Page images

to pick up women in the streets?

[ocr errors][merged small]

knew that he was. Q. How is he as to eyesight?Dr. J. He does not see me now, nor do I see him. I do not believe he could be capable of assaulting any body in the street, without great provocation."

It would seem that Johnson's sensibility, such as it was, was not very severely taxed.

"Boswell. But suppose now, Sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged?

"Johnson.—I should do what I could to bail him ; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer. "Boswell.-Would you eat your dinner that day, Sir? "Johnson.-Yes, Sir, and eat it as if he were eating it with me. Why, there's Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow. Friends have risen up for him on every side, yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind."

Steevens relates that one evening previous to the trial a consultation of Baretti's friends was held at the house of Mr. Cox, the solicitor. Johnson and Burke were present, and differed as to some point of the defence. On Steevens observing to Johnson that the question had been agitated with rather too much warmth, "It may be so," replied the sage, " for Burke and I should have been of one opinion if we had had no audience." This is coming very near to

"Would rather that the man should die

Than his prediction prove a lie."

Two anecdotes of Baretti during his imprisonment are preserved in "Thraliana":

[ocr errors]

"When Johnson and Burke went to see Baretti in Newgate, they had small comfort to give him, and bid him not hope too strongly. Why what can he fear,' says Baretti, placing himself between 'em, that holds two such hands as I do?'

"An Italian came one day to Baretti, when he was in Newgate for murder, to desire a letter of recommendation for the teaching of his scholars, when he (Baretti) should be hanged. You rascal,' replies Baretti, in a rage, if I were not in my own apartment, I would kick you down stairs directly.""

[ocr errors]

The year after his acquittal Baretti published "Travels through Spain, Portugal, and France;" thus mentioned. by Johnson in a Letter to Mrs. Thrale, dated Lichfield, July 20, 1770:

"That Baretti's book would please you all, I made no doubt. I know not whether the world has ever seen such travels before. Those whose lot it is to ramble can seldom write, and those who know how to write can seldom ramble." The rate of pay showed that the world was aware of the value of the acquisition. He gained 500l. by this book. His "Frusta Letteraria," published some time before in Italy, had also attracted much attention, and, according to Johnson, he was the first who ever received money for copyright in Italy.

In a biographical notice of Baretti which appeared in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for May, 1789, written by Dr. Vincent, Dean of Westminster, it is stated that it was

[blocks in formation]

not distress which compelled him to accept Mr. Thrale's hospitality, but that he was overpersuaded by Johnson, contrary to his own inclination, to undertake the instruction of the Misses Thrale in Italian. "He was either nine or eleven years almost entirely in that family," says the Dean, "though he still rented a lodging in town, during which period he expended his own 500l., and received nothing in return for his instruction, but the participation of a good table, and 150l. by way of presents. Instead of his letters to Mrs. Piozzi in the European Magazine,' had he told this plain unvarnished tale, he would have convicted that lady of avarice and ingratitude, without incurring the danger of a reply, or exposing his memory to be insulted by her advocates."

He was less than three years in the family. As he had a pension of 80l. a year, besides the interest of his 500l., he did not want money. If he had been allowed to want it, the charge of avarice would lie at Mr., not Mrs., Thrale's door; and his memory was exposed to no insult beyond the stigma which (as we shall presently see) his conduct and language necessarily fixed upon it. All his literary friends did not entertain the same high opinion of him. An unpublished letter from Dr. Warton to his brother contains the following passage:

"He (Huggins, the translator of Ariosto) abuses Baretti infernally, and says that he one day lent Baretti a gold watch, and could never get it afterwards; that after many excuses Baretti, skulked, and then got Johnson to write to Mr. Huggins a suppliant letter;

that this letter stopped Huggins awhile, while Baretti got a protection from the Sardinian ambassador; and that, at last, with great difficulty, the watch was got from a pawnbroker to whom Baretti had sold it."

This extract is copied from a valuable contribution to the literary annals of the eighteenth century, for which we are indebted to the colonial press. It is the diary of an Irish clergyman, containing strong internal evidence of authenticity, although nothing more is known of it than that the manuscript was discovered behind an old press in one of the offices of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. That such a person saw a good deal of Johnson in 1775, is proved by Boswell, whose accuracy is frequently confirmed in return. In one marginal note Mrs. Thrale says: "He was a fine showy talking man. Johnson liked him of all things in a year or two." In another: "Dr. Campbell was a very tall handsome man, and, speaking of some other Highbernian, used this expression: Indeed now, and upon my honour, Sir, I am but a Twitter to him.""†

Several of his entries throw light on the Thrale establishment:

"14th. This day I called at Mr. Thrale's, where I was received with all respect by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale.

Diary of a Visit to England in 1775. By an Irishman (the Rev. Doctor Thomas Campbell, author of " A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland.") And other Papers by the same hand. With Notes by Samuel Raymond, M. A., Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney. Waugh and Cox. 1854.

He is similarly described in the "Letters," vol. i. p. 329.

She is a very learned lady, and joins to the charms of her own sex, the manly understanding of ours. The immensity of the brewery astonished me."

“16th. — Dined with Mr. Thrale along with Dr. Johnson, and Baretti. Baretti is a plain sensible man, who seems to know the world well. He talked to me of the invitation given him by the College of Dublin, but said it (100l. a year and rooms) was not worth his acceptance; and if it had been, he said, in point of profit, still he would not have accepted it, for that now he could not live out of London. He had returned a few years ago to his own country, but he could not enjoy it; and he was obliged to return to London, to those connexions he had been making for near thirty years past. He told me he had several families with whom, both in town and country, he could go at any time and spend a month: he is at this time on these terms at Mr. Thrale's, and he knows how to keep his ground. Talking as we were at tea of the magnitude of the beer vessels, he said there was one thing in Mr. Thrale's house still more extraordinary ;— meaning his wife. She gulped the pill very prettily,so much for Baretti!

"Johnson, you are the very man Lord Chesterfield describes a Hottentot indeed, and though your abilities are respectable, you never can be respected yourself! He has the aspect of an idiot, without the faintest ray of sense gleaming from any one feature with the most awkward garb, and unpowdered grey wig, on one side only of his head he is for ever dancing the devil's

« PreviousContinue »