A Later Pepys Encounters Dr. Johnson

A collateral relation of the famous diarist met with some alarming experiences in Dr. Johnson’s company during the 1780s, writes D. Pepys Whiteley.

To judge from contemporary accounts, including those of the idolizing Boswell himself, Doctor Johnson, for all his outstanding intellectual powers, was not entirely free from the pangs of envy, that almost universal vice and perhaps the only one (according to the late C.S. Lewis) that brings no compensating pleasure.

It is at any rate certain, if we are to believe such reliable sources as his friends Mrs. Thrale and Miss Fanny Burney, that he was not only envious of William Weller Pepys but also—what does not invariably follow—personally disliked him.

To Dr. Johnson the Thrale household was primarily not a salon but a home, and perhaps Mrs. Thrale herself was mainly to blame for the animosity. In April, 1781, two months before the first outburst described in this article, the Doctor had exclaimed to Mrs. Thrale:

‘I know nobody who blasts by praise as you do; for whenever there is exaggerated praise, everybody is set against a character. Now there is Pepys: you praised that man with such disproportion that I was incited to lessen him, perhaps more than he deserves. His blood is upon your head.’

There were, however, other circumstances that fanned the flame of his animosity.

Dr. Johnson perceived that Mr. Pepys was not only a vile Whig but that, even among his political confederates, he was regarded as what today would be called left of centre. Indeed, at one period his avowed sympathies lay with the French revolutionaries, although their later extravagancies and excesses tempered his enthusiasm.

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