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Life Of Johnson, Vol. 1 by Boswell, Edited by Birkbeck Hill

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parallel is ingeniously drawn between human life and that liquor. It

'Say, then, physicians of each kind,
Who cure the body or the mind,
What harm in drinking can there be,
Since punch and life so well agree?'

[Page 335: Profits on The Idler. AEtat 49.]

To _The Idler_, when collected in volumes[1003], he added, beside the
'Essay on Epitaphs' and the 'Dissertation on those of Pope[1004],' an Essay
on the 'Bravery of the English common Soldiers.' He, however, omitted
one of the original papers, which in the folio copy is No. 22[1005].



'Your notes upon my poet were very acceptable. I beg that you will be so
kind as to continue your searches. It will be reputable to my work, and
suitable to your professorship, to have something of yours in the notes.
As you have given no directions about your name, I shall therefore put
it. I wish your brother would take the same trouble. A commentary must
arise from the fortuitous discoveries of many men in devious walks of
literature. Some of your remarks are on plays already printed: but I
purpose to add an Appendix of Notes, so that nothing comes too late.

'You give yourself too much uneasiness, dear Sir, about the loss of the
papers[1006]. The loss is nothing, if nobody has found them; nor even then,
perhaps, if the numbers be known. You are not the only friend that has
had the same mischance. You may repair your want out of a stock, which
is deposited with Mr. Allen, of Magdalen-Hall; or out of a parcel which
I have just sent to Mr. Chambers[1007] for the use of any body that will be
so kind as to want them. Mr. Langtons are well; and Miss Roberts[1008],
whom I have at last brought to speak, upon the information which you
gave me, that she had something to say.

'I am, &c.


'[London] April 14, 1758.'

[Page 336: Mr. Langton as an undergraduate. A.D. 1758.]



'You will receive this by Mr. Baretti, a gentleman particularly intitled
to the notice and kindness of the Professor of poesy. He has time but
for a short stay, and will be glad to have it filled up with as much as
he can hear and see.

'In recommending another to your favour, I ought not to omit thanks for
the kindness which you have shewn to myself. Have you any more notes on
Shakspeare? I shall be glad of them.

'I see your pupil sometimes[1009]: his mind is as exalted as his
stature[1010]. I am half afraid of him; but he is no less amiable than
formidable. He will, if the forwardness of his spring be not blasted, be
a credit to you, and to the University. He brings some of my plays[1011]
with him, which he has my permission to shew you, on condition you will
hide them from every body else.

[Page 337: Experience compared with expectation. AEtat 49.]

'I am, dear Sir, &c.


'[London,] June 1, 1758.'



'Though I might have expected to hear from you, upon your entrance into
a new state of life at a new place, yet recollecting, (not without some
degree of shame,) that I owe you a letter upon an old account, I think
it my part to write first. This, indeed, I do not only from complaisance
but from interest; for living on in the old way, I am very glad of a
correspondent so capable as yourself, to diversify the hours. You have,
at present, too many novelties about you to need any help from me to
drive along your time.

'I know not any thing more pleasant, or more instructive, than to
compare experience with expectation, or to register from time to time
the difference between idea and reality. It is by this kind of
observation that we grow daily less liable to be disappointed[1012]. You,
who are very capable of anticipating futurity, and raising phantoms
before your own eyes, must often have imagined to yourself an academical
life, and have conceived what would be the manners, the views, and the
conversation, of men devoted to letters; how they would choose their
companions, how they would direct their studies, and how they would
regulate their lives. Let me know what you expected, and what you have
found. At least record it to yourself before custom has reconciled you
to the scenes before you, and the disparity of your discoveries to your
hopes has vanished from your mind. It is a rule never to be forgotten,
that whatever strikes strongly, should be described while the first
impression remains fresh upon the mind.

[Page 338: A violent death. A.D. 1759.]

'I love, dear Sir, to think on you, and therefore, should willingly
write more to you, but that the post will not now give me leave to do
more than send my compliments to Mr. Warton, and tell you that I am,
dear Sir, most affectionately,

'Your very humble servant,


'June 28, 1757[1013].'



'I should be sorry to think that what engrosses the attention of my
friend, should have no part of mine. Your mind is now full of the fate
of Dury[1014]; but his fate is past, and nothing remains but to try what
reflection will suggest to mitigate the terrours of a violent death,
which is more formidable at the first glance, than on a nearer and more
steady view. A violent death is never very painful; the only danger is
lest it should be unprovided. But if a man can be supposed to make no
provision for death in war, what can be the state that would have
awakened him to the care of futurity? When would that man have prepared
himself to die, who went to seek death without preparation? What then
can be the reason why we lament more him that dies of a wound, than him
that dies of a fever? A man that languishes with disease, ends his life
with more pain, but with less virtue; he leaves no example to his
friends, nor bequeaths any honour to his descendants. The only reason
why we lament a soldier's death, is, that we think he might have lived
longer; yet this cause of grief is common to many other kinds of death
which are not so passionately bewailed. The truth is, that every death
is violent which is the effect of accident; every death, which is not
gradually brought on by the miseries of age, or when life is
extinguished for any other reason than that it is burnt out. He that
dies before sixty, of a cold or consumption, dies, in reality, by a
violent death; yet his death is borne with patience only because the
cause of his untimely end is silent and invisible. Let us endeavour to
see things as they are, and then enquire whether we ought to complain.
Whether to see life as it is, will give us much consolation, I know not;
but the consolation which is drawn from truth, if any there be, is solid
and durable; that which may be derived from errour must be, like its
original, fallacious and fugitive. I am, dear, dear Sir, your most
humble servant,


'Sept. 21, 1758.'

[Page 339: The death of Johnson's mother. AEtat 50.]

1759: AETAT. 50.--In 1759, in the month of January, his mother died at
the great age of ninety, an event which deeply affected him[1015]; not
that 'his mind had acquired no firmness by the contemplation of
mortality[1016];' but that his reverential affection for her was not
abated by years, as indeed he retained all his tender feelings even to
the latest period of his life[1017]. I have been told that he regretted
much his not having gone to visit his mother for several years, previous
to her death[1018]. But he was constantly engaged in literary labours which
confined him to London; and though he had not the comfort of seeing his
aged parent, he contributed liberally to her support[1019].

[Page 340: Rasselas. A.D. 1759.]

Soon after this event, he wrote his _Rasselas_[1020], _Prince of
Abyssinia_; concerning the publication of which Sir John Hawkins guesses
vaguely and idly[1021], instead of having taken the trouble to inform
himself with authentick precision. Not to trouble my readers with a
repetition of the Knight's reveries, I have to mention, that the late
Mr. Strahan the printer told me, that Johnson wrote it, that with the
profits he might defray the expence of his mother's funeral, and pay
some little debts which she had left. He told Sir Joshua Reynolds that
he composed it in the evenings of one week, sent it to the press in
portions as it was written, and had never since read it over[1022]. Mr.
Strahan, Mr. Johnston, and Mr. Dodsley purchased it for a hundred
pounds[1023], but afterwards paid him twenty-five pounds more, when it came
to a second edition.

[Page 342: Rasselas and Candide. A.D. 1759.]

Considering the large sums which have been received for compilations,
and works requiring not much more genius than compilations[1024], we cannot
but wonder at the very low price which he was content to receive for
this admirable performance; which, though he had written nothing else,
would have rendered his name immortal in the world of literature. None
of his writings has been so extensively diffused over Europe; for it has
been translated into most, if not all, of the modern languages[1025]. This
Tale, with all the charms of oriental imagery, and all the force and
beauty of which the English language is capable, leads us through the
most important scenes of human life, and shews us that this stage of our
being is full of 'vanity and vexation of spirit[1026].' To those who look
no further than the present life, or who maintain that human nature has
not fallen from the state in which it was created, the instruction of
this sublime story will be of no avail. But they who think justly, and
feel with strong sensibility, will listen with eagerness and admiration
to its truth and wisdom. Voltaire's _Candide_, written to refute the
system of Optimism, which it has accomplished with brilliant success, is
wonderfully similar in its plan and conduct to Johnson's _Rasselas_;
insomuch, that I have heard Johnson say[1027], that if they had not been
published so closely one after the other that there was not time for
imitation, it would have been in vain to deny that the scheme of that
which came latest was taken from the other. Though the proposition
illustrated by both these works was the same, namely, that in our
present state there is more evil than good, the intention of the writers
was very different. Voltaire, I am afraid, meant only by wanton
profaneness to obtain a sportive victory over religion, and to discredit
the belief of a superintending Providence: Johnson meant, by shewing the
unsatisfactory nature of things temporal, to direct the hopes of man to
things eternal. _Rasselas_, as was observed to me by a very accomplished
lady, may be considered as a more enlarged and more deeply philosophical
discourse in prose, upon the interesting truth, which in his _Vanity of
Human Wishes_ he had so successfully enforced in verse.

The fund of thinking which this work contains is such, that almost every
sentence of it may furnish a subject of long meditation. I am not
satisfied if a year passes without my having read it through; and at
every perusal, my admiration of the mind which produced it is so highly
raised, that I can scarcely believe that I had the honour of enjoying
the intimacy of such a man.

[Page 343: Apparitions. AEtat 50.]

I restrain myself from quoting passages from this excellent work, or
even referring to them, because I should not know what to select, or
rather, what to omit. I shall, however, transcribe one, as it shews how
well he could state the arguments of those who believe in the appearance
of departed spirits; a doctrine which it is a mistake to suppose that he
himself ever positively held[1028]:

'If all your fear be of apparitions, (said the Prince,) I will promise
you safety: there is no danger from the dead; he that is once buried
will be seen no more.

'That the dead are seen no more, (said Imlac,) I will not undertake to
maintain, against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages, and
of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom
apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion,
which prevails[1029] as far as human nature is diffused, could become
universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another,
would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make
credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers, can very little weaken
the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues, confess
it by their fears.'

Notwithstanding my high admiration of _Rasselas_, I will not maintain
that the 'morbid melancholy[1030]' in Johnson's constitution may not,
perhaps, have made life appear to him more insipid and unhappy than it
generally is; for I am sure that he had less enjoyment from it than I
have. Yet, whatever additional shade his own particular sensations may
have thrown on his representation of life, attentive observation and
close enquiry have convinced me, that there is too much of reality in
the gloomy picture. The truth, however, is, that we judge of the
happiness and misery of life differently at different times, according
to the state of our changeable frame. I always remember a remark made to
me by a Turkish lady, educated in France, '_Ma foi, Monsieur, notre
bonheur depend de la facon que notre sang circule_.' This have I learnt
from a pretty hard course of experience, and would, from sincere
benevolence, impress upon all who honour this book with a perusal, that
until a steady conviction is obtained, that the present life is an
imperfect state, and only a passage to a better, if we comply with the
divine scheme of progressive improvement; and also that it is a part of
the mysterious plan of Providence, that intellectual beings must 'be
made perfect through suffering[1031];' there will be a continual recurrence
of disappointment and uneasiness. But if we walk with hope in 'the
mid-day sun' of revelation, our temper and disposition will be such,
that the comforts and enjoyments in our way will be relished, while we
patiently support the inconveniences and pains. After much speculation
and various reasonings, I acknowledge myself convinced of the truth of
Voltaire's conclusion, '_Apres tout c est un monde passable_[1032].' But we
must not think too deeply;

'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise[1033],'

is, in many respects, more than poetically just. Let us cultivate, under
the command of good principles, '_la theorie des sensations agreables_;'
and, as Mr. Burke once admirably counselled a grave and anxious
gentleman, 'live pleasant[1034].'

[Page 344: 'Live pleasant.' A.D. 1759.]

The effect of _Rasselas_, and of Johnson's other moral tales, is thus
beautifully illustrated by Mr. Courtenay:

'Impressive truth, in splendid fiction drest,
Checks the vain wish, and calms the troubled breast;
O'er the dark mind a light celestial throws,
And sooths the angry passions to repose;
As oil effus'd illumes and smooths the deep,
When round the bark the swelling surges sweep[1035].'

[Page 345: The Idler pirated. AEtat 50.]

It will be recollected, that during all this year he carried on his
Idler[1036], and, no doubt, was proceeding, though slowly, in his edition
of _Shakspeare_. He, however, from that liberality which never failed,
when called upon to assist other labourers in literature, found time to
translate for Mrs. Lennox's English version of Brumoy, 'A Dissertation
on the Greek Comedy,'[dagger] and 'The General Conclusion of the

An inquiry into the state of foreign countries was an object that seems
at all times to have interested Johnson. Hence Mr. Newbery found no
great difficulty in persuading him to write the Introduction[*] to a
collection of voyages and travels published by him under the title of
_The World Displayed_; the first volume of which appeared this year, and
the remaining volumes in subsequent years.

[Page 346: Parental tyranny. A.D. 1759.]

I would ascribe to this year[1037] the following letter to a son of one of
his early friends at Lichfield, Mr. Joseph Simpson, Barrister, and
authour of a tract entitled _Reflections on the Study of the Law_.

[Page 347: An excursion to Oxford. AEtat 50.]

'If you married imprudently, you miscarried at your own hazard, at an
age when you had a right of choice. It would be hard if the man might
not choose his own wife, who has a right to plead before the Judges of
his country.

'If your imprudence has ended in difficulties and inconveniences, you
are yourself to support them; and, with the help of a little better
health, you would support them and conquer them. Surely, that want which
accident and sickness produces, is to be supported in every region of
humanity, though there were neither friends nor fathers in the world.
You have certainly from your father the highest claim of charity, though
none of right; and therefore I would counsel you to omit no decent nor
manly degree of importunity. Your debts in the whole are not large, and
of the whole but a small part is troublesome. Small debts are like small
shot; they are rattling on every side, and can scarcely be escaped
without a wound: great debts are like cannon; of loud noise, but little
danger. You must, therefore, be enabled to discharge petty debts, that
you may have leisure, with security, to struggle with the rest. Neither
the great nor little debts disgrace you. I am sure you have my esteem
for the courage with which you contracted them, and the spirit with
which you endure them. I wish my esteem could be of more use. I have
been invited, or have invited myself, to several parts of the kingdom;
and will not incommode my dear Lucy by coming to Lichfield, while her
present lodging is of any use to her. I hope, in a few days, to be at
leisure, and to make visits. Whither I shall fly is matter of no
importance. A man unconnected is at home every where; unless he may be
said to be at home no where. I am sorry, dear Sir, that where you have
parents, a man of your merits should not have an home. I wish I could
give it you. I am, my dear Sir,

'Affectionately yours,


He now refreshed himself by an excursion to Oxford, of which the
following short characteristical notice, in his own words, is

'----[1039] is now making tea for me. I have been in my gown ever since I
came here[1040]. It was, at my first coming, quite new and handsome. I have
swum thrice, which I had disused for many years. I have proposed to
Vansittart[1041], climbing over the wall, but he has refused me. And I have
clapped my hands till they are sore, at Dr. King's speech[1042].'

[Page 348: The great CHAM of literature. A.D. 1759.]

His negro servant, Francis Barber, having left him, and been some time
at sea, not pressed as has been supposed, but with his own consent, it
appears from a letter to John Wilkes, Esq., from Dr. Smollet, that his
master kindly interested himself in procuring his release from a state
of life of which Johnson always expressed the utmost abhorrence. He
said, 'No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself
into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of
being drowned[1043].' And at another time, 'A man in a jail has more room,
better food, and commonly better company[1044].' The letter was as

[Page 349: Johnson's black servant at sea. AEtat 50.]

'Chelsea, March 16, 1759.


'I am again your petitioner, in behalf of that great CHAM[1045] of
literature, Samuel Johnson. His black servant, whose name is Francis
Barber, has been pressed on board the Stag Frigate, Captain Angel, and
our lexicographer is in great distress. He says the boy is a sickly lad,
of a delicate frame, and particularly subject to a malady in his throat,
which renders him very unfit for his Majesty's service. You know what
manner of animosity the said Johnson has against you[1046]; and I dare say
you desire no other opportunity of resenting it than that of laying him
under an obligation. He was humble enough to desire my assistance on
this occasion, though he and I were never cater-cousins; and I gave him
to understand that I would make application to my friend Mr. Wilkes,
who, perhaps, by his interest with Dr. Hay and Mr. Elliot, might be able
to procure the discharge of his lacquey. It would be superfluous to say
more on the subject, which I leave to your own consideration; but I
cannot let slip this opportunity of declaring that I am, with the most
inviolable esteem and attachment, dear Sir,

'Your affectionate, obliged, humble servant,


Mr. Wilkes, who upon all occasions has acted, as a private gentleman,
with most polite liberality, applied to his friend Sir George Hay, then
one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty; and Francis Barber was
discharged, as he has told me, without any wish of his own. He found his
old master in Chambers in the Inner Temple[1047], and returned to his

[Page 350: Life in Inner Temple-lane. A.D. 1759.]

What particular new scheme of life Johnson had in view this year, I have
not discovered; but that he meditated one of some sort, is clear from
his private devotions, in which we find[1048], 'the change of outward
things which I am now to make;' and, 'Grant me the grace of thy Holy
Spirit, that the course which I am now beginning may proceed according
to thy laws, and end in the enjoyment of thy favour.' But he did not, in
fact, make any external or visible change[1049].

[Page 351: Blackfriars-bridge. AEtat 50.]

At this time, there being a competition among the architects of London
to be employed in the building of Blackfriars-bridge, a question was
very warmly agitated whether semicircular or elliptical arches were
preferable. In the design offered by Mr. Mylne the elliptical form was
adopted, and therefore it was the great object of his rivals to attack
it. Johnson's regard for his friend Mr. Gwyn induced him to engage in
this controversy against Mr. Mylne[1050]; and after being at considerable
pains to study the subject, he wrote three several letters in the
_Gazetteer_, in opposition to his plan.

If it should be remarked that this was a controversy which lay quite out
of Johnson's way, let it be remembered, that after all, his employing
his powers of reasoning and eloquence upon a subject which he had
studied on the moment, is not more strange than what we often observe in
lawyers, who, as _Quicquid agunt homines_[1051] is the matter of law-suits,
are sometimes obliged to pick up a temporary knowledge of an art or
science, of which they understood nothing till their brief was
delivered, and appear to be much masters of it. In like manner, members
of the legislature frequently introduce and expatiate upon subjects of
which they have informed themselves for the occasion.

[Page 353: Relief of the French Prisoners. AEtat 51.]

1760: AETAT. 51].--In 1760 he wrote _An Address of the Painters to
George III. on his Accession to the Throne of these Kingdoms_,[dagger]
which no monarch ever ascended with more sincere congratulations from
his people. Two generations of foreign princes had prepared their minds
to rejoice in having again a King, who gloried in being 'born a
Briton[1052].' He also wrote for Mr. Baretti, the dedication[dagger] of
his _Italian and English Dictionary_ to the Marquis of Abreu, then
Envoy-Extraordinary from Spain at the Court of Great Britain.

[Page 354: Mary Queen of Scots. A.D. 1760.]

Johnson was now neither very idle, nor very busy with his _Shakspeare_;
for I can find no other public composition by him except an introduction
to the proceedings of the Committee for cloathing the French
Prisoners[1053];[*] one of the many proofs that he was ever awake to the
calls of humanity; and an account which he gave in the Gentlemen's
Magazine of Mr. Tytler's acute and able vindication of Mary Queen of
Scots.[*] The generosity of Johnson's feelings shines forth in the
following sentence:--

"It has now been fashionable, for near half a century, to defame and
vilify the house of Stuart and, to exalt and magnify the reign of
Elizabeth. The Stuarts have found few apologists, for the dead cannot
pay for praise; and who will, without reward, oppose the tide of
popularity? Yet there remains still among us, not wholly extinguished, a
zeal for truth, a desire of establishing right in opposition to

In this year I have not discovered a single private letter, written by
him to any of his friends. It should seem, however, that he had at this
period a floating intention of writing a history of the recent and
wonderful successes of the British arms in all quarters of the globe;
for among his resolutions or memorandums, September 18, 'send for books
for Hist. of War[1055].' How much is it to be regretted that this intention
was not fulfilled. His majestick expression would have carried down to
the latest posterity the glorious achievements of his country with the
same fervent glow which they produced on the mind of the time. He would
have been under no temptation to deviate in any degree from truth, which
he held very sacred, or to take a licence, which a learned divine told
me he once seemed, in a conversation, jocularly to allow to historians.

[Page 355: Consecrated lies. AEtat 51.]

'There are (said he) inexcusable lies, and consecrated lies. For
instance, we are told that on the arrival of the news of the unfortunate
battle of Fontenoy, every heart beat, and every eye was in tears. Now we
know, that no man eat his dinner the worse[1056], but there _should_ have
been all this concern; and to say there _was_, (smiling) may be reckoned
a consecrated lie.'

This year Mr. Murphy, having thought himself ill-treated by the Reverend
Dr. Francklin, who was one of the writers of _The Critical Review_,
published an indignant vindication in _A Poetical Epistle to Samuel
Johnson, A.M_., in which he compliments Johnson in a just and elegant

Transcendant Genius! whose prolific vein
Ne'er knew the frigid poet's toil and pain;
To whom APOLLO opens all his store,
And every Muse presents her sacred lore;
Say, pow'rful JOHNSON, whence thy verse is fraught
With so much grace and such energy of thought;
Whether thy JUVENAL instructs the age
In chaster numbers, and new-points his rage;
Or fair IRENE sees, alas! too late.
Her innocence exchang'd for guilty state;
Whatever you write, in every golden line
Sublimity and elegance combine;
Thy nervous phrase impresses every soul,
While harmony gives rapture to the whole.'

[Page 356: Arthur Murphy. A.D. 1760.]

Again, towards the conclusion:

'Thou then, my friend, who seest the dang'rous strife
In which some demon bids me plunge my life,
To the Aonian fount direct my feet,
Say where the Nine thy lonely musings meet?
Where warbles to thy ear the sacred throng,
Thy moral sense, thy dignity of song?
Tell, for you can, by what unerring art
You wake to finer feelings every heart;
In each bright page some truth important give,
And bid to future times thy RAMBLER live[1057]?

I take this opportunity to relate the manner in which an acquaintance
first commenced between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy. During the
publication of _The Grays-Inn Journal_, a periodical paper which was
successfully carried on by Mr. Murphy alone, when a very young man, he
happened to be in the country with Mr. Foote; and having mentioned that
he was obliged to go to London in order to get ready for the press in
one of the numbers of that _Journal_, Foote said to him, 'You need not
to go on that account. Here is a French magazine, in which you will find
a very pretty oriental tale; translate that, and send it to your
printer.' Mr. Murphy having read the tale, was highly pleased with it,
and followed Foote's advice. When he returned to town, this tale was
pointed out to him in _The Rambler_, from whence it had been translated
into the French magazine. Mr. Murphy then waited upon Johnson, to
explain this curious incident. His talents, literature, and
gentleman-like manners, were soon perceived by Johnson, and a friendship
was formed which was never broken[1058].

[Page 357: Letter to Mr. Langston. AEtat 51.]



'You that travel about the world, have more materials for letters, than
I who stay at home; and should, therefore, write with frequency equal to
your opportunities. I should be glad to have all England surveyed by
you, if you would impart your observations in narratives as agreeable as
your last. Knowledge is always to be wished to those who can communicate
it well. While you have been riding and running, and seeing the tombs of
the learned, and the camps of the valiant, I have only staid at home,
and intended to do great things, which I have not done. Beau[1059] went
away to Cheshire, and has not yet found his way back. Chambers passed
the vacation at Oxford.

'I am very sincerely solicitous for the preservation or curing of Mr.
Langton's sight, and am glad that the chirurgeon at Coventry gives him
so much hope. Mr. Sharpe is of opinion that the tedious maturation of
the cataract is a vulgar errour, and that it may be removed as soon as
it is formed. This notion deserves to be considered; I doubt whether it
be universally true; but if it be true in some cases, and those cases
can be distinguished, it may save a long and uncomfortable delay.

'Of dear Mrs. Langton you give me no account; which is the less
friendly, as you know how highly I think of her, and how much I interest
myself in her health. I suppose you told her of my opinion, and likewise
suppose it was not followed; however, I still believe it to be right.

[Page 358: Thomas Sheridan. A.D. 1761.]

'Let me hear from you again, wherever you are, or whatever you are
doing; whether you wander or sit still, plant trees or make
_Rusticks_,[1060] play with your sisters or muse alone; and in return I
will tell you the success of Sheridan[1061], who at this instant is playing
Cato, and has already played Richard twice. He had more company the
second than the first night, and will make, I believe, a good figure in
the whole, though his faults seem to be very many; some of natural
deficience, and some of laborious affectation. He has, I think, no power
of assuming either that dignity or elegance which some men, who have
little of either in common life, can exhibit on the stage. His voice
when strained is unpleasing, and when low is not always heard. He seems
to think too much on the audience, and turns his face too often to the

'However, I wish him well; and among other reasons, because I like his

'Make haste to write to, dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate servant,


'Oct. 18, 1760.'

[Page 359: Instances of literary fraud. AEtat 52.]

1761: AETAT. 52.--In 1761 Johnson appears to have done little. He was
still, no doubt, proceeding in his edition of _Shakespeare_; but what
advances he made in it cannot be ascertained. He certainly was at this
time not active; for in his scrupulous examination of himself on Easter
eve, he laments, in his too rigorous mode of censuring his own conduct,
that his life, since the communion of the preceding Easter, had been
'dissipated and useless[1064].' He, however, contributed this year the
Preface[*] to _Rolt's Dictionary of Trade and Commerce_, in which he
displays such a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the subject, as
might lead the reader to think that its authour had devoted all his life
to it. I asked him whether he knew much of Rolt, and of his work. 'Sir,
(said he) I never saw the man, and never read the book. The booksellers
wanted a Preface to a _Dictionary of Trade and Commerce_. I knew very
well what such a Dictionary should be, and I wrote a Preface
accordingly.' Rolt, who wrote a great deal for the booksellers, was, as
Johnson told me, a singular character[1065]. Though not in the least
acquainted with him, he used to say, 'I am just come from Sam. Johnson.'
This was a sufficient specimen of his vanity and impudence. But he gave
a more eminent proof of it in our sister kingdom, as Dr. Johnson
informed me. When Akenside's _Pleasures of the Imagination_ first came
out, he did not put his name to the poem. Rolt went over to Dublin,
published an edition of it, and put his own name to it. Upon the fame of
this he lived for several months, being entertained at the best tables
as 'the ingenious Mr. Rolt[1066].' His conversation indeed, did not
discover much of the fire of a poet; but it was recollected, that both
Addison and Thomson were equally dull till excited by wine. Akenside
having been informed of this imposition, vindicated his right by
publishing the poem with its real authour's name. Several instances of
such literary fraud have been detected. The Reverend Dr. Campbell, of
St. Andrew's, wrote _An Enquiry into the original of Moral Virtue_, the
manuscript of which he sent to Mr. Innes, a clergyman in England, who
was his countryman and acquaintance. Innes published it with his own
name to it; and before the imposition was discovered, obtained
considerable promotion, as a reward of his merit[1067].

[Page 360: The Man of Feeling. A.D. 1781.]

The celebrated Dr. Hugh Blair, and his cousin Mr. George Bannatine, when
students in divinity, wrote a poem, entitled, _The Resurrection_, copies
of which were handed about in manuscript. They were, at length, very
much surprised to see a pompous edition of it in folio, dedicated to the
Princess Dowager of Wales, by a Dr. Douglas, as his own. Some years ago
a little novel, entitled _The Man of Feeling_, was assumed by Mr.
Eccles, a young Irish clergyman, who was afterwards drowned near
Bath[1068]. He had been at the pains to transcribe the whole book, with
blottings, interlineations, and corrections, that it might be shewn to
several people as an original. It was, in truth, the production of Mr.
Henry Mackenzie, an Attorney in the Exchequer at Edinburgh, who is the
authour of several other ingenious pieces; but the belief with regard to
Mr. Eccles became so general, that it was thought necessary for
Messieurs Strahan and Cadell to publish an advertisement in the
newspapers, contradicting the report, and mentioning that they purchase
the copyright of Mr. Mackenzie[1069]. I can conceive this kind of fraud to
be very easily practised with successful effrontery. The _Filiation_ of
a literary performance is difficult of proof; seldom is there any
witness present at its birth. A man, either in confidence or by improper
means, obtains possession of a copy of it in manuscript, and boldly
publishes it as his own. The true authour, in many cases, may not be
able to make his title clear. Johnson, indeed, from the peculiar
features of his literary offspring, might bid defiance to any attempt to
appropriate them to others.

'But Shakspeare's magick could not copied be,
Within that circle none durst walk but he[1070]!'

[Page 361: Letter to Mr. Baretti. AEtat 52.]

He this year lent his friendly assistance to correct and improve a
pamphlet written by Mr. Gwyn, the architect, entitled, _Thoughts on the
Coronation of George III_.[*]

Johnson had now for some years admitted Mr. Baretti to his intimacy; nor
did their friendship cease upon their being separated by Baretti's
revisiting his native country, as appears from Johnson's letters to him.


[Page 362: Baretti's knowledge of languages. A.D. 1761.]

'You reproach me very often with parsimony of writing: but you may
discover by the extent of my paper, that I design to recompence rarity
by length. A short letter to a distant friend is, in my opinion, an
insult like that of a slight bow or cursory salutation;--a proof of
unwillingness to do much, even where there is a necessity of doing
something. Yet it must be remembered, that he who continues the same
course of life in the same place, will have little to tell. One week and
one year are very like one another. The silent changes made by time are
not always perceived; and if they are not perceived, cannot be
recounted. I have risen and lain down, talked and mused, while you have
roved over a considerable part of Europe[1072]; yet I have not envied my
Baretti any of his pleasures, though, perhaps, I have envied others his
company: and I am glad to have other nations made acquainted with the
character of the English, by a traveller who has so nicely inspected our
manners, and so successfully studied our literature. I received your
kind letter from Falmouth, in which you gave me notice of your departure
for Lisbon, and another from Lisbon, in which you told me, that you were
to leave Portugal in a few days. To either of these how could any answer
be returned? I have had a third from Turin, complaining that I have not
answered the former. Your English style still continues in its purity
and vigour. With vigour your genius will supply it; but its purity must
be continued by close attention. To use two languages familiarly, and
without contaminating one by the other, is very difficult: and to use
more than two is hardly to be hoped[1073]. The praises which some have
received for their multiplicity of languages, may be sufficient to
excite industry, but can hardly generate confidence.

'I know not whether I can heartily rejoice at the kind reception which
you have found, or at the popularity to which you are exalted. I am
willing that your merit should be distinguished; but cannot wish that
your affections may be gained. I would have you happy wherever you are:
yet I would have you wish to return to England. If ever you visit us
again, you will find the kindness of your friends undiminished. To tell
you how many enquiries are made after you, would be tedious, or if not
tedious, would be vain; because you may be told in a very few words,
that all who knew you wish you well; and that all that you embraced at
your departure, will caress you at your return: therefore do not let
Italian academicians nor Italian ladies drive us from your thoughts. You
may find among us what you will leave behind, soft smiles and easy
sonnets. Yet I shall not wonder if all our invitations should be
rejected: for there is a pleasure in being considerable at home, which
is not easily resisted.

[Page 363: The Exhibition of Pictures. AEtat 52.]

'By conducting Mr. Southwell[1074] to Venice, you fulfilled, I know, the
original contract: yet I would wish you not wholly to lose him from your
notice, but to recommend him to such acquaintance as may best secure him
from suffering by his own follies, and to take such general care both of
his safety and his interest as may come within your power. His relations
will thank you for any such gratuitous attention: at least they will not
blame you for any evil that may happen, whether they thank you or not
for any good.

'You know that we have a new King and a new Parliament. Of the new
Parliament Fitzherbert[1075] is a member. We were so weary of our old King,
that we are much pleased with his successor; of whom we are so much
inclined to hope great things, that most of us begin already to believe
them. The young man is hitherto blameless; but it would be unreasonable
to expect much from the immaturity of juvenile years, and the ignorance
of princely education. He has been long in the hands of the Scots, and
has already favoured them more than the English will contentedly endure.
But, perhaps, he scarcely knows whom he has distinguished, or whom he
has disgusted.

'The Artists have instituted a yearly Exhibition[1076] of pictures and
statues, in imitation, as I am told, of foreign academies. This year was
the second Exhibition. They please themselves much with the multitude of
spectators, and imagine that the English School will rise in reputation.
Reynolds is without a rival, and continues to add thousands to
thousands, which he deserves, among other excellencies, by retaining his
kindness for Baretti. This Exhibition has filled the heads of the
Artists and lovers of art. Surely life, if it be not long, is tedious,
since we are forced to call in the assistance of so many trifles[1077] to
rid us of our time, of that time which never can return.

[Page 364: Johnson's indifference to pictures. A.D. 1761.]

[Page 365: Monastick life. AEtat 52.]

'I know my Baretti will not be satisfied with a letter in which I give
him no account of myself: yet what account shall I give him? I have not,
since the day of our separation, suffered or done any thing
considerable. The only change in my way of life is, that I have
frequented the theatre more than in former seasons. But I have gone
thither only to escape from myself. We have had many new farces, and the
comedy called _The Jealous Wife_[1078], which, though not written with much
genius, was yet so well adapted to the stage, and so well exhibited by
the actors, that it was crowded for near twenty nights. I am digressing
from myself to the play-house; but a barren plan must be filled with
episodes. Of myself I have nothing to say, but that I have hitherto
lived without the concurrence of my own judgment; yet I continue to
flatter myself, that, when you return, you will find me mended. I do not
wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds
votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule,
by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance.
They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of
constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long
experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern
themselves[1079]. If I were to visit Italy, my curiosity would be more
attracted by convents than by palaces: though I am afraid that I should
find expectation in both places equally disappointed, and life in both
places supported with impatience and quitted with reluctance. That it
must be so soon quitted, is a powerful remedy against impatience; but
what shall free us from reluctance? Those who have endeavoured to teach
us to die well, have taught few to die willingly: yet I cannot but hope
that a good life might end at last in a contented death.

'You see to what a train of thought I am drawn by the mention of myself.
Let me now turn my attention upon you. I hope you take care to keep an
exact journal, and to register all occurrences and observations[1080]; for
your friends here expect such a book of travels as has not been often
seen. You have given us good specimens in your letters from Lisbon. I
wish you had staid longer in Spain[1081], for no country is less known to
the rest of Europe; but the quickness of your discernment must make
amends for the celerity of your motions. He that knows which way to
direct his view, sees much in a little time.

[Page 366: Chronology of the Scriptures. A.D. 1762.]

'Write to me very often, and I will not neglect to write to you; and I
may, perhaps, in time, get something to write: at least, you will know
by my letters, whatever else they may have or want, that I continue to

'Your most affectionate friend,


'London, June 10, 1761[1082].'

1762: AETAT. 53.--In 1762 he wrote for the Reverend Dr. Kennedy, Rector
of Bradley in Derbyshire, in a strain of very courtly elegance, a
Dedication to the King[*] of that gentleman's work, entitled, _A
complete System of Astronomical Chronology, unfolding the Scriptures_.
He had certainly looked at this work before it was printed; for the
concluding paragraph is undoubtedly of his composition, of which let my
readers judge:

'Thus have I endeavoured to free Religion and History from the darkness
of a disputed and uncertain chronology; from difficulties which have
hitherto appeared insuperable, and darkness which no luminary of
learning has hitherto been able to dissipate. I have established the
truth of the Mosaical account, by evidence which no transcription can
corrupt, no negligence can lose, and no interest can pervert. I have
shewn that the universe bears witness to the inspiration of its
historian, by the revolution of its orbs and the succession of its
seasons; _that the stars in their courses fight against_[1083] incredulity,
that the works of GOD give hourly confirmation to the _law_, the
_prophets_, and the _gospel_, of which _one day telleth another, and one
night certifieth another_[1084]; and that the validity of the sacred
writings can never be denied, while the moon shall increase and wane,
and the sun shall know his going down[1085].'

[Page 367: The care of living. AEtat 53.]

He this year wrote also the Dedication[Dagger] to the Earl of Middlesex
of Mrs Lennox's _Female Quixote_[1086], and the Preface to the _Catalogue
of the Artists' Exhibition_.[Dagger]

The following letter, which, on account of its intrinsick merit, it
would have been unjust both to Johnson and the publick to have
with-held, was obtained for me by the solicitation of my friend Mr.



'I make haste to answer your kind letter, in hope of hearing again from
you before you leave us. I cannot but regret that a man of your
qualifications should find it necessary to seek an establishment in
Guadaloupe, which if a peace should restore to the French[1088], I shall
think it some alleviation of the loss, that it must restore likewise Dr.
Staunton to the English.

'It is a melancholy consideration, that so much of our time is
necessarily to be spent upon the care of living, and that we can seldom
obtain ease in one respect but by resigning it in another; yet I suppose
we are by this dispensation not less happy in the whole, than if the
spontaneous bounty of Nature poured all that we want into our hands. A
few, if they were thus left to themselves, would, perhaps, spend their
time in laudable pursuits; but the greater part would prey upon the
quiet of each other, or, in the want of other objects, would prey upon

'This, however, is our condition, which we must improve and solace as we
can: and though we cannot choose always our place of residence, we may
in every place find rational amusements, and possess in every place the
comforts of piety and a pure conscience.

'In America there is little to be observed except natural curiosities.
The new world must have many vegetables and animals with which
philosophers are but little acquainted. I hope you will furnish yourself
with some books of natural history, and some glasses and other
instruments of observation. Trust as little as you can to report;
examine all you can by your own senses. I do not doubt but you will be
able to add much to knowledge, and, perhaps, to medicine. Wild nations
trust to simples; and, perhaps, the Peruvian bark is not the only
specifick which those extensive regions may afford us.

[Page 368: Improper expectations. A.D. 1762.]

'Wherever you are, and whatever be your fortune, be certain, dear Sir,
that you carry with you my kind wishes; and that whether you return
hither, or stay in the other hemisphere[1089], to hear that you are happy
will give pleasure to, Sir,

'Your most affectionate humble servant,


'June 1, 1762.'

A lady having at this time solicited him to obtain the Archbishop of
Canterbury's patronage to have her son sent to the University, one of
those solicitations which are too frequent, where people, anxious for a
particular object, do not consider propriety, or the opportunity which
the persons whom they solicit have to assist them, he wrote to her the
following answer, with a copy of which I am favoured by the Reverend Dr.
Farmer[1090], Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.


'I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your letter could
proceed only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope that you had
formed. Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief
happiness which this world affords[1091]: but, like all other pleasures
immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and
expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be
asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to
indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as
is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the
common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an
expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and
the general rules of action to be broken.

[Page 369: Johnson's second letter to Baretti. AEtat 53.]

'When you made your request to me, you should have considered, Madam,
what you were asking. You ask me to solicit a great man, to whom I never
spoke, for a young person whom I had never seen, upon a supposition
which I had no means of knowing to be true. There is no reason why,
amongst all the great, I should chuse to supplicate the Archbishop, nor
why, among all the possible objects of his bounty, the Archbishop should
chuse your son. I know, Madam, how unwillingly conviction is admitted,
when interest opposes it; but surely, Madam, you must allow, that there
is no reason why that should be done by me, which every other man may do
with equal reason, and which, indeed, no man can do properly, without
some very particular relation both to the Archbishop and to you. If I
could help you in this exigence by any proper means, it would give me
pleasure; but this proposal is so very remote from all usual methods,
that I cannot comply with it, but at the risk of such answer and
suspicions as I believe you do not wish me to undergo.

'I have seen your son this morning; he seems a pretty youth, and will,
perhaps, find some better friend than I can procure him; but, though he
should at last miss the University, he may still be wise, useful, and
happy. I am, Madam,

'Your most humble servant,


'June 8, 1762.'


'London, July 20, 1762[1092].


'However justly you may accuse me for want of punctuality in
correspondence, I am not so far lost in negligence as to omit the
opportunity of writing to you, which Mr. Beauclerk's passage through
Milan affords me.

'I suppose you received the _Idlers_, and I intend that you shall soon
receive _Shakspeare_, that you may explain his works to the ladies of
Italy, and tell them the story of the editor, among the other strange
narratives with which your long residence in this unknown region has
supplied you.

'As you have now been long away, I suppose your curiosity may pant for
some news of your old friends. Miss Williams and I live much as we did.
Miss Cotterel[1093] still continues to cling to Mrs. Porter, and
Charlotte[1094] is now big of the fourth child. Mr. Reynolds gets six
thousands a year[1095]. Levet is lately married, not without much suspicion
that he has been wretchedly cheated in his match[1096]. Mr. Chambers is
gone this day, for the first time, the circuit with the Judges. Mr.
Richardson is dead of an apoplexy[1097], and his second daughter has
married a merchant.

[Page 370: Johnson's visit to Lichfield. A.D. 1762.]

[Page 371: All happiness borrowed from hope. AEtat 53.]

'My vanity, or my kindness, makes me flatter myself, that you would
rather hear of me than of those whom I have mentioned; but of myself I
have very little which I care to tell. Last winter I went down to my
native town[1098], where I found the streets much narrower and shorter than
I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of people, to whom I
was very little known. My play-fellows were grown old, and forced me to
suspect that I was no longer young. My only remaining friend has changed
his principles, and was become the tool of the predominant faction. My
daughter-in-law, from whom I expected most, and whom I met with sincere
benevolence, has lost the beauty and gaiety of youth, without having
gained much of the wisdom of age[1099]. I wandered about for five days,
[1100] and took the first convenient opportunity of returning to a place,
where, if there is not much happiness, there is, at least, such a
diversity of good and evil, that slight vexations do not fix upon the

'I think in a few weeks to try another excursion[1102]; though to what end?
Let me know, my Baretti, what has been the result of your return to your
own country: whether time has made any alteration for the better, and
whether, when the first raptures of salutation were over, you did not
find your thoughts confessed their disappointment.

'Moral sentences appear ostentatious and tumid, when they have no
greater occasions than the journey of a wit to his own town: yet such
pleasures and such pains make up the general mass of life; and as
nothing is little to him that feels it with great sensibility, a mind
able to see common incidents in their real state, is disposed by very
common incidents to very serious contemplations. Let us trust that a
time will come, when the present moment shall be no longer irksome; when
we shall not borrow all our happiness from hope, which at last is to end
in disappointment.

'I beg that you will shew Mr. Beauclerk all the civilities which you
have in your power; for he has always been kind to me.

'I have lately seen Mr. Stratico, Professor of Padua, who has told me of
your quarrel with an Abbot of the Celestine order; but had not the
particulars very ready in his memory. When you write to Mr. Marsili[1103],
let him know that I remember him with kindness.

'May you, my Baretti, be very happy at Milan[1104], or some other place
nearer to, Sir,

'Your most affectionate humble servant,


[Page 372: The accession of George III. A.D. 1762.]

[Page 373: Johnson's pension. AEtat 53.]

The accession of George the Third to the throne of these kingdoms,
opened a new and brighter prospect to men of literary merit, who had
been honoured with no mark of royal favour in the preceding reign. His
present Majesty's education in this country, as well as his taste and
beneficence, prompted him to be the patron of science and the arts; and
early this year Johnson, having been represented to him as a very
learned and good man, without any certain provision, his Majesty was
pleased to grant him a pension of three hundred pounds a year[1105]. The
Earl of Bute, who was then Prime Minister, had the honour to announce
this instance of his Sovereign's bounty, concerning which, many and
various stories, all equally erroneous, have been propagated:
maliciously representing it as a political bribe to Johnson, to desert
his avowed principles, and become the tool of a government which he held
to be founded in usurpation. I have taken care to have it in my power to
refute them from the most authentick information. Lord Bute told me,
that Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, was the person who first
mentioned this subject to him[1106]. Lord Loughborough told me, that the
pension was granted to Johnson solely as the reward of his literary
merit, without any stipulation whatever, or even tacit understanding
that he should write for administration. His Lordship added, that he was
confident the political tracts which Johnson afterwards did write, as
they were entirely consonant with his own opinions, would have been
written by him though no pension had been granted to him[1107].

[Page 374: Johnson's interview with Lord Bute. A.D. 1762.]

Mr. Thomas Sheridan and Mr. Murphy, who then lived a good deal both with
him and Mr. Wedderburne, told me, that they previously talked with
Johnson upon this matter, and that it was perfectly understood by all
parties that the pension was merely honorary. Sir Joshua Reynolds told
me, that Johnson called on him after his Majesty's intention had been
notified to him, and said he wished to consult his friends as to the
propriety of his accepting this mark of the royal favour, after the
definitions which he had given in his _Dictionary_ of _pension_ and
_pensioners_[1108]. He said he would not have Sir Joshua's answer till next
day, when he would call again, and desired he might think of it. Sir
Joshua answered that he was clear to give his opinion then, that there
could be no objection to his receiving from the King a reward for
literary merit; and that certainly the definitions in his _Dictionary_
were not applicable to him. Johnson, it should seem, was satisfied, for
he did not call again till he had accepted the pension, and had waited
on Lord Bute to thank him. He then told Sir Joshua that Lord Bute said
to him expressly, 'It is not given you for anything you are to do, but
for what you have done.' His Lordship, he said, behaved in the
handsomest manner. He repeated the words twice, that he might be sure
Johnson heard them, and thus set his mind perfectly at ease. This
nobleman, who has been so virulently abused, acted with great honour in
this instance, and displayed a mind truly liberal. A minister of a more
narrow and selfish disposition would have availed himself of such an
opportunity to fix an implied obligation on a man of Johnson's powerful
talents to give him his support.

[Page 375: Murphy's account of the pension. AEtat 53.]

Mr. Murphy and the late Mr. Sheridan severally contended for the
distinction of having been the first who mentioned to Mr. Wedderburne
that Johnson ought to have a pension. When I spoke of this to Lord
Loughborough, wishing to know if he recollected the prime mover in the
business, he said, 'All his friends assisted:' and when I told him that
Mr. Sheridan strenuously asserted his claim to it, his Lordship said,
'He rang the bell.' And it is but just to add, that Mr. Sheridan told
me, that when he communicated to Dr. Johnson that a pension was to be
granted him, he replied in a fervour of gratitude, 'The English language
does not afford me terms adequate to my feelings on this occasion. I
must have recourse to the French. I am _penetre_ with his Majesty's
goodness.' When I repeated this to Dr. Johnson, he did not contradict

His definitions of _pension_ and _pensioner_, partly founded on the
satirical verses of Pope[1110], which he quotes, may be generally true; and
yet every body must allow, that there may be, and have been, instances
of pensions given and received upon liberal and honourable terms. Thus,
then, it is clear, that there was nothing inconsistent or humiliating in
Johnson's accepting of a pension so unconditionally and so honourably
offered to him.

[Page 376: Johnson's letter to Lord Bute. A.D. 1762.]

But I shall not detain my readers longer by any words of my own, on a
subject on which I am happily enabled, by the favour of the Earl of
Bute, to present them with what Johnson himself wrote; his lordship
having been pleased to communicate to me a copy of the following letter
to his late father[1111], which does great honour both to the writer, and
to the noble person to whom it is addressed:



'When the bills[1112] were yesterday delivered to me by Mr. Wedderburne,
I was informed by him of the future favours which his Majesty has, by
your Lordship's recommendation, been induced to intend for me.

'Bounty always receives part of its value from the manner in which it is
bestowed; your Lordship's kindness includes every circumstance that can
gratify delicacy, or enforce obligation. You have conferred your favours
on a man who has neither alliance nor interest, who has not merited them
by services, nor courted them by officiousness; you have spared him the
shame of solicitation, and the anxiety of suspense.

[Page 377: A visit to Devonshire. AEtat 53.]

'What has been thus elegantly given, will, I hope, not be reproachfully
enjoyed; I shall endeavour to give your Lordship the only recompense
which generosity desires,--the gratification of finding that your
benefits are not improperly bestowed. I am, my Lord,

'Your Lordship's most obliged,

'Most obedient, and most humble servant,


'July 20, 1762.'

This year his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds paid a visit of some weeks to
his native country, Devonshire, in which he was accompanied by Johnson,
who was much pleased with this jaunt, and declared he had derived from
it a great accession of new ideas[1113]. He was entertained at the seats
of several noblemen and gentlemen in the West of England[1114]; but the
greatest part of the time was passed at Plymouth, where the magnificence
of the navy, the ship-building and all its circumstances, afforded him a
grand subject of contemplation. The Commissioner of the Dock-yard paid
him the compliment of ordering the yacht to convey him and his friend to
the Eddystone, to which they accordingly sailed. But the weather was so
tempestuous that they could not land[1115].

[Page 378: Johnson at Plymouth. A.D. 1762.]

Reynolds and he were at this time the guests of Dr. Mudge[1116], the
celebrated surgeon, and now physician of that place, not more
distinguished for quickness of parts and variety of knowledge, than
loved and esteemed for his amiable manners; and here Johnson formed an
acquaintance with Dr. Mudge's father, that very eminent divine, the
Reverend Zachariah Mudge[1117], Prebendary of Exeter, who was idolised
in the west, both for his excellence as a preacher and the uniform
perfect propriety of his private conduct. He preached a sermon purposely
that Johnson might hear him; and we shall see afterwards that Johnson
honoured his memory by drawing his character[1118]. While Johnson was at
Plymouth, he saw a great many of its inhabitants, and was not sparing of
his very entertaining conversation. It was here that he made that frank
and truly original confession, that 'ignorance, pure ignorance,' was the
cause of a wrong definition in his _Dictionary_ of the word _pastern_
[1119], to the no small surprise of the Lady who put the question
to him; who having the most profound reverence for his character, so as
almost to suppose him endowed with infallibility, expected to hear an
explanation (of what, to be sure, seemed strange to a common reader,)
drawn from some deep-learned source with which she was unacquainted.

[Page 379: An enemy of the Dockers. AEtat 53.]

Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom I was obliged for my information concerning
this excursion, mentions a very characteristical anecdote of Johnson
while at Plymouth. Having observed that in consequence of the Dock-yard
a new town[1120] had arisen about two miles off as a rival to the old;
and knowing from his sagacity, and just observation of human nature, that
it is certain if a man hates at all, he will hate his next neighbour; he
concluded that this new and rising town could not but excite the envy
and jealousy of the old, in which conjecture he was very soon confirmed;
he therefore set himself resolutely on the side of the old town, the
_established_ town, in which his lot was cast, considering it as a kind
of duty to _stand by_ it. He accordingly entered warmly into its
interests, and upon every occasion talked of the _dockers_, as the
inhabitants of the new town were called, as upstarts and aliens.
Plymouth is very plentifully supplied with water by a river brought into
it from a great distance, which is so abundant that it runs to waste in
the town. The Dock, or New-town, being totally destitute of water,
petitioned Plymouth that a small portion of the conduit might be
permitted to go to them, and this was now under consideration. Johnson,
affecting to entertain the passions of the place, was violent in
opposition; and, half-laughing at himself for his pretended zeal where
he had no concern, exclaimed, 'No, no! I am against the _dockers_; I am
a Plymouth-man. Rogues! let them die of thirst. They shall not have a

[Page 380: Johnson's third letter to Baretti. A.D. 1762.]

Lord Macartney obligingly favoured me with a copy of the following
letter, in his own hand-writing, from the original, which was found, by
the present Earl of Bute, among his father's papers.



'That generosity, by which I was recommended to the favour of his
Majesty, will not be offended at a solicitation necessary to make that
favour permanent and effectual.

'The pension appointed to be paid me at Michaelmas I have not received,
and know not where or from whom I am to ask it. I beg, therefore, that
your Lordship will be pleased to supply Mr. Wedderburne with such
directions as may be necessary, which, I believe, his friendship will
make him think it no trouble to convey to me.

'To interrupt your Lordship, at a time like this, with such petty
difficulties, is improper and unseasonable; but your knowledge of the
world has long since taught you, that every man's affairs, however
little, are important to himself. Every man hopes that he shall escape
neglect; and, with reason, may every man, whose vices do not preclude
his claim, expect favour from that beneficence which has been extended

'My Lord,

'Your Lordship's

'Most obliged


'Most humble servant,

'Temple Lane 'SAM. JOHNSON.'

'Nov. 3, 1762.'


'London, Dec. 21, 1762.


[Page 381: Love and marriage. AEtat 53.]

'You are not to suppose, with all your conviction of my idleness, that I
have passed all this time without writing to my Baretti. I gave a letter
to Mr. Beauclerk, who, in my opinion, and in his own, was hastening to
Naples for the recovery of his health[1122]; but he has stopped at Paris,
and I know not when he will proceed. Langton is with him.

'I will not trouble you with speculations about peace and war. The good
or ill success of battles and embassies extends itself to a very small
part of domestick life: we all have good and evil, which we feel more
sensibly than our petty part of publick miscarriage or prosperity[1123].
I am sorry for your disappointment, with which you seem more touched than
I should expect a man of your resolution and experience to have been,
did I not know that general truths are seldom applied to particular
occasions; and that the fallacy of our self-love extends itself as wide
as our interest or affections. Every man believes that mistresses are
unfaithful, and patrons capricious; but he excepts his own mistress, and
his own patron. We have all learned that greatness is negligent and
contemptuous, and that in Courts life is often languished away in
ungratified expectation; but he that approaches greatness, or glitters
in a Court, imagines that destiny has at last exempted him from the
common lot.

'Do not let such evils overwhelm you as thousands have suffered, and
thousands have surmounted; but turn your thoughts with vigour to some
other plan of life, and keep always in your mind, that, with due
submission to Providence, a man of genius has been seldom ruined but by
himself[1124]. Your Patron's weakness or insensibility will finally do
you little hurt, if he is not assisted by your own passions. Of your love
I know not the propriety, nor can estimate the power; but in love, as in
every other passion, of which hope is the essence, we ought always to
remember the uncertainty of events. There is, indeed, nothing that so
much seduces reason from vigilance, as the thought of passing life with
an amiable woman; and if all would happen that a lover fancies, I know
not what other terrestrial happiness would deserve pursuit. But love and
marriage are different states. Those who are to suffer the evils
together, and to suffer often for the sake of one another, soon lose
that tenderness of look, and that benevolence of mind, which arose from
the participation of unmingled pleasure and successive amusement. A
woman, we are sure, will not be always fair; we are not sure she will
always be virtuous: and man cannot retain through life that respect and
assiduity by which he pleases for a day or for a month. I do not,
however, pretend to have discovered that life has any thing more to be
desired than a prudent and virtuous marriage; therefore know not what
counsel to give you.

[Page 382: Johnson's Life of Collins. A.D. 1763.]

'If you can quit your imagination of love and greatness, and leave your
hopes of preferment and bridal raptures to try once more the fortune of
literature and industry, the way through France is now open[1125]. We
flatter ourselves that we shall cultivate, with great diligence, the
arts of peace; and every man will be welcome among us who can teach us
any thing we do not know[1126]. For your part, you will find all your
old friends willing to receive you.

'Reynolds still continues to increase in reputation and in riches. Miss
Williams, who very much loves you, goes on in the old way. Miss Cotterel
is still with Mrs. Porter. Miss Charlotte is married to Dean Lewis, and
has three children. Mr. Levet has married a street-walker[1127]. But the
gazette of my narration must now arrive to tell you, that Bathurst went
physician to the army, and died at the Havannah[1128].

'I know not whether I have not sent you word that Huggins[1129] and
Richardson[1130] are both dead. When we see our enemies and friends
gliding away before us, let us not forget that we are subject to the
general law of mortality, and shall soon be where our doom will be fixed
for ever.

'I pray GOD to bless you, and am, Sir,

'Your most affectionate humble servant,


'Write soon.'

[Page 383: A dedication to the Queen. AEtat 54.]

1763: AETAT. 54.--In 1763 he furnished to _The Poetical Calendar_,
published by Fawkes and Woty, a character of Collins[*], which he
afterwards ingrafted into his entire life of that admirable poet[1131],
in the collection of lives which he wrote for the body of English poetry,
formed and published by the booksellers of London. His account of the
melancholy depression with which Collins was severely afflicted, and
which brought him to his grave, is, I think, one of the most tender and
interesting passages in the whole series of his writings[1132]. He also
favoured Mr. Hoole with the Dedication of his translation of _Tasso to
the Queen_,[*] which is so happily conceived and elegantly expressed,
that I cannot but point it out to the peculiar notice of my readers[1133].

[Page 384: Boswell's youthful compositions. A.D. 1763.]

[Page 385: Johnson's quarrel with Sheridan. AEtat 54.]

This is to me a memorable year; for in it I had the happiness to obtain
the acquaintance of that extraordinary man whose memoirs I am now
writing; an acquaintance which I shall ever esteem as one of the most
fortunate circumstances in my life. Though then but two-and-twenty[1134], I
had for several years read his works with delight and instruction, and
had the highest reverence for their authour, which had grown up in my
fancy into a kind of mysterious veneration[1135], by figuring to myself a
state of solemn elevated abstraction, in which I supposed him to live in
the immense metropolis of London. Mr. Gentleman, a native of Ireland,
who passed some years in Scotland as a player, and as an instructor in
the English language, a man whose talents and worth were depressed by
misfortunes[1136], had given me a representation of the figure and manner
of DICTIONARY JOHNSON, as he was then generally called[1137]; and during
my first visit to London, which was for three months in 1760, Mr. Derrick
the poet[1138], who was Gentleman's friend and countryman, flattered me
with hopes that he would introduce me to Johnson, an honour of which I
was very ambitious. But he never found an opportunity; which made me
doubt that he had promised to do what was not in his power; till Johnson
some years afterwards told me, 'Derrick, Sir, might very well have
introduced you. I had a kindness for Derrick, and am sorry he is dead.'

In the summer of 1761 Mr. Thomas Sheridan was at Edinburgh, and
delivered lectures upon the English Language and Publick Speaking to
large and respectable audiences. I was often in his company, and heard
him frequently expatiate upon Johnson's extraordinary knowledge,
talents, and virtues, repeat his pointed sayings, describe his
particularities, and boast of his being his guest sometimes till two or
three in the morning. At his house I hoped to have many opportunities of
seeing the sage, as Mr. Sheridan obligingly assured me I should not be

[Page 386: Sheridan's pension. A.D. 1763.]

When I returned to London in the end of 1762, to my surprise and regret
I found an irreconcileable difference had taken place between Johnson
and Sheridan. A pension of two hundred pounds a year had been given to
Sheridan. Johnson, who, as has been already mentioned, thought
slightingly of Sheridan's art, upon hearing that he was also pensioned,
exclaimed, 'What! have they given _him_ a pension? Then it is time for
me to give up mine.' Whether this proceeded from a momentary
indignation, as if it were an affront to his exalted merit that a player
should be rewarded in the same manner with him, or was the sudden effect
of a fit of peevishness, it was unluckily said, and, indeed, cannot be
justified. Mr. Sheridan's pension was granted to him not as a player,
but as a sufferer in the cause of government, when he was manager of the
Theatre Royal in Ireland, when parties ran high in 1753[1139]. And it
must also be allowed that he was a man of literature, and had
considerably improved the arts of reading and speaking with distinctness
and propriety.

Besides, Johnson should have recollected that Mr. Sheridan taught
pronunciation to Mr. Alexander Wedderburne[1140], whose sister was
married to Sir Harry Erskine[1141], an intimate friend of Lord Bute, who
was the favourite of the King; and surely the most outrageous Whig will
not maintain, that, whatever ought to be the principle in the disposal of
_offices_, a _pension_ ought never to be granted from any bias of court
connection. Mr. Macklin[1142], indeed, shared with Mr. Sheridan the honour
of instructing Mr. Wedderburne; and though it was too late in life for a
Caledonian to acquire the genuine English cadence, yet so successful
were Mr. Wedderburne's instructors, and his own unabating endeavours,
that he got rid of the coarse part of his Scotch accent, retaining only
as much of the 'native wood-note wild[1143],' as to mark his country;
which, if any Scotchman should affect to forget, I should heartily
despise him. Notwithstanding the difficulties which are to be
encountered by those who have not had the advantage of an English
education, he by degrees formed a mode of speaking to which Englishmen
do not deny the praise of elegance. Hence his distinguished oratory,
which he exerted in his own country as an advocate in the Court of
Session, and a ruling elder of the _Kirk_, has had its fame and ample
reward, in much higher spheres. When I look back on this noble person at
Edinburgh, in situations so unworthy of his brilliant powers, and behold
LORD LOUGHBOROUGH at London, the change seems almost like one of the
metamorphoses in _Ovid_; and as his two preceptors, by refining his
utterance, gave currency to his talents, we may say in the words of that
poet, '_Nam vos mutastis_[1144],'

[Page 387: Lord Loughborough. AEtat 54.]

I have dwelt the longer upon this remarkable instance of successful
parts and assiduity; because it affords animating encouragement to other
gentlemen of North-Britain to try their fortunes in the southern part of
the Island, where they may hope to gratify their utmost ambition; and
now that we are one people by the Union, it would surely be illiberal to
maintain, that they have not an equal title with the natives of any
other part of his Majesty's dominions.

[Page 388: Sheridan's attack on Johnson. A.D. 1763.]

[Page 389: Mrs. Sheridan. AEtat 54.]

Johnson complained that a man who disliked him repeated his sarcasm to
Mr. Sheridan, without telling him what followed, which was, that after a
pause he added, 'However, I am glad that Mr. Sheridan has a pension, for
he is a very good man.' Sheridan could never forgive this hasty
contemptuous expression. It rankled in his mind; and though I informed
him of all that Johnson said, and that he would be very glad to meet him
amicably, he positively declined repeated offers which I made, and once
went off abruptly from a house where he and I were engaged to dine,
because he was told that Dr. Johnson was to be there[1145]. I have no
sympathetick feeling with such persevering resentment. It is painful
when there is a breach between those who have lived together socially
and cordially; and I wonder that there is not, in all such cases, a
mutual wish that it should be healed. I could perceive that Mr. Sheridan
was by no means satisfied with Johnson's acknowledging him to be a good
man[1146]. That could not sooth his injured vanity. I could not but smile,
at the same time that I was offended, to observe Sheridan in _The Life
of Swift_[1147], which he afterwards published, attempting, in the
writhings of his resentment, to depreciate Johnson, by characterising
him as 'A writer of gigantick fame in these days of little men;' that
very Johnson whom he once so highly admired and venerated.

[Page 390: Mr. Thomas Davies. A.D. 1763.]

This rupture with Sheridan deprived Johnson of one of his most agreeable
resources for amusement in his lonely evenings; for Sheridan's
well-informed, animated, and bustling mind never, suffered conversation
to stagnate; and Mrs. Sheridan[1148] was a most agreeable companion to an
intellectual man. She was sensible, ingenious, unassuming, yet
communicative. I recollect, with satisfaction, many pleasing hours which
I passed with her under the hospitable roof of her husband, who was to
me a very kind friend. Her novel, entitled _Memoirs of Miss Sydney
Biddulph_, contains an excellent moral while it inculcates a future
state of retribution[1149]; and what it teaches is impressed upon the
mind by a series of as deep distress as can affect humanity, in the
amiable and pious heroine who goes to her grave unrelieved, but resigned,
and full of hope of 'heaven's mercy.' Johnson paid her this high
compliment upon it: 'I know not, Madam, that you have a right, upon
moral principles, to make your readers suffer so much[1150].'

Mr. Thomas Davies the actor, who then kept a bookseller's shop in
Russel-street, Covent-garden[1151], told me that Johnson was very much his
friend, and came frequently to his house, where he more than once
invited me to meet him; but by some unlucky accident or other he was
prevented from coming to us.

[Page 391: Mr. Davies's back-parlour. AEtat 54.]

Mr. Thomas Davies was a man of good understanding and talents, with the
advantage of a liberal education[1152]. Though somewhat pompous, he was an
entertaining companion; and his literary performances[1153] have no
inconsiderable share of merit. He was a friendly and very hospitable
man. Both he and his wife, (who has been celebrated for her beauty[1154],)
though upon the stage for many years, maintained an uniform decency of
character; and Johnson esteemed them, and lived in as easy an intimacy
with them, as with any family which he used to visit[1155]. Mr. Davies
recollected several of Johnson's remarkable sayings, and was one of the
best of the many imitators of his voice and manner, while relating them.
He increased my impatience more and more to see the extraordinary man
whose works I highly valued, and whose conversation was reported to be
so peculiarly excellent.

[Page 392: Boswell's introduction to Johnson. A.D. 1763.]

[Page 393: His first record of Johnson's talk. AEtat 54.]

At last, on Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr. Davies's
back-parlour, after having drunk tea with him and Mrs. Davies, Johnson
unexpectedly came into the shop[1156]; and Mr. Davies having perceived him
through the glass-door in the room in which we were sitting, advancing
towards us,--he announced his aweful approach to me, somewhat in the
manner of an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet on
the appearance of his father's ghost, 'Look, my Lord, it comes.' I found
that I had a very perfect idea of Johnson's figure, from the portrait of
him painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds soon after he had published his
_Dictionary_, in the attitude of sitting in his easy chair in deep
meditation, which was the first picture his friend did for him, which
Sir Joshua very kindly presented to me, and from which an engraving has
been made for this work. Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully
introduced me to him. I was much agitated; and recollecting his
prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to
Davies, 'Don't tell where I come from.'--'From Scotland,' cried Davies
roguishly. 'Mr. Johnson, (said I) I do indeed come from Scotland, but I
cannot help it[1157].' I am willing to flatter myself that I meant this as
light pleasantry to sooth and conciliate him, and not as an humiliating
abasement at the expence of my country. But however that might be, this
speech was somewhat unlucky; for with that quickness of wit for which he
was so remarkable, he seized the expression 'come from Scotland,' which
I used in the sense of being of that country; and, as if I had said that
I had come away from it, or left it, retorted, 'That, Sir, I find, is
what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.' This stroke
stunned me a good deal; and when we had sat down, I felt myself not a
little embarrassed, and apprehensive of what might come next. He then
addressed himself to Davies: 'What do you think of Garrick? He has
refused me an order for the play for Miss Williams, because he knows the
house will be full, and that an order would be worth three shillings.'
Eager to take any opening to get into conversation with him, I ventured
to say, 'O, Sir, I cannot think Mr. Garrick would grudge such a trifle
to you.' 'Sir, (said he, with a stern look,) I have known David Garrick
longer than you have done: and I know no right you have to talk to me on
the subject.' Perhaps I deserved this check; for it was rather
presumptuous in me, an entire stranger, to express any doubt of the
justice of his animadversion upon his old acquaintance and pupil[1158]. I
now felt myself much mortified, and began to think that the hope which I
had long indulged of obtaining his acquaintance was blasted. And, in
truth, had not my ardour been uncommonly strong, and my resolution
uncommonly persevering, so rough a reception might have deterred me for
ever from making any further attempts. Fortunately, however, I remained
upon the field not wholly discomfited; and was soon rewarded by hearing
some of his conversation, of which I preserved the following short
minute, without marking the questions and observations by which it was

'People (he remarked) may be taken in once, who imagine that an authour
is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require
uncommon opportunities for their exertion.

'In barbarous society, superiority of parts is of real consequence.
Great strength or great wisdom is of much value to an individual. But in
more polished times there are people to do every thing for money; and
then there are a number of other superiorities, such as those of birth
and fortune, and rank, that dissipate men's attention, and leave no
extraordinary share of respect for personal and intellectual
superiority. This is wisely ordered by Providence, to preserve some
equality among mankind.'

[Page 394: Sheridan's lectures on Oratory. A.D. 1763.]

'Sir, this book (_The Elements of Criticism_'[1159], which he had taken
up,) is a pretty essay, and deserves to be held in some estimation,
though much of it is chimerical.'

Speaking of one who with more than ordinary boldness attacked publick
measures and the royal family, he said,

'I think he is safe from the law, but he is an abusive scoundrel; and
instead of applying to my Lord Chief Justice to punish him, I would send
half a dozen footmen and have him well ducked[1160].'

'The notion of liberty amuses the people of England, and helps to keep
off the _taedium vitae_. When a butcher tells you that _his heart bleeds
for his country_, he has, in fact, no uneasy feeling.'

'Sheridan will not succeed at Bath with his oratory. Ridicule has gone
down before him, and, I doubt, Derrick is his enemy[1161].'

'Derrick may do very well, as long as he can outrun his character; but
the moment his character gets up with him, it is all over.'

[Page 395: Boswell's first call on Johnson. AEtat 54.]

It is, however, but just to record, that some years afterwards, when I
reminded him of this sarcasm, he said, 'Well, but Derrick has now got a
character that he need not run away from.'

I was highly pleased with the extraordinary vigour of his conversation,
and regretted that I was drawn away from it by an engagement at another
place. I had, for a part of the evening, been left alone with him, and
had ventured to make an observation now and then, which he received very
civilly; so that I was satisfied that though there was a roughness in
his manner, there was no ill-nature in his disposition. Davies followed
me to the door, and when I complained to him a little of the hard blows
which the great man had given me, he kindly took upon him to console me
by saying, 'Don't be uneasy. I can see he likes you very well.'

[Page 369: The Giant in his den. A.D. 1763.]

A few days afterwards I called on Davies, and asked him if he thought I
might take the liberty of waiting on Mr. Johnson at his Chambers in the
Temple. He said I certainly might, and that Mr. Johnson would take it as
a compliment. So upon Tuesday the 24th of May, after having been
enlivened by the witty sallies of Messieurs Thornton[1162], Wilkes,
Churchill and Lloyd[1163], with whom I had passed the morning, I boldly
repaired to Johnson. His Chambers were on the first floor of No. 1,
Inner-Temple-lane, and I entered them with an impression given me by the
Reverend Dr. Blair[1164], of Edinburgh, who had been introduced to him not
long before, and described his having 'found the Giant in his den;' an
expression, which, when I came to be pretty well acquainted with
Johnson, I repeated to him, and he was diverted at this picturesque
account of himself. Dr. Blair had been presented to him by Dr. James
Fordyce[1165]. At this time the controversy concerning the pieces published
by Mr. James Macpherson, as translations of Ossian[1166], was at its
height. Johnson had all along denied their authenticity; and, what was
still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no
merit. The subject having been introduced by Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Blair,
relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr. Johnson
whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written such
poems? Johnson replied, 'Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many
children[1167].' Johnson, at this time, did not know that Dr. Blair had
just published a _Dissertation_, not only defending their authenticity,
but seriously ranking them with the poems of _Homer_ and _Virgil_; and
when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some
displeasure at Dr. Fordyce's having suggested the topick, and said, 'I
am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains. Sir, it was like
leading one to talk of a book when the authour is concealed behind the

[Page 397: Christopher Smart's madness. AEtat 54.]

He received me very courteously; but, it must be confessed, that his
apartment, and furniture, and morning dress, were sufficiently uncouth.
His brown suit of cloaths looked very rusty; he had on a little old
shrivelled unpowdered wig, which was too small for his head; his
shirt-neck and knees of his breeches were loose; his black worsted
stockings ill drawn up; and he had a pair of unbuckled shoes by way of
slippers. But all these slovenly particularities were forgotten the
moment that he began to talk. Some gentlemen, whom I do not recollect,
were sitting with him; and when they went away, I also rose; but he said
to me, 'Nay, don't go.' 'Sir, (said I,) I am afraid that I intrude upon
you. It is benevolent to allow me to sit and hear you.' He seemed
pleased with this compliment, which I sincerely paid him, and answered,
'Sir, I am obliged to any man who visits me.' I have preserved the
following short minute of what passed this day:--

'Madness frequently discovers itself merely by unnecessary deviation
from the usual modes of the world. My poor friend Smart shewed the
disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his
prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place. Now although,
rationally speaking, it is greater madness not to pray at all, than to
pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that
their understanding is not called in question.'

Concerning this unfortunate poet, Christopher Smart, who was confined in
a mad-house, he had, at another time, the following conversation with
Dr. Burney:--BURNEY. 'How does poor Smart do, Sir; is he likely to
recover?' JOHNSON. 'It seems as if his mind had ceased to struggle with
the disease; for he grows fat upon it.' BURNEY. 'Perhaps, Sir, that may
be from want of exercise.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he has partly as much
exercise as he used to have, for he digs in the garden. Indeed, before
his confinement, he used for exercise to walk to the ale-house; but he
was _carried_ back again. I did not think he ought to be shut up. His
infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying
with him[1169]; and I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else.
Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen; and I have no
passion for it.'--Johnson continued. 'Mankind have a great aversion to
intellectual labour[1170]; but even supposing knowledge to be easily
attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take
even a little trouble to acquire it.'

[Page 398: Johnson's mode of life. A.D. 1763.]

'The morality of an action depends on the motive from which we act. If I
fling half a crown to a beggar with intention to break his head, and he
picks it up and buys victuals with it, the physical effect is good; but,
with respect to me, the action is very wrong. So, religious exercises,
if not performed with an intention to please GOD, avail us nothing. As
our Saviour says of those who perform them from other motives, "Verily
they have their reward[1171]."

'The Christian religion has very strong evidences[1172]. It, indeed,
appears in some degree strange to reason; but in History we have
undoubted facts, against which, reasoning _a priori_, we have more
arguments than we have for them; but then, testimony has great weight,
and casts the balance. I would recommend to every man whose faith is yet
unsettled, Grotius,--Dr. Pearson,--and Dr. Clarke[1173].'

Talking of Garrick, he said, 'He is the first man in the world for
sprightly conversation.'

When I rose a second time he again pressed me to stay, which I did.

He told me, that he generally went abroad at four in the afternoon, and
seldom came home till two in the morning[1174]. I took the liberty to ask
if he did not think it wrong to live thus, and not make more use of his
great talents[1175]. He owned it was a bad habit. On reviewing, at the
distance of many years, my journal of this period, I wonder how, at my
first visit, I ventured to talk to him so freely, and that he bore it
with so much indulgence.

[Page 399: Johnson the horse-rider. AEtat 54.]

Before we parted, he was so good as to promise to favour me with his
company one evening at my lodgings; and, as I took my leave, shook me
cordially by the hand. It is almost needless to add, that I felt no
little elation at having now so happily established an acquaintance of
which I had been so long ambitious.

My readers will, I trust, excuse me for being thus minutely
circumstantial, when it is considered that the acquaintance of Dr.
Johnson was to me a most valuable acquisition, and laid the foundation
of whatever instruction and entertainment they may receive from my
collections concerning the great subject of the work which they are now

I did not visit him again till Monday, June 13, at which time I
recollect no part of his conversation, except that when I told him I had
been to see Johnson ride upon three horses[1176], he said, 'Such a man,
Sir, should be encouraged; for his performances shew the extent of the
human powers in one instance, and thus tend to raise our opinion of the
faculties of man. He shews what may be attained by persevering
application; so that every man may hope, that by giving as much
application, although perhaps he may never ride three horses at a time,
or dance upon a wire, yet he may be equally expert in whatever
profession he has chosen to pursue.'

He again shook me by the hand at parting, and asked me why I did not
come oftener to him. Trusting that I was now in his good graces, I
answered, that he had not given me much encouragement, and reminded him
of the check I had received from him at our first interview. 'Poh, poh!
(said he, with a complacent smile,) never mind these things. Come to me
as often as you can. I shall be glad to see you.'

I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre tavern in
Fleet-street, where he loved to sit up late, and I begged I might be
allowed to pass an evening with him there soon, which he promised I
should. A few days afterwards I met him near Temple-bar, about one
o'clock in the morning, and asked if he would then go to the Mitre.
'Sir, (said he) it is too late; they won't let us in. But I'll go with
you another night with all my heart.'

[Page 400: A revolution in Boswell's life. A.D. 1763.]

[Page 401: The Mitre. AEtat 54.]

A revolution of some importance in my plan of life had just taken place;
for instead of procuring a commission in the footguards, which was my
own inclination[1177], I had, in compliance with my father's wishes, agreed
to study the law; and was soon to set out for Utrecht, to hear the
lectures of an excellent Civilian in that University, and then to
proceed on my travels. Though very desirous of obtaining Dr. Johnson's
advice and instructions on the mode of pursuing my studies, I was at
this time so occupied, shall I call it? or so dissipated, by the
amusements of London, that our next meeting was not till Saturday, June
25, when happening to dine at Clifton's eating-house, in Butcher-row[1178],
I was surprized to perceive Johnson come in and take his seat at another
table. The mode of dining, or rather being fed, at such houses in
London, is well known to many to be particularly unsocial, as there is
no Ordinary, or united company, but each person has his own mess, and is
under no obligation to hold any intercourse with any one. A liberal and
full-minded man, however, who loves to talk, will break through this
churlish and unsocial restraint. Johnson and an Irish gentleman got into
a dispute concerning the cause of some part of mankind being black.
'Why, Sir, said (Johnson,) it has been accounted for in three ways:
either by supposing that they are the posterity of Ham, who was cursed;
or that GOD at first created two kinds of men, one black and another
white; or that by the heat of the sun the skin is scorched, and so
acquires a sooty hue. This matter has been much canvassed among
naturalists, but has never been brought to any certain issue.' What the
Irishman said is totally obliterated from my mind; but I remember that
he became very warm and intemperate in his expressions; upon which
Johnson rose, and quietly walked away. When he had retired, his
antagonist took his revenge, as he thought, by saying, 'He has a most
ungainly figure, and an affectation of pomposity, unworthy of a man of

Johnson had not observed that I was in the room. I followed him,
however, and he agreed to meet me in the evening at the Mitre. I called
on him, and we went thither at nine. We had a good supper, and port
wine, of which he then sometimes drank a bottle. The orthodox
high-church sound of the MITRE,--the figure and manner of the celebrated
SAMUEL JOHNSON,--the extraordinary power and precision of his
conversation, and the pride arising from finding myself admitted as his
companion, produced a variety of sensations, and a pleasing elevation of
mind beyond what I had ever before experienced. I find in my journal the
following minute of our conversation, which, though it will give but a
very faint notion of what passed, is in some degree a valuable record;
and it will be curious in this view, as shewing how habitual to his mind
were some opinions which appear in his works.

[Page 402: Cibber and Whitehead. A.D. 1763.]

'Colley Cibber[1179], Sir, was by no means a blockhead; but by arrogating
to himself too much, he was in danger of losing that degree of
estimation to which he was entitled. His friends gave out that he
_intended_ his birth-day _Odes_ should be bad: but that was not the
case, Sir; for he kept them many months by him, and a few years before
he died he shewed me one of them, with great solicitude to render it as
perfect as might be, and I made some corrections, to which he was not
very willing to submit. I remember the following couplet in allusion to
the King and himself:

"Perch'd on the eagle's soaring wing,
The lowly linnet loves to sing."

Sir, he had heard something of the fabulous tale of the wren sitting
upon the eagle's wing, and he had applied it to a linnet. Gibber's
familiar style, however, was better than that which Whitehead has
assumed. _Grand_ nonsense is insupportable[1180]. Whitehead is but a
little man to inscribe verses to players.'

I did not presume to controvert this censure, which was tinctured with
his prejudice against players[1181]; but I could not help thinking that a
dramatick poet might with propriety pay a compliment to an eminent
performer, as Whitehead has very happily done in his verses to Mr.

[Page 403: The abruptness of Gray's Ode. AEtat 54.]

'Sir, I do not think Gray a first-rate poet. He has not a bold
imagination, nor much command of words. The obscurity in which he has
involved himself will not persuade us that he is sublime[1183]. His
_Elegy in a Church-yard_ has a happy selection of images, but I don't
like what are called his great things. His _Ode_ which begins

"Ruin seize thee, ruthless King,
Confusion on thy banners wait!"

has been celebrated for its abruptness, and plunging into the subject
all at once[1184]. But such arts as these have no merit, unless when they
are original. We admire them only once; and this abruptness has nothing
new in it. We have had it often before. Nay, we have it in the old song
of Johnny Armstrong[1185]:

"Is there ever a man in all Scotland
From the highest estate to the lowest degree, &c."

And then, Sir,

"Yes, there is a man in Westmoreland,
And Johnny Armstrong they do him call."

There, now, you plunge at once into the subject. You have no previous
narration to lead you to it. The two next lines in that _Ode_ are, I
think, very good:

"Though fann'd by conquest's crimson wing,
They mock the air with idle state[1186]."'

[Page 404: Boswell opens his mind. A.D. 1763.]

Here let it be observed, that although his opinion of Gray's poetry was
widely different from mine, and I believe from that of most men of
taste[1187], by whom it is with justice highly admired, there is
certainly much absurdity in the clamour which has been raised, as if he
had been culpably injurious to the merit of that bard, and had been
actuated by envy. Alas! ye little short-sighted criticks, could JOHNSON
be envious of the talents of any of his contemporaries? That his opinion
on this subject was what in private and in publick he uniformly expressed,
regardless of what others might think, we may wonder, and perhaps
regret; but it is shallow and unjust to charge him with expressing what
he did not think.

Finding him in a placid humour, and wishing to avail myself of the
opportunity which I fortunately had of consulting a sage, to hear whose
wisdom, I conceived in the ardour of youthful imagination, that men
filled with a noble enthusiasm for intellectual improvement would gladly
have resorted from distant lands;--I opened my mind to him ingenuously,
and gave him a little sketch of my life, to which he was pleased to
listen with great attention[1188].

[Page 405: The differences of Christians. AEtat 54.]

I acknowledged, that though educated very strictly in the principles of
religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain degree of
infidelity; but that I was come now to a better way of thinking, and was
fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian revelation, though I was
not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox. Being at all
times a curious examiner of the human mind, and pleased with an
undisguised display of what had passed in it, he called to me with
warmth, 'Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.' He then began
to descant upon the force of testimony, and the little we could know of
final causes; so that the objections of, why was it so? or why was it
not so? ought not to disturb us: adding, that he himself had at one
period been guilty of a temporary neglect of religion, but that it was
not the result of argument, but mere absence of thought[1189].

After having given credit to reports of his bigotry, I was agreeably
surprized when he expressed the following very liberal sentiment, which
has the additional value of obviating an objection to our holy religion,
founded upon the discordant tenets of Christians themselves: 'For my
part, Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree
in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and
rather political than religious[1190].'

We talked of belief in ghosts. He said, 'Sir, I make a distinction
between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his
imagination, and what imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose
I should think that I saw a form, and heard a voice cry "Johnson, you
are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be
punished;" my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that
I might _imagine_ I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not
believe that an external communication had been made to me. But if a
form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular man had
died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no
apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its
circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in
that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to

[Page 406: The Cock-lane Ghost. A.D. 1763.]

Here it is proper, once for all, to give a true and fair statement of
Johnson's way of thinking upon the question, whether departed spirits
are ever permitted to appear in this world, or in any way to operate
upon human life. He has been ignorantly misrepresented as weakly
credulous upon that subject; and, therefore, though I feel an
inclination to disdain and treat with silent contempt so foolish a
notion concerning my illustrious friend, yet as I find it has gained
ground, it is necessary to refute it. The real fact then is, that
Johnson had a very philosophical mind, and such a rational respect for
testimony, as to make him submit his understanding to what was
authentically proved, though he could not comprehend why it was so.
Being thus disposed, he was willing to inquire into the truth of any
relation of supernatural agency, a general belief of which has prevailed
in all nations and ages[1191]. But so far was he from being the dupe of
implicit faith, that he examined the matter with a jealous attention,
and no man was more ready to refute its falsehood when he had discovered
it. Churchill, in his poem entitled _The Ghost_, availed himself of the
absurd credulity imputed to Johnson, and drew a caricature of him under
the name of 'POMPOSO[1192],' representing him as one of the believers of
the story of a Ghost in Cock-lane, which, in the year 1762, had gained
very general credit in London[1193]. Many of my readers, I am convinced,
are to this hour under an impression that Johnson was thus foolishly
deceived. It will therefore surprise them a good deal when they are
informed upon undoubted authority, that Johnson was one of those by whom
the imposture was detected. The story had become so popular, that he
thought it should be investigated[1194]; and in this research he was
assisted by the Reverend Dr. Douglas[1195], now Bishop of Salisbury, the
great detector of impostures; who informs me, that after the gentlemen
who went and examined into the evidence were satisfied of its falsity,
Johnson wrote in their presence an account of it, which was published in
the newspapers and _Gentleman's Magazine_, and undeceived the world[1196].

[Page 408: Subordination. A.D. 1763.]

Our conversation proceeded. 'Sir, (said he) I am a friend to
subordination, as most conducive to the happiness of society[1197]. There
is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed.'

'Dr. Goldsmith is one of the first men we now have as an authour, and he
is a very worthy man too. He has been loose in his principles, but he is
coming right.'

[Page 409: Scotch Landlords. AEtat 54.]

I mentioned Mallet's tragedy of _Elvira_[1198], which had been acted the
preceding winter at Drury-lane, and that the Honourable Andrew
Erskine[1199], Mr. Dempster[1200], and myself, had joined in writing a
pamphlet, entitled, _Critical Strictures_, against it[1201]. That the
mildness of Dempster's disposition had, however, relented; and he had
candidly said, 'We have hardly a right to abuse this tragedy: for bad as
it is, how vain should either of us be to write one not near so good.'
JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; this is not just reasoning. You may abuse a
tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has
made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your
trade to make tables.'

When I talked to him of the paternal estate to which I was heir, he
said, 'Sir, let me tell you, that to be a Scotch landlord, where you
have a number of families dependent upon you, and attached to you, is,
perhaps, as high a situation as humanity can arrive at. A merchant upon
the 'Change of London, with a hundred thousand pounds, is nothing; an
English Duke, with an immense fortune, is nothing; he has no tenants who

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