Page images

out of some intelligence?-the story of the duck is incomparable. Sir Lucas Pepys advised me not to declare to private friends alone, but to publicly advertise my intentions of writing anecdotes concerning Dr. Johnson: you will, therefore, see it proclaimed in all the papers, I hope.


"Venice, 30th April, 1785. My book is in very pretty forwardness, but the letters I have in England are my best possessions. A propos, the papers said that Sir John Hawkins has had his house burnt down, is it true? Pray inquire for a letter which I know Dr. Johnson wrote to Mr. Barnard, the King's librarian, when he was in Italy looking for curious books; the subject was wholly literary and controversial, and would be most interesting to the public; I would give anything almost to obtain a copy now, and there was a time when I might have taken twenty copies. Do not you be as negligent of your opportunities of improvement; one always repents such negligence in the end. No end to my preachments, you'll say, but you always gave me permission to preach to you, so I am at least a licenziata.”

The story that Johnson, when only three years old, having trodden on a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it, dictated the following epitaph to his mother:

"Here lies good master Duck,

Whom Samuel Johnson trod on,

If it had lived, it had been good luck,
For then we'd had an odd one."

Miss Seward discovered the seeds of his future character in these lines, which were really written by his father.

"Miss Thrale has written to me from Brighthelmstone, and Susan and Sophy have thanked me for a little box I sent at the same time as yours, with female trifles in it. Mr. Piozzi is so good as to send them some token of our existence and regard by every opportunity, and the Venetian resident will be good-natured and carry something, I am sure; but then he will not get to London these ten months. I hope you will all like him when he comes among you, and I rather think it, he is a man of an active mind and soft manners. What is there in this world, I wonder, unattainable by the old maxim well persisted in-of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re? Very few things I do think."

"Florence, 14th June, 1785.

"It was exceedingly friendly in you to tell me about the spitfire wits, and nothing can prove the regard I pay to your good counsel so completely, as the method I immediately took by writing to Mr. Cadell, and offering him the 'Anecdotes.' He will probably show you my letter, perhaps publish it, in order to convince the world that 'tis no joke at all, and that they must wait till they have read, before they begin to ridicule it. Meantime, I have sent Sir Lucas Pepys an ode, written by the Chevalier Pindemonte, a noble Venetian, in praise of England, with my translation over against it; so people may see I am at liberty to write something, and may undertake the Memoirs of Dr. Johnson as well as anything else. Mr. Colman is right enough in his conjectures, I dare say; but those who had a true

knowledge of our great man's mind will remember that he preferred veracity to interest, affection or resentment; nor suffered partiality or prejudice to warp him from the truth. Let Mr. Boswell be sure to keep that example in view; his old friend often recommended it to him."

"I knew the friendship of the two brothers Pepys would be exceedingly delightful to you; Lady Rothes is one of the best, as well as one of the most agreeable women I know. The world was against her once, on account of her second marriage, without knowing why; but she has had the good fortune to see her choice approved at last by family friends and acquaintance, and I have no doubt but I shall enjoy the same consolation, for the same reason, because my husband deserves every day more than I could ever have done for him, had I, as Portia says, been Trebled twenty times myself.' Poor soul! he has got the gout now, and I am writing by his bedside.”

"Firenze, 27th July, 1785.

"DEAR MR. LYSONS.-You deserve long letters, indeed, you are so good-natured, in writing so often and kindly. Miss Thrale does just the reverse; but I will not let anything vex me, when I have so much with which I ought to be pleased. Mr. and Mrs. Greatheed (whose family you cannot but know) are our constant and partial friends; they have never been three days apart since their acquaintance began, and they love one another at five years end—just as we do now, I think,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

who hope to follow their example for half a century at least, and then we shall be a show, like the learned pig."

"I have been playing the baby, and writing nonsense to divert our English friends here, who do the same thing themselves, and swear they will print the collection, and call it an Arno Miscellany. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Merry are exceedingly clever, so is Mr. Greatheed, and we have no critics to maul us, so we laugh in peace."

[ocr errors]

"It is difficult to express the esteem and fondness shown by the Florentines of both sexes to Mrs. Greatheed and myself, for the sincere love we bear to our amiable husbands-che bel esempio! che care Inglesine! che copie felice! resounds from every mouth. Oh! for candour and liberality of sentiment, for honest praise and kind construction of words and actions, Italy is the place, nor have they an idea of pretending to approve what they really do not like."

"Rome, 4th Nov. 1715. 8

"You do well to examine our land of mediocrities before you come hither, whence Mr. Piozzi says he shall be glad to return to clean rooms, neat workmanship, and good common sense.

“This last article reminds me of dear Dr. Johnson. I was very sorry, indeed, to hear of his useless prayers for the dead: for, as the Prophet David says, it cost more to redeem their souls, so that we must let that alone for ever. Meantime I wish my Anecdotes '

[ocr errors]

may be found less trivial than Boswell's: I always hoped that even trifles belonging to Johnson would be welcome to the public, or what would become of my book? Did the executors publish those 'Prayers and Meditations?' or, how came they printed? Do tell, for I am earnest to hear."

"Will you have a pretty book as a present? Mr. Parsons, Mr. Greathead, Mr. Merry and myself (who had the least share), diverted ourselves with writing verses, while we lived together at Florence, and got them printed - but very imperfectly, as you may suppose; and I have sent a few copies to England, of which I beg you to accept one. You must call on Mr. Cator for it he lives in the Adelphi, you know. They made me write the preface and find the motto; but some of the verses are very good indeed, and I hope you will say so, as I think exceeding highly of Merry's poetical powers."

Alluding to Cornelia Knight, she writes March 1, 1796.

"I regret exceedingly that we made acquaintance only at Naples, for many reasons: we had great talk about Dr. Johnson, who was her mother's friend; her father was Captain Knight, made Sir Joseph when the King went aboard his ship at Portsmouth. Oh! you have got our little book of verses written in Tuscany safe by now; for Miss Thrale has thanked me for hers, and says she likes the preface. Write to me soon, do, and tell me all the news. Miss Brunton is set up as a rival

« PreviousContinue »