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forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible. Until he left off drinking fermented liquors altogether, he acted on the maxim “ Claret for boys, port for men, brandy for heroes.” He preferred the strongest, because, he said, it did its work (i. e. intoxicate) the soonest. He used to pour capillaire into his port wine, and melted butter into his chocolate. His favorite dishes are accurately enumerated by Peter Pindar:
MADAME PIOZZI (loquitur).
Mr. Thackeray relates, in his “ Irish Sketches,” that on his asking for currant-jelly for his venison at a public dinner, the waiter replied, “It's all gone, your honor; but there's some capital lobster-sauce left.” This would have suited Johnson equally well, or better; he was so fond of lobster-sauce, that he would call for the sauce-boat and pour the whole of its remaining contents over his plum-pudding. A clergyman who once travelled with him relates : “ The coach halted as usual for dinner, which seemed to be a deeply interesting business to Johnson, who vehemently attacked a dish of stewed carp, using his fingers only in feeding himself.”
With all this he affected great nicety of palate, and did not like being asked to a plain dinner. “It was a good dinner enough,” he would remark,“ but it was not a dinner to ask a man to." He was so displeased with the performances of a nobleman's French cook, that he exclaimed, with vehemence, “I'd throw such a rascal into the river; ” and, in reference to one of his Edinburgh hosts, he said, “ As for Maclaurin's imitation of a made dish, it was a wretched attempt.”
His voice was loud, and his gesticulations, voluntary or involuntary, singularly uncouth. He had superstitious fancies about crossing thresholds or squares in the carpet with the right or left leg foremost, and when he did not appear at dinner, might be found vainly endeavoring to pass a particular spot in the anteroom. He loved late hours, or more properly (says Mrs. Thrale) hated early ones. Nothing was more terrifying to him than the idea of going to bed, which he never would call going to rest, or suffer another to call it so. “I lie down that my acquaintance may sleep; but I lie down to endure oppressive misery, and soon rise again to pass the night in anxiety and pain.” When people could be induced to sit up with him, they were often amply compensated by his rich flow of mind; but the resulting sacrifice of health and comfort in an establishment where this sitting up became habitual, was inevitably great.* Instead of being grateful, he always maintained that no one forbore his own gratification for the purpose of pleasing another, and “if one did sit up, it was probably to amuse one's self.” Boswell excuses his wife for not coinciding in his enthusiasm, by admitting that his illustrious friend's irregular hours and uncouth babits, such as turning the candles with their ends downwards when they did not burn bright enough, and letting the wax drop upon the carpet, could not but be displeasing to a lady. He was generally last at breakfast, but one morning happened to be first, and waited some time alone; when afterwards twitted by Mrs. Thrale with irregularity, he replied, “ Madam, I do not like to come down to vacuity.”
If his early familiarity with all the miseries of destitution, aggravated by disease, had increased his natural roughness and irritability, on the other hand it had helped largely to bring out his sterling virtues, — his discriminating charity, his genuine benevolence, his well-timed generosity, his large-hearted sympathy with real suffering or sorrow. He said it was enough to make a plain man sick to hear pity lavished on a family reduced by losses to exchange a palace for a comfortable cottage; and when condolence was demanded for a lady of rank in mourning for a baby, he contrasted her with a washerwoman with half a dozen children dependent on her daily labor for their daily bread.*
* Dr. Burney states that in 1765 " he very frequently met Johnson at Streatham, where they had many long conversations, after sitting up as long as the fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants subsisted."
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 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 :
* “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.
“ 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. 7. — 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 bave 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 Alinch, 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.