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MINOR MARGINAL NOTES ON THE TWO VOL
UMES OF PRINTED LETTERS.*
Mr. Seward. — Mr. Seward, who wrote the “ Anecdotes ;" he was only son to a rich brewer, whom he disappointed and grieved by his preference of literature to riches. His head, however, was not quite right. I believe his principles were vitiated by his studies among the Swiss infidels : Helvetius, D'Alembert, and the rest of them. He kept his morality pure for the sake of his health perhaps, for he was a professed valetudinarian.
Mr. Keep. — Mr. Keep, when he heard I was a native of North Wales, told me that his wife was a Welshwoman, and desired to be buried at Ruthyn. “So,” says the man, “I went with the corpse myself, because I thought it would be a pleasant journey, and indeed I found Ruthyn a very beautiful place.”
Sir Robert Chambers. — The box goes to Calcutta to Sir Robert Chambers, a favorite with them all. (I never could see why.) He was judge in India, married Fanny Wilton, the statuary's daughter, who stood for Hebe at the Royal Academy. She was very beautiful indeed, and but fifteen years old when Sir Robert married her. His portrait is in the Library at Streatham Park. 1815.
Bath is often mentioned in these letters, but I forgot among the baby anecdotes which precede them, to say how I remembered being carried about the rooms by Beau Nash, and taken notice of by Lady Caroline, mother to the famous Charles James Fox.
On Johnson's writing to congratulate her on making the conquest of the Prince of Castiglione, she writes : “ The man who drank his health by name of Mr. Vagabond.”
* The name, or passage, suggesting the note is given when required for its elucidation.
Whitbread. — Would you for the other thousand have my master such a man as Whitbread ? Father to the man who killed himself. He asked me to marry him after Mr. Thrale's death, when his fortune was much increased : on my refusal (he had three children) Lady Mary Cornwallis accepted his hand, and brought him a daughter before she died.
“But I long to see £ 20,000 in the bank.” — Johnson.
Ay, so did I, but not one shilling was found by the executors in any place, except a trifle for present use at the banker's shop ; £6,000, no more ; and no estate purchased anywhere. Although Murphy said afterwards that Mr. T. enjoyed a contract, bringing in £ 26,000 a year for three years, of which neither Dr. Johnson nor I, nor Perkins the head clerk, ever heard. I now know that to be true, but have not known it fifteen years. Mr. Murphy himself witnessed the deed, the contract. Very strange!
“ Why should you suspect me of forgetting lilly lolly ?” — Johnson.
Ask me about this stuff, and I'll try to tell you : come, here it is. One of our Welsh squires had a half-witted son, — his sole heir, poor fellow ! and the parents fondled it accordingly. When Christmas came, and all the country was invited at Llewenney Hall, the seat of my mother's eldest brother, who married Lady Elizabeth Tollemache, came these dear Wynnes and their booby boy about eleven years old. “What does the child say ?” cries my aunt,“ it sounds like lilly lolly.” “ Indeed, my Lady Betty,” replies the mother, in a sharp Welsh accent, “ Dick does say lilly lolly, sure enough : but he mains : How do you do, Sir Robert Cotton ?” I had probably in some unprinted letter said: “Here's a deal of lilly lolly, which I suppose you forget, but it means, How do you do, Dr. Johnson ?”
Foote. — “ Did you see Foote at Brighthelmstone ? — Did you think he would so soon be gone? - Life, says Falstaff, is a shuttle. He was a fine fellow in his way; and the world is really impoverished by his sinking glories. Murphy ought to write his life, at least to give the world a Footeana. Now, will any of his contemporaries bewail him ? Will Genius change his sex to weep? I would really have his life written with diligence.” * — Johnson.
Doctor Johnson was not aware that Foote broke his heart because of a hideous detection ; he was trying to run away from England, and from infamy, but death stopped him. Doctor Johnson never could persuade himself that things were as bad as the sufferer or his friends represented them; he thought it wrong to believe so, and steadily made the best on’t.
Richardson. — “ Doctor Johnson said, that if Mr. Richardson had lived till I came out, my praises would have added two or three years to his life: “For,' says Dr. Johnson, that fellow died merely for want of change among his flatterers : he perished for want of more, like a man obliged to breathe the same air till it is exhausted.'”
“ Here is Mr. — , now Sir William, however, who talks all about taste, and classics, and country customs, and rural sports, with rapture, which he perhaps fancies unaffected, — was riding by our chaise on the Downs yesterday, and said, because the sun shone, that one could not perceive it was autumn ; 'for,' says he, “there is not one tree in sight to show us the fall of the leaf; and hark! how that sweet bird sings, continued he, just like the first week in May. “No, no,' replied I, that's nothing but a poor robin-redbreast, whose chill wintry note tells the season too plainly, without assistance from the vegetable kingdom. “Why, you amaze me,' quoth our friend ; ' I had no notion of that. Yet Mrs. — says, this man is a natural converser, and Mrs. is an honorable lady.” — Letters, Vol. II. p. 33.
The blanks are filled up with the names of Pepys and Montagu.
* A very able essay on the “ Life and Character of Foote” has been written by Mr. Forster, who clears his memory of the calumny which shortened his life.
The Burneys. — Doctor Burney and his family are often spoken of in these Memoirs. He was a man of very uncommon attainments : wit born with him, I suppose ; learning, he had helped himself to, and was proud of the possession ; elegance of manners he had so cultivated, that those who knew but little of the man, fancied he had great flexibility of mind. It was mere pliancy of body, however, and a perpetual show of obsequiousness by bowing incessantly as if acknowledging an inferiority, which nothing would have forced him to confess. I never in my life heard Johnson pronounce the words, “I beg your pardon, Sir,” to any human creature but the apparently soft and gentle Dr. Burney. Perhaps the story may be related in the “ Anecdotes ; ” but as I now recollect it, thus it is. “ Did you, Madam, subscribe £100 to build our new bridge at Shrewsbury ? ” said Burney to me. “ No, surely, Sir," was my reply. “ What connection have I with Shropshire ? and where should I have money so to fling away ? ” “ It is very comical, is it not, Sir ?” said I, turning to Dr. Johnson, “ that people should tell such unfounded stories ? ” “ It is,” answered he, “neither comical nor serious, my dear; it is only a wandering lie.” This was spoken in his natural voice, without a thought of offence, I am confident; but up bounced Burney in a towering passion, and to my much amaze, put on the hero, surprising Doctor Johnson into a sudden request for pardon, and protestation of not having ever intended to accuse his friend of a falsehood. The following lines written, sur le champ, with a gold pen I gave him, prove he could make more agreeable impromptus than this I have related :
“ Such implements, though fine and splendid,
They say can ne'er write well :
Let this example tell.
Her learning, sense, and wit;
Who — not to beg — submit ?
“ Paupers from Grub Street at her gate
Would crowd both young and old,
In humble guise to supplicate
For thoughts, not pens, of gold.
The Muses' grace and favor,
Bestow the Attic flavor.
“ The Virtues all around her wait
T infuse their influence mild ;
Of parent, wife, and child.
“ Such judgment to direct each storm,
Each hurricane to weather ;
How seldom found together!”
There was a merry tale told about the town of some musical nobleman having been refused tickets for his private concert about this time by blind Stanley, who he had always patronized; and of his going to a grave friend's, I forget who, where, foaming with anger, he at length exclaimed : “ But I will go to Burney's house to-night (where there was music), and that will do for him.” “ Are you mad, my dear Lord?” says the grave man, amazed; “ to talk of setting a blind man's house on fire, because he has refused your favorite girl a ticket? Fie! fie! I am ashamed of listening to such strange things.” The équivoque was now well understood; but having no acquaintance with the doctor, the gentleman thought he had menaced going to burn his house.
We had been talking of the French rondeaux one day, and both doctors said they were impracticable in English, so I made this, — Musa loquitur :
To burn ye with rapture, or melt you with pity,
A rondeau was never intended :
And the jest is to see how 't is ended.
Though Phæbus himself should discern ye;