Part 1 out of 12
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LIFE OF JOHNSON
INCLUDING BOSWELL'S JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES,
AND JOHNSON'S DIARY OF A JOURNEY INTO NORTH WALES
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, OXFORD
IN SIX VOLUMES
VOLUME II.--LIFE (1765-1776)
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. (NOVEMBER, 1765-MARCH, 1776)
A. AUTOGRAPH RECORDS BY JOHNSON (1766) IN THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY
B. JOHNSON'S SENTIMENTS TOWARDS HIS FELLOW-SUBJECTS IN AMERICA
THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
In 1764 and 1765 it should seem that Dr. Johnson was so busily employed
with his edition of Shakspeare, as to have had little leisure for any
other literary exertion, or, indeed, even for private correspondence.
He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years, for
which it will appear that he afterwards apologised.
He was, however, at all times ready to give assistance to his friends,
and others, in revising their works, and in writing for them, or greatly
improving their Dedications. In that courtly species of composition no
man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of his mind prevented him
from ever dedicating in his own person, he wrote a very great number
of Dedications for others. Some of these, the persons who were favoured
with them are unwilling should be mentioned, from a too anxious
apprehension, as I think, that they might be suspected of having
received larger assistance; and some, after all the diligence I have
bestowed, have escaped my enquiries. He told me, a great many years ago,
'he believed he had dedicated to all the Royal Family round;' and it
was indifferent to him what was the subject of the work dedicated,
provided it were innocent. He once dedicated some Musick for the German
Flute to Edward, Duke of York. In writing Dedications for others, he
considered himself as by no means speaking his own sentiments.
Notwithstanding his long silence, I never omitted to write to him when I
had any thing worthy of communicating. I generally kept copies of my
letters to him, that I might have a full view of our correspondence, and
never be at a loss to understand any reference in his letters. He
kept the greater part of mine very carefully; and a short time before
his death was attentive enough to seal them up in bundles, and order
them to be delivered to me, which was accordingly done. Amongst them I
found one, of which I had not made a copy, and which I own I read with
pleasure at the distance of almost twenty years. It is dated November,
1765, at the palace of Pascal Paoli, in Corte, the capital of Corsica,
and is full of generous enthusiasm. After giving a sketch of what I
had seen and heard in that island, it proceeded thus: 'I dare to call
this a spirited tour. I dare, to challenge your approbation.'
This letter produced the following answer, which I found on my arrival
A Mr. Mr. BOSWELL, chez Mr. WATERS, Banquier, a Paris.
'Apologies are seldom of any use. We will delay till your arrival the
reasons, good or bad, which have made me such a sparing and ungrateful
correspondent. Be assured, for the present, that nothing has lessened
either the esteem or love with which I dismissed you at Harwich. Both
have been increased by all that I have been told of you by yourself or
others; and when you return, you will return to an unaltered, and, I
hope, unalterable friend.
'All that you have to fear from me is the vexation of disappointing me.
No man loves to frustrate expectations which have been formed in his
favour; and the pleasure which I promise myself from your journals and
remarks is so great, that perhaps no degree of attention or discernment
will be sufficient to afford it.
'Come home, however, and take your chance. I long to see you, and to
hear you; and hope that we shall not be so long separated again. Come
home, and expect such a welcome as is due to him whom a wise and noble
curiosity has led, where perhaps no native of this country ever was
'I have no news to tell you that can deserve your notice; nor would I
willingly lessen the pleasure that any novelty may give you at your
return. I am afraid we shall find it difficult to keep among us a mind
which has been so long feasted with variety. But let us try what esteem
and kindness can effect.
'As your father's liberality has indulged you with so long a ramble, I
doubt not but you will think his sickness, or even his desire to see
you, a sufficient reason for hastening your return. The longer we live,
and the more we think, the higher value we learn to put on the
friendship and tenderness of parents and of friends. Parents we can have
but once; and he promises himself too much, who enters life with the
expectation of finding many friends. Upon some motive, I hope, that you
will be here soon; and am willing to think that it will be an inducement
to your return, that it is sincerely desired by, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
'Johnson's Court, Fleet-street,
January 14, 1766.'
I returned to London in February, and found Dr. Johnson in a good house
in Johnson's Court, Fleet-street, in which he had accommodated Miss
Williams with an apartment on the ground floor, while Mr. Levett
occupied his post in the garret: his faithful Francis was still
attending upon him. He received me with much kindness. The fragments of
our first conversation, which I have preserved, are these: I told him
that Voltaire, in a conversation with me, had distinguished Pope and
Dryden thus:--'Pope drives a handsome chariot, with a couple of neat
trim nags; Dryden a coach, and six stately horses.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
the truth is, they both drive coaches and six; but Dryden's horses are
either galloping or stumbling: Pope's go at a steady even trot.' He
said of Goldsmith's _Traveller_, which had been published in my absence,
'There has not been so fine a poem since Pope's time.'
And here it is proper to settle, with authentick precision, what has
long floated in publick report, as to Johnson's being himself the
authour of a considerable part of that poem. Much, no doubt, both of the
sentiments and expression, were derived from conversation with him; and
it was certainly submitted to his friendly revision: but in the year
1783, he, at my request, marked with a pencil the lines which he had
furnished, which are only line 420th,
'To stop too fearful, and too faint to go;'
and the concluding ten lines, except the last couplet but one, which I
distinguish by the Italick character:
'How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which kings or laws can cause or cure.
Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
Our own felicity we make or find;
With secret course, which no loud storms annoy,
Glides the smooth current of domestick joy:
_The lifted axe, the agonizing wheel,
Luke's iron crown, and Damien's bed of steel_,
To men remote from power, but rarely known,
Leave reason, faith, and conscience, all our own.'
He added, 'These are all of which I can be sure.' They bear a small
proportion to the whole, which consists of four hundred and thirty-eight
verses. Goldsmith, in the couplet which he inserted, mentions Luke as a
person well known, and superficial readers have passed it over quite
smoothly; while those of more attention have been as much perplexed by
_Luke_, as by _Lydiat_, in _The Vanity of Human Wishes_. The truth
is, that Goldsmith himself was in a mistake. In the _Respublica
Hungarian_, there is an account of a desperate rebellion in the year
1514, headed by two brothers, of the name of _Zeck_, George and Luke.
When it was quelled, _George_, not _Luke_, was punished by his head
being encircled with a red-hot iron crown: '_corona candescente ferrea
coronatur_.' The same severity of torture was exercised on the Earl
of Athol, one of the murderers of King James I. of Scotland.
Dr. Johnson at the same time favoured me by marking the lines which he
furnished to Goldsmith's _Deserted Village_, which are only the last
'That trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay,
As ocean sweeps the labour'd mole away:
While self-dependent power can time defy,
As rocks resist the billows and the sky.'
Talking of education, 'People have now a days, (said he,) got a strange
opinion that every thing should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see
that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the
lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by
lectures, except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach
chymistry by lectures.--You might teach making of shoes by lectures!'
At night I supped with him at the Mitre tavern, that we might renew our
social intimacy at the original place of meeting. But there was now a
considerable difference in his way of living. Having had an illness, in
which he was advised to leave off wine, he had, from that period,
continued to abstain from it, and drank only water, or lemonade.
I told him that a foreign friend of his, whom I had met with abroad,
was so wretchedly perverted to infidelity, that he treated the hopes of
immortality with brutal levity; and said, 'As man dies like a dog, let
him lie like a dog.' JOHNSON. '_If_ he dies like a dog, _let_ him lie
like a dog.' I added, that this man said to me, 'I hate mankind, for I
think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, he must be very singular in his opinion, if he thinks himself one
of the best of men; for none of his friends think him so.'--He said, 'no
honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair
examination of the proofs of Christianity.' I named Hume. JOHNSON.
'No, Sir; Hume owned to a clergyman in the bishoprick of Durham, that he
had never read the New Testament with attention.' I mentioned Hume's
notion, that all who are happy are equally happy; a little miss with
a new gown at a dancing school ball, a general at the head of a
victorious army, and an orator, after having made an eloquent speech in
a great assembly. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that all who are happy, are equally
happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally
_satisfied_, but not equally _happy_. Happiness consists in the
multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for
having equal happiness with a philosopher.' I remember this very
question very happily illustrated in opposition to Hume, by the Reverend
Mr. Robert Brown, at Utrecht. 'A small drinking-glass and a large
one, (said he,) may be equally full; but the large one holds more than
Dr. Johnson was very kind this evening, and said to me, 'You have now
lived five-and-twenty years, and you have employed them well.' 'Alas,
Sir, (said I,) I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematicks? Do
I know law?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, though you may know no science so well
as to be able to teach it, and no profession so well as to be able to
follow it, your general mass of knowledge of books and men renders you
very capable to make yourself master of any science, or fit yourself for
any profession.' I mentioned that a gay friend had advised me against
being a lawyer, because I should be excelled by plodding block-heads.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in the formulary and statutory part of law, a
plodding block-head may excel; but in the ingenious and rational part of
it a plodding block-head can never excel.'
I talked of the mode adopted by some to rise in the world, by courting
great men, and asked him whether he had ever submitted to it. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, I never was near enough to great men, to court them. You may
be prudently attached to great men and yet independent. You are not to
do what you think wrong; and, Sir, you are to calculate, and not pay too
dear for what you get. You must not give a shilling's worth of court for
six-pence worth of good. But if you can get a shilling's worth of good
for six-pence worth of court, you are a fool if you do not pay
He said, 'If convents should be allowed at all, they should only be
retreats for persons unable to serve the publick, or who have served it.
It is our first duty to serve society, and, after we have done that, we
may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion
for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged.'
I introduced the subject of second sight, and other mysterious
manifestations; the fulfilment of which, I suggested, might happen by
chance. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but they have happened so often, that
mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous.'
I talked to him a great deal of what I had seen in Corsica, and of my
intention to publish an account of it. He encouraged me by saying, 'You
cannot go to the bottom of the subject; but all that you tell us will be
new to us. Give us as many anecdotes as you can.'
Our next meeting at the Mitre was on Saturday the 15th of February, when
I presented to him my old and most intimate friend, the Reverend Mr.
Temple, then of Cambridge. I having mentioned that I had passed some
time with Rousseau in his wild retreat, and having quoted some remark
made by Mr. Wilkes, with whom I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy,
Johnson said (sarcastically,) 'It seems, Sir, you have kept very good
company abroad, Rousseau and Wilkes!' Thinking it enough to defend one
at a time, I said nothing as to my gay friend, but answered with a
smile, 'My dear Sir, you don't call Rousseau bad company. Do you really
think him a bad man?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, if you are talking jestingly of
this, I don't talk with you. If you mean to be serious, I think him one
of the worst of men; a rascal who ought to be hunted out of society, as
he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him; and it is a shame
that he is protected in this country.' BOSWELL. 'I don't deny, Sir,
but that his novel may, perhaps, do harm; but I cannot think his
intention was bad.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, that will not do. We cannot prove any
man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head, and say
you intended to miss him; but the Judge will order you to be hanged. An
alleged want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be allowed
in a court of justice. Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner
sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has
gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have
him work in the plantations.' BOSWELL. 'Sir, do you think him as bad
a man as Voltaire?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is difficult to settle the
proportion of iniquity between them.'
This violence seemed very strange to me, who had read many of Rousseau's
animated writings with great pleasure, and even edification, had been
much pleased with his society, and was just come from the Continent,
where he was very generally admired. Nor can I yet allow that he
deserves the very severe censure which Johnson pronounced upon him. His
absurd preference of savage to civilised life, and other
singularities, are proofs rather of a defect in his understanding, than
of any depravity in his heart. And notwithstanding the unfavourable
opinion which many worthy men have expressed of his '_Profession de Foi
du Vicaire Savoyard_', I cannot help admiring it as the performance of a
man full of sincere reverential submission to Divine Mystery, though
beset with perplexing doubts; a state of mind to be viewed with pity
rather than with anger.
On his favourite subject of subordination, Johnson said, 'So far is it
from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can
be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority
over the other.'
I mentioned the advice given us by philosophers, to console ourselves,
when distressed or embarrassed, by thinking of those who are in a worse
situation than ourselves. This, I observed, could not apply to all, for
there must be some who have nobody worse than they are. JOHNSON. 'Why,
to be sure, Sir, there are; but they don't know it. There is no being so
poor and so contemptible, who does not think there is somebody still
poorer, and still more contemptible.'
As my stay in London at this time was very short, I had not many
opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for
him in no degree lessened, by my having seen _mullorum hominum mores et
urbes_. On the contrary, by having it in my power to compare him with
many of the most celebrated persons of other countries, my admiration
of his extraordinary mind was increased and confirmed.
The roughness, indeed, which sometimes appeared in his manners, was more
striking to me now, from my having been accustomed to the studied smooth
complying habits of the Continent; and I clearly recognised in him, not
without respect for his honest conscientious zeal, the same indignant
and sarcastical mode of treating every attempt to unhinge or weaken good
One evening when a young gentleman teized him with an account of the
infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the
scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues, and
be sure that they were not invented. 'Why, foolish fellow, (said
Johnson,) has he any better authority for almost every thing that he
believes?' BOSWELL. 'Then the vulgar, Sir, never can know they are
right, but must submit themselves to the learned.' JOHNSON. 'To be sure,
Sir. The vulgar are the children of the State, and must be taught like
children.' BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, a poor Turk must be a Mahometan, just
as a poor Englishman must be a Christian?' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir;
and what then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother,
when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to
have whipt me for it.'
Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him, with the hope of
prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him indisposed,
and resolved not to go abroad. 'Come then, (said Goldsmith,) we will not
go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot have the big man with us.'
Johnson then called for a bottle of port, of which Goldsmith and I
partook, while our friend, now a water-drinker, sat by us. GOLDSMITH. 'I
think, Mr. Johnson, you don't go near the theatres now. You give
yourself no more concern about a new play, than if you had never had any
thing to do with the stage.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, our tastes greatly
alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man
does not care for the young man's whore.' GOLDSMITH. 'Nay, Sir, but your
Muse was not a whore.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not think she was. But as we
advance in the journey of life, we drop some of the things which have
pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued and don't choose to carry
so many things any farther, or that we find other things which we like
better.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, why don't you give us something in some
other way?' GOLDSMITH. 'Ay, Sir, we have a claim upon you.' JOHNSON.
'No, Sir, I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as
much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a
soldier has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he
retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised long in
a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town, and takes
less practice. Now, Sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the
same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice
of a physician, retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great
city.' BOSWELL. 'But I wonder, Sir, you have not more pleasure in
writing than in not writing.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you _may_ wonder.'
He talked of making verses, and observed, 'The great difficulty is to
know when you have made good ones. When composing, I have generally had
them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my
room; and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have
written only half lines. I have written a hundred lines in a day. I
remember I wrote a hundred lines of _The Vanity of Human Wishes_ in a
day. Doctor, (turning to Goldsmith,) I am not quite idle; I have one
line t'other day; but I made no more.'
GOLDSMITH. 'Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it..
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I have forgot it.'
Such specimens of the easy and playful conversation of the great Dr.
Samuel Johnson are, I think, to be prized; as exhibiting the little
varieties of a mind so enlarged and so powerful when objects of
consequence required its exertions, and as giving us a minute knowledge
of his character and modes of thinking.
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'What your friends have done, that from your departure till now nothing
has been heard of you, none of us are able to inform the rest; but as we
are all neglected alike, no one thinks himself entitled to the privilege
'I should have known nothing of you or of Langton, from the time that
dear Miss Langton left us, had not I met Mr. Simpson, of Lincoln, one
day in the street, by whom I was informed that Mr. Langton, your Mamma,
and yourself, had been all ill, but that you were all recovered.
'That sickness should suspend your correspondence, I did not wonder; but
hoped that it would be renewed at your recovery.
'Since you will not inform us where you are, or how you live, I know not
whether you desire to know any thing of us. However, I will tell you
that THE CLUB subsists; but we have the loss of Burke's company since he
has been engaged in publick business, in which he has gained more
reputation than perhaps any man at his [first] appearance ever gained
before. He made two speeches in the House for repealing the Stamp-act,
which were publickly commended by Mr. Pitt, and have filled the town
'Burke is a great man by nature, and is expected soon to attain civil
greatness. I am grown greater too, for I have maintained the
newspapers these many weeks; and what is greater still, I have risen
every morning since New-year's day, at about eight; when I was up, I
have indeed done but little; yet it is no slight advancement to obtain
for so many hours more, the consciousness of being.
'I wish you were in my new study; I am now writing the first letter
in it. I think it looks very pretty about me.
'Dyer is constant at THE CLUB; Hawkins is remiss; I am not over
diligent. Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Reynolds, are very
constant. Mr. Lye is printing his Saxon and Gothick Dictionary; all
THE CLUB subscribes.
'You will pay my respects to all my Lincolnshire friends. I am, dear
'Most affectionately your's,
'March 9, 1766.
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'In supposing that I should be more than commonly affected by the death
of Peregrine Langton, you were not mistaken; he was one of those whom
I loved at once by instinct and by reason. I have seldom indulged more
hope of any thing than of being able to improve our acquaintance to
friendship. Many a time have I placed myself again at Langton, and
imagined the pleasure with which I should walk to Partney in a summer
morning; but this is no longer possible. We must now endeavour to
preserve what is left us,--his example of piety and oeconomy. I hope you
make what enquiries you can, and write down what is told you. The little
things which distinguish domestick characters are soon forgotten: if you
delay to enquire, you will have no information; if you neglect to write,
information will be vain.
'His art of life certainly deserves to be known and studied. He lived in
plenty and elegance upon an income which, to many would appear indigent,
and to most, scanty. How he lived, therefore, every man has an interest
in knowing. His death, I hope, was peaceful; it was surely happy.
'I wish I had written sooner, lest, writing now, I should renew your
grief; but I would not forbear saying what I have now said.
'This loss is, I hope, the only misfortune of a family to whom no
misfortune at all should happen, if my wishes could avert it. Let me
know how you all go on. Has Mr. Langton got him the little horse that I
recommended? It would do him good to ride about his estate in fine
'Be pleased to make my compliments to Mrs. Langton, and to dear Miss
Langton, and Miss Di, and Miss Juliet, and to every body else.
'The wonder, with most that hear an account of his oeconomy, will be,
how he was able, with such an income, to do so much, especially when it
is considered that he paid for everything he had; he had no land, except
the two or three small fields which I have said he rented; and, instead
of gaining any thing by their produce, I have reason to think he lost by
them; however, they furnished him with no further assistance towards his
housekeeping, than grass for his horses, (not hay, for that I know he
bought,) and for two cows. Every Monday morning he settled his family
accounts, and so kept up a constant attention to the confining his
expences within his income; and to do it more exactly, compared those
expences with a computation he had made, how much that income would
afford him every week and day of the year. One of his oeconomical
practices was, as soon as any repair was wanting in or about his house,
to have it immediately performed. When he had money to spare, he chose
to lay in a provision of linen or clothes, or any other necessaries; as
then, he said, he could afford it, which he might not be so well able to
do when the actual want came; in consequence of which method, he had a
considerable supply of necessary articles lying by him, beside what was
'But the main particular that seems to have enabled him to do so much
with his income, was, that he paid for every thing as soon as he had it,
except, alone, what were current accounts, such as rent for his house
and servants' wages; and these he paid at the stated times with the
utmost exactness. He gave notice to the tradesmen of the neighbouring
market-towns that they should no longer have his custom, if they let any
of his servants have anything without their paying for it. Thus he put
it out of his power to commit those imprudences to which those are
liable that defer their payments by using their money some other way
than where it ought to go. And whatever money he had by him, he knew
that it was not demanded elsewhere, but that he might safely employ it
as he pleased.
'His example was confined, by the sequestered place of his abode, to the
observation of few, though his prudence and virtue would have made it
valuable to all who could have known it.--These few particulars, which I
knew myself, or have obtained from those who lived with him, may afford
instruction, and be an incentive to that wise art of living, which he so
successfully practised.' BOSWELL.
'THE CLUB holds very well together. Monday is my night. I continue to
rise tolerably well, and read more than I did. I hope something will yet
come on it. I am, Sir,
'Your most affectionate servant,
'May 10, 1766,
After I had been some time in Scotland, I mentioned to him in a letter
that 'On my first return to my native country, after some years of
absence, I was told of a vast number of my acquaintance who were all
gone to the land of forgetfulness, and I found myself like a man
stalking over a field of battle, who every moment perceives some one
lying dead.' I complained of irresolution, and mentioned my having made
a vow as a security for good conduct. I wrote to him again, without
being able to move his indolence; nor did I hear from him till he had
received a copy of my inaugural Exercise, or Thesis in Civil Law, which
I published at my admission as an Advocate, as is the custom in
Scotland. He then wrote to me as follows:
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'The reception of your Thesis put me in mind of my debt to you Why did
you ----. I will punish you for it, by telling you that your Latin
wants correction. In the beginning, _Spei alterae_, not to urge that
it should be _prima_, is not grammatical: _alterae_ should be _alteri_.
In the next line you seem to use _genus_ absolutely, for what we call
_family_, that is, for _illustrious extraction_, I doubt without
authority. _Homines nullius originis_, for _Nullis orti majoribus_, or,
_Nullo loco nati_, is, I am afraid, barbarous.--Ruddiman is dead.
'I have now vexed you enough, and will try to please you. Your
resolution to obey your father I sincerely approve; but do not accustom
yourself to enchain your volatility by vows: they will sometime leave a
thorn in your mind, which you will, perhaps, never be able to extract or
eject. Take this warning, it is of great importance.
'The study of the law is what you very justly term it, copious and
generous; and in adding your name to its professors, you have done
exactly what I always wished, when I wished you best. I hope that you
will continue to pursue it vigorously and constantly. You gain, at
least, what is no small advantage, security from those troublesome and
wearisome discontents, which are always obtruding themselves upon a mind
vacant, unemployed, and undetermined.
'You ought to think it no small inducement to diligence and
perseverance, that they will please your father. We all live upon the
hope of pleasing somebody; and the pleasure of pleasing ought to be
greatest, and at last always will be greatest, when our endeavours are
exerted in consequence of our duty.
'Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation
how it shall be spent; deliberation, which those who begin it by
prudence, and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of
thought, conclude by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to
another, upon just reasons, requires faculties which it has not pleased
our Creator to give us.
'If, therefore, the profession you have chosen has some unexpected
inconveniencies, console yourself by reflecting that no profession is
without them; and that all the importunities and perplexities of
business are softness and luxury, compared with the incessant cravings
of vacancy, and the unsatisfactory expedients of idleness.
"_Haec sunt quce nostra polui te voce monere;
'As to your _History of Corsica_, you have no materials which others
have not, or may not have. You have, somehow, or other, warmed your
imagination. I wish there were some cure, like the lover's leap, for all
heads of which some single idea has obtained an unreasonable and
irregular possession. Mind your own affairs, and leave the Corsicans to
theirs. I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'London, Aug. 21, 1766.'
'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Auchinleck, Nov. 6, 1766.
'MUCH ESTEEMED AND DEAR SIR,
'I plead not guilty to----
'Having thus, I hope, cleared myself of the charge brought against me, I
presume you will not be displeased if I escape the punishment which you
have decreed for me unheard. If you have discharged the arrows of
criticism against an innocent man, you must rejoice to find they have
missed him, or have not been pointed so as to wound him.
'To talk no longer in allegory, I am, with all deference, going to offer
a few observations in defence of my Latin, which you have found fault
'You think I should have used _spei primae_, instead of _spei alterae_.
_Spes_ is, indeed, often used to express something on which we have a
future dependence, as in Virg. Eclog. i. l. 14,
".... _modo namque gemellos_
Spem _gregis ah silice in nuda connixa reliquit_."
and in Georg. iii. l. 473,
"Spemque _gregemque simul_,"
for the lambs and the sheep. Yet it is also used to express any thing on
which we have a present dependence, and is well applied to a man of
distinguished influence, our support, our refuge, our _praesidium_, as
Horace calls Maecenas. So, AEneid xii. l. 57, Queen Amata addresses her
son-in-law Turnus:--"Spes _tu nunc una_:" and he was then no future
hope, for she adds,
"... _decus imperiumque Latini
which might have been said of my Lord Bute some years ago. Now I
consider the present Earl of Bute to be '_Excelsae familiae de Bute_ spes
prima;' and my Lord Mountstuart, as his eldest son, to be '_spes
altera_.' So in AEneid xii. l. 168, after having mentioned Pater AEneas,
who was the _present_ spes, the _reigning_ spes, as my German friends
would say, the _spes prima_, the poet adds,
"_Et juxta Ascanius, magnae_ spes altera _Romae_."
'You think _alterae_ ungrammatical, and you tell me it should have been
_alteri_. You must recollect, that in old times _alter_ was declined
regularly; and when the ancient fragments preserved in the _Juris
Civilis Fontes_ were written, it was certainly declined in the way that
I use it. This, I should think, may protect a lawyer who writes _alterae_
in a dissertation upon part of his own science. But as I could hardly
venture to quote fragments of old law to so classical a man as Mr.
Johnson, I have not made an accurate search into these remains, to find
examples of what I am able to produce in poetical composition. We find
in Plaut. Rudens, act iii. scene 4,
"_Nam Jiuic alters patria qua: sit profecto nescio_."
Plautus is, to be sure, an old comick writer: but in the days of Scipio
and Lelius, we find, Terent. Heautontim. act ii. scene 3,
".... hoc ipsa in itinere alterae
Dum narrat, forte audivi."
'You doubt my having authority for using _genus_ absolutely, for what we
call _family_, that is, for _illustrious extraction_. Now I take _genus_
in Latin, to have much the same signification with _birth_ in English;
both in their primary meaning expressing simply descent, but both made
to stand [Greek: kat exochaen] noble descent. _Genus_ is thus used in
Hor. lib. ii. Sat. v. 1. 8,
"_Et genus et virtus, nisi cum re, vilior alga est_."
'And in lib. i. Epist. vi. 1. 37,
"_Et genus et forinam Regina pecunia donat_."
'And in the celebrated contest between Ajax and Ulysses, Ovid's
Metamorph. lib. xiii. 1. 140,
"_Nam genus et proavos, et quae--non fecimus ipsi
Vix ea nostra voco_."
'_Homines nullius originis_, for _nullis orti majoribus_, or _nullo loco
nati_, is, you are "afraid, barbarous."
'_Origo_ is used to signify extraction, as in Virg. AEneid i. 1. 286,
"_Nascetur pulchrd Trojanus_ origine _Caesar_."
And in AEneid x. 1. 618,
"_Ille tamen nostra deducit_ origine _nomen_"
And as _nullus_ is used for obscure, is it not in the genius of the
Latin language to write _nullius originis_, for obscure extraction?
'I have defended myself as well as I could.
'Might I venture to differ from you with regard to the utility of vows?
I am sensible that it would be very dangerous to make vows rashly, and
without a due consideration. But I cannot help thinking that they may
often be of great advantage to one of a variable judgement and irregular
inclinations. I always remember a passage in one of your letters to our
Italian friend Baretti; where talking of the monastick life, you say you
do not wonder that serious men should put themselves under the
protection of a religious order, when they have found how unable they
are to take care of themselves. For my own part, without affecting to
be a Socrates, I am sure I have a more than ordinary struggle to
maintain with _the Evil Principle_; and all the methods I can devise are
little enough to keep me tolerably steady in the paths of rectitude.
* * * * *
'I am ever, with the highest veneration,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
It appears from Johnson's diary, that he was this year at Mr. Thrale's,
from before Midsummer till after Michaelmas, and that he afterwards
passed a month at Oxford. He had then contracted a great intimacy with
Mr. Chambers of that University, afterwards Sir Robert Chambers, one of
the Judges in India.
He published nothing this year in his own name; but the noble
dedication[*] to the King, of Gwyn's _London and Westminster
Improved_, was written by him; and he furnished the Preface,[Dagger] and
several of the pieces, which compose a volume of _Miscellanies_ by Mrs.
Anna Williams, the blind lady who had an asylum in his house. Of these,
there are his 'Epitaph on Philips,'[*] 'Translation of a Latin
Epitaph on Sir Thomas Hanmer,'[Dagger] 'Friendship, an Ode,'[*]
and, 'The Ant,'[*] a paraphrase from the Proverbs, of which I have a
copy in his own hand-writing; and, from internal evidence, I ascribe to
him, 'To Miss ----, on her giving the Authour a gold and silk net-work
Purse of her own weaving'; [Dagger] and, 'The happy Life.'[Dagger]
Most of the pieces in this volume have evidently received additions from
his superiour pen, particularly 'Verses to Mr. Richardson, on his Sir
Charles Grandison;' 'The Excursion;' 'Reflections on a Grave digging in
Westminster Abbey.' There is in this collection a poem 'On the Death
of Stephen Grey, the Electrician;'[*] which, on reading it, appeared to
me to be undoubtedly Johnson's. I asked Mrs. Williams whether it was not
his. 'Sir, (said she, with some warmth,) I wrote that poem before I had
the honour of Dr. Johnson's acquaintance.' I, however, was so much
impressed with my first notion, that I mentioned it to Johnson,
repeating, at the same time, what Mrs. Williams had said. His answer
was, 'It is true, Sir, that she wrote it before she was acquainted with
me; but she has not told you that I wrote it all over again, except two
lines.' 'The Fountains,'[dagger] a beautiful little Fairy tale in
prose, written with exquisite simplicity, is one of Johnson's
productions; and I cannot with-hold from Mrs. Thrale the praise of being
the authour of that admirable poem, 'The Three Warnings.'
He wrote this year a letter, not intended for publication, which has,
perhaps, as strong marks of his sentiment and style, as any of his
compositions. The original is in my possession. It is addressed to the
late Mr. William Drummond, bookseller in Edinburgh, a gentleman of good
family, but small estate, who took arms for the house of Stuart in 1745;
and during his concealment in London till the act of general pardon came
out obtained the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, who justly esteemed him as
a very worthy man. It seems, some of the members of the society in
Scotland for propagating Christian knowledge, had opposed the scheme of
translating the holy scriptures into the Erse or Gaelick language, from
political considerations of the disadvantage of keeping up the
distinction between the Highlanders and the other inhabitants of
North-Britain. Dr. Johnson being informed of this, I suppose by Mr.
Drummond, wrote with a generous indignation as follows:
'To MR. WILLIAM DRUMMOND.
'I did not expect to hear that it could be, in an assembly convened for
the propagation of Christian knowledge, a question whether any nation
uninstructed in religion should receive instruction; or whether that
instruction should be imparted to them by a translation of the holy
books into their own language. If obedience to the will of God be
necessary to happiness, and knowledge of his will be necessary to
obedience, I know not how he that with-holds this knowledge, or delays
it, can be said to love his neighbour as himself. He that voluntarily
continues ignorance, is guilty of all the crimes which ignorance
produces; as to him that should extinguish the tapers of a light-house,
might justly be imputed the calamities of shipwrecks. Christianity is
the highest perfection of humanity; and as no man is good but as he
wishes the good of others, no man can be good in the highest degree who
wishes not to others the largest measures of the greatest good. To omit
for a year, or for a day, the most efficacious method of advancing
Christianity, in compliance with any purposes that terminate on this
side of the grave, is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet
had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, a
race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.
'The Papists have, indeed, denied to the laity the use of the bible; but
this prohibition, in few places now very rigorously enforced, is
defended by arguments, which have for their foundation the care of
souls. To obscure, upon motives merely political, the light of
revelation, is a practice reserved for the reformed; and, surely, the
blackest midnight of popery is meridian sunshine to such a reformation.
I am not very willing that any language should be totally extinguished.
The similitude and derivation of languages afford the most indubitable
proof of the traduction of nations, and the genealogy of mankind.
They add often physical certainty to historical evidence; and often
supply the only evidence of ancient migrations, and of the revolutions
of ages which left no written monuments behind them.
'Every man's opinions, at least his desires, are a little influenced by
his favourite studies. My zeal for languages may seem, perhaps, rather
over-heated, even to those by whom I desire to be well-esteemed. To
those who have nothing in their thoughts but trade or policy, present
power, or present money, I should not think it necessary to defend my
opinions; but with men of letters I would not unwillingly compound, by
wishing the continuance of every language, however narrow in its extent,
or however incommodious for common purposes, till it is reposited in
some version of a known book, that it may be always hereafter examined
and compared with other languages, and then permitting its disuse. For
this purpose, the translation of the bible is most to be desired. It is
not certain that the same method will not preserve the Highland
language, for the purposes of learning, and abolish it from daily use.
When the Highlanders read the Bible, they will naturally wish to have
its obscurities cleared, and to know the history, collateral or
appendant. Knowledge always desires increase: it is like fire, which
must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards
propagate itself. When they once desire to learn, they will naturally
have recourse to the nearest language by which that desire can be
gratified; and one will tell another that if he would attain knowledge,
he must learn English.
'This speculation may, perhaps, be thought more subtle than the
grossness of real life will easily admit. Let it, however, be
remembered, that the efficacy of ignorance has been long tried, and has
not produced the consequence expected. Let knowledge, therefore, take
its turn; and let the patrons of privation stand awhile aside, and admit
the operation of positive principles.
'You will be pleased, Sir, to assure the worthy man who is employed in
the new translation, that he has my wishes for his success; and if
here or at Oxford I can be of any use, that I shall think it more than
honour to promote his undertaking.
'I am sorry that I delayed so long to write.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
Aug. 13, 1766.'
The opponents of this pious scheme being made ashamed of their conduct,
the benevolent undertaking was allowed to go on.
The following letters, though not written till the year after, being
chiefly upon the same subject, are here inserted.
'TO MR. WILLIAM DRUMMOND.
'That my letter should have had such effects as you mention, gives me
great pleasure. I hope you do not flatter me by imputing to me more good
than I have really done. Those whom my arguments have persuaded to
change their opinion, shew such modesty and candour as deserve great
'I hope the worthy translator goes diligently forward. He has a higher
reward in prospect than any honours which this world can bestow. I wish
I could be useful to him.
'The publication of my letter, if it could be of use in a cause to which
all other causes are nothing, I should not prohibit. But first, I would
have you consider whether the publication will really do any good; next,
whether by printing and distributing a very small number, you may not
attain all that you propose; and, what perhaps I should have said first,
whether the letter, which I do not now perfectly remember, be fit to be
'If you can consult Dr. Robertson, to whom I am a little known, I shall
be satisfied about the propriety of whatever he shall direct. If he
thinks that it should be printed, I entreat him to revise it; there may,
perhaps, be some negligent lines written, and whatever is amiss, he
knows very well how to rectify.
'Be pleased to let me know, from time to time, how this excellent design
'Make my compliments to young Mr. Drummond, whom I hope you will live to
see such as you desire him.
'I have not lately seen Mr. Elphinston, but believe him to be
prosperous. I shall be glad to hear the same of you, for I am, Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
April 21, 1767.'
'TO THE SAME.
'I returned this week from the country, after an absence of near six
months, and found your letter with many others, which I should have
answered sooner, if I had sooner seen them.
'Dr. Robertson's opinion was surely right. Men should not be told of the
faults which they have mended. I am glad the old language is taught, and
honour the translator as a man whom GOD has distinguished by the high
office of propagating his word.
'I must take the liberty of engaging you in an office of charity. Mrs.
Heely, the wife of Mr. Heely, who had lately some office in your
theatre, is my near relation, and now in great distress. They wrote me
word of their situation some time ago, to which I returned them an
answer which raised hopes of more than it is proper for me to give them.
Their representation of their affairs I have discovered to be such as
cannot be trusted; and at this distance, though their case requires
haste, I know not how to act. She, or her daughters, may be heard of at
Canongate Head. I must beg, Sir, that you will enquire after them, and
let me know what is to be done. I am willing to go to ten pounds, and
will transmit you such a sum, if upon examination you find it likely to
be of use. If they are in immediate want, advance them what you think
proper. What I could do, I would do for the women, having no great
reason to pay much regard to Heely himself.
'I believe you may receive some intelligence from Mrs. Baker, of the
theatre, whose letter I received at the same time with yours; and to
whom, if you see her, you will make my excuse for the seeming neglect of
'Whatever you advance within ten pounds shall be immediately returned to
you, or paid as you shall order. I trust wholly to your judgement.
'I am, Sir, &c.
'London, Johnson's-court, Fleet-street,
Oct. 24, 1767.'
Mr. Cuthbert Shaw, alike distinguished by his genius, misfortunes,
and misconduct, published this year a poem, called _The Race_, by
'Mercurius Spur, Esq.,' in which he whimsically made the living poets
of England contend for pre-eminence of fame by running:
'Prove by their heels the prowess of the head.'
In this poem there was the following portrait of Johnson:
'Here Johnson comes,--unblest with outward grace,
His rigid morals stamp'd upon his face.
While strong conceptions struggle in his brain;
(For even wit is brought to bed with pain:)
To view him, porters with their loads would rest,
And babes cling frighted to the nurse's breast.
With looks convuls'd he roars in pompous strain,
And, like an angry lion, shakes his mane.
The Nine, with terrour struck, who ne'er had seen,
Aught human with so horrible a mien,
Debating whether they should stay or run,
Virtue steps forth, and claims him for her son:
With gentle speech she warns him now to yield,
Nor stain his glories in the doubtful field;
But wrapt in conscious worth, content sit down,
Since Fame, resolv'd his various pleas to crown,
Though forc'd his present claim to disavow,
Had long reserv'd a chaplet for his brow.
He bows, obeys; for time shall first expire,
Ere Johnson stay, when Virtue bids retire.'
The Honourable Thomas Hervey and his lady having unhappily disagreed,
and being about to separate, Johnson interfered as their friend, and
wrote him a letter of expostulation, which I have not been able to find;
but the substance of it is ascertained by a letter to Johnson in answer
to it, which Mr. Hervey printed. The occasion of this correspondence
between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hervey, was thus related to me by Mr.
Beauclerk. 'Tom Hervey had a great liking for Johnson, and in his
will had left him a legacy of fifty pounds. One day he said to me,
"Johnson may want this money now, more than afterwards. I have a mind to
give it him directly. Will you be so good as to carry a fifty pound note
from me to him?" This I positively refused to do, as he might, perhaps,
have knocked me down for insulting him, and have afterwards put the note
in his pocket. But I said, if Hervey would write him a letter, and
enclose a fifty pound note, I should take care to deliver it. He
accordingly did write him a letter, mentioning that he was only paying a
legacy a little sooner. To his letter he added, "_P.S. I am going to
part with my wife_." Johnson then wrote to him, saying nothing of the
note, but remonstrating with him against parting with his wife.'
When I mentioned to Johnson this story, in as delicate terms as I could,
he told me that the fifty pound note was given to him by Mr. Hervey in
consideration of his having written for him a pamphlet against Sir
Charles Hanbury Williams, who, Mr. Hervey imagined, was the authour of
an attack upon him; but that it was afterwards discovered to be the work
of a garreteer who wrote _The Fool_: the pamphlet therefore against
Sir Charles was not printed.
In February, 1767, there happened one of the most remarkable incidents
of Johnson's life, which gratified his monarchical enthusiasm, and which
he loved to relate with all its circumstances, when requested by his
friends. This was his being honoured by a private conversation with his
Majesty, in the library at the Queen's house. He had frequently
visited those splendid rooms and noble collection of books, which he
used to say was more numerous and curious than he supposed any person
could have made in the time which the King had employed. Mr. Barnard,
the librarian, took care that he should have every accommodation that
could contribute to his ease and convenience, while indulging his
literary taste in that place; so that he had here a very agreeable
resource at leisure hours.
His Majesty having been informed of his occasional visits, was pleased
to signify a desire that he should be told when Dr. Johnson came next to
the library. Accordingly, the next time that Johnson did come, as soon
as he was fairly engaged with a book, on which, while he sat by the
fire, he seemed quite intent, Mr. Barnard stole round to the apartment
where the King was, and, in obedience to his Majesty's commands,
mentioned that Dr. Johnson was then in the library. His Majesty said he
was at leisure, and would go to him; upon which Mr. Barnard took one of
the candles that stood on the King's table, and lighted his Majesty
through a suite of rooms, till they came to a private door into the
library, of which his Majesty had the key. Being entered, Mr. Barnard
stepped forward hastily to Dr. Johnson, who was still in a profound
study, and whispered him, 'Sir, here is the King.' Johnson started up,
and stood still. His Majesty approached him, and at once was courteously
His Majesty began by observing, that he understood he came sometimes to
the library; and then mentioning his having heard that the Doctor had
been lately at Oxford, asked him if he was not fond of going thither.
To which Johnson answered, that he was indeed fond of going to Oxford
sometimes, but was likewise glad to come back again. The King then asked
him what they were doing at Oxford. Johnson answered, he could not much
commend their diligence, but that in some respects they were mended, for
they had put their press under better regulations, and were at that time
printing Polybius. He was then asked whether there were better libraries
at Oxford or Cambridge. He answered, he believed the Bodleian was larger
than any they had at Cambridge; at the same time adding, 'I hope,
whether we have more books or not than they have at Cambridge, we shall
make as good use of them as they do.' Being asked whether All-Souls or
Christ-Church library was the largest, he answered, 'All-Souls
library is the largest we have, except the Bodleian.' 'Aye, (said the
King,) that is the publick library.'
His Majesty enquired if he was then writing any thing. He answered, he
was not, for he had pretty well told the world what he knew, and must
now read to acquire more knowledge. The King, as it should seem with
a view to urge him to rely on his own stores as an original writer, and
to continue his labours, then said 'I do not think you borrow much
from any body.' Johnson said, he thought he had already done his part as
a writer. 'I should have thought so too, (said the King,) if you had not
written so well.'--Johnson observed to me, upon this, that 'No man could
have paid a handsomer compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay. It
was decisive.' When asked by another friend, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's,
whether he made any reply to this high compliment, he answered, 'No,
Sir. When the King had said it, it was to be so. It was not for me to
bandy civilities with my Sovereign.' Perhaps no man who had spent his
whole life in courts could have shewn a more nice and dignified sense of
true politeness, than Johnson did in this instance.
His Majesty having observed to him that he supposed he must have read a
great deal; Johnson answered, that he thought more than he read; that
he had read a great deal in the early part of his life, but having
fallen into ill health, he had not been able to read much, compared with
others: for instance, he said he had not read much, compared with Dr.
Warburton. Upon which the King said, that he heard Dr. Warburton was
a man of such general knowledge, that you could scarce talk with him on
any subject on which he was not qualified to speak; and that his
learning resembled Garrick's acting, in its universality. His Majesty
then talked of the controversy between Warburton and Lowth, which he
seemed to have read, and asked Johnson what he thought of it. Johnson
answered, 'Warburton has most general, most scholastick learning; Lowth
is the more correct scholar. I do not know which of them calls names
best.' The King was pleased to say he was of the same opinion; adding,
'You do not think, then, Dr. Johnson, that there was much argument in
the case.' Johnson said, he did not think there was. 'Why truly,
(said the King,) when once it comes to calling names, argument is pretty
well at an end.'
His Majesty then asked him what he thought of Lord Lyttelton's
_History_, which was then just published. Johnson said, he thought
his style pretty good, but that he had blamed Henry the Second rather
too much. 'Why, (said the King), they seldom do these things by halves.'
'No, Sir, (answered Johnson), not to Kings.' But fearing to be
misunderstood, he proceeded to explain himself; and immediately
subjoined, 'That for those who spoke worse of Kings than they deserved,
he could find no excuse; but that he could more easily conceive how some
might speak better of them than they deserved, without any ill
intention; for, as Kings had much in their power to give, those who were
favoured by them would frequently, from gratitude, exaggerate their
praises; and as this proceeded from a good motive, it was certainly
excusable, as far as errour could be excusable.'
The King then asked him what he thought of Dr. Hill. Johnson
answered, that he was an ingenious man, but had no veracity; and
immediately mentioned, as an instance of it, an assertion of that
writer, that he had seen objects magnified to a much greater degree by
using three or four microscopes at a time, than by using one. 'Now,
(added Johnson,) every one acquainted with microscopes knows, that the
more of them he looks through, the less the object will appear.' 'Why,
(replied the King,) this is not only telling an untruth, but telling it
clumsily; for, if that be the case, every one who can look through a
microscope will be able to detect him.'
'I now, (said Johnson to his friends, when relating what had passed)
began to consider that I was depreciating this man in the estimation of
his Sovereign, and thought it was time for me to say something that
might be more favourable.' He added, therefore, that Dr. Hill was,
notwithstanding, a very curious observer; and if he would have been
contented to tell the world no more than he knew, he might have been a
very considerable man, and needed not to have recourse to such mean
expedients to raise his reputation.
The King then talked of literary journals, mentioned particularly the
_Journal des Savans_, and asked Johnson if it was well done. Johnson
said, it was formerly very well done, and gave some account of the
persons who began it, and carried it on for some years; enlarging, at
the same time, on the nature and use of such works. The King asked him
if it was well done now. Johnson answered, he had no reason to think
that it was. The King then asked him if there were any other literary
journals published in this kingdom, except the _Monthly_ and _Critical
Reviews_; and on being answered there were no other, his Majesty
asked which of them was the best: Johnson answered, that the _Monthly
Review_ was done with most care, the _Critical_ upon the best
principles; adding that the authours of the _Monthly Review_ were
enemies to the Church. This the King said he was sorry to hear.
The conversation next turned on the Philosophical Transactions, when
Johnson observed, that they had now a better method of arranging their
materials than formerly. 'Aye, (said the King,) they are obliged to Dr.
Johnson for that;' for his Majesty had heard and remembered the
circumstance, which Johnson himself had forgot.
His Majesty expressed a desire to have the literary biography of this
country ably executed, and proposed to Dr. Johnson to undertake it.
Johnson signified his readiness to comply with his Majesty's wishes.
During the whole of this interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty with
profound respect, but still in his firm manly manner, with a sonorous
voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the
levee and in the drawing-room. After the King withdrew, Johnson
shewed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's conversation, and
gracious behaviour. He said to Mr. Barnard, 'Sir, they may talk of the
King as they will; but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen.'
And he afterwards observed to Mr. Langton, 'Sir, his manners are those
of as fine a gentleman as we may suppose Lewis the Fourteenth or Charles
At Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where a circle of Johnson's friends was
collected round him to hear his account of this memorable conversation,
Dr. Joseph Warton, in his frank and lively manner, was very active in
pressing him to mention the particulars. 'Come now, Sir, this is an
interesting matter; do favour us with it.' Johnson, with great good
He told them, 'I found his Majesty wished I should talk, and I made it
my business to talk. I find it does a man good to be talked to by his
Sovereign. In the first place, a man cannot be in a passion--.' Here
some question interrupted him, which is to be regretted, as he certainly
would have pointed out and illustrated many circumstances of advantage,
from being in a situation, where the powers of the mind are at once
excited to vigorous exertion, and tempered by reverential awe.
During all the time in which Dr. Johnson was employed in relating to the
circle at Sir Joshua Reynolds's the particulars of what passed between
the King and him, Dr. Goldsmith remained unmoved upon a sopha at some
distance, affecting not to join in the least in the eager curiosity of
the company. He assigned as a reason for his gloom and seeming
inattention, that he apprehended Johnson had relinquished his purpose of
furnishing him with a Prologue to his play, with the hopes of which
he had been flattered; but it was strongly suspected that he was
fretting with chagrin and envy at the singular honour Dr. Johnson had
lately enjoyed. At length, the frankness and simplicity of his natural
character prevailed. He sprung from the sopha, advanced to Johnson, and
in a kind of flutter, from imagining himself in the situation which he
had just been hearing described, exclaimed, 'Well, you acquitted
yourself in this conversation better than I should have done; for I
should have bowed and stammered through the whole of it.'
I received no letter from Johnson this year; nor have I discovered any
of the correspondence he had, except the two letters to Mr. Drummond,
which have been inserted, for the sake of connection with that to the
same gentleman in 1766. His diary affords no light as to his employment
at this time. He passed three months at Lichfield; and I cannot omit
an affecting and solemn scene there, as related by himself:
'Sunday, Oct. 18, 1767. Yesterday, Oct. 17, at about ten in the morning,
I took my leave for ever of my dear old friend, Catharine Chambers, who
came to live with my mother about 1724, and has been but little parted
from us since. She buried my father, my brother, and my mother. She is
now fifty-eight years old.
'I desired all to withdraw, then told her that we were to part for ever;
that as Christians, we should part with prayer; and that I would, if she
was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire
to hear me; and held up her poor hands, as she lay in bed, with great
fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, nearly in the following words:
'Almighty and most merciful Father, whose loving kindness is over all
thy works, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is grieved
with sickness. Grant that the sense of her weakness may add strength to
her faith, and seriousness to her repentance. And grant that by the help
of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and labours of this short life, we
may all obtain everlasting happiness, through JESUS CHRIST our Lord; for
whose sake hear our prayers. Amen. Our Father, &c.
'I then kissed her. She told me, that to part was the greatest pain that
she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet again in a better
place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of tenderness,
the same hopes. We kissed, and parted. I humbly hope to meet again, and
to part no more.'
By those who have been taught to look upon Johnson as a man of a harsh
and stern character, let this tender and affectionate scene be candidly
read; and let them then judge whether more warmth of heart, and grateful
kindness, is often found in human nature.
We have the following notice in his devotional record:
'August 2, 1767. I have been disturbed and unsettled for a long time,
and have been without resolution to apply to study or to business, being
hindered by sudden snatches.'
He, however, furnished Mr. Adams with a Dedication[*] to the King of
that ingenious gentleman's _Treatise on the Globes_, conceived and
expressed in such a manner as could not fail to be very grateful to a
Monarch, distinguished for his love of the sciences.
This year was published a ridicule of his style, under the title of
_Lexiphanes_. Sir John Hawkins ascribes it to Dr. Kenrick; but its
authour was one Campbell, a Scotch purser in the navy. The ridicule
consisted in applying Johnson's 'words of large meaning' to
insignificant matters, as if one should put the armour of Goliath upon a
dwarf. The contrast might be laughable; but the dignity of the armour
must remain the same in all considerate minds. This malicious drollery,
therefore, it may easily be supposed, could do no harm to its
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT MR. ROTHWELL'S, PERFUMER, IN NEW
'That you have been all summer in London, is one more reason for which I
regret my long stay in the country. I hope that you will not leave the
town before my return. We have here only the chance of vacancies in the
passing carriages, and I have bespoken one that may, if it happens,
bring me to town on the fourteenth of this month; but this is not
'It will be a favour if you communicate this to Mrs. Williams: I long to
see all my friends.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'Lichfield, Oct. 10, 1767.'
1768: AETAT. 59.--It appears from his notes of the state of his mind,
that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in 1768. Nothing of
his writing was given to the publick this year, except the Prologue[*]
to his friend Goldsmith's comedy of _The Good-natured Man_. The first
lines of this Prologue are strongly characteristical of the dismal gloom
of his mind; which in his case, as in the case of all who are distressed
with the same malady of imagination, transfers to others its own
feelings. Who could suppose it was to introduce a comedy, when Mr.
Bensley solemnly began,
'Press'd with the load of life, the weary mind
Surveys the general toil of human kind.'
But this dark ground might make Goldsmith's humour shine the more.
In the spring of this year, having published my _Account of Corsica_,
with the _Journal of a Tour to that Island_, I returned to London
, very desirous to see Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject.
I found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now
Vinerian Professor, and lived in New Inn Hall. Having had no letter from
him since that in which he criticised the Latinity of my Thesis, and
having been told by somebody that he was offended at my having put into
my Book an extract of his letter to me at Paris, I was impatient to
be with him, and therefore followed him to Oxford, where I was
entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility which I shall ever
gratefully remember. I found that Dr. Johnson had sent a letter to me to
Scotland, and that I had nothing to complain of but his being more
indifferent to my anxiety than I wished him to be. Instead of giving,
with the circumstances of time and place, such fragments of his
conversation as I preserved during this visit to Oxford, I shall throw
them together in continuation.
I asked him whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice
of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty. JOHNSON.
'Why no, Sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients
with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to
a judge.' BOSWELL. 'But what do you think of supporting a cause which
you know to be bad?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you do not know it to be good or bad
till the Judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts
fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing, a cause to be
bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments
to be weak and inconclusive. But, Sir, that is not enough. An argument
which does not convince yourself, may convince the Judge to whom you
urge it: and if it does convince him, why, then, Sir, you are wrong, and
he is right. It is his business to judge; and you are not to be
confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad, but to say all you
can for your client, and then hear the Judge's opinion.' BOSWELL. 'But,
Sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing
to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion,
does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some
danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the
intercourse with his friends?' JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir. Everybody knows
you are paid for affecting warmth for your client; and it is, therefore,
properly no dissimulation: the moment you come from the bar you resume
your usual behaviour. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the
bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for
tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he
should walk on his feet.'
Talking of some of the modern plays, he said _False Delicacy_ was
totally void of character. He praised Goldsmith's _Good-natured Man_;
said, it was the best comedy that had appeared since _The Provoked
Husband_, and that there had not been of late any such character
exhibited on the stage as that of Croaker. I observed it was the
Suspirius of his Rambler. He said, Goldsmith had owned he had borrowed
it from thence. 'Sir, (continued he,) there is all the difference in
the world between characters of nature and characters of manners; and
_there_ is the difference between the characters of Fielding and those
of Richardson. Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are
to be understood, by a more superficial observer, than characters of
nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart.'
It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of
Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against
Fielding. In comparing those two writers, he used this expression:
'that there was as great a difference between them as between a man who
knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking
on the dial-plate.' This was a short and figurative state of his
distinction between drawing characters of nature and characters only of
manners. But I cannot help being of opinion, that the neat watches of
Fielding are as well constructed as the large clocks of Richardson, and
that his dial-plates are brighter. Fielding's characters, though they do
not expand themselves so widely in dissertation, are as just pictures of
human nature, and I will venture to say, have more striking features,
and nicer touches of the pencil; and though Johnson used to quote with
approbation a saying of Richardson's, 'that the virtues of Fielding's
heroes were the vices of a truly good man,' I will venture to add, that
the moral tendency of Fielding's writings, though it does not encourage
a strained and rarely possible virtue, is ever favourable to honour and
honesty, and cherishes the benevolent and generous affections. He who is
as good as Fielding would make him, is an amiable member of society, and
may be led on by more regulated instructors, to a higher state of
Johnson proceeded: 'Even Sir Francis Wronghead is a character of
manners, though drawn with great humour.' He then repeated, very
happily, all Sir Francis's credulous account to Manly of his being with
'the great man,' and securing a place. I asked him, if _The
Suspicious Husband_ did not furnish a well-drawn character, that of
Ranger. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; Ranger is just a rake, a mere rake, and a
lively young fellow, but no _character_'.
The great Douglas Cause was at this time a very general subject of
discussion. I found he had not studied it with much attention, but had
only heard parts of it occasionally. He, however, talked of it, and
said, 'I am of opinion that positive proof of fraud should not be
required of the plaintiff, but that the Judges should decide according
as probability shall appear to preponderate, granting to the defendant
the presumption of filiation to be strong in his favour. And I think
too, that a good deal of weight should be allowed to the dying
declarations, because they were spontaneous. There is a great difference
between what is said without our being urged to it, and what is said
from a kind of compulsion. If I praise a man's book without being asked
my opinion of it, that is honest praise, to which one may trust. But if
an authour asks me if I like his book, and I give him something like
praise, it must not be taken as my real opinion.'
'I have not been troubled for a long time with authours desiring my
opinion of their works. I used once to be sadly plagued with a man
who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse, but
that it consisted of ten syllables. _Lay your knife and your fork,
across your plate_, was to him a verse:
'Lay your knife and your fork, across your plate.
'As he wrote a great number of verses, he sometimes by chance made good
ones, though he did not know it.'
He renewed his promise of coming to Scotland, and going with me to the
Hebrides, but said he would now content himself with seeing one or two
of the most curious of them. He said, 'Macaulay, who writes the
account of St. Kilda, set out with a prejudice against prejudices, and
wanted to be a smart modern thinker; and yet he affirms for a truth,
that when a ship arrives there, all the inhabitants are seized with a
Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated writer, took a great deal of pains
to ascertain this fact, and attempted to account for it on physical
principles, from the effect of effluvia from human bodies. Johnson, at
another time, praised Macaulay for his '_magnanimity_' in asserting
this wonderful story, because it was well attested. A Lady of Norfolk,
by a letter to my friend Dr. Burney, has favoured me with the following
solution: 'Now for the explication of this seeming mystery, which is so
very obvious as, for that reason, to have escaped the penetration of Dr.
Johnson and his friend, as well as that of the authour. Reading the book
with my ingenious friend, the late Reverend Mr. Christian, of Docking--
after ruminating a little, "The cause, (says he,) is a natural one. The
situation of St. Kilda renders a North-East Wind indispensably necessary
before a stranger can land. The wind, not the stranger, occasions an
epidemic cold." If I am not mistaken, Mr. Macaulay is dead; if living,
this solution might please him, as I hope it will Mr. Boswell, in return
for the many agreeable hours his works have afforded us.'
Johnson expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning. 'There
is here, Sir, (said he,) such a progressive emulation. The students are
anxious to appear well to their tutors; the tutors are anxious to have
their pupils appear well in the college; the colleges are anxious to
have their students appear well in the University; and there are
excellent rules of discipline in every college. That the rules are
sometimes ill observed, may be true; but is nothing against the system.
The members of an University may, for a season, be unmindful of their
duty. I am arguing for the excellency of the institution.'
Of Guthrie, he said, 'Sir, he is a man of parts. He has no great
regular fund of knowledge; but by reading so long, and writing so long,
he no doubt has picked up a good deal.'
He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown very
weary before he left it. BOSWELL. 'I wonder at that, Sir; it is your
native place.' JOHNSON. 'Why, so is Scotland _your_ native place.'
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time.
When I talked of our advancement in literature, 'Sir, (said he,) you
have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men.
Hume would never have written History, had not Voltaire written it
before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, we have
JOHNSON. 'You _have_ Lord Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy you
him. Do you ever see Dr. Robertson?'
BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'Does the dog talk of me?'
BOSWELL. 'Indeed, Sir, he does, and loves you.' Thinking that I now had
him in a corner, and being solicitous for the literary fame of my
country, I pressed him for his opinion on the merit of Dr. Robertson's
_History of Scotland_. But, to my surprize, he escaped.--'Sir, I love
Robertson, and I won't talk of his book.'
It is but justice both to him and Dr. Robertson to add, that though he
indulged himself in this sally of wit, he had too good taste not to be
fully sensible of the merits of that admirable work.
An essay, written by Mr. Deane, a divine of the Church of England,
maintaining the future life of brutes, by an explication of certain
parts of the scriptures, was mentioned, and the doctrine insisted on
by a gentleman who seemed fond of curious speculation. Johnson, who did
not like to hear of any thing concerning a future state which was not
authorised by the regular canons of orthodoxy, discouraged this talk;
and being offended at its continuation, he watched an opportunity to
give the gentleman a blow of reprehension. So, when the poor
speculatist, with a serious metaphysical pensive face, addressed him,
'But really, Sir, when we see a very sensible dog, we don't know what to
think of him;' Johnson, rolling with joy at the thought which beamed in
his eye, turned quickly round, and replied, 'True, Sir: and when we see
a very foolish _fellow_, we don't know what to think of _him_.' He then
rose up, strided to the fire, and stood for some time laughing and
I told him that I had several times, when in Italy, seen the experiment
of placing a scorpion within a circle of burning coals; that it ran
round and round in extreme pain; and finding no way to escape, retired
to the centre, and like a true Stoick philosopher, darted its sting into
its head, and thus at once freed itself from its woes. 'This must end
'em.' I said, this was a curious fact, as it shewed deliberate
suicide in a reptile. Johnson would not admit the fact. He said,
Maupertuis was of opinion that it does not kill itself, but dies of
the heat; that it gets to the centre of the circle, as the coolest
place; that its turning its tail in upon its head is merely a
convulsion, and that it does not sting itself. He said he would be
satisfied if the great anatomist Morgagni, after dissecting a scorpion
on which the experiment had been tried, should certify that its sting
had penetrated into its head.
He seemed pleased to talk of natural philosophy. 'That woodcocks, (said
he,) fly over to the northern countries is proved, because they have
been observed at sea. Swallows certainly sleep all the winter. A number
of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then
all in a heap throw themselves under water, and lye in the bed of a
river.' He told us, one of his first essays was a Latin poem upon the
glow-worm. I am sorry I did not ask where it was to be found.
Talking of the Russians and the Chinese, he advised me to read Bell's
travels. I asked him whether I should read Du Halde's account of
China. 'Why yes, (said he) as one reads such a book; that is to say,
He talked of the heinousness of the crime of adultery, by which the
peace of families was destroyed. He said, 'Confusion of progeny
constitutes the essence of the crime; and therefore a woman who breaks
her marriage vows is much more criminal than a man who does it. A
man, to be sure, is criminal in the sight of God: but he does not do his
wife a very material injury, if he does not insult her; if, for
instance, from mere wantonness of appetite, he steals privately to her
chambermaid. Sir, a wife ought not greatly to resent this. I would not
receive home a daughter who had run away from her husband on that
account. A wife should study to reclaim her husband by more attention to
please him. Sir, a man will not, once in a hundred instances, leave his
wife and go to a harlot, if his wife has not been negligent of
Here he discovered that acute discrimination, that solid judgement, and
that knowledge of human nature, for which he was upon all occasions
remarkable. Taking care to keep in view then moral and religious duty,
as understood in our nation, he shewed clearly from reason and good
sense, the greater degree of culpability in the one sex deviating from
it than the other; and, at the same time, inculcated a very useful
lesson as to _the way to keep him_.
I asked him if it was not hard that one deviation from chastity should
so absolutely ruin a young woman. JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir; it is the
great principle which she is taught. When she has given up that
principle, she has given up every notion of female honour and virtue,
which are all included in chastity.'
A gentleman talked to him of a lady whom he greatly admired and
wished to marry, but was afraid of her superiority of talents. 'Sir,
(said he) you need not be afraid; marry her. Before a year goes about,
you'll find that reason much weaker, and that wit not so bright.' Yet
the gentleman may be justified in his apprehension by one of Dr.
Johnson's admirable sentences in his life of Waller: 'He doubtless
praised many whom he would have been afraid to marry; and, perhaps,
married one whom he would have been ashamed to praise. Many qualities
contribute to domestic happiness, upon which poetry has no colours to
bestow; and many airs and sallies may delight imagination, which he who
flatters them never can approve.'
He praised Signor Baretti. 'His account of Italy is a very entertaining
book; and, Sir, I know no man who carries his head higher in
conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his mind. He
has not, indeed, many hooks; but with what hooks he has, he grapples
At this time I observed upon the dial-plate of his watch a short
Greek inscription, taken from the New Testament, _Nux gar erchetai_,
being the first words of our SAVIOUR'S solemn admonition to the
improvement of that time which is allowed us to prepare for eternity:
'the night cometh, when no man can work.' He sometime afterwards laid
aside this dial-plate; and when I asked him the reason, he said, 'It
might do very well upon a clock which a man keeps in his closet; but to
have it upon his watch which he carries about with him, and which is
often looked at by others, might be censured as ostentatious.' Mr.
Steevens is now possessed of the dial-plate inscribed as above.
He remained at Oxford a considerable time; I was obliged to go to
London, where I received his letter, which had been returned from
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'MY DEAR BOSWELL,
'I have omitted a long time to write to you, without knowing very well
why. I could now tell why I should not write; for who would write to men
who publish the letters of their friends, without their leave? Yet I
write to you in spite of my caution, to tell you that I shall be glad to
see you, and that I wish you would empty your head of Corsica, which I
think has filled it rather too long. But, at all events, I shall be
glad, very glad to see you.
'I am, Sir,
'Oxford, March 23, 1768.'
I answered thus:
'TO MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'London, 26th April, 1768.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'I have received your last letter, which, though very short, and by no
means complimentary, yet gave me real pleasure, because it contains
these words, "I shall be glad, very glad to see you." Surely you have no
reason to complain of my publishing a single paragraph of one of your
letters; the temptation to it was so strong. An irrevocable grant of
your friendship, and your dignifying my desire of visiting Corsica with
the epithet of "a wise and noble curiosity," are to me more valuable
than many of the grants of kings.
'But how can you bid me "empty my head of Corsica?" My noble-minded
friend, do you not feel for an oppressed nation bravely struggling to be
free? Consider fairly what is the case. The Corsicans never received any
kindness from the Genoese. They never agreed to be subject to them.
They owe them nothing; and when reduced to an abject state of slavery,
by force, shall they not rise in the great cause of liberty, and break
the galling yoke? And shall not every liberal soul be warm for them?
Empty my head of Corsica! Empty it of honour, empty it of humanity,
empty it of friendship, empty it of piety. No! while I live, Corsica and
the cause of the brave islanders shall ever employ much of my attention,
shall ever interest me in the sincerest manner.
'I am, &c.
Upon his arrival in London in May, he surprized me one morning with a
visit at my lodgings in Half-Moon-street, was quite satisfied with my
explanation, and was in the kindest and most agreeable frame of mind. As
he had objected to a part of one of his letters being published, I
thought it right to take this opportunity of asking him explicitly
whether it would be improper to publish his letters after his death. His
answer was, 'Nay, Sir, when I am dead, you may do as you will.'
He talked in his usual style with a rough contempt of popular
liberty. 'They make a rout about _universal_ liberty, without
considering that all that is to be valued, or indeed can be enjoyed by
individuals, is _private_ liberty. Political liberty is good only so far
as it produces private liberty. Now, Sir, there is the liberty of the
press, which you know is a constant topick. Suppose you and I and two
hundred more were restrained from printing our thoughts: what then? What
proportion would that restraint upon us bear to the private happiness of
This mode of representing the inconveniences of restraint as light and
insignificant, was a kind of sophistry in which he delighted to indulge
himself, in opposition to the extreme laxity for which it has been
fashionable for too many to argue, when it is evident, upon reflection,
that the very essence of government is restraint; and certain it is,
that as government produces rational happiness, too much restraint is
better than too little. But when restraint is unnecessary, and so close
as to gall those who are subject to it, the people may and ought to
remonstrate; and, if relief is not granted, to resist. Of this manly and
spirited principle, no man was more convinced than Johnson himself.
About this time Dr. Kenrick attacked him, through my sides, in a
pamphlet, entitled _An Epistle to James Boswell, Esq., occasioned by his
having transmitted the moral Writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson to Pascal
Paoli, General of the Corsicans_. I was at first inclined to answer
this pamphlet; but Johnson, who knew that my doing so would only gratify
Kenrick, by keeping alive what would soon die away of itself, would not
suffer me to take any notice of it.
His sincere regard for Francis Barber, his faithful negro servant, made
him so desirous of his further improvement, that he now placed him at a
school at Bishop Stortford, in Hertfordshire. This humane attention does
Johnson's heart much honour. Out of many letters which Mr. Barber
received from his master, he has preserved three, which he kindly gave
me, and which I shall insert according to their dates.
'To MR. FRANCIS BARBER.
'I have been very much out of order. I am glad to hear that you are
well, and design to come soon to see you. I would have you stay at Mrs.
Clapp's for the present, till I can determine what we shall do. Be a
'My compliments to Mrs. Clapp and to Mr. Fowler. I am,
'May 28, 1768.'
Soon afterwards, he supped at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the
Strand, with a company whom I collected to meet him. They were Dr.
Percy, now Bishop of Dromore, Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury, Mr.
Langton, Dr. Robertson the Historian, Dr. Hugh Blair, and Mr. Thomas
Davies, who wished much to be introduced to these eminent Scotch
_literati_; but on the present occasion he had very little opportunity
of hearing them talk, for with an excess of prudence, for which Johnson
afterwards found fault with them, they hardly opened their lips, and
that only to say something which they were certain would not expose them
to the sword of Goliath; such was their anxiety for their fame when in
the presence of Johnson. He was this evening in remarkable vigour of
mind, and eager to exert himself in conversation, which he did with
great readiness and fluency; but I am sorry to find that I have
preserved but a small part of what passed.
He allowed high praise to Thomson as a poet; but when one of the
company said he was also a very good man, our moralist contested this
with great warmth, accusing him of gross sensuality and licentiousness
of manners. I was very much afraid that in writing Thomson's _Life_, Dr.
Johnson would have treated his private character with a stern severity,
but I was agreeably disappointed; and I may claim a little merit in it,
from my having been at pains to send him authentick accounts of the
affectionate and generous conduct of that poet to his sisters, one of
whom, the wife of Mr. Thomson, schoolmaster at Lanark, I knew, and was
presented by her with three of his letters, one of which Dr. Johnson has
inserted in his _Life_.
He was vehement against old Dr. Mounsey, of Chelsea College, as 'a
fellow who swore and talked bawdy.' 'I have been often in his company,
(said Dr. Percy,) and never heard him swear or talk bawdy.' Mr. Davies,
who sat next to Dr. Percy, having after this had some conversation aside
with him, made a discovery which, in his zeal to pay court to Dr.
Johnson, he eagerly proclaimed aloud from the foot of the table: 'O,
Sir, I have found out a very good reason why Dr. Percy never heard
Mounsey swear or talk bawdy; for he tells me, he never saw him but at
the Duke of Northumberland's table.' 'And so, Sir, (said Johnson loudly,
to Dr. Percy,) you would shield this man from the charge of swearing and
talking bawdy, because he did not do so at the Duke of Northumberland's
table. Sir, you might as well tell us that you had seen him hold up his
hand at the Old Bailey, and he neither swore nor talked bawdy; or that
you had seen him in the cart at Tyburn, and he neither swore nor talked
bawdy. And is it thus, Sir, that you presume to controvert what I have
related?' Dr. Johnson's animadversion was uttered in such a manner, that
Dr. Percy seemed to be displeased, and soon afterwards left the company,
of which Johnson did not at that time take any notice.
Swift having been mentioned, Johnson, as usual, treated him with little
respect as an authour. Some of us endeavoured to support the Dean of
St. Patrick's by various arguments. One in particular praised his
_Conduct of the Allies_. JOHNSON. 'Sir, his _Conduct of the Allies_ is a
performance of very little ability.' 'Surely, Sir, (said Dr. Douglas,)
you must allow it has strong facts.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; but what
is that to the merit of the composition? In the Sessions-paper of the
Old Bailey there are strong facts. Housebreaking is a strong fact;
robbery is a strong fact; and murder is a _mighty_ strong fact; but is
great praise due to the historian of those strong facts? No, Sir. Swift
has told what he had to tell distinctly enough, but that is all. He had
to count ten, and he has counted it right.' Then recollecting that
Mr. Davies, by acting as an _informer_, had been the occasion of his
talking somewhat too harshly to his friend Dr. Percy, for which,
probably, when the first ebullition was over, he felt some compunction,
he took an opportunity to give him a hit; so added, with a preparatory
laugh, 'Why, Sir, Tom Davies might have written _The Conduct of the
Allies_.' Poor Tom being thus suddenly dragged into ludicrous notice in
presence of the Scottish Doctors, to whom he was ambitious of appearing
to advantage, was grievously mortified. Nor did his punishment rest
here; for upon subsequent occasions, whenever he, 'statesman all
over,' assumed a strutting importance, I used to hail him--'the
Authour of _The Conduct of the Allies_.'
When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him highly
satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening. 'Well,
(said he,) we had good talk.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir; you tossed and
gored several persons.'
The late Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune, who loved wit more than wine,
and men of genius more than sycophants, had a great admiration of
Johnson; but from the remarkable elegance of his own manners, was,
perhaps, too delicately sensible of the roughness which sometimes
appeared in Johnson's behaviour. One evening about this time, when his
Lordship did me the honour to sup at my lodgings with Dr. Robertson and
several other men of literary distinction, he regretted that Johnson had
not been educated with more refinement, and lived more in polished
society. 'No, no, my Lord, (said Signor Baretti,) do with him what you
would, he would always have been a bear.' 'True, (answered the Earl,
with a smile,) but he would have been a _dancing_ bear.'
To obviate all the reflections which have gone round the world to
Johnson's prejudice, by applying to him the epithet of a _bear_, let
me impress upon my readers a just and happy saying of my friend
Goldsmith, who knew him well: 'Johnson, to be sure, has a roughness in
his manner; but no man alive has a more tender heart. _He has nothing of
the bear but his skin_.'
1769: AETAT. 60.--In 1769, so far as I can discover, the publick was
favoured with nothing of Johnson's composition, either for himself or
any of his friends. His _Meditations_ too strongly prove that
he suffered much both in body and mind; yet was he perpetually striving
against _evil_, and nobly endeavouring to advance his intellectual and
devotional improvement. Every generous and grateful heart must feel for
the distresses of so eminent a benefactor to mankind; and now that his
unhappiness is certainly known, must respect that dignity of character
which prevented him from complaining.
His Majesty having the preceding year instituted the Royal Academy of
Arts in London, Johnson had now the honour of being appointed Professor
in Ancient Literature. In the course of the year he wrote some
letters to Mrs. Thrale, passed some part of the summer at Oxford and at
Lichfield, and when at Oxford wrote the following letter:
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'Many years ago, when I used to read in the library of your College, I
promised to recompence the College for that permission, by adding to
their books a Baskerville's _Virgil_. I have now sent it, and desire you
to reposit it on the shelves in my name.
'If you will be pleased to let me know when you have an hour of leisure,
I will drink tea with you. I am engaged for the afternoon, to-morrow and
on Friday: all my mornings are my own.
'I am, &c.,
'May 31, 1769.'
I came to London in the autumn, and having informed him that I was going
to be married in a few months, I wished to have as much of his
conversation as I could before engaging in a state of life which would
probably keep me more in Scotland, and prevent me seeing him so often as
when I was a single man; but I found he was at Brighthelmstone with Mr.
and Mrs. Thrale. I was very sorry that I had not his company with me at
the Jubilee, in honour of Shakspeare, at Stratford-upon-Avon, the great
poet's native town. Johnson's connection both with Shakspeare and
Garrick founded a double claim to his presence; and it would have been
highly gratifying to Mr. Garrick. Upon this occasion I particularly
lamented that he had not that warmth of friendship for his brilliant
pupil, which we may suppose would have had a benignant effect on
both. When almost every man of eminence in the literary world was
happy to partake in this festival of genius, the absence of Johnson
could not but be wondered at and regretted. The only trace of him there,
was in the whimsical advertisement of a haberdasher, who sold
_Shakspearian ribbands_ of various dyes; and, by way of illustrating
their appropriation to the bard, introduced a line from the celebrated
Prologue at the opening of Drury-lane theatre:
'Each change of many-colour'd life he drew.'
From Brighthelmstone Dr. Johnson wrote me the following letter, which
they who may think that I ought to have suppressed, must have less
ardent feelings than I have always avowed.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Why do you charge me with unkindness? I have omitted nothing that could
do you good, or give you pleasure, unless it be that I have forborne to
tell you my opinion of your _Account of Corsica_. I believe my opinion,
if you think well of my judgement, might have given you pleasure; but
when it is considered how much vanity is excited by praise, I am not
sure that it would have done you good. Your History is like other
histories, but your Journal is in a very high degree curious and
delightful. There is between the History and the Journal that difference
which there will always be found between notions borrowed from without,
and notions generated within. Your History was copied from books; your
Journal rose out of your own experience and observation. You express
images which operated strongly upon yourself, and you have impressed
them with great force upon your readers. I know not whether I could name
any narrative by which curiosity is better excited, or better gratified.
'I am glad that you are going to be married; and as I wish you well in
things of less importance, wish you well with proportionate ardour in
this crisis of your life. What I can contribute to your happiness, I
should be very unwilling to with-hold; for I have always loved and
valued you, and shall love you and value you still more, as you become
more regular and useful: effects which a happy marriage will hardly fail
'I do not find that I am likely to come back very soon from this place.
I shall, perhaps, stay a fortnight longer; and a fortnight is a long
time to a lover absent from his mistress. Would a fortnight ever have an
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate humble servant,
Sept. 9, 1769.'
After his return to town, we met frequently, and I continued the
practice of making notes of his conversation, though not with so much
assiduity as I wish I had done. At this time, indeed, I had a sufficient
excuse for not being able to appropriate so much time to my Journal; for
General Paoli, after Corsica had been overpowered by the monarchy of
France, was now no longer at the head of his brave countrymen, but
having with difficulty escaped from his native island, had sought an
asylum in Great Britain; and it was my duty, as well as my pleasure, to
attend much upon him. Such particulars of Johnson's conversation at
this period as I have committed to writing, I shall here introduce,
without any strict attention to methodical arrangement. Sometimes short
notes of different days shall be blended together, and sometimes a day
may seem important enough to be separately distinguished.
He said, he would not have Sunday kept with rigid severity and gloom,
but with a gravity and simplicity of behaviour.
I told him that David Hume had made a short collection of
Scotticisms. 'I wonder, (said Johnson,) that _he_ should find them.'
He would not admit the importance of the question concerning the
legality of general warrants. 'Such a power' (he observed,) 'must be
vested in every government, to answer particular cases of necessity; and
there can be no just complaint but when it is abused, for which those
who administer government must be answerable. It is a matter of such
indifference, a matter about which the people care so very little, that
were a man to be sent over Britain to offer them an exemption from it at
a halfpenny a piece, very few would purchase it.' This was a specimen of
that laxity of talking, which I have heard him fairly acknowledge;
for, surely, while the power of granting general warrants was supposed
to be legal, and the apprehension of them hung over our heads, we did
not possess that security of freedom, congenial to our happy
constitution, and which, by the intrepid exertions of Mr. Wilkes, has
been happily established.
He said, 'The duration of Parliament, whether for seven years or the
life of the King, appears to me so immaterial, that I would not give
half a crown to turn the scale one way or the other. The _habeas
corpus_ is the single advantage which our government has over that of
On the 30th of September we dined together at the Mitre. I attempted to
argue for the superior happiness of the savage life, upon the usual
fanciful topicks. JOHNSON. 'Sir, there can be nothing more false. The
savages have no bodily advantages beyond those of civilised men. They
have not better health; and as to care or mental uneasiness, they are
not above it, but below it, like bears. No, Sir; you are not to talk
such paradox: let me have no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less
can it instruct. Lord Monboddo, one of your Scotch Judges, talked a
great deal of such nonsense. I suffered _him_; but I will not suffer
_you_.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not Rousseau talk such nonsense?'
JOHNSON. 'True, Sir, but Rousseau _knows_ he is talking nonsense, and
laughs at the world for staring at him.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man who talks nonsense so well, must know that he
is talking nonsense. But I am _afraid_, (chuckling and laughing,)
Monboddo does _not_ know that he is talking nonsense.' BOSWELL. 'Is
it wrong then, Sir, to affect singularity, in order to make people
stare?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, if you do it by propagating errour: and, indeed,
it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a general inclination
to make people stare; and every wise man has himself to cure of it, and
does cure himself. If you wish to make people stare by doing better
than others, why, make them stare till they stare their eyes out. But
consider how easy it is to make people stare by being absurd. I may do
it by going into a drawing-room without my shoes. You remember the
gentleman in _The Spectator_, who had a commission of lunacy taken out
against him for his extreme singularity, such as never wearing a wig,
but a night-cap. Now, Sir, abstractedly, the night-cap was best; but,
relatively, the advantage was overbalanced by his making the boys run
Talking of a London life, he said, 'The happiness of London is not to be
conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say, there
is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from
where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom.' BOSWELL. 'The
only disadvantage is the great distance at which people live from one
another.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but that is occasioned by the largeness of
it, which is the cause of all the other advantages.' BOSWELL. 'Sometimes
I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a desart.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, you have desart enough in Scotland.'
Although I had promised myself a great deal of instructive conversation
with him on the conduct of the married state, of which I had then a near
prospect, he did not say much upon that topick. Mr. Seward heard him
once say, that 'a man has a very bad chance for happiness in that state,
unless he marries a woman of very strong and fixed principles of
religion.' He maintained to me, contrary to the common notion, that a
woman would not be the worse wife for being learned; in which, from
all that I have observed of Artemisias, I humbly differed from him.
That a woman should be sensible and well informed, I allow to be a great
advantage; and think that Sir Thomas Overbury, in his rude
versification, has very judiciously pointed out that degree of
intelligence which is to be desired in a female companion:
'Give me, next _good_, an _understanding wife_,
By Nature _wise_, not _learned_ by much art;
Some _knowledge_ on her side will all my life
More scope of conversation impart;
Besides, her inborne virtue fortifie;
They are most firmly good, who best know why.'
When I censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a second
time, as it shewed a disregard of his first wife, he said, 'Not at all,
Sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it might be concluded
that his first wife had given him a disgust to marriage; but by taking a
second wife he pays the highest compliment to the first, by shewing that
she made him so happy as a married man, that he wishes to be so a second
So ingenious a turn did he give to this delicate question. And yet, on
another occasion, he owned that he once had almost asked a promise of
Mrs. Johnson that she would not marry again, but had checked himself.
Indeed, I cannot help thinking, that in his case the request would have
been unreasonable; for if Mrs. Johnson forgot, or thought it no injury
to the memory of her first love,--the husband of her youth and the
father of her children,--to make a second marriage, why should she be
precluded from a third, should she be so inclined? In Johnson's
persevering fond appropriation of his _Tetty_, even after her decease,
he seems totally to have overlooked the prior claim of the honest
Birmingham trader. I presume that her having been married before had, at
times, given him some uneasiness; for I remember his observing upon the
marriage of one of our common friends, 'He has done a very foolish
thing, Sir; he has married a widow, when he might have had a maid.'
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I had last year the pleasure of seeing
Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson's one morning, and had conversation enough
with her to admire her talents, and to shew her that I was as Johnsonian
as herself. Dr. Johnson had probably been kind enough to speak well of
me, for this evening he delivered me a very polite card from Mr. Thrale
and her, inviting me to Streatham.
On the 6th of October I complied with this obliging invitation, and