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True Stories from History and Biography By Nathaniel Hawthorne Characters: 7388

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In a few moments Mr. Temple resumed the story, as follows:

SAMUEL JOHNSON-continued.

Well, my children, fifty years had passed away since young Sam Johnson had shown himself so hard-hearted towards his father. It was now market-day in the village of Uttoxeter.

In the street of the village, you might see cattle-dealers with cows and oxen for sale, and pig-drovers, with herds of squeaking swine, and farmers, with cart-loads of cabbages, turnips, onions, and all other produce of the soil. Now and then a farmer's red-faced wife trotted along on horseback, with butter and cheese in two large panniers. The people of the village, with country squires and other visitors from the neighborhood, walked hither and thither, trading, jesting, quarrelling, and making just such a bustle as their fathers and grandfathers had made half a century before.

In one part of the street, there was a puppet-show, with a ridiculous Merry-Andrew, who kept both grown people and children in a roar of laughter. On the opposite side was the old stone church of Uttoxeter, with ivy climbing up its walls, and partly obscuring its Gothic windows.

There was a clock in the gray tower of the ancient church; and the hands on the dial-plate had now almost reached the hour of noon. At this busiest hour of the market, a strange old gentleman was seen making his way among the crowd. He was very tall and bulky, and wore a brown coat and small clothes, with black worsted stockings and buckled shoes. On his head was a three-cornered hat, beneath which a bushy gray wig thrust itself out, all in disorder. The old gentleman elbowed the people aside, and forced his way through the midst of them with a singular kind of gait, rolling his body hither and thither, so that he needed twice as much room as any other person there.

"Make way, sir!" he would cry out, in a loud, harsh voice, when somebody happened to interrupt his progress.-"Sir, you intrude your person into the public thoroughfare!"

"What a queer old fellow this is!" muttered the people among themselves, hardly knowing whether to laugh or to be angry.

But, when they looked into the venerable stranger's face, not the most thoughtless among them dared to offer him the least impertinence. Though his features were scarred and distorted with the scrofula, and though his eyes were dim and bleared, yet there was something of authority and wisdom in his look, which impressed them all with awe. So they stood aside to let him pass; and the old gentleman made his way across the market-place, and paused near the corner of the ivy-mantled church. Just as he reached it, the clock struck twelve.

On the very spot of ground, where the stranger now stood, some aged people remembered that old Michael Johnson had formerly kept his bookstall. The little children, who had once bought picture-books of him, were grandfathers now.

"Yes; here is the very spot!" muttered the old gentleman to himself.

There this unknown personage took his stand, and removed the three-cornered hat from his head. It was the busiest hour of the day. What with the hum of human voices, the lowing of cattle, the squeaking of pigs, and the laughter caused by the Merry-Andrew, the market-place was in very great confusion. But the stranger seemed not to notice it, any more than if the silence of a desert were around him. He was wrapt in his own thoughts. Sometimes he raised his furrowed brow to heaven, as if in prayer; sometimes he bent his head, as if an insupportable weight of sorrow were upon him. It increased the awfulness of his aspect that there was a motion of his head, and an almost continual tremor throughout his frame, with singula

r twitchings and contortions of his features.

The hot sun blazed upon his unprotected head; but he seemed not to feel its fervor. A dark cloud swept across the sky, and rain-drops pattered into the market-place; but the stranger heeded not the shower. The people began to gaze at the mysterious old gentleman, with superstitious fear and wonder. Who could he be? Whence did he come? Wherefore was he standing bare-headed in the market-place? Even the school-boys left the Merry-Andrew, and came to gaze, with wide open eyes, at this tall, strange-looking old man.

There was a cattle-drover in the village, who had recently made a journey to the Smithfield market, in London. No sooner had this man thrust his way through the throng, and taken a look at the unknown personage, than he whispered to one of his acquaintances:

"I say, neighbor Hutchins, would ye like to know who this old gentleman is?"

"Ay, that I would," replied neighbor Hutchins; "for a queerer chap I never saw in my life! Somehow, it makes me feel small to look at him. He's more than a common man."

"You may well say so," answered the cattle-drover. "Why, that's the famous Doctor Samuel Johnson, who, they say, is the greatest and learnedest man in England. I saw him in London Streets, walking with one Mr. Boswell."

Yes; the poor boy-the friendless Sam-with, whom we began our story, had become the famous Doctor Samuel Johnson! He was universally acknowledged as the wisest man and greatest writer in all England. He had given shape and permanence to his native language, by his Dictionary. Thousands upon thousands of people had read his Idler, his Rambler, and his Rasselas. Noble and wealthy men, and beautiful ladies, deemed it their highest privilege to be his companions. Even the king of Great Britain had sought his acquaintance, and told him what an honor he considered it, that such a man had been born in his dominions. He was now at the summit of literary renown.

But all his fame could not extinguish the bitter remembrance, which had tormented him through life. Never, never, had he forgotten his father's sorrowful and upbraiding look. Never-though the old man's troubles had been over so many years-had he forgiven himself for inflicting such a pang upon his heart. And now, in his old age, he had come hither to do penance, by standing at noon-day in the market-place of Uttoxeter, on the very spot where Michael Johnson had once kept his bookstall. The aged and illustrious man had done what the poor boy refused to do. By thus expressing his deep repentance and humiliation of heart, he hoped to gain peace of conscience, and the forgiveness of God.

My dear children, if you have grieved-I will not say, your parents-but, if you have grieved the heart of any human being, who has a claim upon your love, then think of Samuel Johnson's penance! Will it not be better to redeem the error now, than to endure the agony of remorse for fifty years? Would you not rather say to a brother-"I have erred! Forgive me!"-than perhaps to go hereafter, and shed bitter tears upon his grave?

Hardly was the story concluded, when George hastily arose, and Edward likewise, stretching forth his hands into the darkness that surrounded him, to find his brother. Both accused themselves of unkindness; each besought the other's forgiveness; and having, done so, the trouble of their hearts vanished away like a dream.

"I am glad! I am so glad!" said Emily, in a low, earnest voice. "Now I shall sleep quietly to-night."

"My sweet child," thought Mrs. Temple, as she kissed her, "mayest thou never know how much strife there is on earth! It would cost thee many a night's rest."

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