Page:A critical examination of Dr G Birkbeck Hills "Johnsonian" Editions.djvu/96

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A CRITICAL EXAMINATION

It throws further light on Boswell's strangely morbid character, and also upon one of the odd "anfractuosities" of human nature. After expending so much time and labour in waiting on his great friend, it is strange to find him at the very close and crisis foolishly throwing all his exertions to waste, owing to some humour or caprice which he found it impossible to control. In a certain class of character this is not uncommon. Boswell, who was always seeking excuses for coming up to town, ought certainly to have found his way thither after Johnson, in June 1783, had suffered from a paralytic stroke. He allowed nearly a whole year to pass without a visit. Then came the application for the increase of pension to enable Johnson to go abroad. This business was set on foot by Boswell, who applied to the Chancellor about June 20th, but without informing Johnson. Now this was a delicate and rather awkward business, being a plea in forma pauperis, and should not have been attempted without judicious approaches and an almost certainty of success. What was so compromising in the matter was that Johnson was not in want of money at all. He had some two thousand pounds put by, and a couple of hundred pounds would have been sufficient for the journey. When he was told of the application, he must have had an uneasy consciousness of all this; the only thing that could salve his scruples was that he had taken no part in the business. But to have it supposed that he had tried to get public money that he was not in want of, and then to fail, was truly mortifying. He must, not unreasonably, have laid it all to "Bozzy's" account, who, moreover, did not bestir himself sufficiently. Instead of waiting in town to look after the matter, Boswell left on the 30th. Johnson seems to have expected him to stay, for he wrote to him, "I wish your affairs could have permitted a longer and continued exertion of your zeal and kindness."

His health now grew worse and worse; but Boswell in his letters, kept "bothering" for his advice about settling in London, etc., always writing, as he says, in bad spirits, with dejection and fretfulness, and at the same time "expressing anxious apprehensions concerning him on account of a dream." This, to a man suffering as Johnson was, must have been painful. He wrote back impatiently, chiefly in terms of reproach, "on a supposed charge of affecting discontent and indulging the vanity of complaint." Who could take offence at this, for the sage was miserably ill—dying, in fact. But, he added, "Write to me often, and write like a man. I consider your fidelity and tenderness as a great part of the comforts which are yet left to me." And then he says, "I sincerely wish we could be nearer to each other." There are blanks marked by stars both in this and in the preceding letter, which show that the rebukes were so severe that Boswell would not venture to print them. But the sick or dying sage, feeling that he had been a little rough, two days later hastened to make a sort of amende, hoping that he would not take it amiss, for it contained only truth, and that kindly intended. It evidently rankled, for Boswell, knowing that the reader is wondering that he did not hurry to his friend, makes this halting explanation: "I unfortunately was so much indisposed during a considerable part of the year, that it was not, or at least, I thought it was not, in my power" — not to take a journey or leave home—but "to write to my illustrious friend as formerly, or without expressing such complaints as offended him." A most extraordinary "compulsion to silence" this! But his next proceeding was more singular still. Conjuring him "not to do me the injustice of charging me with affectation."