Part 4 out of 12
This brought on a question whether one man is lessened by another's
acquiring an equal degree of knowledge with him. Johnson asserted the
affirmative. I maintained that the position might be true in those kinds
of knowledge which produce wisdom, power, and force, so as to enable one
man to have the government of others; but that a man is not in any
degree lessened by others knowing as well as he what ends in mere
pleasure:--eating fine fruits, drinking delicious wines, reading
The General observed, that Martinelli was a Whig. JOHNSON. 'I am sorry
for it. It shows the spirit of the times: he is obliged to temporise.'
BOSWELL. 'I rather think, Sir, that Toryism prevails in this reign.'
JOHNSON. 'I know not why you should think so, Sir. You see your friend
Lord Lyttelton, a nobleman, is obliged in his _History_ to write the
most vulgar Whiggism.'
An animated debate took place whether Martinelli should continue his
_History of England_ to the present day. GOLDSMITH. 'To be sure he
should.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he would give great offence. He would have
to tell of almost all the living great what they do not wish told.'
GOLDSMITH. 'It may, perhaps, be necessary for a native to be more
cautious; but a foreigner who comes among us without prejudice, may be
considered as holding the place of a Judge, and may speak his mind
freely.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, a foreigner, when he sends a work from the
press, ought to be on his guard against catching the errour and mistaken
enthusiasm of the people among whom he happens to be.' GOLDSMITH. 'Sir,
he wants only to sell his history, and to tell truth; one an honest, the
other a laudable motive.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they are both laudable motives.
It is laudable in a man to wish to live by his labours; but he should
write so as he may _live_ by them, not so as he may be knocked on the
head. I would advise him to be at Calais before he publishes his history
of the present age. A foreigner who attaches himself to a political
party in this country, is in the worst state that can be imagined: he is
looked upon as a mere intermeddler. A native may do it from interest.'
BOSWELL. 'Or principle.' GOLDSMITH. 'There are people who tell a hundred
political lies every day, and are not hurt by it. Surely, then, one may
tell truth with safety.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in the first place, he who
tells a hundred lies has disarmed the force of his lies. But besides;
a man had rather have a hundred lies told of him, than one truth which
he does not wish should be told.' GOLDSMITH. 'For my part, I'd tell
truth, and shame the devil.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but the devil will be
angry. I wish to shame the devil as much you do, but I should choose to
be out of the reach of his claws.' GOLDSMITH. 'His claws can do you no
harm, when you have the shield of truth.'
It having been observed that there was little hospitality in
London;--JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, any man who has a name, or who has the
power of pleasing, will be very generally invited in London. The man,
Sterne, I have been told, has had engagements for three months.'
GOLDSMITH. 'And a very dull fellow.' JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir.'
Martinelli told us, that for several years he lived much with Charles
Townshend, and that he ventured to tell him he was a bad joker. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, thus much I can say upon the subject. One day he and a few
more agreed to go and dine in the country, and each of them was to bring
a friend in his carriage with him. Charles Townshend asked Fitzherbert
to go with him, but told him, 'You must find somebody to bring you back:
I can only carry you there.' Fitzherbert did not much like this
arrangement. He however consented, observing sarcastically, 'It will do
very well; for then the same jokes will serve you in returning as in
An eminent publick character being mentioned;--JOHNSON. 'I remember
being present when he shewed himself to be so corrupted, or at least
something so different from what I think right, as to maintain, that a
member of parliament should go along with his party right or wrong. Now,
Sir, this is so remote from native virtue, from scholastick virtue, that
a good man must have undergone a great change before he can reconcile
himself to such a doctrine. It is maintaining that you may lie to the
publick; for you lie when you call that right which you think wrong, or
the reverse. A friend of ours, who is too much an echo of that
gentleman, observed, that a man who does not stick uniformly to a party,
is only waiting to be bought. Why then, said I, he is only waiting to be
what that gentleman is already.'
We talked of the King's coming to see Goldsmith's new play.--'I wish he
would,' said Goldsmith; adding, however, with an affected
indifference, 'Not that it would do me the least good.' JOHNSON. 'Well
then, Sir, let us say it would do _him_ good, (laughing). No, Sir, this
affectation will not pass;--it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours,
who would not wish to please the Chief Magistrate?' GOLDSMITH. 'I _do_
wish to please him. I remember a line in Dryden,--
"And every poet is the monarch's friend."
It ought to be reversed.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, there are finer lines in Dryden
on this subject:--
"For colleges on bounteous Kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend."'
General Paoli observed, that 'successful rebels might.' MARTINELLI.
'Happy rebellions.' GOLDSMITH. 'We have no such phrase.' GENERAL PAOLI.
'But have you not the _thing_?' GOLDSMITH. 'Yes; all our _happy_
revolutions. They have hurt our constitution, and will hurt it, till we
mend it by another HAPPY REVOLUTION.' I never before discovered that my
friend Goldsmith had so much of the old prejudice in him.
General Paoli, talking of Goldsmith's new play, said, 'Il a fait un
compliment tres gracieux a une certaine grande dame;' meaning a Duchess
of the first rank.
I expressed a doubt whether Goldsmith intended it, in order that I might
hear the truth from himself. It, perhaps, was not quite fair to
endeavour to bring him to a confession, as he might not wish to avow
positively his taking part against the Court. He smiled and hesitated.
The General at once relieved him, by this beautiful image: '_Monsieur
Goldsmith est comme la mer, qui jette des perles et beau-coup d'autres
belle choses, sans s'en appercevoir_.' GOLDSMITH. '_Tres bien dit et
A person was mentioned, who it was said could take down in short hand
the speeches in parliament with perfect exactness. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is
impossible. I remember one, Angel, who came to me to write for him a
Preface or Dedication to a book upon short hand, and he professed to
write as fast as a man could speak. In order to try him, I took down a
book, and read while he wrote; and I favoured him, for I read more
deliberately than usual. I had proceeded but a very little way, when he
begged I would desist, for he could not follow me.' Hearing now for
the first time of this Preface or Dedication, I said, 'What an expense,
Sir, do you put us to in buying books, to which you have written
Prefaces or Dedications.' JOHNSON. 'Why I have dedicated to the Royal
family all round; that is to say, to the last generation of the Royal
family.' GOLDSMITH. 'And perhaps, Sir, not one sentence of wit in a
whole Dedication.' JOHNSON. 'Perhaps not, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'What then is
the reason for applying to a particular person to do that which any one
may do as well?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, one man has greater readiness at
doing it than another.'
I spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man, and
in particular an eminent Grecian. JOHNSON. 'I am not sure of that. His
friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his friends are able
to judge of it.' GOLDSMITH. 'He is what is much better: he is a worthy
humane man.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, that is not to the purpose of our
argument: that will as much prove that he can play upon the fiddle as
well as Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian.' GOLDSMITH. 'The
greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am
told, does not get above seven hundred a year.' JOHNSON. 'That is indeed
but little for a man to get, who does best that which so many endeavour
to do. There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so
much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do
something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a
hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of
wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and a
fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing.'
On Monday, April 19, he called on me with Mrs. Williams, in Mr.
Strahan's coach, and carried me out to dine with Mr. Elphinston, at
his academy at Kensington. A printer having acquired a fortune
sufficient to keep his coach, was a good topick for the credit of
literature. Mrs. Williams said, that another printer, Mr. Hamilton,
had not waited so long as Mr. Strahan, but had kept his coach several
years sooner. JOHNSON. 'He was in the right. Life is short. The
sooner that a man begins to enjoy his wealth the better.'
Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr.
Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. 'I have looked into it.' 'What (said
Elphinston,) have you not read it through?' Johnson, offended at being
thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading,
answered tartly, 'No, Sir, do _you_ read books _through_?'
He this day again defended duelling, and put his argument upon what I
have ever thought the most solid basis; that if publick war be allowed
to be consistent with morality, private war must be equally so. Indeed
we may observe what strained arguments are used, to reconcile war with
the Christian religion. But, in my opinion, it is exceedingly clear that
duelling, having better reasons for its barbarous violence, is more
justifiable than war, in which thousands go forth without any cause of
personal quarrel, and massacre each other.
On Wednesday, April 21, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's. A gentleman
attacked Garrick for being vain. JOHNSON. 'No wonder, Sir, that he is
vain; a man who is perpetually flattered in every mode that can be
conceived. So many bellows have blown the fire, that one wonders he is
not by this time become a cinder.' BOSWELL. 'And such bellows too. Lord
Mansfield with his cheeks like to burst: Lord Chatham like an AEolus. I
have read such notes from them to him, as were enough to turn his
head.' JOHNSON. 'True. When he whom every body else flatters,
flatters me, I then am truely happy.' MRS. THRALE. 'The sentiment is in
Congreve, I think.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Madam, in _The Way of the World_:
"If there's delight in love, 'tis when I see
That heart which others bleed for, bleed for me."
'No, Sir, I should not be surprised though Garrick chained the ocean,
and lashed the winds.' BOSWELL. 'Should it not be, Sir, lashed the ocean
and chained the winds?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, recollect the original:
"In Corum atque Eurum solitus saevire flagellis Barbarus, AEolio nunquam
hoc in carcere passos, Ipsum compedibus qui viscxerat Ennosigoeum."
'This does very well, when both the winds and the sea are personified,
and mentioned by their mythological names, as in Juvenal; but when they
are mentioned in plain language, the application of the epithets
suggested by me, is the most obvious; and accordingly my friend himself,
in his imitation of the passage which describes Xerxes, has
"The waves he lashes, and enchains the wind."'
The modes of living in different countries, and the various views with
which men travel in quest of new scenes, having been talked of, a
learned gentleman who holds a considerable office in the law,
expatiated on the happiness of a savage life; and mentioned an
instance of an officer who had actually lived for some time in the wilds
of America, of whom, when in that state, he quoted this reflection with
an air of admiration, as if it had been deeply philosophical: 'Here am
I, free and unrestrained, amidst the rude magnificence of Nature, with
this Indian woman by my side, and this gun with which I can procure food
when I want it: what more can be desired for human happiness?' It did
not require much sagacity to foresee that such a sentiment would not be
permitted to pass without due animadversion. JOHNSON. 'Do not allow
yourself, Sir, to be imposed upon by such gross absurdity. It is sad
stuff; it is brutish. If a bull could speak, he might as well
exclaim,--Here am I with this cow and this grass; what being can enjoy
We talked of the melancholy end of a gentleman who had destroyed
himself. JOHNSON. 'It was owing to imaginary difficulties in his
affairs, which, had he talked with any friend, would soon have
vanished.' BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, that all who commit suicide are
mad?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they are often not universally disordered in their
intellects, but one passion presses so upon them, that they yield to it,
and commit suicide, as a passionate man will stab another.' He added, 'I
have often thought, that after a man has taken the resolution to kill
himself, it is not courage in him to do any thing, however desperate,
because he has nothing to fear.' GOLDSMITH. 'I don't see that.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, but my dear Sir, why should not you see what every one else sees?'
GOLDSMITH. 'It is for fear of something that he has resolved to kill
himself; and will not that timid disposition restrain him?' JOHNSON. 'It
does not signify that the fear of something made him resolve; it is upon
the state of his mind, after the resolution is taken, that I argue.
Suppose a man, either from fear, or pride, or conscience, or whatever
motive, has resolved to kill himself; when once the resolution is taken,
he has nothing to fear. He may then go and take the King of Prussia by
the nose, at the head of his army. He cannot fear the rack, who is
resolved to kill himself. When Eustace Budgel was walking down to the
Thames, determined to drown himself, he might, if he pleased, without
any apprehension of danger, have turned aside, and first set fire to St.
On Tuesday, April 27, Mr. Beauclerk and I called on him in the morning.
As we walked up Johnson's-court, I said, 'I have a veneration for this
court;' and was glad to find that Beauclerk had the same reverential
enthusiasm. We found him alone. We talked of Mr. Andrew Stuart's
elegant and plausible Letters to Lord Mansfield: a copy of which had
been sent by the authour to Dr. Johnson. JOHNSON. 'They have not
answered the end. They have not been talked of; I have never heard of
them. This is owing to their not being sold. People seldom read a book
which is given to them; and few are given. The way to spread a work is
to sell it at a low price. No man will send to buy a thing that costs
even sixpence, without an intention to read it.' BOSWELL. 'May it not be
doubted, Sir, whether it be proper to publish letters, arraigning the
ultimate decision of an important cause by the supreme judicature of the
nation?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I do not think it was wrong to publish these
letters. If they are thought to do harm, why not answer them? But they
will do no harm; if Mr. Douglas be indeed the son of Lady Jane, he
cannot be hurt: if he be not her son, and yet has the great estate of
the family of Douglas, he may well submit to have a pamphlet against him
by Andrew Stuart. Sir, I think such a publication does good, as it does
good to show us the possibilities of human life. And Sir, you will not
say that the Douglas cause was a cause of easy decision, when it divided
your Court as much as it could do, to be determined at all. When your
Judges were seven and seven, the casting vote of the President must be
given on one side or other: no matter, for my argument, on which; one or
the other _must_ be taken: as when I am to move, there is no matter
which leg I move first. And then, Sir, it was otherwise determined here.
No, Sir, a more dubious determination of any question cannot be
He said, 'Goldsmith should not be for ever attempting to shine in
conversation: he has not temper for it, he is so much mortified when he
fails. Sir, a game of jokes is composed partly of skill, partly of
chance, a man may be beat at times by one who has not the tenth part of
his wit. Now Goldsmith's putting himself against another, is like a man
laying a hundred to one who cannot spare the hundred. It is not worth a
man's while. A man should not lay a hundred to one, unless he can easily
spare it, though he has a hundred chances for him: he can get but a
guinea, and he may lose a hundred. Goldsmith is in this state. When he
contends, if he gets the better, it is a very little addition to a man
of his literary reputation: if he does not get the better, he is
Johnson's own superlative powers of wit set him above any risk of such
uneasiness. Garrick had remarked to me of him, a few days before,
'Rabelais and all other wits are nothing compared with him. You may be
diverted by them; but Johnson gives you a forcible hug, and shakes
laughter out of you, whether you will or no.'
Goldsmith, however, was often very fortunate in his witty contests, even
when he entered the lists with Johnson himself. Sir Joshua Reynolds was
in company with them one day, when Goldsmith said, that he thought he
could write a good fable, mentioned the simplicity which that kind of
composition requires, and observed, that in most fables the animals
introduced seldom talk in character. 'For instance, (said he,) the fable
of the little fishes, who saw birds fly over their heads, and envying
them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill (continued
he,) consists in making them talk like little fishes.' While he indulged
himself in this fanciful reverie, he observed Johnson shaking his sides,
and laughing. Upon which he smartly proceeded, 'Why, Dr. Johnson, this
is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little
fishes talk, they would talk like WHALES.'
Johnson, though remarkable for his great variety of composition, never
exercised his talents in fable, except we allow his beautiful tale
published in Mrs. Williams's _Miscellanies_ to be of that species. I
have, however, found among his manuscript collections the following
sketch of one:
'Glow-worm lying in the garden saw a candle in a neighbouring
palace,--and complained of the littleness of his own light;--another
observed--wait a little;--soon dark,--have outlasted [Greek: poll]
[_many_] of these glaring lights which are only brighter as they haste
On Thursday, April 29, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, where
were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Thrale. I
was very desirous to get Dr. Johnson absolutely fixed in his resolution
to go with me to the Hebrides this year; and I told him that I had
received a letter from Dr. Robertson the historian, upon the subject,
with which he was much pleased; and now talked in such a manner of his
long-intended tour, that I was satisfied he meant to fulfil his
The custom of eating dogs at Otaheite being mentioned, Goldsmith
observed, that this was also a custom in China; that a dog-butcher is as
common there as any other butcher; and that when he walks abroad all the
dogs fall on him. JOHNSON. 'That is not owing to his killing dogs, Sir.
I remember a butcher at Lichfield, whom a dog that was in the house
where I lived, always attacked. It is the smell of carnage which
provokes this, let the animals he has killed be what they may.'
GOLDSMITH. 'Yes, there is a general abhorrence in animals at the signs
of massacre. If you put a tub full of blood into a stable, the horses
are like to go mad.' JOHNSON. 'I doubt that.' GOLDSMITH. 'Nay, Sir, it
is a fact well authenticated.' THRALE. 'You had better prove it before
you put it into your book on natural history. You may do it in my stable
if you will.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I would not have him prove it. If he
is content to take his information from others, he may get through his
book with little trouble, and without much endangering his reputation.
But if he makes experiments for so comprehensive a book as his, there
would be no end to them: his erroneous assertions would then fall upon
himself, and he might be blamed for not having made experiments as to
The character of Mallet having been introduced, and spoken of
slightingly by Goldsmith; JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Mallet had talents enough
to keep his literary reputation alive as long as he himself lived;
and that, let me tell you, is a good deal.' GOLDSMITH. 'But I cannot
agree that it was so. His literary reputation was dead long before his
natural death. I consider an authour's literary reputation to be alive
only while his name will ensure a good price for his copy from the
booksellers. I will get you (to Johnson,) a hundred guineas for any
thing whatever that you shall write, if you put your name to it.'
Dr. Goldmith's new play, _She Stoops to Conquer_, being mentioned;
JOHNSON. 'I know of no comedy for many years that has so much
exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of
comedy--making an audience merry.'
Goldsmith having said, that Garrick's compliment to the Queen, which he
introduced into the play of _The Chances_, which he had altered and
revised this year, was mean and gross flattery;--JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I
would not _write_, I would not give solemnly under my hand, a character
beyond what I thought really true; but a speech on the stage, let it
flatter ever so extravagantly, is formular. It has always been
formular to flatter Kings and Queens; so much so, that even in our
church-service we have "our most religious King," used indiscriminately,
whoever is King. Nay, they even flatter themselves;--"we have been
graciously pleased to grant." No modern flattery, however, is so gross
as that of the Augustan age, where the Emperour was deified. "_Praesens
Divus habebitur Augustus_." And as to meanness, (rising into warmth,)
how is it mean in a player,--a showman,--a fellow who exhibits himself
for a shilling, to flatter his Queen? The attempt, indeed, was
dangerous; for if it had missed, what became of Garrick, and what became
of the Queen? As Sir William Temple says of a great General, it is
necessary not only that his designs be formed in a masterly manner, but
that they should be attended with success. Sir, it is right, at a
time when the Royal Family is not generally liked, to let it be seen
that the people like at least one of them.' SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'I do
not perceive why the profession of a player should be despised; for
the great and ultimate end of all the employments of mankind is to
produce amusement. Garrick produces more amusement than any body.'
BOSWELL. 'You say, Dr. Johnson, that Garrick exhibits himself for a
shilling. In this respect he is only on a footing with a lawyer who
exhibits himself for his fee, and even will maintain any nonsense or
absurdity, if the case requires it. Garrick refuses a play or a part
which he does not like; a lawyer never refuses.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
what does this prove? only that a lawyer is worse. Boswell is now like
Jack in _The Tale of a Tub_, who, when he is puzzled by an argument,
hangs himself. He thinks I shall cut him down, but I'll let him hang'
(laughing vociferously). SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Mr. Boswell thinks that
the profession of a lawyer being unquestionably honourable, if he can
show the profession of a player to be more honourable, he proves his
On Friday, April 30, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk's, where were
Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some more members of the
LITERARY CLUB, whom he had obligingly invited to meet me, as I was this
evening to be balloted for as candidate for admission into that
distinguished society. Johnson had done me the honour to propose me,
and Beauclerk was very zealous for me.
Goldsmith being mentioned; JOHNSON. 'It is amazing how little Goldsmith
knows. He seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else.'
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Yet there is no man whose company is more liked.'
JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir. When people find a man of the most
distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferiour while he is with
them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically
says of himself is very true,--he always gets the better when he argues
alone; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his study, and can
write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows confused, and
unable to talk. Take him as a poet, his _Traveller_ is a very fine
performance; ay, and so is his _Deserted Village_, were it not sometimes
too much the echo of his _Traveller_. Whether, indeed, we take him as a
poet,--as a comick writer,--or as an historian, he stands in the first
class.' BOSWELL. 'An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not rank
his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians
of this age?' JOHNSON. 'Why, who are before him?' BOSWELL. 'Hume,--
Robertson,--Lord Lyttelton.' JOHNSON (his antipathy to the Scotch
beginning to rise). 'I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's
_History_ is better than the _verbiage_ of Robertson, or the foppery
of Dalrymple.' BOSWELL. 'Will you not admit the superiority of
Robertson, in whose _History_ we find such penetration--such painting?'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting
are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes
what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir
Joshua paints faces in a history-piece: he imagines an heroic
countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it
by that standard.History it is not. Besides, Sir, it is the great
excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will
hold. Goldsmith has done this in his _History_. Now Robertson might have
put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed
gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, Sir; I
always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight,--would be
buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want
to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read
Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain
narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an
old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: "Read over your
compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is
particularly fine, strike it out." Goldsmith's abridgement is better
than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture to say, that
if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman
History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of
compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing
manner. He is now writing a Natural History and will make it as
entertaining as a Persian Tale.'
I cannot dismiss the present topick without observing, that it is
probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often 'talked for victory,'
rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson's excellent
historical works, in the ardour of contest, than expressed his real and
decided opinion; for it is not easy to suppose, that he should so widely
differ from the rest of the literary world.
JOHNSON. 'I remember once being with Goldsmith in Westminster-abbey.
While we surveyed the Poets' Corner, I said to him,
"_Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis_."
When we got to Temple-bar he stopped me, pointed to the heads upon
it, and slily whispered me,
"_Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur_ ISTIS."'.
Johnson praised John Bunyan highly. 'His _Pilgrim's Progress_ has great
merit, both for invention, imagination, and the conduct of the story;
and it has had the best evidence of its merit, the general and continued
approbation of mankind. Few books, I believe, have had a more extensive
sale. It is remarkable, that it begins very much like the poem of Dante;
yet there was no translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. There is reason
to think that he had read Spenser.'
A proposition which had been agitated, that monuments to eminent persons
should, for the time to come, be erected in St. Paul's church as well as
in Westminster-abbey, was mentioned; and it was asked, who should be
honoured by having his monument first erected there. Somebody
suggested Pope. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as Pope was a Roman Catholick, I
would not have his to be first. I think Milton's rather should have the
precedence. I think more highly of him now than I did at twenty.
There is more thinking in him and in Butler, than in any of our poets.'
Some of the company expressed a wonder why the authour of so excellent a
book as _The Whole Duty of Man_ should conceal himself. JOHNSON.
'There may be different reasons assigned for this, any one of which
would be very sufficient. He may have been a clergyman, and may have
thought that his religious counsels would have less weight when known to
come from a man whose profession was Theology. He may have been a man
whose practice was not suitable to his principles, so that his character
might injure the effect of his book, which he had written in a season of
penitence. Or he may have been a man of rigid self-denial, so that he
would have no reward for his pious labours while in this world, but
refer it all to a future state.'
The gentlemen went away to their club, and I was left at Beauclerk's
till the fate of my election should be announced to me. I sat in a state
of anxiety which even the charming conversation of Lady Di Beauclerk
could not entirely dissipate. In a short time I received the agreeable
intelligence that I was chosen. I hastened to the place of meeting,
and was introduced to such a society as can seldom be found. Mr. Edmund
Burke, whom I then saw for the first time, and whose splendid talents
had long made me ardently wish for his acquaintance; Dr. Nugent, Mr.
Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, and the
company with whom I had dined. Upon my entrance, Johnson placed himself
behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and with
humorous formality gave me a _Charge_, pointing out the conduct expected
from me as a good member of this club.
Goldsmith produced some very absurd verses which had been publickly
recited to an audience for money. JOHNSON. 'I can match this
nonsense. There was a poem called _Eugenio_, which came out some years
ago, and concludes thus:
"And now, ye trifling, self-assuming elves,
Brimful of pride, of nothing, of yourselves,
Survey Eugenio, view him o'er and o'er,
Then sink into yourselves, and be no more."
'Nay, Dryden in his poem on the Royal Society, has these lines:
"Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go,
And see the ocean leaning on the sky;
From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,
And on the lunar world securely pry."'
Talking of puns, Johnson, who had a great contempt for that species of
wit, deigned to allow that there was one good pun in _Menagiana_, I
think on the word _corps_.
Much pleasant conversation passed, which Johnson relished with great
good humour. But his conversation alone, or what led to it, or was
interwoven with it, is the business of this work.
On Saturday, May 1, we dined by ourselves at our old rendezvous, the
Mitre tavern. He was placid, but not much disposed to talk. He observed
that 'The Irish mix better with the English than the Scotch do; their
language is nearer to English; as a proof of which, they succeed very
well as players, which Scotchmen do not. Then, Sir, they have not that
extreme nationality which we find in the Scotch. I will do you, Boswell,
the justice to say, that you are the most _unscottified_ of your
countrymen. You are almost the only instance of a Scotchman that I have
known, who did not at every other sentence bring in some other
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I introduced a question which has been
much agitated in the Church of Scotland, whether the claim of
lay-patrons to present ministers to parishes be well founded; and
supposing it to be well founded, whether it ought to be exercised
without the concurrence of the people? That Church is composed of a
series of judicatures: a Presbytery, a Synod, and finally, a General
Assembly; before all of which, this matter may be contended: and in some
cases the Presbytery having refused to induct or _settle_, as they call
it, the person presented by the patron, it has been found necessary to
appeal to the General Assembly. He said, I might see the subject well
treated in the _Defence of Pluralities_; and although he thought that
a patron should exercise his right with tenderness to the inclinations
of the people of a parish, he was very clear as to his right. Then
supposing the question to be pleaded before the General Assembly, he
dictated to me what follows:
'Against the right of patrons is commonly opposed, by the inferiour
judicatures, the plea of conscience. Their conscience tells them, that
the people ought to choose their pastor; their conscience tells them
that they ought not to impose upon a congregation a minister ungrateful
and unacceptable to his auditors. Conscience is nothing more than a
conviction felt by ourselves of something to be done, or something to be
avoided; and in questions of simple unperplexed morality, conscience is
very often a guide that may be trusted. But before conscience can
determine, the state of the question is supposed to be completely known.
In questions of law, or of fact, conscience is very often confounded
with opinion. No man's conscience can tell him the right of another
man; they must be known by rational investigation or historical
enquiry. Opinion, which he that holds it may call his conscience, may
teach some men that religion would be promoted, and quiet preserved, by
granting to the people universally the choice of their ministers. But it
is a conscience very ill informed that violates the rights of one man,
for the convenience of another. Religion cannot be promoted by
injustice: and it was never yet found that a popular election was very
'That justice would be violated by transferring to the people the right
of patronage, is apparent to all who know whence that right had its
original. The right of patronage was not at first a privilege torn by
power from unresisting poverty. It is not an authority at first usurped
in times of ignorance, and established only by succession and by
precedents. It is not a grant capriciously made from a higher tyrant to
a lower. It is a right dearly purchased by the first possessors, and
justly inherited by those that succeeded them. When Christianity was
established in this island, a regular mode of publick worship was
prescribed. Publick worship requires a publick place; and the
proprietors of lands, as they were converted, built churches for their
families and their vassals. For the maintenance of ministers, they
settled a certain portion of their lands; and a district, through which
each minister was required to extend his care, was, by that
circumscription, constituted a parish. This is a position so generally
received in England, that the extent of a manor and of a parish are
regularly received for each other. The churches which the proprietors of
lands had thus built and thus endowed, they justly thought themselves
entitled to provide with ministers; and where the episcopal government
prevails, the Bishop has no power to reject a man nominated by the
patron, but for some crime that might exclude him from the priesthood.
For the endowment of the church being the gift of the landlord, he was
consequently at liberty to give it according to his choice, to any man
capable of performing the holy offices. The people did not choose him,
because the people did not pay him.
'We hear it sometimes urged, that this original right is passed out of
memory, and is obliterated and obscured by many translations of property
and changes of government; that scarce any church is now in the hands of
the heirs of the builders; and that the present persons have entered
subsequently upon the pretended rights by a thousand accidental and
unknown causes. Much of this, perhaps, is true. But how is the right of
patronage extinguished? If the right followed the lands, it is possessed
by the same equity by which the lands are possessed. It is, in effect,
part of the manor, and protected by the same laws with every other
privilege. Let us suppose an estate forfeited by treason, and granted by
the Crown to a new family. With the lands were forfeited all the rights
appendant to those lands; by the same power that grants the lands, the
rights also are granted. The right lost to the patron falls not to the
people, but is either retained by the Crown, or what to the people is
the same thing, is by the Crown given away. Let it change hands ever so
often, it is possessed by him that receives it with the same right as it
was conveyed. It may, indeed, like all our possessions, be forcibly
seized or fraudulently obtained. But no injury is still done to the
people; for what they never had, they have never lost. Caius may usurp
the right of Titius; but neither Caius nor Titius injure the people; and
no man's conscience, however tender or however active, can prompt him to
restore what may be proved to have been never taken away. Supposing,
what I think cannot be proved, that a popular election of ministers were
to be desired, our desires are not the measure of equity. It were to be
desired that power should be only in the hands of the merciful, and
riches in the possession of the generous; but the law must leave both
riches and power where it finds them: and must often leave riches with
the covetous, and power with the cruel. Convenience may be a rule in
little things, where no other rule has been established. But as the
great end of government is to give every man his own, no inconvenience
is greater than that of making right uncertain. Nor is any man more an
enemy to publick peace, than he who fills weak heads with imaginary
claims, and breaks the series of civil subordination, by inciting the
lower classes of mankind to encroach upon the higher.
'Having thus shown that the right of patronage, being originally
purchased, may be legally transferred, and that it is now in the hands
of lawful possessors, at least as certainly as any other right;--we have
left to the advocates of the people no other plea than that of
convenience. Let us, therefore, now consider what the people would
really gain by a general abolition of the right of patronage. What is
most to be desired by such a change is, that the country should be
supplied with better ministers. But why should we suppose that the
parish will make a wiser choice than the patron? If we suppose mankind
actuated by interest, the patron is more likely to choose with caution,
because he will suffer more by choosing wrong. By the deficiencies of
his minister, or by his vices, he is equally offended with the rest of
the congregation; but he will have this reason more to lament them, that
they will be imputed to his absurdity or corruption. The qualifications
of a minister are well known to be learning and piety. Of his learning
the patron is probably the only judge in the parish; and of his piety
not less a judge than others; and is more likely to enquire minutely and
diligently before he gives a presentation, than one of the parochial
rabble, who can give nothing but a vote. It may be urged, that though
the parish might not choose better ministers, they would at least choose
ministers whom they like better, and who would therefore officiate with
greater efficacy. That ignorance and perverseness should always obtain
what they like, was never considered as the end of government; of which
it is the great and standing benefit, that the wise see for the simple,
and the regular act for the capricious. But that this argument supposes
the people capable of judging, and resolute to act according to their
best judgments, though this be sufficiently absurd, it is not all its
absurdity. It supposes not only wisdom, but unanimity in those, who upon
no other occasions are unanimous or wise. If by some strange concurrence
all the voices of a parish should unite in the choice of any single man,
though I could not charge the patron with injustice for presenting a
minister, I should censure him as unkind and injudicious. But, it is
evident, that as in all other popular elections there will be
contrariety of judgment and acrimony of passion, a parish upon every
vacancy would break into factions, and the contest for the choice of a
minister would set neighbours at variance, and bring discord into
families. The minister would be taught all the arts of a candidate,
would flatter some, and bribe others; and the electors, as in all other
cases, would call for holidays and ale, and break the heads of each
other during the jollity of the canvas. The time must, however, come at
last, when one of the factions must prevail, and one of the ministers
get possession of the church. On what terms does he enter upon his
ministry but those of enmity with half his parish? By what prudence or
what diligence can he hope to conciliate the affections of that party by
whose defeat he has obtained his living? Every man who voted against him
will enter the church with hanging head and downcast eyes, afraid to
encounter that neighbour by whose vote and influence he has been
overpowered. He will hate his neighbour for opposing him, and his
minister for having prospered by the opposition; and as he will never
see him but with pain, he will never see him but with hatred. Of a
minister presented by the patron, the parish has seldom any thing worse
to say than that they do not know him. Of a minister chosen by a popular
contest, all those who do not favour him, have nursed up in their bosoms
principles of hatred and reasons of rejection. Anger is excited
principally by pride. The pride of a common man is very little
exasperated by the supposed usurpation of an acknowledged superiour. He
bears only his little share of a general evil, and suffers in common
with the whole parish; but when the contest is between equals, the
defeat has many aggravations; and he that is defeated by his next
neighbour, is seldom satisfied without some revenge; and it is hard to
say what bitterness of malignity would prevail in a parish where these
elections should happen to be frequent, and the enmity of opposition
should be re-kindled before it had cooled.'
Though I present to my readers Dr. Johnson's masterly thoughts on the
subject, I think it proper to declare, that notwithstanding I am myself
a lay patron, I do not entirely subscribe to his opinion.
On Friday, May 7, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Thrale's in the Borough.
While we were alone, I endeavoured as well as I could to apologise for a
lady who had been divorced from her husband by act of Parliament. I
said, that he had used her very ill, had behaved brutally to her, and
that she could not continue to live with him without having her delicacy
contaminated; that all affection for him was thus destroyed; that the
essence of conjugal union being gone, there remained only a cold form, a
mere civil obligation; that she was in the prime of life, with qualities
to produce happiness; that these ought not to be lost; and, that the
gentleman on whose account she was divorced had gained her heart while
thus unhappily situated. Seduced, perhaps, by the charms of the lady in
question, I thus attempted to palliate what I was sensible could not be
justified; for when I had finished my harangue, my venerable friend gave
me a proper check: 'My dear Sir, never accustom your mind to mingle
virtue and vice. The woman's a whore, and there's an end on't.'
He described the father of one of his friends thus: 'Sir, he was so
exuberant a talker at publick meeting, that the gentlemen of his county
were afraid of him. No business could be done for his declamation.'
He did not give me full credit when I mentioned that I had carried on a
short conversation by signs with some Esquimaux who were then in London,
particularly with one of them who was a priest. He thought I could not
make them understand me. No man was more incredulous as to particular
facts, which were at all extraordinary; and therefore no man was more
scrupulously inquisitive, in order to discover the truth.
I dined with him this day at the house of my friends, Messieurs Edward
and Charles Dilly, booksellers in the Poultry: there were present,
their elder brother Mr. Dilly of Bedfordshire, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr.
Langton, Mr. Claxton, Reverend Dr. Mayo a dissenting minister, the
Reverend Mr. Toplady, and my friend the Reverend Mr. Temple.
Hawkesworth's compilation of the voyages to the South Sea being
mentioned;--JOHNSON. 'Sir, if you talk of it as a subject of commerce,
it will be gainful; if as a book that is to increase human knowledge,
I believe there will not be much of that. Hawkesworth can tell only what
the voyagers have told him; and they have found very little, only one
new animal, I think.' BOSWELL. 'But many insects, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, as to insects, Ray reckons of British insects twenty thousand
species. They might have staid at home and discovered enough in that
Talking of birds, I mentioned Mr. Daines Barrington's ingenious Essay
against the received notion of their migration. JOHNSON. 'I think we
have as good evidence for the migration of woodcocks as can be desired.
We find they disappear at a certain time of the year, and appear again
at a certain time of the year; and some of them, when weary in their
flight, have been known to alight on the rigging of ships far out at
sea.' One of the company observed, that there had been instances of some
of them found in summer in Essex. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that strengthens our
argument. _Exceptio probat regulam_. Some being found shews, that, if
all remained, many would be found. A few sick or lame ones may be
found.' GOLDSMITH. 'There is a partial migration of the swallows; the
stronger ones migrate, the others do not.'
BOSWELL. 'I am well assured that the people of Otaheite who have the
bread tree, the fruit of which serves them for bread, laughed heartily
when they were informed of the tedious process necessary with us to have
bread;--plowing, sowing, harrowing, reaping, threshing, grinding,
baking.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all ignorant savages will laugh when they
are told of the advantages of civilized life. Were you to tell men who
live without houses, how we pile brick upon brick, and rafter upon
rafter, and that after a house is raised to a certain height, a man
tumbles off a scaffold, and breaks his neck; he would laugh heartily at
our folly in building; but it does not follow that men are better
without houses. No, Sir, (holding up a slice of a good loaf,) this is
better than the bread tree.'
He repeated an argument, which is to be found in his _Rambler_,
against the notion that the brute creation is endowed with the faculty
of reason: 'birds build by instinct; they never improve; they build
their first nest as well as any one they ever build.' GOLDSMITH. 'Yet we
see if you take away a bird's nest with the eggs in it, she will make a
slighter nest and lay again.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is because at first
she has full time and makes her nest deliberately. In the case you
mention she is pressed to lay, and must therefore make her nest quickly,
and consequently it will be slight.' GOLDSMITH. 'The identification of
birds is what is least known in natural history, though one of the most
curious things in it.'
I introduced the subject of toleration. JOHNSON. 'Every society has a
right to preserve publick peace and order, and therefore has a good
right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous
tendency. To say the _magistrate_ has this right, is using an inadequate
word: it is the _society_ for which the magistrate is agent. He may be
morally or theologically wrong in restraining the propagation of
opinions which he thinks dangerous, but he is politically right.' MAYO.
'I am of opinion, Sir, that every man is entitled to liberty of
conscience in religion; and that the magistrate cannot restrain that
right.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I agree with you. Every man has a right to
liberty of conscience, and with that the magistrate cannot interfere.
People confound liberty of thinking with liberty of talking; nay, with
liberty of preaching. Every man has a physical right to think as he
pleases; for it cannot be discovered how he thinks. He has not a moral
right, for he ought to inform himself, and think justly. But, Sir, no
member of a society has a right to _teach_ any doctrine contrary to what
the society holds to be true. The magistrate, I say, may be wrong in
what he thinks: but while he thinks himself right, he may and ought to
enforce what he thinks.' MAYO. 'Then, Sir, we are to remain always in
errour, and truth never can prevail; and the magistrate was right in
persecuting the first Christians.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, the only method by
which religious truth can be established is by martyrdom. The magistrate
has a right to enforce what he thinks; and he who is conscious of the
truth has a right to suffer. I am afraid there is no other way of
ascertaining the truth, but by persecution on the one hand and enduring
it on the other.' GOLDSMITH. 'But how is a man to act, Sir? Though
firmly convinced of the truth of his doctrine, may he not think it wrong
to expose himself to persecution? Has he a right to do so? Is it not, as
it were, committing voluntary suicide?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, as to voluntary
suicide, as you call it, there are twenty thousand men in an army who
will go without scruple to be shot at, and mount a breach for five-pence
a day.' GOLDSMITH. 'But have they a moral right to do this?' JOHNSON.
'Nay, Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have
nothing to say. If mankind cannot defend their own way of thinking, I
cannot defend it. Sir, if a man is in doubt whether it would be better
for him to expose himself to martyrdom or not, he should not do it. He
must be convinced that he has a delegation from heaven.' GOLDSMITH. 'I
would consider whether there is the greater chance of good or evil upon
the whole. If I see a man who had fallen into a well, I would wish to
help him out; but if there is a greater probability that he shall pull
me in, than that I shall pull him out, I would not attempt it. So were I
to go to Turkey, I might wish to convert the Grand Signor to the
Christian faith; but when I considered that I should probably be put to
death without effectuating my purpose in any degree, I should keep
myself quiet.' JOHNSON. 'Sir you must consider that we have perfect and
imperfect obligations. Perfect obligations, which are generally not to
do something, are clear and positive; as, 'thou shalt not kill.' But
charity, for instance, is not definable by limits. It is a duty to give
to the poor; but no man can say how much another should give to the
poor, or when a man has given too little to save his soul. In the same
manner it is a duty to instruct the ignorant, and of consequence to
convert infidels to Christianity; but no man in the common course of
things is obliged to carry this to such a degree as to incur the danger
of martyrdom, as no man is obliged to strip himself to the shirt in
order to give charity. I have said, that a man must be persuaded that he
has a particular delegation from heaven.' GOLDSMITH. 'How is this to be
known? Our first reformers, who were burnt for not believing bread and
wine to be CHRIST'--JOHNSON, (interrupting him,) 'Sir, they were not
burnt for not believing bread and wine to be CHRIST, but for insulting
those who did believe it. And, Sir, when the first reformers began, they
did not intend to be martyred: as many of them ran away as could.'
BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, there was your countryman, Elwal, who you told me
challenged King George with his black-guards, and his red-guards.'
JOHNSON. 'My countryman, Elwal, Sir, should have been put in the stocks;
a proper pulpit for him; and he'd have had a numerous audience. A man
who preaches in the stocks will always have hearers enough.' BOSWELL.
'But Elwal thought himself in the right.' JOHNSON. 'We are not providing
for mad people; there are places for them in the neighbourhood' (meaning
Moorfields). MAYO. 'But, Sir, is it not very hard that I should not be
allowed to teach my children what I really believe to be the truth?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you might contrive to teach your children _extra
scandalum_; but, Sir, the magistrate, if he knows it, has a right to
restrain you. Suppose you teach your children to be thieves?' MAYO.
'This is making a joke of the subject.' JOHNSON.' 'Nay, Sir, take it
thus:--that you teach them the community of goods; for which there are
as many plausible arguments as for most erroneous doctrines. You teach
them that all things at first were in common, and that no man had a
right to any thing but as he laid his hands upon it; and that this still
is, or ought to be, the rule amongst mankind. Here, Sir, you sap a great
principle in society,--property. And don't you think the magistrate
would have a right to prevent you? Or, suppose you should teach your
children the notion of the Adamites, and they should run naked into the
streets, would not the magistrate have a right to flog 'em into their
doublets?' MAYO. 'I think the magistrate has no right to interfere till
there is some overt act.' BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, though he sees an enemy to
the state charging a blunderbuss, he is not to interfere till it is
fired off?' MAYO. 'He must be sure of its direction against the state.'
JOHNSON. 'The magistrate is to judge of that.--He has no right to
restrain your thinking, because the evil centers in yourself. If a man
were sitting at this table, and chopping off his fingers, the
magistrate, as guardian of the community, has no authority to restrain
him, however he might do it from kindness as a parent.--Though, indeed,
upon more consideration, I think he may; as it is probable, that he who
is chopping off his own fingers, may soon proceed to chop off those of
other people. If I think it right to steal Mr. Dilly's plate, I am a bad
man; but he can say nothing to me. If I make an open declaration that I
think so, he will keep me out of his house. If I put forth my hand, I
shall be sent to Newgate. This is the gradation of thinking, preaching,
and acting: if a man thinks erroneously, he may keep his thoughts to
himself, and nobody will trouble him; if he preaches erroneous doctrine,
society may expel him; if he acts in consequence of it, the law takes
place, and he is hanged.' MAYO. 'But, Sir, ought not Christians to
have liberty of conscience?' JOHNSON. 'I have already told you so, Sir.
You are coming back to where you were,' BOSWELL. 'Dr. Mayo is always
taking a return post-chaise, and going the stage over again. He has it
at half price.' JOHNSON. 'Dr. Mayo, like other champions for unlimited
toleration, has got a set of words. Sir, it is no matter,
politically, whether the magistrate be right or wrong. Suppose a club
were to be formed, to drink confusion to King George the Third, and a
happy restoration to Charles the Third, this would be very bad with
respect to the State; but every member of that club must either conform
to its rules, or be turned out of it. Old Baxter, I remember, maintains,
that the magistrate should "tolerate all things that are tolerable."
This is no good definition of toleration upon any principle; but it
shews that he thought some things were not tolerable.' TOPLADY. 'Sir,
you have untwisted this difficult subject with great dexterity.'
During this argument, Goldsmith sat in restless agitation, from a wish
to get in and _shine_. Finding himself excluded, he had taken his hat
to go away, but remained for some time with it in his hand, like a
gamester, who at the close of a long night, lingers for a little while,
to see if he can have a favourable opening to finish with success. Once
when he was beginning to speak, he found himself overpowered by the loud
voice of Johnson, who was at the opposite end of the table, and did not
perceive Goldsmith's attempt. Thus disappointed of his wish to obtain
the attention of the company, Goldsmith in a passion threw down his hat,
looking angrily at Johnson, and exclaiming in a bitter tone, '_Take
it_.' When Toplady was going to speak, Johnson uttered some sound, which
led Goldsmith to think that he was beginning again, and taking the words
from Toplady. Upon which, he seized this opportunity of venting his own
envy and spleen, under the pretext of supporting another person: 'Sir,
(said he to Johnson,) the gentleman has heard you patiently for an hour;
pray allow us now to hear him.' JOHNSON. (sternly,) 'Sir, I was not
interrupting the gentleman. I was only giving him a signal of my
attention. Sir, you are impertinent.' Goldsmith made no reply, but
continued in the company for some time.
A gentleman present ventured to ask Dr. Johnson if there was not a
material difference as to toleration of opinions which lead to action,
and opinions merely speculative; for instance, would it be wrong in the
magistrate to tolerate those who preach against the doctrine of the
TRINITY? Johnson was highly offended, and said, 'I wonder, Sir, how a
gentleman of your piety can introduce this subject in a mixed company.'
He told me afterwards, that the impropriety was, that perhaps some of
the company might have talked on the subject in such terms as might have
shocked him; or he might have been forced to appear in their eyes a
narrow-minded man. The gentleman, with submissive deference, said, he
had only hinted at the question from a desire to hear Dr. Johnson's
opinion upon it. JOHNSON. 'Why then, Sir, I think that permitting men to
preach any opinion contrary to the doctrine of the established church
tends, in a certain degree, to lessen the authority of the church, and
consequently, to lessen the influence of religion.' 'It may be
considered, (said the gentleman,) whether it would not be politick to
tolerate in such a case.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, we have been talking of
_right_: this is another question. I think it is _not_ politick to
tolerate in such a case.'
Though he did not think it fit that so aweful a subject should be
introduced in a mixed company, and therefore at this time waved the
theological question; yet his own orthodox belief in the sacred mystery
of the TRINITY is evinced beyond doubt, by the following passage in his
'O LORD, hear my prayer [prayers], for JESUS CHRIST'S sake; to whom with
thee and the HOLY GHOST, _three persons and one_ GOD, be all honour and
glory, world without end, Amen.'
BOSWELL. 'Pray, Mr. Dilly, how does Dr. Leland's _History of Ireland_
sell?' JOHNSON, (bursting forth with a generous indignation,) 'The Irish
are in a most unnatural state; for we see there the minority prevailing
over the majority. There is no instance, even in the ten
persecutions, of such severity as that which the protestants of
Ireland have exercised against the Catholicks. Did we tell them we have
conquered them, it would be above board: to punish them by confiscation
and other penalties, as rebels, was monstrous injustice. King William
was not their lawful sovereign: he had not been acknowledged by the
Parliament of Ireland, when they appeared in arms against him.'
I here suggested something favourable of the Roman Catholicks. TOPLADY.
'Does not their invocation of saints suppose omnipresence in the
saints?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; it supposes only pluri-presence, and when
spirits are divested of matter, it seems probable that they should see
with more extent than when in an embodied state. There is, therefore, no
approach to an invasion of any of the divine attributes, in the
invocation of saints. But I think it is will-worship, and presumption. I
see no command for it, and therefore think it is safer not to practise
He and Mr. Langton and I went together to THE CLUB, where we found Mr.
Burke, Mr. Garrick, and some other members, and amongst them our friend
Goldsmith, who sat silently brooding over Johnson's reprimand to him
after dinner. Johnson perceived this, and said aside to some of us,
'I'll make Goldsmith forgive me;' and then called to him in a loud
voice, 'Dr. Goldsmith,--something passed to-day where you and I dined; I
ask your pardon.' Goldsmith answered placidly, 'It must be much from
you, Sir, that I take ill.' And so at once the difference was over, and
they were on as easy terms as ever, and Goldsmith rattled away as
In our way to the club to-night, when I regretted that Goldsmith would,
upon every occasion, endeavour to shine, by which he often exposed
himself, Mr. Langton observed, that he was not like Addison, who was
content with the fame of his writings, and did not aim also at
excellency in conversation, for which he found himself unfit; and that
he said to a lady who complained of his having talked little in company,
'Madam, I have but nine-pence in ready money, but I can draw for a
thousand pound.' I observed, that Goldsmith had a great deal of gold
in his cabinet, but, not content with that, was always taking out his
purse. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and that so often an empty purse!'
Goldsmith's incessant desire of being conspicuous in company, was the
occasion of his sometimes appearing to such disadvantage as one should
hardly have supposed possible in a man of his genius. When his
literary reputation had risen deservedly high, and his society was much
courted, he became very jealous of the extraordinary attention which was
every where paid to Johnson. One evening, in a circle of wits, he found
fault with me for talking of Johnson as entitled to the honour of
unquestionable superiority. 'Sir, (said he,) you are for making a
monarchy of what should be a republick.'
He was still more mortified, when talking in a company with fluent
vivacity, and, as he flattered himself, to the admiration of all who
were present; a German who sat next him, and perceived Johnson rolling
himself, as if about to speak, suddenly stopped him, saying, 'Stay,
stay,--Toctor Shonson is going to say something.' This was, no doubt,
very provoking, especially to one so irritable as Goldsmith, who
frequently mentioned it with strong expressions of indignation.
It may also be observed, that Goldsmith was sometimes content to be
treated with an easy familiarity, but, upon occasions, would be
consequential and important. An instance of this occurred in a small
particular. Johnson had a way of contracting the names of his friends;
as Beauclerk, Beau; Boswell, Bozzy; Langton, Lanky; Murphy, Mur;
Sheridan, Sherry. I remember one day, when Tom Davies was telling
that Dr. Johnson said, 'We are all in labour for a name to _Goldy's_
play,' Goldsmith seemed displeased that such a liberty should be taken
with his name, and said, 'I have often desired him not to call me
_Goldy_.' Tom was remarkably attentive to the most minute
circumstance about Johnson. I recollect his telling me once, on my
arrival in London, 'Sir, our great friend has made an improvement on his
appellation of old Mr. Sheridan. He calls him now _Sherry derry_.'
'To THE REVEREND MR. BAGSHAW, AT BROMLEY.
'I return you my sincere thanks for your additions to my _Dictionary_;
but the new edition has been published some time, and therefore I cannot
now make use of them. Whether I shall ever revise it more, I know not.
If many readers had been as judicious, as diligent, and as communicative
as yourself, my work had been better. The world must at present take it
as it is. I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
'May 8, 1773.'
On Sunday, May 8, I dined with Johnson at Mr. Langton's with Dr.
Beattie and some other company. He descanted on the subject of Literary
Property. 'There seems (said he,) to be in authours a stronger right of
property than that by occupancy; a metaphysical right, a right, as it
were, of creation, which should from its nature be perpetual; but the
consent of nations is against it, and indeed reason and the interests of
learning are against it; for were it to be perpetual, no book, however
useful, could be universally diffused amongst mankind, should the
proprietor take it into his head to restrain its circulation. No book
could have the advantage of being edited with notes, however necessary
to its elucidation, should the proprietor perversely oppose it. For the
general good of the world, therefore, whatever valuable work has once
been created by an authour, and issued out by him, should be understood
as no longer in his power, but as belonging to the publick; at the same
time the authour is entitled to an adequate reward. This he should have
by an exclusive right to his work for a considerable number of
He attacked Lord Monboddo's strange speculation on the primitive state
of human nature; observing, 'Sir, it is all conjecture about a thing
useless, even were it known to be true. Knowledge of all kinds is good.
Conjecture, as to things useful, is good; but conjecture as to what it
would be useless to know, such as whether men went upon all four, is
On Monday, May 9, as I was to set out on my return to Scotland next
morning, I was desirous to see as much of Dr. Johnson as I could. But I
first called on Goldsmith to take leave of him. The jealousy and envy
which, though possessed of many most amiable qualities, he frankly
avowed, broke out violently at this interview. Upon another occasion,
when Goldsmith confessed himself to be of an envious disposition, I
contended with Johnson that we ought not to be angry with him, he was so
candid in owning it. 'Nay, Sir, (said Johnson,) we must be angry that a
man has such a superabundance of an odious quality, that he cannot keep
it within his own breast, but it boils over.' In my opinion, however,
Goldsmith had not more of it than other people have, but only talked of
He now seemed very angry that Johnson was going to be a traveller; said
'he would be a dead weight for me to carry, and that I should never be
able to lug him along through the Highlands and Hebrides.' Nor would he
patiently allow me to enlarge upon Johnson's wonderful abilities; but
exclaimed, 'Is he like Burke, who winds into a subject like a serpent?'
'But, (said I,) Johnson is the Hercules who strangled serpents in his
I dined with Dr. Johnson at General Paoli's. He was obliged, by
indisposition, to leave the company early; he appointed me, however, to
meet him in the evening at Mr. (now Sir Robert) Chambers's in the
Temple, where he accordingly came, though he continued to be very ill.
Chambers, as is common on such occasions, prescribed various remedies to
him. JOHNSON. (fretted by pain,) 'Pr'ythee don't tease me. Stay till I
am well, and then you shall tell me how to cure myself.' He grew better,
and talked with a noble enthusiasm of keeping up the representation of
respectable families. His zeal on this subject was a circumstance in his
character exceedingly remarkable, when it is considered that he himself
had no pretensions to blood. I heard him once say, 'I have great merit
in being zealous for subordination and the honours of birth; for I can
hardly tell who was my grandfather.' He maintained the dignity and
propriety of male succession, in opposition to the opinion of one of our
friends, who had that day employed Mr. Chambers to draw his will,
devising his estate to his three sisters, in preference to a remote heir
male. Johnson called them 'three _dowdies_,' and said, with as high a
spirit as the boldest Baron in the most perfect days of the feudal
system, 'An ancient estate should always go to males. It is mighty
foolish to let a stranger have it because he marries your daughter, and
takes your name. As for an estate newly acquired by trade, you may give
it, if you will, to the dog _Towser_, and let him keep his _own_ name.'
I have known him at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to others
a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without any reason
that we could perceive, at our friend's making his will; called him the
_testator_, and added, 'I dare say, he thinks he has done a mighty
thing. He won't stay till he gets home to his seat in the country, to
produce this wonderful deed: he'll call up the landlord of the first inn
on the road; and, after a suitable preface upon mortality and the
uncertainty of life, will tell him that he should not delay making his
will; and here, Sir, will he say, is my will, which I have just made,
with the assistance of one of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he
will read it to him (laughing all the time). He believes he has made
this will; but he did not make it: you, Chambers, made it for him. I
trust you have had more conscience than to make him say, "being of sound
understanding;" ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I'd have his
will turned into verse, like a ballad.'
In this playful manner did he run on, exulting in his own pleasantry,
which certainly was not such as might be expected from the authour of
_The Rambler_, but which is here preserved, that my readers may be
acquainted even with the slightest occasional characteristicks of so
eminent a man.
Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a matter
of which _pars magna fuit_, and seemed impatient till he got rid of
us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it all the way
till we got without the Temple-gate. He then burst into such a fit of
laughter, that he appeared to be almost in a convulsion; and, in order
to support himself, laid hold of one of the posts at the side of the
foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud, that in the silence of the
night his voice seemed to resound from Temple-bar to Fleet-ditch.
This most ludicrous exhibition of the aweful, melancholy, and venerable
Johnson, happened well to counteract the feelings of sadness which I
used to experience when parting with him for a considerable time. I
accompanied him to his door, where he gave me his blessing.
He records of himself this year, 'Between Easter and Whitsuntide, having
always considered that time as propitious to study, I attempted to learn
the Low Dutch language.' It is to be observed, that he here admits an
opinion of the human mind being influenced by seasons, which he
ridicules in his writings. His progress, he says, was interrupted by
a fever, 'which, by the imprudent use of a small print, left an
inflammation in his useful eye.' We cannot but admire his spirit when
we know, that amidst a complication of bodily and mental distress, he
was still animated with the desire of intellectual improvement.
Various notes of his studies appear on different days, in his manuscript
diary of this year, such as,
'Inchoavi lectionem Pentateuchi--Finivi lectionem Conf. Fab.
Burdonum.--Legi primum actum Troadum.--Legi Dissertationem Clerici
postremam de Pent.--2 of Clark's Sermons.--L. Appolonii pugnam
Betriciam.--L. centum versus Homeri.'
Let this serve as a specimen of what accessions of literature he was
perpetually infusing into his mind, while he charged himself with
This year died Mrs. Salusbury, (mother of Mrs. Thrale,) a lady whom he
appears to have esteemed much, and whose memory he honoured with an
In a letter from Edinburgh, dated the 29th of May, I pressed him to
persevere in his resolution to make this year the projected visit to the
Hebrides, of which he and I had talked for many years, and which I was
confident would afford us much entertainment.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'When your letter came to me, I was so darkened by an inflammation in my
eye, that I could not for some time read it. I can now write without
trouble, and can read large prints. My eye is gradually growing
stronger; and I hope will be able to take some delight in the survey of
a Caledonian loch.
'Chambers is going a Judge, with six thousand a year, to Bengal. He
and I shall come down together as far as Newcastle, and thence I shall
easily get to Edinburgh. Let me know the exact time when your Courts
intermit. I must conform a little to Chambers's occasions, and he must
conform a little to mine. The time which you shall fix, must be the
common point to which we will come as near as we can. Except this eye, I
am very well.
'Beattie is so caressed, and invited, and treated, and liked, and
flattered, by the great, that I can see nothing of him. I am in great
hope that he will be well provided for, and then we will live upon him
at the Marischal College, without pity or modesty.
'---- left the town without taking leave of me, and is gone in deep
dudgeon to ----. Is not this very childish? Where is now my
'I hope your dear lady and her dear baby are both well. I shall see them
too when I come; and I have that opinion of your choice, as to suspect
that when I have seen Mrs. Boswell, I shall be less willing to go away.
I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
July 5, 1773.'
'Write to me as soon as you can. Chambers is now at Oxford.'
I again wrote to him, informing him that the Court of Session rose on
the twelfth of August, hoping to see him before that time, and
expressing perhaps in too extravagant terms, my admiration of him, and
my expectation of pleasure from our intended tour.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I shall set out from London on Friday the sixth  of this month, and
purpose not to loiter much by the way. Which day I shall be at
Edinburgh, I cannot exactly tell. I suppose I must drive to an inn, and
send a porter to find you.
'I am afraid Beattie will not be at his College soon enough for us, and
I shall be sorry to miss him; but there is no staying for the
concurrence of all conveniences. We will do as well as we can.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'August 3, 1773.'
TO THE SAME.
'Not being at Mr. Thrale's when your letter came, I had written the
enclosed paper and sealed it; bringing it hither for a frank, I found
yours. If any thing could repress my ardour, it would be such a letter
as yours. To disappoint a friend is unpleasing; and he that forms
expectations like yours, must be disappointed. Think only when you see
me, that you see a man who loves you, and is proud and glad that you
'I am, Sir,
'Your most affectionate
'August 3, 1773.'
TO THE SAME.
'Newcastle, Aug. 11, 1771.
'I came hither last night, and hope, but do not absolutely promise, to
be in Edinburgh on Saturday. Beattie will not come so soon.
I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'My compliments to your lady.'
TO THE SAME.
'Mr. Johnson sends his compliments to Mr. Boswell, being just arrived at
His stay in Scotland was from the 18th of August, on which day he
arrived, till the 22nd of November, when he set out on his return to
London; and I believe ninety-four days were never passed by any man
in a more vigorous exertion.
He came by the way of Berwick upon Tweed to Edinburgh, where he remained
a few days, and then went by St. Andrew's, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Fort
Augustus, to the Hebrides, to visit which was the principal object he
had in view. He visited the isles of Sky, Rasay, Col, Mull, Inchkenneth,
and Icolmkill. He travelled through Argyleshire by Inverary, and from
thence by Lochlomond and Dumbarton to Glasgow, then by Loudon to
Auchinleck in Ayrshire, the seat of my family, and then by Hamilton,
back to Edinburgh, where he again spent some time. He thus saw the four
Universities of Scotland, its three principal cities, and as much of
the Highland and insular life as was sufficient for his philosophical
contemplation. I had the pleasure of accompanying him during the whole
of this journey. He was respectfully entertained by the great, the
learned, and the elegant, wherever he went; nor was he less delighted
with the hospitality which he experienced in humbler life.
His various adventures, and the force and vivacity of his mind, as
exercised during this peregrination, upon innumerable topicks, have been
faithfully, and to the best of my abilities, displayed in my _Journal of
a Tour to the Hebrides_, to which, as the publick has been pleased to
honour it by a very extensive circulation, I beg leave to refer, as
to a separate and remarkable portion of his life, which may be there
seen in detail, and which exhibits as striking a view of his powers in
conversation, as his works do of his excellence in writing. Nor can I
deny to myself the very flattering gratification of inserting here the
character which my friend Mr. Courtenay has been pleased to give of that
'With Reynolds' pencil, vivid, bold, and true,
So fervent Boswell gives him to our view:
In every trait we see his mind expand;
The master rises by the pupil's hand;
We love the writer, praise his happy vein,
Grac'd with the naivete of the sage Montaigne.
Hence not alone are brighter parts display'd,
But e'en the specks of character pourtray'd:
We _see_ the Rambler with fastidious smile
Mark the lone tree, and note the heath-clad isle;
But when th' heroick tale of Flora's charms,
Deck'd in a kilt, he wields a chieftain's arms:
The tuneful piper sounds a martial strain,
And Samuel sings, "The King shall have his _ain_."'
During his stay at Edinburgh, after his return from the Hebrides, he was
at great pains to obtain information concerning Scotland; and it will
appear from his subsequent letters, that he was not less solicitous for
intelligence on this subject after his return to London.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I came home last night, without any incommodity, danger, or weariness,
and am ready to begin a new journey. I shall go to Oxford on Monday.
I know Mrs. Boswell wished me well to go; her wishes have not been
disappointed. Mrs. Williams has received Sir A's letter.
'Make my compliments to all those to whom my compliments may be welcome.
'Let the box be sent as soon as it can, and let me know when to
'Enquire, if you can, the order of the Clans: Macdonald is first,
Maclean second; further I cannot go. Quicken Dr. Webster.
'I am, Sir,
'Nov. 27, 1773.'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Dec. 2, 1773.
'You shall have what information I can procure as to the order of the
Clans. A gentleman of the name of Grant tells me, that there is no
settled order among them; and he says, that the Macdonalds were not
placed upon the right of the army at Culloden; the Stuarts were. I
shall, however, examine witnesses of every name that I can find here.
Dr. Webster shall be quickened too. I like your little memorandums; they
are symptoms of your being in earnest with your book of northern
'Your box shall be sent next week by sea. You will find in it some
pieces of the broom bush, which you saw growing on the old castle of
Auchinleck. The wood has a curious appearance when sawn across. You may
either have a little writing-stand made of it, or get it formed into
boards for a treatise on witchcraft, by way of a suitable binding.'
* * * * *
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Dec. 18, 1773.
* * * * *
'You promised me an inscription for a print to be taken from an
historical picture of Mary Queen of Scots being forced to resign her
crown, which Mr. Hamilton at Rome has painted for me. The two following
have been sent to me:
"_Maria Scotorum Regina meliori seculo digna, jus regiitm civibus
seditiosis invita resignat_."
"_Cives seditiosi Mariam Scotorum Reginam sese muneri abdicare invitam
'Be so good as to read the passage in Robertson, and see if you cannot
give me a better inscription. I must have it both in Latin and English;
so if you should not give me another Latin one, you will at least choose
the best of these two, and send a translation of it.'
* * * * *
His humane forgiving disposition was put to a pretty strong test on his
return to London, by a liberty which Mr. Thomas Davies had taken with
him in his absence, which was, to publish two volumes, entitled,
_Miscellaneous and fugitive Pieces_, which he advertised in the
news-papers, 'By the Authour of the Rambler.' In this collection,
several of Dr. Johnson's acknowledged writings, several of his anonymous
performances, and some which he had written for others, were inserted;
but there were also some in which he had no concern whatever. He was
at first very angry, as he had good reason to be. But, upon
consideration of his poor friend's narrow circumstances, and that he had
only a little profit in view, and meant no harm, he soon relented, and
continued his kindness to him as formerly.
In the course of his self-examination with retrospect to this year, he
seems to have been much dejected; for he says, January 1, 1774, 'This
year has passed with so little improvement, that I doubt whether I have
not rather impaired than increased my learning'; and yet we have seen
how he _read_, and we know how he _talked_ during that period.
He was now seriously engaged in writing an account of our travels in the
Hebrides, in consequence of which I had the pleasure of a more frequent
correspondence with him.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'My operations have been hindered by a cough; at least I flatter myself,
that if my cough had not come, I should have been further advanced. But
I have had no intelligence from Dr. W----, [Webster,] nor from the
Excise-office, nor from you. No account of the little borough.
Nothing of the Erse language. I have yet heard nothing of my box.
'You must make haste and gather me all you can, and do it quickly, or I
will and shall do without it.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, and tell her that I do not love
her the less for wishing me away. I gave her trouble enough, and shall
be glad, in recompense, to give her any pleasure.
'I would send some porter into the Hebrides, if I knew which way it
could be got to my kind friends there. Enquire, and let me know.
'Make my compliments to all the Doctors of Edinburgh, and to all my
friends, from one end of Scotland to the other.
'Write to me, and send me what intelligence you can: and if any thing is
too bulky for the post, let me have it by the carrier. I do not like
trusting winds and waves.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most, &c.
'Jan. 29, 1774.'
To THE SAME.
'In a day or two after I had written the last discontented letter, I
received my box, which was very welcome. But still I must entreat you to
hasten Dr. Webster, and continue to pick up what you can that may be
'Mr. Oglethorpe was with me this morning, you know his errand. He was
'Tell Mrs. Boswell that my good intentions towards her still continue I
should be glad to do any thing that would either benefit or please her.
'Chambers is not yet gone, but so hurried, or so negligent, or so proud,
that I rarely see him. I have, indeed, for some weeks past, been very
ill of a cold and cough, and have been at Mrs. Thrale's, that I might be
taken care of. I am much better: _novae redeunt in praelia vires_;
but I am yet tender, and easily disordered. How happy it was that
neither of us were ill in the Hebrides.
'The question of Literary Property is this day before the Lords.
Murphy drew up the Appellants' case, that is, the plea against the
perpetual right. I have not seen it, nor heard the decision. I would not
have the right perpetual.
'I will write to you as any thing occurs, and do you send me something
about my Scottish friends. I have very great kindness for them. Let me
know likewise how fees come in, and when we are to see you.
'I am. Sir,
London, Feb. 7, 1774.
He at this time wrote the following letters to Mr. Steevens, his able
associate in editing Shakspeare:
To George Steevens, Esq., in Hampstead.
'If I am asked when I have seen Mr. Steevens, you know what answer I
must give; if I am asked when I shall see him, I wish you would tell me
what to say.
'If you have Lesley's _History of Scotland_, or any other book about
Scotland, except Boetius and Buchanan, it will be a kindness if you send
them to, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'Feb. 7, 1774.'
To the same.
'We are thinking to augment our club, and I am desirous of nominating
you, if you care to stand the ballot, and can attend on Friday nights at
least twice in five weeks: less than this is too little, and rather more
will be expected. Be pleased to let me know before Friday.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most, &c.,
'Feb. 21, 1774.
To the same.
'Last night you became a member of the club; if you call on me on
Friday, I will introduce you. A gentleman, proposed after you, was
'I thank you for _Neander_, but wish he were not so fine. I will take
care of him.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'March 5, 1774.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Dr. Webster's informations were much less exact and much less
determinate than I expected: they are, indeed, much less positive than,
if he can trust his own book which he laid before me, he is able to
give. But I believe it will always be found, that he who calls much for
information will advance his work but slowly.
'I am, however, obliged to you, dear Sir, for your endeavours to help
me, and hope, that between us something will some time be done, if not
on this, on some occasion.
'Chambers is either married, or almost married, to Miss Wilton, a girl
of sixteen, exquisitely beautiful, whom he has, with his lawyer's
tongue, persuaded to take her chance with him in the East.
'We have added to the club, Charles Fox, Sir Charles Bunbury
, Dr. Fordyce, and Mr. Steevens.
'Return my thanks to Dr. Webster. Tell Dr. Robertson I have not much to
reply to his censure of my negligence; and tell Dr. Blair, that since he
has written hither what I said to him, we must now consider ourselves as
even, forgive one another, and begin again. I care not how soon, for
he is a very pleasing man. Pay my compliments to all my friends, and
remind Lord Elibank of his promise to give me all his works.
'I hope Mrs. Boswell and little Miss are well.--When shall I see them
again? She is a sweet lady, only she was so glad to see me go, that I
have almost a mind to come again, that she may again have the same
'Enquire if it be practicable to send a small present of a cask of
porter to Dunvegan, Rasay, and Col. I would not wish to be thought
forgetful of civilities.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'March 5, 1774.'
On the 5th of March I wrote to him, requesting his counsel whether I
should this spring come to London. I stated to him on the one hand some
pecuniary embarrassments, which, together with my wife's situation at
that time, made me hesitate; and, on the other, the pleasure and
improvement which my annual visit to the metropolis always afforded me;
and particularly mentioned a peculiar satisfaction which I experienced
in celebrating the festival of Easter in St. Paul's cathedral; that to
my fancy it appeared like going up to Jerusalem at the feast of the
Passover; and that the strong devotion which I felt on that occasion
diffused its influence on my mind through the rest of the year.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
[Not dated, but written about the 15th of March.]
'I am ashamed to think that since I received your letter I have passed
so many days without answering it.
'I think there is no great difficulty in resolving your doubts. The
reasons for which you are inclined to visit London, are, I think, not of
sufficient strength to answer the objections. That you should delight to
come once a year to the fountain of intelligence and pleasure, is very
natural; but both information and pleasure must be regulated by
propriety. Pleasure, which cannot be obtained but by unseasonable or
unsuitable expence, must always end in pain; and pleasure, which must be
enjoyed at the expence of another's pain, can never be such as a worthy
mind can fully delight in.
'What improvement you might gain by coming to London, you may easily
supply, or easily compensate, by enjoining yourself some particular
study at home, or opening some new avenue to information. Edinburgh is
not yet exhausted; and I am sure you will find no pleasure here which
can deserve either that you should anticipate any part of your future
fortune, or that you should condemn yourself and your lady to penurious
frugality for the rest of the year.
'I need not tell you what regard you owe to Mrs. Boswell's entreaties;
or how much you ought to study the happiness of her who studies yours
with so much diligence, and of whose kindness you enjoy such good
effects. Life cannot subsist in society but by reciprocal concessions.
She permitted you to ramble last year, you must permit her now to keep
you at home.
'Your last reason is so serious, that I am unwilling to oppose it. Yet
you must remember, that your image of worshipping once a year in a
certain place, in imitation of the Jews, is but a comparison; and
_simile non est idem_; if the annual resort to Jerusalem was a duty to
the Jews, it was a duty because it was commanded; and you have no such
command, therefore no such duty. It may be dangerous to receive too
readily, and indulge too fondly, opinions, from which, perhaps, no pious
mind is wholly disengaged, of local sanctity and local devotion. You
know what strange effects they have produced over a great part of the
Christian world. I am now writing, and you, when you read this, are
reading under the Eye of Omnipresence.
'To what degree fancy is to be admitted into religious offices, it would
require much deliberation to determine. I am far from intending totally
to exclude it. Fancy is a faculty bestowed by our Creator, and it is
reasonable that all His gifts should be used to His glory, that all our
faculties should co-operate in His worship; but they are to co-operate
according to the will of Him that gave them, according to the order
which His wisdom has established. As ceremonies prudential or convenient
are less obligatory than positive ordinances, as bodily worship is only
the token to others or ourselves of mental adoration, so Fancy is always
to act in subordination to Reason. We may take Fancy for a companion,
but must follow Reason as our guide. We may allow Fancy to suggest
certain ideas in certain places; but Reason must always be heard, when
she tells us, that those ideas and those places have no natural or
necessary relation. When we enter a church we habitually recall to mind
the duty of adoration, but we must not omit adoration for want of a
temple; because we know, and ought to remember, that the Universal Lord
is every where present; and that, therefore, to come to Jona, or to
Jerusalem, though it may be useful, cannot be necessary.
'Thus I have answered your letter, and have not answered it negligently.
I love you too well to be careless when you are serious.
'I think I shall be very diligent next week about our travels, which I
have too long neglected.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most, &c.,
'Compliments to Madam and Miss.'
To The Same.
'The lady who delivers this has a lawsuit, in which she desires to make
use of your skill and eloquence, and she seems to think that she shall
have something more of both for a recommendation from me; which, though
I know how little you want any external incitement to your duty, I could
not refuse her, because I know that at least it will not hurt her, to
tell you that I wish her well.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'May 10, 1774.'
'MR, BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, May 12, 1774.
'Lord Hailes has begged of me to offer you his best respects, and to
transmit to you specimens of _Annals of Scotland, from the Accession of
Malcolm Kenmore to the Death of James V_,' in drawing up which, his
Lordship has been engaged for some time. His Lordship writes to me thus:
"If I could procure Dr. Johnson's criticisms, they would be of great use
to me in the prosecution of my work, as they would be judicious and
true. I have no right to ask that favour of him. If you could, it would
highly oblige me."
'Dr. Blair requests you may be assured that he did not write to London
what you said to him, and that neither by word nor letter has he made
the least complaint of you; but, on the contrary, has a high respect for
you, and loves you much more since he saw you in Scotland. It would both
divert and please you to see his eagerness about this matter.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Streatham, June 21, 1774.
'Yesterday I put the first sheets of the _Journey to the Hebrides_ to
the press. I have endeavoured to do you some justice in the first
paragraph. It will be one volume in octavo, not thick.
'It will be proper to make some presents in Scotland. You shall tell me
to whom I shall give; and I have stipulated twenty-five for you to give
in your own name. Some will take the present better from me, others
better from you. In this, you who are to live in the place ought to
direct. Consider it. Whatever you can get for my purpose send me; and
make my compliments to your lady and both the young ones.
'I am, Sir, your, &c.,
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, June 24, 1774.
'You do not acknowledge the receipt of the various packets which I have
sent to you. Neither can I prevail with you to _answer_ my letters,
though you honour me with _returns_. You have said nothing to me
about poor Goldsmith, nothing about Langton.
'I have received for you, from the Society for propagating Christian
Knowledge in Scotland, the following Erse books:--_The New Testament;
Baxter's Call; The Confession of Faith of the Assembly of Divines at
Westminster; The Mother's Catechism; A Gaelick and English
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I wish you could have looked over my book before the printer, but it
could not easily be. I suspect some mistakes; but as I deal, perhaps,
more in notions than in facts, the matter is not great, and the second
edition will be mended, if any such there be. The press will go on
slowly for a time, because I am going into Wales to-morrow.
'I should be very sorry if I appeared to treat such a character as Lord
Hailes otherwise than with high respect. I return the sheets, to
which I have done what mischief I could; and finding it so little,
thought not much of sending them. The narrative is clear, lively, and
'I have done worse to Lord Hailes than by neglecting his sheets: I have
run him in debt. Dr. Horne, the President of Magdalen College in Oxford,
wrote to me about three months ago, that he purposed to reprint
_Walton's Lives_, and desired me to contribute to the work: my answer
was, that Lord Hailes intended the same publication; and Dr. Home has
resigned it to him. His Lordship must now think seriously about it.
'Of poor dear Dr. Goldsmith there is little to be told, more than the
papers have made publick. He died of a fever, made, I am afraid, more
violent by uneasiness of mind. His debts began to be heavy, and all his
resources were exhausted. Sir Joshua is of opinion that he owed not
less than two thousand pounds. Was ever poet so trusted before?
'You may, if you please, put the inscription thus:--
"_Maria Scotorum Regina nata_ 15--, _a suis in exilium acta_ 15--, _ab
hospita neci data_ 15--." You must find the years.
'Of your second daughter you certainly gave the account yourself, though
you have forgotten it. While Mrs. Boswell is well, never doubt of a boy.
Mrs. Thrale brought, I think, five girls running, but while I was with
you she had a boy.
'I am obliged to you for all your pamphlets, and of the last I hope to
make some use. I made some of the former.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate servant,
'July 4, 1774.'
'My compliments to all the three ladies.'
'TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'You have reason to reproach me that I have left your last letter so
long unanswered, but I had nothing particular to say. Chambers, you
find, is gone far, and poor Goldsmith is gone much further. He died of a
fever, exasperated, as I believe, by the fear of distress. He had raised
money and squandered it, by every artifice of acquisition, and folly of
expence. But let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great
'I have just begun to print my _Journey to the Hebrides_, and am leaving
the press to take another journey into Wales, whither Mr. Thrale is
going, to take possession of, at least, five hundred a year, fallen to
his lady. All at Streatham, that are alive, are well.
'I have never recovered from the last dreadful illness, but flatter
myself that I grow gradually better; much, however, yet remains to mend.
[Greek: Kurie eleaeson].
'If you have the Latin version of _Busy, curious, thirsty fly_, be so
kind as to transcribe and send it; but you need not be in haste, for I
shall be I know not where, for at least five weeks. I wrote the
following tetastrick on poor Goldsmith:--
'Ton taphon eisoraas ton Olibaroio koniaen
Aphrosi mae semnaen, Xeine, podessi patei
Oisi memaele phusis, metron charis, erga palaion,
Klaiete posaetaen, istorikon, phusikon.]
'Please to make my most respectful compliments to all the ladies, and
remember me to young George and his sisters. I reckon George begins to
shew a pair of heels.
'Do not be sullen now, but let me find a letter when I come back.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate, humble servant,
'July 5, 1774.'
'To MR. ROBERT LEVET.
'Llewenny, in Denbighshire, Aug. 16, 1774.
'Mr. Thrale's affairs have kept him here a great while, nor do I know
exactly when we shall come hence. I have sent you a bill upon Mr.
'I have made nothing of the Ipecacuanha, but have taken abundance of
pills, and hope that they have done me good.
'Wales, so far as I have yet seen of it, is a very beautiful and rich
country, all enclosed, and planted. Denbigh is not a mean town. Make my
compliments to all my friends, and tell Frank I hope he remembers my
advice. When his money is out, let him have more.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Aug. 30, 1774.
'You have given me an inscription for a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots,
in which you, in a short and striking manner, point out her hard fate.
But you will be pleased to keep in mind, that my picture is a
representation of a particular scene in her history; her being forced to
resign her crown, while she was imprisoned in the castle of Lochlevin. I
must, therefore, beg that you will be kind enough to give me an
inscription suited to that particular scene; or determine which of the
two formerly transmitted to you is the best; and, at any rate, favour me
with an English translation. It will be doubly kind if you comply with
my request speedily.
'Your critical notes on the specimen of Lord Hailes's _Annals of
Scotland_ are excellent, I agreed with you in every one of them. He
himself objected only to the alteration of _free to brave_, in the
passage where he says that Edward "departed with the glory due to the
conquerour of a free people." He says, "to call the Scots brave would
only add to the glory of their conquerour." You will make allowance for
the national zeal of our annalist. I now send a few more leaves of the
_Annals_, which I hope you will peruse, and return with observations, as
you did upon the former occasion. Lord Hailes writes to me thus:--"Mr.
Boswell will be pleased to express the grateful sense which Sir David
Dalrymple has of Dr. Johnson's attention to his little specimen. The
further specimen will show, that
"Even in an Edward he can see desert."
'It gives me much pleasure to hear that a republication of _Isaac
Walton's Lives_ is intended. You have been in a mistake in thinking that
Lord Hailes had it in view. I remember one morning, while he sat with
you in my house, he said, that there should be a new edition of
_Walton's Lives_; and you said that "they should be benoted a little."
This was all that passed on that subject. You must, therefore, inform
Dr. Horne, that he may resume his plan, I enclose a note concerning it;
and if Dr. Horne will write to me, all the attention that I can give
shall be cheerfully bestowed, upon what I think a pious work, the
preservation and elucidation of Walton, by whose writings I have been
most pleasingly edified.'
* * * * *
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Sept. 16, 1774.
'Wales has probably detained you longer than I supposed. You will have
become quite a mountaineer, by visiting Scotland one year and Wales
another. You must next go to Switzerland. Cambria will complain, if you
do not honour her also with some remarks. And I find _concessere
colnmnae_, the booksellers expect another book. I am impatient to see
your _Tour to Scotland and the Hebrides_. Might you not send me a
copy by the post as soon as it is printed off?'
* * * * *
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Yesterday I returned from my Welch journey, I was sorry to leave my
book suspended so long; but having an opportunity of seeing, with so
much convenience, a new part of the island, I could not reject it. I
have been in five of the six counties of North Wales; and have seen St.
Asaph and Bangor, the two seats of their Bishops; have been upon
Penmanmaur and Snowden, and passed over into Anglesea. But Wales
is so little different from England, that it offers nothing to the
speculation of the traveller.
'When I came home, I found several of your papers, with some pages of
Lord Hailes's _Annals_, which I will consider. I am in haste to give you
some account of myself, lest you should suspect me of negligence in the
pressing business which I find recommended to my care, and which I knew
nothing of till now, when all care is vain.
'In the distribution of my books I purpose to follow your advice, adding
such as shall occur to me. I am not pleased with your notes of
remembrance added to your names, for I hope I shall not easily forget
'I have received four Erse books, without any direction, and suspect
that they are intended for the Oxford library. If that is the intention,
I think it will be proper to add the metrical psalms, and whatever else
is printed in _Erse_, that the present may be complete. The donor's name
should be told.
'I wish you could have read the book before it was printed, but our
distance does not easily permit it.
'I am sorry Lord Hailes does not intend to publish _Walton_; I am afraid
it will not be done so well, if it be done at all.
'I purpose now to drive the book forward. Make my compliments to Mrs.
Boswell, and let me hear often from you.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
'London, Octob. 1, 1774.'