Samuel Johnson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 213 pages of information about Samuel Johnson.

Everywhere in Johnson’s letters and in the occasional anecdotes, we come upon indications of a tenderness and untiring benevolence which would make us forgive far worse faults than have ever been laid to his charge.  Nay, the very asperity of the man’s outside becomes endeared to us by the association.  His irritability never vented itself against the helpless, and his rough impatience of fanciful troubles implied no want of sympathy for real sorrow.  One of Mrs. Thrale’s anecdotes is intended to show Johnson’s harshness:—­“When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America, ‘Pr’ythee, my dear,’ said he, ’have done with canting; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks and roasted for Presto’s supper?’ Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.”  The counter version, given by Boswell is, that Mrs. Thrale related her cousin’s death in the midst of a hearty supper, and that Johnson, shocked at her want of feeling, said, “Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and roasted for Presto’s supper.”  Taking the most unfavourable version, we may judge how much real indifference to human sorrow was implied by seeing how Johnson was affected by a loss of one of his humblest friends.  It is but one case of many.  In 1767, he took leave, as he notes in his diary, of his “dear old friend, Catherine Chambers,” who had been for about forty-three years in the service of his family.  “I desired all to withdraw,” he says, “then told her that we were to part for ever, and, as Christians, we should part with prayer, and that I would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her.  She expressed great desire to hear me, and held up her poor hands as she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, in nearly the following words”—­which shall not be repeated here—­“I then kissed her,” he adds.  “She told me that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place.  I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of kindness, the same hopes.  We kissed and parted—­I humbly hope to meet again and part no more.”

A man with so true and tender a heart could say serenely, what with some men would be a mere excuse for want of sympathy, that he “hated to hear people whine about metaphysical distresses when there was so much want and hunger in the world.”  He had a sound and righteous contempt for all affectation of excessive sensibility.  Suppose, said Boswell to him, whilst their common friend Baretti was lying under a charge of murder, “that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.”  “I should do what I could,” replied Johnson, “to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.”  “Would you eat your dinner that day, sir?”

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Samuel Johnson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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