Page images

friends is to take place before he actually prepares for the journey, and they are to encircle him in a body, and endeavour, by representations and entreaties, to prevail with him to give it up; and I have little doubt myself but, amongst us, we shall be able to succeed." This is one of the oddest schemes ever projected by a set of learned and accomplished gentlemen and ladies for the benefit of a hypochondriac patient. Its execution was prevented by his death. A hurried note from Mrs. Thrale announcing the event, beginning, "Write to me, pray for me," is endorsed by Madame D'Arblay: "Written a few hours after the death of Mr. Thrale, which happened by a sudden stroke of apoplexy, on the morning of a day on which half the fashion of London had been invited to an intended assembly at his house in Grosvenor Square." These invitations had been sent out by his own express desire: so little was he aware of his danger.

Letters and messages of condolence poured in from all sides. Johnson (in a letter dated April 5th) said all that could be said in the way of counsel or consolation:

"I do not exhort you to reason yourself into tranquillity. We must first pray, and then labour; first implore the blessing of God, and those means which He puts into our hands. Cultivated ground has few weeds; a mind occupied by lawful business, has little room for useless regret.

"We read the will to-day; but I will not fill my first letter with any other account than that, with all my

zeal for your advantage, I am satisfied; and that the other executors, more used to consider property than I, commended it for wisdom and equity. Yet, why should I not tell you that you have five hundred pounds for your immediate expenses, and two thousand pounds ayear, with both the houses and all the goods?

"Let us pray for one another, that the time, whether long or short, that shall yet be granted us, may be well spent; and that when this life, which at the longest is very short, shall come to an end, a better may begin which shall never end."

On April 9th he writes :

"DEAREST MADAM,-That you are gradually recovering your tranquillity, is the effect to be humbly expected from trust in God. Do not represent life as darker than it is. Your loss has been very great, but you retain more than almost any other can hope to possess. You are high in the opinion of mankind; you have children from whom much pleasure may be expected; and that you will find many friends, you have no reason to doubt. Of my friendship, be it worth more or less, I hope you think yourself certain, without much art or care. It will not be easy for me to repay the benefits that I have received; but I hope to be always ready at your call. Our sorrow has different effects; you are withdrawn into solitude, and I am

driven into company. I am afraid of thinking

what I have lost. I never had such a friend before. Let me have your prayers and those of my dear Queeny.

"The prudence and resolution of your design to return so soon to your business and your duty deserves great praise; I shall communicate it on Wednesday to the other executors. Be pleased to let me know whether you would have me come to Streatham to receive you, or stay here till the next day."

Johnson was one of the executors and took pride in discharging his share of the trust. Mrs. Thrale's account of the pleasure he took in signing the documents and cheques, is incidentally confirmed by Boswell:

"I could not but be somewhat diverted by hearing Johnson talk in a pompous manner of his new office, and particularly of the concerns of the brewery, which it was at last resolved should be sold. Lord Lucan tells a very good story, which, if not precisely exact, is certainly characteristical; that when the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson appeared bustling about, with an ink-horn and pen in his button-hole, like an excise-man; and on being asked what he really considered to be the value of the property which was to be disposed of, answered, 'We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.""

The executors had legacies of 2001. each; Johnson, to the surprise of his friends, being placed on no better footing than the rest. He himself was certainly disappointed. Mrs. Thrale says that his complacency towards Thrale was not wholly devoid of interested motives; and she adds that his manner towards Reynolds and Dr. Taylor was also softened by the vague

expectation of being named in their wills. One of her marginal notes is: "Johnson mentioned to Reynolds that he had been told by Taylor he was to be his heir. His fondness for Reynolds, ay, and for Thrale, had a dash of interest to keep it warm." Again, on his saying to Reynolds, "I did not mean to offend you," "He never would offend Reynolds: he had his

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

Many and heavy as were the reproaches subsequently heaped upon the widow, no one has accused her of having been found wanting in energy, propriety, or self-respect at this period. She took the necessary steps for promoting her own interests and those of her children with prudence and promptitude. Madame

D'Arblay, who was carrying on a flirtation with one of the executors (Mr. Crutchley), and had personal motives for watching their proceedings, writes, April 29th:

"Miss Thrale is steady and constant, and very sincerely grieved for her father.

"The four executors, Mr. Cator, Mr. Crutchley, Mr. Henry Smith, and Dr. Johnson, have all behaved generously and honourably, and seem determined to give Mrs. Thrale all the comfort and assistance in their power. She is to carry on the business jointly with them. Poor soul! it is a dreadful toil and worry to her."

In "Thraliana":

[ocr errors]

Streatham, 1st May, 1781.--I have now appointed three days a week to attend at the counting-house.

If an angel from heaven had told me twenty years ago that the man I knew by the name of Dictionary Johnson should one day become partner with me in a great trade, and that we should jointly or separately sign notes, drafts, &c., for three or four thousand pounds of a morning, how unlikely it would have seemed ever to happen! Unlikely is no word tho',-it would have seemed incredible, neither of us then being worth a groat, God knows, and both as immeasurably removed from commerce as birth, literature, and inclination could get us. Johnson, however, who desires above all other good the accumulation of new ideas, is but too happy with his present employment; and the influence I have over him, added to his own solid judgment and a regard for truth, will at last find it in a small degree difficult to win him from the dirty delight of seeing his name in a new character flaming away at the bottom of bonds and leases."


Apropos to writing verses in a language one don't understand, there is always the allowance given, and that allowance (like our excise drawbacks) commonly larger than it ought to be. The following translation of the verses written with a knife, has been for this reason uncommonly commended, though they have no merit except being done quick. Piozzi asked me on Sunday morning if ever I had seen them, and could explain them to him, for that he heard they were written by his friend Mr. Locke. The book in which they were reposited was not ferreted out, however, till Monday night, and on Tuesday morning I sent him verses and

« PreviousContinue »