Page images
PDF
EPUB

Johnson, would you advise me to marry ?” “I would advise no man to marry, Sir," replied the Doctor in a very angry tone, “who is not likely to propagate understanding ;” and so left the room. “Our companion,” adds Mrs. Thrale, in the “ Anecdotes," “ looked confounded, and I believe had scarce recovered the consciousness of his own existence, when Johnson came back, and, drawing his chair among us, with altered looks and a softened voice, joined in the general chat, insensibly led the conversation to the subject of marriage, where he laid himself out in a dissertation so useful, so elegant, so founded on the true knowledge of human life, and so adorned with beauty of sentiment, that no one ever recollected the offence, except to rejoice in its consequences."

The young gentleman was Mr. Thrale’s nephew, Sir John Lade ; who was proposed, half in earnest, whilst still a minor, by the Doctor as a fitting mate for the author of “ Evelina." He married a woman of the town, became a celebrated member of the Four-in-Hand Club, and contrived to waste the whole of a fine fortune before he died.

In “ Thraliana” she says: “ Lady Lade consulted him about her son, Sir John. •Endeavor, Madam,' said he (Johnson),' to procure him knowledge ; for really ignorance to a rich man is like fat to a sick sheep, it only serves to call the rooks about him. On the same occasion it was that he observed how a mind unfurnished with subjects and materials for thinking can keep up no dignity at all in solitude. It is,' says he, 'in the state of a mill without grist.'”

The attractions of Streatham must have been very strong, to induce Johnson to pass so much of his time away from “the busy hum of men” in Fleet Street, and “ the full tide of human existence" at Charing Cross. He often found fault with Mrs. Thrale for living so much in the country, “ feeding the chickens till she starved her understanding.” Walking in a wood when it rained, she tells us, “was the only rural image he pleased his fancy with; for he would say, after one has gathered the apples in an orchard, one wishes them well baked, and removed to a London eatinghouse for enjoyment.” This is almost as bad as the foreigner, who complained that there was no ripe fruit in England but the JOHNSON'S FONDNESS FOR A CARRIAGE.

roasted apples. Amongst other modes of passing time in the country, Johnson once or twice tried hunting, and, mounted on an old horse of Mr. Thrale's, acquitted himself to the surprise of the “field,” one of whom delighted him by exclaiming, “ Why, Johnson rides as well, for aught I see, as the most illiterate fellow in England.” But a trial or two satisfied him.

“ He thought at heart like courtly Chesterfield,

Who after a long chase o'er hills, dales, fields,
And what not, though he rode beyond all price,
Asked next day, 'If men ever hunted twice?'"

It is very strange, and very melancholy, was his reflection, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. The mode of locomotion in which he delighted was the vehicular. As he was driving rapidly in a postchaise with Boswell, he exclaimed, “ Life has not many things better than this.” On their way from Dr. Taylor's to Derby in 1777, he said, “ If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a postchaise with a pretty woman, but she should be one who could understand me, and would add something to the conversation."

Mr. Croker attributes his enjoyment to the novelty of the pleasure ; his poverty having in early life prevented him from travelling post. But a better reason is given by Mrs. Thrale :

“I asked him why he doted on a coach so ? and received for answer, that in the first place, the company were shut in with him there ; and could not escape, as out of a room ; in the next place, he heard all that was said in a carriage, where it was my turn to be deaf: and very impatient was be at my occasional difficulty of hearing. On this account he wished to travel all over the world; for the very act of going forward was delightful to him, and he gave himself no concern about accidents, which he said never happened ; nor did the running away of the horses on the edge of a precipice between Vernon and St. Denys in France convince him to the contrary: "for nothing came of it,' he said, 'except that Mr. Thrale leaped out of the carriage into a chalkpit, and then came up again, looking as white !! When the truth was, all their lives were saved by the greatest providence ever exerted in favor of three human creatures; and the part Mr. Thrale took from desperation was the likeliest thing in the world to produce broken limbs and death."

The drawbacks on his gratification and on that of his fellowtravellers were his physical defects, and his utter insensibility to the beauty of nature, as well as to the fine arts, in so far as they were addressed to the senses of sight and hearing. “He delighted,” says Mrs. Thrale, “no more in music than painting ; he was almost as deaf as he was blind; travelling with Dr. Johnson was, for these reasons, tiresome enough. Mr. Thrale loved prospects, and was mortified that his friend could not enjoy the sight of those different dispositions of wood and water, hill and valley, that travelling through England and France affords a man. But when he wished to point them out to his companion : 'Never heed such nonsense, would be the reply: 'a blade of grass is always a blade of grass, whether in one country or another: let us, if we do talk, talk about something; men and women are my subjects of inquiry ; let us see how these differ from those we have left behind."

It is no small deduction from our admiration of Johnson, and no trifling enhancement of his friends' kindness in tolerating his eccentricities, that he seldom made allowance for his own palpable and undeniable deficiencies. As well might a blind man deny the existence of colors, as a purblind man assert that there was no charm in a prospect or in a Claude or Titian, because he could see none. Once, by way of pleasing Reynolds, he pretended to lament that the great painter's genius was not exerted on stuff more durable than canvas, and suggested copper. Sir Joshua urged the difficulty of procuring plates large enough for historical subjects. “What foppish obstacles are these !” exclaimed Johnson. “Here is Thrale has a thousand ton of copper: you may paint it all round if you will, I suppose ; it will serve him to brew in afterwards. Will it not, Sir?” (to Thrale who sat by.)

He always “civilized” to Dr. Burney, who has supplied the following anecdote :

“ After having talked slightingly of music, he was observed to listen very attentively while Miss Thrale played on the harpsichord ; and with eagerness he called to her, “Why don't you dash

Gjes made place dary of that was P

away like Burney ?' Dr. Burney upon this said to him, “I believe, Sir, we shall make a musician of you at last. Johnson with candid complacency replied, “Sir, I shall be glad to have a new sense given to me.'”

In 1774, the Thrales made a tour in Wales, mainly for the purpose of revisiting her birthplace and estates. They were accompanied by Johnson, who kept a diary of the expedition, beginning July 5th and ending September 24th. It was preserved by his negro servant, and Boswell had no suspicion of its existence, for he says, “I do not find that he kept any journal or notes of what he saw there.” The diary was first published by Mr. Duppa in 1816; and some manuscript notes by Mrs. Thrale, which reached that gentleman too late for insertion, have been added in Mr. Murray's recent edition of the Life. The first entry is :

Tuesday, July 5. — We left Streatham 11 A. M. Price of four horses two shillings a mile. Barnet 1.40 P. M. On the road I read • Tully's Epistles. At night at Dunstable.” At Chester, he records : “We walked round the walls, which are complete, and contain one mile, three quarters, and one hundred and one yards.” Mrs. Thrale’s comment is, “Of those ill-fated walls Dr. Johnson might have learned the extent from any one. He has since put me fairly out of countenance by saying, “I have known my mistress fifteen years, and never saw her fairly out of humor but on Chester wall ;' it was because he would keep Miss Thrale beyond her hour of going to bed to walk on the wall, where, from the want of light, I apprehended some accident to her, — perhaps to him.”

He thus describes Mrs. Thrale's family mansion : “ Saturday, July 30. — We went to Bâch y Graig, where we found an old house, built 1567, in an uncommon and incommodious form. My mistress chatted about tiring, but I prevailed on her to go to the top. — The floors have been stolen: the windows are stopped. - The house was less than I seemed to expect. — The river Clwyd is a brook with a bridge of one arch, about one third of a mile. — The woods have many trees, generally young; but some which seem to decay. — They have been lopped. — The house never had a garden. — The addition of another story would make an useful house, but it cannot be great.”

On the 4th August, they visited Rhuddlan Castle and Bodryddan,* of which he says :

“ Stapylton's house is pretty : there are pleasing shades about it, with a constant spring that supplies a cold bath. We then went out to see a cascade. I trudged unwillingly, and was not sorry to find it dry. The water was, however, turned on, and produced a very striking cataract.”

Mrs. Piozzi remarks on this passage : “He teased Mrs. Cotton about her dry cascade till she was ready to cry.” †

On two occasions, Johnson incidentally imputes a want of liberality to Mrs. Thrale, which the general tenor of her conduct belies :

August 2. -- We went to Dymerchion Church, where the old clerk acknowledged his mistress. It is the parish church of Bâch y Graig ; a mean fabric; Mr. Salusbury (Mrs. Thrale's father was buried in it. . . . . . The old clerk had great appearance of joy, and foolishly said that he was now willing to die. He had only a crown given him by my mistress.”

August 4. — Mrs. Thrale lost her purse. She expressed so much uneasiness that I concluded the sum to be very great ; but when I heard of only seven guineas, I was glad to find she had so much sensibility of money."

Johnson might have remarked, that the annoyance we experience from a loss is seldom entirely regulated by the pecuniary value of the thing lost.

On the way to Holywell he sets down : “ Talk with mistress about flattery ;” on which she notes: “He said I flattered the people to whose houses we went: I was saucy and said I was obliged to be civil for two, meaning himself and me. He re

* Now the property of Mr. Shipley Conway, the great-grandson of Johnson's acquaintance, the Bishop of St. Asaph, and representative, through females, of Sir John Conway or Conwy, to whom Rhuddlan Castle, with its domain, was granted by Edward the First.

† Bowles, the poet, on the unexpected arrival of a party to see his grounds, was overheard giving a hurried order to set the fountain playing, and carry the hermit his beard.

† Madame D'Arblay reports Mrs. Thrale saying at Streatham in September, 1778:

« PreviousContinue »