I'd always wondered if the old family legends were true about Dr Johnson. It was said that the Rev. John Batteridge Pearson inherited much of Dr Johnson's
possessions, including his copy of the famous dictionary, his walking stick, his writing desk, and much of his fortune. It was said that the dictionary was later destroyed when a maid thought it was rubbish and tore out leaves of the book to light fires. Since John Pearson was in no way related to Dr Johnson, though they lived nearby, it seemed curious. Why had John Pearson been so favoured? Here is confirmation that it happened. The writing desk and dictionary are definitely still owned by a cousin.
The Rev. John Batteridge Pearson.—In my book (p. 243) I was unable to give much account of this clergyman, who, as Lucy Porter’s principal legatee, and inheritor from her of many valuable Johnsonian relics, seems almost to come within the circle of the Doctor’s kinsfolk, though, as a matter, of fact, quite unrelated. Mr. Pearson and old Mr. Seward supped with Johnson and Boswell at “ The Three Crowns ” Inn at Lichfield on 25 March, 1776. From the Doctor’s letters we gather that Mr. Pearson was very intimate with Lucy Porter during her later years, and even wrote her letters if she felt disinclined to write herself.1 1: Miss Seward, in a letter to Boswell on 25 March, 1785, tells him that Lucy Porter is breaking up, and that “ she is now too ill to be accessible to any of her friends, except Mr. Pearson.”
Sir Robert White-Thomson, whose Johnsonian connexions I have already explained, tells me he understands that Mr. Pearson was in the habit of cheering Lucy Porter by evening visits and games of piquet. It is pleasant to think that he did not gain her esteem, with the substantial proof she afforded him of it, by any species of toadying. Mrs. Piozzi tells us, on the authority of Dr. Johnson, who witnessed the incident, how Lucy Porter,
“being opposed one day in conversation by a clergyman who came often to her house, and feeling somewhat offended, cried out suddenly, * Why, Mr. Pearson,’ said she, ‘ you are just like Dr. Johnson, I think: I do not mean that you are a man of the greatest capacity in all the world like Dr. Johnson, but that you contradict one every word one speaks, just like him.’”
Principally through the kind assistance of his grandson, Mr. Philip P. Pennant, of Nantlys, St. Asaph,. I am now able to give accurate particulars of the Rev. John Batteridge Pearson-.and his family.22. Much of this information concerning Pearson’s ancestors and children is derived from an account of the family in his own handwriting, kindly lent to me by Mr. Pennant. Particulars of his children do not seem to have appeared in print before, which justifies me in enumerating them here, apart from the fact that it is necessary to do so in order to explain the location of various Johnsonian relics which have descended from Pearson. Born on 27 April, 1749, “at Merival, near ye Stone Bridge,” he was the fourth and youngest son of the Rev. James Pearson (1686-1756), M.A., St. John’s College, Cambridge, for thirty-six years minister of St. Julian’s Church, Shrewsbury, by Jane his wife, daughter of John Batteridge of Ightfield, near Whitchurch. The Rev. James Pearson was the second son of the Rev. Samuel Pearson (1647-1727), M.A., St. John’s College, Cambridge, for fifty-one years Vicar of Holy Cross (Abbey Church), Shrewsbury, by Ann, daughter of Thomas Bowdler, of Shrewsbury. The Rev. Samuel Pearson was fourth son of one James Pearson (who, about 1640, left Newport, in Salop, for Shrewsbury, where he died in 1692) by Jane Hawkins, his wife.
John Batteridge Pearson, whoso godparents were Mrs. Bingley, the Rev. Mr. Brooke, second master of the Free School at Shrewsbury, and Mr. Pearce; was educated at fit. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took ha LL.B. degree in 1772. From 1774 to 1782 he was Perpetual Curate of St. Michad’s, Lichfield. Early in 1779 he was appointed Vicar of Croxall, Derbyshire. On 4March Dr. Johnson wrote to Lucy Porter: " I have seen Mr. Pearson, and am pleased to find that lie has got a living. 1 was hurried when he with me, but had time to hear that my friends ware all well”
In the year after Lucy Porter’s death Mr. Pearson, now a man of means, was married at St. Mary’s, Lichfield, on 17 Sept., 1787, to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Rev. James Falconer (1737-1809), D.D., Archdeacon of Derby and Prebendary of Lichfield. It is of some interest that Mrs. Pearson’s aunt Elizabeth Falconer 3 3. James and Elizabeth Falconer were the children of James Falconer, of Chester, Lieut. R.N., who in 1734 had married Elizabeth, daughter of William Inge, of Thorpe Constantine, Staffs. See Falkoner pedigree in Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry,’ 4th ed., 1868 ; also Nichols’s ‘Leic.,’ iii. 1144. had, in 1759, married Thomas Pennant (1726-98), the celebrated traveller. “He’s a Whig, sir ; a sad dog,” said Dr. Johnson in defending Pennant against Bishop Percy, “but he’s the best traveller I ever read ; he observes more things than any one else does.”
Writing to Mrs. Gastrell and her sister, at Lichfield, on 30 March, 1782, Johnson, who was then at Bolt Court, mentioned that “when Dr. Falconer saw me, I was at home only by accident, for I lived much with Mrs. Thrale.” Dr. Birkbeck Hill has a foot-note to this, saying that Miss Seward mentions “a Dr. Falconer of Bath (Seward’s ‘ Letters,’ v. 222).” This is so. Writing to F. N. C. Mundy on 6 May, 1799, Miss Seward recalls that when at Buxton in 1769 with Honora Sneyd, “ the present Dr. Falconer, of Bath, was of our party.” William Falconer (1744-1824), M.D., F.R.S., of Bath, is not to be dismissed as “a Dr. Falconer ” ; as the 'D.N.B.’ says, his “ attainments as a scholar and a physician wore of the highest order.” But Johnson’s caller, we may safely say, was not Dr. Falconer of Bath, but his kinsman, the Rev. James Falconer, D.D., of Lichfield, who, on his return home from London, had told the ladies at Stow Hill of his visit to the lion of Bolt Court.
The Rev. J. B. Pearson, who was appointed Prebendary of Pipe Parva, in Lichfield Cathedral, died on 14 August, 1808, “ at Croxall, co. Derby, after having performed the duties of the day and gone to bed in apparently perfect health” (Gent Mag.) His widow survived him almost half a century, dying on 8 Dec., 1856, at Hill Ridware, Staffordshire, aged ninety-two. She supplied Croker with copies of many of Johnson's letters to Lucy Porter, as well one by Boswell. The Rev. John Batteridge Pearson had issue, by Elizabeth Falconer, his wife, four sons and three daughters :—
Mr. Pennant possesses another interesting Johnsonian relic, of which he gives me the following description:—
“ The book which contains two prayers written by I)r. Johnson is entitled 'Forms of Prayer proper to be used Before, At, and After the Receiving of the Holy Sacrament. Published by W. Ginger, near the King’s School, Westminster, 1768.’ With it is bound up ‘The servioe of the Holy Communion.’ In the beginning there is written, in, I think, Dr. Johnsons handwriting: ‘This Book given to Mrs. Lucy Porter by Dr. Johnson 1782.’ There is also a note, in, I think, my grandmother’s writing, to the effect that these two prayers are contained in his ‘ Prayers and Meditations,’ published by the Rev. G Strahan, 1785, p. 206.”
The two prayers alluded to are, of course, in the Doctor's own handwriting.
The Rev. J. Pearson inherited from Lucy Porter what his obituary notice in The Gentleman's Magazine describes as:
“ Sir Joshua Reynolds's best portrait of Dr. Johnson, at perhaps not above 45 years old, in an attitude of deep thought, hands lifted breast high, and the fingers half-spread in a particular manner, and uncloathed neck. "
This portrait, which has been often reproduced, Mr. Pennant tells me,
“now hangs in Stafford House. The story, m I have always hoard it, runs thus. At my grandfather’s death, his widow was left with seven children from seventeen years old downward. Lord Stafford, when hunting in her neighbourhood, would always call, and at length, after many refusals, persuaded her that, for the sake of the education of her children, she ought to sell this picture, which at length she did. It is interesting to know that, after the divorce of the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Johnson, the two hung again side by side, for some months, at the National Portrait Exhibition in 1867, Miss Lucy Porter also being one of the party.”
"Lord Stafford" must have been the second Marquess of Stafford, created first Duke of Sutherland in 1833, the great-grandfather of the present owner of Stafford House.
The obituary notice also states that Mr. Pearson inherited from Lucy Porter a portrait of u Joseph Porter senior, by Hogarth, esteemed to be the best portrait produced by that excellent Artist, quoting from Nichols’s 'Leicestershire.' This portrait is not in the possession of any of Mr. Pearson’s descendants. Mr. Pennant has made inquiries, and feels quite satisfied that it must have been purchased from his grandmother by Lord Stafford when he acquired Reynolds's portrait of Dr. Johnson. Mr. Pennant hopes to settle this point definitely later on. There is an engraving of the portrait in an interleaved copy of Harwood’s 'Lichfield ’ at the Bodleian Library. Mr. F. G. Shirreff, assistant librarian there, kindly tells me that it
“represents a rather stout man seated at a table-folding a letter; he is wearing a wig, plain coat, and embroidered waistcoat. The inscription (engraved) is 'Joseph Porter, Esqr, of Mortlake, From a Drawing taken from the Original Picture in 1807. Published.....1809.’ And above—‘Hogarth pinx*. T. Cook sculp*.' ”
Since my last article was printed I have discovered rather striking proof of my contention that it was not William Falconer, M.D., of Bath, who called on Dr. Johnson in 1782. The Rev. Richard Warner, in his ' Literary Recollections,’ 1830 (vol ii. p. 70) recalls a discussion that took place at a dinner-party many years before, at William .....(rest of article lost)