On November 14 1812, John Cam Hobhouse has an interesting dinner conversation with John de Grenier Fonblanque, who in his youth had met Dr. Johnson. On this day Hobhouse writes in his diary about the encounter and later some other anecdotes involving the historian Edward Gibbon:
On Thursday night at Reilly’s, a drunken fellow, one Fonblanque, a King’s Counsel, addressed himself to my father and me with several impertinencies. I find him to have gone half-distracted with poverty He met Dr Johnson once in a post-coach going to Oxford. Johnson was reading a little Æschylus, great part of the way. Johnson complained that a gentleman who had sat opposite him and had left the coach, had not spoken to him, which, said he, it was his place to do. “Perhaps,” said Fonblanque (then a boy), “he was more modest than I, and after seeing that you did not answer me freely, was abashed.” – “Sir,” said Johnson, “I stand corrected.”
A fellow who got into the coach near Oxford was swearing all the way purposely to annoy Johnson, and said as he entered, “Let’s quiz the Doctor.” Fonblanque, at the inn where they dined, went out to the larder in order to get something nice for Johnson, which he determined to pay himself. He divided the bill after dinner on this plan, but Johnson, casting his eye over it, said, “I am sorry to see so accomplished a young man deficient in that which is of the utmost importance, and that daily – arithmetical calculation.” Fonblanque reasoned with him. “It is true,” said Johnson, “I drunk no wine, but that is the very reason I ought to pay for it.” At last it was agreed that, instead of dividing, they should toss up for the payment of sixpence. Fonblanque tossed up – Johnson called tails – it came up heads. “Now,” said Fonblanque, “I will have it recorded that I won threepence of Dr Johnson.” The Doctor was highly pleased at this youthful frolic of his, and said he had not tossed up for sixty years before.
Went down to Whitton. Met at dinner Roger Wilbraham, who though at first forbidding, was very entertaining at dinner. He knew Gibbon very well. The historian said one day in a large party, “Sir F. Molyneux told me the other day there were many faulty points in Cicero. I, who thought that Molyneux would hardly find out what Middleton was unable to discover, stared a good deal and asked a question or two, when judge of my surprise, Madam, at finding that Cicero was a racehorse.”
Another time he was talking blasphemy at Boodles, [and] a man from the other end of the table said, to abash him, “But pray, Mr Gibbon, what do you think the greatest miracle in the Bible?” – “When Balaam’s ass spoke, sir.” A lady once asked him if he ever hunted. “Indeed, Madam, not I: I never killed anything bigger than a wasp in my life.”
Mr Wilbraham told a thing or two of Dutens. The Prince and Lady Hartford were disputing on some theological point. The Prince asked Dutens to decide, who said, “I must confess her Ladyship is right.” – “Good God,” said His Royal Highness, “that woman is right in everything!”
Dutens would not own he was a Frenchman, and said to someone, “Because I am born in stable, am I therefore a horse?” – “No,” answered his friend, “you may be either an ox or an ass.”
He was so absent that one day at Devonshire House he told the present Mrs George Lamb, in presence of everybody, “Mlle. Julie – do you hear your mother?” (Lady Elizabeth Forster) – “Go to your Mama, Mlle. Julie …”