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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

He Visits Johnson and Goldsmith

By William White (1748–1836)

[Born in Philadelphia, Penn., 1748. Died there, 1836. Written to Bishop Hobart, September, 1819.—Memoir of the Life of Bishop White. 1839.]

HAVING mentioned some literary characters, who became personally known to me in the university, I will not omit, although extraneous to it, that giant of genius and literature, Dr. Samuel Johnson. My introduction to him was a letter from the Rev. Jonathan Odell, formerly missionary at Burlington. The Doctor was very civil to me. I visited him occasionally; and I know some who would be tempted to envy me the felicity of having found him, one morning, in the act of preparing his dictionary for a new edition. His harshness of manners never displayed itself to me, except in one instance; when he told me that had he been prime-minister, during the then recent controversy concerning the stamp-act, he would have sent a ship-of-war, and levelled one of our principal cities with the ground. On the other hand, I have heard from him sentiments expressive of a feeling heart; and convincing me, that he would not have done as he said. Having dined in company with him, in Kensington, at the house of Mr. Elphinstone, well known to scholars of that day, and returning in the stage-coach with the Doctor, I mentioned to him there being a Philadelphia edition of his “Prince of Abyssinia.” He expressed a wish to see it. I promised to send him a copy on my return to Philadelphia, and did so. He returned a polite answer, which is printed in Mr. Boswell’s second edition of his Life of the Doctor. Mr. (since the Rev. Dr.) Abercrombie’s admiration of Dr. Johnson had led to a correspondence with Mr. Boswell, to whom, with my consent, the letter was sent.

This reminds me of another literary character, a friend of Johnson, Dr. Goldsmith. We lodged, for some time, near to one another, in Brick Court, of the Temple. I had it intimated to him, by an acquaintance of both, that I wished for the pleasure of making him a visit. It ensued; and in our conversation it took a turn which excited in me a painful sensation, from the circumstance that a man of such a genius should write for bread. His “Deserted Village” came under notice; and some remarks were made by us on the principle of it—the decay of the peasantry. He said, that were he to write a pamphlet on the subject, he could prove the point incontrovertibly. On his being asked why he did not set his mind to this, his answer was: “It is not worth my while. A good poem will bring me one hundred guineas; but the pamphlet would bring me nothing.” This was a short time before my leaving of England, and I saw the Doctor no more.