The conversation took place in the Crown and Anchor tavern in the Strand, where the party had just dined. Dr. Johnson had been quite as good company as usual. There was a general feeling that he had rarely insulted Boswell so frequently in the course of a single evening—but then, Boswell had rarely so laid himself open to insult as he had upon this evening—and when he had finished with the Scotchman, he turned his attention to Garrick, the opportunity being afforded him by Oliver Goldsmith, who had been unguarded enough to say a word or two regarding that which he termed “the art of acting.”

“Dr. Goldsmith, I am ashamed of you, sir,” cried the great dictator. “Who gave you the authority to add to the number of the arts 'the art of acting'? We shall hear of the art of dancing next, and every tumbler who kicks up the sawdust will have the right to call himself an artist. Madame Violante, who gave Peggy Woffington her first lesson on the tight rope, will rank with Miss Kauffman, the painter—nay, every poodle that dances on its hind leg's in public will be an artist.”

It was in vain that Goldsmith endeavoured to show that the admission of acting to the list of arts scarcely entailed such consequences as Johnson asserted would be inevitable, if that admission were once made; it was in vain that Garrick asked if the fact that painting was included among the arts, caused sign painters to claim for themselves the standing of artists; and, if not, why there was any reason to suppose that the tumblers to whom Johnson had alluded would advance their claims to be on a level with the highest interpreters of the emotions of humanity. Dr. Johnson roared down every suggestion that was offered to him most courteously by his friends.

Then, in the exuberance of his spirits, he insulted Boswell and told Burke he did not know what he was talking about. In short, he was thoroughly Johnsonian, and considered himself the best of company, and eminently capable of pronouncing an opinion as to what were the elements of a clubable man.

He had succeeded in driving one of his best friends out of the room, and in reducing the others of the party to silence—all except Boswell, who, as usual, tried to-start him upon a discussion of some subtle point of theology. Boswell seemed invariably to have adopted this course after he had been thoroughly insulted, and to have been, as a rule, very successful in its practice: it usually led to his attaining to the distinction of another rebuke for him to gloat over.

He now thought that the exact moment had come for him to find out what Dr. Johnson thought on the subject of the immortality of the soul.

“Pray, sir,” said he, shifting his chair so as to get between Reynolds' ear-trumpet and his oracle—his jealousy of Sir Joshua's ear-trumpet was as great as his jealousy of Goldsmith. “Pray, sir, is there any evidence among the ancient Egyptians that they believed that the soul of man was imperishable?”

“Sir,” said Johnson, after a huge roll or two, “there is evidence that the ancient Egyptians were in the habit of introducing a memento mori at a feast, lest the partakers of the banquet should become too merry.”

“Well, sir?” said Boswell eagerly, as Johnson made a pause.

“Well, sir, we have no need to go to the trouble of introducing such an object, since Scotchmen are so plentiful in London, and so ready to accept the offer of a dinner,” said Johnson, quite in his pleasantest manner.

Boswell was more elated than the others of the company at this sally. He felt that he, and he only, could succeed in drawing his best from Johnson.

“Nay, Dr. Johnson, you are too hard on the Scotch,” he murmured, but in no deprecatory tone. He seemed to be under the impression that every one present was envying him, and he smiled as if he felt that it was necessary for him to accept with meekness the distinction of which he was the recipient.

“Come, Goldy,” cried Johnson, turning his back upon Boswell, “you must not be silent, or I will think that you feel aggrieved because I got the better of you in the argument.”

“Argument, sir?” said Goldsmith. “I protest that I was not aware that any argument was under consideration. You make short work of another's argument, Doctor.”

“'T is due to the logical faculty which I have in common with Mr. Boswell, sir,” said Johnson, with a twinkle.

“The logical faculty of the elephant when it lies down on its tormentor, the wolf,” muttered Goldsmith, who had just acquired some curious facts for his Animated Nature.

At that moment one of the tavern waiters entered the room with a message to Goldsmith that his cousin, the Dean, had just arrived and was anxious to obtain permission to join the party.

“My cousin, the Dean! What Dean'? What does the man mean?” said Goldsmith, who appeared to be both surprised and confused.

“Why, sir,” said Boswell, “you have told us more than once that you had a cousin who was a dignitary of the church.”

“Have I, indeed?” said Goldsmith. “Then I suppose, if I said so, this must be the very man. A Dean, is he?”

“Sir, it is ill-mannered to keep even a curate waiting in the common room of a tavern,” said Johnson, who was not the man to shrink from any sudden addition to his audience of an evening. “If your relation were an Archbishop, sir, this company would be worthy to receive him. Pray give the order to show him into this room.” Goldsmith seemed lost in thought. He gave a start when Johnson had spoken, and in no very certain tone told the waiter to lead the clergyman up to the room. Oliver's face undoubtedly wore an expression of greater curiosity than that of any of his friends, before the waiter returned, followed by an elderly and somewhat undersized clergyman wearing a full bottomed wig and the bands and apron of a dignitary of the church. He walked stiffly, with an erect carriage that gave a certain dignity to his short figure. His face was white, but his eyebrows were extremely bushy. He had a slight squint in one eye.

The bow which he gave on entering the room was profuse but awkward. It contrasted with the farewell salute of Garrick on leaving the table twenty minutes before. Every one present, with the exception of Oliver, perceived in a moment a family resemblance in the clergyman's bow to that with which Goldsmith was accustomed to receive his friends. A little jerk which the visitor gave in raising his head was laughably like a motion made by Goldsmith, supplemental to his usual bow.

“Gentlemen,” said the visitor, with a wave of his hand, “I entreat of you to be seated.” His voice and accent more than suggested Goldsmith's, although he had only a suspicion of an Irish brogue. If Oliver had made an attempt to disown his relationship, no one in the room would have regarded him as sincere. “Nay, gentlemen, I insist,” continued the stranger; “you embarrass me with your courtesy.”

“Sir,” said Johnson, “you will not find that any company over which I have the honour to preside is found lacking in its duty to the church.”

“I am the humblest of its ministers, sir,” said the stranger, with a deprecatory bow. Then he glanced round the room, and with an exclamation of pleasure went towards Goldsmith. “Ah! I do not need to ask which of this distinguished company is my cousin Nolly—I beg your pardon, Oliver—ah, old times—old times!” He had caught Goldsmith's hands in both his own and was looking into his face with a pathetic air. Goldsmith seemed a little embarrassed. His smile was but the shadow of a smile. The rest of the party averted their heads, for in the long silence that followed the exclamation of the visitor, there was an element of pathos.

Curiously enough, a sudden laugh came from Sir Joshua Reynolds, causing all faces to be turned in his direction. An aspect of stern rebuke was now worn by Dr. Johnson. The painter hastened to apologise.

“I ask your pardon, sir,” he said, gravely, “but—sir, I am a painter—my name is Reynolds—and—well, sir, the family resemblance between you and our dear friend Dr. Goldsmith—a resemblance that perhaps only a painter's eye could detect—seemed to me so extraordinary as you stood together, that——”

“Not another word, sir, I entreat of you,” cried the visitor. “My cousin Oliver and I have not met for—how many years is it, Nolly? Not eleven—no, it cannot be eleven—and yet——”

“Ah, sir,” said Oliver, “time is fugitive—very fugitive.”

He shook his head sadly.

“I am pleased to hear that you have acquired this knowledge, which the wisdom of the ancients has crystallised in a phrase,” said the stranger. “But you must present me to your friends, Noll—Oliver, I mean. You, sir”—he turned to Reynolds—“have told me your name. Am I fortunate enough to be face to face with Sir Joshua Reynolds? Oh, there can be no doubt about it. Oliver dedicated his last poem to you. Sir, I am your servant. And you, sir”—he turned to Burke—“I seem to have seen your face somewhere—it is strangely familiar——”

“That gentleman is Mr. Burke, sir,” said Goldsmith. He was rapidly recovering his embarrassment, and spoke with something of an air of pride, as he made a gesture with his right hand towards Burke. The clergyman made precisely the same gesture with his left hand, crying——

“What, Mr. Edmund Burke, the friend of liberty—the friend of the people?”

“The same, sir,” said Oliver. “He is, besides, the friend of Oliver Goldsmith.”

“Then he is my friend also,” said the clergyman. “Sir, to be in a position to shake you by the hand is the greatest privilege of my life.”

“You do me great honor, sir,” said Burke.

Goldsmith was burning to draw the attention of his relative to Dr. Johnson, who on his side was looking anything but pleased at being so far neglected.

“Mr. Burke, you are our countryman—Oliver's and mine—and I know you are sound on the Royal Marriage Act. I should dearly like to have a talk with you on that iniquitous measure. You opposed it, sir?”

“With all my power, sir,” said Burke. “Give me your hand again, sir. Mrs. Luttrel was an honour to her sex, and it is she who confers an honour upon the Duke of Cumberland, not the other way about.”

“You are with me, Mr. Burke? Eh, what is the matter, Cousin Noll? Why do you work with your arm that way?”

“There are other gentlemen in the room, Mr. Dean,” said Oliver.

“They can wait,” cried Mr. Dean. “They are certain to be inferior to Mr. Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds. If I should be wrong, they will not feel mortified at what I have said.”

“This is Mr. Boswell, sir,” said Goldsmith.

“Mr. Boswell—of where, sir?”

“Mr. Boswell, of—of Scotland, sir.”

“Scotland, the land where the clergymen write plays for the theatre. Your clergymen might be better employed, Mr.—Mr.——”

“Boswell, sir.”

“Mr. Boswell. Yes, I hope you will look into this matter should you ever visit your country again—a remote possibility, from all that I can learn of your countrymen.”

“Why, sir, since Mr. Home wrote his tragedy of 'Douglas'——” began Boswell, but he was interrupted by the stranger.

“What, you would condone his offence?” he cried. “The fact of your having a mind to do so shows that the clergy of your country are still sadly lax in their duty, sir. They should have taught you better.”

“And this is Dr. Johnson, sir,” said Goldsmith in tones of triumph.

His relation sprang from his seat and advanced to the head of the table, bowing profoundly.

“Dr. Johnson,” he cried, “I have long desired to meet you, sir.”

“I am your servant, Mr. Dean,” said Johnson, towering above him as he got—somewhat awkwardly—upon his feet. “No gentleman of your cloth, sir—leaving aside for the moment all consideration of the eminence in the church to which you have attained—fails to obtain my respect.”

“I am glad of that, sir,” said the Dean. “It shows that you, though a Non-conformist preacher, and, as I understand, abounding in zeal on behalf of the cause of which you are so able an advocate, are not disposed to relinquish the example of the great Wesley in his admiration for the church.”

“Sir,” said Johnson, with great dignity, but with a scowl upon his face. “Sir, you are the victim of an error as gross as it is unaccountable. I am not a Non-conformist—on the contrary, I would give the rogues no quarter.”

“Sir,” said the clergyman, with the air of one administering a rebuke to a subordinate. “Sir, such intoleration is unworthy of an enlightened country and an age of some culture. But I ask your pardon; finding you in the company of distinguished gentlemen, I was, led to believe that you were the great Dr. Johnson, the champion of the rights of conscience. I regret that I was mistaken.”

“Sir!” cried Goldsmith, in great consternation—for Johnson was rendered speechless through being placed in the position of the rebuked, instead of occupying his accustomed place as the rebuker. “Sir, this is the great Dr. Johnson—nay, there is no Dr. Johnson but one.”

“'Tis so like your good nature, Cousin Oliver, to take the side of the weak,” said the clergyman, smiling. “Well, well, we will take the honest gentleman's greatness for granted; and, indeed, he is great in one sense: he is large enough to outweigh you and me put together in one scale. To such greatness we would do well to bow.”

“Heavens, sir!” said Boswell in a whisper that had something of awe in it. “Is it possible that you have never heard of Dr. Samuel Johnson?”

“Alas! sir,” said the stranger, “I am but a country parson. I cannot be expected to know all the men who are called great in London. Of course, Mr. Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds have a European reputation; but you, Mr.—Mr.—ah! you see I have e'en forgot your worthy name, sir, though I doubt not you are one of London's greatest. Pray, sir, what have you written that entitles you to speak with such freedom in the presence of such gentlemen as Mr. Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and—I add with pride—Oliver Goldsmith?”

“I am the friend of Dr. Johnson, sir,” muttered Boswell.

“And he has doubtless greatness enough—avoirdupois—to serve for both! Pray, Oliver, as the gentleman from Scotland is too modest to speak for himself, tell me what he has written.”

“He has written many excellent works, sir, including an account of Corsica,” said Goldsmith, with some stammering.

“And his friend, Dr. Johnson, has he attained to an equally dizzy altitude in literature?”

“You are surely jesting, sir,” said Goldsmith. “The world is familiar with Dr. Johnson's Dictionary.”

“Alas, I am but a country parson, as you know, Oliver, and I have no need for a dictionary, having been moderately well educated. Has the work appeared recently, Dr. Johnson?”


But Dr. Johnson had turned his back upon the stranger, and had picked up a volume which Tom Davies, the bookseller, had sent to him at the Crown and Anchor, and had buried his face in its pages, bending it, as was his wont, until the stitching had cracked, and the back was already loose.

“Your great friend, Noll, is no lover of books, or he would treat them with greater tenderness,” said the clergyman. “I would fain hope that the purchasers of his dictionary treat it more fairly than he does the work of others. When did he bring out his dictionary?”

“Eighteen years ago,” said Oliver.

“And what books has he written within the intervening years?”

“He has been a constant writer, sir, and is the most highly esteemed of our authors.”

“Nay, sir, but give me a list of his books published within the past eighteen years, so that I may repair my deplorable ignorance. You, cousin, have written many works that the world would not willingly be without; and I hear that you are about to add to that already honourable list; but your friend—oh, you have deceived me, Oliver!—he is no true worker in literature, or he would—nay, he could not, have remained idle all these years. How does he obtain his means of living if he will not use his pen?”

“He has a pension from the King, sir,” stuttered Oliver. “I tell you, sir, he is the most learned man in Europe.”

“His is a sad case,” said the clergyman. “To refrain from administering to him the rebuke which he deserves would be to neglect an obvious duty.” He took a few steps towards Johnson and raised his head. Goldsmith fell into a chair and buried his face in his hands; Boswell's jaw fell; Burke and Reynolds looked by turns grave and amused. “Dr. Johnson,” said the stranger, “I feel that it is my duty as a clergyman to urge upon you to amend your way of life.”

“Sir,” shouted Johnson, “if you were not a clergyman I would say that you were a very impertinent fellow!”

“Your way of receiving a rebuke which your conscience—if you have one—tells you that you have earned, supplements in no small measure the knowledge of your character which I have obtained since entering this room, sir. You may be a man of some parts, Dr. Johnson, but you have acknowledged yourself to be as intolerant in matters of religion as you have proved yourself to be intolerant of rebuke, offered to you in a friendly spirit. It seems to me that your habit is to browbeat your friends into acquiescence with every dictum that comes from your lips, though they are workers—not without honour—at that profession of letters which you despise—nay, sir, do not interrupt me. If you did not despise letters, you would not have allowed eighteen years of your life to pass without printing at least as many books. Think you, sir, that a pension was granted to you by the state to enable you to eat the bread of idleness while your betters are starving in their garrets? Dr. Johnson, if your name should go down to posterity, how do you think you will be regarded by all discriminating men? Do you think that those tavern dinners at which you sit at the head of the table and shout down all who differ from you, will be placed to your credit to balance your love of idleness and your intolerance? That is the question which I leave with you; I pray you to consider it well; and so, sir, I take my leave of you. Gentlemen, Cousin Oliver, farewell, sirs. I trust I have not spoken in vain.”

He made a general bow—an awkward bow—and walked with some dignity to the door. Then he turned and bowed again before leaving the room.

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