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etable: “I have often thought that, if I kept a seraglio, the ladies should all wear linen gowns, or cotton, I mean stuffs made of vegetable substances. I would have no silks : you cannot tell when it is clean : it will be very nasty before it is perceived to be so ; linen detects its own dirtiness." His virtue thawed instead of becoming more rigid in the North. “ This evening," records Boswell of their visit to an Hebridean chief, “one of our married ladies, a lively pretty little woman, good-humoredly sat down upon Dr. Johnson's knee, and being encouraged by some of the company, put her hands round his neck and kissed him. • Do it again,' said he, and let us see who will tire first. He kept her on his knee some time, whilst he and she drank tea.”
The Rev. Dr. Maxwell relates in his “ Collectanea,” that “Two young women from Staffordshire visited him when I was present, to consult him on the subject of Methodism, to which they were inclined. Come,' said he, 'you pretty fools, dine with Maxwell and me at the Mitre, and we will talk over that subject;' which they did, and after dinner he took one of them upon his knee, and fondled her for half an hour together.”
Women almost always like men who like them. Johnson, despite of his unwieldy figure, scarred features, and uncouth gestures, was a favorite with the fair ; and talked of affairs of the heart as things of which he was entitled to speak from personal experience as confidently as of any other moral or social topics. He told Mrs. Thrale, without the smallest consciousness of presumption, or what Mr. Square would term the unfitness of things, of his and Lord Lyttleton's having contended for Miss Boothby's preference with an emulation that occasioned hearty disgust and ended in lasting animosity. “You may see,” he added, when the Lives of the Poets were printed, “that dear Boothby is at my heart still. She would delight in that fellow Lyttleton's company though, all that I could do, and I cannot forgive even his memory the preference given by a mind like hers.” *
* In point of personal advantages the man of rank and fashion and the scholar were nearly on a par.
“But who is this astride the pony,
Mr. Croker surmises that “ Molly Aston," not dear Boothby, must have been the object of this rivalry; and the surmise is strengthened by Johnson's calling Molly the loveliest creature he ever saw ; adding (to Mrs. Thrale), “ My wife was a little jealous, and happening one day when walking in the country to meet a fortune-hunting gypsy, Mrs. Johnson made the wench look at my hand, but soon repented of her curiosity, ófor,' says the gypsy, “your heart is divided between a Betty and a Molly : Betty loves you best, but you take most delight in Molly's company. When I turned about to laugh, I saw my wife was crying. Pretty charmer, she had no reason.” This pretty charmer was in her forty-eighth year when he married her, he being then twenty-seven. He told Beauclerc that it was a love match on both sides ; and Garrick used to draw ludicrous pictures of their mutual fondness, which he heightened by representing her as short, fat, tawdrily dressed, and highly rouged.
One of Rochefoucauld's maxims is : “ Young women who do not wish to appear coquettes, and men of advanced years who do not wish to appear ridiculous, should never speak of love as of a thing in which they could take part.” Mrs. Thrale relates an amusing instance of Johnson's adroitness in escaping from the dilemma: “ As we had been saying one day that no subject failed of receiving dignity from the manner in which Mr. Johnson treated it, a lady at my house said, she would make him talk about love; and took her measures accordingly, deriding the novels of the day because they treated about love. “It is not,' replied our philosopher, because they treat, as you call it, about love, but because they treat of nothing, that they are despicable : we must not ridicule a passion which he who never felt never was happy, and he who laughs at never deserves to feel, — a passion which has caused the change of empires, and the loss of worlds, – a passion which has inspired heroism and subdued avarice. He thought he had already said too much. “A passion, in short,' added he, with an altered tone, “that consumes me away for my pretty Fanny here, and she is very cruel, speaking of another lady (Miss Burney) in the room.”
These peculiarities throw light on more questions than one relating to Johnson's prolonged intimacy with Mrs. Thrale. His
gallantry, and the flattering air of deferential tenderness which he knew how to throw into his commerce with his female favorites, may have had little less to do with his domestication at Streatham than his celebrity, his learning, or bis wit. The most submissive wife will manage to dislodge an inmate who is displeasing to her. “ Ay, a marriage, man,” said Bucklaw to his led captain, “ but wherefore droops thy mighty spirit ? The board will have a corner, and the corner will have a trencher, and the trencher will have a glass beside it ; and the board end shall be filled, and the trencher and the glass shall be replenished for thee, if all the petticoats in Lothian had sworn the contrary.” “ So says many an honest fellow,” said Craigenfelt, “and some of my special friends ; but curse me, if I know the reason, the women could never bear me, and always contrived to trundle me out before the honeymoon was over.”
It was all very well for Johnson to tell Boswell, “I know no man who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he holds up a finger he is obeyed.” The sage took very good care not to act upon the theory, and instead of treating the wife as a cipher, lost no opportunity of paying court to her, though in a manner quite compatible with his own lofty spirit of independence and self-respect. Thus, attention having been called to some Italian verses by Baretti, he converted them into an elegant compliment to her by an improvised paraphrase:
" Viva! viva la padrona!
Tutta bella, e tutta buona,
“ Long may live my lovely Hetty!
Always young and always pretty,
Her marginal note in the copy of the “ Anecdotes” presented by her to Sir James Fellowes in 1816 is: “I heard these verses sung at Mr. Thomas's by three voices, not three weeks ago.”
It was in the eighth year of their acquaintance that Johnson solaced his fatigue in the Hebrides by writing a Latin ode to her. “ About fourteen years since,” wrote Sir Walter Scott, in 1829, “I landed in Sky with a party of friends, and had the curiosity to ask what was the first idea on every one's mind at landing. All answered separately that it was this ode.” Thinking Miss Cornelia Knight's version too diffuse, I asked Mr. Milnes for a translation or paraphrase, and he kindly complied by producing these spirited stanzas :
“ Where constant mist enshrouds the rocks,
Shattered in earth's primeval shocks,
The laborer's toil,
" I roam through clans of savage men,
O'er reeking soil.
“ Through paths that halt from stone to stone,
Amid the din of tongues unknown,
Thine, gentle Thrale!
"Soothes she, I ask, her spouse's care?
Does mother-love its charge prepare ?
Or lively tale?
" Forget me not! thy faith I claim,
These shores of Sky.”
“On another occasion,” says Mrs. Thrale, in the “ Anecdotes," “I can boast verses from Dr. Johnson. As I went into his room the morning of my birthday once and said to him, “ Nobody sends me any verses now, because I am five-and-thirty years old ; and Stella was fed with them till forty-six, I remember. My being just recovered from illness and confinement will account for the manner in which he burst out suddenly, for so he did without the least previous hesitation whatsoever, and without having entertained the smallest intention towards it half a minute before :
666 Oft in danger, yet alive,
“« And now,' said he, as I was writing them down, “you may see what it is to come for poetry to a dictionary-maker; you may observe that the rhymes run in alphabetical order exactly. And so they do."
Byron's estimate of life at the same age, is somewhat different:
“ Too old for youth — too young, at thirty-five
To herd with boys, or hoard with good threescore,
But since they are, that epoch is a bore.”
Lady Aldborough, whose best witticisms unluckily lie under the same merited ban as Rochester's best verses, resolved not to pass twenty-five, and had her passport made out accordingly till her death at eighty-five. She used to boast that, whenever a foreign official objected, she never failed to silence him by the remark, that he was the first gentleman of his country who ever told a lady she was older than she said she was. Actuated probably by a similar feeling, and in the hope of securing to herself the benefit of the doubt, Mrs. Thrale omitted in the “ Anecdotes” the year when these verses were addressed to her, and a sharp controversy has been raised as to the respective ages of herself and Dr. Johnson at the time. It is thus summed up by one of the combatants: