possessors they are exercised spontaneously, almost unconsciously, and with ever-varying fascination. Reynolds soon understood and appreciated the merits of Goldsmith, and a sincere and lasting friendship ensued between them.

At Reynolds's house Goldsmith mingled in a higher range of company than he had been accustomed to. The fame of this celebrated artist, and his amenity of manners, were gathering round him men of talents of all kinds, and the increasing affluence of his circumstances enabled him to give full indulgence to his hospitable disposition. Poor Goldsmith had not yet, like Dr. Johnson, acquired reputation enough to atone for his external defects and his want of the air of good society. Miss Reynolds used to inveigh against his personal appearance, which gave her the idea, she said, of a low mechanic, a journeyman tailor. One evening at a large supper party, being called upon to give as a toast, the ugliest man she knew, she gave Dr. Goldsmith, upon which a lady who sat opposite, and whom she had never met before, shook hands with her across the table, and “hoped to become better acquainted."

We have a graphic and amusing picture of Reynolds's hospitable but motley establishment, in an account given by a Mr. Courtenay to Sir James Mackintosh; though it speaks of a time after Reynolds had received the honor of knighthood. "There was something singular," said he, "in the style and economy of Sir Joshua's table that contributed to pleasantry and goodhumor, a coarse, inelegant plenty, without any regard to order and arrangement. At five o'clock precisely, dinner was served, whether all the invited guests had arrived or not. Sir Joshua was never so fashionably ill-bred as to wait an hour perhaps for

two or three persons of rank or title, and put the rest of the company out of humor by this invidious distinction. His invitations, however, did not regulate the number of his guests. Many dropped in uninvited. A table prepared for seven or eight was often compelled to contain fifteen or sixteen. There was a consequent deficiency of knives, forks, plates, and glasses. The attendance was in the same style, and those who were knowing in the ways of the house took care on sitting down to call instantly for beer, bread or wine, that they might secure a supply before the first course was over. He was once prevailed on to furnish the table with decanters and glasses at dinner, to save time and prevent confusion. These gradually were demolished in the course of service, and were never replaced. These trifling embarrassments, however, only served to enhance the hilarity and singular pleasure of the entertainment. The wine, cookery and dishes were but little attended to; nor was the fish or venison ever talked of or recommended. Amidst this convivial animated bustle among his guests, our host sat perfectly composed; always attentive to what was said, never minding what was ate or drank, but left every one at perfect liberty to scramble for himself."

Out of the casual but frequent meeting of men of talent at this hospitable board rose that association of wits, authors, scholars, and statesmen, renowned as the Literary Club. Reynolds was the first to propose a regular association of the kind, and was eagerly seconded by Johnson, who proposed as a model a club which he had formed many years previously in Ivy Lane, but which was now extinct. Like that club the number of members was limited to nine. They were to meet and sup together




once a week, on Monday night, at the Turk's Head on Gerardstreet, Soho, and two members were to constitute a meeting. took a regular form in the year 1764, but did not receive its literary appellation until several years afterwards.

The original members were Reynolds, Johnson, Burke, Dr. Nugent, Bennet Langton, Topham Beauclerc, Chamier, Hawkins, and Goldsmith; and here a few words concerning some of the members may be acceptable. Burke was at that time about thirty-three years of age; he had mingled a little in politics and been Under Secretary to Hamilton at Dublin, but was again a writer for the booksellers, and as yet but in the dawning of his fame. Dr. Nugent was his father-in-law, a Roman Catholic, and a physician of talent and instruction. Mr. afterwards Sir John Hawkins was admitted into this association from having been a member of Johnson's Ivy Lane club. Originally an attorney, he had retired from the practice of the law, in consequence of a large fortune which fell to him in right of his wife, and was now a Middlesex magistrate. He was, moreover, a dabbler in literature and music, and was actually engaged on a history of music, which he subsequently published in five ponderous volumes. To him we are also indebted for a biography of Johnson, which appeared after the death of that eminent man. Hawkins was as mean and parsimonious as he was pompous and conceited. He forbore to partake of the suppers at the club, and begged therefore to be excused from paying his share of the reckoning "And was he excused?" asked Dr. Burney of Johnson. yes, for no man is angry at another for being inferior to himself. We all scorned him and admitted his plea. Yet I really believe him to be an honest man at bottom, though to be sure he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must be owned he has a tendency


to savageness." He did not remain above two or three years in the club; being in a manner elbowed out in consequence of his rudeness to Burke.

Mr. Anthony Chamier was Secretary in the war office, and a friend of Beauclerc, by whom he was proposed. We have left our mention of Bennet Langton and Topham Beauclerc until the last, because we have most to say about them. They were doubtless induced to join the club through their devotion to Johnson, and the intimacy of these two very young and aristocratic young men with the stern and somewhat melancholy moralist is among the curiosities of literature.

Bennet Langton was of an ancient family, who held their ancestral estate of Langton in Lincolnshire, a great title to respect with Johnson. "Langton, sir," he would say, "has a grant of free-warren from Henry the Second; and Cardinal Stephen Langton, in King John's reign, was of this family."

Langton was of a mild, contemplative, enthusiastic nature. When but eighteen years of age he was so delighted with reading Johnson's Rambler, that he came to London chiefly with a view to obtain an introduction to the author. Boswell gives us an account of his first interview, which took place in the morning. It is not often that the personal appearance of an author agrees with the preconceived ideas of his admirer. Langton, from perusing the writings of Johnson, expected to find him a decent, well dressed, in short a remarkably decorous philosopher. Instead of which, down from his bedchamber about noon, came, as newly risen, a large uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loose about him. But his conversation was so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and his religious and political notions so congenial with those in



which Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever preserved.

Langton went to pursue his studies at Trinity College, Oxford, where Johnson saw much of him during a visit which he paid to the University. He found him in close intimacy with Topham Beauclerc, a youth two years older than himself, very gay and dissipated, and wondered what sympathies could draw two young men together of such opposite characters. On becoming acquainted with Beauclerc he found that, rake though he was, he possessed an ardent love of literature, an acute understanding, polished wit, innate gentility and high aristocratic breeding. He was, moreover, the only son of Lord Sidney Beauclerc and grandson of the Duke of St. Albans, and was thought in some particulars to have a resemblance to Charles the Second. These were high recommendations with Johnson, and when the youth testified a profound respect for him and an ardent admiration of his talents the conquest was complete, so that in a "short time,” says Boswell, "the moral pious Johnson and the gay dissipated Beauclerc were companions."

The intimacy begun in college chambers was continued when the youths came to town during the vacations. The uncouth, unwieldy moralist, was flattered at finding himself an object of idolatry to two high-born, high-bred, aristocratic young men, and throwing gravity aside, was ready to join in their vagaries and play the part of a 'young man upon town.' Such at least is the picture given of him by Boswell on one occasion when Beauclerc and Langton having supped together at a tavern determined to give Johnson a rouse at three o'clock in the morning. They accordingly rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple. The indignant sage sallied forth in his shirt, poker in

« VorigeDoorgaan »