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Dr. Johnson did not content himself. He gave away Piozzi, all he had, and all he ever had gotten, except the two thousand pounds he left behind ; and the very small portion of his income which he spent on himself, with all our calculation, we never could make more than seventy or at most fourscore pounds a year, and he pretended to allow himself a hundred. He had numberless dependants out of doors as well as in, “who, as he expressed it, did not like to see him latterly unless he brought them money.” For those people he used frequently to raise contributions on his richer friends; "and this,” says he, “is one of the thousand reasons which ought to restrain a man from drony solitude and useless retirement."']
I am indebted to Mr. Malone, one of Sir Joshua Reynolds's executors, for the following note, which was found among his papers after his death, and which, we may presume, his unaffected modesty prevented him from communicating to me with the other letters from Dr. Johnson with which he was pleased to furnish me. However slight in itself, as it does honour to that illustrious painter and most amiable man, I am happy to introduce it.
- DEAR SIR,
" TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
“ 230 June, 1781. It was not before yesterday that I received, your splendid benefaction. To a hand so liberal in distributing, I hope nobody will envy the power of acquiring. I am, dear sir, your obliged and most humble servant,
“ SAM, JOHNSON.”
The following letters were written at this time by Johnson to Miss Reynolds, the latter on receiving from her a copy of her “Essay on Taste," privately printed, but never published.
[“ DR. JOHNSON TO MISS REYNOLDS.
“ 25th June, 1781. “ DEAR MADAM,-You may give the book to Mrs. Horneck, and I will give you another for yourself.
“I am afraid there is no hope of Mrs. Thrale's custom for your pictures; but, if you please, I will mention it. She cannot make a pension out of her jointures.
“ I will bring the papers myself. I am, madam, your most humble servant,
“ Sam. Johnson.”]
“ TO MISS REYNOLDS 4.
“ Bolt-court, 28th June, 1781. “ DEAREST MADAM,— There is in these [pages, or remarks,] such depth of penetration, such nicety of observation, as Locke or Pascal might be proud of. This I desire you to believe is my real opinion.
“ However, it cannot be published in its present state. Many of your notions seem not to be very clear in your own mind; many are not sufficiently developed and expanded for the common reader: it wants every where to be made smoother and plainer.
“You may, by revisal and correction, make it a very elegant and a very curious work. I am, my dearest dear, your affectionate and obedient servant,
“ SAMUEL JOHNSON."
66 TO THOMAS ASTLE, ESQ.
“ 17th July, 1781. “SIR,-I am ashamed that you have been forced to call so often for your books, but it has been by no fault on either side. They have never been out of my hands, nor have I ever been at home without seeing you; for to see a man so skilful in the antiquities of my country is an opportunity of improvement not willingly to be missed.
[Probably the Beauties of Johnson, published about this period : see ante, vol. i. p. 190.-ED.]
(See ante, vol. i. p. 423.—ED.] 3 (Miss Reynolds, it seems, wished to dispose of her collection, and thought that Mrs. Thrale might purchase and pay for it by an annuity.-ED.]
4 The lady to whom this letter was addressed, and for whom Dr. Johnson had a high regard, died in Westminster, at the age of eighty, Nov. 1, 1807. MALONE. (One Sunday evening, at the time he was first declining, Miss Reynolds sent to make inquiries. His answer was, “ Tell her that I cannot be well, for she does not come to see me.”—Hawk. Mem, vol. ii. p. 149.-Ed.]
"Your notes on Alfred i appear to me very judicious and accurate, but they are too few. Many things familiar to you are unknown to me, and to most others; and you must not think too favourably of your readers: by supposing them knowing, you will leave them ignorant. Measure of land, and value of money, it is of great importance to state with care. Had the Saxons any gold coin?
“I have much curiosity after the manners and transactions of the middle ages, but have wanted either diligence or opportunity, or both. You, sir, have great opportunities, and I wish you both diligence and success. I am, sir, &c.
“ SAM. JOHNSON.”
The following curious anecdote I insert in Dr. Burney's own words. “ Dr. Burney related to Dr. Johnson the partiality which his writings had excited in a friend of Dr. Burney's, the late Mr. Bewley ?, well known in Norfolk by the name of the Philosopher of Massingham; who, from the Ramblers and plan of his Dictionary, and long before the authour's fame was established by the Dictionary itself, or any other work, had conceived such a reverence for him, that he earnestly begged Dr. Burney to give him the cover of the first letter he had received from him, as a relick of so estimable a writer. This was in 1755. In 1760, when Dr. Burney visited Dr. Johnson at the Temple in London, where he had then chambers, he happened to arrive there before he was up; and being shown into the room where he was to breakfast, finding himself alone, he examined the contents of the apartment, to try whether he could, undiscovered, steal any thing to send to his friend Bewley, as another relick of the admirable Dr. Johnson. But finding nothing better to his purpose, he cut some bristles off his hearth-broom, and enclosed them in a letter to his country enthusiast, who received them with due reverence. The doctor was so sensible of the honour done to him by a man of genius and science, to whom he was an utter stranger, that he said to Dr. Burney, “Sir, there is no man possessed of the smallest portion of modesty, but must be flattered with the admiration of such a man. I'll give him a set of my Lives, if he will do me the honour to accept of them.'
1 The will of King Alfred, alluded to in this letter, from the original Saxon, in the library of Mr. Astle, has been printed at the expense of the University of Oxford.—BOSWELL.
? [He was a " Monthly Reviewer,” and died in 1783. If the story of “ the bristles of the hearth-broom,” or any thing like it, be true, Mr. Bewley might better have been called an idiot than an enthusiast; but the editor takes the li. berty of disbelieving the anecdote altogether. That Mr. Bewley might have wished and asked for Dr. Johnson's autograph is natural enough ; but that, after a lapse of five years, he should have been satisfied with receiving instead of an autograph a few bristles of a broom is too absurd; and that Dr. Burney should not have mentioned so strange a story to Dr. Johnson till after the further lapse of twenty-five years is quite incredible.--Ed.)
In this he kept his word; and Dr. Burney had not only the pleasure of gratifying his friend with a present more worthy of his acceptance than the segment from the hearthbroom, but soon after introducing him to Dr. Johnson himself in Bolt-court, with whom he had the satisfaction of conversing a considerable time, not a fortnight before his death ; which happened in St. Martin's-street, during his visit to Dr. Burney, in the house where the great Sir Isaac Newton had lived and died before ?."
In one of his little memorandum-books is the following minute:
August 9, 3 P. M. ætat. 72, in the summer-house at Streatham.
“ After innumerable resolutions formed and neglected, I have retired hither, to plan a life of greater diligence, in hope that I may yet be useful, and be daily better prepared to appear before my Creator and my Judge, from whose infinite mercy I humbly call for assistance and support.
· [This house (No. 36) is now occupied as a parish school-house, but the upper apartments have been but little altered since the days of their illustrious
There were lately published proposals for erecting on the site a monument to the memory of Sir Isaac; the design of which was a globe of brick and stones, covered with plaster of Paris, and marked with geographical and astronomical lines, and having a hollow centre large enough for a public lecture-room. Ev.]
“My purpose is,
“ To pass eight hours every day in some serious employment.
“ Having prayed, I purpose to employ the next six weeks upon the Italian language for my settled study."
How venerably pious does he appear in these moments of solitude! and how spirited are his resolutions for the improvement of his mind, even in elegant literature, at a very advanced period of life, and when afflicted with many complaints!
In autumn he went to Oxford, Birmingham, Lichfield, and Ashbourne, for which very good reasons might be given in the conjectural' yet positive manner of writers, who are proud to account for every event which they relate. He himself, however, says, “ The motives of my journey I hardly Prayer know : I omitted it last year, and am not willing to p. 198. miss it again.” But some good considerations arise, amongst which is the kindly recollection of Mr. Hector, surgeon, of Birmingham. 66 Hector is likewise an old friend, the only companion of my childhood that passed through the school with me. We have always loved one another : perhaps we may be made better by some serious conversation; of which, however, I have no distinct hope.”
He says, too, “ At Lichfield, my native place, I hope to show a good example by frequent attendance on publick worship.”
[This observation, just enough in general, is here peculiarly ill-placed; for, besides the motives for the journey which Mr. Boswell has quoted from the Prayers and Meditations, we shall see, by a subsequent letter, that Mrs. Thrale's kindness had forced him to undertake this little tour for the benefit of his health and spirits. -Ed.]