Page images
PDF
EPUB

I cannot, indeed, at this distance of time, charge my memory with the precise terms used in that conversation; but perfectly recollect the purport of it, viz. Dr. Priestley never sought an interview with Dr. Johnson. He met Dr. Johnson, under the idea, that Dr. Johnson wished to see him, and that the meeting seemed to give mutual satisfaction.

I am, dear Sir, your faithful humble servant,

E. JOHNSTONE."

When the tract, to which Mr. Boswell alludes, was published, Dr. Priestley was in England; and in all probability, if I had made any mistake, he would have taken some opportunity of correcting it. But, from his silence about my statement, I can have no doubt of his assent to it; and, as the Doctor is now in America, I thought it incumbent upon me to appeal to the respectable gentleman who in private conversation heard, at the very same time with myself, from the very same person, the very same fact, which lafterwards had occasion to lay before the public.

Through the bluntness of Mr. Boswell's language, I am unable to collect precisely the extent of his meaning. He might mean to say, that Dr. Johnson and Dr. Priestley had not met at all; or he might mean to say only, that Dr. Johnson had not almost solicited the meeting. But the correspondence which passed between Dr. Johnson and myself is equally applicable to either construction of Mr. Boswell's language; and I hope to give him no offence, by laying before your readers the answers which I have received to some farther inquiries.

"DEAR SIR,

Francis-street, Feb. 21, 1795.

I HAVE received your favour of yesterday; and, in answer to the former part of it, I beg leave to state generally, that some time in April or May last, I heard Dr. Priestley remind Mr. Paradise of the particular civility with which, according to his account, Dr. Johnson had behaved towards him (Dr. Priestley), when they formerly dined together at the house of Mr. Paradise. I will, moreover, add, that, having mentioned the subject this afternoon to Mr. Paradise, he told me, that, though he did not clearly recollect the motive by which he had been induced to bring Dr. Johnson and Dr. Priestley together, he very well remembered Dr. Johnson's having been previously informed, that Dr. Priestley would be one of the company, and his having manifested great civility to

[merged small][ocr errors]

the latter upon that occasion. I have the honour to be

with great respect,

Dear Sir,

Your most humble and obedient servant,

"DEAR SIR,

EDWARD BEARCROFT."

Newington-green, Feb. 23.

I CAN answer your several questions distinctly. I heard of the interview between Dr. Johnson and Dr. Priestley, from Dr. Priestley himself.

I have heard it mentioned more than once.

I understood that it was not solicited by Dr. Priestley; and that, if any overture was made for that purpose, it came from Dr. Johnson.

I found that Dr. Priestley thought Dr. Johnson's behaviour such as it ought to have been from one man of letters to another. Johnson was very civil.

I hope that I have written satisfactorily; and am happy in the opportunity which you have given to me of assuring you with what respect I am,

Dear Sir, your most obedient servant,
SAMUEL ROGERS."

They who, after reading the foregoing letters which have lately passed between my friends and myself, feel no distrust in the exactness of our memory, or in the veracity of our testimony, will see that the dispute now lies between Mr. Boswell and Dr. Priestley; between firm belief upon the one hand, and positive assertion on the other; between Mr. Boswell's inference from his knowledge of Dr. Johnson's general disposition, and Dr. Priestley's account of Dr. Johnson's behaviour in a particular case.

Either Mr. Boswell then has fallen into an error, or Dr. Priestley has been guilty of a falsehood.

Mr. Boswell cannot imagine, that I was capable of overlooking the guarded and ambiguous language in which he represents me, as appearing to suppose what, in truth, I believed, and still continue to believe very sincerely, what I recollected very distinctly, and stated very unreservedly, He will not be displeased with me for declaring, that in my tract I meant no dishonour to Dr. Johnson's memory, while I allow, that he intended to do what he thought jus tice to Dr. Johnson's character by his note. He will not expect me to controvert his opinions, or to explain my own,

upon the right which Dr. Johnson had, as a gentleman, a scholar, and a Christian, to reprobate and even to shun such men as Dr. Priestley and Dr. Price.

Should Mr. Boswell be pleased to maintain, that Dr. Johnson rather consented to the interview, than almost solicited it, I shall not object to the change of expression. If Dr. Johnson met Dr. Priestley, if he previously knew that he was to meet him, if, upon meeting him, he behaved to Dr. Priestley with particular civility, he did what Mr. Boswell represents as unlikely, and indeed unfit to have been done by so exact and inflexible a moralist, towards a writer, whose opinions he thought pernicious to society.

I reverence Dr. Johnson, not less than Mr. Boswell does; and if I respect Dr. Priestley, more than he seems to do, I am not entirely without the hope of being approved by some who are wise, and many who are good. The chief purpose, however, for which I desire you, Mr. Urban, to insert what I am now writing to you, is neither to defend Dr. Priestley, nor to censure Dr. Johnson, nor to complain of Mr. Boswell, but to shew that when I was speaking in my tract of two men, who have deservedly engaged so large a share of public attention, I possessed a sort of evidence, which even Mr. Boswell himself, when he knows it, will have too much candour to slight. That evidence, though it should fail to convince Mr. Boswell, is at all events suffici ent to justify me.

1795, March.

I am, &c.

S. PARR.

LIV. ANTHONY à WOOD,-Sir EDWARD DIGBY,-Lord BACON.

MR. URBAN,

ANTHONY à WOOD, the celebrated Topographer and Biographer of the university of Oxford, mentions a most remarkable circumstance, which, he says, happened at Sir Everard Digby's death (who was executed as a traitor, on his own confession, as an accomplice in the horrid design of blowing up the House of Lords, with the King on the throne, in the reign of James the First). The circumstance alluded to is, that when the executioner plucked out Sir Everard's heart, and, according to form held it up, saying,

"Here is the heart of a traitor," Sir Everard made answer, "Thou liest."

No author, I believe, has been dealt with more unfairly than this Wood; for, he is universally copied without the least acknowledgement, unless it be to contradict or to censure him or his authority; and I think the anecdote above related, respecting Sir Everard Digby (who, by the way, I beg leave to observe, was the father of that surprising character Sir Kenelm Digby), has been published by every subsequent biographer of Sir E. D.; and merely for the opportunity of observing, "that they are somewhat apprehensive that the authority of even Mr. Wood will not be sufficient in this incredulous age, to obtain credit to the above-related extraordinary story." But you are to know, Sir, perhaps, that Wood adds, "this a most famous author mentions, but tells us not his name [of the traitor], in his Historia Vita et Mortis;" and this most famous author, Wood informs us in a note, is Francis Lord Bacon; but does not refer the reader to the page of that work; which we have consulted, and find the following stories, equally marvellous in our opinion. The original is in Latin, we will do our endeavour to render them into English, and leave Wood in the defence of his authority, and his plagiarists in shame for suppressing it altogether.

"I remember (says the Baron of Verulam) to have seen the heart of a man who was embowelled (a punishment inflicted in this country on the execution of a traitor), which, being thrown into the fire according to custom, leaped out, at first a foot and a half high, and then less by degrees, for the space, to the best of my remembrance, of seven or eight minutes. Ancient tradition, and worthy of credit, is, of a man who was embowelled in pursuance of that kind of punishment above-mentioned; after his heart was entirely torn out of his body, and in the hand of the executioner, he was heard to say three or four words of prayer." Francisci Baronis de Verulamio, Vicecomitis Sancti Albani, Historia Vitæ et Mortis, in his Lordship's Works, vol. II. 178, 179, fol. edit. 1740.

We have stated the author's title, as he himself has set it forth, thus at large, for the purpose of making an observation; which is, that, though he is scarcely known by any other title than Lord Bacon, it is a title he lays no claim to; for, his creation seems singular, not being thereby made Lord Bacon as well as a Baron and a Viscount. But to return to Sir Everard Digby. We presume the above relation

to be the story alluded to by Wood, with the substitution of an asseveration instead of an ejaculation; and, as Sir Everard was convicted upon his own confession, it may be fairly supposed that the passage in Lord Bacon is misconstrued by. the Oxonian Historiographer.

His Lordship there also relates, that

"He was told by a certain gentleman, who being desirous, by way of a joke, and out of curiosity, to know the sufferings from being hanged upon a gibbet, that he stood upon a stool and hung himself, and then let himself down again. Thinking, therefore, he could recover the stool at his pleasure, tried once more, but could not without the assistance of a friend who accompanied him. Being asked what he suffered, he answered, he felt no pain, but that the first alteration he found in himself was a kind of fire and burning about his eyes, then an extreme gloom or darkness, and, after that, a sort of azure colour, such as persons perceive who are at the point of death."

And his Lordship says,

"He was told by a physician of his time, that he had recovered a man, by means of friction and a warm bath, who had hanged himself, and remained so for half an hour; and that he made no doubt that he could recover any person in the like circumstances, provided his neck was not dislocated by the force of his turning himself off."

1795, April.

Yours, &c.

J. R.

LV. Memoirs of the Rev. Dr. SAMUEL PEGGE.

THE late Rev. Samuel Pegge, LL. D. and F. S. A. was the representative of one of four branches of the family of that name in Derbyshire, derived from a common ancestor, all which existed together till within a few years. The eldest became extinct by the death of Mr. William Pegge, of Yeldersley, near Ashborne, 1768; and another by that of the Rev. Nathaniel Pegge, M.A. vicar of Packington, in Leicestershire, 1782.

The Doctor's immediate predecessors, as may appear from the Herald's-office, were of Osmaston, near Ashborne, where

« PreviousContinue »