Being an addition by Another Gentleman to James Boswell's celebrated Life of Johnson, in which is described a visit to Lichfield, with instances of the Doctor's wit and sagacity which arose in the course thereof
While travelling in the stage coach, I read from my newly-purchased volume of Chatterton, a fine edition, well-bound in leather. Johnson, having no high opinion of the poet, engaged in much raillery upon it. In traversing a hollow in the road, the coach caused an effulgence of liqueous mud to spatter the travellers, besmirching my volume. Upon my inquiring of Johnson, 'Have you a rag for my Chatterton?", he replied: "Indeed, it would be a fair swap!".
Breakfasted with Samuel in his room in the inn, whence he did spy from the window an old acquaintance. "See, there, across the street, on the bench outside the Queen's Head: the saintliest man in the county". Nay, said I, 'twas but a scoundrel, lost in drink. Samuel, crossly "You'll make a wager? For it is my old friend Jenkins, lately become Bishop of Lichfield". " Indeed I will", said I, "I will place 10 shillings upon it. Let us quiz him". Samuel then attempted to rise, but being then afflicted by the gout, cried with pain, and sayed: "You go, and determine the truth". So I crossed the street and approached the man, explaining my quest. He did reply in anger "Begone, knave; it is no business of you whether I am King of Prussia's pox doctor or the man who empties Lady Fairfax's pisspot!". I did return unto the breakfast room; Johnson asked "Well, Sir, was I not right?". I replied, "The wager is void- he would not answer me".
This day from Lichfield to visit the home of Thos. Wilcox, of whom Johnson did always speak with fond remembrance, their having been much in company when at school. Having set out in a hired gig, Johnson contrived to enter into a theological dispute with the driver, and ended by dismounting and sending him forth, shouting after the retreating vehicle "Look to your soul! The Lord saith time is short!".
He resolved to continue afoot, and after half a mile, he confessed to his ignorance of our situation and direction. Chancing upon a woodman, employed in laying the roadside hedge, Johnson addressed him, "Know you of Mr Wilcox, of Whitehouse Hall?" "Nay, I do not." "Well then, know you how distant is the next village?" "Nay, Sire, I do not." "What is it's name, at least?" "Alas, I do not know that, either." Johnson then raised his voice to exclaim "Sir, it appears that you know nothing!", whereon the woodman replied "Perhaps not, Sire, but then, I am not lost". This sally didst strike home, for Johnson did then laugh and seek forgiveness for his sharpness.
The gate to Whitehouse Hall lay, by good fortune, but a half league further, and we met Mr Wilcox with much delight. It appeared that his principal interest was in piscatorial matters, upon which he animadverted at great length, not content but he shew us first his rods, tackle, nets and lines, and then his various ponds and favourite stands along the river. I anticipated that Johnson would tire of this prattle and become restive, but he happily approved each hook and knot as tho' he was a keen fisher-man himself.
After a supper of fish, (of which Wilcox could not forebear to claim the credit of capture), he sent us back to town in his carriage. I asked Johnson his opinion of the sport, and he expostulated "If one wishes to catch fish, one should use a net, and have done with it". I voiced the objection that angling drew its challenge from the battle of wits between man and fish. Johnson, smiling: "I think that between Wilcox and a fish it would be called an even match".
This morning we walked around the cathedral close, calling Johnson unto many a sigh and shaking of the head. "You know", said he, "here I was content, and proud; for is not this the pleasantest spot upon Earth?" "Indeed", replied I, "but for my native Glasgow, although you seldom permit a word in its praise". He nodded at this rebuke, and moved on "Well, had I staid I would be but the best writer in Lichfield. The French have a saying, 'Every cockerel is king of his own dung-heap'. To test one's mettle one must seek one's peers so as to have a measure of one's success". "They say that native talent must be whetted to become a cutting blade". "For some, their mettle, once whetted, becomes rusted".