; her expenses were small, tea and bread and butter being at least half of her nourishment. Sometimes she had a servant or charwoman to do the ruder offices of the house 3; but she was herself active and industrious. I have frequently seen her at work. Upon remarking one day her facility in moving about the house, searching into drawers, and finding books, without the help of sight, ‘ Believe me (said she), persons who cannot do these common offices without sight, did but little while they enjoyed that blessing.’ Scanty circumstances, bad health, and blindness, are surely a sufficient apology for her being sometimes impatient: her natural disposition was good, friendly, and humane.


As to her poems, she many years attempted to publish them: the half-crowns she had got towards the publication, she confessed to‘ me, went for necessaries, and that the greatest

’ ‘Here [at Vauxhall] we picked up Lord Granby, arrived very drunk from Jenny’s Whim.’ Walpole’s Letters, ii. 212. Jenny’s Whim was a tavern at the end of the wooden bridge at Chelsea, where Victoria Station now stands. Wheatley’s London, 1891, ii. 305.

2 Lady Philipps of Picton Castle.

Lzfe, v. 276.

3 Letters, i. 371, n. 1 ; -ii. 190.

‘ ‘ She left her little ’ to the Ladies’ Charity School. lb. ii. 334.

5 Johnson had his man-servant, and a female-servant, to whom he bequeathed £100 stock. Lgfe, iv. 402, n. 2.

« PrécédentContinuer »