ABOUT half-past nine o'clock on the night of October 6th, 1769, a tall, middle-aged gentleman named Joseph Baretti was walking up the Hay-market. The street was probably as well lighted as any other in London, and this is equivalent to saying that a foot passenger, by keeping close to the windows of the shops and taking cross bearings of the economically distributed oil lamps hung out at the corners of the many lanes, might be able to avoid the deep channel of filth that slunk along the margin of cobble stones. But just at this time the Haymarket must have been especially well illuminated, for the Opera House was in the act of discharging its audience, and quite a number of these fashionable folk went home in their chairs, with link boys walking by the side of the burly Irish chairmen, showing a flaring flame which left behind it a long trail of suffocating smoke, and spluttered resin and bitumen into the faces and upon the garments of all who were walking within range of the illuminant. Then there was the little theatre higher up the street, and its lamps were not yet extinguished; so that Mr. Baretti may have felt that on the whole he was fortunate in the hour he had chosen for his stroll to the coffee-house where he meant to sup. He may have thought that he had a chance of coming across his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds leaving one of the playhouses, and of being invited by that hospitable gentleman to his house in Leicester Fields; or his still more intimate friend Dr. Samuel Johnson, who would certainly insist on carrying him off to the “Mitre,” unless the great man were accompanied by that little Scotch person, James Boswell, who usually wanted him all to himself, after he had given people a chance of seeing him in the company of his distinguished friend, and envying him his position of intimacy—the same position of intimacy that exists between a Duke and his doormat. Mr. Baretti was too short-sighted to have any chance of recognising Sir Joshua Reynolds unless he chanced to be standing under the lamp in the portico of the playhouse, but he felt that he would have no trouble in recognising Dr. Johnson. The latter had characteristics that appealed to other senses than the sense of seeing, and made the act of recognition easy enough to his intimates.

Mr. Baretti, however, passed along the dispersing crowd, and was soon in the dim regions of Panton Street, where pedestrians were few. But before he had turned down this street he found his way barred by a couple of half-drunken women. His infirmity of sight prevented his being aware of their presence until he was almost in the arms of one of them, and the very second that he made his sudden stop she made a change in the details of the accident that seemed imminent and threw herself into his arms with a yell.

The good man was staggered for a moment, but, recovering himself, he flung her off with an expressive word or two in the Italian tongue. She went limply back and, being adroitly avoided by her companion, gave a circular stagger or two and fell into the gutter with a screech.

Baretti was hurrying on when out of the darkness of Panton Street a big man sprang, followed quickly by two others. The first seized him by the right arm with the oath of a bully, the others tried to trip him up, shouting that he had killed a lady. Baretti was a powerful man and decidedly tough. He struck at the fellow who had closed with him, and used his feet against the attack of the others with considerable effect. He managed to free his arm, but before he could draw his sword he was pulled backward and would have fallen upon his head if he had not clutched the coat of the man from whom he had freed himself. There was a pause of a few seconds, filled up by the wild street yell of the women. The most aggressive of the three men leapt upon the unfortunate Baretti, but before their bodies met, gave a guttural shriek, then a groan. He staggered past, his fingers tearing like talons at his ribs; he whirled twice round and, gasping, fell on his knees, motionless only for a few seconds; his hands dropped limply from his side, and he pitched forward on his head into the gutter.

Baretti was standing, awaiting a further attack, with a knife in his hand, when he was seized by some of the crowd. He offered no resistance. He seemed to be so amazed at finding himself alive as to be incapable of taking any further action.

“He has killed the man—stabbed him with a dagger to the very heart!” was the cry that came from those of the crowd who were kneeling beside the wretch in the gutter.

“And a woman—he had slain a woman at the outset. Hold him fast. None of us are safe this night. Have a care for the dagger, friends!”

A sufficiency of advice was given by the excited onlookers to the men who had encircled Baretti—one of them was clinging to him with his arms clasped around his body—until two of the Haymarket watch hurried up, striking right and left with their staves after the wholesome manner of the period, and so making a way for their approach through the crowd.

“'Tis more than a street brawl—a man has been slain—some say a woman also,” a shopkeeper explained to them, having run bareheaded out of his shop; his apprentice had just put up the last of the shutters.

They had Baretti by the collar in a second, cautiously disarming him, holding the weapon up to the nearest lamp. The blade was still wet with blood.

“A swinging matter this,” one of them remarked. “I can swear to the blood. No dagger, but a knife. What man walks the streets at night with a naked knife unless slaughter is his intent?”

“Friends, I was attacked by three bullies, and I defended myself—that is all,” said Baretti. He spoke English perfectly.

“You will need to tell that to Sir John in the morning,” said one of the watchmen. “You are apprehended in the King's name. Where is the poor victim?”

“There must be some of the crowd who saw how I was attacked,” said Baretti. “They will testify that I acted in self-defence. Sirs, hear me make an appeal to you. Out of your sense of justice—you will not see an innocent man apprehended.”

“The knife—who carries a bare knife in the streets unless with intent?” said a man.

“'Twas my fruit-knife. I never go abroad without it. I eat my fruit like a Christian, not like a pig or an Englishman,” was the defence offered by Baretti, who had now quite lost his temper and was speaking with his accustomed bitterness. He usually sought to pass as an Englishman, but he was now being arrested by the minions of the law as it was in England.

“Hear him! A pig of an Englishman. Those were his words! A foreign hound. Frenchie, I'll be bound.”

“A spy—most like a Papist. He has the hanging brow of a born Papist.”

“He'll hang like a dog at Tyburn—he may be sure o' that.”

“'Tis the mercy o' Heaven that the rascal was caught red-handed! Sirs, this may be the beginning of a dreadful massacring plot against the lives of honest and peaceful people.”

The comments of a crowd of the period upon such an incident as the stabbing of an Englishman by a foreigner in the streets of London can easily be imagined.

Even when Baretti was put into a hackney coach and driven off to Bow Street the crowd doubtless remained talking in groups of the menace to English freedom and true religion by the arrival of pestilent foreigners, every man of them carrying a knife. It would be a sad day for England when Jesuitical fruit-knives took the place of good wholesome British bludgeons in the settlement of the ordinary differences incidental to a Protestant people.

It is certain that this was one of the comments of the disintegrating crowd, and it is equally certain that Baretti commented pretty freely to his custodians in the hackney coach upon the place occupied in the comity of nations of that State, the social conditions of whose metropolis made possible so gross a scandal as the arrest of a gentleman and a scholar, solely by reason of his success in snatching his life out of the talons of a ruffian and a bully.

Mr. Baretti was a gentleman and a scholar whose name appears pretty frequently in the annals of the eighteenth century, but seldom with any great credit to himself. As a matter of fact, this dramatic episode of the stabbing of the man in the Haymarket is the happiest with which his name is associated. He made his most creditable appearance in the chronicles of the period as the chief actor in this sordid drama. He cuts a very poor figure indeed upon every other occasion when he appears in the pages of his contemporaries, though they all meant to be kind to him.

He never could bear people to be kind to him, and certainly, so far as he himself was concerned, it cannot be said that any blame attaches to him for the persistence of his friends in this direction. He did all that mortal man could do to discourage them, and if after the lapse of a year or two he was still treated by some with cordiality or respect, assuredly it was not owing to his display of any qualities that justified their maintenance of such an attitude.

Mr. Baretti was an eminently detestable scholar of many parts. He was as detestable as he was learned—perhaps even more so. Learned men are not invariably horrid, unless they are men of genius as well, and this rarely happens.

Baretti had no such excuse, though it must be acknowledged that his capacity for being disagreeable almost amounted to genius. Such a character as his is now and again met with in daily life. A man who feels himself to be, in point of scholarly attainment, far above the majority of men, and who sees inferiority occupying a place of distinction while he remains neglected and, to his thinking, unappreciated, is not an uncommon figure in learned or artistic circles. Baretti was a disappointed man, and he showed himself to be such. He had a grievance against the world for being constituted as it is. He had a grievance against society. He had a grievance against his friends who got on in the world. But the only people against whom he was really malevolent were those who were signally and unaccountably kind to him. He accepted their kindness, and then turned and rent them.

Dr. Johnson met him when they were both working for the booksellers, and when the great dictionary scheme was floated his co-operation was welcomed. Johnson's success in life was largely due to his faculty for discovering people who could be useful to him. It can easily be believed that, knowing something of the scholarship of Baretti, he should be delighted to avail himself of his help. Baretti had an intimate knowledge of several languages and their literature; as a philologist he was probably far superior to Johnson; and possibly Johnson knew this, though he was doubtless too wise ever to acknowledge so much openly. We do not hear that the relations between the two ever became strained while the great work was in course of progress. Shortly after it was completed Baretti returned to his native Italy, and began to reproach Johnson for not writing to him more frequently. We have several examples of the cheerfulness with which Johnson set about exculpating himself from such reproaches. The letters which he wrote to him at Italy are among the most natural that ever came from his pen. They are models of the gossipy style which Johnson could assume without once deviating from that dignity which so frequently became ponderous, suggesting the dignity of the elephant rather than that of the lion. Walpole was a master of the art of being gossipy without being dignified. But Johnson's style was not flexible. We have not Baretti's letters to Johnson, but the references made by the latter to some matters communicated to him by his correspondent let us know something of how Baretti was getting on in the land of his birth. He seems to have set his heart upon obtaining some appointment in Italy, and his aspirations included marriage. He was disappointed in both directions; and it would be too much to expect that his temper was improved by these rebuffs.

It may well be believed that he quarrelled his way through Italy. “I have lately seen Mr. Stratico, Professor of Padua, who has told me of your quarrel with an abbot of the Celestine Order, but had not the particulars very ready in his memory,” Johnson wrote to him at Milan. Any one who could quarrel with an abbot of the Celestine Order would, we fancy, be capable de tout, like the prophet Habakkuk, according to the witty Frenchman. One is not disposed to be hard upon Professor Stratico for his shortness of memory in regard to this particular quarrel; the strain of remembering the details of all the quarrels of Mr. Baretti would be too great for any man.

Of course, Dr. Johnson gave him some excellent advice. It seems that poor Baretti had been at first so well received on his return to Italy that he became sanguine of success in all his enterprises, and when they miscarried he wrote very bitterly to Johnson, who replied as follows:

“I am sorry for your disappointment, with which you seem more touched than I should expect a man of your resolution and experience to have been, did I not know that general truths are seldom applied to particular occasions; and that the fallacy of our selflove extends itself as wide as our interests or affections. Every man believes that mistresses are unfaithful and patrons capricious; but he excepts his own mistress and his own patron. We have all learned that greatness is negligent and contemptuous, and that in Courts life is often languished away in ungratified expectation; but he that approaches greatness or glitters in a Court, imagines that destiny has at last exempted him from the common lot.”

It is doubtful if this excellent philosophy made the person to whom it was addressed more amiable to his immediate entourage; nor is it likely that he was soothed by the assurance that his “patron's weakness or insensibility will finally do you little hurt, if he is not assisted by your own passions.”

“Of your love,” continued Johnson, “I know not the propriety; we can estimate the power, but in love, as in every other passion of which hope is the essence, we ought always to remember the uncertainty of events.” He then hastens to add that “love and marriage are different states. Those who are to suffer the evils together, and to suffer often for the sake of one another, soon lose that tenderness of look, and that benevolence of mind which arose from the participation of unmingled pleasure and success in amusement.”

The pleasant little cynical bark in the phrase “those that are to suffer the evils together,” as if it referred to love and marriage, is, Malone thinks, not Johnson's, but Baretti's. It is suggested that Johnson really wrote “those that are to suffer the evils of life together,” and that Baretti in transcribing the letter for Boswell, purposely omitted the words “of life.” It would be quite like Baretti to do this; for he would thereby work off part of his spite against Johnson for having given him the advice, and he would have had his own sneer against “love and marriage,” the fons et origo of his disappointment.

But of Dr. Johnson's esteem for the attainments of Baretti there can be no doubt. He thought that the book on Italy which he published on his return to England was very entertaining, adding: “Sir, I know no man who carries his head higher in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his mind. He has not, indeed, many hooks; but with what hooks he has he grapples very forcibly.”


It may seem rather strange after this that Baretti was never admitted to the membership of the celebrated club. He was intimate with nearly all the original members, but the truth remained that he was not what Johnson called a clubbable man: he had too many hooks, not too few.

Such was the man who was brought before Sir John Fielding, the magistrate at Bow Street, on the morning after the tragedy, charged with murder; and then it was that he found the value of the friendships which he had formed in England. The first person to hasten to his side in his extremity was Oliver Goldsmith, the man whom he had so frequently made the object of his sarcasm, whose peculiarities he had mimicked, not in the playful manner of Garrick or Foote, but in his own spiteful style, with the grim humour of the disappointed man. Goldsmith it was who opened his purse for him and got a coach for him when he was remanded until the next day, riding by his side to the place of his incarceration. Goldsmith was by his side when the question of bail was discussed before Lord Mansfield. For some reason which does not require any particular explanation, it was not thought that Goldsmith as a bailsman would appeal irresistibly to the authorities, but the names of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Edmund Burke, Mr. David Garrick, and Mr. H. Fitzherbert were submitted to Lord Mansfield, and immediately accepted. An amusing anecdote was current regarding the few days of Baretti's incarceration. One morning he was visited by a teacher of languages, who begged a trifling favour of him. This was merely a letter of recommendation to Baretti's pupils, so that the applicant might have a chance of taking them over “when you are hanged, sir.” The fact that this sympathetic visitor was allowed to depart without molestation makes people doubt whether Baretti was so bad-tempered after all. He did not assault the man. “You rascal!” he cried. “If I were not in my own room, I would kick you downstairs directly.”

The trial was fixed for October 20th at the Old Bailey, and a few days before this date a number of the prisoner's friends met together to consult as to the line which should be taken for his defence. It seems that they were not all agreed on some points; this was only to be expected, considering what an array of wisdom was brought together upon the occasion of these consultations, and considering also the course which was adopted by Dr. Johnson, who thought that the interests of the prisoner would be advanced by getting up an academical discussion with Burke. Johnson and Burke were notorious rivals in conversation in those days when conversation was regarded as an art, and men and women seemed to have plenty of leisure to talk together for the sake of talking, and to argue together for the sake of argument, and to be rude to one another for the sake of wit. Boswell was for ever extolling Johnson at the expense of Burke; and indeed, so far as one can gather from his pages, Johnson was the ruder man.

The example that Boswell gives of his own readiness in making Goldsmith “shut up” when he questioned Johnson's superiority to Burke in discussion is one of the best instances of the little Scotsman's incapacity to perceive the drift of an argument. “Is he like Burke who winds into a subject like a serpent?” asked Goldsmith.

“But” (said I) “Dr. Johnson is the Hercules that strangled serpents in his cradle.”

This repartee which Boswell gleefully records is about equal to the reply made by one of the poets who was appealed to in the “Bab Ballads” to say if he wrote “the lovely cracker mottoes my Elvira pulls at supper.” It will be remembered that the poet whose name rhymes with “supper” replied:

“'A fool is bent upon a twig, but wise men dread a bandit,'

Which” (the earnest inquirer said) “I felt was very wise,

but I didn't understand it.”

It was in regard to this consultation as to the best defence to be made out for Baretti that Johnson admitted to have opposed Burke simply for the sake of showing the rest of the company that he could get the better of Burke in an argument. “Burke and I,” he said, “should have been of one opinion if we had had no audience.” Such a confession! There was the life of his friend Baretti trembling in the balance, and yet Johnson, solely for the sake of “showing off,” opposed the wisdom and ingenuity Burke exercised to save from the gallows a man whom Johnson professed to admire!

But if we are to believe Boswell, Johnson cared very little whether his friend was hanged or not. As for Boswell himself, he always detested Baretti, and is reported to have expressed the earnest hope that the man would be hanged. However, the “consultations” went merrily on, and doubtless contributed in some measure to a satisfactory solution of the vexed question as to whether Johnson or Burke was the more brilliant talker. They formed a tolerably valid excuse for the uncorking of several bottles, and perhaps these friends of Baretti felt that even though he should die, yet the exchange of wit in the course of these happy evenings would live for ever in the memory of those present, so that after all, let the worst come to the worst, Baretti should have little cause for complaint.

It is reported that the prisoner, upon the occasion of his receiving a visit from Johnson and Burke, cried: “What need a man fear who holds two such hands?” It may here be mentioned, however, that although it was asserted that Johnson and Murphy were responsible for the line of defence adopted at the trial, yet in after years Baretti was most indignant that it should be suggested that credit should be given to any one but himself for his defence; and he ridiculed the notion that Johnson or Burke or Murphy or even Boswell—himself an aspirant to the profession of law in which he subsequently displayed a conspicuous lack of distinction—had anything to do with the instruction either of solicitors or barristers on his behalf.

At any rate, the “consultations” came to an end, and the friends of the accused awaited the trial with exemplary patience. Mr. Boswell seems suddenly to have become the most sympathetic of the friends; for three days before the event he took a journey to Tyburn to witness the hanging of several men at that place, and though it is known that the spectacle of a hanging never lost its charm for him, yet it is generous to assume that upon this occasion he went to Tyburn in order to qualify himself more fully for sympathising with Baretti, should the defence assigned to him break down.

Another ardent sympathiser was Mr. Thomas Davies the bookseller, a gentleman whose chief distinction in the eyes of his contemporaries consisted—if we are to believe one of the wittiest of his associates—in the fact that he had an exceedingly pretty wife; but whose claim to the gratitude of coming generations lies in the circumstance of his having introduced Boswell to Johnson. Tom Davies was terribly cut up at the thought of the possibility of Baretti's being sentenced to be hanged. Boswell, on the day before the trial, after telling Johnson how he had witnessed the executions at Tyburn, and expressing his surprise that none of the wretches seemed to think anything of the matter, mentioned that Foote, the actor, had shown him a letter which he had received from Tom Davies, and in which the writer affirmed that he had not had a wink of sleep owing to his anxiety in respect of “this sad affair of Baretti,” and begging Foote to suggest some way by which he could be of service to the accused, adding that should Mr. Foote be in need of anything in the pickle line, he could strongly recommend him to an industrious young man who had lately set up in that business.

Strange to say, Johnson was not impressed with this marked evidence of Mr. Davies' kind heart.

“Ay, sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy,” he cried. “A friend hanged and a cucumber pickled! We know not whether Baretti or the pickle man has kept Davies from sleep; nor does he know himself.”

This was rather sweeping, but his dictum showed that he was rather a poor analyser of human emotion. In the minds of the people of to-day who read of Tom Davies' bad nights there is no manner of doubt whatever that the sequence of his emotions was to be attributed to his intimacy with the industrious young pickle maker. Tom had indulged rather too freely in some of the specimens of his art presented to him by the pickler, and the result was a melancholy night; and, being melancholy, he was led to think of the most melancholy incident that had recently come under his notice. When a man is full of mixed pickles he is liable to get a little mixed, and so in the morning he attributed his miserable night to his thoughts about Baretti, instead of knowing that his thoughts about Baretti were the natural result of his miserable night. If he had been acquainted with an industrious young onion merchant he might have passed the night in tears.

“As for his not sleeping,” said Dr. Johnson, “sir, Tom Davies is a very great man—Tom has been on the stage, and knows how to do those things.”

Boswell: “I have often blamed myself, sir, for not feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.” Johnson: “Sir, don't be duped by them any more. You will find those very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.” Mr. Boswell thought that he would do well to turn his friend from the subject under discussion, so he made the apparently harmless remark that Foote had a great deal of humour and that he had a singular talent of exhibiting character. But Johnson had on him the mood not only of “the rugged Russian bear,” but also of “the armed rhinoceros and the Hyrcan tiger.”

“Sir, it is not a talent: it is a vice; it is what others abstain from,” he growled.

“Did not he think of exhibiting you, sir?” inquired the tactful Mr. Boswell, though he knew all about Foote and Johnson long before.

“Sir, fear restrained him,” said Johnson. “He knew I would have broken his bones. I would have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg: I would not have left him a leg to cut off.”

This brutal reference to the fact that Foote's recent accident had compelled him to have a leg amputated should surely have suggested to his inquisitor that he had probably been paying a visit to an industrious young pickle maker without Tom Davies' recommendation, or that he had partaken of too generous a helping of his favourite veal, baked with plums, and so that he would do well to leave him alone for a while. But no, Mr. Boswell was not to be denied.

“Pray, sir, is not Foote an infidel?” he inquired. But as he himself had been dining with Foote the previous day, and as he possessed no more delicacy than a polecat, he could easily have put the question to Foote himself.

But Johnson would not even give the man credit for his infidelity.

“I do not know, sir, that the fellow is an infidel,” he said; “but if he is an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an infidel, that is to say, he has never thought on the subject.”

In another second he was talking of Buchanan, a poet, whom he praised, and of Shakespeare, another poet, whom he condemned, winding up by saying that there were some very fine things in Dr. Young's Night Thoughts. But the most remarkable of his deliverances on this rather memorable evening had reference to Baretti's fate. After declaring that if one of his friends had just been hanged he would eat his dinner every bit as heartily as if his friend were still alive.—“Why, there's Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow,” he added; “friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum pudding the less.” Happily the accuracy of this tender-hearted scholar's prediction had no chance of being put to the test. Baretti was tried and acquitted.

Boswell gives only a few lines to an account of the trial, and fails to mention that the prisoner declined the privilege of being tried by a jury one half of whom should be foreigners. “It took place,” he said, “at the awful Sessions House, emphatically called Justice Hall,” and he affirms that “never did such a constellation of genius enlighten the Old Bailey.”

He mentions that Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Beauclerk, and Dr. Johnson gave evidence, the last-named being especially impressive, speaking in a slow, deliberate, and distinct tone of voice. It seems strange that Boswell, who was (nominally) a lawyer, when he wrote his life of Johnson, should say nothing whatever respecting the line of defence adopted by the friends of the prisoner upon this interesting occasion. It might have been expected that he would dwell lovingly, as a lawyer would certainly be pardoned for doing, upon the technical points involved in the trial, even though he hated Baretti. For instance, it would be interesting to learn why it was thought that the result of the trial might mean the hanging of Baretti, when from the first it was perfectly plain that he had acted in self-defence: not merely was he protecting his purse, he had actually to fight for his life against an acknowledged ruffian of the most contemptible type. In the present day if a short-sighted man of letters—say Mr. Augustine Birrell—were to be attacked in a dark street by three notorious scoundrels and to manage to kill one of them by poking the ferrule end of an umbrella into his eye, no one—not even a Conservative Attorney-General—would fancy that a grand jury at the New Old Bailey would return a true bill against him for the act, putting aside all question of his being found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. And yet in Baretti's time swords were commonly worn, and they were by no means toy weapons. Why should poor Tom Davies have a sleepless night, owing (as he believed) to his apprehension that his friend would be hanged in a day or two? Why was it necessary to dazzle the “awful Sessions House” by such “a constellation of genius” as had never before assembled in that “Hall of Justice”?

Mr. Boswell might certainly have told us something of the actual scene in the court, when he has devoted so much space to the ridiculous dialogues between himself and Johnson, having more or less bearing upon the case. The course he adopted is like laying a dinner-table with four knives and forks and five wineglasses for every guest—in having a constellation of genii in plush behind every chair, and then serving a dinner of hashed mutton only. A great number of people believe that whatever Boswell may have been, he was invariably accurate. But in this case he does not even give a true account of the constellation of genius to which he refers. He only says that Burke, Garrick, Beauclerk, and Johnson were called as witnesses. He omits to say a word about Goldsmith, who was something of a genius; or Reynolds, who was quite a tolerable painter; or Fitzherbert, who had a wide reputation as a politician; or Dr. Halifax, whose evidence carried certainly as much weight as Johnson's. He does not even say a word respecting the evidence which Johnson and the others were called on to give on behalf of the prisoner at the bar. What is the good of telling us that the constellation of genius had never been paralleled within the precincts of the “emphatically called Justice Hall” if we are not made aware of some of the flashes of their genius when they were put into the witness-box?

The truth is that Boswell had no sense of proportion any more than a sense of the sublime and beautiful—or, for that matter, a sense of the ridiculous. He was the Needy Knife Grinder—with an occasional axe of his own—of the brilliant circle into which he crawled, holding on to Johnson's skirts and half concealing himself beneath their capacious flaps. He had constant stories suggested to him, but he failed to see their possibilities. He was a knife grinder and nothing more; but at his own trade he was admirable; he ground away patiently at his trivialities respecting the man whom he never was within leagues of understanding, and it is scarcely fair to reproach him for not throwing away his grindstone, which he knew how to use, and taking to that of a diamond cutter, which he was incapable of manipulating. But surely he might have told us something more of the actual trial of Baretti instead of giving us page after page leading up to the trial.

From other sources we learn that what all the geniuses were called on to testify to was the pacific character of Baretti, and this they were all able to do in an emphatic manner. It would seem that it was assumed that the prisoner, a short-sighted, middle-aged man of letters, was possessed of all the dangerous qualities of a bloodthirsty brigand of his own country—that he was a fierce and ungovernable desperado, who was in the habit of prowling about the purlieus of the Haymarket to do to death with a fruit-knife the peaceful citizens whom he might encounter. He was a foreigner, and he had killed an Englishman with an outlandish weapon. That seems to have been the reason there was for the apprehension, which was very general in respect of the fate of Baretti, for it was upon these points that his witnesses were most carefully examined.

Goldsmith, Reynolds, and Garrick were very useful witnesses regarding the knife. They affirmed that in carrying a fruit-knife the prisoner was in no way departing from the recognised custom of his fellow-countrymen. He, in common with them, was in the habit of eating a great deal of fruit, so that the knife was a necessity with him.

Johnson's evidence was as follows:

“I have known Mr. Baretti a long time. He is a man of literature—a very studious man—a man of great intelligence. He gets his living by study. I have no reason to think he was ever disordered with liquor in his life. A man that I have never known to be otherwise than peaceable and a man that I take to be rather timorous. As to his eyesight, he does not see me now, nor do I see him. I do not believe he would be capable of assaulting anybody in the street without great provocation.”

It cannot be denied that the reference to Baretti's imperfect sight told upon the jury, and uttered as the words were by Johnson in his dignified way, they could scarcely fail to produce a profound effect upon the court.

Baretti was acquitted, and no one could presume to refer to him for the rest of his life except as a quiet, inoffensive, frugivorous gentleman, since these were the qualities with which he was endowed by a constellation of geniuses on their oath. He was acquitted by the jury; but the judge thought it well to say a few words to him before allowing him to leave the dock, and the drift of his discourse amounted to a severe censure upon his impetuosity, and the expression of a hope that the inconvenience to which he was put upon this occasion would act as a warning to him in future.

Really one could hardly imagine that in those days, when every week Mr. Boswell had a chance of going to such an entertainment at Tyburn as he had attended forty-eight hours before the opening of the Sessions, the taking of the life of a human being was regarded with such horror. One cannot help recalling the remark made by Walpole a few years later, that, owing to the severity of the laws, England had been turned into one vast shambles; nor can one quite forget the particulars of the case which was quoted as having an intimate bearing upon this contention—the case in which a young wife whose husband had been impressed to serve in His Majesty's Fleet, and who had consequently been left without any means of support, had stolen a piece of bread to feed her starving children, and had been hanged at Tyburn for the crime.

Reading the judge's censure of Baretti, who had, in preventing a contemptible ruffian from killing him, decreased by a unit the criminality of London, the only conclusion that one can come to is that the courts of law were very jealous of their precious prerogative to kill. Looking at the matter in this light, the bombastic phrase of Boswell does not seem so ridiculous after all; the Old Bailey had certainly good reason to be regarded as the “awful Sessions House.” But we are not so fully convinced that it had any right to be referred to as emphatically the Hall of Justice. In the Georgian Pageant the common hangman played too conspicuous a part.

But the unfortunate, if impetuous, Baretti left the court a free man, and we cannot doubt that in the company of his friends who had stood by him in his hour of trial he was a good deal harder upon the judge than the judge had been upon him; and probably he was reproved in a grave and dignified manner by Dr. Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds standing by with his ear trumpet, fearful lest a single word of Johnson's wisdom should escape him. Doubtless Mr. Garrick, the moment Johnson's back was turned, gave an inimitable imitation of both Johnson and Baretti—perhaps of the judge as well, and most likely the usher of the court.

Later on, when the avaricious Reynolds had hastened back to his studio in Leicester Fields to daub on canvas the figures of some of his sitters at the extortionate price of thirty-five guineas for a three-quarter length, he and Johnson put their heads together to devise what could be done for Baretti.

For about a year Baretti resumed his old way of living, working for the booksellers and completing his volume of travel through Europe, by which it is said he made £500. It would appear, however, that all his pupils had transferred themselves to the enterprising gentleman who had appealed to him at an inopportune moment for his recommendation, or to some of his other brethren, for by the end of the year he was in needy circumstances. Meantime he had been made by Sir Joshua Reynolds Honorary Secretary for Foreign Correspondence to the Royal Academy, and then Johnson recommended him to the husband of Mrs. Thrale as tutor to her girls at Streatham. This was very kind to Baretti, but it was rather hard on the Thrales. Apparently from the first day he went to Streatham his attitude in regard to the Thrale family was one of spite and malevolence; and there can be no doubt that Johnson bitterly regretted his patronage of a man who seemed never to forgive any one who had done him a good turn.

The agreement made by him with the Thrales was that he should practically be his own master, only residing at Streatham as a member of the family with no fixed salary. He was as artful as an Irish cabman in suggesting this “leave it to your honour” contract. He had heard on all hands of the liberality of Mr. Thrale, and he knew that, in addition to being provided with a luxurious home, he would receive presents from him far in excess of what he could earn. He was extremely well treated for the next three years, though he was for ever grumbling when he had a moment's leisure from insulting the Thrales and their guests. Mrs. Thrale said more in his favour than any one with whom he came in contact. She wrote: “His lofty consciousness of his own superiority which made him tenacious of every position, and drew him into a thousand distresses, did not, I must own, ever disgust me, till he began to exercise it against myself, and resolve to reign in our house by fairly defying the mistress of it. Pride, however, though shocking enough, is never despicable; but vanity, which he possessed too, in an eminent degree, will sometimes make a man near sixty ridiculous.”

Assuredly Mrs. Thrale “let him down” very gently. Dr. Thomas Campbell, a clergyman from Ireland, gives us a glimpse of Baretti's bearing at Streatham. It is clear that Baretti was anxious to impress him with the nature of his position in the house. “He told me he had several families both in town and country with whom he could go at any time and spend a month; he is at this time on these terms at Mr. Thrale's, and he knows how to keep his ground. Talking, as we were at tea, of the magnitude of the beer vessels, he said there was one thing at Mr. Thrale's house still more extraordinary—his wife. She gulped the pill very prettily. So much for Baretti!” wrote the clergyman in a very illuminating account of his visit to Streatham.

But not only did Mrs. Thrale bear with this detestable person for nearly two more years, but she and her husband took him with them and Johnson to Paris, where they lived in a magnificent way, the Thrales paying for everything. It was in a letter to Frank Levet, his domestic apothecary, that Johnson, writing from Paris, said: “I ran a race in the rain this day, and beat Baretti. Baretti is a fine fellow.” This is Johnson on Baretti. Here is Baretti on Johnson; on a copy of the Piozzi Letters he wrote: “Johnson was often fond of saying silly things in strong terms, and the silly madam”—meaning Mrs. Thrale—“never failed to echo that beastly kind of wit.”

It was not, however, until an Italian tour, projected by Mr. Thrale, was postponed, that Baretti became quite unendurable. He had been presented by Mr. Thrale with £100 within a few months, and on the abandonment of the longer tour he received another £100 by way of compensation for the satisfaction he had been compelled to forgo in showing his countrymen the position to which he had attained in England. This was another act of generosity which he could not forgive. He became sullen and more cantankerous than ever, and neglected his duties in an intolerable way. In fact, he treated Streatham as if it were an hotel, turning up to give Miss Thrale a lesson at the most inconvenient hours, and then devoting the most of his time to poisoning the girl's mind against her mother. Upon one occasion he expressed the hope to her that if her mother died Mr. Thrale would marry Miss Whitbred, who would, he said, be a pretty companion for her, not tyrannical and overbearing as he affirmed her own mother was! Truly a nice remark for a young lady's tutor to make to her under her mother's roof.

The fact was, however—we have Baretti's own confession for it—that he had been led to believe that after being with the Thrales for a year or two, an annuity would be settled on him by the wealthy brewer, and he grew impatient at his services to the family not obtaining recognition in this way. It is extremely unlikely that Johnson ever even so much as hinted at this annuity, though Baretti says his expectations were due to what Johnson had told him; but it is certain that he had so exalted an opinion of himself, he believed that after a year or two of desultory teaching he should receive a handsome pension. And there the old story of the car-driver who left the nomination of the fare to “his honour's honour” was repeated. Baretti one morning packed up his bag and left Streatham without a word of farewell.

Johnson's account of his departure and his comments thereupon are worth notice. He wrote to Boswell:

“Baretti went away from Thrales in some whimsical fit of disgust or ill-nature without taking any leave. It is well if he finds in any other place as good an habitation and as many conveniences.”

On the whole it is likely that a good many of Baretti's friends felt rather sorry than otherwise that the jury at the Old Bailey had taken so merciful a view of his accident. If Johnson and Murphy were really responsible for the line of defence which prevailed at the trial, one can quite believe that the Thrales and a good many of their associates bore them a secret grudge for their pains.

In the year 1782 he was granted by the Government the pension which he had failed to extort from the Thrales. It amounted to £80 per annum, and we may take it for granted that he had nothing but the most copious abuse for the Prime Minister who had only given him £80 when Sheridan was receiving £200 and Johnson £300. He drew his pension for seven years.

Baretti's portrait, painted by Reynolds for the Streatham gallery, fetched £31 10s., the smallest price of any in the whole collection, on its dispersal, years after the principal actors in the scene in the “awful Sessions House” had gone to another world.

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