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in April 1786, "are not exhausted, though everybody
seems heartily sick of them. conspires not to let them drop. and the Cardinal's necklace, spoil all conversation, and destroyed a very good evening at Mr. Pepys' last night." In one of Walpole's letters about the same time we find :
"All conversation turns on a trio of culprits Hastings, Fitzgerald, and the Cardinal de Rohan. . . So much for tragedy. Our comic performers are Boswell and Dame Piozzi. The cock biographer has fixed a direct lie on the hen, by an advertisement in which he affirms that he communicated his manuscript to Madame 'Thrale, and that she made no objection to what he says of her low opinion of Mrs. Montagu's book. It is very possible that it might not be her real opinion, but was uttered in compliment to Johnson, or for fear he should spit in her face if she disagreed with him; but how will she get over her not objecting to the pas sage remaining? She must have known, by knowing Boswell, and by having a similar intention herself, that his Anecdotes' would certainly be published: in short, the ridiculous woman will be strangely disappointed. As she must have heard that the whole first impression of her book was sold the first day, no doubt she expected on her landing, to be received like the governor of Gibraltar, and to find the road strewed with branches of palm. She, and Boswell, and their Hero, are the joke of the public. A Dr. Walcot, soi-disant Peter Pindar, has published a burlesque eclogue, in which Boswell and the Signora are the interlocutors, and all
the absurdest passages in the works of both are ridiculed. The print-shops teem with satiric prints in. them one in which Boswell, as a monkey, is riding on Johnson, the bear, has this witty inscription, My Friend delineavit.' But enough of these mountebanks."
What Walpole calls the absurdest passages are precisely those which possess most interest for posterity; namely, the minute personal details, which bring Johnson home to the mind's eye. Peter Pindar, however, was simply labouring in his vocation when he made the best of them, as in the following lines. His satire is in the form of a Town Eclogue, in which Bozzy and Madame Piozzi contend in anecdotes, with Hawkins for umpire:
"One Thursday morn did Doctor Johnson wake,
"I ask'd him if he knock'd Tom Osborn down;
"Did any one, that he was happy, cry —
On which he sternly answer'd, 'Madam, no!
'Sickly you are, and ugly foolish, poor;
'And therefore can't be happy, I am sure.
"Twould make a fellow hang himself, whose ear
"Lo, when we landed on the Isle of Mull,
I thought he would not go to Icolmkill:
At last they get angry, and tell each other a few home truths :
"How could your folly tell, so void of truth,
Who, in your book, of Doctor Johnson begs
"Who told of Mistress Montagu the lie So palpable a falsehood? - Bozzy, fie!"
"Who, madd'ning with an anecdotic itch, Declar'd that Johnson call'd his mother b-tch?"
"Who, from M'Donald's rage to save his snout, Cut twenty lines of defamation out ?”
"Who would have said a word about Sam's wig, Or told the story of the peas and pig?
Who would have told a tale so very flat,
Of Frank the Black, and Hodge the mangy cat?"
"Good me! you're grown at once confounded tender; Of Doctor Johnson's fame a fierce defender :
I'm sure you've mention'd many a pretty story
"Well, Ma'am ! since all that Johnson said or wrote,
You hold so sacred, how have you forgot
To grant the wonder-hunting world a reading
"If that most ignominious matter
'Be not concluded'.
Farther shall I say ?
To justify your passion for the Youth,
With all the charms of eloquence and truth."
"What was my marriage, Sir, to you or him?
As well might elephants preside at court.
Lord! let the world to damn my match agree;
Turn up the nose of scorn good God! what then?
Choose my own food, and see what climes I please,
So, now, you prating puppy, hold your tongue."
This evidently referred to the "adumbration" of Johnson's letter (No. 4.), antè, p. 239.
Walpole's opinion of the book itself had been expressed in a preceding letter, dated March 28th, 1786:
"Two days ago appeared Madame Piozzi's Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson. I am lamentably disappointed — in her, I mean: not in him. I had conceived a favourable opinion of her capacity. But this new book is wretched; a high-varnished preface to a heap of rubbish in a very vulgar style, and too void of method even for such a farrago. . The Signora talks of her doctor's expanded mind and has contributed her In fact, mite to show that never mind was narrower. the poor woman is to be pitied: he was mad, and his disciples did not find it out, but have unveiled all his defects; nay, have exhibited all his brutalities as wit, and his worst conundrums as humour. Judge! The Piozzi relates that a young man asking him where Palmyra was, he replied: "In Ireland: it was a bog planted with palm trees.""
Walpole's statement, that the whole first impression was sold the first day, is confirmed by one of her letters, and may be placed alongside of a statement of Johnson's reported in the book. Clarissa being mentioned as a perfect character, "on the contrary (said he) you may observe that there is always something which she prefers to truth. Fielding's Amelia was the most pleasing heroine of all the romances; but that vile broken nose never cured, ruined the sale of perhaps the only book, which, being printed off betimes one morning, a new edition was called for before night."
* See antè, p. 202 and 270.