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If Johnson's entrance on the stage had been premeditated, it could hardly have been more dramatically ordered.
“ When we were summoned to dinner, Mrs. Thrale made my father and me sit on each side of her. I said that I hoped I did not take Dr. Johnson's place; — for he had not yet appeared.
“No,' answered Mrs. Thrale,“ he will sit by you, which I am sure will give him great pleasure.'
“ Soon after we were seated, this great man entered. I have so true a veneration for him, that the very sight of him inspires me with delight and reverence, notwithstanding the cruel infirmities to which he is subject ; for he has almost perpetual convulsive movements, either of his hands, lips, feet, or knees, and sometimes of all together.
“ Mrs. Thrale introduced me to him, and he took his place. We had a noble dinner, and a most elegant dessert. Dr. Johnson, in the middle of dinner, asked Mrs. Thrale what was in some little pies that were near him.
« • Mutton,' answered she, "so I don't ask you to eat any, because I know you despise it.
666 No, Madam, no,' cried he; “I despise nothing that is good of its sort; but I am too proud now to eat of it. Sitting by Miss Burney makes me very proud to-day!'
« « Miss Burney,' said Mrs. Thrale, laughing, “ you must take great care of your heart if Dr. Johnson attacks it; for I assure you he is not often successless.
66. What's that you say, Madam ?' cried he; "are you making mischief between the young lady and me already ? '
“ A little while after he drank Miss Thrale's health and mine, and then added :
666'T is a terrible thing that we cannot wish young ladies well, without wishing them to become old women.'”
Madame D’Arblay's memoirs are sadly defaced by egotism, and gratified vanity may have had a good deal to do with her unqualified admiration of Mrs. Thrale, for “ Evelina” (recently published) was the unceasing topic of exaggerated eulogy during the entire visit. Still so acute an observer could not be essentially wrong in an account of her reception, which is in the highest degree favorable to her newly acquired friend. Of her second visit she says :
“ Our journey was charming. The kind Mrs. Thrale would give courage to the most timid. She did not ask me questions, or catechize me upon what I knew, or use any means to draw me out, but made it her business to draw herself out, — that is, to start subjects, to support them herself, and take all the weight of the conversation, as if it behooved her to find me entertainment. But I am so much in love with her, that I shall be obliged to run away from the subject, or shall write of nothing else.
“When we arrived here, Mrs. Thrale showed me my room, which is an exceeding pleasant one, and then conducted me to the library, there to divert myself while she dressed.
“ Miss Thrale soon joined me: and I begin to like her. Mr. Thrale was neither well nor in spirits all day. Indeed, he seems not to be a happy man, though he has every means of happiness in his power. But I think I have rarely seen a very rich man with a light heart and light spirits.”
The concluding remark, coming from such a source, may supply an improving subject of meditation or inquiry; if found true, it may help to suppress envy and promote contentment. Thrale's state of health, however, accounts for his depression, independently of his wealth, which rested on too precarious a foundation to allow of unbroken confidence and gayety.
“ At tea (continues the diarist) we all met again, and Dr. Johnson was gayly sociable. He gave a very droll account of the children of Mr. Langton.
666 Who,' he said, “ might be very good children if they were let alone ; but the father is never easy when he is not making them do something which they cannot do ; they must repeat a fable, or a speech, or the Hebrew alphabet ; and they might as well count twenty, for what they know of the matter : however, the father says half, for he prompts every other word. But he could not have chosen a man who would have been less entertained by such means.'
“ « I believe not !' cried Mrs. Thrale ; ‘nothing is more ridiculous than parents cramming their children's nonsense down other people’s throats. I keep mine as much out of the way as I can.'
“* Yours, Madam,' answered he, "are in nobody's way; no children can be better managed or less troublesome ; but your fault is, a too great perverseness in not allowing anybody to give them anything. Why should they not have a cherry or a gooseberry, as well as bigger children ?'
“ Indeed, the freedom with which Dr. Johnson condemns whatever he disapproves is astonishing; and the strength of words he uses would, to most people, be intolerable ; but Mrs. Thrale seems to have a sweetness of disposition that equals all her other excellences, and far from making a point of vindicating herself, she generally receives his admonitions with the most respectful silence.
“ But I fear to say all I think at present of Mrs. Thrale, lest some flaws should appear by and by, that may make me think differently. And yet, why should I not indulge the now, as well as the then, since it will be with so much more pleasure ? In short, I do think her delightful; she has talents to create admiration, good humor to excite love, understanding to give entertainment, and a heart which, like my dear father's, seems already fitted for another world.”
Another of the conversations which occurred during this visit is characteristic of all parties :
“I could not help expressing my amazement at his universal readiness upon all subjects, and Mrs. Thrale said to him:
6. Sir, Miss Burney wonders at your patience with such stuff ; but I tell her you are used to me, for I believe I torment you with more foolish questions than anybody else dares do.'
“No, Madam,' said he, 'you don't torment me; — you tease me, indeed, sometimes.'
“Ay, so I do, Dr. Johnson, and I wonder you bear with my nonsense.
“No, Madam, you never talk nonsense ; you have as much sense, and more wit, than any woman I know!'
“60, cried Mrs. Thrale, blushing, “it is my turn to go under the table this morning, Miss Burney!'
“. And yet,' continued the Doctor, with the most comical look, 'I have known all the wits, from Mrs. Montagu down to Bet Flint !'
««• Bet Flint!' cried Mrs. Thrale ; pray who is she?'
660, a fine character, Madam! She was habitually a slut and a drunkard, and occasionally a thief and a harlot.'
6 6 And, for Heaven's sake, how came you to know her?
6. Why, Madam, she figured in the literary world, too! Bet Flint wrote her own life, and called herself Cassandra, and it was in verse. So Bet brought me her verses to correct; but I gave her half a crown, and she liked it as well.' “ • And pray what became of her, Sir ?'
• Why, Madam, she stole a quilt from the man of the house, and he had her taken up : but Bet Flint had a spirit not to be subdued ; so when she found herself obliged to go to jail, she ordered a sedan chair, and bid her footboy walk before her. However, the boy proved refractory, for he was ashamed, though his mistress was not.'
6. And did she ever get out of jail again, Sir?'
6 « Yes, Madam ; when she came to her trial, the judge acquitted her. “So now,” she said to me, “ the quilt is my own, and now I'll make a petticoat of it.”* O, I loved Bet Flint!'
• Bless me, Sir,' cried Mrs. Thrale, how can all these vagabonds contrive to get at you, of all people?'
“O the dear creatures !' cried he, laughing heartily, “I can't but be glad to see them !'”
Madame D'Arblay's notes of the conversation and mode of life at Streatham are full and spirited, and exhibit Johnson in moods and situations in which he was seldom seen by Boswell. The adroitness with which he divided his attentions amongst the ladies, blending approval with instruction, and softening contradiction or reproof by gallantry, gives plausibility to his otherwise paradoxical claim to be considered a polite man.f He obviously knew how to set about it, and (theoretically at least) was no mean proficient in that art of pleasing which attracts
* This story is told by Boswell, roy. 8vo. edit. p. 688.
† “ When the company were retired, we happened to be talking of Dr. Barnard, the provost of Eton, who died about that time; and after a long and just eulogium on his wit, his learning, and goodness of heart — He was the only man, too,' says Mr. Johnson, quite seriously, that did justice to my good breeding: and you may observe that I am well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity. No man,' continued he, not observing the amazement of his hearers, “no man is so cautious not to interrupt another; no man thinks it so necessary to appear attentive when others are speaking; no man so steadily refuses preference to himself, or so willingly bestows it on another, as I do; nobody holds so strongly as I do the necessity of ceremony, and the ill effects which follow the breach of it: yet people think me rude; but Barnard did me justice.'” – Anecdotes.
“Rather by deference than compliment,
And wins e'en by a delicate dissent.”
Sir Henry Bulwer (in his “ France”) says that Louis the Fourteenth was entitled to be called a man of genius, if only from the delicate beauty of his compliments. Mrs. Thrale awards the palm of excellence in the same path to Johnson. “ Your compliments, Sir, are made seldom, but when they are made, they have an elegance unequalled ; but then, when you are angry, who dares make speeches so bitter and so cruel ? ” “I am sure,” she adds, after a semblance of defence on his part, “ I have had my share of scolding from you.” Johnson. “It is true, you have, but you have borne it like an angel, and you have been the better for it.” As the discussion proceeds, he accuses her of often provoking him to say severe things by unreasonable commendation, - a common mode of acquiring a character for amiability at the expense of one's intimates, who are made to appear uncharitable by being thus constantly placed on the depreciating side.
Some years prior to this period (1778) Mrs. Thrale's mind and character had undergone a succession of the most trying ordeals, and was tempered and improved, without being hardened, by them.
One child after another died at the age when the bereavement is most affecting to a mother. Her husband's health kept her in a constant state of apprehension for his life, and his affairs became embarrassed to the very verge of bankruptcy. So long as they remained prosperous, he insisted on her not meddling with them in any way, and even required her to keep to her drawing-room and leave the conduct of their domestic establishment to the butler and housekeeper. But when (from circumstances detailed in the “ Autobiography ") his fortune was seriously endangered, he wisely and gladly availed himself of her prudence and energy, and was saved by so doing. I have now before me a collection of autograph letters from her to Mr. Perkins, then manager and afterwards one of the proprietors of the brewery, from which it appears that she paid the most minute attention to the business, besides undertaking the superintendence of her own hereditary estate in Wales. On