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manners such as presented the character of a plain independent English 'squire. As this family will frequently be mentioned in the course of the following pages, and as a false notion has prevailed that Mr. Thrale was inferior, and in some degree insignificant, compared with Mrs. Thrale, it may be proper to give a true state of the case from the authority of Johnson himself in his own words.
“I know no man,” said he, “who is more master of his wife and family than Thrale. If he but holds up a finger, he is obeyed. It is a great mistake to suppose that she is above him in literary attainments. She is more flippant; but he has ten times her learning: he is a regular scholar; but her learning is that of a schoolboy in one of the lower forms." My readers may naturally wish for some representation of the figures of this couple. Mr. Thrale was tall, well proportioned, and stately. As for Madam, or my Mistress, by which epithets Johnson used to mention Mrs. Thrale, she was short, plump, and brisk.(). She has herself given us a lively view of the idea which Johnson had of her person, on her appearing before him in a dark-coloured
in a dark-coloured gown: “You little creatures should never wear those sort of clothes, however; they are unsuitable in every way. What! have not all insects gay colours ? " (2) Mr. Thrale
gave his wife a liberal indulgence, both in the choice of their company, and in the mode of enter
(1) Mrs. Thrale was about twenty-four or twenty-five years of age, when this acquaintance commenced; it not being quite clear whether she was born in January 1740, or 1741. - C.
(2) Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 279.
taining them. He understood and valued Johnson, without remission, from their first acquaintance to the day of his death. Mrs. Thrale was enchanted with Johnson's conversation for its own sake, and had also a very allowable vanity in appearing to be honoured with the attention of so celebrated a man.
Nothing could be more fortunate for Johnson than this connection. He had at Mr. Thrale's all the comforts and even luxuries of life; his melancholy was diverted, and his irregular habits lessened by association with an agreeable and well-ordered family. He was treated with the utmost respect, and even affection. The vivacity of Mrs. Thrale's literary talk roused him to cheerfulness and exertion, even when they were alone. But this was not often the case ; for he found here a constant succession of what
gave him the highest enjoyment, the society of the learned, the witty, and the eminent in every way; who were assembled in numerous companies, called forth his wonderful powers, and gratified him with admiration, to which no man could be insensible.
In the October of this year he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare, which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface, in which the excellences and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain.(1) A blind
(1) Johnson was insensible to Churchill's abuse; but the poem before mentioned had brought to remembrance that his edition of Shakspeare had long been due. His friends took the alarm, and, by all the arts of reasoning and persuasion, laboured indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the British nation to the ridicule of foreigners. Johnson, by candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was like that of a counsel, upon his own side of the cause: Johnson's was like the grave, well-considered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though his researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute, as they might have been ; which we now certainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious critics who have followed him. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristic excellence. Many of his notes have illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has, in general, exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors.
to convince him that, having taken subscriptions for a work in which he had made no progress, his credit was at stake. He confessed he was culpable, and promised from time to time to begin a course of such reading as was necessary to qualify him for the work: this was no more than he had formerly done in an engagement with Coxeter *, to whom he had bound himself to write the Life of Shakspeare, but he never could be prevailed on to begin it, so that even now it was questioned whether his promises were to be relied on. For this reason Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some other of his friends, who were more concerned for his reputation than himself seemed to be, contrived to entangle him by a wager, or some other pecuniary engagement, to perform his task by a certain time.
* Thomas Coxeter, Esq., who had also made a large collection of Plays, and from whose manuscript notes the “Lives of the English Poets,” by Shiels and Cibber, were principally compiled. Mr. Coxeter was bred at Trinity College, Oxford, and died in London, April 17. 1747, in his fiftyninth year. A particular account of him may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1781, p. 173. - MALONE.
With regard to Cibber's or Shiel's Lives of the Poets, see antè, vol. i. p. 216., and post, April 10. 1776, where the subject is resumed. - C.
His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch university, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches. Though he certainly was not without considerable merit, he wrote with so little regard to decency, and principles, and decorum, and in so hasty a manner, that his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening, when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said, he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, “Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves public, without making themselves known.” (1)
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review of John
(1) [Kenrick was born at Watford, Herts, and was brought up to the business of a rule-maker, which he quitted for literature. He began his career with poetry, and next turned critic in the Monthly Review. Of this“ attack," entitled “ A Review of Dr. Johnson's new edition of Shakspeare; in which the Ignorance or Inattention of that Editor is exposed, and the Poet defended from the Persecution of his Commentators,” Dr. Johnson only said, “He did not think himself bound by Kenrick's rules. He wrote two plays without success, and in 1772 was involved in a lawsuit with Garrick. In 1774 he delivered Lectures on Shakspeare, and the next year commenced the London Review, which he continued to his death, June 10. 1779.]
Ætat. 56. PREFACE TO SHAKSPEARE. VOLTAIRE. 301
son's Shakspeare. Johnson was at first angry that Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, considering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died.
In his Preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks, “These are the petty cavils of petty minds.” Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it.()
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
LETTER 94. TO DR. JOSEPH WARTON.
“ Oct. 9. 1765. “ DEAR SIR,Mrs. Warton uses me hardly in supposing that I could forget so much kindness and civility as she showed me at Winchester. I remember, likewise, our conversation about St. Cross. (2) The desire
(1) “Je ne veux point soupçonner le sieur Jonson d'être un mauvais plaisant, et d'aimer trop le vin : mais je trouve un peu singulier qu'il compte la bouffonnerie et l'ivrognerie parmi les beautés du théâtre tragique;" &c. &c. - Dictionnaire Philosophique, art. “ Art Dramatique.” Voltaire, édit. 1784, vol. Xxxviii. p. 10.]
(2) The hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester, endowed formerly for the maintenance of seventy resident members, clergy and laity, with one hundred out-pensioners; but, since the dissolution, reduced to ten residents, with the master and chaplain, and three out-pensioners. - C.