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The Reverend Mr. Seward.
in which Mr. Walmsley lived, and which had been the scene of many happy hours in Johnson's early life. Mr. Seward had, with ecclesiastical hospitality and politeness, asked me in the morning, merely as a stranger, to dine with him; and in the afternoon, when I was introduced to him, he asked Dr. Johnson and me to spend the evening and sup with him. He was a genteel well-bred dignified clergyman, had travelled with Lord Charles Fitzroy, uncle of the present Duke of Grafton, who died when abroad, and he had lived much in the great world. He was an ingenious and literary man, had published an edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, and written verses in Dodsley's collection. His lady was the daughter of Mr. Hunter, Johnson's first schoolmaster. And now, for the first time, I had the pleasure of seeing his celebrated daughter, Miss Anna Seward, to whom I have since been indebted for many civilities, as well as some obliging, communications concerning Johnson'.
Mr. Seward mentioned to us the observations which he had made upon the strata of earth in volcanoes, from which it appeared, that they were so very different in depth at different periods, that no calculation whatever could be made as to the time required for their formation. This fully refuted an anti-mosaical remark introduced into Captain Brydone's entertaining tour, I hope heedlessly, from a
I kind of vanity which is too common in those who have not sufficiently studied the most important of all subjects. Dr. Johnson, indeed, had said before, independent of this observation, 'Shall all the accumulated evidence of the history of the world ;-shall the authority of what is unquestionably
· Boswell, after his book was published, quarrelled with Miss Seward. He said that he was forced to examine these communications ' with much caution. They were tinctured with a strong prejudice against Johnson.' His book, he continued, was meant to be a real history and not a novel,' so that he had to suppress all erroneous particulars, however entertaining. He accused her of attacking Johnson with malevolence. Gent. Mag. 1793, p. 1009. For Boswell's second meeting with her, see post, iii. 323.
The death of Mr. Thrale's son.
the most ancient writing, be overturned by an uncertain remark such as this '?'
On Monday, March 25, we breakfasted at Mrs. Lucy Porter's. Johnson had sent an express to Dr. Taylor's, acquainting him of our being at Lichfield”, and Taylor had returned an answer that his post-chaise should come for us this day. While we sat at breakfast, Dr. Johnson received a letter by the post, which seemed to agitate him very much. When he had read it, he exclaimed, One of the most dreadful things that has happened in my time. The
' phrase my time, like the word age, is usually understood to refer to an event of a publick or general nature. I imagined something like an assassination of the King - like a gunpowder plot carried into execution--or like another fire of London. When asked, “What is it, Sir?' he answered, * Mr. Thrale has lost his only son'! This was, no doubt, a
' very great affliction to Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, which their friends would consider accordingly; but from the manner in which the intelligence of it was communicated by Johnson, it appeared for the moment to be comparatively small. I, however, soon felt a sincere concern, an
us to observe, how Dr. Johnson would be affected. He said, * This is a total extinction to their family, as much as if
· A Signor Recupero had noticed on Etna, the thickness of each stratum of earth between the several strata of lava. •He tells me,' wrote Brydone, ‘ he is exceedingly embarrassed by these discoveries in writing the history of the mountain. That Moses hangs like a dead weight upon him, and blunts all his zeal for inquiry; for that really he has not the conscience to make his mountain so young as that prophet makes the world. The bishop, who is strenuously orthodox --for it is an excellent see-has already warned him to be upon his guard, and not to pretend to be a better natural historian than Moses.' Brydone's Tour, i. 141.
? He wrote :- Mr. Boswell is with me, but I will take care that he shall hinder no business, nor shall he know more than you would have him.' Mr. Morison's Collection of Autographs, vol. ii.
3 · March 23, 1776. Master Thrale, son of Mr. Thrale, member for the Borough, suddenly before his father's door.' Gent. Mag. 1776, p. 142.
they talked many
Feeling for others.
they were sold into captivity.' Upon my mentioning that Mr. Thrale had daughters, who might inherit his wealth ;‘Daughters, (said Johnson, warmly,) he'll no more value his daughters than-' I was going to speak.-'Sir, (said he,) don't you know how you yourself think? Sir, he wishes to propagate his name'.' In short, I saw male succession strong in his mind, even where there was no name, no family of any long standing. I said, it was lucky he was not present when this misfortune happened. JOHNSON. “It is lucky for me. People in distress never think that you feel enough.' BOSWELL. ‘And, Sir, they will have the hope of seeing you, which will be a relief in the mean time; and when you get to them, the pain will be so far abated, that they will be capable of being consoled by you, which, in the first violence of it, I believe, would not be the case.' JOHNSON. “No, Sir; violent pain of mind, like violent pain of body, inust be severely felt.' BOSWELL. I own, Sir, I have not so much feeling for the distress of others, as some people have, or pretend to have: but I know this, that I would do all in my power to relieve them.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is affectation to pretend to feel the distress of others, as much as they do themselves. It is equally so, as if one should pretend to feel as much pain while a friend's leg is cutting off, as he does. No, Sir; you have expressed the rational and just nature of sympathy. I would have gone to the extremity of the earth to have preserved this boy?'
He was soon quite calm. The letter was from Mr. Thrale's clerk, and concluded, “I need not say how much they wish to see you in London.' He said, “We shall hasten back from Taylor's.'
Mrs. Lucy Porter and some other ladies of the place
· See post, iii. 109.
Sir,' he said, I would walk to the extent of the diameter of the earth to save Beauclerk' (post, 1780, in Mr. Langton's Collection). He had written of the boy the previous summer :- Pray give my service to my dear friend Harry, and tell him that Mr. Murphy does not love him better than I do.' Piozzi Letters, i. 262.
talked a great deal of him when he was out of the room, not only with veneration but affection. It pleased me to find that he was so much beloved in his native city.
Mrs. Aston, whom I had seen the preceding night, and her sister, Mrs. Gastrel, a widow lady, had each a house and garden, and pleasure-ground, prettily situated upon Stowhill, a gentle eminence, adjoining to Lichfield. Johnson walked away to dinner there, leaving me by myself without any apology; I wondered at this want of that facility of manners, from which a man has no difficulty in carrying a friend to a house where he is intimate; I felt it very unpleasant to be thus left in solitude in a country town, where I was an entire stranger, and began to think myself unkindly deserted: but I was soon relieved, and convinced that my friend, instead of being deficient in delicacy, had conducted the matter with perfect propriety, for I received the following note in his handwriting: ‘Mrs. Gastrel, at the lower house on Stowhill, desires Mr. Boswell's company to dinner at two.' I accepted of the invitation, and had here another proof how amiable his character was in the opinion of those who knew him best. I was not informed, till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrel's husband was the clergyman who, while he lived at Stratford upon Avon, where he was proprietor of Shakspeare's garden, with Gothick barbarity cut down his mulberry-tree', and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours. His lady, I have reason to believe, on the same authority', participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts for our immortal bard deem almost a species of sacrilege.
After dinner Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to Mrs. Thrale on the death of her son'. I said it would be very distressing to Thrale, but she would soon forget it, as she had so
· See an accurate and animated statement of Mr. Gastrel's barbarity, by Mr. Malone, in a note on Some account of the Life of William Shakspeare prefixed to his admirable edition of that poet's works, vol. i. p. 118. BOSWELL.
? See Prior's Life of Malone, p. 142. s Piozzi Letters, i. 307.
The theatre in Lichfield Town-hall.
many things to think of. JOHNSON. No, Sir, Thrale will
“ forget it first. She has many things that she may think of. He has many things that he must think of'.' This was a very just remark upon the different effect of those light pursuits which occupy a vacant and easy mind, and those serious engagements which arrest attention, and keep us from brooding over grief.
He observed of Lord Bute, “ It was said of Augustus, that it would have been better for Rome that he had never been born, or had never died. So it would have been better for this nation if Lord Bute had never been minister, or had never resigned.'
In the evening we went to the Town-hall, which was converted into a temporary theatre, and saw Theodosius, with The Stratford Jubilee. I was happy to see Dr. Johnson sitting in a conspicuous part of the pit, and receiving affectionate homage from all his acquaintance. We were quite gay and merry. I afterwards mentioned to him that I condemned myself for being so, when poor Mr. and Mrs. Thrale were in such distress. JOHNSON. You are wrong, Sir; twenty years hence Mr. and Mrs. Thrale will not suffer much pain from the death of their son. Now, Sir, you are
. to consider, that distance of place, as well as distance of time, operates upon the human feelings. I would not have you be gay in the presence of the distressed, because it would shock them; but you may be gay at a distance. Pain for the loss of a friend, or of a relation whom we love, is occasioned by the want which we feel. In time the vacuity is filled with something else; or sometimes the vacuity closes up of itself.'
Mr. Seward and Mr. Pearson, another clergyman here, supt with us at our inn, and after they left us, we sat up late as we used to do in London.
Here I shall record some fragments of my friend's conversation during this jaunt.
• Marriage, Sir, is much more necessary to a man than to
See post, iii. 21, note.