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a dozen children dependent on her daily labor for their daily bread.*
Lord Macaulay thus portrays the objects of Johnson's hospitality as soon as he had got a house to cover them. “ It was the home of the most extraordinary assemblage of inmates that ever was brought together. At the head of the establishment he had placed an old lady named Williams, whose chief recommendations were her blindness and her poverty. But in spite of her murmurs and reproaches, he gave an asylum to another lady who was as poor as herself, Mrs. Desmoulins, whose family he had known many years before in Staffordshire. Room was found for the daughter of Mrs. Desmoulins, and for another destitute damsel, who was generally addressed as Mrs. Carmichael, but whom her generous host called Polly. An old quack doctor called Levet, who bled and dosed coal-heavers and hackney coachmen, and received for fees crusts of bread, bits of bacon, glasses of gin, and sometimes a little copper, completed this menagerie.” †
It is strange that Lord Macaulay should have given this depreciating description of Levet, having, as he must have had, Johnson's lines “ On the Death of Mr. Robert Levet, a Practiser in Physic," full in his recollection :
“ Well tryed through many a varying year,
Of every friendless name the friend.
Obscurely wise and coarsely kind;
This picture of Johnson's interior is true in the main, when it is added that the inmates of his house were quarrelling from morning to night with one another, with his negro-servant, or with himself. In one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, he says, “ Williams hates everybody : Levet hates Desmoulins, and does
* “It's weel wi' you gentles that can sit in the house wi’ handkerchers at your een when ye lose a friend; but the like o' us maun to our wark again, if our hearts were beating as hard as any hammer.”'. The Antiquary.
† Miscellaneous Writings, Vol. I. p. 293.
not love Williams : Desmoulins hates them both : Poll (Miss Carmichael) loves none of them.” In a conversation at Streatham, reported by Madame D'Arblay, the menagerie was thus humorously described :
“ Mrs. Thrale. — Mr. Levet, I suppose, Sir, has the office of keeping the hospital in health ? for he is an apothecary.
“ Dr. J. — Levet, Madam, is a brutal fellow, but I have a good regard for him; for his brutality is in his manners, not his mind.
“ Mr. Thrale. But how do you get your dinners drest?
“ Dr. J. — Why De Mullin has the chief management of the kitchen ; but our roasting is not magnificent, for we have no jack.
“Mr. T. - No jack? Why how do they manage without?
“ Dr. J. – Small joints, I believe, they manage with a string, and larger are done at the tavern. I have some thoughts (with a profound gravity) of buying a jack, because I think a jack is some credit to a house. “ Mr. T. - Well, but
you 'll have a spit, too? “ Dr. J. — No, Sir, no; that would be superfluous ; for we shall never use it ; and if a jack is seen, a spit will be presumed !
“ Mrs. 7.— But pray, Sir, who is the Poll you talk of? She that you used to abet in her quarrels with Mrs. Williams, and call out, “ At her again, Poll! Never flinch, Poll!'
“ Dr. J. - Why I took to Poll very well at first, but she won't do upon a nearer examination.
“ Mrs. T. — How came she among you, Sir?
“ Dr. J.- Why I don't rightly remember, but we could spare her very
well from us. Poll is a stupid slut; I had some hopes of her at first ; but when I talked to her tightly and closely, I could make nothing of her; she was wiggle waggle, and I could never persuade her to be categorical."
The effect of an unbroken residence with such inmates, on a man of irritable temper subject to morbid melancholy, may be guessed ; and the merit of the Thrales in rescuing him from it, and in soothing down his asperities, can hardly be over-estimated. Lord Macaulay says, they were flattered by finding that a man so widely celebrated preferred their house to every other in London (where, by the way, very few of the same class were open
to him), and suggests that even the peculiarities which seemed to unfit him for civilized society, including his gesticulations, his rollings, his puffings, his mutterings, and the ravenous eagerness with which he devoured his food, increased the interest which his new associates took in him. His hostess does not appear to have viewed them in that light, and she was able to command the best company of the intellectual order without the aid of a “lion,” or a bear. If his conversation attracted many, it drove away some, and silenced more. He accounted for the little attention paid him by the great, by saying that “great lords and great ladies do not like to have their mouths stopped,” as if this was peculiar to them as a class. “My leddie,” remarks Cuddie, in “Old Mortality," canna weel bide to be contradicted, as I ken naebody likes, if they could help themselves.”
Johnson was in the zenith of his fame when literature, politics, and fashion began to blend together again by hardly perceptible shades, like the colors in shot-silk, as they had partially done in the Augustan age of Queen Anne. One marked sign was the formation of the Literary Club (The Club, as it still claims to be called), which brought together such men as Fox, Burke, Gibbon, Johnson, Goldsmith, Garrick, Reynolds, and Beauclerc, besides blackballing a bishop (the Bishop of Chester) and a lordchancellor (Camden). Yet it is curious to observe within how narrow a circle of good houses the Doctor's engagements were restricted. Reynolds, Paoli, Beauclerc, Allan Ramsay, Hoole, Dilly, Strahan, Lord Lucan, Langton, Garrick, and the Club formed his main reliance as regards dinners; and we find Boswell recording with manifest symptoms of exultation in 1781 : “I dined with him at a bishop's, where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Berenger, and some more company. He had dined the day before at another bishop's.” His reverence for the episcopal bench well merited some return on their part. Mr. Seward saw him presented to the Archbishop of York, and described his bow to an Archbishop as such a studied elaboration of homage, such an extension of limb, such a flexion of body, as have seldom or ever been equalled. The lay nobility were not equally grateful, although his deference for the peerage was extreme. Except in Scotland' or on his travels, he is seldom found dining with a nobleman.
Soon after his domestication at Streatham, the Blue-Stocking Clubs came into fashion, so called from a casual allusion to the blue stockings of an habitué, Mr. Stillingfleet. Their founders were Mrs. Vesey and Mrs. Montagu ; but according to Madame D'Arblay, “ more bland and more gleeful than that of either of them, was the personal celebrity of Mrs. Thrale. Mrs. Vesey, indeed, gentle and diffident, dreamed not of any competition, but Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Thrale had long been set up as rival candidates for colloquial eminence, and each of them thought the other alone worthy to be her peer. Openly therefore when they met, they combated for precedence of admiration, with placid though high-strained intellectual exertion on the one side, and an exuberant pleasantry or classical allusion or quotation on the other; without the smallest malice in either.”
Wraxall, who makes the same comparison, remarks: “ Mrs. Thrale always appeared to me to possess at least as much information, a mind as cultivated, and more brilliancy of intellect than Mrs. Montagu, but she did not descend among men from such an eminence, and she talked much more, as well as more unguardedly, on every subject. She was the provider and conductress of Johnson, who lived almost constantly under her roof, or more properly under that of Mr. Thrale, both in Town and at Streatham. He did not, however, spare her more than other women in his attacks if she courted and provoked his animadversions.”
Although he seldom appeared to greater advantage than when under the combined spell of feminine influence and rank, his demeanor varied with his mood. On Miss Monkton's (afterwards Lady Cork) insisting, one evening, that Sterne's writings were very pathetic, Johnson bluntly denied it. “I am sure,” she rejoined, " they have affected me.” “ Why," said Johnson, smiling and rolling himself about, “ that is because, dearest, you ’re a dunce.” When she some time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said, with equal truth and politeness, “ Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not have said it.”
He did not come off so well on another occasion, when the presence of women whom he respected might be expected to operate as a check. Talking, at Mrs. Garrick's, of a very respectable author, he told us, says Boswell, “a curious circumstance in his life, which was that he had married a printer's devil. Reynolds. “A printer's devil, Sir! why, I thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.' Johnson. “Yes, Sir. But I suppose he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. Then, looking very serious, and very earnest. • And she did not disgrace him ; the woman had a bottom of good sense.' The word bottom thus introduced was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slily hid her face behind a lady's back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it: he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotic power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, * Where's the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking awful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, “I say the woman was fundamentally sensible ;' as if he had said, Hear this now, and laugh if you
dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.” This resembles the influence exercised by the “ great com
over the House of Commons. An instance being mentioned of his throwing an adversary into irretrievable confusion by an arrogant expression of contempt, the late Mr. Charles Butler asked the relator, an eyewitness, whether the House did not laugh at the ridiculous figure of the poor member.“ Sir," was the reply, we were too much awed to laugh.”
It was a redeeming feature in Johnson's character that he was extremely fond of female society; so fond, indeed, that on coming to London he was obliged to be on his guard against the temptations to which it exposed him. He left off attending the Green Room, telling Garrick, “ I'll come no more behind your scenes, Davy; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.”
The proneness of his imagination to wander in this forbidden field is unwittingly betrayed by his remarking at Sky, in support of the doctrine that animal substances are less cleanly than veg