1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

O. L. M., "The Quintessence of Johnson's Letters to Mrs. Piozzi" St. James's Chronicle (2 August 1788).



Mr. Baldwin,
While I solicit a Place in your Poet's Corner, it may be proper to inform you that I unite the respectable Character of a Patriot to that of a Poet; and that though I could never save any of my own Money, I often busy myself in the more honourable Employment of projecting Schemes how to save other People's. It is the Love of my Country which has led me at this Time to make Verses. The Publick I think have been sadly imposed on in being forced to pay the enormous Sum of 12s. for Dr. Johnson's Letters, but to prevent further Imposition, and to render the Purchase of these Volumes in future unnecessary, I make you a Present of their Quintessence, which you, if you have any publick Spirit, will without Fee or Reward present to your numerous Readers. My Verses contain all the material Facts mentioned in the above-mentioned Letters, and though they do not rank in the first Class of poetick Compositions, are, I flatter myself, fully equal to the Subject. I expect to be reprobated by the Booksellers for my Generosity in offering gratis to the Publick what they retail at 12s. and perhaps their Rage may be so great, that unless you conceal my Name they may employ their Devils to murther me, and send me to a Place where I hope not to be sent till I have written something more witty and elegant than

THE QUINTESSENCE OF JOHNSON'S LETTERS TO MRS. PIOZZI.
Last night I Sam Johnson, with Francis my Black,
At Litchfield arriv'd with the Clothes on my Back;—
Miss T— who wears Glasses without them can't spell;
Miss Porter was kind, and her Dogs and Cats well.

Each tree in George-Lane is cut down to a Stump,
And in Stow-Street behold they have put up a Pump;
Mrs. Aston on Stow-Hill I walk daily to see,
For Taylor's great Bull gives less Pleasure to me.

At Ashbourne behold I can truly declare
That Strawberries swim in the richest Cream there;
To which they add Custard and Bilberry Pie;—
Sure with these Things before us 'tis horrid to die.

Much Wind in my Bowels is dreadfully pent,
And when I lie down it will have a Vent.—
This I tell you my Mistress, because you can't hear
The Explosions proceeding from Johnson your Dear.

Though rheumatick o'er Mountains I wander about,
While Taylor rides out in his Chaise with the Gout.—
The two Fawns are well, the sick Swan is dead,
And Queeney not writing, I hang down my Head.

The Rain makes the Grass grow, the Water-Falls roar,
The Bull and the Cow have more fat than before;
I wish, like my Master, I knew how to brew
As I do to write Letters full of Trifles to you.

As an Housewife look well to your Bread and your Cheese—
Be as frolicksome then with your Pen as you please;
You divide at your Table the Rump and the Chine,
While Yesterday I on some Crumpets did dine.

With Monboddo, our Host, this Notion prevails,
That Men are but Monkeys, and once, too had Tails;
He launch'd out too in Praise of the Savage's Life;
But here I oppos'd him from the pure Love of Strife.

By my Journey to Sky these Matters I learn:—
That the Pot is oft smoak'd by the Peat which they burn;
That the Parlour by Day is the Bed-Room by Night;—
That in Drinking and Dirt they take much Delight.

Now to London I've got this Carcass of mine,
Thank Heaven! — To-morrow with Hoole I shall dine—
On Monday with Paradise — the next Day with you—
On Wednesday with Dilly — and so the Year through.

Tell Queeney I blame her again and again
For setting on Duck Eggs Baretti's poor Hen;—
And tell her, for News about me she will beg,
That Aston's great Parrot has peck'd at my Leg.

I grieve for poor Nezzy; — I hate your vile Tete,
Pray burn it, and let the Hair grow on your Pate;
And once in six Weeks pray comb it well out,
Then Paper and twist it and frizz it about.

Confusion and Scolding in Bolt-Court prevail,
All prompt to attack, and one will turn Tail;
Levet, fierce as ten Furies, assails each poor Dame,
While Williams she growls, and Poll does the same.

I shall not, I hope, grow enormously big,
Though I din'd on your Fish and on Perkins's Pig;
With Skate, Pudding, and Goose, on one Day I'm fed,
On the next with three roasted Apples and Bread.

I was Yesterday blooded to lengthen my Life,
And to day I have dined with Strahan's new Wife;
To night I take Opium at going to Bed,
And on Saturday next mean again to be bled.

"Nil nihil rescribas," then "Ipsa veni,"
"Sic labitur aetas," and soon I must die;
To Piozzi you're married. Adieu, learned Dame,
You have wounded my Heart, and will wound too my fame.