Part 3 out of 12
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I liked the first best; and Beattie liked the first
best. Sir, there is a subtlety of disquisition in the first, that is
worth all the fire of the second.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, is it true that
Lord North paid you a visit, and that you got two hundred a year in
addition to your pension?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. Except what I had from the
bookseller, I did not get a farthing by them. And, between you and
me, I believe Lord North is no friend to me.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you cannot account for the fancies of men. Well, how
does Lord Elibank? and how does Lord Monboddo?' BOSWELL. 'Very well,
Sir. Lord Monboddo still maintains the superiority of the savage
life.' JOHNSON. 'What strange narrowness of mind now is that, to
think the things we have not known, are better than the things which we
have known.' BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, that is a common prejudice.' JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir, but a common prejudice should not be found in one whose trade
it is to rectify errour.'
A gentleman having come in who was to go as a mate in the ship along
with Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander, Dr. Johnson asked what were the names
of the ships destined for the expedition. The gentleman answered, they
were once to be called the Drake and the Ralegh, but now they were to be
called the Resolution and the Adventure. JOHNSON. 'Much better; for
had the Ralegh returned without going round the world, it would have
been ridiculous. To give them the names of the Drake and the Ralegh was
laying a trap for satire.' BOSWELL. 'Had not you some desire to go upon
this expedition, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, but I soon laid it aside. Sir,
there is very little of intellectual, in the course. Besides, I see but
at a small distance. So it was not worth my while to go to see birds
fly, which I should not have seen fly; and fishes swim, which I should
not have seen swim.'
The gentleman being gone, and Dr. Johnson having left the room for some
time, a debate arose between the Reverend Mr. Stockdale and Mrs.
Desmoulins, whether Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander were entitled to any
share of glory from their expedition. When Dr. Johnson returned to us, I
told him the subject of their dispute. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it was
properly for botany that they went out: I believe they thought only of
culling of simples.'
I thanked him for showing civilities to Beattie. 'Sir, (said he,) I
should thank _you_. We all love Beattie. Mrs. Thrale says, if ever she
has another husband, she'll have Beattie. He sunk upon us that he was
married; else we should have shewn his lady more civilities. She is a
very fine woman. But how can you shew civilities to a non-entity? I did
not think he had been married. Nay, I did not think about it one way or
other; but he did not tell us of his lady till late.'
He then spoke of St. Kilda, the most remote of the Hebrides. I told
him, I thought of buying it. JOHNSON. 'Pray do, Sir. We will go and pass
a winter amid the blasts there. We shall have fine fish, and we will
take some dried tongues with us, and some books. We will have a strong
built vessel, and some Orkney men to navigate her. We must build a
tolerable house: but we may carry with us a wooden house ready made, and
requiring nothing but to be put up. Consider, Sir, by buying St. Kilda,
you may keep the people from falling into worse hands. We must give them
a clergyman, and he shall be one of Beattie's choosing. He shall be
educated at Marischal College. I'll be your Lord Chancellor, or what you
please.' BOSWELL. 'Are you serious, Sir, in advising me to buy St.
Kilda? for if you should advise me to go to Japan, I believe I should do
it.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir, I am serious.' BOSWELL. 'Why then, I'll see
what can be done.'
I gave him an account of the two parties in the Church of Scotland,
those for supporting the rights of patrons, independent of the people,
and those against it. JOHNSON. 'It should be settled one way or other. I
cannot wish well to a popular election of the clergy, when I consider
that it occasions such animosities, such unworthy courting of the
people, such slanders between the contending parties, and other
disadvantages. It is enough to allow the people to remonstrate against
the nomination of a minister for solid reasons.' (I suppose he meant
heresy or immorality.)
He was engaged to dine abroad, and asked me to return to him in the
evening, at nine, which I accordingly did.
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams, who told us a story of second sight,
which happened in Wales where she was born. He listened to it very
attentively, and said he should be glad to have some instances of that
faculty well authenticated. His elevated wish for more and more evidence
for spirit, in opposition to the groveling belief of materialism, led
him to a love of such mysterious disquisitions. He again justly
observed, that we could have no certainty of the truth of supernatural
appearances, unless something was told us which we could not know by
ordinary means, or something done which could not be done but by
supernatural power; that Pharaoh in reason and justice required such
evidence from Moses; nay, that our Saviour said, 'If I had not done
among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.'
He had said in the morning, that Macaulay's _History of St. Kilda_, was
very well written, except some foppery about liberty and slavery. I
mentioned to him that Macaulay told me, he was advised to leave out of
his book the wonderful story that upon the approach of a stranger all
the inhabitants catch cold; but that it had been so well
authenticated, he determined to retain it. JOHNSON. 'Sir, to leave
things out of a book, merely because people tell you they will not be
believed, is meanness. Macaulay acted with more magnanimity.'
We talked of the Roman Catholick religion, and how little difference
there was in essential matters between ours and it. JOHNSON. 'True, Sir;
all denominations of Christians have really little difference in point
of doctrine, though they may differ widely in external forms. There is a
prodigious difference between the external form of one of your
Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and a church in Italy; yet the
doctrine taught is essentially the same.'
I mentioned the petition to Parliament for removing the subscription to
the Thirty-nine Articles. JOHNSON. 'It was soon thrown out. Sir, they
talk of not making boys at the University subscribe to what they do not
understand; but they ought to consider, that our Universities were
founded to bring up members for the Church of England, and we must not
supply our enemies with arms from our arsenal. No, Sir, the meaning of
subscribing is, not that they fully understand all the articles, but
that they will adhere to the Church of England. Now take it in this
way, and suppose that they should only subscribe their adherence to the
Church of England, there would be still the same difficulty; for still
the young men would be subscribing to what they do not understand. For
if you should ask them, what do you mean by the Church of England? Do
you know in what it differs from the Presbyterian Church? from the
Romish Church? from the Greek Church? from the Coptick Church? they
could not tell you. So, Sir, it comes to the same thing.' BOSWELL. 'But,
would it not be sufficient to subscribe the Bible?' JOHNSON. 'Why no,
Sir; for all sects will subscribe the Bible; nay, the Mahometans will
subscribe the Bible; for the Mahometans acknowledge JESUS CHRIST, as
well as Moses, but maintain that GOD sent Mahomet as a still greater
prophet than either.'
I mentioned the motion which had been made in the House of Commons, to
abolish the fast of the 30th of January. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I could
have wished that it had been a temporary act, perhaps, to have expired
with the century. I am against abolishing it; because that would be
declaring it wrong to establish it; but I should have no objection to
make an act, continuing it for another century, and then letting it
He disapproved of the Royal Marriage Bill; 'Because (said he) I would
not have the people think that the validity of marriage depends on the
will of man, or that the right of a King depends on the will of man. I
should not have been against making the marriage of any of the royal
family without the approbation of King and Parliament, highly
In the morning we had talked of old families, and the respect due to
them. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have a right to that kind of respect, and are
arguing for yourself. I am for supporting the principle, and am
disinterested in doing it, as I have no such right.' BOSWELL. 'Why,
Sir, it is one more incitement to a man to do well.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir,
and it is a matter of opinion, very necessary to keep society together.
What is it but opinion, by which we have a respect for authority, that
prevents us, who are the rabble, from rising up and pulling down you who
are gentlemen from your places, and saying "We will be gentlemen in our
turn"? Now, Sir, that respect for authority is much more easily granted
to a man whose father has had it, than to an upstart, and so Society
is more easily supported.' BOSWELL. 'Perhaps, Sir, it might be done by
the respect belonging to office, as among the Romans, where the dress,
the toga, inspired reverence.' JOHNSON. 'Why, we know very little about
the Romans. But, surely, it is much easier to respect a man who has
always had respect, than to respect a man who we know was last year no
better than ourselves, and will be no better next year. In republicks
there is not a respect for authority, but a fear of power.' BOSWELL. 'At
present, Sir, I think riches seem to gain most respect.' JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir, riches do not gain hearty respect; they only procure external
attention. A very rich man, from low beginnings, may buy his election in
a borough; but, _caeteris paribus_, a man of family will be preferred.
People will prefer a man for whose father their fathers have voted,
though they should get no more money, or even less. That shows that the
respect for family is not merely fanciful, but has an actual operation.
If gentlemen of family would allow the rich upstarts to spend their
money profusely, which they are ready enough to do, and not vie with
them in expence, the upstarts would soon be at an end, and the gentlemen
would remain: but if the gentlemen will vie in expence with the
upstarts, which is very foolish, they must be ruined.'
I gave him an account of the excellent mimickry of a friend of mine in
Scotland; observing, at the same time, that some people thought it a
very mean thing. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is making a very mean use of a
man's powers. But to be a good mimick, requires great powers; great
acuteness of observation, great retention of what is observed, and great
pliancy of organs, to represent what is observed. I remember a lady of
quality in this town, Lady ---- ----, who was a wonderful mimick, and
used to make me laugh immoderately. I have heard she is now gone mad.'
BOSWELL. 'It is amazing how a mimick can not only give you the gestures
and voice of a person whom he represents; but even what a person would
say on any particular subject.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you are to consider
that the manner and some particular phrases of a person do much to
impress you with an idea of him, and you are not sure that he would say
what the mimick says in his character.' BOSWELL. 'I don't think Foote
a good mimick, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; his imitations are not like. He
gives you something different from himself, but not the character which
he means to assume. He goes out of himself, without going into other
people. He cannot take off any person unless he is strongly marked, such
as George Faulkner. He is like a painter, who can draw the portrait
of a man who has a wen upon his face, and who, therefore, is easily
known. If a man hops upon one leg, Foote can hop upon one leg. But he
has not that nice discrimination which your friend seems to possess.
Foote is, however, very entertaining, with a kind of conversation
between wit and buffoonery.'
On Monday, March 23, I found him busy, preparing a fourth edition of his
folio Dictionary. Mr. Peyton, one of his original amanuenses, was
writing for him. I put him in mind of a meaning of the word _side_,
which he had omitted, viz. relationship; as father's side, mother's
side. He inserted it. I asked him if _humiliating_ was a good word. He
said, he had seen it frequently used, but he did not know it to be
legitimate English. He would not admit _civilization_, but only
_civility_. With great deference to him, I thought _civilization_,
from _to civilize_ better in the sense opposed to _barbarity_, than
_civility_; as it is better to have a distinct word for each sense, than
one word with two senses, which _civility_ is, in his way of using it.
He seemed also to be intent on some sort of chymical operation. I was
entertained by observing how he contrived to send Mr. Peyton on an
errand, without seeming to degrade him. 'Mr. Peyton,--Mr. Peyton, will
you be so good as to take a walk to Temple-Bar? You will there see a
chymist's shop; at which you will be pleased to buy for me an ounce of
oil of vitriol; not spirit of vitriol, but oil of vitriol. It will cost
three half-pence.' Peyton immediately went, and returned with it, and
told him it cost but a penny.
I then reminded him of the schoolmaster's cause, and proposed to read to
him the printed papers concerning it. 'No, Sir, (said he,) I can read
quicker than I can hear.' So he read them to himself.
After he had read for some time, we were interrupted by the entrance of
Mr. Kristrom, a Swede, who was tutor to some young gentlemen in the
city. He told me, that there was a very good History of Sweden, by
Daline. Having at that time an intention of writing the history of that
country, I asked Dr. Johnson whether one might write a history of
Sweden, without going thither. 'Yes, Sir, (said he,) one for common
We talked of languages. Johnson observed, that Leibnitz had made some
progress in a work, tracing all languages up to the Hebrew. 'Why, Sir,
(said he,) you would not imagine that the French _jour_, day, is derived
from the Latin _dies_, and yet nothing is more certain; and the
intermediate steps are very clear. From _dies_, comes _diurnus_. _Diu_
is, by inaccurate ears, or inaccurate pronunciation, easily confounded
with _giu_; then the Italians form a substantive of the ablative of an
adjective, and thence _giurno_, or, as they make it, _giorno_; which is
readily contracted into _giour_, or _jour_' He observed, that the
Bohemian language was true Sclavonick. The Swede said, it had some
similarity with the German. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, to be sure, such parts
of Sclavonia as confine with Germany, will borrow German words; and such
parts as confine with Tartary will borrow Tartar words.'
He said, he never had it properly ascertained that the Scotch
Highlanders and the Irish understood each other. I told him that my
cousin Colonel Graham, of the Royal Highlanders, whom I met at
Drogheda, told me they did. JOHNSON. 'Sir, if the Highlanders
understood Irish, why translate the New Testament into Erse, as was done
lately at Edinburgh, when there is an Irish translation?' BOSWELL.
'Although the Erse and Irish are both dialects of the same language,
there may be a good deal of diversity between them, as between the
different dialects in Italy.'--The Swede went away, and Mr. Johnson
continued his reading of the papers. I said, 'I am afraid, Sir, it is
troublesome.' 'Why, Sir, (said he,) I do not take much delight in it;
but I'll go through it.'
We went to the Mitre, and dined in the room where he and I first supped
together. He gave me great hopes of my cause. 'Sir, (said he,) the
government of a schoolmaster is somewhat of the nature of military
government; that is to say, it must be arbitrary, it must be exercised
by the will of one man, according to particular circumstances. You must
shew some learning upon this occasion. You must shew, that a
schoolmaster has a prescriptive right to beat; and that an action of
assault and battery cannot be admitted against him, unless there is some
great excess, some barbarity. This man has maimed none of his boys. They
are all left with the full exercise of their corporeal faculties. In our
schools in England, many boys have been maimed; yet I never heard of an
action against a schoolmaster on that account. Puffendorf, I think,
maintains the right of a schoolmaster to beat his scholars.'
On Saturday, March 27, I introduced to him Sir Alexander Macdonald,
with whom he had expressed a wish to be acquainted. He received him very
Sir Alexander observed, that the Chancellors in England are chosen from
views much inferiour to the office, being chosen from temporary
political views. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in such a government as ours, no
man is appointed to an office because he is the fittest for it, nor
hardly in any other government; because there are so many connections
and dependencies to be studied. A despotick prince may choose a man
to an office, merely because he is the fittest for it. The King of
Prussia may do it.' SIR A. 'I think, Sir, almost all great lawyers, such
at least as have written upon law, have known only law, and nothing
else.' JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; Judge Hale was a great lawyer, and wrote
upon law; and yet he knew a great many other things, and has written
upon other things. Selden too.' SIR A. 'Very true, Sir; and Lord Bacon.
But was not Lord Coke a mere lawyer?' JOHNSON. 'Why, I am afraid he was;
but he would have taken it very ill if you had told him so. He would
have prosecuted you for scandal.' BOSWELL. 'Lord Mansfield is not a mere
lawyer.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. I never was in Lord Mansfield's company; but
Lord Mansfield was distinguished at the University. Lord Mansfield, when
he first came to town, "drank champagne with the wits," as Prior
says. He was the friend of Pope.' SIR A. 'Barristers, I believe,
are not so abusive now as they were formerly. I fancy they had less law
long ago, and so were obliged to take to abuse, to fill up the time. Now
they have such a number of precedents, they have no occasion for abuse.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, they had more law long ago than they have now. As to
precedents, to be sure they will increase in course of time; but the
more precedents there are, the less occasion is there for law; that is
to say, the less occasion is there for investigating principles.' SIR A.
'I have been correcting several Scotch accents in my friend Boswell.
I doubt, Sir, if any Scotchman ever attains to a perfect English
pronunciation.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, few of them do, because they do not
persevere after acquiring a certain degree of it. But, Sir, there can be
no doubt that they may attain to a perfect English pronunciation, if
they will. We find how near they come to it; and certainly, a man who
conquers nineteen parts of the Scottish accent, may conquer the
twentieth. But, Sir, when a man has got the better of nine tenths he
grows weary, he relaxes his diligence, he finds he has corrected his
accent so far as not to be disagreeable, and he no longer desires his
friends to tell him when he is wrong; nor does he choose to be told.
Sir, when people watch me narrowly, and I do not watch myself, they will
find me out to be of a particular county. In the same manner,
Dunning may be found out to be a Devonshire man. So most Scotchmen
may be found out. But, Sir, little aberrations are of no disadvantage. I
never catched Mallet in a Scotch accent; and yet Mallet, I suppose,
was past five-and-twenty before he came to London.'
Upon another occasion I talked to him on this subject, having myself
taken some pains to improve my pronunciation, by the aid of the late Mr.
Love, of Drury-lane theatre, when he was a player at Edinburgh, and
also of old Mr. Sheridan. Johnson said to me, 'Sir, your pronunciation
is not offensive.' With this concession I was pretty well satisfied; and
let me give my countrymen of North-Britain an advice not to aim at
absolute perfection in this respect; not to speak _High English_, as we
are apt to call what is far removed from the _Scotch_, but which is by
no means _good English_, and makes, 'the fools who use it,' truly
ridiculous. Good English is plain, easy, and smooth in the mouth of
an unaffected English Gentleman. A studied and factitious pronunciation,
which requires perpetual attention and imposes perpetual constraint, is
exceedingly disgusting. A small intermixture of provincial peculiarities
may, perhaps, have an agreeable effect, as the notes of different birds
concur in the harmony of the grove, and please more than if they were
all exactly alike. I could name some gentlemen of Ireland, to whom a
slight proportion of the accent and recitative of that country is an
advantage. The same observation will apply to the gentlemen of Scotland.
I do not mean that we should speak as broad as a certain prosperous
member of Parliament from that country; though it has been well
observed, that 'it has been of no small use to him; as it rouses the
attention of the House by its uncommonness; and is equal to tropes and
figures in a good English speaker.' I would give as an instance of what
I mean to recommend to my countrymen, the pronunciation of the late Sir
Gilbert Elliot; and may I presume to add that of the present Earl of
Marchmont, who told me, with great good humour, that the master of a
shop in London, where he was not known, said to him, 'I suppose, Sir,
you are an American.' 'Why so, Sir?' (said his Lordship.) 'Because, Sir,
(replied the shopkeeper,) you speak neither English nor Scotch, but
something different from both, which I conclude is the language of
BOSWELL. 'It may be of use, Sir, to have a Dictionary to ascertain the
pronunciation.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, my Dictionary shows you the accents
of words, if you can but remember them.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, we want
marks to ascertain the pronunciation of the vowels. Sheridan, I believe,
has finished such a work.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, consider how much easier
it is to learn a language by the ear, than by any marks. Sheridan's
Dictionary may do very well; but you cannot always carry it about with
you: and, when you want the word, you have not the Dictionary. It is
like a man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword,
to be sure: but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable
to use it. Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation
of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an
Irishman: and if he says he will fix it after the example of the best
company, why they differ among themselves. I remember an instance: when
I published the Plan for my Dictionary, Lord Chesterfield told me that
the word _great_ should be pronounced so as to rhyme to _state_; and Sir
William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme
to _seat_, and that none but an Irishman would pronounce it _grait_.
Now here were two men of the highest rank, the one, the best speaker in
the House of Lords, the other, the best speaker in the House of Commons,
I again visited him at night. Finding him in a very good humour, I
ventured to lead him to the subject of our situation in a future state,
having much curiosity to know his notions on that point. JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, the happiness of an unembodied spirit will consist in a
consciousness of the favour of GOD, in the contemplation of truth, and
in the possession of felicitating ideas.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is there
any harm in our forming to ourselves conjectures as to the particulars
of our happiness, though the scripture has said but very little on the
subject? "We know not what we shall be."' JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no
harm. What philosophy suggests to us on this topick is probable: what
scripture tells us is certain. Dr. Henry More has carried it as far
as philosophy can. You may buy both his theological and philosophical
works in two volumes folio, for about eight shillings.' BOSWELL. 'One of
the most pleasing thoughts is, that we shall see our friends again.'
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but you must consider, that when we are become
purely rational, many of our friendships will be cut off. Many
friendships are formed by a community of sensual pleasures: all these
will be cut off. We form many friendships with bad men, because they
have agreeable qualities, and they can be useful to us; but, after
death, they can no longer be of use to us. We form many friendships by
mistake, imagining people to be different from what they really are.
After death, we shall see every one in a true light. Then, Sir, they
talk of our meeting our relations: but then all relationship is
dissolved; and we shall have no regard for one person more than another,
but for their real value. However, we shall either have the satisfaction
of meeting our friends, or be satisfied without meeting them.'
BOSWELL. 'Yet, Sir, we see in scripture, that Dives still retained an
anxious concern about his brethren.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, we must either
suppose that passage to be metaphorical, or hold with many divines, and
all the Purgatorians that departed souls do not all at once arrive at
the utmost perfection of which they are capable.' BOSWELL. 'I think,
Sir, that is a very rational supposition.' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir; but
we do not know it is a true one. There is no harm in believing it: but
you must not compel others to make it an article of faith; for it is not
revealed.' BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, it is wrong in a man who holds
the doctrine of purgatory, to pray for the souls of his deceased
friends?' JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'I have been told, that
in the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, there was a form of
prayer for the dead.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not in the liturgy which Laud
framed for the Episcopal Church of Scotland: if there is a liturgy older
than that, I should be glad to see it.' BOSWELL. 'As to our employment
in a future state, the sacred writings say little. The Revelation,
however, of St. John gives us many ideas, and particularly mentions
musick.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, ideas must be given you by means of
something which you know: and as to musick there are some
philosophers and divines who have maintained that we shall not be
spiritualized to such a degree, but that something of matter, very much
refined, will remain. In that case, musick may make a part of our future
BOSWELL. 'I do not know whether there are any well-attested stories of
the appearance of ghosts. You know there is a famous story of the
appearance of Mrs. Veal, prefixed to _Drelincourt on Death_.' JOHNSON.
'I believe, Sir, that is given up. I believe the woman declared upon her
death-bed that it was a lie.' BOSWELL. 'This objection is made
against the truth of ghosts appearing: that if they are in a state of
happiness, it would be a punishment to them to return to this world; and
if they are in a state of misery, it would be giving them a respite.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as the happiness or misery of embodied spirits does
not depend upon place, but is intellectual, we cannot say that they are
less happy or less miserable by appearing upon earth.'
We went down between twelve and one to Mrs. Williams's room, and drank
tea. I mentioned that we were to have the remains of Mr. Gray, in prose
and verse, published by Mr. Mason. JOHNSON. 'I think we have had
enough of Gray. I see they have published a splendid edition of
Akenside's works. One bad ode may be suffered; but a number of them
together makes one sick.' BOSWELL. 'Akenside's distinguished poem is
his _Pleasures of Imagination_: but for my part, I never could admire it
so much as most people do.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I could not read it through.'
BOSWELL. 'I have read it through; but I did not find any great power in
I mentioned Elwal, the heretick, whose trial Sir John Pringle had
given me to read. JOHNSON. 'Sir, Mr. Elwal was, I think, an ironmonger
at Wolverhampton; and he had a mind to make himself famous, by being the
founder of a new sect, which he wished much should be called
_Elwallians_. He held, that every thing in the Old Testament that was
not typical, was to be of perpetual observance; and so he wore a ribband
in the plaits of his coat, and he also wore a beard. I remember I had
the honour of dining in company with Mr. Elwal. There was one Barter, a
miller, who wrote against him; and you had the controversy between Mr.
ELWAL and Mr. BARTER. To try to make himself distinguished, he wrote a
letter to King George the Second, challenging him to dispute with him,
in which he said, "George, if you be afraid to come by yourself, to
dispute with a poor old man, you may bring a thousand of your
_black_-guards with you; and if you should still be afraid, you may
bring a thousand of your _red_-guards." The letter had something of the
impudence of Junius to our present King. But the men of Wolverhampton
were not so inflammable as the Common-Council of London; so Mr. Elwal
failed in his scheme of making himself a man of great consequence.'
On Tuesday, March 31, he and I dined at General Paoli's. A question was
started, whether the state of marriage was natural to man. JOHNSON.
'Sir, it is so far from being natural for a man and woman to live in a
state of marriage, that we find all the motives which they have for
remaining in that connection, and the restraints which civilized society
imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to keep them
together.' The General said, that in a state of nature a man and woman
uniting together, would form a strong and constant affection, by the
mutual pleasure each would receive; and that the same causes of
dissention would not arise between them, as occur between husband and
wife in a civilized state. JOHNSON. 'Sir, they would have dissentions
enough, though of another kind. One would choose to go a hunting in this
wood, the other in that; one would choose to go a fishing in this lake,
the other in that; or, perhaps, one would choose to go a hunting, when
the other would choose to go a fishing; and so they would part. Besides,
Sir, a savage man and a savage woman meet by chance; and when the man
sees another woman that pleases him better, he will leave the first.'
We then fell into a disquisition whether there is any beauty independent
of utility. The General maintained there was not. Dr. Johnson maintained
that there was; and he instanced a coffee-cup which he held in his hand,
the painting of which was of no real use, as the cup would hold the
coffee equally well if plain; yet the painting was beautiful.
We talked of the strange custom of swearing in conversation. The
General said, that all barbarous nations swore from a certain violence
of temper, that could not be confined to earth, but was always reaching
at the powers above. He said, too, that there was greater variety of
swearing, in proportion as there was a greater variety of religious
Dr. Johnson went home with me to my lodgings in Conduit-street and drank
tea, previous to our going to the Pantheon, which neither of us had seen
He said, 'Goldsmith's _Life of Parnell_ is poor; not that it is
poorly written, but that he had poor materials; for nobody can write the
life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social
intercourse with him.'
I said, that if it was not troublesome and presuming too much, I would
request him to tell me all the little circumstances of his life; what
schools he attended, when he came to Oxford, when he came to London, &c.
&c. He did not disapprove of my curiosity as to these particulars; but
said, 'They'll come out by degrees as we talk together.'
He censured Ruffhead's _Life of Pope_; and said, 'he knew nothing of
Pope, and nothing of poetry.' He praised Dr. Joseph Warton's Essay on
Pope; but said, he supposed we should have no more of it, as the
authour had not been able to persuade the world to think of Pope as he
did. BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, should that prevent him from continuing his
work? He is an ingenious Counsel, who has made the most of his cause: he
is not obliged to gain it.' JOHNSON. 'But, Sir, there is a difference
when the cause is of a man's own making.'
We talked of the proper use of riches. JOHNSON. 'If I were a man of a
great estate, I would drive all the rascals whom I did not like out of
the county at an election.'
I asked him how far he thought wealth should be employed in hospitality.
JOHNSON. 'You are to consider that ancient hospitality, of which we hear
so much, was in an uncommercial country, when men being idle, were glad
to be entertained at rich men's tables. But in a commercial country, a
busy country, time becomes precious, and therefore hospitality is not so
much valued. No doubt there is still room for a certain degree of it;
and a man has a satisfaction in seeing his friends eating and drinking
around him. But promiscuous hospitality is not the way to gain real
influence. You must help some people at table before others; you must
ask some people how they like their wine oftener than others. You
therefore offend more people than you please. You are like the French
statesman, who said, when he granted a favour, '_J' ai fait dix
mecontents et un ingrat_.' Besides, Sir, being entertained ever so
well at a man's table, impresses no lasting regard or esteem. No, Sir,
the way to make sure of power and influence is, by lending money
confidentially to your neighbours at a small interest, or, perhaps, at
no interest at all, and having their bonds in your possession.'
BOSWELL. 'May not a man, Sir, employ his riches to advantage in
educating young men of merit?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, if they fall in your
way; but if it be understood that you patronize young men of merit, you
will be harassed with solicitations. You will have numbers forced upon
you who have no merit; some will force them upon you from mistaken
partiality; and some from downright interested motives, without scruple;
and you will be disgraced.'
'Were I a rich man, I would propagate all kinds of trees that will grow
in the open air. A greenhouse is childish. I would introduce foreign
animals into the country; for instance the reindeer.'
The conversation now turned on critical subjects. JOHNSON. 'Bayes, in
_The Rehearsal_, is a mighty silly character. If it was intended to be
like a particular man, it could only be diverting while that man was
remembered. But I question whether it was meant for Dryden, as has been
reported; for we know some of the passages said to be ridiculed, were
written since _The Rehearsal_; at least a passage mentioned in the
Preface is of a later date.' I maintained that it had merit as a
general satire on the self-importance of dramatick authours. But even in
this light he held it very cheap.
We then walked to the Pantheon. The first view of it did not strike us
so much as Ranelagh, of which he said, the '_coup d'oeil_ was the finest
thing he had ever seen.' The truth is, Ranelagh is of a more beautiful
form; more of it, or rather indeed the whole _rotunda_, appears at once,
and it is better lighted. However, as Johnson observed, we saw the
Pantheon in time of mourning, when there was a dull uniformity; whereas
we had seen Ranelagh when the view was enlivened with a gay profusion of
colours. Mrs. Bosville, of Gunthwait, in Yorkshire, joined us,
and entered into conversation with us. Johnson said to me afterwards,
'Sir, this is a mighty intelligent lady.'
I said there was not half a guinea's worth of pleasure in seeing this
place. JOHNSON. 'But, Sir, there is half a guinea's worth of inferiority
to other people in not having seen it.' BOSWELL. 'I doubt, Sir, whether
there are many happy people here.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, there are many
happy people here. There are many people here who are watching hundreds,
and who think hundreds are watching them.'
Happening to meet Sir Adam Fergusson, I presented him to Dr. Johnson.
Sir Adam expressed some apprehension that the Pantheon would encourage
luxury. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) I am a great friend to publick amusements;
for they keep people from vice. You now (addressing himself to me,)
would have been with a wench, had you not been here.--O! I forgot you
Sir Adam suggested, that luxury corrupts a people, and destroys the
spirit of liberty. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is all visionary. I would not
give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather than
another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir,
the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a private man. What
Frenchman is prevented from passing his life as he pleases?' SIR ADAM.
'But, Sir, in the British constitution it is surely of importance to
keep up a spirit in the people, so as to preserve a balance against the
crown.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig. Why all this
childish jealousy of the power of the crown? The crown has not power
enough. When I say that all governments are alike, I consider that in no
government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. If a
sovereign oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut
off his head. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that
will keep us safe under every form of government. Had not the people
of France thought themselves honoured as sharing in the brilliant
actions of Lewis XIV, they would not have endured him; and we may say
the same of the King of Prussia's people.' Sir Adam introduced the
ancient Greeks and Romans. JOHNSON. 'Sir, the mass of both of them were
barbarians. The mass of every people must be barbarous where there is no
printing, and consequently knowledge is not generally diffused.
Knowledge is diffused among our people by the news-papers.' Sir Adam
mentioned the orators, poets, and artists of Greece. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I am
talking of the mass of the people. We see even what the boasted
Athenians were. The little effect which Demosthenes's orations had upon
them, shews that they were barbarians.'
Sir Adam was unlucky in his topicks; for he suggested a doubt of the
propriety of Bishops having seats in the House of Lords. JOHNSON. 'How
so, Sir? Who is more proper for having the dignity of a peer, than a
Bishop, provided a Bishop be what he ought to be; and if improper
Bishops be made, that is not the fault of the Bishops, but of those who
On Sunday, April 5, after attending divine service at St. Paul's church,
I found him alone. Of a schoolmaster of his acquaintance, a native of
Scotland, he said, 'He has a great deal of good about him; but he is
also very defective in some respects. His inner part is good, but his
outer part is mighty aukward. You in Scotland do not attain that nice
critical skill in languages, which we get in our schools in England. I
would not put a boy to him, whom I intended for a man of learning. But
for the sons of citizens, who are to learn a little, get good morals,
and then go to trade, he may do very well.'
I mentioned a cause in which I had appeared as counsel at the bar of the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where a _Probationer_,
(as one licensed to preach, but not yet ordained, is called,) was
opposed in his application to be inducted, because it was alledged that
he had been guilty of fornication five years before. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
if he has repented, it is not a sufficient objection. A man who is good
enough to go to heaven, is good enough to be a clergyman.' This was a
humane and liberal sentiment. But the character of a clergyman is more
sacred than that of an ordinary Christian. As he is to instruct with
authority, he should be regarded with reverence, as one upon whom divine
truth has had the effect to set him above such transgressions, as men
less exalted by spiritual habits, and yet upon the whole not to be
excluded from heaven, have been betrayed into by the predominance of
passion. That clergymen may be considered as sinners in general, as all
men are, cannot be denied; but this reflection will not counteract their
good precepts so much, as the absolute knowledge of their having been
guilty of certain specifick immoral acts. I told him, that by the rules
of the Church of Scotland, in their _Book of Discipline_, if a
_scandal_, as it is called, is not prosecuted for five years, it cannot
afterwards be proceeded upon, 'unless it be of a _heinous nature_, or
again become flagrant;' and that hence a question arose, whether
fornication was a sin of a heinous nature; and that I had maintained,
that it did not deserve that epithet, in as much as it was not one of
those sins which argue very great depravity of heart: in short, was not,
in the general acceptation of mankind, a heinous sin. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir,
it is not a heinous sin. A heinous sin is that for which a man is
punished with death or banishment.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, after I had
argued that it was not an heinous sin, an old clergyman rose up, and
repeating the text of scripture denouncing judgement against
whoremongers, asked, whether, considering this, there could be any
doubt of fornication being a heinous sin.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, observe
the word _whoremonger_. Every sin, if persisted in, will become heinous.
Whoremonger is a dealer in whores, as ironmonger is a dealer in iron.
But as you don't call a man an ironmonger for buying and selling a
pen-knife; so you don't call a man a whoremonger for getting one wench
I spoke of the inequality of the livings of the clergy in England, and
the scanty provisions of some of the Curates. JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir;
but it cannot be helped. You must consider, that the revenues of the
clergy are not at the disposal of the state, like the pay of the army.
Different men have founded different churches; and some are better
endowed, some worse. The State cannot interfere and make an equal
division of what has been particularly appropriated. Now when a
clergyman has but a small living, or even two small livings, he can
afford very little to a curate.'
He said, he went more frequently to church when there were prayers only,
than when there was also a sermon, as the people required more an
example for the one than the other; it being much easier for them to
hear a sermon, than to fix their minds on prayer.
On Monday, April 6, I dined with him at Sir Alexander Macdonald's, where
was a young officer in the regimentals of the Scots Royal, who talked
with a vivacity, fluency, and precision so uncommon, that he attracted
particular attention. He proved to be the Honourable Thomas Erskine,
youngest brother to the Earl of Buchan, who has since risen into such
brilliant reputation at the bar in Westminster-hall.
Fielding being mentioned, Johnson exclaimed, 'he was a blockhead;'
and upon my expressing my astonishment at so strange an assertion, he
said, 'What I mean by his being a blockhead is that he was a barren
rascal.' BOSWELL. 'Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws very natural
pictures of human life?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is of very low life.
Richardson used to say, that had he not known who Fielding was, he
should have believed he was an ostler. Sir, there is more knowledge
of the heart in one letter of Richardson's, than in all _Tom Jones_.
I, indeed, never read _Joseph Andrews_.' ERSKINE, 'Surely, Sir,
Richardson is very tedious.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if you were to read
Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that
you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and
consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment.'--I have
already given my opinion of Fielding; but I cannot refrain from
repeating here my wonder at Johnson's excessive and unaccountable
depreciation of one of the best writers that England has produced. _Tom
Jones_ has stood the test of publick opinion with such success, as to
have established its great merit, both for the story, the sentiments,
and the manners, and also the varieties of diction, so as to leave no
doubt of its having an animated truth of execution throughout.
A book of travels, lately published under the title of _Coriat Junior_,
and written by Mr. Paterson, was mentioned. Johnson said, this book
was an imitation of Sterne, and not of Coriat, whose name Paterson
had chosen as a whimsical one. 'Tom Coriat, (said he,) was a humourist
about the court of James the First. He had a mixture of learning, of
wit, and of buffoonery. He first travelled through Europe, and published
his travels. He afterwards travelled on foot through Asia, and had
made many remarks; but he died at Mandoa, and his remarks were lost.'
We talked of gaming, and animadverted on it with severity. JOHNSON.
'Nay, gentlemen, let us not aggravate the matter. It is not roguery to
play with a man who is ignorant of the game, while you are master of it,
and so win his money; for he thinks he can play better than you, as you
think you can play better than he; and the superiour skill carries it.'
ERSKINE. 'He is a fool, but you are not a rogue.' JOHNSON. 'That's much
about the truth, Sir. It must be considered, that a man who only does
what every one of the society to which he belongs would do, is not a
dishonest man. In the republick of Sparta, it was agreed, that stealing
was not dishonourable, if not discovered. I do not commend a society
where there is an agreement that what would not otherwise be fair, shall
be fair; but I maintain, that an individual of any society, who
practises what is allowed, is not a dishonest man.' BOSWELL. 'So then,
Sir, you do not think ill of a man who wins perhaps forty thousand
pounds in a winter?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not call a gamester a dishonest
man; but I call him an unsocial man, an unprofitable man. Gaming is a
mode of transferring property without producing any intermediate good.
Trade gives employment to numbers, and so produces intermediate good.'
Mr. Erskine told us, that when he was in the island of Minorca, he not
only read prayers, but preached two sermons to the regiment. He
seemed to object to the passage in scripture where we are told that the
angel of the Lord smote in one night forty thousand Assyrians. 'Sir,
(said Johnson,) you should recollect that there was a supernatural
interposition; they were destroyed by pestilence. You are not to suppose
that the angel of the LORD went about and stabbed each of them with a
dagger, or knocked them on the head, man by man.'
After Mr. Erskine was gone, a discussion took place, whether the present
Earl of Buchan, when Lord Cardross, did right to refuse to go Secretary
of the Embassy to Spain, when Sir James Gray, a man of inferiour rank,
went Ambassadour. Dr. Johnson said, that perhaps in point of interest
he did wrong; but in point of dignity he did well. Sir Alexander
insisted that he was wrong; and said that Mr. Pitt intended it as an
advantageous thing for him. 'Why, Sir, (said Johnson,) Mr. Pitt might
think it an advantageous thing for him to make him a vintner, and get
him all the Portugal trade; but he would have demeaned himself strangely
had he accepted of such a situation. Sir, had he gone Secretary while
his inferiour was Ambassadour, he would have been a traitor to his rank
I talked of the little attachment which subsisted between near relations
in London. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) in a country so commercial as ours,
where every man can do for himself, there is not so much occasion for
that attachment. No man is thought the worse of here, whose brother was
hanged. In uncommercial countries, many of the branches of a family must
depend on the stock; so, in order to make the head of the family take
care of them, they are represented as connected with his reputation,
that, self-love being interested, he may exert himself to promote their
interest. You have first large circles, or clans; as commerce increases,
the connection is confined to families. By degrees, that too goes off,
as having become unnecessary, and there being few opportunities of
intercourse. One brother is a merchant in the city, and another is an
officer in the guards. How little intercourse can these two have!'
I argued warmly for the old feudal system. Sir Alexander opposed it,
and talked of the pleasure of seeing all men free and independent.
JOHNSON. 'I agree with Mr. Boswell that there must be a high
satisfaction in being a feudal Lord; but we are to consider, that we
ought not to wish to have a number of men unhappy for the satisfaction
of one.'--I maintained that numbers, namely, the vassals or
followers, were not unhappy; for that there was a reciprocal
satisfaction between the Lord and them: he being kind in his authority
over them; they being respectful and faithful to him.
On Thursday, April 9, I called on him to beg he would go and dine with
me at the Mitre tavern. He had resolved not to dine at all this day, I
know not for what reason; and I was so unwilling to be deprived of his
company, that I was content to submit to suffer a want, which was at
first somewhat painful, but he soon made me forget it; and a man is
always pleased with himself when he finds his intellectual inclinations
He observed, that to reason philosophically on the nature of prayer, was
Talking of ghosts, he said, he knew one friend, who was an honest man
and a sensible man, who told him he had seen a ghost, old Mr. Edward
Cave, the printer at St. John's Gate. He said, Mr. Cave did not like to
talk of it, and seemed to be in great horrour whenever it was mentioned.
BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, what did he say was the appearance?' JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, something of a shadowy being.'
I mentioned witches, and asked him what they properly meant. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, they properly mean those who make use of the aid of evil
spirits.' BOSWELL. 'There is no doubt, Sir, a general report and belief
of their having existed.' JOHNSON. 'You have not only the general
report and belief, but you have many voluntary solemn confessions.' He
did not affirm anything positively upon a subject which it is the
fashion of the times to laugh at as a matter of absurd credulity. He
only seemed willing, as a candid enquirer after truth, however strange
and inexplicable, to shew that he understood what might be urged for
On Friday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, where we
found Dr. Goldsmith.
Armorial bearings having been mentioned, Johnson said they were as
ancient as the siege of Thebes, which he proved by a passage in one of
the tragedies of Euripides.
I started the question whether duelling was consistent with moral duty.
The brave old General fired at this, and said, with a lofty air,
'Undoubtedly a man has a right to defend his honour.' GOLDSMITH,
(turning to me.) 'I ask you first, Sir, what would you do if you were
affronted?' I answered I should think it necessary to fight. 'Why
then, (replied Goldsmith,) that solves the question.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir,
it does not solve the question. It does not follow that what a man would
do is therefore right.' I said, I wished to have it settled, whether
duelling was contrary to the laws of Christianity. Johnson immediately
entered on the subject, and treated it in a masterly manner; and so far
as I have been able to recollect, his thoughts were these: 'Sir, as men
become in a high degree refined, various causes of offence arise; which
are considered to be of such importance, that life must be staked to
atone for them, though in reality they are not so. A body that has
received a very fine polish may be easily hurt. Before men arrive at
this artificial refinement, if one tells his neighbour he lies, his
neighbour tells him he lies; if one gives his neighbour a blow, his
neighbour gives him a blow: but in a state of highly polished society,
an affront is held to be a serious injury. It must therefore be
resented, or rather a duel must be fought upon it; as men have agreed to
banish from their society one who puts up with an affront without
fighting a duel. Now, Sir, it is never unlawful to fight in
self-defence. He, then, who fights a duel, does not fight from passion
against his antagonist, but out of self-defence; to avert the stigma of
the world, and to prevent himself from being driven out of society. I
could wish there was not that superfluity of refinement; but while such
notions prevail, no doubt a man may lawfully fight a duel.'
Let it be remembered, that this justification is applicable only to the
person who _receives_ an affront. All mankind must condemn the
The General told us, that when he was a very young man, I think only
fifteen, serving under Prince Eugene of Savoy, he was sitting in a
company at table with a Prince of Wirtemberg, The Prince took up a glass
of wine, and, by a fillip, made some of it fly in Oglethorpe's face.
Here was a nice dilemma. To have challenged him instantly, might have
fixed a quarrelsome character upon the young soldier: to have taken no
notice of it might have been considered as cowardice. Oglethorpe,
therefore, keeping his eye upon the Prince, and smiling all the time, as
if he took what his Highness had done in jest, said 'Man Prince,--'(I
forget the French words he used, the purport however was.) 'That's a
good joke; but we do it much better in England;' and threw a whole glass
of wine in the Prince's face. An old General who sat by, said, '_Il a
bien fait, mon Prince, vous l'avez commence_:' and thus all ended in
Dr. Johnson said, 'Pray, General, give us an account of the siege of
Belgrade.' Upon which the General, pouring a little wine upon the
table, described every thing with a wet finger: 'Here we were, here were
the Turks,' &c. &c. Johnson listened with the closest attention.
A question was started, how far people who disagree in a capital point
can live in friendship together. Johnson said they might. Goldsmith said
they could not, as they had not the _idem velle atque idem nolle_--
the same likings and the same aversions. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you must
shun the subject as to which you disagree. For instance, I can live very
well with Burke: I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion, and
affluence of conversation; but I would not talk to him of the Rockingham
party.' GOLDSMITH. 'But, Sir, when people live together who have
something as to which they disagree, and which they want to shun, they
will be in the situation mentioned in the story of Bluebeard: "You may
look into all the chambers but one." But we should have the greatest
inclination to look into that chamber, to talk of that subject.'
JOHNSON, (with a loud voice.) 'Sir, I am not saying that _you_ could
live in friendship with a man from whom you differ as to some point: I
am only saying that _I_ could do it. You put me in mind of Sappho in
Goldsmith told us, that he was now busy in writing a natural history,
and, that he might have full leisure for it, he had taken lodgings, at a
farmer's house, near to the six mile-stone, on the Edgeware road, and
had carried down his books in two returned post-chaises. He said, he
believed the farmer's family thought him an odd character, similar to
that in which the _Spectator_ appeared to his landlady and her children:
he was _The Gentleman_. Mr. Mickle, the translator of _The
Lusiad_, and I went to visit him at this place a few days afterwards.
He was not at home; but having a curiosity to see his apartment, we went
in and found curious scraps of descriptions of animals, scrawled upon
the wall with a black lead pencil.
The subject of ghosts being introduced, Johnson repeated what he had
told me of a friend of his, an honest man, and a man of sense, having
asserted to him, that he had seen an apparition. Goldsmith told us,
he was assured by his brother, the Reverend Mr. Goldsmith, that he also
had seen one. General Oglethorpe told us, that Prendergast, an officer
in the Duke of Marlborough's army, had mentioned to many of his friends,
that he should die on a particular day. That upon that day a battle took
place with the French; that after it was over, and Prendergast was still
alive, his brother officers, while they were yet in the field, jestingly
asked him, where was his prophecy now. Prendergast gravely answered. 'I
shall die, notwithstanding what you see.' Soon afterwards, there came a
shot from a French battery, to which the orders for a cessation of arms
had not yet reached, and he was killed upon the spot. Colonel Cecil, who
took possession of his effects, found in his pocket-book the following
[Here the date.] 'Dreamt--or ----. Sir John Friend meets me:' (here
the very day on which he was killed, was mentioned.) Prendergast had
been connected with Sir John Friend, who was executed for high treason.
General Oglethorpe said, he was with Colonel Cecil when Pope came and
enquired into the truth of this story, which made a great noise at the
time, and was then confirmed by the Colonel.
On Saturday, April 11, he appointed me to come to him in the evening,
when he should be at leisure to give me some assistance for the defence
of Hastie, the schoolmaster of Campbelltown, for whom I was to appear in
the House of Lords. When I came, I found him unwilling to exert himself.
I pressed him to write down his thoughts upon the subject. He said,
'There's no occasion for my writing. I'll talk to you.' He was, however,
at last prevailed on to dictate to me, while I wrote as follows:--
'The charge is, that he has used immoderate and cruel correction.
Correction, in itself, is not cruel; children, being not reasonable, can
be governed only by fear. To impress this fear, is therefore one of the
first duties of those who have the care of children. It is the duty of a
parent; and has never been thought inconsistent with parental
tenderness. It is the duty of a master, who is in his highest exaltation
when he is _loco parentis_. Yet, as good things become evil by excess,
correction, by being immoderate, may become cruel. But when is
correction immoderate? When it is more frequent or more severe than is
required _ad monendum et docendum_, for reformation and instruction. No
severity is cruel which obstinacy makes necessary; for the greatest
cruelty would be to desist, and leave the scholar too careless for
instruction, and too much hardened for reproof. Locke, in his treatise
of Education, mentions a mother, with applause, who whipped an infant
eight times before she had subdued it; for had she stopped at the
seventh act of correction, her daughter, says he, would have been
ruined. The degrees of obstinacy in young minds, are very different;
as different must be the degrees of persevering severity. A stubborn
scholar must be corrected till he is subdued. The discipline of a school
is military. There must be either unbounded licence or absolute
authority. The master, who punishes, not only consults the future
happiness of him who is the immediate subject of correction; but he
propagates obedience through the whole school; and establishes
regularity by exemplary justice. The victorious obstinacy of a single
boy would make his future endeavours of reformation or instruction
totally ineffectual. Obstinacy, therefore, must never be victorious.
Yet, it is well known, that there sometimes occurs a sullen and hardy
resolution, that laughs at all common punishment, and bids defiance to
all common degrees of pain. Correction must be proportioned to
occasions. The flexible will be reformed by gentle discipline, and the
refractory must be subdued by harsher methods. The degrees of
scholastick, as of military punishment, no stated rules can ascertain.
It must be enforced till it overpowers temptation; till stubbornness
becomes flexible, and perverseness regular. Custom and reason have,
indeed, set some bounds to scholastick penalties. The schoolmaster
inflicts no capital punishments; nor enforces his edicts by either death
or mutilation. The civil law has wisely determined, that a master who
strikes at a scholar's eye shall be considered as criminal. But
punishments, however severe, that produce no lasting evil, may be just
and reasonable, because they may be necessary. Such have been the
punishments used by the respondent. No scholar has gone from him either
blind or lame, or with any of his limbs or powers injured or impaired.
They were irregular, and he punished them: they were obstinate, and he
enforced his punishment. But, however provoked, he never exceeded the
limits of moderation, for he inflicted nothing beyond present pain; and
how much of that was required, no man is so little able to determine as
those who have determined against him;--the parents of the offenders. It
has been said, that he used unprecedented and improper instruments of
correction. Of this accusation the meaning is not very easy to be found.
No instrument of correction is more proper than another, but as it is
better adapted to produce present pain without lasting mischief.
Whatever were his instruments, no lasting mischief has ensued; and
therefore, however unusual, in hands so cautious they were proper. It
has been objected, that the respondent admits the charge of cruelty, by
producing no evidence to confute it. Let it be considered, that his
scholars are either dispersed at large in the world, or continue to
inhabit the place in which they were bred. Those who are dispersed
cannot be found; those who remain are the sons of his persecutors, and
are not likely to support a man to whom their fathers are enemies. If it
be supposed that the enmity of their fathers proves the justice of the
charge, it must be considered how often experience shews us, that men
who are angry on one ground will accuse on another; with how little
kindness, in a town of low trade, a man who lives by learning is
regarded; and how implicitly, where the inhabitants are not very rich, a
rich man is hearkened to and followed. In a place like Campbelltown, it
is easy for one of the principal inhabitants to make a party. It is easy
for that party to heat themselves with imaginary grievances. It is easy
for them to oppress a man poorer than themselves; and natural to assert
the dignity of riches, by persisting in oppression. The argument which
attempts to prove the impropriety of restoring him to the school, by
alledging that he has lost the confidence of the people, is not the
subject of juridical consideration; for he is to suffer, if he must
suffer, not for their judgement, but for his own actions. It may be
convenient for them to have another master; but it is a convenience of
their own making. It would be likewise convenient for him to find
another school; but this convenience he cannot obtain. The question is
not what is now convenient, but what is generally right. If the people
of Campbelltown be distressed by the restoration of the respondent, they
are distressed only by their own fault; by turbulent passions and
unreasonable desires; by tyranny, which law has defeated, and by malice,
which virtue has surmounted.'
'This, Sir, (said he,) you are to turn in your mind, and make the best
use of it you can in your speech.'
Of our friend, Goldsmith, he said, 'Sir, he is so much afraid of being
unnoticed, that he often talks merely lest you should forget that he is
in the company.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, he stands forward.' JOHNSON. 'True, Sir;
but if a man is to stand forward, he should wish to do it not in an
aukward posture, not in rags, not so as that he shall only be exposed to
ridicule.' BOSWELL. 'For my part, I like very well to hear honest
Goldsmith talk away carelessly.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; but he should
not like to hear himself.'
On Tuesday, April 14, the decree of the Court of Session in the
schoolmaster's cause was reversed in the House of Lords, after a very
eloquent speech by Lord Mansfield, who shewed himself an adept in school
discipline, but I thought was too rigorous towards my client. On the
evening of the next day I supped with Dr. Johnson, at the Crown and
Anchor tavern, in the Strand, in company with Mr. Langton and his
brother-in-law, Lord Binning. I repeated a sentence of Lord Mansfield's
speech, of which, by the aid of Mr. Longlands, the solicitor on the
other side, who obligingly allowed me to compare his note with my own, I
have a full copy: 'My Lords, severity is not the way to govern either
boys or men.' 'Nay, (said Johnson,) it is the way to _govern_ them. I
know not whether it be the way to _mend_ them.'
I talked of the recent expulsion of six students from the University of
Oxford, who were methodists and would not desist from publickly praying
and exhorting. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that expulsion was extremely just and
proper. What have they to do at an University who are not willing to
be taught, but will presume to teach? Where is religion to be learnt but
at an University? Sir, they were examined, and found to be mighty
ignorant fellows.' BOSWELL. 'But, was it not hard, Sir, to expel them,
for I am told they were good beings?' JOHNSON. 'I believe they might be
good beings; but they were not fit to be in the University of Oxford.
A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a
garden.' Lord Elibank used to repeat this as an illustration uncommonly
Desirous of calling Johnson forth to talk, and exercise his wit, though
I should myself be the object of it, I resolutely ventured to undertake
the defence of convivial indulgence in wine, though he was not to-night
in the most genial humour. After urging the common plausible topicks,
I at last had recourse to the maxim, _in vino veritas_, a man who is
well warmed with wine will speak truth. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that may
be an argument for drinking, if you suppose men in general to be liars.
But, Sir, I would not keep company with a fellow, who lyes as long as he
is sober, and whom you must make drunk before you can get a word of
truth out of him.'
Mr. Langton told us he was about to establish a school upon his estate,
but it had been suggested to him, that it might have a tendency to make
the people less industrious. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. While learning to read
and write is a distinction, the few who have that distinction may be the
less inclined to work; but when every body learns to read and write, it
is no longer a distinction. A man who has a laced waistcoat is too
fine a man to work; but if every body had laced waistcoats, we should
have people working in laced waistcoats. There are no people whatever
more industrious, none who work more, than our manufacturers; yet
they have all learnt to read and write. Sir, you must not neglect doing
a thing immediately good, from fear of remote evil;--from fear of its
being abused. A man who has candles may sit up too late, which he
would not do if he had not candles; but nobody will deny that the art of
making candles, by which light is continued to us beyond the time that
the sun gives us light, is a valuable art, and ought to be preserved.'
BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, would it not be better to follow Nature; and go to
bed and rise just as nature gives us light or with-holds it?' JOHNSON.
'No, Sir; for then we should have no kind of equality in the partition
of our time between sleeping and waking. It would be very different in
different seasons and in different places. In some of the northern parts
of Scotland how little light is there in the depth of winter!'
We talked of Tacitus, and I hazarded an opinion, that with all his
merit for penetration, shrewdness of judgement, and terseness of
expression, he was too compact, too much broken into hints, as it were,
and therefore too difficult to be understood. To my great satisfaction,
Dr. Johnson sanctioned this opinion. 'Tacitus, Sir, seems to me rather
to have made notes for an historical work, than to have written a
At this time it appears from his _Prayers and Meditations_, that he had
been more than commonly diligent in religious duties, particularly in
reading the Holy Scriptures. It was Passion Week, that solemn season
which the Christian world has appropriated to the commemoration of the
mysteries of our redemption, and during which, whatever embers of
religion are in our breasts, will be kindled into pious warmth.
I paid him short visits both on Friday and Saturday, and seeing his
large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a reverential
awe, and would not intrude upon his time. While he was thus employed
to such good purpose, and while his friends in their intercourse with
him constantly found a vigorous intellect and a lively imagination, it
is melancholy to read in his private register, 'My mind is unsettled and
my memory confused. I have of late turned my thoughts with a very
useless earnestness upon past incidents. I have yet got no command over
my thoughts; an unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my
rest.' What philosophick heroism was it in him to appear with such
manly fortitude to the world, while he was inwardly so distressed! We
may surely believe that the mysterious principle of being 'made perfect
through suffering' was to be strongly exemplified in him.
On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, General Paoli and I paid him a
visit before dinner. We talked of the notion that blind persons can
distinguish colours by the touch. Johnson said, that Professor
Sanderson mentions his having attempted to do it, but that he found
he was aiming at an impossibility; that to be sure a difference in the
surface makes the difference of colours; but that difference is so fine,
that it is not sensible to the touch. The General mentioned jugglers and
fraudulent gamesters, who could know cards by the touch. Dr. Johnson
said, 'the cards used by such persons must be less polished than ours
We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a simple
sound, but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I presumed to
differ from this opinion, and mentioned the soft and sweet sound of a
fine woman's voice. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, if a serpent or a toad uttered
it, you would think it ugly.' BOSWELL. 'So you would think, Sir, were a
beautiful tune to be uttered by one of those animals.' JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir, it would be admired. We have seen fine fiddlers whom we liked as
little as toads.' (laughing.)
Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he said, that difference of
taste was, in truth, difference of skill. BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is
there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception
or in liking? For instance, we find people differ much as to what is the
best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best; others
prefer a fuller and grander way of writing.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must
first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good
taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you
have mentioned don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that
Swift has a good neat style; but one loves a neat style, another
loves a style of more splendour. In like manner, one loves a plain coat,
another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in
While I remained in London this spring, I was with him at several other
times, both by himself and in company. I dined with him one day at the
Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, with Lord Elibank, Mr. Langton,
and Dr. Vansittart of Oxford. Without specifying each particular day, I
have preserved the following memorable things.
I regretted the reflection in his Preface to Shakspeare against Garrick,
to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: 'I collated such
copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but have not found the
collectors of these rarities very communicative.' I told him, that
Garrick had complained to me of it, and had vindicated himself by
assuring me, that Johnson was made welcome to the full use of his
collection, and that he left the key of it with a servant, with orders
to have a fire and every convenience for him. I found Johnson's notion
was, that Garrick wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the
contrary, Garrick should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his
own accord. But, indeed, considering the slovenly and careless manner in
which books were treated by Johnson, it could not be expected that
scarce and valuable editions should have been lent to him.
A gentleman having to some of the usual arguments for drinking added
this: 'You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us forget
whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to drink for that
reason?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, if he sat next _you_.'
I expressed a liking for Mr. Francis Osborne's works, and asked him what
he thought of that writer. He answered, 'A conceited fellow. Were a man
to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him.' He, however, did
not alter my opinion of a favourite authour, to whom I was first
directed by his being quoted in The Spectator, and in whom I have
found much shrewd and lively sense, expressed indeed in a style somewhat
quaint, which, however, I do not dislike. His book has an air of
originality. We figure to ourselves an ancient gentleman talking to us.
When one of his friends endeavoured to maintain that a country gentleman
might contrive to pass his life very agreeably, 'Sir (said he,) you
cannot give me an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his
own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.' This observation,
however, is equally applicable to gentlemen who live in cities, and are
of no profession.
He said, 'there is no permanent national character; it varies according
to circumstances. Alexander the Great swept India: now the Turks sweep
A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to inform
us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at Shrewsbury
were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose, seven or eight minutes in
relating it circumstantially. He in a plenitude of phrase told us, that
large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in the town-hall;--that by
reason of this, fleas nestled there in prodigious numbers; that the
lodgings of the counsel were near to the town-hall;--and that those
little animals moved from place to place with wonderful agility. Johnson
sat in great impatience till the gentleman had finished his tedious
narrative, and then burst out (playfully however,) 'It is a pity, Sir,
that you have not seen a lion; for a flea has taken you such a time,
that a lion must have served you a twelve-month.'
He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield;
for he was educated in England. 'Much (said he,) may be made of a
Scotchman, if he be _caught_ young.'
Talking of a modern historian and a modern moralist, he said, 'There is
more thought in the moralist than in the historian. There is but a
shallow stream of thought in history.' BOSWELL. 'But surely, Sir, an
historian has reflection.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; and so has a cat when
she catches a mouse for her kitten. But she cannot write like ****;
neither can ****.'
He said, 'I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours, and
give them my opinion. If the authours who apply to me have money, I
bid them boldly print without a name; if they have written in order to
get money, I tell them to go to the booksellers, and make the best
bargain they can.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, if a bookseller should bring you
a manuscript to look at?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I would desire the
bookseller to take it away.'
I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain, and was
unwilling to return to Britain. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he is attached to some
woman.' BOSWELL. 'I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine climate which
keeps him there.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, how can you talk so? What is
climate to happiness? Place me in the heart of Asia, should I not be
exiled? What proportion does climate bear to the complex system of human
life? You may advise me to go to live at Bologna to eat sausages. The
sausages there are the best in the world; they lose much by being
On Saturday, May 9, Mr. Dempster and I had agreed to dine by
ourselves at the British Coffee-house. Johnson, on whom I happened to
call in the morning, said he would join us, which he did, and we spent a
very agreeable day, though I recollect but little of what passed.
He said, 'Walpole was a minister given by the King to the people: Pitt
was a minister given by the people to the King,--as an adjunct.'
'The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this: he goes on without
knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his knowledge is
small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he is not rich, we
may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep
his knowledge to himself.'
Before leaving London this year, I consulted him upon a question purely
of Scotch law. It was held of old, and continued for a long period, to
be an established principle in that law, that whoever intermeddled with
the effects of a person deceased, without the interposition of legal
authority to guard against embezzlement, should be subjected to pay all
the debts of the deceased, as having been guilty of what was technically
called _vicious intromission_. The Court of Session had gradually
relaxed the strictness of this principle, where the interference proved
had been inconsiderable. In a case which came before that Court the
preceding winter, I had laboured to persuade the Judges to return to the
ancient law. It was my own sincere opinion, that they ought to adhere to
it; but I had exhausted all my powers of reasoning in vain. Johnson
thought as I did; and in order to assist me in my application to the
Court for a revision and alteration of the judgement, he dictated to me
the following argument:--
'This, we are told, is a law which has its force only from the long
practice of the Court: and may, therefore, be suspended or modified as
the Court shall think proper.
'Concerning the power of the Court to make or to suspend a law, we have
no intention to inquire. It is sufficient for our purpose that every
just law is dictated by reason; and that the practice of every legal
Court is regulated by equity. It is the quality of reason to be
invariable and constant; and of equity, to give to one man what, in the
same case, is given to another. The advantage which humanity derives
from law is this: that the law gives every man a rule of action, and
prescribes a mode of conduct which shall entitle him to the support and
protection of society. That the law may be a rule of action, it is
necessary that it be known; it is necessary that it be permanent and
stable. The law is the measure of civil right; but if the measure be
changeable, the extent of the thing measured never can be settled.
'To permit a law to be modified at discretion, is to leave the community
without law. It is to withdraw the direction of that publick wisdom, by
which the deficiencies of private understanding are to be supplied. It
is to suffer the rash and ignorant to act at discretion, and then to
depend for the legality of that action on the sentence of the Judge. He
that is thus governed, lives not by law, but by opinion: not by a
certain rule to which he can apply his intention before he acts, but by
an uncertain and variable opinion, which he can never know but after he
has committed the act on which that opinion shall be passed. He lives by
a law, (if a law it be,) which he can never know before he has offended
it. To this case may be justly applied that important principle, _misera
est servitus ubi jus est aut incognitum aut vagum_. If Intromission be
not criminal till it exceeds a certain point, and that point be
unsettled, and consequently different in different minds, the right of
Intromission, and the right of the Creditor arising from it, are all
_jura vaga_, and, by consequence, are _jura incognita_; and the result
can be no other than a _misera servitus_, an uncertainty concerning the
event of action, a servile dependence on private opinion.
'It may be urged, and with great plausibility, that there may be
Intromission without fraud; which, however true, will by no means
justify an occasional and arbitrary relaxation of the law. The end of
law is protection as well as vengeance. Indeed, vengeance is never used
but to strengthen protection. That society only is well governed, where
life is freed from danger and from suspicion; where possession is so
sheltered by salutary prohibitions, that violation is prevented more
frequently than punished. Such a prohibition was this, while it operated
with its original force. The creditor of the deceased was not only
without loss, but without fear. He was not to seek a remedy for an
injury suffered; for, injury was warded off.
'As the law has been sometimes administered, it lays us open to wounds,
because it is imagined to have the power of healing. To punish fraud
when it is detected, is the proper act of vindictive justice; but to
prevent frauds, and make punishment unnecessary, is the great employment
of legislative wisdom. To permit Intromission, and to punish fraud, is
to make law no better than a pitfall. To tread upon the brink is safe;
but to come a step further is destruction. But, surely, it is better to
enclose the gulf, and hinder all access, than by encouraging us to
advance a little, to entice us afterwards a little further, and let us
perceive our folly only by our destruction.
'As law supplies the weak with adventitious strength, it likewise
enlightens the ignorant with extrinsick understanding. Law teaches us to
know when we commit injury, and when we suffer it. It fixes certain
marks upon actions, by which we are admonished to do or to forbear them.
_Qui sibi bene temperat in licitis_, says one of the fathers, _nunquam
cadet in illicita_. He who never intromits at all, will never intromit
with fraudulent intentions.
'The relaxation of the law against vicious intromission has been very
favourably represented by a great master of jurisprudence, whose
words have been exhibited with unnecessary pomp, and seem to be
considered as irresistibly decisive. The great moment of his authority
makes it necessary to examine his position. "Some ages ago, (says he,)
before the ferocity of the inhabitants of this part of the island was
subdued, the utmost severity of the civil law was necessary, to restrain
individuals from plundering each other. Thus, the man who intermeddled
irregularly with the moveables of a person deceased, was subjected to
all the debts of the deceased without limitation. This makes a branch of
the law of Scotland, known by the name of _vicious intromission_; and so
rigidly was this regulation applied in our Courts of Law, that the most
trifling moveable abstracted _mala fide_, subjected the intermeddler to
the foregoing consequences, which proved in many instances a most
rigorous punishment. But this severity was necessary, in order to subdue
the undisciplined nature of our people. It is extremely remarkable, that
in proportion to our improvement in manners, this regulation has been
gradually softened, and applied by our sovereign Court with a sparing
'I find myself under a necessity of observing, that this learned and
judicious writer has not accurately distinguished the deficiencies and
demands of the different conditions of human life, which, from a degree
of savageness and independence, in which all laws are vain, passes or
may pass, by innumerable gradations, to a state of reciprocal benignity,
in which laws shall be no longer necessary. Men are first wild and
unsocial, living each man to himself, taking from the weak, and losing
to the strong. In their first coalitions of society, much of this
original savageness is retained. Of general happiness, the product of
general confidence, there is yet no thought. Men continue to prosecute
their own advantages by the nearest way; and the utmost severity of the
civil law is necessary to restrain individuals from plundering each
other. The restraints then necessary, are restraints from plunder, from
acts of publick violence, and undisguised oppression. The ferocity of
our ancestors, as of all other nations, produced not fraud, but rapine.
They had not yet learned to cheat, and attempted only to rob. As manners
grow more polished, with the knowledge of good, men attain likewise
dexterity in evil. Open rapine becomes less frequent, and violence gives
way to cunning. Those who before invaded pastures and stormed houses,
now begin to enrich themselves by unequal contracts and fraudulent
intromissions. It is not against the violence of ferocity, but the
circumventions of deceit, that this law was framed; and I am afraid the
increase of commerce, and the incessant struggle for riches which
commerce excites, give us no prospect of an end speedily to be expected
of artifice and fraud. It therefore seems to be no very conclusive
reasoning, which connects those two propositions;--"the nation is become
less ferocious, and therefore the laws against fraud and _covin_
shall be relaxed."
'Whatever reason may have influenced the Judges to a relaxation of the
law, it was not that the nation was grown less fierce; and, I am afraid,
it cannot be affirmed, that it is grown less fraudulent.
'Since this law has been represented as rigorously and unreasonably
penal, it seems not improper to consider what are the conditions and
qualities that make the justice or propriety of a penal law.
'To make a penal law reasonable and just, two conditions are necessary,
and two proper. It is necessary that the law should be adequate to its
end; that, if it be observed, it shall prevent the evil against which it
is directed. It is, secondly, necessary that the end of the law be of
such importance, as to deserve the security of a penal sanction. The
other conditions of a penal law, which though not absolutely necessary,
are to a very high degree fit, are, that to the moral violation of the
law there are many temptations, and that of the physical observance
there is great facility.
'All these conditions apparently concur to justify the law which we are
now considering. Its end is the security of property; and property very
often of great value. The method by which it effects the security is
efficacious, because it admits, in its original rigour, no gradations of
injury; but keeps guilt and innocence apart, by a distinct and definite
limitation. He that intromits, is criminal; he that intromits not, is
innocent. Of the two secondary considerations it cannot be denied that
both are in our favour. The temptation to intromit is frequent and
strong; so strong and so frequent, as to require the utmost activity of
justice, and vigilance of caution, to withstand its prevalence; and the
method by which a man may entitle himself to legal intromission, is so
open and so facile, that to neglect it is a proof of fraudulent
intention: for why should a man omit to do (but for reasons which he
will not confess,) that which he can do so easily, and that which he
knows to be required by the law? If temptation were rare, a penal law
might be deemed unnecessary. If the duty enjoined by the law were of
difficult performance, omission, though it could not be justified, might
be pitied. But in the present case, neither equity nor compassion
operate against it. A useful, a necessary law is broken, not only
without a reasonable motive, but with all the inducements to obedience
that can be derived from safety and facility.
'I therefore return to my original position, that a law, to have its
effect, must be permanent and stable. It may be said, in the language of
the schools, _Lex non recipit majus et minus_,--we may have a law, or we
may have no law, but we cannot have half a law. We must either have a
rule of action, or be permitted to act by discretion and by chance.
Deviations from the law must be uniformly punished, or no man can be
certain when he shall be safe.
'That from the rigour of the original institution this Court has
sometimes departed, cannot be denied. But, as it is evident that such
deviations, as they make law uncertain, make life unsafe, I hope, that
of departing from it there will now be an end; that the wisdom of our
ancestors will be treated with due reverence; and that consistent and
steady decisions will furnish the people with a rule of action, and
leave fraud and fraudulent intromission no future hope of impunity or
With such comprehension of mind, and such clearness of penetration, did
he thus treat a subject altogether new to him, without any other
preparation than my having stated to him the arguments which had been
used on each side of the question. His intellectual powers appeared with
peculiar lustre, when tried against those of a writer of so much fame as
Lord Kames, and that too in his Lordship's own department.
This masterly argument, after being prefaced and concluded with some
sentences of my own, and garnished with the usual formularies, was
actually printed and laid before the Lords of Session, but without
success. My respected friend Lord Hailes, however, one of that
honourable body, had critical sagacity enough to discover a more than
ordinary hand in the _Petition_. I told him Dr. Johnson had favoured me
with his pen. His Lordship, with wonderful _acumen_, pointed out exactly
where his composition began, and where it ended. But that I may do
impartial justice, and conform to the great rule of Courts, _Suum cuique
tribuito_, I must add, that their Lordships in general, though they were
pleased to call this 'a well-drawn paper,' preferred the former very
inferiour petition which I had written; thus confirming the truth of an
observation made to me by one of their number, in a merry mood: 'My dear
Sir, give yourself no trouble in the composition of the papers you
present to us; for, indeed, it is casting pearls before swine.'
I renewed my solicitations that Dr. Johnson would this year accomplish
his long-intended visit to Scotland.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'The regret has not been little with which I have missed a journey so
pregnant with pleasing expectations, as that in which I could promise
myself not only the gratification of curiosity, both rational and
fanciful, but the delight of seeing those whom I love and esteem. But
such has been the course of things, that I could not come; and such has
been, I am afraid, the state of my body, that it would not well have
seconded my inclination. My body, I think, grows better, and I refer my
hopes to another year; for I am very sincere in my design to pay the
visit, and take the ramble. In the mean time, do not omit any
opportunity of keeping up a favourable opinion of me in the minds of any
of my friends. Beattie's book is, I believe, every day more liked; at
least, I like it more, as I look more upon it.
'I am glad if you got credit by your cause, and am yet of opinion, that
our cause was good, and that the determination ought to have been in
your favour. Poor Hastie, I think, had but his deserts.
'You promised to get me a little _Pindar_, you may add to it a little
'The leisure which I cannot enjoy, it will be a pleasure to hear that
you employ upon the antiquities of the feudal establishment. The whole
system of ancient tenures is gradually passing away; and I wish to have
the knowledge of it preserved adequate and complete. For such an
institution makes a very important part of the history of mankind. Do
not forget a design so worthy of a scholar who studies the laws of his
country, and of a gentleman who may naturally be curious to know the
condition of his own ancestors.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Yours with great affection,
'August 31, 1772.'
'TO DR. JOHNSON.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'Edinburgh, Dec. 25, 1772.
* * * * *
'I was much disappointed that you did not come to Scotland last autumn.
However, I must own that your letter prevents me from complaining; not
only because I am sensible that the state of your health was but too
good an excuse, but because you write in a strain which shews that you
have agreeable views of the scheme which we have so long proposed.
* * * * *
'I communicated to Beattie what you said of his book in your last letter
to me. He writes to me thus:--"You judge very rightly in supposing that
Dr. Johnson's favourable opinion of any book must give me great delight.
Indeed it is impossible for me to say how much I am gratified by it; for
there is not a man upon earth whose good opinion I would be more
ambitious to cultivate. His talents and his virtues I reverence more
than any words can express. The extraordinary civilities (the
paternal attentions I should rather say,) and the many instructions I
have had the honour to receive from him, will to me be a perpetual
source of pleasure in the recollection,
'"_Dum memor ipse mei, dum spiritus has reget artus_.
'"I had still some thoughts, while the summer lasted, of being obliged
to go to London on some little business; otherwise I should certainly
have troubled him with a letter several months ago, and given some vent
to my gratitude and admiration. This I intend to do, as soon as I am
left a little at leisure. Mean time, if you have occasion to write to
him, I beg you will offer him my most respectful compliments, and assure
him of the sincerity of my attachment and the warmth of my gratitude."
* * * * *
'I am, &c.
1773: AETAT. 64.--In 1773 his only publication was an edition of his
folio _Dictionary_, with additions and corrections; nor did he, so
far as is known, furnish any productions of his fertile pen to any of
his numerous friends or dependants, except the Preface to his old
amanuensis Macbean's _Dictionary of Ancient Geography_. His
_Shakspeare_, indeed, which had been received with high approbation by
the publick, and gone through several editions, was this year
re-published by George Steevens, Esq., a gentleman not only deeply
skilled in ancient learning, and of very extensive reading in English
literature, especially the early writers, but at the same time of acute
discernment and elegant taste. It is almost unnecessary to say, that
by his great and valuable additions to Dr. Johnson's work, he justly
obtained considerable reputation:
'_Divisum imperium cum Jove Caesar habet_.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I have read your kind letter much more than the elegant _Pindar_ which
it accompanied. I am always glad to find myself not forgotten; and to be
forgotten by you would give me great uneasiness. My northern friends
have never been unkind to me: I have from you, dear Sir, testimonies of
affection, which I have not often been able to excite; and Dr. Beattie
rates the testimony which I was desirous of paying to his merit, much
higher than I should have thought it reasonable to expect.
'I have heard of your masquerade. What says your synod to such
innovations? I am not studiously scrupulous, nor do I think a masquerade
either evil in itself, or very likely to be the occasion of evil; yet as
the world thinks it a very licentious relaxation of manners, I would not
have been one of the _first_ masquers in a country where no masquerade
had ever been before.
'A new edition of my great _Dictionary_ is printed, from a copy which I
was persuaded to revise; but having made no preparation, I was able to
do very little. Some superfluities I have expunged, and some faults I
have corrected, and here and there have scattered a remark; but the main
fabrick of the work remains as it was. I had looked very little into it
since I wrote it, and, I think, I found it full as often better, as
worse, than I expected.
'Baretti and Davies have had a furious quarrel; a quarrel, I think,
irreconcileable. Dr. Goldsmith has a new comedy, which is expected in
the spring. No name is yet given it. The chief diversion arises from
a stratagem by which a lover is made to mistake his future
father-in-law's house for an inn. This, you see, borders upon farce. The
dialogue is quick and gay, and the incidents are so prepared as not to
'I am sorry that you lost your cause of Intromission, because I yet
think the arguments on your side unanswerable. But you seem, I think, to
say that you gained reputation even by your defeat; and reputation you
will daily gain, if you keep Lord Auchinleck's precept in your mind, and
endeavour to consolidate in your mind a firm and regular system of law,
instead of picking up occasional fragments.
'My health seems in general to improve; but I have been troubled for
many weeks with a vexatious catarrh, which is sometimes sufficiently
distressful. I have not found any great effects from bleeding and
physick; and am afraid, that I must expect help from brighter days and
'Write to me now and then; and whenever any good befalls you, make haste
to let me know it, for no one will rejoice at it more than, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'London, Feb. 24, 1773.'
'You continue to stand very high in the favour of Mrs. Thrale.'
While a former edition of my work was passing through the press, I was
unexpectedly favoured with a packet from Philadelphia, from Mr. James
Abercrombie, a gentleman of that country, who is pleased to honour me
with very high praise of my _Life of Dr. Johnson_. To have the fame of
my illustrious friend, and his faithful biographer, echoed from the New
World is extremely flattering; and my grateful acknowledgements shall be
wafted across the Atlantick. Mr. Abercrombie has politely conferred on
me a considerable additional obligation, by transmitting to me copies of
two letters from Dr. Johnson to American gentlemen. 'Gladly, Sir, (says
he,) would I have sent you the originals; but being the only relicks of
the kind in America, they are considered by the possessors of such
inestimable value, that no possible consideration would induce them to
part with them. In some future publication of yours relative to that
great and good man, they may perhaps be thought worthy of insertion.'
'To MR. B---D.
'That in the hurry of a sudden departure you should yet find leisure to
consult my convenience, is a degree of kindness, and an instance of
regard, not only beyond my claims, but above my expectation. You are not
mistaken in supposing that I set a high value on my American friends,
and that you should confer a very valuable favour upon me by giving me
an opportunity of keeping myself in their memory.
'I have taken the liberty of troubling you with a packet, to which I
wish a safe and speedy conveyance, because I wish a safe and speedy
voyage to him that conveys it. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
Fleet street, March 4, 1773.'
'To THE REVEREND MR. WHITE.
'Your kindness for your friends accompanies you across the Atlantick. It
was long since observed by Horace, that no ship could leave care
behind; you have been attended in your voyage by other powers,--by
benevolence and constancy; and I hope care did not often shew her face
in their company.
'I received the copy of _Rasselas_. The impression is not magnificent,
but it flatters an authour, because the printer seems to have expected
that it would be scattered among the people. The little book has been
well received, and is translated into Italian, French, German,
and Dutch. It has now one honour more by an American edition.
'I know not that much has happened since your departure that can engage
your curiosity. Of all publick transactions the whole world is now
informed by the newspapers. Opposition seems to despond; and the
dissenters, though they have taken advantage of unsettled times, and a
government much enfeebled, seem not likely to gain any immunities.
'Dr. Goldsmith has a new comedy in rehearsal at Covent-Garden, to which
the manager predicts ill success. I hope he will be mistaken. I think
it deserves a very kind reception.
'I shall soon publish a new edition of my large _Dictionary_; I have
been persuaded to revise it, and have mended some faults, but added
little to its usefulness.
'No book has been published since your departure, of which much notice
is taken. Faction only fills the town with pamphlets, and greater
subjects are forgotten in the noise of discord.
'Thus have I written, only to tell you how little I have to tell. Of
myself I can only add, that having been afflicted many weeks with a very
troublesome cough, I am now recovered.
'I take the liberty which you give me of troubling you with a letter, of
which you will please to fill up the direction. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
London, March 4, 1773.'
On Saturday, April 3, the day after my arrival in London this year, I
went to his house late in the evening, and sat with Mrs. Williams till
he came home. I found in the _London Chronicle_, Dr. Goldsmith's
apology to the publick for beating Evans, a bookseller, on account of
a paragraph in a newspaper published by him, which Goldsmith thought
impertinent to him and to a lady of his acquaintance. The apology was
written so much in Dr. Johnson's manner, that both Mrs. Williams and I
supposed it to be his; but when he came home, he soon undeceived us.
When he said to Mrs. Williams, 'Well, Dr. Goldsmith's _manifesto_ has
got into your paper;' I asked him if Dr. Goldsmith had written it,
with an air that made him see I suspected it was his, though subscribed
by Goldsmith. JOHNSON. 'Sir, Dr. Goldsmith would no more have asked me
to write such a thing as that for him, than he would have asked me to
feed him with a spoon, or to do anything else that denoted his
imbecility. I as much believe that he wrote it, as if I had seen him do
it. Sir, had he shewn it to any one friend, he would not have been
allowed to publish it. He has, indeed, done it very well; but it is a
foolish thing well done. I suppose he has been so much elated with the
success of his new comedy, that he has thought every thing that
concerned him must be of importance to the publick.' BOSWELL. 'I fancy,
Sir, this is the first time that he has been engaged in such an
adventure.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I believe it is the first time he has
_beat_; he may have _been beaten_ before. This, Sir, is a new plume
I mentioned Sir John Dalrymple's _Memoirs of Great-Britain and Ireland_,
and his discoveries to the prejudice of Lord Russel and Algernon Sydney.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, every body who had just notions of government
thought them rascals before. It is well that all mankind now see them to
be rascals.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, may not those discoveries be true
without their being rascals?' JOHNSON. 'Consider, Sir; would any of them
have been willing to have had it known that they intrigued with France?
Depend upon it, Sir, he who does what he is afraid should be known, has
something rotten about him. This Dalrymple seems to be an honest
fellow; for he tells equally what makes against both sides. But
nothing can be poorer than his mode of writing, it is the mere bouncing
of a school-boy. Great He! but greater She! and such stuff.'
I could not agree with him in this criticism; for though Sir John
Dalrymple's style is not regularly formed in any respect, and one cannot
help smiling sometimes at his affected _grandiloquence_, there is in his
writing a pointed vivacity, and much of a gentlemanly spirit.
At Mr. Thrale's, in the evening, he repeated his usual paradoxical
declamation against action in publick speaking. 'Action can have no
effect upon reasonable minds. It may augment noise, but it never can
enforce argument. If you speak to a dog, you use action; you hold up
your hand thus, because he is a brute; and in proportion as men are
removed from brutes, action will have the less influence upon them.'
MRS. THRALE. 'What then, Sir, becomes of Demosthenes's saying? "Action,
action, action!"' JOHNSON. 'Demosthenes, Madam, spoke to an assembly of
brutes; to a barbarous people.'
I thought it extraordinary, that he should deny the power of rhetorical
action upon human nature, when it is proved by innumerable facts in all
stages of society. Reasonable beings are not solely reasonable. They
have fancies which may be pleased, passions which may be roused.
Lord Chesterfield being mentioned, Johnson remarked, that almost all of
that celebrated nobleman's witty sayings were puns. He, however,
allowed the merit of good wit to his Lordship's saying of Lord
Tyrawley and himself, when both very old and infirm: 'Tyrawley and I
have been dead these two years; but we don't choose to have it known.'
He talked with approbation of an intended edition of _The_ Spectator,
with notes; two volumes of which had been prepared by a gentleman
eminent in the literary world, and the materials which he had collected
for the remainder had been transferred to another hand. He observed,
that all works which describe manners, require notes in sixty or seventy
years, or less; and told us, he had communicated all he knew that could
throw light upon _The Spectator_. He said, 'Addison had made his Sir
Andrew Freeport a true Whig, arguing against giving charity to beggars,
and throwing out other such ungracious sentiments; but that he had
thought better, and made amends by making him found an hospital for
decayed farmers.' He called for the volume of _The Spectator_, in
which that account is contained, and read it aloud to us. He read so
well, that every thing acquired additional weight and grace from his
The conversation having turned on modern imitations of ancient ballads,
and some one having praised their simplicity, he treated them with that
ridicule which he always displayed when that subject was mentioned.
He disapproved of introducing scripture phrases into secular discourse.
This seemed to me a question of some difficulty. A scripture expression
may be used, like a highly classical phrase, to produce an instantaneous
strong impression; and it may be done without being at all improper. Yet
I own there is danger, that applying the language of our sacred book to
ordinary subjects may tend to lessen our reverence for it. If therefore
it be introduced at all, it should be with very great caution.
On Thursday, April 8, I sat a good part of the evening with him, but he
was very silent. He said, 'Burnet's _History of his own times_ is very
entertaining. The style, indeed, is mere chitchat. I do not
believe that Burnet intentionally lyed; but he was so much prejudiced,
that he took no pains to find out the truth. He was like a man who
resolves to regulate his time by a certain watch; but will not inquire
whether the watch is right or not.'
Though he was not disposed to talk, he was unwilling that I should leave
him; and when I looked at my watch, and told him it was twelve o'clock,
he cried, 'What's that to you and me?' and ordered Frank to tell Mrs.
Williams that we were coming to drink tea with her, which we did. It was
settled that we should go to church together next day.
On the 9th of April, being Good Friday, I breakfasted with him on tea
and cross-buns; _Doctor_ Levet, as Frank called him, making the tea.
He carried me with him to the church of St. Clement Danes, where he had
his seat; and his behaviour was, as I had imaged to myself, solemnly
devout. I never shall forget the tremulous earnestness with which he
pronounced the awful petition in the Litany: 'In the hour of death, and
at the day of judgement, good LORD deliver us.'
We went to church both in the morning and evening. In the interval
between the two services we did not dine; but he read in the Greek New
Testament, and I turned over several of his books.
In Archbishop Laud's Diary, I found the following passage, which I read
to Dr. Johnson:--
'1623. February 1, Sunday. I stood by the most illustrious Prince
Charles, at dinner. He was then very merry, and talked occasionally
of many things with his attendants. Among other things, he said, that if
he were necessitated to take any particular profession of life, he could
not be a lawyer, adding his reasons: "I cannot (saith he,) defend a bad,
nor yield in a good cause."'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, this is false reasoning; because every cause has a bad
side; and a lawyer is not overcome, though the cause which he has
endeavoured to support be determined against him.'
I told him that Goldsmith had said to me a few days before, 'As I take
my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the taylor, so I take my
religion from the priest.' I regretted this loose way of talking.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, he knows nothing; he has made up his mind about
To my great surprize he asked me to dine with him on Easter-day. I never
supposed that he had a dinner at his house; for I had not then heard of
any one of his friends having been entertained at his table. He told me,
'I generally have a meat pye on Sunday: it is baked at a publick oven,
which is very properly allowed, because one man can attend it; and thus
the advantage is obtained of not keeping servants from church to dress
April 11, being Easter-Sunday, after having attended Divine Service at
St. Paul's, I repaired to Dr. Johnson's. I had gratified my curiosity
much in dining with JEAN JAQUES ROUSSEAU, while he lived in the wilds
of Neufchatel: I had as great a curiosity to dine with DR. SAMUEL
JOHNSON, in the dusky recess of a court in Fleet-street. I supposed we
should scarcely have knives and forks, and only some strange, uncouth,
ill-drest dish: but I found every thing in very good order. We had no
other company but Mrs. Williams and a young woman whom I did not know.
As a dinner here was considered as a singular phenomenon, and as I was
frequently interrogated on the subject, my readers may perhaps be
desirous to know our bill of fare. Foote, I remember, in allusion to
Francis, the _negro_, was willing to suppose that our repast was _black
broth_. But the fact was, that we had a very good soup, a boiled leg of
lamb and spinach, a veal pye, and a rice pudding.
Of Dr. John Campbell, the authour, he said, 'He is a very inquisitive
and a very able man, and a man of good religious principles, though I am
afraid he has been deficient in practice. Campbell is radically right;
and we may hope, that in time there will be good practice.'
He owned that he thought Hawkesworth was one of his imitators, but he
did not think Goldsmith was. Goldsmith, he said, had great merit.
BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, he is much indebted to you for his getting so high
in the publick estimation.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he has perhaps got
_sooner_ to it by his intimacy with me.'
Goldsmith, though his vanity often excited him to occasional
competition, had a very high regard for Johnson, which he at this time
expressed in the strongest manner in the Dedication of his comedy,
entitled, _She Stops to Conquer_.
Johnson observed, that there were very few books printed in Scotland
before the Union. He had seen a complete collection of them in the
possession of the Hon. Archibald Campbell, a non-juring Bishop. I
wish this collection had been kept entire. Many of them are in the
library of the Faculty of Advocates at Edinburgh. I told Dr. Johnson
that I had some intention to write the life of the learned and worthy
Thomas Ruddiman. He said, 'I should take pleasure in helping you to
do honour to him. But his farewell letter to the Faculty of Advocates,
when he resigned the office of their Librarian, should have been in
I put a question to him upon a fact in common life, which he could not
answer, nor have I found any one else who could. What is the reason that
women servants, though obliged to be at the expense of purchasing their
own clothes, have much lower wages than men servants, to whom a great
proportion of that article is furnished, and when in fact our female
house servants work much harder than the male?
He told me that he had twelve or fourteen times attempted to keep a
journal of his life, but never could persevere. He advised me to do
it. 'The great thing to be recorded, (said he), is the state of your own
mind; and you should write down every thing that you remember, for
you cannot judge at first what is good or bad; and write immediately
while the impression is fresh, for it will not be the same a week
I again solicited him to communicate to me the particulars of his early
life. He said, 'You shall have them all for twopence. I hope you shall
know a great deal more of me before you write my Life.' He mentioned to
me this day many circumstances, which I wrote down when I went home, and
have interwoven in the former part of this narrative.
On Tuesday, April 13, he and Dr. Goldsmith and I dined at General
Oglethorpe's. Goldsmith expatiated on the common topick, that the race
of our people was degenerated, and that this was owing to luxury.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, in the first place, I doubt the fact. I believe there
are as many tall men in England now, as ever there were. But, secondly,
supposing the stature of our people to be diminished, that is not owing
to luxury; for, Sir, consider to how very small a proportion of our
people luxury can reach. Our soldiery, surely, are not luxurious, who
live on six-pence a day; and the same remark will apply to almost all
the other classes. Luxury, so far as it reaches the poor, will do good
to the race of people; it will strengthen and multiply them. Sir, no
nation was ever hurt by luxury; for, as I said before, it can reach but
to a very few. I admit that the great increase of commerce and
manufactures hurts the military spirit of a people; because it produces
a competition for something else than martial honours,--a competition
for riches. It also hurts the bodies of the people; for you will
observe, there is no man who works at any particular trade, but you may
know him from his appearance to do so. One part or other of his body
being more used than the rest, he is in some degree deformed: but, Sir,
that is not luxury. A tailor sits cross-legged; but that is not luxury.'
GOLDSMITH. 'Come, you're just going to the same place by another road.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I say that is not _luxury_. Let us take a walk from
Charing-cross to White-chapel, through, I suppose, the greatest series
of shops in the world; what is there in any of these shops (if you
except gin-shops,) that can do any human being any harm?' GOLDSMITH.
'Well, Sir, I'll accept your challenge. The very next shop to
Northumberland-house is a pickle-shop.' JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir: do we not
know that a maid can in one afternoon make pickles sufficient to serve a
whole family for a year? nay, that five pickle-shops can serve all the
kingdom? Besides, Sir, there is no harm done to any body by the making
of pickles, or the eating of pickles.'
We drank tea with the ladies; and Goldsmith sung Tony Lumpkin's song in
his comedy, _She Stoops to Conquer_, and a very pretty one, to an Irish
tune, which he had designed for Miss Hardcastle; but as Mrs.
Bulkeley, who played the part, could not sing, it was left out. He
afterwards wrote it down for me, by which means it was preserved, and
now appears amongst his poems. Dr. Johnson, in his way home, stopped
at my lodgings in Piccadilly, and sat with me, drinking tea a second
time, till a late hour.
I told him that Mrs. Macaulay said, she wondered how he could reconcile
his political principles with his moral; his notions of inequality and
subordination with wishing well to the happiness of all mankind, who
might live so agreeably, had they all their portions of land, and none
to domineer over another. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I reconcile my principles
very well, because mankind are happier in a state of inequality and
subordination. Were they to be in this pretty state of equality, they
would soon degenerate into brutes;--they would become Monboddo's
nation;--their tails would grow. Sir, all would be losers were all to
work for all:--they would have no intellectual improvement. All
intellectual improvement arises from leisure; all leisure arises from
one working for another.'
Talking of the family of Stuart, he said, 'It should seem that the
family at present on the throne has now established as good a right as
the former family, by the long consent of the people; and that to
disturb this right might be considered as culpable. At the same time I
own, that it is a very difficult question, when considered with respect
to the house of Stuart. To oblige people to take oaths as to the
disputed right, is wrong. I know not whether I could take them: but I do
not blame those who do.' So conscientious and so delicate was he upon
this subject, which has occasioned so much clamour against him.
Talking of law cases, he said, 'The English reports, in general, are
very poor: only the half of what has been said is taken down; and of
that half, much is mistaken. Whereas, in Scotland, the arguments on each
side are deliberately put in writing, to be considered by the Court. I
think a collection of your cases upon subjects of importance, with the
opinions of the Judges upon them, would be valuable.'
On Thursday, April 15, I dined with him and Dr. Goldsmith at General
Paoli's. We found here Signor Martinelli, of Florence, authour of a
_History of England_, in Italian, printed at London.
I spoke of Allan Ramsay's _Gentle Shepherd_, in the Scottish dialect, as
the best pastoral that had ever been written; not only abounding with
beautiful rural imagery, and just and pleasing sentiments, but being a
real picture of manners; and I offered to teach Dr. Johnson to
understand it. 'No, Sir (said he,) I won't learn it. You shall retain
your superiority by my not knowing it.'