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When the king sent for a copy of the "Anecdotes" on the evening of the publication, there was none to be had. In April, 1786, Hannah More writes:
"Mrs. Piozzi's book is much in fashion. It is indeed entertaining, but there are two or three passages exceedingly unkind to Garrick which filled me with indignation. If Johnson had been envious enough to utter them, she might have been prudent enough to suppress them."
In a preceding letter she had said:
"Boswell tells me he is printing anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, not his life, but, as he has the vanity to call it, his pyramid. I besought his tenderness for our virtuous and most revered departed friend, and begged he would mitigate some of his asperities. He said roughly, he would not cut off his claws, nor make a tiger a cat to please anybody." The retort will serve for both Mrs. Piozzi and himself.
Mrs. Piozzi writes from Venice, May 20th, 1786: "Cadell says he never yet published a work the sale of which was so rapid, and that rapidity of so long continuance. I suppose the fifth edition will meet me at my return."
"Milan, July 6th, 1786.
"If Cadell would send me some copies, I should be very much obliged to him. 'Tis like living without a looking-glass never to see one's own book so."
The copy of the "Anecdotes" in my possession has two inscriptions on the blank leaves before the titlepage. The one is in Mrs. Piozzi's handwriting: "This
little dirty book is kindly accepted by Sir James Fellowes from his obliged friend, H. L. Piozzi, 14th February, 1816;" the other: "This copy of the 'Anecdotes' was found at Bath, covered with dirt, the book having been long out of print*, and after being bound was presented to me by my excellent friend, H. L. P. (signed) J. F.” · It is enriched by marginal notes in her handwriting, which enable us to fill up a few puzzling blanks, besides supplying some information respecting men and books, which will be prized by all lovers of literature.
One of the anecdotes runs thus: "I asked him once concerning the conversation powers of a gentleman with whom I was myself unacquainted. He talked to me at the Club one day (replies our Doctor) concerning Catiline's conspiracy; so I withdrew my attention, and thought about Tom Thumb.'"
In the margin is written "Charles James Fox." Mr. Croker came to the conclusion that the gentleman was Mr. Vesey. Boswell says that Fox never talked with any freedom in the presence of Johnson, who accounted for his reserve by suggesting that a man who is used to the applause of the House of Commons, has no wish for that of a private company. But the real cause was his sensitiveness to rudeness, his own temper being singularly sweet. By an odd coincidence he occupied the presidential chair at the Club on the evening when Johnson emphatically declared patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel.
* The "Anecdotes " were reprinted by Messrs. Longman in 1856, and form part of their "Traveller's Library."
Again: "On an occasion of less consequence, when he turned his back on Lord Bolingbroke in the rooms of Brighthelmstone, he made this excuse: I am not obliged, Sir,' said he to Mr. Thrale, who stood fretting, 'to find reasons for respecting the rank of him who will not condescend to declare it by his dress or some other visible mark: what are stars and other signs of superiority made for?' The next evening, however, he made us comical amends, by sitting by the same nobleman, and haranguing very loudly about the nature, and use, and abuse, of divorces. Many people gathered round them to hear what was said, and when my husband called him away, and told him to whom he had been talking, received an answer which I will not write down."
The marginal note is: "He said: "Why, Sir, I did not know the man. If he will put on no other mark of distinction, let us make him wear his horns."" Lord Bolingbroke had divorced his wife, afterwards Lady Diana Beauclerc, for infidelity.
A marginal note naming the lady of quality (Lady Catherine Wynne) mentioned in the following anecdote, verifies Mr. Croker's conjectural statement concerning
"For a lady of quality, since dead, who received us at her husband's seat in Wales, with less attention than he had long been accustomed to, he had a rougher denunciation: That woman,' cries Johnson, is like sour small beer, the beverage of her table, and produce of the wretched country she lives in: like that, she could
never have been a good thing, and even that bad thing is spoiled.' It was in the same vein of asperity, and I believe with something like the same provocation, that he observed of a Scotch lady, 'that she resembled a dead nettle; were she alive,' said he, she would sting.' From similar notes we learn that the "somebody" who declared Johnson " a tremendous converser was George Garrick; and that it was Dr. Delap, of Sussex, to whom, when lamenting the tender state of his inside, he cried out: "Dear Doctor, do not be like the spider, man, and spin conversation thus incessantly out of thy own bowels."
On the margin of the page in which Hawkins Browne is commended as the most delightful of conversers, she has written: "Who wrote the 'Imitation of all the Poets' in his own ludicrous verses, praising the pipe of tobacco. Of Hawkins Browne, the pretty Mrs. Cholmondeley said she was soon tired; because the first hour he was so dull, there was no bearing him; the second he was so witty, there was no bearing him; the third he was so drunk, there was no bearing him." *
Query, whether this is the gentleman immortalised by Peter Plymley: "In the third year of his present Majesty (George III.) and in the thirtieth of his own age, Mr. Isaac Hawkins Brown, then upon his travels, danced one evening at the court of Naples. His dress was a volcano silk, with lava buttons. Whether (as the Neapolitan wits said) he had studied dancing under Saint Vitus, or whether David, dancing in a linen vest, was his model, is not known; but Mr. Brown danced with such inconceivable alacrity and vigour, that he threw the Queen of Naples into convulsions of laughter, which terminated in a miscarriage, and changed the dynasty of the Neapolitan throne."
In the "Anecdotes" she relates that one day in Wales she meant to please Johnson with a dish of young peas. "Are they not charming?" said I, while he was eating them. "Perhaps," said he, "they would be so-to a pig;" meaning (according to the marginal note), because they were too little boiled. Pennant, the historian, used to tell this as having happened at Mrs. Cotton's, who, according to him, called out, "Then do help yourself, Mr. Johnson." But the wellknown high breeding of the lady justifies a belief that this is one of the many repartees which, if conceived, were never uttered at the time.
When a Lincolnshire lady, shewing Johnson a grotto, asked him: "Would it not be a pretty cool habitation in summer?" he replied: "I think it would, Madam, for a toad." Talking of Gray's Odes, he said, "They are forced plants, raised in a hotbed; and they are poor plants: they are but cucumbers after all." A gentleman present, who had been running down odewriting in general, as a bad species of poetry, unluckily said, “Had they been literally cucumbers, they had been better things than odes." "Yes, Sir," said Johnson, "for a hog."
To return to the Anecdotes :
"Of the various states and conditions of humanity, he despised none more, I think, than the man who marries for maintenance: end of a friend who made his alliance on no higher principles, he said once, Now
I have heard on good authority that Pennant afterwards owned it as his own invention.