Dr. Johnson and Fanny Burney

...in the midst of this performance Dr. Johnson was announced. He is, indeed, very ill-favoured; is tall and stout; but stoops terribly; he is almost bent double. His mouth is almost [continually opening and shutting] as if he was chewing. He has a strange method of frequently twirling his fingers, and twisting his hands. His body is in continual agitation, see-sawing up and down; his feet are never a moment quiet; and, in short, his whole person is in perpetual motion.

His dress, too, considering the times, and that he had meant to put on his best becomes, being engaged to dine in a large company, was as much out of the common road as his figure; he had a large wig, snuff-colour coat, and gold buttons, but no ruffles to his [shirt], doughty fists, and black worsted stockings.

He is shockingly near-sighted, and did not, till she held out her hand to him, even know Mrs. Thrale. He poked his nose over the keys of the harpsichord, till the duet was finished, and then my father introduced Hetty to him as an old acquaintance, and he cordially kissed her! When she was a little girl, he had made her a present of The Idler.

Fanny Burney Fanny Burney       Samuel Johnson Samuel Johnson

His attention, however, was not to be diverted five minutes from the books, as we were in the library; he pored over them, shelf by shelf, almost touching the backs of them with his eye-lashes as he read their titles. At last, having fixed upon one, he began, without further ceremony, to read to himself, all the time standing at a distance from the company. We were all very much provoked, as we perfectly languished to hear him talk; but it seems he is the most silent creature, when not particularly drawn out, in the world.

My sister then played another duet with my father; but Dr. Johnson was so deep in the Encyclopedie that as he is very deaf, I question if he even knew what was going forward. When this was over, Mrs. Thrale, in a laughing manner, said, "Pray, Dr. Burney, can you tell me what that song was and whose, which Savoi sung last night at Bach's Concert, and which you did not hear?"

My father confessed himself by no means so good a diviner, not having had time to consult the stars, though in the house of Sir Isaac Newton. However, wishing to draw Dr. Johnson into some conversation, he told him the question. The Doctor, seeing his drift, good-naturedly put away his book, and said very drolly, "And pray, Sir, who is Bach? Is he a piper?"

Many exclamations of surprise, you will believe, followed this question. "Why, you have read his name often in the papers," said Mrs. Thrale; and then she gave him some account of his Concert, and the number of fine performances she had heard at it.

"Pray," said he, gravely, "Madam, what is the expense?"

"Oh!" answered she, "much trouble and solicitation, to get a Subscriber's Ticket - or else, half a Guinea".

"Trouble and solicitation," said he, "I will have nothing to do with; but I would be willing to give eighteen pence."

Ha! ha!

Hester Thrale Hester Thrale

Chocolate being then brought, we adjourned to the drawing-room. And here, Dr. Johnson being taken from the books, entered freely and most cleverly into conversation; though it is remarkable he never speaks at all, but when spoken to; nor does he ever start, though he so admirably supports, any subject.

The whole party was engaged to dine at Mrs. Montagu's. Dr. Johnson said he had received the most flattering note he had ever read, or that any body else had ever read, by way of invitation.

"Well! so have I too," cried Mrs. Thrale; "so if a note from Mrs. Montagu is to be boasted of, I beg mine may not be forgot."

"Your note," cried Dr. Johnson, "can bear no comparison with mine; I am at the head of the Philosophers, she says."

"And I," cried Mrs. Thrale, "have all the Muses in my train!"

"A fair battle," said my father. "Come, compliment for compliment, and see who will hold out longest."

"Oh! I am afraid for Mrs. Thrale," cried Mr. Seward; "for I know Mrs. Montague exerts all her forces, when she attacks Dr. Johnson."

"Oh, yes!" said Mrs. Thrale, "she has often, I know, flattered him, till he has been ready to faint."

"Well, ladies," said my father, "you must get him between you to-day, and see which can lay on the paint thickest, Mrs. Thrale or Mrs. Montagu."

"I had rather," cried the Doctor, drily, "go to Bach's Concert!"

Made with Macintosh Samuel Johnson Sampler, maintained by Chris Adams

myspace counters