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66. And, for Heaven's sake, how came you to know her?'
“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.'
66 And did she ever get out of jail again, Sir?'
“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.t 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
September 28, 1773, she writes to Mr. Perkins, who was on a commercial journey: –
“Mr. Thrale is still upon his little tour ; I opened a letter from you at the counting-house this morning, and am sorry to find you have so much trouble with Grant and his affairs. How glad I shall be to hear that matter is settled at all to your satisfaction. His letter and remittance came while I was there to-day...... Careless, of the 'Blue Posts,' has turned refractory, and applied to Hoare's people, who have sent him in their beer. I called on him to-day, however, and by dint of an unwearied solicitation (for I kept him at the coach side a full half-hour) I got his order for six butts more as the final trial.”
Examples of fine ladies pressing tradesmen for their votes with compromising importunity are far from rare, but it would be difficult to find a parallel for Johnson's “ Hetty” doing duty as a commercial traveller. She was simultaneously obliged to anticipate the electioneering exploits of the Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs. Crewe ; and in after life, having occasion to pass through Southwark, she expresses her astonishment at no longer recognizing a place, every hole and corner of which she had three times visited as a canvasser.
After the death of Mr. Thrale, a friend of Mr. H. Thornton canvassed the borough on behalf of that gentleman. He waited on Mrs. Thrale, who promised her support. She concluded her obliging expressions by saying: “I wish your friend success, and I think he will have it: he may probably come in for two Parliaments, but if he tries for a third, were he an angel from heaven, the people of Southwark would cry, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas.'”*
On one of her canvassing expeditions, Johnson accompanied her, and a rough fellow, a hatter by trade, seeing the moralist's hat in a state of decay, seized it suddenly with one hand, and clapping him on the back with the other, cried out, “ Ah, Master Johnson, this is no time to be thinking about hats.” “No, no, Sir,” replied the Doctor, “hats are of no use now, as you say, except to throw up in the air and huzza with ;” accompanying his words with the true election halloo.
* Miss Lætitia Matilda Hawkins vouches for this story. — “Memoir, &c." Vol. I. p. 66, note, where she adds: “I have heard it said, that into whatever company she (Mrs. T.) fell, she could be the most agreeable person in it."
Thrale had serious thoughts of repaying Johnson's electioneering aid in kind, by bringing him into Parliament. Sir John Hawkins says that Thrale had two meetings with the minister (Lord North), who at first seemed inclined to find Johnson a seat, but eventually discountenanced the project. Lord Stowell told Mr. Croker that Lord North did not feel quite sure that Johnson's support might not sometimes prove rather an encumbrance than a help. “ His lordship perhaps thought, and not unreasonably, that, like the elephant in the battle, he was quite as likely to trample down his friends as his foes.” Flood doubted whether Johnson, being long used to sententious brevity and the short flights of conversation, would have succeeded in the expanded kind of argument required in public speaking. Burke's opinion was, that if he had come early into Parliament, he would have been the greatest speaker ever known in it. Upon being told this by Reynolds, he exclaimed, “I should like to try my band now.” On Boswell's adding that he wished he had, Mrs. Thrale writes : “ Boswell had leisure for curiosity: ministers had not. Boswell would have been equally amused by his failure as by his success; but to Lord North there would have been no joke at all in the experiment ending untowardly.”
He was equally ready with advice and encouragement during the difficulties connected with the brewery. He was not of opinion, with Aristotle and Parson Adams, that trade is below a philosopher ; * and he eagerly busied himself in computing the cost of the malt and the possible profits on the ale. In October, 1772, he writes from Lichfield: —
“Do not suffer little things to disturb you. The brew-house must be the scene of action, and the subject of speculation. The first consequence of our late trouble ought to be, an endeavor to brew at a cheaper rate; an endeavor, not violent and transient, but steady and continual, prosecuted with total contempt of censure or wonder, and animated by resolution not to stop while more can be done. Unless this can be done, nothing can help us; and if this be done, we shall not want help.
* “ Trade, answered Adams, is below a philosopher, as Aristotle proves in his first chapter of Politics,' and unnatural, as it is managed now." - Joseph Andrews.
“ Surely there is something to be saved ; there is to be saved whatever is the difference between vigilance and neglect, between parsimony and profusion.
“ The price of malt has risen again. It is now two pounds eight shillings the quarter. Ale is sold in the public houses at sixpence a quart, a price which I never heard of before.
“I am, &c.” In November of the same year, from Ashbourne:
“ Dear Madam: So many days and never a letter ! — Fugere fides, pietasque pudorque. This is Turkish usage. And I have been hoping and hoping. But you are so glad to have me out of your mind.
“I think you were quite right in your advice about the thousand pounds, for the payment could not have been delayed long ; and a short delay would have lessened credit, without advancing interest. But in great matters you are hardly ever mistaken.”
In May 17, 1773:
6 Why should Mr. T- suppose, that what I took the liberty of suggesting was concerted with you? He does not know how much I revolve his affairs, and how honestly I desire his prosperity. I hope he has let the hint take some hold of his mind.”
In the copy of the printed letters presented by Mrs. Thrale to Sir James Fellowes, the blank is filled up with the name of Thrale, and the passage is thus annotated in her handwriting :
“ Concerning his (Thrale’s) connection with quack chemists, quacks of all sorts ; jumping up in the night to go to Marlbro' Street from Southwark, after some advertising mountebank, at hazard of his life.”
That Johnson's advice was neither thrown away nor undervalued, may be inferred from an incident related by Boswell. Mr. Perkins had hung up in the counting-house a fine proof of the mezzotinto of Dr. Johnson by Doughty; and when Mrs. Thrale asked him, somewhat flippantly, “Why do you put him up in the counting-house ? ” Mr. Perkins answered, “ Because, Madam, I wish to have one wise man there.” “ Sir” said John