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My curiosity is on fire to become acquainted with my sisters, the old maids, of whom I hear so much, and which are said to be the bard's. My bookseller, neglecting my order, has vexed me by delay. What an age of wit and genius is the present! But the world will never be cured of its cant about “weakened nature and exhausted art.” Shaftesbury and Addison so canted in their period, now called the Augustan: Envy of contemporary claims produces, and will ever produce it. We have plenty of ravens, that fly croaking about, and seek to darken, with their flapping wings, the present golden day.— Farewell !
COURT DEWES, Esg.
Lichfield, Jan. 30, 1786. Cold and dreary was my journey from the mansion of many pleasures at Wellsburn, through the snowy length of unjoyous roads : but however destitute of bodily comforts, filial hopes, the delight which I knew my return would diffuse through the dear aged bosom, recompensed the
chillness and monotony of outward objects. The happiness my father expressed on my return, made it: impossible for me to regret the loss of any gratifications which he had not shared. It is not to you that I scruple to acknowledge this, amidst my grateful thanks for your late attentions, as well as animated welcome. They have left me largely your debtor.
All the politeness of your spirit is in the reason you give for the decreasing interest of the Task, the two first books of which I had the honour to read to you. But, in truth, the interest of that poem does decrease on its progress. It is ill for the interest of a muse, at least with people of benevolent taste, when she quits the mazes of sportive invention, pathetic description, and generous sentiment, for those thorny paths of acrimonious satire, whose darkness is rendered visible by the flashes of the reader's just indignation.
As to the Old Maids, I still rely upon internal evidence respecting the author of that work. Perhaps I wish no man had written it, while I feel that no woman would; but I persevere in believing there is but one man in Europe, since it lost Voltaire, whose species of wit is responsible for that
very uncommon composition.
Apropos of old maids. After a gradual decline of a few months, we have lost dear Mrs Porter, the earliest object of Dr Johnson's love. This was some years before he married her mother. In youth, her fair, clean complexion, bloom, and rustic prettiness, pleased the men. More than once she might have married advantageously; but as to the enamoured affections,
“ High Taurus’ snow, fann'd by the eastern wind,
Spite of the accustomed petulance of her temper, and odd perverseness, since she had no malignance, I regret her as a friendly creature, of intrinsic worth, with whom, from childhood, I had been intimate. She was one of those few beings who, from a sturdy singularity of temper, and some prominent good qualities of head and heart, was enabled, even in her days of scanty maintenance, to make society glad to receive, and pet the grown spoiled child. Affluence was not hers till it came to her in her fortieth year, by the death of her eldest brother. From the age of twenty till that period, she had boarded in Lichfield with Dr Johnson's mother, who still kept that little bookseller's shop, by which her husband had supplied the scanty means of existence.
Meantime, Lucy Porter kept the best company of our little city, but would make no engagement on market-days, lest Granny, as she called Mrs Johnson, should catch cold by serving in the shop. There Lucy Porter took her place, standing behind the counter, 'nor thought it a disgrace to thank a poor person who purchased from her a penny battledore.
With a marked vulgarity of address and language, and but little intellectual cultivation, she had a certain shrewdness of understanding, and piquant humour, with the most perfect truth and integrity. By these good traits in her character, were the most respectable inhabitants of this place induced to bear, with kind smiles, her mulish obstinacy, and perverse contradictions. Johnson himself, often her guest, set the example, and extended to her that compliant indulgence which he shewed not to any other person. I have heard her scold him like a school-boy, for soiling her floor with his shoes, for she was clean as a Dutchwoman in her house, and exactly neat in her per
Dress too she loved in her odd way; but we will not assert that the Graces were her handmaids.' Friendly, cordial, and cheerful to those she loved, she was more esteemed, more amusing, and more regretted, than many a polished character, over whose smooth, but insipid surface, the
attention of those who have mind passes listless and uninterested.
Adieu !Do I flatter myself inordinately by the idea, that I am sometimes regretted in that circle at Wellsburn, which so well understands how to speed and illuminate the winter's day?
Rev. T. S. WHALLEY, on the Continent.
Lichfield, Feb. 1, 1786. OFTEN has it been mine to experience that uppleasant sensation of stagnated abilities, under the influence of which you began your letter ; but imagination soon gets afloat upon the rising energies of friendly communication. I smiled to see how quickly yours began to glide away through the pages before me,
with every sail of the imagination unfurled; yet it grieved me to see the sable, flag waving amongst them. Alas! poor L-Surely the once gay and frolic Estrena will feel some kind regrets, some upbraidings of conscience, when she hears of his death, a con