« PreviousContinue »
letter of greater length, written, as it afterwards appeared, too late to do any good, in which he expressed an opinion, that the person to whom it was addressed had forfeited her fame. The answer to this I have seen: it is written from Bath, and contains an indignant vindication as well of her conduct as her fame, an inhibition of Johnson from following her to Bath, and a farewell, concluding – Till you have changed your • opinion of — let us converse no more.'
In this transaction, Johnson seemed to have forgotten the story of the Ephesian Matron, related by Petronius, but was, by this time, convinced that, in his endeavours to prevent an attachment, which he foresaw would be prejudicial to the interests of his friend's children, and fix an indelible disgrace on their mother, who was about to abandon them and her country, he had been labouring to hedge in the cuckow. From the style of the last mentioned letter, a conclusion was to be drawn, that baffled all the powers of reasoning and persuasion:
One argument she summ'd up all in,
· The thing was done, and past recalling * ; which being the case, he contented himself with reRecting on what he had done to prevent that which he thought one of the greatest evils that could befall the progeny of his friend, the alienation of the afections of their mother. He looked upon the desertion of children by their parents, and the withdrawing from them that protection, that mental nutriment which, in their youth they are capable of receiving, the exposing them to the snares and temptations of the world, and the folicitations and deceits of the
Pope and Swift's Miscellanies, • Phyllis or the Progress of love.'
artful and designing, as most unnatural; and, in a letter on the subject to me, written from Ashbourn, thus delivered his sentiments :
Poor Thrale! I thought that either her virtue or her vice,' [meaning, as I understood, by the former, the love of her children, and, by the latter, her pride,]
would have restrained her from such a marriage. • She is now become a subject for her enemies to
exult over, and for her friends, if she has any left, to forget or pity.'
In the mention of the above particulars, it is far from my design to reprehend the conduct of the lady to whom they relate. Being her own mistress, she had a right to dispose of herself, and is unamenable to any known judicature. Johnson, in his relation of executor to her husband, as also in gratitude to his memory, was under an obligation to promote the welfare of his family. It was also his duty, as far as he was able, to avert an evil which threatened their interests. What he endeavoured, for that purpose, is part of his history, and, as such only, I relate it.
While Dr. Johnson was in the country, his friends in town were labouring for his benefit. Mr. Thrale, a short time before his death, had meditated a journey to Italy, and formed a party, in which Johnson was included, but the design never took effect. It was now conceived, by Johnson's friends, that a foreign air would contribute to the restoration of his health ; and his inclination concurring with their sentiments, a plan was formed for his visiting the continent, attended with a male-fervant; which was become so well known, that, as a lady then refident at Rome afterwards informed me, his arrival was anxiously expected throughout Italy. The only obstacle to the journey
was, an apprehension, that the expence of it would be greater than his income would bear; and, to get over this difficulty, Sir Joshua Reynolds undertook to folicit an addition of 2001. to his pension, and to that end, applied to lord Thurlow, who, as the public have been fully informed, exerted his endeavours for the purpose, but the application failing, he declared himself willing, upon the security of that pension of which Johnson was in poffeffion, to advance him sool*. This generous offer Johnson thought proper to decline by a letter, of which the following is an authentic copy, being taken from his own draft now in my hands. ,
"My LORD, • After a long and not inattentive observation of • mankind, the generosity of your lordship's offer (raises in me not less wonder than gratitude. Bounty, • fo liberally bestowed, I should gladly receive, if 'my condition made it necessary, for, to such a mind, (who would not be proud to own his obligations ? « But it has pleased God to restore me to so great a < measure of health, that if I should now appropriate " so much of a fortune destined to do good, I could
not escape from myself the charge of advancing a
false claim. My journey to the continent, though ' I once thought it necessary, was never much encou
raged by my physicians; and I was very desirous
• The offer above-mentioned has, in the first view of it, the appearance rather of a commercial than a gratuitous transaction ; but Sir Joshua clearly understood at the making it, that lord Thurlow designedly put it in that form : he was fearful that Johnson's high spirit would induce him to reject it as a donation, but thought that, in the way of a loan, it might be accepted.
that your lordship should be told of it by Sir
Joshua Reynolds, as an event very uncertain, for, · if I grew much better, I should not be willing, if < much worse, I should not be able, to migrate. • Your lordship was first folicited without my know
ledge; but, when I was told, that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did not expect to hear of a refusal; yet, as I have had no
long time to brood hope, and have not rioted in ' imaginary opulence, this cold reception has been • scarce a disappointment; and, from your lordship's
kindness, I have received a benefit, which only men ' like you are able to bestow. I shall now live mihi carior, with a higher opinion of my own merit.
· I am, my lord,
Your lordship's most obliged,
· Most grateful,
- And most humble servant, Sept. 1784.
Sam. Johnson.' An incorrect copy of the above letter, though of a private nature, found its way into the public papers * in this manner. It was given to Sir Joshua Reynolds, unsealed, to be delivered to lord Thurlow. Sir Joshua, looking upon it as a handsome testimony of gratitude, and, as it related to a transaction in which he had concerned himself, took a copy and shewed it to a few of his friends. Among these was a lady of quality, who, having heard it red, the next day desired to be gratified with the perusal of it at home : the use she made of this favour was, the copying and fending it to one of the news-papers,
* Among the corruptions in the printed copies, are the words, you was pleased, for you were pleased, and refied for rioted.
whence it was taken and inserted in others, as also in the Gentleman's and many other Magazines. Johnson, upon being told that it was in print, exclaimed in my hearing— I am betrayed,'— but soon after forgot, as he was ever ready to do all real or supposed injuries, the error that made the publication poflible.
Dr. Brocklesby was one of those physicians who would not encourage Johnson in a wish to visit the continent; nevertheless, to console him for his late dirappointment, and that the supposed narrowness of his circumstances might be no hindrance to such a design, he made him a voluntary offer of 100l. a year, payable quarterly, towards his support abroad, but could not prevail on him to accept it *.
• A&tuated by a like spirit of beneficence, the same person, by his interest with his friends, and in conjunction with that christianlike jew, Sampson Gideon, procured a contribution, amounting to upwards of 100 l. a year, for the support, during the remaining years of his life, of old Captain Coram, the original mover in the establishment of the Foundling-hospital. Upon Dr. Brocklesby's applying to the good old man, to know whether his setting on foot a subscription for his benefit would not offend him, he received this noble answer :I have not waited • the little wealth, of which I was formerly possessed, in felf-indul• gence, or vain expences, and am not ashamed to confess, that in
this my old age I am poor.'- Upon the death of Coram, this pension was continued to Leveridge, a worn-out finger at the thea. tres, who, at the age of ninety, had scarce any other prospect than that of a parish subsistence.
Those writers on morality, such as Hobbes and Mandeville, who resolve all beneficence into felf-love, would be hard put to it to reconcile such acts as these with their tenets. They would say, that the motive to them was a desire to get rid of those sensations which the distresses of others are apt to excite, and, by consequence, that the exertions of beneficence are selfish. Never confidering that, before these sensations can arise, a man must be kindly affectioned to his fellow-creatures, and possess that benevolence which the objection fuppofes to be wanting.