Page images

"It was indeed astonishing how he could remark such minuteness with a sight so miserably imperfect; but no accidental position of a riband escaped him, so nice was his observation, and so rigorous his demands of propriety. When I went with him to Litchfield, and came downstairs to breakfast at the inn, my dress did not please him, and he made me alter it entirely before he would stir a step with us about the town, saying most satirical things concerning the appearance I made in a riding-habit; and adding, ""Tis very strange that such eyes as yours cannot discern propriety of dress: if I had a sight only half as good, I think I should see to the centre.'

"Another lady, whose accomplishments he never denied, came to our house one day covered with diamonds, feathers, &c., and he did not seem inclined to chat with her as usual. I asked him why? when the company was gone. Why, her head looked so like that of a woman who shows puppets,' said he, and her voice so confirmed the fancy, that I could not bear her to-day; when she wears a large cap, I can talk to her.'

"When the ladies wore lace trimmings to their clothes, he expressed his contempt of the reigning fashion in these terms: A Brussels trimming is like bread-sauce,' said he, it takes away the glow of colour from the gown, and gives you nothing instead of it; but sauce was invented to heighten the flavour of our food, and trimming is an ornament to the manteau, or it is nothing. Learn,' said he, that there is propriety


or impropriety in every thing how slight soever, and get at the general principles of dress and of behaviour; if you then transgress them, you will at least know that they are not observed.""

Madame D'Arblay confirms this account. He had just been finding fault with a bandeau worn by Lady Lade, a very large woman, standing six feet high without her shoes:

"Dr. J.-The truth is, women, take them in general, have no idea of grace. Fashion is all they think of. I don't mean Mrs. Thrale and Miss Burney, when I talk of women!-they are goddesses! — and therefore I except them.

"Mrs. Thrale. Lady Lade never wore the bandeau, and said she never would, because it is unbecoming.

"Dr. J. (laughing.) — Did not she? then is Lady Lade a charming woman, and I have yet hopes of entering into engagements with her!

"Mrs. T.-Well, as to that I can't say; but to be sure, the only similitude I have yet discovered in you, is in size: there you agree mighty well.


"Dr. J. — Why, if anybody could have worn the bandeau, it must have been Lady Lade; for there is enough of her to carry it off; but you are too little for anything ridiculous; that which seems nothing upon a Patagonian, will become very conspicuous upon a Lilliputian, and of you there is so little in all, that one single absurdity would swallow up half of you."

Matrimony was one of his favourite subjects, and he was fond of laying down and refining on the duties of

the married state, with the amount of happiness and comfort to be found in it. But once when he was musing over the fire in the drawing-room at Streatham, a young gentleman called to him suddenly, "Mr. Johnson, would you advise me to marry?" "I would advise no man to marry, Sir," replied the Doctor in a very angry tone, "who is not likely to propagate understanding;" and so left the room. "Our companion," adds Mrs. Thrale, in the "Anecdotes," "looked confounded, and I believe had scarce recovered the consciousness of his own existence, when Johnson came back, and, drawing his chair among us, with altered looks and a softened voice, joined in the general chat, insensibly led the conversation to the subject of marriage, where he laid himself out in a dissertation so useful, so elegant, so founded on the true knowledge of human life, and so adorned with beauty of sentiment, that no one ever recollected the offence, except to rejoice in its consequences."

The young gentleman was Mr. Thrale's nephew, Sir John Lade; who was proposed, half in earnest, whilst still a minor, by the Doctor as a fitting mate for the author of "Evelina."

He married a woman of the

town, became a celebrated member of the Four-in-Hand Club, and contrived to waste the whole of a fine fortune before he died.

In "Thraliana" she says:-"Lady Lade consulted him about her son, Sir John. Endeavour, Madam,'

said he, to procure him knowledge; for really ignorance to a rich man is like fat to a sick sheep, it only serves

to call the rooks about him.' On the same occasion it was that he observed how a mind unfurnished with subjects and materials for thinking can keep up no dignity at all in solitude. It is,' says he, in the state

of a mill without grist.""

The attractions of Streatham must have been very strong, to induce Johnson to pass so much of his time away from "the busy hum of men" in Fleet Street, and "the full tide of human existence" at Charing Cross. He often found fault with Mrs. Thrale for living so much in the country, "feeding the chickens till she starved her understanding." Walking in a wood when it rained, she tells us, "was the only rural image he pleased his fancy with; for he would say, after one has gathered the apples in an orchard, one wishes them well baked, and removed to a London eating-house for enjoyment." This is almost as bad as the foreigner, who complained that there was no ripe fruit in England but the roasted apples. Amongst other modes of passing time in the country, Johnson once or twice tried hunting and, mounted on an old horse of Mr. Thrale's, acquitted himself to the surprise of the "field," one of whom delighted him by exclaiming, "Why Johnson rides as well, for ought I see, as the most illiterate fellow in England." But a trial or two satisfied him

"He thought at heart like courtly Chesterfield,
Who after a long chase o'er hills, dales, fields,
And what not, though he rode beyond all price,
Ask'd next day, 'If men ever hunted twice?'"

It is very strange, and very melancholy, was his re


flection, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. mode of locomotion in which he delighted was the vehicular. As he was driving rapidly in a postchaise with Boswell, he exclaimed, "Life has not many things better than this." On their way from Dr. Taylor's to Derby in 1777, he said, "If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a postchaise with a pretty woman, but she should be one who could understand me, and would add something to the conversation."

Mr. Croker attributes his enjoyment to the novelty of the pleasure; his poverty having in early life prevented him from travelling post. But a better reason is given by Mrs. Thrale:

"I asked him why he doated on a coach so? and received for answer, that in the first place, the company were shut in with him there; and could not escape, as out of a room; in the next place, he heard all that was said in a carriage, where it was my turn to be deaf; and very impatient was he at my occasional difficulty of hearing. On this account he wished to travel all over the world: for the very act of going forward was delightful to him, and he gave himself no concern about accidents, which he said never happened; nor did the running-away of the horses at the edge of a precipice between Vernon and St. Denys in France convince him to the contrary: for nothing came of it,' he said, 'except that Mr. Thrale leaped out of the carriage into a chalk-pit, and then came up again, looking as white!'

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »