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Byron. It would seem that Johnson was of opinion with Sidney Smith, who contends in his lectures that wit may be acquired like other talents or accomplishments.
“But — and you have had, with all your adulations, nothing finer said of you than was said last Saturday night of Burke and me. We were at the Bishop of — 's, a bishop little better than your bishop; and towards twelve we fell into talk, to which the ladies listened, just as they do to you; and said, as I heard, there is no rising unless somebody will cry fire.” – Johnson, May 23, 1780.
The lady was Mrs. Montague ; Johnson's bishop was the Bishop of St. Asaph (Shipley); Mrs. P.'s, the Bishop of Peterborough (Hinchliffe).
Mrs. Piozzi replies: “I have no care about enjoying undivided empire, nor any thoughts of disputing it with Mrs. Montagu. She considers her title as indisputable, most probably, though I am sure I never heard her urge it. Queen Elizabeth, you remember, would not suffer hers to be inquired into, and I have read somewhere that the Great Mogul is never crowned.”
In a postscript she says: “Apropos to gallantry, here is a gentleman hooted out of Bath for showing a lady's love-letters to him; and such is the resentment of all the females, that even the housemaid refused to make his bed. I think them perfectly right, as he has broken all the common ties of society; and if he were to sleep on straw for half a year instead of our old favorites the Capucin friars, it would do him no harm, and set the men a good example.”
In the margin is written “ Mr. Wade.”
“ Gluttony is, I think, less common among women than among men. Women commonly eat more sparingly, and are less curious in the choice of meat ; but if once you find a woman gluttonous, expect from her very little virtue. Her mind is enslaved to the lowest and grossest temptation.
“Of men, the examples are sufficiently common. I had a friend, of great eminence in the learned and the witty world, who had hung up some pots on his wall to furnish nests for sparrows. The poor sparrows, not knowing his character, were seduced by the convenience, and I never heard any man speak of any future enjoyment with such contortions of delight as he exhibited, when he talked of eating the young ones.” — Johnson.
The name of Isaac Hawkins Browne is written in the margin, and it is added that the young sparrows were eaten in a pie.
Stonehenge. – I saw Stonehenge once before this letter was written, in company of my father, who said it was Druidical : I saw it again seven years or more, ten years perhaps, in company of my second husband, and I saw it with Miss Thrales in June, 1784. I fancy it was Saxon for my own part; a monument to the valor of Hengist. It is Stone Henge.
“ Mrs. Davenant says, that you regain your health. That you regain your health is more than a common recovery ; because I infer, that you regain your peace of mind. Settle your thoughts and control your imagination, and think no more of Hesperian felicity. Gather yourself and your children into a little system, in which each may promote the ease, the safety, and pleasure of the rest." — Johnson.
Mrs. D'Avenant neither knew nor cared, as she wanted her brother Harry Cotton to marry Lady Keith, and I offered my estate with her. Miss Thrale said she wished to have nothing to do either with my family or my fortune. They were all cruel and all insulting.
“ DEAR SIR, — Communicate your letters regularly. Your father's inexorability not only grieves but amazes me. He is your father. He was always accounted a wise man; nor do I remember anything to the disadvantage of his good-nature ; but in bis refusal to assist you there is neither good-nature, fatherhood, nor wisdom.” — Johnson.
I think you will be surprised to hear that this so serious letter should have been written to the crazy fellow, of whom a ludicrous story is told in the “ Anecdotes :” Joe Simson, as Doctor Johnson called him, when he related the ridiculous incidents of his marriage, his kept mistress, his footman, and himself; all getting so drunk with the nuptial bowl of punch, purchased with borrowed money, that the hero of the tale tumbled down stairs and broke his leg or arm, I forget which, and sent for Doctor Johnson to assist him. He had another friend of much the same description, though this gentleman was a lawyer: the other, a poet. ..... Boyce was the author of some pretty things in the “ Gentleman's Magazine," and Johnson showed me the following verses in manuscript, which I translated : but which are not half so pleasant as was his account of Mr. Boyce lying a-bed: not for lack of a shirt, because he seldom wore one ; supplying the want with white paper wristbands : but for want of his scarlet cloak, laced with gold, his usual covering; which lay unredeemed at the pawnbrokers. The verses were addressed to Cave, of St. John's Gate, who saved him from prison that time at least :
“ Hodie, teste Coelo summo
Sine pane, sine nummo;
Ex gehennâ debitoria,
Vulgò, domo spongiatoria.”
Sufficient in this hell to souse
Of this curious creature I have heard Johnson tell how he remained fasting three whole days; and at the end when his consoling friend brought him a nice beefsteak, how he refused to touch it till the dish (he had no plate) had been properly rubbed over with shalot. “What inhabitants this world has in it!”
“ You were kind in paying my forfeits at the club; it cannot be expected that many should meet in the summer, however they that continue in town should keep up appearances as well as they can. I hope to be again among you.” – Johnson.
There is a story of poor dear Garrick, whose attention to his money-stuff never forsook him, — relating that when his last day was drawing to an end, he begged a gentleman present to pay his club forfeits, " and don't let them cheat you,” added he, “ for there cannot be above nine, and they will make out ten.”
At the end of the second volume of “ Letters” are printed several translations from Boëthius, the joint performances of Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Piozzi. She has written on the last leaf: —
Book 3d, Metre 7, being completely my own, I would not print, though Dr. Johnson commended my doing it so well, and said he could not make it either more close or more correct:
That pleasure leaves a parting pain
In reference to the second line in this couplet:
Fondly viewed his following bride,
And this beautiful line, which I saw him compose, “ you will find,” said I, “ in Fletcher's Bonduca.” “Impossible," replies Dr. Johnson, “I never read a play of Beaumont and Fletcher's in my life.” This passed in Southwark : when we went to Streatham Park, I took down the volume and showed him the line.
There is an allusion to this incident in the “ Thraliana," and the entry is an additional illustration of the variety of her knowledge and the tenacity of her memory. It refers to Dr. Parker's complimentary verses describing an imaginary request of Apollo to the Graces and Muses to admit her of their number, and concluding with these lines :
“ Henceforth acknowledge every pen
The Graces four, the Muses ten.” For a long time (she writes) I thought this conceit original, but it is not. There is an old Greek epigram only of two lines which the doctor has here spun into length (vide “ Anthol.” lib. 7), and there is some account of it too in Bonhours.
What, however, is much more extraordinary, is that the famous Tristram Shandy itself is not absolutely original; for when I was at Derby in the summer of 1744, I strolled by mere chance into a bookseller's shop, where, however, I could find nothing to tempt curiosity but a strange book about Corporal Bates, which I bought and read for want of better sport, and found it to be the very novel from which Sterne took his first idea. The character of Uncle Toby, the behavior of Corporal Trim, even the name of Tristram itself, seems to be borrowed from this stupid history of Corporal Bates, forsooth. I now wish I had pursued Mr. Murphy's advice of marking down all passages from different books which strike, by their resemblance to each other, as fast as they fell in my way; for one forgets again, in the hurry and tumult of life's cares and pleasures, almost everything that one does not commit to paper.
The verses written by Bentley upon Learning, and published in Dodsley's Miscellanies, how like they are to Evelyn's verses on Virtue, published in Dryden's Miscellanies ! yet I do not suppose them a plagiarism. Old Bentley would have scorned such tricks; besides, what passed once between myself and Mr. Johnson should cure me of suspicion in these cases.