Part 2 out of 12
found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance that
can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was yet looked
up to with an awe, tempered by affection, and seemed to be equally the
care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing him so happy.
He played off his wit against Scotland with a good humoured pleasantry,
which gave me, though no bigot to national prejudices, an opportunity
for a little contest with him. I having said that England was obliged to
us for gardeners, almost all their good gardeners being Scotchmen.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is because gardening is much more necessary
amongst you than with us, which makes so many of your people learn it.
It is _all_ gardening with you. Things which grow wild here, must be
cultivated with great care in Scotland. Pray now (throwing himself back
in his chair, and laughing,) are you ever able to bring the _sloe_ to
I boasted that we had the honour of being the first to abolish the
unhospitable, troublesome, and ungracious custom of giving vails to
servants. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you abolished vails, because you were too
poor to be able to give them.'
Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked him
powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt it: his
love verses were college verses; and he repeated the song 'Alexis
shunn'd his fellow swains,' &c., in so ludicrous a manner, as to make
us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical
stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great courage, in defence of
amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by
saying, 'My dear Lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended
but by nonsense.'
Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talent for light gay poetry; and, as
a specimen, repeated his song in _Florizel and Perdita_, and dwelt with
peculiar pleasure on this line:
'I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, my dear Lady, this will never do. Poor David! Smile with
the simple;--What folly is that? And who would feed with the poor that
can help it? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the
rich.' I repeated this sally to Garrick, and wondered to find his
sensibility as a writer not a little irritated by it. To sooth him, I
observed, that Johnson spared none of us; and I quoted the passage in
Horace, in which he compares one who attacks his friends for the sake
of a laugh, to a pushing ox, that is marked by a bunch of hay put
upon his horns: '_faenum habet in cornu_.' 'Ay, (said Garrick
vehemently,) he has a whole _mow_ of it.'
Talking of history, Johnson said, 'We may know historical facts to be
true, as we may know facts in common life to be true. Motives are
generally unknown. We cannot trust to the characters we find in history,
unless when they are drawn by those who knew the persons; as those, for
instance, by Sallust and by Lord Clarendon.'
He would not allow much merit to Whitefield's oratory. 'His popularity,
Sir (said he,) is chiefly owing to the peculiarity of his manner. He
would be followed by crowds were he to wear a night-cap in the pulpit,
or were he to preach from a tree.' I know not from what spirit of
contradiction he burst out into a violent declamation against the
Corsicans, of whose heroism I talked in high terms. 'Sir (said he,) what
is all this rout about the Corsicans? They have been at war with the
Genoese for upwards of twenty years, and have never yet taken their
fortified towns. They might have battered down their walls, and reduced
them to powder in twenty years. They might have pulled the walls in
pieces, and cracked the stones with their teeth in twenty years.' It was
in vain to argue with him upon the want of artillery: he was not to be
resisted for the moment.
On the evening of October 10, I presented Dr. Johnson to General Paoli.
I had greatly wished that two men, for whom I had the highest esteem,
should meet. They met with a manly ease, mutually conscious of their
own abilities, and of the abilities of each other. The General spoke
Italian, and Dr. Johnson English, and understood one another very well,
with a little aid of interpretation from me, in which I compared myself
to an isthmus which joins two great continents. Upon Johnson's approach,
the General said, 'From what I have read of your works, Sir, and from
what Mr. Boswell has told me of you, I have long held you in great
veneration.' The General talked of languages being formed on the
particular notions and manners of a people, without knowing which, we
cannot know the language. We may know the direct signification of single
words; but by these no beauty of expression, no sally of genius, no wit
is conveyed to the mind. All this must be by allusion to other ideas.
'Sir, (said Johnson,) you talk of language, as if you had never done any
thing else but study it, instead of governing a nation.' The General
said, '_Questo e un troppo gran complimento_;' this is too great a
compliment. Johnson answered. 'I should have thought so, Sir, if I had
not heard you talk.' The General asked him, what he thought of the
spirit of infidelity which was so prevalent. JOHNSON. 'Sir, this
gloom of infidelity, I hope, is only a transient cloud passing through
the hemisphere, which will soon be dissipated, and the sun break
forth with his usual splendour.' 'You think then, (said the General,)
that they will change their principles like their clothes.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if they bestow no more thought on principles than on
dress, it must be so.' The General said, that 'a great part of the
fashionable infidelity was owing to a desire of shewing courage. Men who
have no opportunities of shewing it as to things in this life, take
death and futurity as objects on which to display it.' JOHNSON. 'That is
mighty foolish affectation. Fear is one of the passions of human nature,
of which it is impossible to divest it. You remember that the Emperour
Charles V, when he read upon the tomb-stone of a Spanish nobleman, "Here
lies one who never knew fear," wittily said, "Then he never snuffed a
candle with his fingers."'
He talked a few words of French to the General; but finding he did
not do it with facility, he asked for pen, ink, and paper, and wrote the
'J'ai lu dans la geographie de Lucas de Linda un Pater-noster ecrit dans
une langue tout a-fait differente de l'Italienne, et de toutes autres
lesquelles se derivent du Latin. L'auteur l'appelle _linguam Corsicae
rusticam_; elle a peut-etre passe peu a peu; mais elle a certainement
prevalue autrefois dans les montagnes et dans la campagne. Le meme
auteur dit la meme chose en parlant de Sardaigne; qu'il y a deux langues
dans l'Isle, une des villes, l'autre de la campagne.'
The General immediately informed him that the _lingua rustica_ was only
Dr. Johnson went home with me, and drank tea till late in the night. He
said, 'General Paoli had the loftiest port of any man he had ever
seen.' He denied that military men were always the best bred men.
'Perfect good breeding, he observed, consists in having no particular
mark of any profession, but a general elegance of manners; whereas, in a
military man, you can commonly distinguish the _brand_ of a soldier,
Dr. Johnson shunned to-night any discussion of the perplexed question of
fate and free will, which I attempted to agitate. 'Sir, (said he,) we
_know_ our will is free, and _there's_ an end on't.'
He honoured me with his company at dinner on the 16th of October, at my
lodgings in Old Bond-street, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Garrick, Dr.
Goldsmith, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Bickerstaff, and Mr. Thomas Davies.
Garrick played round him with a fond vivacity, taking hold of the
breasts of his coat, and, looking up in his face with a lively archness,
complimented him on the good health which he seemed then to enjoy; while
the sage, shaking his head, beheld him with a gentle complacency. One of
the company not being come at the appointed hour, I proposed, as usual
upon such occasions, to order dinner to be served; adding, 'Ought six
people to be kept waiting for one?' 'Why, yes, (answered Johnson, with a
delicate humanity,) if the one will suffer more by your sitting down,
than the six will do by waiting.' Goldsmith, to divert the tedious
minutes, strutted about, bragging of his dress, and I believe was
seriously vain of it, for his mind was wonderfully prone to such
impressions. 'Come, come, (said Garrick,) talk no more of that. You
are, perhaps, the worst--eh, eh!'--Goldsmith was eagerly attempting to
interrupt him, when Garrick went on, laughing ironically, 'Nay, you will
always _look_ like a gentleman; but I am talking of being well or
_ill drest_.' 'Well, let me tell you, (said Goldsmith,) when my tailor
brought home my bloom-coloured coat, he said, 'Sir, I have a favour to
beg of you. When any body asks you who made your clothes, be pleased to
mention John Filby, at the Harrow, in Water-lane.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
that was because he knew the strange colour would attract crowds to gaze
at it, and thus they might hear of him, and see how well he could make a
coat even of so absurd a colour.'
After dinner our conversation first turned upon Pope. Johnson said, his
characters of men were admirably drawn, those of women not so well.
He repeated to us, in his forcible melodious manner, the concluding
lines of the _Dunciad_. While he was talking loudly in praise of
those lines, one of the company ventured to say, 'Too fine for such a
poem:--a poem on what?' JOHNSON, (with a disdainful look,) 'Why, on
_dunces_. It was worth while being a dunce then. Ah, Sir, hadst _thou_
lived in those days! It is not worth while being a dunce now, when there
are no wits.' Bickerstaff observed, as a peculiar circumstance, that
Pope's fame was higher when he was alive than it was then. Johnson
said, his Pastorals were poor things, though the versification was
fine. He told us, with high satisfaction, the anecdote of Pope's
inquiring who was the authour of his _London_, and saying, he will be
soon _deterre_. He observed, that in Dryden's poetry there were
passages drawn from a profundity which Pope could never reach. He
repeated some fine lines on love, by the former, (which I have now
forgotten,) and gave great applause to the character of Zimri.
Goldsmith said, that Pope's character of Addison shewed a deep
knowledge of the human heart. Johnson said, that the description of the
temple, in the _Mourning Bride_, was the finest poetical passage he
had ever read; he recollected none in Shakspeare equal to it. 'But,
(said Garrick, all alarmed for the "God of his idolatry,") we know
not the extent and variety of his powers.'
'We are to suppose there are such passages in his works. Shakspeare must
not suffer from the badness of our memories.' Johnson, diverted by this
enthusiastick jealousy, went on with greater ardour: 'No, Sir; Congreve
has _nature_;' (smiling on the tragick eagerness of Garrick;) but
composing himself, he added, 'Sir, this is not comparing Congreve on the
whole, with Shakspeare on the whole; but only maintaining that Congreve
has one finer passage than any that can be found in Shakspeare. Sir, a
man may have no more than ten guineas in the world, but he may have
those ten guineas in one piece; and so may have a finer piece than a man
who has ten thousand pounds: but then he has only one ten-guinea piece.
What I mean is, that you can shew me no passage where there is simply a
description of material objects, without any intermixture of moral
notions, which produces such an effect.' Mr. Murphy mentioned
Shakspeare's description of the night before the battle of Agincourt;
but it was observed, it had _men_ in it. Mr. Davies suggested the speech
of Juliet, in which she figures herself awaking in the tomb of her
ancestors. Some one mentioned the description of Dover Cliff.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; it should be all precipice,--all vacuum. The crows
impede your fall. The diminished appearance of the boats, and other
circumstances, are all very good description; but do not impress the
mind at once with the horrible idea of immense height. The impression is
divided; you pass on by computation, from one stage of the tremendous
space to another. Had the girl in _The Mourning Bride_ said, she could
not cast her shoe to the top of one of the pillars in the temple, it
would not have aided the idea, but weakened it.'
Talking of a Barrister who had a bad utterance, some one, (to rouse
Johnson,) wickedly said, that he was unfortunate in not having been
taught oratory by Sheridan. JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, if he had been taught
by Sheridan, he would have cleared the room.' GARRICK. 'Sheridan has too
much vanity to be a good man.' We shall now see Johnson's mode of
_defending_ a man; taking him into his own hands, and discriminating.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. There is, to be sure, in Sheridan, something to
reprehend, and every thing to laugh at; but, Sir, he is not a bad man.
No, Sir; were mankind to be divided into good and bad, he would stand
considerably within the ranks of good. And, Sir, it must be allowed that
Sheridan excels in plain declamation, though he can exhibit no
I should, perhaps, have suppressed this disquisition concerning a person
of whose merit and worth I think with respect, had he not attacked
Johnson so outrageously in his _Life of Swift_, and, at the same time,
treated us, his admirers, as a set of pigmies. He who has provoked
the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
Mrs. Montagu, a lady distinguished for having written an Essay on
Shakspeare, being mentioned. REYNOLDS. 'I think that essay does her
honour.' JOHNSON, 'Yes, Sir; it does _her_ honour, but it would do
nobody else honour. I have, indeed, not read it all. But when I take up
the end of a web, and find it packthread, I do not expect, by looking
further, to find embroidery. Sir, I will venture to say, there is not
one sentence of true criticism in her book.' GARRICK. 'But, Sir, surely
it shews how much Voltaire has mistaken Shakspeare, which nobody else
has done.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, nobody else has thought it worth while. And
what merit is there in that? You may as well praise a schoolmaster for
whipping a boy who has construed ill. No, Sir, there is no real
criticism in it: none shewing the beauty of thought, as formed on the
workings of the human heart.'
The admirers of this Essay may be offended at the slighting manner in
which Johnson spoke of it; but let it be remembered, that he gave his
honest opinion unbiased by any prejudice, or any proud jealousy of a
woman intruding herself into the chair of criticism; for Sir Joshua
Reynolds has told me, that when the Essay first came out, and it was not
known who had written it, Johnson wondered how Sir Joshua could like
it. At this time Sir Joshua himself had received no information
concerning the authour, except being assured by one of our most eminent
literati, that it was clear its authour did not know the Greek tragedies
in the original. One day at Sir Joshua's table, when it was related that
Mrs. Montagu, in an excess of compliment to the authour of a modern
tragedy, had exclaimed, 'I tremble for Shakspeare;' Johnson said, 'When
Shakspeare has got ---- for his rival, and Mrs. Montagu for his
defender, he is in a poor state indeed.'
Johnson proceeded: 'The Scotchman has taken the right method in his
_Elements of Criticism_. I do not mean that he has taught us any thing;
but he has told us old things in a new way.' MURPHY. 'He seems to have
read a great deal of French criticism, and wants to make it his own; as
if he had been for years anatomising the heart of man, and peeping into
every cranny of it.' GOLDSMITH. 'It is easier to write that book, than
to read it.' JOHNSON. 'We have an example of true criticism in
Burke's _Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful_; and, if I recollect, there
is also Du Bos; and Bouhours, who shews all beauty to depend on
truth. There is no great merit in telling how many plays have ghosts in
them, and how this Ghost is better than that. You must shew how terrour
is impressed on the human heart. In the description of night in
_Macbeth_, the beetle and the bat detract from the general idea of
Politicks being mentioned, he said, 'This petitioning is a new mode of
distressing government, and a mighty easy one. I will undertake to get
petitions either against quarter-guineas or half-guineas, with the help
of a little hot wine. There must be no yielding to encourage this. The
object is not important enough. We are not to blow up half a dozen
palaces, because one cottage is burning.'
The conversation then took another turn. JOHNSON. 'It is amazing what
ignorance of certain points one sometimes finds in men of eminence. A
wit about town, who wrote Latin bawdy verses, asked me, how it happened
that England and Scotland, which were once two kingdoms, were now
one:--and Sir Fletcher Norton did not seem to know that there were
such publications as the Reviews.'
'The ballad of Hardyknute has no great merit, if it be really
ancient. People talk of nature. But mere obvious nature may be exhibited
with very little power of mind.'
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house. He
advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of
which I shewed him a specimen. 'Sir, (said he,) Ray has made a
collection of north-country words. By collecting those of your
country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the
language.' He bade me also go on with collections which I was making
upon the antiquities of Scotland. 'Make a large book; a folio.' BOSWELL.
'But of what use will it be, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Never mind the use; do it.'
I complained that he had not mentioned Garrick in his Preface to
Shakspeare; and asked him if he did not admire him. JOHNSON. 'Yes, as
"a poor player, who frets and struts his hour upon the stage;"--as a
shadow.' BOSWELL, 'But has he not brought Shakspeare into notice?'
 JOHNSON. 'Sir, to allow that, would be to lampoon the age. Many of
Shakspeare's plays are the worse for being acted: _Macbeth_, for
instance.' BOSWELL. 'What, Sir, is nothing gained by decoration and
action? Indeed, I do wish that you had mentioned Garrick.' JOHNSON. 'My
dear Sir, had I mentioned him, I must have mentioned many more: Mrs.
Pritchard, Mrs. Cibber,--nay, and Mr. Cibber too; he too altered
Shakspeare.' BOSWELL. 'You have read his apology, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Yes,
it is very entertaining. But as for Cibber himself, taking from his
conversation all that he ought not to have said, he was a poor
creature. I remember when he brought me one of his Odes to have my
opinion of it; I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him
read it to the end; so little respect had I for _that great man_!
(laughing.) Yet I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat him
I mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several convicts at
Tyburn, two days before, and that none of them seemed to be under any
concern. JOHNSON. 'Most of them, Sir, have never thought at all.'
BOSWELL. 'But is not the fear of death natural to man?' JOHNSON. 'So
much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of
it.' He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating
upon the aweful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he
should conduct himself upon that occasion: 'I know not (said he,)
whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between GOD
Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others;--JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated.
No, Sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good:
more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no
purpose.' BOSWELL. 'But suppose now, Sir, that one of your intimate
friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.'
JOHNSON. 'I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other
assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.'
BOSWELL. 'Would you eat your dinner that day, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir;
and eat it as if he were eating it with me. Why, there's Baretti, who is
to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him on
every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of
plumb-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling goes a very little
way in depressing the mind.'
I told him that I had dined lately at Foote's, who shewed me a letter
which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he had not been
able to sleep from the concern which he felt on account of '_This sad
affair of Baretti_,' begging of him to try if he could suggest any
thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to
him an industrious young man who kept a pickle-shop. JOHNSON. 'Ay, Sir,
here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a
cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept
Davies from sleep; nor does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping,
Sir; Tom Davies is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and
knows how to do those things. I have not been upon the stage, and cannot
do those things.' BOSWELL. 'I have often blamed myself, Sir, for not
feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
don't be duped by them any more. You will find these very feeling people
are not very ready to do you good. They _pay_ you by _feeling_.'
BOSWELL. 'Foote has a great deal of humour?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir.'
BOSWELL. 'He has a singular talent of exhibiting character.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, it is not a talent; it is a vice; it is what others abstain from.
It is not comedy, which exhibits the character of a species, as that of
a miser gathered from many misers: it is farce, which exhibits
individuals.' BOSWELL. 'Did not he think of exhibiting you, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, fear restrained him; he knew I would have broken his
bones. I would have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg; I would
not have left him a leg to cut off.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, is not
Foote an infidel?' JOHNSON. 'I do not know, Sir, that the fellow is an
infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an
infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject.'
BOSWELL. 'I suppose, Sir, he has thought superficially, and seized the
first notions which occurred to his mind.' JOHNSON. 'Why then, Sir,
still he is like a dog, that snatches the piece next him. Did you never
observe that dogs have not the power of comparing? A dog will take a
small bit of meat as readily as a large, when both are before him.'
'Buchanan (he observed,) has fewer _centos_ than any modern Latin
poet. He not only had great knowledge of the Latin language, but was a
great poetical genius. Both the Scaligers praise him.'
He again talked of the passage in _Congreve_ with high commendation, and
said, 'Shakspeare never has six lines together without a fault. Perhaps
you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion. If I
come to an orchard, and say there's no fruit here, and then comes a
poring man, who finds two apples and three pears, and tells me, "Sir,
you are mistaken, I have found both apples and pears," I should laugh at
him: what would that be to the purpose?'
BOSWELL. 'What do you think of Dr. Young's _Night Thoughts_, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there are very fine things in them.' BOSWELL. 'Is
there not less religion in the nation now, Sir, than there was
formerly?' JOHNSON. 'I don't know, Sir, that there is.' BOSWELL. 'For
instance, there used to be a chaplain in every great family, which we
do not find now.' JOHNSON. 'Neither do you find any of the state
servants which great families used formerly to have. There is a change
of modes in the whole department of life.'
Next day, October 20, he appeared, for the only time I suppose in his
life, as a witness in a Court of Justice, being called to give evidence
to the character of Mr. Baretti, who having stabbed a man in the street,
was arraigned at the Old Bailey for murder. Never did such a
constellation of genius enlighten the aweful Sessions-House,
emphatically called JUSTICE HALL; Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Beauclerk,
and Dr. Johnson; and undoubtedly their favourable testimony had due
weight with the Court and Jury. Johnson gave his evidence in a slow,
deliberate, and distinct manner, which was uncommonly impressive. It is
well known that Mr. Baretti was acquitted.
On the 26th of October, we dined together at the Mitre tavern. I found
fault with Foote for indulging his talent of ridicule at the expence of
his visitors, which I colloquially termed making fools of his company.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, when you go to see Foote, you do not go to see a
saint: you go to see a man who will be entertained at your house, and
then bring you on a publick stage; who will entertain you at his house,
for the very purpose of bringing you on a publick stage. Sir, he does
not make fools of his company; they whom he exposes are fools already:
he only brings them into action.'
Talking of trade, he observed, 'It is a mistaken notion that a vast deal
of money is brought into a nation by trade. It is not so. Commodities
come from commodities; but trade produces no capital accession of
wealth. However, though there should be little profit in money, there is
a considerable profit in pleasure, as it gives to one nation the
productions of another; as we have wines and fruits, and many other
foreign articles, brought to us.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, and there is a
profit in pleasure, by its furnishing occupation to such numbers of
mankind.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you cannot call that pleasure to which all
are averse, and which none begin but with the hope of leaving off; a
thing which men dislike before they have tried it, and when they have
tried it.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, the mind must be employed, and we grow
weary when idle.' JOHNSON. 'That is, Sir, because, others being busy, we
want company; but if we were all idle, there would be no growing weary;
we should all entertain one another. There is, indeed, this in
trade:--it gives men an opportunity of improving their situation. If
there were no trade, many who are poor would always remain poor. But no
man loves labour for itself.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, I know a person who
does. He is a very laborious Judge, and he loves the labour.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is because he loves respect and distinction. Could
he have them without labour, he would like it less.' BOSWELL. 'He tells
me he likes it for itself.'--'Why, Sir, he fancies so, because he is not
accustomed to abstract.'
We went home to his house to tea. Mrs. Williams made it with sufficient
dexterity, notwithstanding her blindness, though her manner of
satisfying herself that the cups were full enough appeared to me a
little aukward; for I fancied she put her finger down a certain way,
till she felt the tea touch it. In my first elation at being allowed
the privilege of attending Dr. Johnson at his late visits to this lady,
which was like being _e secretioribus consiliis_, I willingly drank
cup after cup, as if it had been the Heliconian spring. But as the charm
of novelty went off, I grew more fastidious; and besides, I discovered
that she was of a peevish temper.
There was a pretty large circle this evening. Dr. Johnson was in very
good humour, lively, and ready to talk upon all subjects. Mr. Fergusson,
the self-taught philosopher, told him of a new-invented machine which
went without horses: a man who sat in it turned a handle, which worked a
spring that drove it forward. 'Then, Sir, (said Johnson,) what is gained
is, the man has his choice whether he will move himself alone, or
himself and the machine too.' Dominicetti being mentioned, he would
not allow him any merit. 'There is nothing in all this boasted system.
No, Sir; medicated baths can be no better than warm water: their only
effect can be that of tepid moisture.' One of the company took the other
side, maintaining that medicines of various sorts, and some too of most
powerful effect, are introduced into the human frame by the medium of
the pores; and, therefore, when warm water is impregnated with
salutiferous substances, it may produce great effects as a bath. This
appeared to me very satisfactory. Johnson did not answer it; but talking
for victory, and determined to be master of the field, he had recourse
to the device which Goldsmith imputed to him in the witty words of one
of Cibber's comedies: 'There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his
pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.' He
turned to the gentleman, 'Well, Sir, go to Dominicetti, and get thyself
fumigated; but be sure that the steam be directed to thy _head_, for
_that_ is the _peccant part_'. This produced a triumphant roar of
laughter from the motley assembly of philosophers, printers, and
dependents, male and female.
I know not how so whimsical a thought came into my mind, but I asked,
'If, Sir, you were shut up in a castle, and a newborn child with you,
what would you do?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I should not much like my
company.' BOSWELL. 'But would you take the trouble of rearing it?' He
seemed, as may well be supposed, unwilling to pursue the subject: but
upon my persevering in my question, replied, 'Why yes, Sir, I would; but
I must have all conveniencies. If I had no garden, I would make a shed
on the roof, and take it there for fresh air. I should feed it, and wash
it much, and with warm water to please it, not with cold water to give
it pain.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not heat relax?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you
are not to imagine the water is to be very hot. I would not _coddle_ the
child. No, Sir, the hardy method of treating children does no good. I'll
take you five children from London, who shall cuff five Highland
children. Sir, a man bred in London will carry a burthen, or run, or
wrestle, as well as a man brought up in the hardiest manner in the
country.' BOSWELL. 'Good living, I suppose, makes the Londoners strong.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I don't know that it does. Our Chairmen from
Ireland, who are as strong men as any, have been brought up upon
potatoes. Quantity makes up for quality.' BOSWELL. 'Would you teach this
child that I have furnished you with, any thing?' JOHNSON. 'No, I should
not be apt to teach it.' BOSWELL. 'Would not you have a pleasure in
teaching it?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I should _not_ have a pleasure in
teaching it.' BOSWELL. 'Have you not a pleasure in teaching
men?--_There_ I have you. You have the same pleasure in teaching men,
that I should have in teaching children.' JOHNSON. 'Why, something about
that.' BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, that what is called natural
affection is born with us? It seems to me to be the effect of habit, or
of gratitude for kindness. No child has it for a parent whom it has not
seen.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I think there is an instinctive natural
affection in parents towards their children.'
Russia being mentioned as likely to become a great empire, by the rapid
increase of population:--JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I see no prospect of their
propagating more. They can have no more children than they can get. I
know of no way to make them breed more than they do. It is not from
reason and prudence that people marry, but from inclination. A man is
poor; he thinks, "I cannot be worse, and so I'll e'en take Peggy."'
BOSWELL. 'But have not nations been more populous at one period than
another?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but that has been owing to the people
being less thinned at one period than another, whether by emigrations,
war, or pestilence, not by their being more or less prolifick. Births at
all times bear the same proportion to the same number of people.'
BOSWELL. 'But, to consider the state of our own country;--does not
throwing a number of farms into one hand hurt population?' JOHNSON. 'Why
no, Sir; the same quantity of food being produced, will be consumed by
the same number of mouths, though the people may be disposed of in
different ways. We see, if corn be dear, and butchers' meat cheap, the
farmers all apply themselves to the raising of corn, till it becomes
plentiful and cheap, and then butchers' meat becomes dear; so that an
equality is always preserved. No, Sir, let fanciful men do as they will,
depend upon it, it is difficult to disturb the system of life.' BOSWELL.
'But, Sir, is it not a very bad thing for landlords to oppress their
tenants, by raising their rents?' JOHNSON. 'Very bad. But, Sir, it never
can have any general influence; it may distress some individuals. For,
consider this: landlords cannot do without tenants. Now tenants will not
give more for land, than land is worth. If they can make more of their
money by keeping a shop, or any other way, they'll do it, and so oblige
landlords to let land come back to a reasonable rent, in order that they
may get tenants. Land, in England, is an article of commerce. A tenant
who pays his landlord his rent, thinks himself no more obliged to him
than you think yourself obliged to a man in whose shop you buy a piece
of goods. He knows the landlord does not let him have his land for less
than he can get from others, in the same manner as the shopkeeper sells
his goods. No shopkeeper sells a yard of ribband for sixpence when
seven-pence is the current price.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is it not better
that tenants should be dependant on landlords?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as
there are many more tenants than landlords, perhaps, strictly speaking,
we should wish not. But if you please you may let your lands cheap, and
so get the value, part in money and part in homage. I should agree with
you in that.' BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you laugh at schemes of political
improvement.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, most schemes of political improvement
are very laughable things.'
He observed, 'Providence has wisely ordered that the more numerous men
are, the more difficult it is for them to agree in any thing, and so
they are governed. There is no doubt, that if the poor should reason,
"We'll be the poor no longer, we'll make the rich take their turn," they
could easily do it, were it not that they can't agree. So the common
soldiers, though so much more numerous than their officers, are governed
by them for the same reason.'
He said, 'Mankind have a strong attachment to the habitations to which
they have been accustomed. You see the inhabitants of Norway do not with
one consent quit it, and go to some part of America, where there is a
mild climate, and where they may have the same produce from land, with
the tenth part of the labour. No, Sir; their affection for their old
dwellings, and the terrour of a general change, keep them at home. Thus,
we see many of the finest spots in the world thinly inhabited, and many
rugged spots well inhabited.'
_The London Chronicle_, which was the only news-paper he constantly
took in, being brought, the office of reading it aloud was assigned to
me. I was diverted by his impatience. He made me pass over so many parts
of it, that my task was very easy. He would not suffer one of the
petitions to the King about the Middlesex election to be read.
I had hired a Bohemian as my servant while I remained in London, and
being much pleased with him, I asked Dr. Johnson whether his being a
Roman Catholick should prevent my taking him with me to Scotland.
JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir, if _he_ has no objection, you can have none.'
BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you are no great enemy to the Roman Catholick
religion.' JOHNSON. 'No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian religion.'
BOSWELL. 'You are joking.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I really think so. Nay,
Sir, of the two, I prefer the Popish.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the Presbyterians have no church, no apostolical
ordination.' BOSWELL. 'And do you think that absolutely essential, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it is
dangerous to be without it. And, Sir, the Presbyterians have no public
worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to
join. They go to hear a man pray, and are to judge whether they will
join with him.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, their doctrine is the same with that
of the Church of England. Their confession of faith, and the thirty-nine
articles, contain the same points, even the doctrine of predestination.'
JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir, predestination was a part of the clamour of the
times, so it is mentioned in our articles, but with as little
positiveness as could be.' BOSWELL. 'Is it necessary, Sir, to believe
all the thirty-nine articles?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is a question
which has been much agitated. Some have thought it necessary that they
should all be believed; others have considered them to be only articles
of peace, that is to say, you are not to preach against them.'
BOSWELL. 'It appears to me, Sir, that predestination, or what is
equivalent to it, cannot be avoided, if we hold an universal prescience
in the Deity.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, does not GOD every day see things
going on without preventing them?' BOSWELL. 'True, Sir; but if a thing
be _certainly_ foreseen, it must be fixed, and cannot happen otherwise;
and if we apply this consideration to the human mind, there is no free
will, nor do I see how prayer can be of any avail.' He mentioned Dr.
Clarke, and Bishop Bramhall on _Liberty and Necessity_, and bid me read
South's _Sermons on Prayer_; but avoided the question which has
excruciated philosophers and divines, beyond any other. I did not press
it further, when I perceived that he was displeased, and shrunk from
any abridgement of an attribute usually ascribed to the Divinity,
however irreconcilable in its full extent with the grand system of
moral government. His supposed orthodoxy here cramped the vigorous
powers of his understanding. He was confined by a chain which early
imagination and long habit made him think massy and strong, but which,
had he ventured to try, he could at once have snapt asunder.
I proceeded: 'What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by
the Roman Catholicks?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is a very harmless
doctrine. They are of opinion that the generality of mankind are neither
so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good
as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and
therefore that God is graciously pleased to allow of a middle state,
where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see,
Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.' BOSWELL. 'But then, Sir,
their masses for the dead?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if it be once
established that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray
for _them_, as for our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life.'
BOSWELL. 'The idolatry of the Mass?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no idolatry
in the Mass. They believe GOD to be there, and they adore him.' BOSWELL.
'The worship of Saints?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they do not worship saints; they
invoke them; they only ask their prayers. I am talking all this time
of the _doctrines_ of the Church of Rome. I grant you that in
_practice_, Purgatory is made a lucrative imposition, and that the
people do become idolatrous as they recommend themselves to the tutelary
protection of particular saints. I think their giving the sacrament only
in one kind is criminal, because it is contrary to the express
institution of CHRIST, and I wonder how the Council of Trent admitted
it.' BOSWELL. 'Confession?' JOHNSON. 'Why, I don't know but that is a
good thing. The scripture says, "Confess your faults one to another,"
and the priests confess as well as the laity. Then it must be considered
that their absolution is only upon repentance, and often upon penance
also. You think your sins may be forgiven without penance, upon
I thus ventured to mention all the common objections against the Roman
Catholick Church, that I might hear so great a man upon them. What he
said is here accurately recorded. But it is not improbable that if one
had taken the other side, he might have reasoned differently.
I must however mention, that he had a respect for '_the old religion_,'
as the mild Melancthon called that of the Roman Catholick Church,
even while he was exerting himself for its reformation in some
particulars. Sir William Scott informs me, that he heard Johnson say, 'A
man who is converted from Protestantism to Popery may be sincere: he
parts with nothing: he is only superadding to what he already had. But a
convert from Popery to Protestantism gives up so much of what he has
held as sacred as any thing that he retains; there is so much
_laceration of mind_ in such a conversion, that it can hardly be
sincere and lasting.' The truth of this reflection may be confirmed
by many and eminent instances, some of which will occur to most of my
When we were alone, I introduced the subject of death, and endeavoured
to maintain that the fear of it might be got over. I told him that David
Hume said to me, he was no more uneasy to think he should _not be_ after
this life, than that he _had not been_ before he began to exist.
JOHNSON: 'Sir, if he really thinks so, his perceptions are disturbed; he
is mad: if he does not think so, he lies. He may tell you, he holds his
finger in the flame of a candle, without feeling pain; would you believe
him? When he dies, he at least gives up all he has.' BOSWELL: 'Foote,
Sir, told me, that when he was very ill he was not afraid to die.'
JOHNSON: 'It is not true, Sir. Hold a pistol to Foote's breast, or to
Hume's breast, and threaten to kill them, and you'll see how they
behave.' BOSWELL: 'But may we not fortify our minds for the approach of
death?' Here I am sensible I was in the wrong, to bring before his view
what he ever looked upon with horrour; for although when in a celestial
frame, in his _Vanity of human wishes_, he has supposed death to be
'kind Nature's signal for retreat,' from this state of being to 'a
happier seat,' his thoughts upon this aweful change were in general
full of dismal apprehensions. His mind resembled the vast amphitheatre,
the Colisaeum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgement, which, like a
mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild
beasts of the _Arena_, were all around in cells, ready to be let out
upon him. After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens; but not
killing them, they were still assailing him. To my question, whether we
might not fortify our minds for the approach of death, he answered, in a
passion, 'No, Sir, let it alone. It matters not how a man dies, but how
he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a
time.' He added, (with an earnest look,) 'A man knows it must be so,
and submits. It will do him no good to whine.'
I attempted to continue the conversation. He was so provoked, that he
said, 'Give us no more of this;' and was thrown into such a state of
agitation, that he expressed himself in a way that alarmed and
distressed me; shewed an impatience that I should leave him, and when I
was going away, called to me sternly, 'Don't let us meet to-morrow.'
I went home exceedingly uneasy. All the harsh observations which I had
ever heard made upon his character, crowded into my mind; and I seemed
to myself like the man who had put his head into the lion's mouth a
great many times with perfect safety, but at last had it bit off.
Next morning I sent him a note, stating, that I might have been in the
wrong, but it was not intentionally; he was therefore, I could not help
thinking, too severe upon me. That notwithstanding our agreement not to
meet that day, I would call on him in my way to the city, and stay five
minutes by my watch. 'You are, (said I,) in my mind, since last night,
surrounded with cloud and storm. Let me have a glimpse of sunshine, and
go about my affairs in serenity and chearfulness.'
Upon entering his study, I was glad that he was not alone, which would
have made our meeting more awkward. There were with him, Mr. Steevens
and Mr. Tyers, both of whom I now saw for the first time. My note
had, on his own reflection, softened him, for he received me very
complacently; so that I unexpectedly found myself at ease, and joined in
He said, the criticks had done too much honour to Sir Richard Blackmore,
by writing so much against him. That in his _Creation_ he had been
helped by various wits, a line by Phillips and a line by Tickell; so
that by their aid, and that of others, the poem had been made out.
I defended Blackmore's supposed lines, which have been ridiculed as
'A painted vest Prince Voltiger had on,
Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won.'
I maintained it to be a poetical conceit. A Pict being painted, if he is
slain in battle, and a vest is made of his skin, it is a painted vest
won from him, though he was naked.
Johnson spoke unfavourably of a certain pretty voluminous authour,
saying, 'He used to write anonymous books, and then other books
commending those books, in which there was something of rascality.'
I whispered him, 'Well, Sir, you are now in good humour.' JOHNSON. 'Yes,
Sir.' I was going to leave him, and had got as far as the staircase. He
stopped me, and smiling, said, 'Get you gone _in_;' a curious mode of
inviting me to stay, which I accordingly did for some time longer.
This little incidental quarrel and reconciliation, which, perhaps, I may
be thought to have detailed too minutely, must be esteemed as one of
many proofs which his friends had, that though he might be charged with
_bad humour_ at times, he was always a _good-natured_ man; and I have
heard Sir Joshua Reynolds, a nice and delicate observer of manners,
particularly remark, that when upon any occasion Johnson had been rough
to any person in company, he took the first opportunity of
reconciliation, by drinking to him, or addressing his discourse to
him; but if he found his dignified indirect overtures sullenly
neglected, he was quite indifferent, and considered himself as having
done all that he ought to do, and the other as now in the wrong.
Being to set out for Scotland on the 10th of November, I wrote to him at
Streatham, begging that he would meet me in town on the 9th; but if this
should be very inconvenient to him, I would go thither. His answer was
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Upon balancing the inconveniences of both parties, I find it will less
incommode you to spend your night here, than me to come to town. I wish
to see you, and am ordered by the lady of this house to invite you
hither. Whether you can come or not, I shall not have any occasion of
writing to you again before your marriage, and therefore tell you now,
that with great sincerity I wish you happiness.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate humble servant,
'Nov. 9, 1769.'
I was detained in town till it was too late on the ninth, so went to him
early on the morning of the tenth of November. 'Now (said he,) that you
are going to marry, do not expect more from life, than life will afford.
You may often find yourself out of humour, and you may often think your
wife not studious enough to please you; and yet you may have reason to
consider yourself as upon the whole very happily married.'
Talking of marriage in general, he observed, 'Our marriage service is
too refined. It is calculated only for the best kind of marriages;
whereas, we should have a form for matches of convenience, of which
there are many.' He agreed with me that there was no absolute necessity
for having the marriage ceremony performed by a regular clergyman, for
this was not commanded in scripture.
I was volatile enough to repeat to him a little epigrammatick song of
mine, on matrimony, which Mr. Garrick had a few days before procured to
be set to musick by the very ingenious Mr. Dibden.
'A MATRIMONIAL THOUGHT.
'In the blithe days of honey-moon,
With Kate's allurements smitten,
I lov'd her late, I lov'd her soon,
And call'd her dearest kitten.
But now my kitten's grown a cat,
And cross like other wives,
O! by my soul, my honest Mat,
I fear she has nine lives.'
My illustrious friend said, 'It is very well, Sir; but you should not
swear.' Upon which I altered 'O! by my soul,' to 'alas, alas!'
He was so good as to accompany me to London, and see me into the
post-chaise which was to carry me on my road to Scotland. And sure I am,
that, however inconsiderable many of the particulars recorded at this
time may appear to some, they will be esteemed by the best part of my
readers as genuine traits of his character, contributing together to
give a full, fair, and distinct view of it.
1770: AETAT. 61.--In 1770 he published a political pamphlet, entitled
_The False Alarm_, intended to justify the conduct of ministry and
their majority in the House of Commons, for having virtually assumed it
as an axiom, that the expulsion of a Member of Parliament was equivalent
to exclusion, and thus having declared Colonel Lutterel to be duly
elected for the county of Middlesex, notwithstanding Mr. Wilkes had a
great majority of votes. This being justly considered as a gross
violation of the right of election, an alarm for the constitution
extended itself all over the kingdom. To prove this alarm to be false,
was the purpose of Johnson's pamphlet; but even his vast powers were
inadequate to cope with constitutional truth and reason, and his
argument failed of effect; and the House of Commons have since expunged
the offensive resolution from their Journals. That the House of
Commons might have expelled Mr. Wilkes repeatedly, and as often as he
should be re-chosen, was not denied; but incapacitation cannot be but by
an act of the whole legislature. It was wonderful to see how a prejudice
in favour of government in general, and an aversion to popular clamour,
could blind and contract such an understanding as Johnson's, in this
particular case; yet the wit, the sarcasm, the eloquent vivacity which
this pamphlet displayed, made it be read with great avidity at the time,
and it will ever be read with pleasure, for the sake of its composition.
That it endeavoured to infuse a narcotick indifference, as to publick
concerns, into the minds of the people, and that it broke out sometimes
into an extreme coarseness of contemptuous abuse, is but too evident.
It must not, however, be omitted, that when the storm of his violence
subsides, he takes a fair opportunity to pay a grateful compliment to
the King, who had rewarded his merit: 'These low-born rulers have
endeavoured, surely without effect, to alienate the affections of the
people from the only King who for almost a century has much appeared to
desire, or much endeavoured to deserve them.' And, 'Every honest man
must lament, that the faction has been regarded with frigid neutrality
by the Tories, who being long accustomed to signalise their principles
by opposition to the Court, do not yet consider, that they have at last
a King who knows not the name of party, and who wishes to be the common
father of all his people.'
To this pamphlet, which was at once discovered to be Johnson's, several
answers came out, in which, care was taken to remind the publick of his
former attacks upon government, and of his now being a pensioner,
without allowing for the honourable terms upon which Johnson's pension
was granted and accepted, or the change of system which the British
court had undergone upon the accession of his present Majesty. He
was, however, soothed in the highest strain of panegyrick, in a poem
called _The Remonstrance_, by the Rev. Mr. Stockdale, to whom he was,
upon many occasions, a kind protector.
The following admirable minute made by him describes so well his own
state, and that of numbers to whom self-examination is habitual, that I
cannot omit it:--
'June 1, 1770. Every man naturally persuades himself that he can keep
his resolutions, nor is he convinced of his imbecility but by length of
time and frequency of experiment. This opinion of our own constancy
is so prevalent, that we always despise him who suffers his general and
settled purpose to be overpowered by an occasional desire. They,
therefore, whom frequent failures have made desperate, cease to form
resolutions; and they who are become cunning, do not tell them. Those
who do not make them are very few, but of their effect little is
perceived; for scarcely any man persists in a course of life planned by
choice, but as he is restrained from deviation by some external power.
He who may live as he will, seldom lives long in the observation of his
Of this year I have obtained the following letters:--
'To THE REVEREND DR. FARMER, CAMBRIDGE.
'As no man ought to keep wholly to himself any possession that may be
useful to the publick, I hope you will not think me unreasonably
intrusive, if I have recourse to you for such information as you are
more able to give me than any other man.
'In support of an opinion which you have already placed above the need
of any more support, Mr. Steevens, a very ingenious gentleman, lately of
King's College, has collected an account of all the translations which
Shakspeare might have seen and used. He wishes his catalogue to be
perfect, and therefore intreats that you will favour him by the
insertion of such additions as the accuracy of your inquiries has
enabled you to make. To this request, I take the liberty of adding my
'We have no immediate use for this catalogue, and therefore do not
desire that it should interrupt or hinder your more important
employments. But it will be kind to let us know that you receive it.
'I am, Sir, &c.
March 21, 1770.'
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'The readiness with which you were pleased to promise me some notes on
Shakspeare, was a new instance of your friendship. I shall not hurry
you; but am desired by Mr. Steevens, who helps me in this edition, to
let you know, that we shall print the tragedies first, and shall
therefore want first the notes which belong to them. We think not to
incommode the readers with a supplement; and therefore, what we cannot
put into its proper place, will do us no good. We shall not begin to
print before the end of six weeks, perhaps not so soon.
'I am, &c.
'London, June 23, 1770.'
'To THE REV. DR. JOSEPH WARTON.
'I am revising my edition of _Shakspeare_, and remember that I formerly
misrepresented your opinion of Lear. Be pleased to write the paragraph
as you would have it, and send it. If you have any remarks of your
own upon that or any other play, I shall gladly receive them.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Warton. I sometimes think of wandering for
a few days to Winchester, but am apt to delay. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'Sept. 27, 1770.'
'To MR. FRANCIS BARBER, AT MRS. CLAPP'S, BISHOP-STORTFORD,
'I am at last sat down to write to you, and should very much blame
myself for having neglected you so long, if I did not impute that and
many other failings to want of health. I hope not to be so long
silent again. I am very well satisfied with your progress, if you can
really perform the exercises which you are set; and I hope Mr. Ellis
does not suffer you to impose on him, or on yourself.
'Make my compliments to Mr. Ellis, and to Mrs. Clapp, and Mr. Smith.
'Let me know what English books you read for your entertainment. You can
never be wise unless you love reading.
'Do not imagine that I shall forget or forsake you; for if, when I
examine you, I find that you have not lost your time, you shall want no
'London, Sept. 25, 1770.'
'TO THE SAME.
'I hope you mind your business. I design you shall stay with Mrs. Clapp
these holidays. If you are invited out you may go, if Mr. Ellis gives
leave. I have ordered you some clothes, which you will receive, I
believe, next week. My compliments to Mrs. Clapp and to Mr. Ellis, and
Mr. Smith, &c.
'December 7, 1770.'
During this year there was a total cessation of all correspondence
between Dr. Johnson and me, without any coldness on either side, but
merely from procrastination, continued from day to day; and as I was not
in London, I had no opportunity of enjoying his company and recording
his conversation. To supply this blank, I shall present my readers with
some _Collectanea_, obligingly furnished to me by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell,
of Falkland, in Ireland, some time assistant preacher at the Temple, and
for many years the social friend of Johnson, who spoke of him with a
very kind regard.
'My acquaintance with that great and venerable character commenced in
the year 1754. I was introduced to him by Mr. Grierson, his Majesty's
printer at Dublin, a gentleman of uncommon learning, and great wit and
vivacity. Mr. Grierson died in Germany, at the age of twenty-seven. Dr.
Johnson highly respected his abilities, and often observed, that he
possessed more extensive knowledge than any man of his years he had ever
known. His industry was equal to his talents; and he particularly
excelled in every species of philological learning, and was, perhaps,
the best critick of the age he lived in.
'I must always remember with gratitude my obligation to Mr. Grierson,
for the honour and happiness of Dr. Johnson's acquaintance and
friendship, which continued uninterrupted and undiminished to his death:
a connection, that was at once the pride and happiness of my life.
'What pity it is, that so much wit and good sense as he continually
exhibited in conversation, should perish unrecorded! Few persons quitted
his company without perceiving themselves wiser and better than they
were before. On serious subjects he flashed the most interesting
conviction upon his auditors; and upon lighter topicks, you might have
supposed--_Albano musas de monte locutas_.
'Though I can hope to add but little to the celebrity of so exalted a
character, by any communications I can furnish, yet out of pure respect
to his memory, I will venture to transmit to you some anecdotes
concerning him, which fell under my own observation. The very
_minutiae_. of such a character must be interesting, and may be compared
to the filings of diamonds.
'In politicks he was deemed a Tory, but certainly was not so in the
obnoxious or party sense of the term; for while he asserted the legal
and salutary prerogatives of the crown, he no less respected the
constitutional liberties of the people. Whiggism, at the time of the
Revolution, he said, was accompanied with certain principles; but
latterly, as a mere party distinction under Walpole and the Pelhams
was no better than the politicks of stock-jobbers, and the religion of
'He detested the idea of governing by parliamentary corruption, and
asserted most strenuously, that a prince steadily and conspicuously
pursuing the interests of his people, could not fail of parliamentary
concurrence. A prince of ability, he contended, might and should be the
directing soul and spirit of his own administration; in short, his own
minister, and not the mere head of a party: and then, and not till then,
would the royal dignity be sincerely respected.
'Johnson seemed to think, that a certain degree of crown influence over
the Houses of Parliament, (not meaning a corrupt and shameful
dependence,) was very salutary, nay, even necessary, in our mixed
government. "For, (said he,) if the members were under no crown
influence, and disqualified from receiving any gratification from Court,
and resembled, as they possibly might, Pym and Haslerig, and other
stubborn and sturdy members of the long Parliament, the wheels of
government would be totally obstructed. Such men would oppose, merely to
shew their power, from envy, jealousy, and perversity of disposition;
and not gaining themselves, would hate and oppose all who did: not
loving the person of the prince, and conceiving they owed him little
gratitude, from the mere spirit of insolence and contradiction, they
would oppose and thwart him upon all occasions."
'The inseparable imperfection annexed to all human governments
consisted, he said, in not being able to create a sufficient fund of
virtue and principle to carry the laws into due and effectual execution.
Wisdom might plan, but virtue alone could execute. And where could
sufficient virtue be found? A variety of delegated, and often
discretionary, powers must be entrusted somewhere; which, if not
governed by integrity and conscience, would necessarily be abused, till
at last the constable would sell his for a shilling.
'This excellent person was sometimes charged with abetting slavish and
arbitrary principles of government. Nothing in my opinion could be a
grosser calumny and misrepresentation; for how can it be rationally
supposed, that he should adopt such pernicious and absurd opinions, who
supported his philosophical character with so much dignity, was
extremely jealous of his personal liberty and independence, and could
not brook the smallest appearance of neglect or insult, even from the
'But let us view him in some instances of more familiar life.
'His general mode of life, during my acquaintance, seemed to be pretty
uniform. About twelve o'clock I commonly visited him, and frequently
found him in bed, or declaiming over his tea, which he drank very
plentifully. He generally had a levee of morning visitors, chiefly men
of letters; Hawkesworth, Goldsmith, Murphy, Langton, Steevens,
Beauclerk, &c. &c., and sometimes learned ladies, particularly I
remember a French lady of wit and fashion doing him the honour of a
visit. He seemed to me to be considered as a kind of publick oracle,
whom every body thought they had a right to visit and consult; and
doubtless they were well rewarded. I never could discover how he found
time for his compositions. He declaimed all the morning, then went to
dinner at a tavern, where he commonly staid late, and then drank his tea
at some friend's house, over which he loitered a great while, but seldom
took supper. I fancy he must have read and wrote chiefly in the night,
for I can scarcely recollect that he ever refused going with me to a
tavern, and he often went to Ranelagh, which he deemed a place of
'He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who
watched him, between his house and the tavern where he dined. He
walked the streets at all hours, and said he was never robbed, for
the rogues knew he had little money, nor had the appearance of having
'Though the most accessible and communicative man alive; yet when he
suspected he was invited to be exhibited, he constantly spurned the
'Two young women from Staffordshire visited him when I was present, to
consult him on the subject of Methodism, to which they were inclined.
"Come, (said he,) you pretty fools, dine with Maxwell and me at the
Mitre, and we will talk over that subject;" which they did, and after
dinner he took one of them upon his knee, and fondled her for half an
'Upon a visit to me at a country lodging near Twickenham, he asked what
sort of society I had there. I told him, but indifferent; as they
chiefly consisted of opulent traders, retired from business. He said, he
never much liked that class of people; "For, Sir (said he,) they have
lost the civility of tradesmen, without acquiring the manners of
'Johnson was much attached to London: he observed, that a man stored his
mind better there, than any where else; and that in remote situations a
man's body might be feasted, but his mind was starved, and his faculties
apt to degenerate, from want of exercise and competition. No place, (he
said,) cured a man's vanity or arrogance so well as London; for as no
man was either great or good _per se_, but as compared with others not
so good or great, he was sure to find in the metropolis many his equals,
and some his superiours. He observed, that a man in London was in less
danger of falling in love indiscreetly, than any where else; for there
the difficulty of deciding between the conflicting pretensions of a vast
variety of objects, kept him safe. He told me, that he had frequently
been offered country preferment, if he would consent to take orders;
but he could not leave the improved society of the capital, or consent
to exchange the exhilarating joys and splendid decorations of publick
life, for the obscurity, insipidity, and uniformity of remote
'Speaking of Mr. Harte, Canon of Windsor, and writer of _The History
of Gustavus Adolphus_, he much commended him as a scholar, and a man of
the most companionable talents he had ever known. He said, the defects
in his history proceeded not from imbecility, but from foppery.
'He loved, he said, the old black letter books; they were rich in
matter, though their style was inelegant; wonderfully so, considering
how conversant the writers were with the best models of antiquity.
'Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_, he said, was the only book that ever
took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.
'He frequently exhorted me to set about writing a History of Ireland,
and archly remarked, there had been some good Irish writers, and that
one Irishman might at least aspire to be equal to another. He had great
compassion for the miseries and distresses of the Irish nation,
particularly the Papists; and severely reprobated the barbarous
debilitating policy of the British government, which, he said, was the
most detestable mode of persecution. To a gentleman, who hinted such
policy might be necessary to support the authority of the English
government, he replied by saying, "Let the authority of the English
government perish, rather than be maintained by iniquity. Better would
it be to restrain the turbulence of the natives by the authority of the
sword, and to make them amenable to law and justice by an effectual and
vigorous police, than to grind them to powder by all manner of
disabilities and incapacities. Better (said he,) to hang or drown people
at once, than by an unrelenting persecution to beggar and starve
them." The moderation and humanity of the present times have, in some
measure, justified the wisdom of his observations.
'Dr. Johnson was often accused of prejudices, nay, antipathy, with
regard to the natives of Scotland. Surely, so illiberal a prejudice
never entered his mind: and it is well known, many natives of that
respectable country possessed a large share in his esteem; nor were any
of them ever excluded from his good offices, as far as opportunity
permitted. True it is, he considered the Scotch, nationally, as a
crafty, designing people, eagerly attentive to their own interest, and
too apt to overlook the claims and pretentions of other people. "While
they confine their benevolence, in a manner, exclusively to those of
their own country, they expect to share in the good offices of other
people. Now (said Johnson,) this principle is either right or wrong; if
right, we should do well to imitate such conduct; if wrong, we cannot
too much detest it."
'Being solicited to compose a funeral sermon for the daughter of a
tradesman, he naturally enquired into the character of the deceased; and
being told she was remarkable for her humility and condescension to
inferiours, he observed, that those were very laudable qualities, but it
might not be so easy to discover who the lady's inferiours were.
'Of a certain player he remarked, that his conversation usually
threatened and announced more than it performed; that he fed you with a
continual renovation of hope, to end in a constant succession of
'When exasperated by contradiction, he was apt to treat his opponents
with too much acrimony: as, "Sir, you don't see your way through that
question:"--"Sir, you talk the language of ignorance." On my observing
to him that a certain gentleman had remained silent the whole evening,
in the midst of a very brilliant and learned society, "Sir, (said he,)
the conversation overflowed, and drowned him."
'His philosophy, though austere and solemn, was by no means morose and
cynical, and never blunted the laudable sensibilities of his character,
or exempted him from the influence of the tender passions. Want of
tenderness, he always alledged, was want of parts, and was no less a
proof of stupidity than depravity.
'Speaking of Mr. Hanway, who published _An Eight Days' Journey from
London to Portsmouth_, "Jonas, (said he,) acquired some reputation by
travelling abroad, but lost it all by travelling at home."
'Of the passion of love he remarked, that its violence and ill effects
were much exaggerated; for who knows any real sufferings on that head,
more than from the exorbitancy of any other passion?
'He much commended _Law's Serious Call_, which he said was the finest
piece of hortatory theology in any language. "Law, (said he,) fell
latterly into the reveries of Jacob Behmen, whom Law alledged to have
been somewhat in the same state with St. Paul, and to have seen
_unutterable things--he would have resembled St. Paul still more, by
not attempting to utter them."
'He observed, that the established clergy in general did not preach
plain enough; and that polished periods and glittering sentences flew
over the heads of the common people, without any impression upon their
hearts. Something might be necessary, he observed, to excite the
affections of the common people, who were sunk in languor and lethargy,
and therefore he supposed that the new concomitants of methodism might
probably produce so desirable an effect. The mind, like the body, he
observed, delighted in change and novelty, and even in religion itself,
courted new appearances and modifications. Whatever might be thought of
some methodist teachers, he said, he could scarcely doubt the sincerity
of that man, who travelled nine hundred miles in a month, and preached
twelve times a week; for no adequate reward, merely temporal, could be
given for such indefatigable labour.
'Of Dr. Priestley's theological works, he remarked, that they tended to
unsettle every thing, and yet settled nothing.
'He was much affected by the death of his mother, and wrote to me to
come and assist him to compose his mind, which indeed I found extremely
agitated. He lamented that all serious and religious conversation was
banished from the society of men, and yet great advantages might be
derived from it. All acknowledged, he said, what hardly any body
practised, the obligation we were under of making the concerns of
eternity the governing principles of our lives. Every man, he observed,
at last wishes for retreat: he sees his expectations frustrated in the
world, and begins to wean himself from it, and to prepare for
'He observed, that the influence of London now extended every where, and
that from all manner of communication being opened, there shortly would
be no remains of the ancient simplicity, or places of cheap retreat to
'He was no admirer of blank-verse, and said it always failed, unless
sustained by the dignity of the subject. In blank-verse, he said, the
language suffered more distortion, to keep it out of prose, than any
inconvenience or limitation to be apprehended from the shackles and
circumspection of rhyme.
'He reproved me once for saying grace without mention of the name of our
LORD JESUS CHRIST, and hoped in future I would be more mindful of the
'He refused to go out of a room before me at Mr. Langton's house,
saying, he hoped he knew his rank better than to presume to take place
of a Doctor in Divinity. I mention such little anecdotes, merely to shew
the peculiar turn and habit of his mind.
'He used frequently to observe, that there was more to be endured than
enjoyed, in the general condition of human life; and frequently quoted
those lines of Dryden:
"Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
Yet all hope pleasure from what still remain."
For his part, he said, he never passed that week in his life which he
would wish to repeat, were an angel to make the proposal to him.
'He was of opinion, that the English nation cultivated both their soil
and their reason better than any other people: but admitted that the
French, though not the highest, perhaps, in any department of
literature, yet in every department were very high. Intellectual
pre-eminence, he observed, was the highest superiority; and that every
nation derived their highest reputation from the splendour and dignity
of their writers. Voltaire, he said, was a good narrator, and that
his principal merit consisted in a happy selection and arrangement of
'Speaking of the French novels, compared with Richardson's, he said,
they might be pretty baubles, but a wren was not an eagle.
'In a Latin conversation with the Pere Boscovitch, at the house of Mrs.
Cholmondeley, I heard him maintain the superiority of Sir Isaac Newton
over all foreign philosophers, with a dignity and eloquence that
surprized that learned foreigner. It being observed to him, that a
rage for every thing English prevailed much in France after Lord
Chatham's glorious war, he said, he did not wonder at it, for that we
had drubbed those fellows into a proper reverence for us, and that their
national petulance required periodical chastisement.
'Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues, he deemed a nugatory performance. "That
man, (said he,) sat down to write a book, to tell the world what the
world had all his life been telling him."
'Somebody observing that the Scotch Highlanders, in the year 1745, had
made surprising efforts, considering their numerous wants and
disadvantages: "Yes, Sir, (said he,) their wants were numerous; but you
have not mentioned the greatest of them all,--the want of law."
'Speaking of the _inward light_, to which some methodists pretended, he
said, it was a principle utterly incompatible with social or civil
security. "If a man (said he,) pretends to a principle of action of
which I can know nothing, nay, not so much as that he has it, but only
that he pretends to it; how can I tell what that person may be prompted
to do? When a person professes to be governed by a written ascertained
law, I can then know where to find him."
'The poem of _Fingal_, he said, was a mere unconnected rhapsody, a
tiresome repetition of the same images. "In vain shall we look for the
_lucidus ordo_', where there is neither end or object, design or
moral, _nec certa recurrit imago_."
'Being asked by a young nobleman, what was become of the gallantry and
military spirit of the old English nobility, he replied, "Why, my Lord,
I'll tell you what is become of it; it is gone into the city to look for
'Speaking of a dull tiresome fellow, whom he chanced to meet, he said,
"That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong
'Much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman, who had quitted a
company where Johnson was, and no information being obtained; at last
Johnson observed, that "he did not care to speak ill of any man behind
his back, but he believed the gentleman was an _attorney_."
'He spoke with much contempt of the notice taken of Woodhouse, the
poetical shoemaker. He said, it was all vanity and childishness: and
that such objects were, to those who patronised them, mere mirrours of
their own superiority. "They had better (said he,) furnish the man with
good implements for his trade, than raise subscriptions for his poems.
He may make an excellent shoemaker, but can never make a good poet. A
school-boy's exercise may be a pretty thing for a school-boy; but it is
no treat for a man."
'Speaking of Boetius, who was the favourite writer of the middle
ages, he said it was very surprizing, that upon such a subject, and
in such a situation, he should be _magis philosophius quam Christianus_.
'Speaking of Arthur Murphy, whom he very much loved, "I don't know (said
he,) that Arthur can be classed with the very first dramatick writers;
yet at present I doubt much whether we have any thing superiour to
'Speaking of the national debt, he said, it was an idle dream to suppose
that the country could sink under it. Let the public creditors be ever
so clamorous, the interest of millions must ever prevail over that of
'Of Dr. Kennicott's Collations, he observed, that though the text should
not be much mended thereby, yet it was no small advantage to know, that
we had as good a text as the most consummate industry and diligence
'Johnson observed, that so many objections might be made to every thing,
that nothing could overcome them but the necessity of doing something.
No man would be of any profession, as simply opposed to not being of it:
but every one must do something.
'He remarked, that a London parish was a very comfortless thing; for the
clergyman seldom knew the face of one out of ten of his parishioners.
'Of the late Mr. Mallet he spoke with no great respect: said, he was
ready for any dirty job: that he had wrote against Byng at the
instigation of the ministry, and was equally ready to write for him,
provided he found his account in it.
'A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately
after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over
'He observed, that a man of sense and education should meet a suitable
companion in a wife. It was a miserable thing when the conversation
could only be such as, whether the mutton should be boiled or roasted,
and probably a dispute about that.
'He did not approve of late marriages, observing that more was lost in
point of time, than compensated for by any possible advantages. Even
ill assorted marriages were preferable to cheerless celibacy.
'Of old Sheridan he remarked, that he neither wanted parts nor
literature; but that his vanity and Quixotism obscured his merits.
'He said, foppery was never cured; it was the bad stamina of the mind,
which, like those of the body, were never rectified: once a coxcomb, and
always a coxcomb.
'Being told that Gilbert Cowper called him the Caliban of literature;
"Well, (said he,) I must dub him the Punchinello."
'Speaking of the old Earl of Corke and Orrery, he said, "that man spent
his life in catching at an object, [literary eminence,] which he had not
power to grasp."
'To find a substitution for violated morality, he said, was the leading
feature in all perversions of religion.'
'He often used to quote, with great pathos, those fine lines of Virgil:
'Optima quaeque dies miseris mortalibus aevi
Prima fugit; subeunt morbi, tristisque senectus,
Et labor, et durae rapit inclementia mortis.'
'Speaking of Homer, whom he venerated as the prince of poets, Johnson
remarked that the advice given to Diomed by his father, when he sent
him to the Trojan war, was the noblest exhortation that could be
instanced in any heathen writer, and comprised in a single line:
[Greek: Aien aristeuein, kai hupeirochon emmenai allon ]
which, if I recollect well, is translated by Dr. Clarke thus: _semper
appetere praestantissima, et omnibus aliis antecellere_.
'He observed, "it was a most mortifying reflexion for any man to
consider, _what he had done_, compared with what _he might have done_."
'He said few people had intellectual resources sufficient to forego the
pleasures of wine. They could not otherwise contrive how to fill the
interval between dinner and supper.
'He went with me, one Sunday, to hear my old Master, Gregory Sharpe,
preach at the Temple. In the prefatory prayer, Sharpe ranted about
_Liberty_, as a blessing most fervently to be implored, and its
continuance prayed for. Johnson observed, that our _liberty_ was in no
sort of danger:--he would have done much better, to pray against our
'One evening at Mrs. Montagu's, where a splendid company was assembled,
consisting of the most eminent literary characters, I thought he seemed
highly pleased with the respect and attention that were shewn him, and
asked him on our return home if he was not highly _gratified_ by his
visit: "No, Sir, (said he) not highly _gratified_; yet I do not
recollect to have passed many evenings _with fewer objections_."
'Though of no high extraction himself, he had much respect for birth and
family, especially among ladies. He said, "adventitious accomplishments
may be possessed by all ranks; but one may easily distinguish the _born
'He said, "the poor in England were better provided for, than in any
other country of the same extent: he did not mean little Cantons, or
petty Republicks. Where a great proportion of the people (said he,) are
suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill
policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is
the true test of civilization.--Gentlemen of education, he observed,
were pretty much the same in all countries; the condition of the lower
orders, the poor especially, was the true mark of national
'When the corn laws were in agitation in Ireland, by which that country
has been enabled not only to feed itself, but to export corn to a large
amount; Sir Thomas Robinson observed, that those laws might be
prejudicial to the corn-trade of England. "Sir Thomas, (said he,) you
talk the language of a savage: what, Sir? would you prevent any people
from feeding themselves, if by any honest means they can do it."
'It being mentioned, that Garrick assisted Dr. Brown, the authour of the
_Estimate_, in some dramatick composition, "No, Sir, (said Johnson,)
he would no more suffer Garrick to write a line in his play, than he
would suffer him to mount his pulpit."
'Speaking of Burke, he said, "It was commonly observed, he spoke too
often in parliament; but nobody could say he did not speak well, though
too frequently and too familiarly."
'Speaking of economy, he remarked, it was hardly worth while to save
anxiously twenty pounds a year. If a man could save to that degree, so
as to enable him to assume a different rank in society, then indeed, it
might answer some purpose.
'He observed, a principal source of erroneous judgement was, viewing
things partially and only on _one side_: as for instance,
_fortune-hunters_, when they contemplated the fortunes _singly_ and
_separately_, it was a dazzling and tempting object; but when they came
to possess the wives and their fortunes _together_, they began to
suspect that they had not made quite so good a bargain.
'Speaking of the late Duke of Northumberland living very magnificently
when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, somebody remarked it would be difficult
to find a suitable successor to him: then exclaimed Johnson, _he is only
fit to succeed himself_.
'He advised me, if possible, to have a good orchard. He knew, he said, a
clergyman of small income, who brought up a family very reputably which
he chiefly fed with apple dumplings.
'He said, he had known several good scholars among the Irish gentlemen;
but scarcely any of them correct in _quantity_. He extended the same
observation to Scotland.
'Speaking of a certain Prelate, who exerted himself very laudably in
building churches and parsonage-houses; "however, said he, I do not find
that he is esteemed a man of much professional learning, or a liberal
patron of it;--yet, it is well, where a man possesses any strong
positive excellence.--Few have all kinds of merit belonging to their
character. We must not examine matters too deeply--No, Sir, a _fallible
being will fail somewhere_."
'Talking of the Irish clergy, he said, Swift was a man of great parts,
and the instrument of much good to his country.--Berkeley was a
profound scholar, as well as a man of fine imagination; but Usher, he
said, was the great luminary of the Irish church; and a greater, he
added, no church could boast of; at least in modern times.
'We dined _tete a tete_ at the Mitre, as I was preparing to return to
Ireland, after an absence of many years. I regretted much leaving
London, where I had formed many agreeable connexions: "Sir, (said he,) I
don't wonder at it; no man, fond of letters, leaves London without
regret. But remember, Sir, you have seen and enjoyed a great deal;--you
have seen life in its highest decorations, and the world has nothing new
to exhibit. No man is so well qualifyed to leave publick life as he who
has long tried it and known it well. We are always hankering after
untried situations, and imagining greater felicity from them than they
can afford. No, Sir, knowledge and virtue may be acquired in all
countries, and your local consequence will make you some amends for the
intellectual gratifications you relinquish." Then he quoted the
following lines with great pathos:--
"He who has early known the pomps of state,
(For things unknown, 'tis ignorance to condemn;)
And after having viewed the gaudy bait,
Can boldly say, the trifle I contemn;
With such a one contented could I live,
Contented could I die;"--
'He then took a most affecting leave of me; said, he knew, it was a
point of _duty_ that called me away. "We shall all be sorry to lose
you," said he: "_laudo tamen_."'
1771: AETAT. 62.--In 1771 he published another political pamphlet,
entitled _Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's
Islands_, in which, upon materials furnished to him by ministry, and
upon general topicks expanded in his richest style, he successfully
endeavoured to persuade the nation that it was wise and laudable to
suffer the question of right to remain undecided, rather than involve
our country in another war. It has been suggested by some, with what
truth I shall not take upon me to decide, that he rated the consequence
of those islands to Great-Britain too low. But however this may be,
every humane mind must surely applaud the earnestness with which he
averted the calamity of war; a calamity so dreadful, that it is
astonishing how civilised, nay, Christian nations, can deliberately
continue to renew it. His description of its miseries in this pamphlet,
is one of the finest pieces of eloquence in the English language.
Upon this occasion, too, we find Johnson lashing the party in opposition
with unbounded severity, and making the fullest use of what he ever
reckoned a most effectual argumentative instrument,--contempt. His
character of their very able mysterious champion, JUNIUS, is executed
with all the force of his genius, and finished with the highest care. He
seems to have exulted in sallying forth to single combat against the
boasted and formidable hero, who bade defiance to 'principalities and
powers, and the rulers of this world.'
This pamphlet, it is observable, was softened in one particular, after
the first edition; for the conclusion of Mr. George Grenville's
character stood thus: 'Let him not, however, be depreciated in his
grave. He had powers not universally possessed: could he have enforced
payment of the Manilla ransom, _he could have counted it_.' Which,
instead of retaining its sly sharp point, was reduced to a mere flat
unmeaning expression, or, if I may use the word,--_truism_: 'He had
powers not universally possessed: and if he sometimes erred, he was
likewise sometimes right.'
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
'After much lingering of my own, and much of the ministry, I have at
length got out my paper. But delay is not yet at an end: Not many had
been dispersed, before Lord North ordered the sale to stop. His reasons
I do not distinctly know. You may try to find them in the perusal.
Before his order, a sufficient number were dispersed to do all the
mischief, though, perhaps, not to make all the sport that might be
expected from it.
'Soon after your departure, I had the pleasure of finding all the danger
past with which your navigation was threatened. I hope nothing
happens at home to abate your satisfaction; but that Lady Rothes, and
Mrs. Langton, and the young ladies, are all well.
'I was last night at THE CLUB. Dr. Percy has written a long ballad in
many _fits_; it is pretty enough. He has printed, and will soon publish
it. Goldsmith is at Bath, with Lord Clare. At Mr. Thrale's, where I
am now writing, all are well. I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'March 20, 1771.'
Mr. Strahan, the printer, who had been long in intimacy with Johnson,
in the course of his literary labours, who was at once his friendly
agent in receiving his pension for him, and his banker in supplying
him with money when he wanted it; who was himself now a Member of
Parliament, and who loved much to be employed in political
negociation; thought he should do eminent service both to government
and Johnson, if he could be the means of his getting a seat in the House
of Commons. With this view, he wrote a letter to one of the
Secretaries of the Treasury, of which he gave me a copy in his own
hand-writing, which is as follows:--
'You will easily recollect, when I had the honour of waiting upon you
some time ago, I took the liberty to observe to you, that Dr. Johnson
would make an excellent figure in the House of Commons, and heartily
wished he had a seat there. My reasons are briefly these:
'I know his perfect good affection to his Majesty, and his government,
which I am certain he wishes to support by every means in his power.
'He possesses a great share of manly, nervous, and ready eloquence; is
quick in discerning the strength and weakness of an argument; can
express himself with clearness and precision, and fears the face of no
'His known character, as a man of extraordinary sense and unimpeached
virtue, would secure him the attention of the House, and could not fail
to give him a proper weight there.
'He is capable of the greatest application, and can undergo any degree
of labour, where he sees it necessary, and where his heart and
affections are strongly engaged. His Majesty's ministers might therefore
securely depend on his doing, upon every proper occasion, the utmost
that could be expected from him. They would find him ready to vindicate
such measures as tended to promote the stability of government, and
resolute and steady in carrying them into execution. Nor is any thing to
be apprehended from the supposed impetuosity of his temper. To the
friends of the King you will find him a lamb, to his enemies a lion.
'For these reasons, I humbly apprehend that he would be a very able and
useful member. And I will venture to say, the employment would not be
disagreeable to him; and knowing, as I do, his strong affection to the
King, his ability to serve him in that capacity, and the extreme ardour
with which I am convinced he would engage in that service, I must
repeat, that I wish most heartily to see him in the House.
'If you think this worthy of attention, you will be pleased to take a
convenient opportunity of mentioning it to Lord North. If his Lordship
should happily approve of it, I shall have the satisfaction of having
been, in some degree, the humble instrument of doing my country, in my
opinion, a very essential service. I know your good-nature, and your
zeal for the publick welfare, will plead my excuse for giving you this
trouble. I am, with the greatest respect, Sir,
'Your most obedient and humble servant,
March 30, 1771.'
This recommendation, we know, was not effectual; but how, or for what
reason, can only be conjectured. It is not to be believed that Mr.
Strahan would have applied, unless Johnson had approved of it. I never
heard him mention the subject; but at a later period of his life, when
Sir Joshua Reynolds told him that Mr. Edmund Burke had said, that if he
had come early into parliament, he certainly would have been the
greatest speaker that ever was there, Johnson exclaimed, 'I should like
to try my hand now.'
It has been much agitated among his friends and others, whether he would
have been a powerful speaker in Parliament, had he been brought in when
advanced in life. I am inclined to think that his extensive knowledge,
his quickness and force of mind, his vivacity and richness of
expression, his wit and humour, and above all his poignancy of sarcasm,
would have had great effect in a popular assembly; and that the
magnitude of his figure, and striking peculiarity of his manner, would
have aided the effect. But I remember it was observed by Mr. Flood, that
Johnson, having been long used to sententious brevity and the short
flights of conversation, might have failed in that continued and
expanded kind of argument, which is requisite in stating complicated
matters in publick speaking; and as a proof of this he mentioned the
supposed speeches in Parliament written by him for the magazine, none of
which, in his opinion, were at all like real debates. The opinion of one
who was himself so eminent an orator, must be allowed to have great
weight. It was confirmed by Sir William Scott, who mentioned that
Johnson had told him that he had several times tried to speak in the
Society of Arts and Sciences, but 'had found he could not get on.' From
Mr. William Gerrard Hamilton I have heard that Johnson, when observing
to him that it was prudent for a man who had not been accustomed to
speak in publick, to begin his speech in as simple a manner as possible,
acknowledged that he rose in that society to deliver a speech which he
had prepared; 'but (said he), all my flowers of oratory forsook me.' I
however cannot help wishing, that he _had_ 'tried his hand' in
Parliament; and I wonder that ministry did not make the experiment.
I at length renewed a correspondence which had been too long
'To DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, April 18, 1771.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'I can now fully understand those intervals of silence in your
correspondence with me, which have often given me anxiety and
uneasiness; for although I am conscious that my veneration and love for
Mr. Johnson have never in the least abated, yet I have deferred for
almost a year and a half to write to him.'
In the subsequent part of this letter, I gave him an account of my
comfortable life as a married man, and a lawyer in practice at the
Scotch bar; invited him to Scotland, and promised to attend him to the
Highlands, and Hebrides.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'If you are now able to comprehend that I might neglect to write without
diminution of affection, you have taught me, likewise, how that neglect
may be uneasily felt without resentment. I wished for your letter a long
time, and when it came, it amply recompensed the delay. I never was so
much pleased as now with your account of yourself; and sincerely hope,
that between publick business, improving studies, and domestick
pleasures, neither melancholy nor caprice will find any place for
entrance. Whatever philosophy may determine of material nature, it is
certainly true of intellectual nature, that it _abhors a vacuum_: our
minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them, if they are not
pre-occupied by good. My dear Sir, mind your studies, mind your
business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian. After this,
'tristitiam et metus
Trades protervis in mare Creticum
'If we perform our duty, we shall be safe and steady, "_Sive per_,"
&c., whether we climb the Highlands, or are tost among the Hebrides; and
I hope the time will come when we may try our powers both with cliffs
and water. I see but little of Lord Elibank, I know not why; perhaps
by my own fault. I am this day going into Staffordshire and Derbyshire
for six weeks.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate,
'And most humble servant,
'London, June 20, 1771.'
'To SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS, IN LEICESTER-FIELDS.
'When I came to Lichfield, I found that my portrait had been much
visited, and much admired. Every man has a lurking wish to appear
considerable in his native place; and I was pleased with the dignity
conferred by such a testimony of your regard.
'Be pleased, therefore, to accept the thanks of, Sir, your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
'Ashbourn in Derbyshire,
July 17, 1771.
'Compliments to Miss Reynolds,'
'To DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, July 27, 1771.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'The bearer of this, Mr. Beattie, Professor of Moral Philosophy at
Aberdeen, is desirous of being introduced to your acquaintance.
'His genius and learning, and labours in the service of virtue and
religion, render him very worthy of it; and as he has a high esteem of
your character, I hope you will give him a favourable reception. I ever
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'I am lately returned from Staffordshire and Derbyshire. The last letter
mentions two others which you have written to me since you received my
pamphlet. Of these two I never had but one, in which you mentioned a
design of visiting Scotland, and, by consequence, put my journey to
Langton out of my thoughts. My summer wanderings are now over, and I am
engaging in a very great work, the revision of my Dictionary; from
which I know not, at present, how to get loose.
'If you have observed, or been told, any errours or omissions, you will
do me a great favour by letting me know them.
'Lady Rothes, I find, has disappointed you and herself. Ladies will have
these tricks. The Queen and Mrs. Thrale, both ladies of experience, yet
both missed their reckoning this summer. I hope, a few months will
recompence your uneasiness.
'Please to tell Lady Rothes how highly I value the honour of her
invitation, which it is my purpose to obey as soon as I have disengaged
myself. In the mean time I shall hope to hear often of her Ladyship, and
every day better news and better, till I hear that you have both the
happiness, which to both is very sincerely wished, by, Sir,
'Your most affectionate, and
'Most humble servant,
'August 29, 1771.'
In October I again wrote to him, thanking him for his last letter, and
his obliging reception of Mr. Beattie; informing him that I had been at
Alnwick lately, and had good accounts of him from Dr. Percy.
In his religious record of this year, we observe that he was better than
usual, both in body and mind, and better satisfied with the regularity
of his conduct. But he is still 'trying his ways' too rigorously.
He charges himself with not rising early enough; yet he mentions what
was surely a sufficient excuse for this, supposing it to be a duty
seriously required, as he all his life appears to have thought it. 'One
great hindrance is want of rest; my nocturnal complaints grow less
troublesome towards morning; and I am tempted to repair the deficiencies
of the night.' Alas! how hard would it be if this indulgence were to
be imputed to a sick man as a crime. In his retrospect on the following
Easter-Eve, he says, 'When I review the last year, I am able to
recollect so little done, that shame and sorrow, though perhaps too
weakly, come upon me.' Had he been judging of any one else in the same
circumstances, how clear would he have been on the favourable side. How
very difficult, and in my opinion almost constitutionally impossible it
was for him to be raised early, even by the strongest resolutions,
appears from a note in one of his little paper-books, (containing words
arranged for his _Dictionary_,) written, I suppose, about 1753: 'I do
not remember that since I left Oxford I ever rose early by mere choice,
but once or twice at Edial, and two or three times for the _Rambler_.' I
think he had fair ground enough to have quieted his mind on this
subject, by concluding that he was physically incapable of what is at
best but a commodious regulation.
In 1772 he was altogether quiescent as an authour; but it will be
found from the various evidences which I shall bring together that his
mind was acute, lively, and vigorous.
'To SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
'Be pleased to send to Mr. Banks, whose place of residence I do not
know, this note, which I have sent open, that, if you please, you may
'When you send it, do not use your own seal.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'Feb. 27, 1772.'
'To JOSEPH BANKS, ESQ.
'Perpetua ambita his terra praemia lactis
Hac habet altrici Capra secunda Jovis.'
'I return thanks to you and to Dr. Solander for the pleasure which I
received in yesterday's conversation. I could not recollect a motto for
your Goat, but have given her one. You, Sir, may perhaps have an epick
poem from some happier pen than, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
February 27, 1772.'
'To DR. JOHNSON.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'It is hard that I cannot prevail on you to write to me oftener. But I
am convinced that it is in vain to expect from you a private
correspondence with any regularity. I must, therefore, look upon you as
a fountain of wisdom, from whence few rills are communicated to a
distance, and which must be approached at its source, to partake fully
of its virtues.
* * * * *
'I am coming to London soon, and am to appear in an appeal from the
Court of Session in the House of Lords. A schoolmaster in Scotland was,
by a court of inferiour jurisdiction, deprived of his office, for being
somewhat severe in the chastisement of his scholars. The Court of
Session, considering it to be dangerous to the interest of learning and
education, to lessen the dignity of teachers, and make them afraid of
too indulgent parents, instigated by the complaints of their children,
restored him. His enemies have appealed to the House of Lords, though
the salary is only twenty pounds a year. I was Counsel for him here. I
hope there will be little fear of a reversal; but I must beg to have
your aid in my plan of supporting the decree. It is a general question,
and not a point of particular law.
* * * * *
'I am, &c.,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'That you are coming so soon to town I am very glad; and still more glad
that you are coming as an advocate. I think nothing more likely to make
your life pass happily away, than that consciousness of your own value,
which eminence in your profession will certainly confer. If I can give
you any collateral help, I hope you do not suspect that it will be
wanting. My kindness for you has neither the merit of singular virtue,
nor the reproach of singular prejudice. Whether to love you be right or
wrong, I have many on my side: Mrs. Thrale loves you, and Mrs. Williams
loves you, and what would have inclined me to love you, if I had been
neutral before, you are a great favourite of Dr. Beattie.
'Of Dr. Beattie I should have thought much, but that his lady puts him
out of my head; she is a very lovely woman.
'The ejection which you come hither to oppose, appears very cruel,
unreasonable, and oppressive. I should think there could not be much
doubt of your success.
'My health grows better, yet I am not fully recovered. I believe it is
held, that men do not recover very fast after threescore. I hope yet to
see Beattie's College: and have not given up the western voyage. But
however all this may be or not, let us try to make each other happy when
we meet, and not refer our pleasure to distant times or distant places.
'How comes it that you tell me nothing of your lady? I hope to see her
some time, and till then shall be glad to hear of her.
'I am, dear Sir, &c.
'March 15, 1772.'
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'I congratulate you and Lady Rothes on your little man, and hope you
will all be many years happy together.
'Poor Miss Langton can have little part in the joy of her family. She
this day called her aunt Langton to receive the sacrament with her; and
made me talk yesterday on such subjects as suit her condition. It will
probably be her _viaticum_. I surely need not mention again that she
wishes to see her mother. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'March 14, 1772.'
On the 21st of March, I was happy to find myself again in my friend's
study, and was glad to see my old acquaintance, Mr. Francis Barber, who
was now returned home. Dr. Johnson received me with a hearty welcome;
saying, 'I am glad you are come, and glad you are come upon such an
errand:' (alluding to the cause of the schoolmaster.) BOSWELL. 'I hope,
Sir, he will be in no danger. It is a very delicate matter to interfere
between a master and his scholars: nor do I see how you can fix the
degree of severity that a master may use.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, till you
can fix the degree of obstinacy and negligence of the scholars, you
cannot fix the degree of severity of the master. Severity must be
continued until obstinacy be subdued, and negligence be cured.' He
mentioned the severity of Hunter, his own Master. 'Sir, (said I,)
Hunter is a Scotch name: so it should seem this schoolmaster who beat
you so severely was a Scotchman. I can now account for your prejudice
against the Scotch.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, he was not Scotch; and abating his
brutality, he was a very good master.'
We talked of his two political pamphlets, _The False Alarm_, and
_Thoughts concerning Falkland's Islands_. JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, which of
them did you think the best?' BOSWELL. 'I liked the second best.'