The explosion was soon over on this occasion. Not long afterwards, Johnson attacked Boswell so fiercely at a dinner at Reynolds’s, that the poor disciple kept away for a week. They made it up when they met next, and Johnson solaced Boswell’s wounded vanity by highly commending an image made by him to express his feelings. “I don’t care how often or how high Johnson tosses me, when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are present.” The phrase may recall one of Johnson’s happiest illustrations. When some one said in his presence that a conge d’elire might be considered as only a strong recommendation: “Sir,” replied Johnson, “it is such a recommendation as if I should throw you out of a two-pair of stairs window, and recommend you to fall soft.”
It is perhaps time to cease these extracts from Boswell’s reports. The next two years were less fruitful. In 1779 Boswell was careless, though twice in London, and in 1780, he did not pay his annual visit. Boswell has partly filled up the gap by a collection of sayings made by Langton, some passages from which have been quoted, and his correspondence gives various details. Garrick died in January of 1779, and Beauclerk in March, 1780. Johnson himself seems to have shown few symptoms of increasing age; but a change was approaching, and the last years of his life were destined to be clouded, not merely by physical weakness, but by a change of circumstances which had great influence upon his happiness.
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOHNSON’S LIFE.
In following Boswell’s guidance we have necessarily seen only one side of Johnson’s life; and probably that side which had least significance for the man himself.
Boswell saw in him chiefly the great dictator of conversation; and though the reports of Johnson’s talk represent his character in spite of some qualifications with unusual fulness, there were many traits very inadequately revealed at the Mitre or the Club, at Mrs. Thrale’s, or in meetings with Wilkes or Reynolds. We may catch some glimpses from his letters and diaries of that inward life which consisted generally in a long succession of struggles against an oppressive and often paralysing melancholy. Another most noteworthy side to his character is revealed in his relations to persons too humble for admission to the tables at which he exerted a despotic sway. Upon this side Johnson was almost entirely loveable. We often have to regret the imperfection of the records of
That best portion
of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.