Part 5 out of 12
This tour to Wales, which was made in company with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale,
though it no doubt contributed to his health and amusement, did not give
an occasion to such a discursive exercise of his mind as our tour to the
Hebrides. I do not find that he kept any journal or notes of what he saw
there. All that I heard him say of it was, that 'instead of bleak and
barren mountains, there were green and fertile ones; and that one of the
castles in Wales would contain all the castles that he had seen in
Parliament having been dissolved, and his friend Mr. Thrale, who was
a steady supporter of government, having again to encounter the storm of
a contested election, he wrote a short political pamphlet, entitled _The
Patriot_, addressed to the electors of Great-Britain; a title which, to
factious men, who consider a patriot only as an opposer of the measures
of government, will appear strangely misapplied. It was, however,
written with energetick vivacity; and, except those passages in which it
endeavours to vindicate the glaring outrage of the House of Commons in
the case of the Middlesex election, and to justify the attempt to reduce
our fellow-subjects in America to unconditional submission, it contained
an admirable display of the properties of a real patriot, in the
original and genuine sense;--a sincere, steady, rational, and unbiassed
friend to the interests and prosperity of his King and country. It must
be acknowledged, however, that both in this and his two former
pamphlets, there was, amidst many powerful arguments, not only a
considerable portion of sophistry, but a contemptuous ridicule of his
opponents, which was very provoking.
'To MR. PERKINS.
'You may do me a very great favour. Mrs. Williams, a gentlewoman whom
you may have seen at Mr. Thrale's, is a petitioner for Mr.
Hetherington's charity: petitions are this day issued at Christ's
'I am a bad manager of business in a crowd; and if I should send a mean
man, he may be put away without his errand. I must therefore intreat
that you will go, and ask for a petition for Anna Williams, whose paper
of enquiries was delivered with answers at the counting-house of the
hospital on Thursday the 20th. My servant will attend you thither, and
bring the petition home when you have it.
'The petition, which they are to give us, is a form which they deliver
to every petitioner, and which the petitioner is afterwards to fill up,
and return to them again. This we must have, or we cannot proceed
according to their directions. You need, I believe, only ask for a
petition; if they enquire for whom you ask, you can tell them.
'I beg pardon for giving you this trouble; but it is a matter of great
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'October 25, 1774.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'There has appeared lately in the papers an account of a boat overset
between Mull and Ulva, in which many passengers were lost, and among
them Maclean of Col. We, you know, were once drowned; I hope,
therefore, that the story is either wantonly or erroneously told. Pray
satisfy me by the next post.
'I have printed two hundred and forty pages. I am able to do nothing
much worth doing to dear Lord Hailes's book. I will, however, send back
the sheets; and hope, by degrees, to answer all your reasonable
'Mr. Thrale has happily surmounted a very violent and acrimonious
opposition; but all joys have their abatement: Mrs. Thrale has fallen
from her horse, and hurt herself very much. The rest of our friends, I
believe, are well. My compliments to Mrs. Boswell.
'I am, Sir,
Your most affectionate servant,
'London, October. 27, 1774.'
This letter, which shows his tender concern for an amiable young
gentleman to whom he had been very much obliged in the Hebrides, I have
inserted according to its date, though before receiving it I had
informed him of the melancholy event that the young Laird of Col was
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Last night I corrected the last page of our _Journey to the Hebrides_.
The printer has detained it all this time, for I had, before I went into
Wales, written all except two sheets. _The Patriot_ was called for by my
political friends on Friday, was written on Saturday, and I have heard
little of it. So vague are conjectures at a distance. As soon as I
can, I will take care that copies be sent to you, for I would wish that
they might be given before they are bought; but I am afraid that Mr.
Strahan will send to you and to the booksellers at the same time. Trade
is as diligent as courtesy. I have mentioned all that you recommended.
Pray make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell and the younglings. The club
has, I think, not yet met.
'Tell me, and tell me honestly, what you think and what others say of
our travels. Shall we touch the continent?
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'Nov. 26, 1774.'
In his manuscript diary of this year, there is the following entry:--
'Nov. 27. Advent Sunday. I considered that this day, being the beginning
of the ecclesiastical year, was a proper time for a new course of life.
I began to read the Greek Testament regularly at 160 verses every
Sunday. This day I began the Acts.
'In this week I read Virgil's _Pastorals_. I learned to repeat the
_Pollio_ and _Gallus_. I read carelessly the first _Georgick_.'
Such evidences of his unceasing ardour, both for 'divine and human
lore,' when advanced into his sixty-fifth year, and notwithstanding his
many disturbances from disease, must make us at once honour his spirit,
and lament that it should be so grievously clogged by its material
tegument. It is remarkable, that he was very fond of the precision which
calculation produces. Thus we find in one of his manuscript diaries,
'12 pages in 4to. Gr. Test, and 30 pages in Beza's folio, comprize the
whole in 40 days.'
'DR. JOHNSON TO JOHN HOOLE, Esq.
'I have returned your play, which you will find underscored with red,
where there was a word which I did not like. The red will be washed off
with a little water.
'The plot is so well framed, the intricacy so artful, and the
disentanglement so easy, the suspense so affecting, and the passionate
parts so properly interposed, that I have no doubt of its success.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'December 19, 1774.'
1775: AETAT. 66.--The first effort of his pen in 1775 was, 'Proposals
for publishing the Works of Mrs. Charlotte Lennox,'[Dagger] in three
volumes quarto. In his diary, January 2, I find this entry: 'Wrote
Charlotte's Proposals.' But, indeed, the internal evidence would have
been quite sufficient. Her claim to the favour of the public was thus
'Most of the pieces, as they appeared singly, have been read with
approbation, perhaps above their merits, but of no great advantage to
the writer. She hopes, therefore, that she shall not be considered as
too indulgent to vanity, or too studious of interest, if, from that
labour which has hitherto been chiefly gainful to others, she endeavours
to obtain at last some profit for herself and her children. She cannot
decently enforce her claim by the praise of her own performances; nor
can she suppose, that, by the most artful and laboured address, any
additional notice could be procured to a publication, of which Her
MAJESTY has condescended to be the PATRONESS.'
He this year also wrote the Preface to Baretti's _Easy Lessons in
Italian and English_.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'You never did ask for a book by the post till now, and I did not think
on it. You see now it is done. I sent one to the King, and I hear he
'I shall send a parcel into Scotland for presents, and intend to give to
many of my friends. In your catalogue you left out Lord Auchinleck.
'Let me know, as fast as you read it, how you like it; and let me know
if any mistake is committed, or any thing important left out. I wish you
could have seen the sheets. My compliments to Mrs. Boswell, and to
Veronica, and to all my friends.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'January 14, 1775.
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Jan. 19, 1775.
'Be pleased to accept of my best thanks for your _Journey to the
Hebrides_, which came to me by last night's post. I did really ask the
favour twice; but you have been even with me by granting it so speedily.
_Bis dat qui cito dat_. Though ill of a bad cold, you kept me up the
greatest part of the last night; for I did not stop till I had read
every word of your book. I looked back to our first talking of a visit a
visit to the Hebrides, which was many years ago, when sitting by
ourselves in the Mitre tavern, in London, I think about _witching
time o' night_; and then exulted in contemplating our scheme
fulfilled, and a _monumentum perenne_ of it erected by your superiour
abilities. I shall only say, that your book has afforded me a high
gratification. I shall afterwards give you my thoughts on particular
passages. In the mean time, I hasten to tell you of your having mistaken
two names, which you will correct in London, as I shall do here, that
the gentlemen who deserve the valuable compliments which you have paid
them, may enjoy their honours. In page 106, for _Gordon_ read
_Murchison_; and in page 357, for _Maclean_ read _Macleod_.
* * * * *
'But I am now to apply to you for immediate aid in my profession, which
you have never refused to grant when I requested it. I enclose you a
petition for Dr. Memis, a physician at Aberdeen, in which Sir John
Dalrymple has exerted his talents, and which I am to answer as Counsel
for the managers of the Royal Infirmary in that city. Mr. Jopp, the
Provost, who delivered to you your freedom, is one of my clients,
and, _as a citizen of Aberdeen_, you will support him.
'The fact is shortly this. In a translation of the charter of the
Infirmary from Latin into English, made under the authority of the
managers, the same phrase in the original is in one place rendered
_Physician_, but when applied to Dr. Memis is rendered _Doctor of
Medicine_. Dr. Memis complained of this before the translation was
printed, but was not indulged with having it altered; and he has brought
an action for damages, on account of a supposed injury, as if the
designation given to him was an inferiour one, tending to make it be
supposed he is _not a Physician_, and, consequently, to hurt his
practice. My father has dismissed the action as groundless, and now he
has appealed to the whole Court.'
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I long to hear how you like the book; it is, I think, much liked here.
But Macpherson is very furious; can you give me any more intelligence
about him, or his Fingal? Do what you can and do it quickly. Is Lord
Hailes on our side?
'Pray let me know what I owed you when I left you, that I may send it to
'I am going to write about the Americans. If you have picked up any
hints among your lawyers, who are great masters of the law of nations,
or if your own mind suggests any thing, let me know. But mum, it is a
'I will send your parcel of books as soon as I can; but I cannot do as I
wish. However, you find every thing mentioned in the book which you
'Langton is here; we are all that ever we were. He is a worthy
fellow, without malice, though not without resentment.
'Poor Beauclerk is so ill, that his life is thought to be in danger.
Lady Di nurses him with very great assiduity.
'Reynolds has taken too much to strong liquor, and seems to delight
in his new character.
'This is all the news that I have; but as you love verses, I will send
you a few which I made upon Inchkenneth; but remember the condition,
you shall not show them, except to Lord Hailes, whom I love better than
any man whom I know so little. If he asks you to transcribe them for
him, you may do it, but I think he must promise not to let them be
copied again, nor to show them as mine.
'I have at last sent back Lord Hailes's sheets. I never think about
returning them, because I alter nothing. You will see that I might as
well have kept them. However, I am ashamed of my delay; and if I have
the honour of receiving any more, promise punctually to return them by
the next post. Make my compliments to dear Mrs. Boswell, and to Miss
'I am, dear Sir,
'Yours most faithfully,
'Jan. 21, 1775.
'MR, BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Jan. 27, 1775.
* * * * *
'You rate our lawyers here too high, when you call them great masters of
the law of nations.
* * * * *
'As for myself, I am ashamed to say I have read little and thought
little on the subject of America. I will be much obliged to you, if you
will direct me where I shall find the best information of what is to be
said on both sides. It is a subject vast in its present extent and
future consequences. The imperfect hints which now float in my mind,
tend rather to the formation of an opinion that our government has been
precipitant and severe in the resolutions taken against the
Bostonians. Well do you know that I have no kindness for that race.
But nations, or bodies of men, should, as well as individuals, have a
fair trial, and not be condemned on character alone. Have we not express
contracts with our colonies, which afford a more certain foundation of
judgement, than general political speculations on the mutual rights of
States and their provinces or colonies? Pray let me know immediately
what to read, and I shall diligently endeavour to gather for you any
thing that I can find. Is Burke's speech on American taxation published
by himself? Is it authentick? I remember to have heard you say, that you
had never considered East-Indian affairs; though, surely, they are of
much importance to Great-Britain. Under the recollection of this, I
shelter myself from the reproach of ignorance about the Americans. If
you write upon the subject I shall certainly understand it. But, since
you seem to expect that I should know something of it, without your
instruction, and that my own mind should suggest something, I trust you
will put me in the way.
* * * * *
'What does Becket mean by the _Originals_ of Fingal and other poems
of Ossian, which he advertises to have lain in his shop?'
* * * * *
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'You sent me a case to consider, in which I have no facts but what are
against us, nor any principles on which to reason. It is vain to try to
write thus without materials. The fact seems to be against you; at least
I cannot know nor say any thing to the contrary. I am glad that you like
the book so well. I hear no more of Macpherson. I shall long to know
what Lord Hailes says of it. Lend it him privately. I shall send the
parcel as soon as I can. Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell.
'I am, Sir, &c.,
'Jan. 28, 1775.'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Feb. 2, 1775
* * * * *
'As to Macpherson, I am anxious to have from yourself a full and pointed
account of what has passed between you and him. It is confidently told
here, that before your book came out he sent to you, to let you know
that he understood you meant to deny the authenticity of Ossian's poems;
that the originals were in his possession; that you might have
inspection of them, and might take the evidence of people skilled in the
Erse language; and that he hoped, after this fair offer, you would not
be so uncandid as to assert that he had refused reasonable proof. That
you paid no regard to his message, but published your strong attack upon
him; and then he wrote a letter to you, in such terms as he thought
suited to one who had not acted as a man of veracity. You may believe it
gives me pain to hear your conduct represented as unfavourable, while I
can only deny what is said, on the ground that your character refutes
it, without having any information to oppose. Let me, I beg it of you,
be furnished with a sufficient answer to any calumny upon this occasion.
'Lord Hailes writes to me, (for we correspond more than we talk
together,) "As to Fingal, I see a controversy arising, and purpose to
keep out of its way. There is no doubt that I might mention some
circumstances; but I do not choose to commit them to paper." What his
opinion is, I do not know. He says, "I am singularly obliged to Dr.
Johnson for his accurate and useful criticisms. Had he given some
strictures on the general plan of the work, it would have added much to
his favours." He is charmed with your verses on Inchkenneth, says they
are very elegant, but bids me tell you he doubts whether be according to
the rubrick; but that is your concern; for, you know, he is a
"Legitimas faciunt pectora pura preces."
* * * * *
'To DR. LAWRENCE.
'Feb. 7, 1775.
'One of the Scotch physicians is now prosecuting a corporation that in
some publick instrument have stiled him _Doctor of Medicine_ instead of
_Physician_. Boswell desires, being advocate for the corporation, to
know whether _Doctor of Medicine_ is not a legitimate title, and whether
it may be considered as a disadvantageous distinction. I am to write
to-night; be pleased to tell me.
'I am, Sir, your most, &c.,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'My DEAR BOSWELL,
'I am surprised that, knowing as you do the disposition of your
countrymen to tell lies in favour of each other, you can be at all
affected by any reports that circulate among them. Macpherson never in
his life offered me a sight of any original or of any evidence of any
kind; but thought only of intimidating me by noise and threats, till my
last answer,--that I would not be deterred from detecting what I thought
a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian--put an end to our correspondence.
'The state of the question is this. He, and Dr. Blair, whom I consider
as deceived, say, that he copied the poem from old manuscripts. His
copies, if he had them, and I believe him to have none, are nothing.
Where are the manuscripts? They can be shown if they exist, but they
were never shown. _De non existentibus et non apparentibus_, says our
law, _eadem est ratio_. No man has a claim to credit upon his own word,
when better evidence, if he had it, may be easily produced. But, so far
as we can find, the Erse language was never written till very lately for
the purposes of religion. A nation that cannot write, or a language that
was never written, has no manuscripts.
'But whatever he has he never offered to show. If old manuscripts should
now be mentioned, I should, unless there were more evidence than can be
easily had, suppose them another proof of Scotch conspiracy in national
'Do not censure the expression; you know it to be true.
'Dr. Memis's question is so narrow as to allow no speculation; and I
have no facts before me but those which his advocate has produced
'I consulted this morning the President of the London College of
Physicians, who says, that with us, _Doctor of Physick_ (we do not
say _Doctor of Medicine_) is the highest title that a practicer of
physick can have; that _Doctor_ implies not only _Physician_, but
teacher of physick; that every _Doctor_ is legally a _Physician_; but no
man, not a _Doctor_, can _practice physick_ but by _licence_
particularly granted. The Doctorate is a licence of itself. It seems to
us a very slender cause of prosecution.
* * * * *
'I am now engaged, but in a little time I hope to do all you would have.
My compliments to Madam and Veronica.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'February 7, 1775.'
What words were used by Mr. Macpherson in his letter to the venerable
Sage, I have never heard; but they are generally said to have been of a
nature very different from the language of literary contest. Dr.
Johnson's answer appeared in the newspapers of the day, and has since
been frequently re-published; but not with perfect accuracy. I give it
as dictated to me by himself, written down in his presence, and
authenticated by a note in his own hand-writing, '_This, I think, is a
'MR. JAMES MACPHERSON,
'I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I
shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law
shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I
think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.
'What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; I
think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to
the publick, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your
abilities, since your Homer, are not so formidable; and what I hear
of your morals, inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but
to what you shall prove. You may print this if you will.
Mr. Macpherson little knew the character of Dr. Johnson, if he supposed
that he could be easily intimidated; for no man was ever more remarkable
for personal courage. He had, indeed, an aweful dread of death, or
rather, 'of something after death;' and what rational man, who
seriously thinks of quitting all that he has ever known, and going into
a new and unknown state of being, can be without that dread? But his
fear was from reflection; his courage natural. His fear, in that one
instance, was the result of philosophical and religious consideration.
He feared death, but he feared nothing else, not even what might
occasion death. Many instances of his resolution may be mentioned.
One day, at Mr. Beauclerk's house in the country, when two large dogs
were fighting, he went up to them, and beat them till they separated;
and at another time, when told of the danger there was that a gun might
burst if charged with many balls, he put in six or seven, and fired it
off against a wall. Mr. Langton told me, that when they were swimming
together near Oxford, he cautioned Dr. Johnson against a pool, which was
reckoned particularly dangerous; upon which Johnson directly swam into
it. He told me himself that one night he was attacked in the street by
four men, to whom he would not yield, but kept them all at bay, till the
watch came up, and carried both him and them to the round-house. In
the playhouse at Lichfield, as Mr. Garrick informed me, Johnson having
for a moment quitted a chair which was placed for him between the
side-scenes, a gentleman took possession of it, and when Johnson on his
return civilly demanded his seat, rudely refused to give it up; upon
which Johnson laid hold of it, and tossed him and the chair into the
pit. Foote, who so successfully revived the old comedy, by exhibiting
living characters, had resolved to imitate Johnson on the stage,
expecting great profits from his ridicule of so celebrated a man.
Johnson being informed of his intention, and being at dinner at Mr.
Thomas Davies's the bookseller, from whom I had the story, he asked Mr.
Davies 'what was the common price of an oak stick;' and being answered
six-pence, 'Why then, Sir, (said he,) give me leave to send your servant
to purchase me a shilling one. I'll have a double quantity; for I am
told Foote means to _take me off_, as he calls it, and I am determined
the fellow shall not do it with impunity.' Davies took care to acquaint
Foote of this, which effectually checked the wantonness of the
mimick. Mr. Macpherson's menaces made Johnson provide himself with
the same implement of defence; and had he been attacked, I have no
doubt that, old as he was, he would have made his corporal prowess be
felt as much as his intellectual.
His _Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland_ is a most valuable
performance. It abounds in extensive philosophical views of society, and
in ingenious sentiment and lively description. A considerable part of
it, indeed, consists of speculations, which many years before he saw the
wild regions which we visited together, probably had employed his
attention, though the actual sight of those scenes undoubtedly quickened
and augmented them. Mr. Orme, the very able historian, agreed with me
in this opinion, which he thus strongly expressed:--'There are in that
book thoughts, which, by long revolution in the great mind of Johnson,
have been formed and polished like pebbles rolled in the ocean!'
That he was to some degree of excess a _true-born Englishman_, so as
to have entertained an undue prejudice against both the country and the
people of Scotland, must be allowed. But it was a prejudice of the
head, and not of the heart. He had no ill-will to the Scotch; for, if he
had been conscious of that, he would never have thrown himself into the
bosom of their country, and trusted to the protection of its remote
inhabitants with a fearless confidence. His remark upon the nakedness of
the country, from its being denuded of trees, was made after having
travelled two hundred miles along the eastern coast, where certainly
trees are not to be found near the road; and he said it was 'a map of
the road' which he gave. His disbelief of the authenticity of the
poems ascribed to Ossian, a Highland bard, was confirmed in the course
of his journey, by a very strict examination of the evidence offered for
it; and although their authenticity was made too much a national point
by the Scotch, there were many respectable persons in that country, who
did not concur in this; so that his judgement upon the question ought
not to be decried, even by those who differ from him. As to myself, I
can only say, upon a subject now become very uninteresting, that when
the fragments of Highland poetry first came out, I was much pleased with
their wild peculiarity, and was one of those who subscribed to enable
their editor, Mr. Macpherson, then a young man, to make a search in the
Highlands and Hebrides for a long poem in the Erse language, which was
reported to be preserved somewhere in those regions. But when there came
forth an Epick Poem in six books, with all the common circumstances of
former compositions of that nature; and when, upon an attentive
examination of it, there was found a perpetual recurrence of the same
images which appear in the fragments; and when no ancient manuscript, to
authenticate the work, was deposited in any publick library, though that
was insisted on as a reasonable proof, _who_ could forbear to doubt?
Johnson's grateful acknowledgements of kindnesses received in the course
of this tour, completely refute the brutal reflections which have been
thrown out against him, as if he had made an ungrateful return; and his
delicacy in sparing in his book those who we find from his letters to
Mrs. Thrale were just objects of censure, is much to be admired. His
candour and amiable disposition is conspicuous from his conduct, when
informed by Mr. Macleod, of Rasay, that he had committed a mistake,
which gave that gentleman some uneasiness. He wrote him a courteous and
kind letter, and inserted in the news-papers an advertisement,
correcting the mistake.
The observations of my friend Mr. Dempster in a letter written to me,
soon after he had read Dr. Johnson's book, are so just and liberal, that
they cannot be too often repeated:
'There is nothing in the book, from beginning to end, that a Scotchman
need to take amiss. What he says of the country is true; and his
observations on the people are what must naturally occur to a sensible,
observing, and reflecting inhabitant of a convenient metropolis, where a
man on thirty pounds a year may be better accommodated with all the
little wants of life, than Col or Sir Allan.
'I am charmed with his researches concerning the Erse language, and the
antiquity of their manuscripts. I am quite convinced; and I shall rank
Ossian and his Fingals and Oscars amongst the nursery tales, not the
true history of our country, in all time to come.
'Upon the whole, the book cannot displease, for it has no pretensions.
The authour neither says he is a geographer, nor an antiquarian, nor
very learned in the history of Scotland, nor a naturalist, nor a
fossilist. The manners of the people, and the face of the country,
are all he attempts to describe, or seems to have thought of. Much were
it to be wished, that they who have travelled into more remote, and of
course more curious regions, had all possessed his good sense. Of the
state of learning, his observations on Glasgow University show he has
formed a very sound judgement. He understands our climate too; and he
has accurately observed the changes, however slow and imperceptible to
us, which Scotland has undergone, in consequence of the blessings of
liberty and internal peace.'
* * * * *
Mr. Knox, another native of Scotland, who has since made the same tour,
and published an account of it, is equally liberal.
'I have read (says he,) his book again and again, travelled with him
from Berwick to Glenelg, through countries with which I am well
acquainted; sailed with him from Glenelg to Rasay, Sky, Rum, Col, Mull,
and Icolmkill, but have not been able to correct him in any matter of
consequence. I have often admired the accuracy, the precision, and the
justness of what he advances, respecting both the country and the
'The Doctor has every where delivered his sentiments with freedom, and
in many instances with a seeming regard for the benefit of the
inhabitants and the ornament of the country. His remarks on the want of
trees and hedges for shade, as well as for shelter to the cattle, are
well founded, and merit the thanks, not the illiberal censure of the
natives. He also felt for the distresses of the Highlanders, and
explodes with great propriety the bad management of the grounds, and the
neglect of timber in the Hebrides.'
Having quoted Johnson's just compliments on the Rasay family, he
'On the other hand, I found this family equally lavish in their
encomiums upon the Doctor's conversation, and his subsequent civilities
to a young gentleman of that country, who, upon waiting upon him at
London, was well received, and experienced all the attention and regard
that a warm friend could bestow. Mr. Macleod having also been in London,
waited upon the Doctor, who provided a magnificent and expensive
entertainment in honour of his old Hebridean acquaintance.'
And talking of the military road by Fort Augustus, he says,
'By this road, though one of the most rugged in Great Britain, the
celebrated Dr. Johnson passed from Inverness to the Hebride Isles. His
observations on the country and people are extremely correct, judicious,
Mr. Tytler, the acute and able vindicator of Mary Queen of Scots, in one
of his letters to Mr. James Elphinstone, published in that gentleman's
_Forty Years' Correspondence_, says,
'I read Dr. Johnson's Tour with very great pleasure. Some few errours he
has fallen into, but of no great importance, and those are lost in the
numberless beauties of his work.
'If I had leisure, I could perhaps point out the most exceptionable
places; but at present I am in the country, and have not his book at
hand. It is plain he meant to speak well of Scotland; and he has in my
apprehension done us great honour in the most capital article, the
character of the inhabitants.'
His private letters to Mrs. Thrale, written during the course of his
journey, which therefore may be supposed to convey his genuine feelings
at the time, abound in such benignant sentiments towards the people who
showed him civilities, that no man whose temper is not very harsh and
sour, can retain a doubt of the goodness of his heart.
It is painful to recollect with what rancour he was assailed by numbers
of shallow irritable North Britons, on account of his supposed injurious
treatment of their country and countrymen, in his _Journey_. Had there
been any just ground for such a charge, would the virtuous and candid
Dempster have given his opinion of the book, in the terms which I
have quoted? Would the patriotick Knox have spoken of it as he has
done? Would Mr. Tytler, surely
'--a Scot, if ever Scot there were,'
have expressed himself thus? And let me add, that, citizen of the world
as I hold myself to be, I have that degree of predilection for my
_natale solum_, nay, I have that just sense of the merit of an ancient
nation, which has been ever renowned for its valour, which in former
times maintained its independence against a powerful neighbour, and in
modern times has been equally distinguished for its ingenuity and
industry in civilized life, that I should have felt a generous
indignation at any injustice done to it. Johnson treated Scotland no
worse than he did even his best friends, whose characters he used to
give as they appeared to him, both in light and shade. Some people, who
had not exercised their minds sufficiently, condemned him for censuring
his friends. But Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose philosophical penetration
and justness of thinking were not less known to those who lived with
him, than his genius in his art is admired by the world, explained his
conduct thus: 'He was fond of discrimination, which he could not show
without pointing out the bad as well as the good in every character; and
as his friends were those whose characters he knew best, they afforded
him the best opportunity for showing the acuteness of his judgement.'
He expressed to his friend Mr. Windham of Norfolk, his wonder at the
extreme jealousy of the Scotch, and their resentment at having their
country described by him as it really was; when, to say that it was a
country as good as England, would have been a gross falsehood. 'None of
us, (said he), would be offended if a foreigner who has travelled here
should say, that vines and olives don't grow in England.' And as to his
prejudice against the Scotch, which I always ascribed to that
nationality which he observed in _them_, he said to the same gentleman,
'When I find a Scotchman, to whom an Englishman is as a Scotchman, that
Scotchman shall be as an Englishman to me.' His intimacy with many
gentlemen of Scotland, and his employing so many natives of that country
as his amanuenses, prove that his prejudice was not virulent; and I
have deposited in the British Museum, amongst other pieces of his
writing, the following note in answer to one from me, asking if he would
meet me at dinner at the Mitre, though a friend of mine, a Scotchman,
was to be there:--
'Mr. Johnson does not see why Mr. Boswell should suppose a Scotchman
less acceptable than any other man. He will be at the Mitre.'
My much-valued friend Dr. Barnard, now Bishop of Killaloe, having once
expressed to him an apprehension, that if he should visit Ireland he
might treat the people of that country more unfavourably than he had
done the Scotch; he answered, with strong pointed double-edged wit,
'Sir, you have no reason to be afraid of me. The Irish are not in a
conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of
their countrymen. No, Sir; the Irish are a FAIR PEOPLE;--they never
speak well of one another.'
Johnson told me of an instance of Scottish nationality, which made a
very unfavourable impression upon his mind. A Scotchman, of some
consideration in London, solicited him to recommend, by the weight of
his learned authority, to be master of an English school, a person of
whom he who recommended him confessed he knew no more but that he was
his countryman. Johnson was shocked at this unconscientious conduct.
All the miserable cavillings against his _Journey_, in news-papers,
magazines, and other fugitive publications, I can speak from certain
knowledge, only furnished him with sport. At last there came out a
scurrilous volume, larger than Johnson's own, filled with malignant
abuse, under a name, real or fictitious, of some low man in an obscure
corner of Scotland, though supposed to be the work of another Scotchman,
who has found means to make himself well known both in Scotland and
England. The effect which it had upon Johnson was, to produce this
pleasant observation to Mr. Seward, to whom he lent the book: 'This
fellow must be a blockhead. They don't know how to go about their abuse.
Who will read a five shilling book against me? No, Sir, if they had wit,
they should have kept pelting me with pamphlets.'
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Feb. 18, 1775.
'You would have been very well pleased if you had dined with me to-day.
I had for my guests, Macquharrie, young Maclean of Col, the successor of
our friend, a very amiable man, though not marked with such active
qualities as his brother; Mr. Maclean of Torloisk in Mull, a gentleman
of Sir Allan's family; and two of the clan Grant; so that the Highland
and Hebridean genius reigned. We had a great deal of conversation about
you, and drank your health in a bumper. The toast was not proposed by
me, which is a circumstance to be remarked, for I am now so connected
with you, that any thing that I can say or do to your honour has not the
value of an additional compliment. It is only giving you a guinea out of
that treasure of admiration which already belongs to you, and which is
no hidden treasure; for I suppose my admiration of you is co-existent
with the knowledge of my character.
'I find that the Highlanders and Hebrideans in general are much fonder
of your _Journey_ than the low-country or _hither_ Scots. One of the
Grants said to-day, that he was sure you were a man of a good heart, and
a candid man, and seemed to hope he should be able to convince you of
the antiquity of a good proportion of the poems of Ossian. After all
that has passed, I think the matter is capable of being proved to a
certain degree. I am told that Macpherson got one old Erse MS. from
Clanranald, for the restitution of which he executed a formal
obligation; and it is affirmed, that the Gaelick (call it Erse or call
it Irish,) has been written in the Highlands and Hebrides for many
centuries. It is reasonable to suppose, that such of the inhabitants as
acquired any learning, possessed the art of writing as well as their
Irish neighbours, and Celtick cousins; and the question is, can
sufficient evidence be shewn of this?
'Those who are skilled in ancient writings can determine the age of MSS.
or at least can ascertain the century in which they were written; and if
men of veracity, who are so skilled, shall tell us that MSS. in the
possession of families in the Highlands and isles are the works of a
remote age, I think we should be convinced by their testimony.
'There is now come to this city, Ranald Macdonald from the Isle of Egg,
who has several MSS. of Erse poetry, which he wishes to publish by
subscription. I have engaged to take three copies of the book, the price
of which is to be six shillings, as I would subscribe for all the Erse
that can be printed be it old or new, that the language may be
preserved. This man says, that some of his manuscripts are ancient; and,
to be sure, one of them which was shewn to me does appear to have the
duskyness of antiquity.
* * * * *
'The enquiry is not yet quite hopeless, and I should think that the
exact truth may be discovered, if proper means be used. I am, &c.
To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I am sorry that I could get no books for my friends in Scotland. Mr.
Strahan has at last promised to send two dozen to you. If they come, put
the names of my friends into them; you may cut them out, and paste
them with a little starch in the book.
'You then are going wild about Ossian. Why do you think any part can be
proved? The dusky manuscript of Egg is probably not fifty years old; if
it be an hundred, it proves nothing. The tale of Clanranald is no proof.
Has Clanranald told it? Can he prove it? There are, I believe, no Erse
manuscripts. None of the old families had a single letter in Erse that
we heard of. You say it is likely that they could write. The learned, if
any learned there were, could; but knowing by that learning, some
written language, in that language they wrote, as letters had never been
applied to their own. If there are manuscripts, let them be shewn, with
some proof that they are not forged for the occasion. You say many can
remember parts of Ossian. I believe all those parts are versions of the
English; at least there is no proof of their antiquity.
'Macpherson is said to have made some translations himself; and having
taught a boy to write it, ordered him to say that he had learnt it of
his grandmother. The boy, when he grew up, told the story. This Mrs.
Williams heard at Mr. Strahan's table. Don't be credulous; you know how
little a Highlander can be trusted. Macpherson is, so far as I know,
very quiet. Is not that proof enough? Every thing is against him. No
visible manuscript; no inscription in the language: no correspondence
among friends: no transaction of business, of which a single scrap
remains in the ancient families. Macpherson's pretence is, that the
character was Saxon. If he had not talked unskilfully of _manuscripts_,
he might have fought with oral tradition much longer. As to Mr. Grant's
information, I suppose he knows much less of the matter than ourselves.
'In the mean time, the bookseller says that the sale is sufficiently
quick. They printed four thousand. Correct your copy wherever it is
wrong, and bring it up. Your friends will all be glad to see you. I
think of going myself into the country about May.
'I am sorry that I have not managed to send the book sooner. I have left
four for you, and do not restrict you absolutely to follow my directions
in the distribution. You must use your own discretion.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell: I suppose she is now just
beginning to forgive me.
'I am, dear Sir, your humble servant,
'Feb. 25, 1775.'
On Tuesday, March 21, I arrived in London; and on repairing to Dr.
Johnson's before dinner, found him in his study, sitting with Mr. Peter
Garrick, the elder brother of David, strongly resembling him in
countenance and voice, but of more sedate and placid manners. Johnson
informed me, that 'though Mr. Beauclerk was in great pain, it was hoped
he was not in danger, and that he now wished to consult Dr. Heberden
to try the effect of a _new understanding_.' Both at this interview, and
in the evening at Mr. Thrale's, where he and Mr. Peter Garrick and I met
again, he was vehement on the subject of the Ossian controversy;
observing, 'We do not know that there are any ancient Erse manuscripts;
and we have no other reason to disbelieve that there are men with three
heads, but that we do not know that there are any such men.' He also was
outrageous, upon his supposition that my countrymen 'loved Scotland
better than truth,' saying, 'All of them,--nay not all,--but _droves_
of them, would come up, and attest any thing for the honour of
Scotland.' He also persevered in his wild allegation, that he questioned
if there was a tree between Edinburgh and the English border older than
himself. I assured him he was mistaken, and suggested that the proper
punishment would be that he should receive a stripe at every tree above
a hundred years old, that was found within that space. He laughed, and
said, 'I believe I might submit to it for a _banbee_!'
The doubts which, in my correspondence with him, I had ventured to state
as to the justice and wisdom of the conduct of Great-Britain towards the
American colonies, while I at the same time requested that he would
enable me to inform myself upon that momentous subject, he had
altogether disregarded; and had recently published a pamphlet, entitled,
_Taxation no Tyranny; an answer to the Resolutions and Address of the
He had long before indulged most unfavourable sentiments of our
fellow-subjects in America. For, as early as 1769, I was told by Dr.
John Campbell, that he had said of them, 'Sir, they are a race of
convicts, and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short
Of this performance I avoided to talk with him; for I had now formed a
clear and settled opinion, that the people of America were well
warranted to resist a claim that their fellow-subjects in the
mother-country should have the entire command of their fortunes, by
taxing them without their own consent; and the extreme violence which it
breathed, appeared to me so unsuitable to the mildness of a Christian
philosopher, and so directly opposite to the principles of peace which
he had so beautifully recommended in his pamphlet respecting Falkland's
Islands, that I was sorry to see him appear in so unfavourable a
light. Besides, I could not perceive in it that ability of argument, or
that felicity of expression, for which he was, upon other occasions, so
eminent. Positive assertion, sarcastical severity, and extravagant
ridicule, which he himself reprobated as a test of truth, were united in
That this pamphlet was written at the desire of those who were then in
power, I have no doubt; and, indeed, he owned to me, that it had been
revised and curtailed by some of them. He told me, that they had struck
out one passage, which was to this effect:--
'That the Colonists could with no solidity argue from their not having
been taxed while in their infancy, that they should not now he taxed. We
do not put a calf into the plow; we wait till he is an ox.'
He said, 'They struck it out either critically as too ludicrous, or
politically as too exasperating. I care not which. It was their
business. If an architect says, I will build five stories, and the man
who employs him says, I will have only three, the employer is to
decide.' 'Yes, Sir, (said I,) in ordinary cases. But should it be so
when the architect gives his skill and labour _gratis_?'
Unfavourable as I am constrained to say my opinion of this pamphlet was,
yet, since it was congenial with the sentiments of numbers at that time,
and as everything relating to the writings of Dr. Johnson is of
importance in literary history, I shall therefore insert some passages
which were struck out, it does not appear why, either by himself or
those who revised it. They appear printed in a few proof leaves of it in
my possession, marked with corrections in his own hand-writing. I shall
distinguish them by _Italicks_.
In the paragraph where he says the Americans were incited to resistance
by European intelligence from
'Men whom they thought their friends, but who were friends only to
'_and made by their selfishness, the enemies of their country_'
And the next paragraph ran thus:--
'On the original contrivers of mischief, _rather than on those whom they
have deluded_, let an insulted nation pour out its vengeance.'
The paragraph which came next was in these words:--
'_Unhappy is that country in which men can hope for advancement by
favouring its enemies. The tranquillity of stable government is not
always easily preserved against the machinations of single innovators;
but what can be the hope of quiet, when factions hostile to the
legislature can be openly formed and openly avowed?_'
After the paragraph which now concludes the pamphlet, there followed
this, in which he certainly means the great Earl of Chatham, and
glances at a certain popular Lord Chancellor.'
'_If, by the fortune of war, they drive us utterly away, what they will
do next can only be conjectured. If a new monarchy is erected, they will
want a KING. He who first takes into his hand the sceptre of America,
should have a name of good omen. WILLIAM has been known both as
conqueror and deliverer; and perhaps England, however contemned, might
yet supply them with ANOTHER WILLIAM. Whigs, indeed, are not willing to
be governed; and it is possible that KING WILLIAM may be strongly
inclined to guide their measures: but Whigs have been cheated like other
mortals, and suffered their leader to become their tyrant, under the
name of their PROTECTOR. What more they will receive from England, no
man can tell. In their rudiments of empire they may want a CHANCELLOR_.'
Then came this paragraph:--
'_Their numbers are, at present, not quite sufficient for the greatness
which, in some form of government or other, is to rival the ancient
monarchies; but by Dr. Franklin's rule of progression, they will, in
a century and a quarter, be more than equal to the inhabitants of
Europe. When the Whigs of America are thus multiplied, let the Princes
of the earth tremble in their palaces. If they should continue to double
and to double, their own hemisphere would not contain them. But let not
our boldest oppugners of authority look forward with delight to this
futurity of Whiggism_.'
How it ended I know not, as it is cut off abruptly at the foot of the
last of these proof pages.
His pamphlets in support of the measures of administration were
published on his own account, and he afterwards collected them into a
volume, with the title of _Political Tracts, by the Authour of the
Rambler_, with this motto:--
'Fallitur egregio quisquis sub Principe credit
Servitium; nunquam libertas gratior extat
Quam sub Rege pio.' CLAUDIANUS.
These pamphlets drew upon him numerous attacks. Against the common
weapons of literary warfare he was hardened; but there were two
instances of animadversion which I communicated to him, and from what I
could judge, both from his silence and his looks, appeared to me to
impress him much.
One was, _A Letter to Dr. Samuel Johnson, occasioned by his late
political Publications_. It appeared previous to his _Taxation no
Tyranny_, and was written by Dr. Joseph Towers. In that performance,
Dr. Johnson was treated with the respect due to so eminent a man, while
his conduct as a political writer was boldly and pointedly arraigned, as
inconsistent with the character of one, who, if he did employ his pen
'It might reasonably be expected should distinguish himself, not by
party violence and rancour, but by moderation and by wisdom.'
It concluded thus:--
'I would, however, wish you to remember, should you again address the
publick under the character of a political writer, that luxuriance of
imagination or energy of language will ill compensate for the want of
candour, of justice, and of truth. And I shall only add, that should I
hereafter be disposed to read, as I heretofore have done, the most
excellent of all your performances, _The Rambler_, the pleasure which I
have been accustomed to find in it will be much diminished by the
reflection that the writer of so moral, so elegant, and so valuable a
work, was capable of prostituting his talents in such productions as
_The False Alarm_, the _Thoughts on the Transactions respecting
Falkland's Islands_, and _The Patriot_'
I am willing to do justice to the merit of Dr. Towers, of whom I will
say, that although I abhor his Whiggish democratical notions and
propensities, (for I will not call them principles,) I esteem him as an
ingenious, knowing, and very convivial man.
The other instance was a paragraph of a letter to me, from my old and
most intimate friend, the Reverend Mr. Temple, who wrote the character
of Gray, which has had the honour to be adopted both by Mr. Mason and
Dr. Johnson in their accounts of that poet. The words were,--
'How can your great, I will not say your _pious_, but your _moral_
friend, support the barbarous measures of administration, which they
have not the face to ask even their infidel pensioner Hume to
However confident of the rectitude of his own mind, Johnson may have
felt sincere uneasiness that his conduct should be erroneously imputed
to unworthy motives, by good men; and that the influence of his valuable
writings should on that account be in any degree obstructed or
He complained to a Right Honourable friend of distinguished talents
and very elegant manners, with whom he maintained a long intimacy, and
whose generosity towards him will afterwards appear, that his pension
having been given to him as a literary character, he had been applied to
by administration to write political pamphlets; and he was even so much
irritated, that he declared his resolution to resign his pension. His
friend shewed him the impropriety of such a measure, and he afterwards
expressed his gratitude, and said he had received good advice. To that
friend he once signified a wish to have his pension secured to him for
his life; but he neither asked nor received from government any reward
whatsoever for his political labours.
On Friday, March 24, I met him at the LITERARY CLUB, where were Mr.
Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Mr. Colman, Dr. Percy, Mr. Vesey, Sir Charles
Bunbury, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Charles Fox. Before
he came in, we talked of his _Journey to the Western Islands_, and of
his coming away 'willing to believe the second sight,' which seemed
to excite some ridicule. I was then so impressed with the truth of many
of the stories of it which I had been told, that I avowed my conviction,
saying, 'He is only _willing_ to believe: I _do_ believe. The evidence
is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not fill a
quart bottle will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief.' 'Are
you? (said Colman,) then cork it up.'
I found his _Journey_ the common topick of conversation in London at
this time, wherever I happened to be. At one of Lord Mansfield's formal
Sunday evening conversations, strangely called _Levees_, his Lordship
addressed me, 'We have all been reading your travels, Mr. Boswell.' I
answered, 'I was but the humble attendant of Dr. Johnson.' The Chief
Justice replied, with that air and manner which none, who ever saw and
heard him, can forget, 'He speaks ill of nobody but Ossian.'
Johnson was in high spirits this evening at the club, and talked with
great animation and success. He attacked Swift, as he used to do upon
all occasions. The _Tale of a Tub_ is so much superiour to his other
writings, that one can hardly believe he was the authour of it:
'there is in it such a vigour of mind, such a swarm of thoughts, so much
of nature, and art, and life.' I wondered to hear him say of
_Gulliver's Travels_, 'When once you have thought of big men and little
men, it is very easy to do all the rest.' I endeavoured to make a stand
for Swift, and tried to rouse those who were much more able to defend
him; but in vain. Johnson at last, of his own accord, allowed very great
merit to the inventory of articles found in the pocket of the Man
Mountain, particularly the description of his watch, which it was
conjectured was his GOD, as he consulted it upon all occasions. He
observed, that 'Swift put his name to but two things, (after he had a
name to put,) _The Plan for the Improvement of the English Language_,
and the last _Drapier's Letter_.'
From Swift, there was an easy transition to Mr. Thomas
Sheridan.--JOHNSON. 'Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of
_Douglas_, and presented its authour with a gold medal. Some years ago,
at a coffee-house in Oxford, I called to him, "Mr. Sheridan, Mr.
Sheridan, how came you to give a gold medal to Home, for writing that
foolish play?" This, you see, was wanton and insolent; but I _meant_
to be wanton and insolent. A medal has no value but as a stamp of merit.
And was Sheridan to assume to himself the right of giving that stamp? If
Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow a gold medal as an honorary
reward of dramatick excellence, he should have requested one of the
Universities to choose the person on whom it should be conferred.
Sheridan had no right to give a stamp of merit: it was counterfeiting
On Monday, March 27, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Strahan's. He told
us, that he was engaged to go that evening to Mrs. Abington's benefit.
'She was visiting some ladies whom I was visiting, and begged that I
would come to her benefit. I told her I could not hear: but she insisted
so much on my coming, that it would have been brutal to have refused
her.' This was a speech quite characteristical. He loved to bring
forward his having been in the gay circles of life; and he was, perhaps,
a little vain of the solicitations of this elegant and fashionable
actress. He told us, the play was to be _The Hypocrite_, altered from
Cibber's _Nonjuror_, so as to satirize the Methodists. 'I do not
think (said he,) the character of _The Hypocrite_ justly applicable to
the Methodists, but it was very applicable to the Nonjurors. I once
said to Dr. Madan, a clergyman of Ireland, who was a great Whig, that
perhaps a Nonjuror would have been less criminal in taking the oaths
imposed by the ruling power, than refusing them; because refusing them,
necessarily laid him under almost an irresistible temptation to be more
criminal; for, a man _must_ live, and if he precludes himself from the
support furnished by the establishment, will probably be reduced to very
wicked shifts to maintain himself.' BOSWELL. 'I should think, Sir,
that a man who took the oaths contrary to his principles, was a
determined wicked man, because he was sure he was committing perjury;
whereas a Nonjuror might be insensibly led to do what was wrong, without
being so directly conscious of it.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man who goes
to bed to his patron's wife is pretty sure that he is committing
wickedness.' BOSWELL. 'Did the nonjuring clergymen do so, Sir?' JOHNSON.
'I am afraid many of them did.'
I was startled at his argument, and could by no means think it
convincing. Had not his own father complied with the requisition of
government, (as to which he once observed to me, when I pressed him
upon it, '_That_, Sir, he was to settle with himself,') he would
probably have thought more unfavourably of a Jacobite who took the
'--had he not resembled
My father as he _swore_--.'
Mr. Strahan talked of launching into the great ocean of London, in order
to have a chance for rising into eminence; and, observing that many men
were kept back from trying their fortunes there, because they were born
to a competency, said, 'Small certainties are the bane of men of
talents;' which Johnson confirmed. Mr. Strahan put Johnson in mind of
a remark which he had made to him; 'There are few ways in which a man
can be more innocently employed than in getting money.' 'The more one
thinks of this, (said Strahan,) the juster it will appear.'
Mr. Strahan had taken a poor boy from the country as an apprentice, upon
Johnson's recommendation. Johnson having enquired after him, said, 'Mr.
Strahan, let me have five guineas on account, and I'll give this boy
one. Nay, if a man recommends a boy, and does nothing for him, it is sad
work. Call him down.'
I followed him into the court-yard, behind Mr. Strahan's house; and
there I had a proof of what I had heard him profess, that he talked
alike to all. 'Some people tell you that they let themselves down to the
capacity of their hearers. I never do that. I speak uniformly, in as
intelligible a manner as I can.'
'Well, my boy, how do you go on?' 'Pretty well, Sir; but they are afraid
I an't strong enough for some parts of the business.' JOHNSON. 'Why I
shall be sorry for it; for when you consider with how little mental
power and corporeal labour a printer can get a guinea a week, it is a
very desirable occupation for you. Do you hear,--take all the pains you
can; and if this does not do, we must think of some other way of life
for you. There's a guinea.'
Here was one of the many, many instances of his active benevolence. At
the same time, the slow and sonorous solemnity with which, while he bent
himself down, he addressed a little thick short-legged boy, contrasted
with the boy's aukwardness and awe, could not but excite some ludicrous
I met him at Drury-lane play-house in the evening. Sir Joshua Reynolds,
at Mrs. Abington's request, had promised to bring a body of wits to her
benefit; and having secured forty places in the front boxes, had done me
the honour to put me in the group. Johnson sat on the seat directly
behind me; and as he could neither see nor hear at such a distance
from the stage, he was wrapped up in grave abstraction, and seemed quite
a cloud, amidst all the sunshine of glitter and gaiety.
I wondered at his patience in sitting out a play of five acts, and a
farce of two. He said very little; but after the prologue to Bon Ton
had been spoken, which he could hear pretty well from the more slow and
distinct utterance, he talked of prologue-writing, and observed, 'Dryden
has written prologues superiour to any that David Garrick has written;
but David Garrick has written more good prologues than Dryden has done.
It is wonderful that he has been able to write such variety of them.'
At Mr. Beauclerk's, where I supped, was Mr. Garrick, whom I made happy
with Johnson's praise of his prologues; and I suppose, in gratitude to
him, he took up one of his favourite topicks, the nationality of the
Scotch, which he maintained in a pleasant manner, with the aid of a
little poetical fiction. 'Come, come, don't deny it: they are really
national. Why, now, the Adams are as liberal-minded men as any in the
world: but, I don't know how it is, all their workmen are Scotch. You
are, to be sure, wonderfully free from that nationality: but so it
happens, that you employ the only Scotch shoe-black in London.' He
imitated the manner of his old master with ludicrous exaggeration;
repeating, with pauses and half-whistlings interjected,
'_Os homini sublime dedit,--calumque tueri
Jussit,--et erectos ad sidera--tollere vultus_';
looking downwards all the time, and, while pronouncing the four last
words, absolutely touching the ground with a kind of contorted
Garrick, however, when he pleased, could imitate Johnson very
exactly; for that great actor, with his distinguished powers of
expression which were so universally admired, possessed also an
admirable talent of mimickry. He was always jealous that Johnson spoke
lightly of him. I recollect his exhibiting him to me one day, as if
saying, 'Davy has some convivial pleasantry about him, but 'tis a futile
fellow;' which he uttered perfectly with the tone and air of Johnson.
I cannot too frequently request of my readers, while they peruse my
account of Johnson's conversation, to endeavour to keep in mind his
deliberate and strong utterance. His mode of speaking was indeed very
impressive; and I wish it could be preserved as musick is written,
according to the very ingenious method of Mr. Steele, who has shown
how the recitation of Mr. Garrick, and other eminent speakers, might be
transmitted to posterity in score.
Next day I dined with Johnson at Mr. Thrale's. He attacked Gray, calling
him 'a dull fellow.' BOSWELL. 'I understand he was reserved, and might
appear dull in company; but surely he was not dull in poetry.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull every where.
He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him GREAT. He
was a mechanical poet.' He then repeated some ludicrous lines, which
have escaped my memory, and said, 'Is not that GREAT, like his Odes?'
Mrs. Thrale maintained that his Odes were melodious; upon which he
'Weave the warp, and weave the woof;'--I added, in a solemn tone,
'The winding-sheet of Edward's race.'
'_There_ is a good line.' 'Ay, (said he), and the next line is a good
one,' (pronouncing it contemptuously;) 'Give ample verge and room
'No, Sir, there are but two good stanzas in Gray's poetry, which are
in his _Elegy in a Country Church-yard_.' He then repeated the stanza,
'For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey,' &c.
mistaking one word; for instead of _precincts_ he said _confines_. He
added, 'The other stanza I forget.'
A young lady who had married a man much her inferiour in rank being
mentioned, a question arose how a woman's relations should behave to her
in such a situation; and, while I recapitulate the debate, and recollect
what has since happened, I cannot but be struck in a manner that
delicacy forbids me to express. While I contended that she ought to be
treated with an inflexible steadiness of displeasure, Mrs. Thrale was
all for mildness and forgiveness, and, according to the vulgar phrase,
'making the best of a bad bargain.' JOHNSON. 'Madam, we must
distinguish. Were I a man of rank, I would not let a daughter starve who
had made a mean marriage; but having voluntarily degraded herself from
the station which she was originally entitled to hold, I would support
her only in that which she herself had chosen; and would not put her on
a level with my other daughters. You are to consider, Madam, that it is
our duty to maintain the subordination of civilized society; and when
there is a gross and shameful deviation from rank, it should be punished
so as to deter others from the same perversion.'
After frequently considering this subject, I am more and more confirmed
in what I then meant to express, and which was sanctioned by the
authority, and illustrated by the wisdom, of Johnson; and I think it of
the utmost consequence to the happiness of Society, to which
subordination is absolutely necessary. It is weak, and contemptible,
and unworthy, in a parent to relax in such a case. It is sacrificing
general advantage to private feelings. And let it be considered, that
the claim of a daughter who has acted thus, to be restored to her former
situation, is either fantastical or unjust. If there be no value in the
distinction of rank, what does she suffer by being kept in the situation
to which she has descended? If there be a value in that distinction, it
ought to be steadily maintained. If indulgence be shewn to such conduct,
and the offenders know that in a longer or shorter time they shall be
received as well as if they had not contaminated their blood by a base
alliance, the great check upon that inordinate caprice which generally
occasions low marriages will be removed, and the fair and comfortable
order of improved life will be miserably disturbed.
Lord Chesterfield's Letters being mentioned, Johnson said, 'It was not
to be wondered at that they had so great a sale, considering that they
were the letters of a statesman, a wit, one who had been so much in the
mouths of mankind, one long accustomed _virum volitare per ora_.'
On Friday, March 31, I supped with him and some friends at a tavern.
One of the company attempted, with too much forwardness, to rally him
on his late appearance at the theatre; but had reason to repent of his
temerity. 'Why, Sir, did you go to Mrs. Abington's benefit? Did you
see?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 'Did you hear?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 'Why then,
Sir, did you go?' JOHNSON. 'Because, Sir, she is a favourite of the
publick; and when the publick cares the thousandth part for you that it
does for her, I will go to your benefit too.'
Next morning I won a small bet from lady Diana Beauclerk, by asking him
as to one of his particularities, which her Ladyship laid I durst not
do. It seems he had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his
pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into
the drink which he made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it
to me, and seemed to think that he had a strange unwillingness to be
discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this was the
bold question to be put. I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding
night, some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces. 'O, Sir,
(said I,) I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which
you put into your pocket at the Club.' JOHNSON. 'I have a great love for
them.' BOSWELL. 'And pray, Sir, what do you do with them? You scrape
them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?' JOHNSON. 'Let them dry,
Sir.' BOSWELL. 'And what next?' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you shall know their
fate no further.' BOSWELL. 'Then the world must be left in the dark. It
must be said (assuming a mock solemnity,) he scraped them, and let them
dry, but what he did with them next, he never could be prevailed upon to
tell.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically:--he
could not be prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.'
He had this morning received his Diploma as Doctor of Laws from the
University of Oxford. He did not vaunt of his new dignity, but I
understood he was highly pleased with it. I shall here insert the
progress and completion of that high academical honour, in the same
manner as I have traced his obtaining that of Master of Arts.
To the Reverend Dr. FOTHERGILL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of
Oxford, to be communicated to the Heads of Houses, and proposed in
'MR. VICE-CHANCELLOR AND GENTLEMEN,
'The honour of the degree of M.A. by diploma, formerly conferred upon
MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, in consequence of his having eminently distinguished
himself by the publication of a series of Essays, excellently calculated
to form the manners of the people, and in which the cause of religion
and morality has been maintained and recommended by the strongest powers
of argument and elegance of language, reflected an equal degree of
lustre upon the University itself.
'The many learned labours which have since that time employed the
attention and displayed the abilities of that great man, so much to the
advancement of literature and the benefit of the community, render him
worthy of more distinguished honours in the Republick of letters: and I
persuade myself, that I shall act agreeably to the sentiments of the
whole University, in desiring that it may be proposed in Convocation to
confer on him the degree of Doctor in Civil Law by diploma, to which I
readily give my consent; and am,
'Mr. Vice-Chancellor and Gentlemen,
'Your affectionate friend and servant,
March 23, 1775.'
'CANCELLARIUS, Magistri, et Scholares Universitatis Oxoniensis omnibus
ad quos presentes Literae pervenerint, salutem in Domino Sempiternam.
'SCIATIS, virum illustrem, SAMUELEM JOHNSON, in omni humaniorum
literarum genere eruditum, omniumque scientiarum comprehensione
felicissimum, scriptis suis, ad popularium mores formandos summa
verborum elegantia ac sententiarum gravitate compositis, ita olim
inclaruisse, ut dignus videretur cui ab Academia sua eximia quaedam
laudis praemia deferentur [deferrentur] quique [in] venerabilem
Magistrorum Ordinem summa cum dignitate cooptaretur:
'Cum vero eundem clarissimum virum tot postea tantique labores, in
patria praesertim lingua ornanda et stabilienda feliciter impensi, ita
insigniverint, ut in Literarum Republica PRINCEPS jam et PRIMARIUS jure
habeatur; Nos CANCELLARIUS, Magistri, et Scholares Universitatis
Oxoniensis, quo talis viri merita pari honoris remuneratione
exaequentur, et perpetuum suae simul laudis, nostraeque erga literas
propensissimae voluntatis extet monumentum, in solenni Convocatione
Doctorum et Magistrorum Regentium, et non Regentium, praedictum SAMUELEM
JOHNSON Doctorem in Jure Civili renunciavimus et constituimus, eumque
virtute praesentis Diplomatis singulis juribus, privilegiis et
honoribus, ad istum gradum quaqua pertinentibus, frui et gaudere
jussimus. In cujus rei testimonium commune Universitatis Oxoniensis
sigillum praesentibus apponi fecimus.
'Datum in Domo nostrae Convocationis die tricesimo Mensis Martii, Anno
Domini Millesimo septingentesimo, septuagesimo quinto.'
'_Viro Reverendo_ Thomae Fothergill, S.T.P. _Universitatis Oxoniensis
'S. P. D.
'MULTIS non est opus, ut testimonium quo, te praeside, Oxonienses nomen
meum posteris commendarunt, quali animo acceperim compertum faciam. Nemo
sibi placens non laetatur; nemo sibi non placet, qui vobis, literarum
arbitris, placere potuit. Hoc tamen habet incommodi tantum beneficium,
quod mihi nunquam posthac sine vestrae famae detrimento vel labi liceat
vel cessare; semperque sit timendum, ne quod mihi tam eximiae laudi est,
vobis aliquando fiat opprobrio. Vale.'
'7 Id. Apr., 1775.'
He revised some sheets of Lord Hailes's _Annals of Scotland_, and wrote
a few notes on the margin with red ink, which he bade me tell his
Lordship did not sink into the paper, and might be wiped off with a wet
sponge, so that he did not spoil his manuscript. I observed to him that
there were very few of his friends so accurate as that I could venture
to put down in writing what they told me as his sayings. Johnson. 'Why
should you write down my sayings?' Boswell. 'I write them when they are
good.' Johnson. 'Nay, you may as well write down the sayings of any one
else that are good.' But _where_, I might with great propriety have
added, can I find such?
I visited him by appointment in the evening, and we drank tea with Mrs.
Williams. He told me that he had been in the company of a gentleman
whose extraordinary travels had been much the subject of conversation.
But I found that he had not listened to him with that full confidence,
without which there is little satisfaction in the society of travellers.
I was curious to hear what opinion so able a judge as Johnson had formed
of his abilities, and I asked if he was not a man of sense. Johnson.
'Why, Sir, he is not a distinct relater; and I should say, he is neither
abounding nor deficient in sense. I did not perceive any superiority of
understanding.' BOSWELL. 'But will you not allow him a nobleness of
resolution, in penetrating into distant regions?' JOHNSON. 'That, Sir,
is not to the present purpose. We are talking of his sense. A fighting
cock has a nobleness of resolution.'
Next day, Sunday, April 2, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's. We talked of
Pope. JOHNSON. 'He wrote his _Dunciad_ for fame. That was his primary
motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might have railed against
him till they were weary, without his troubling himself about them. He
delighted to vex them, no doubt; but he had more delight in seeing how
well he could vex them.'
The _Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion_, in ridicule of 'cool Mason and
warm Gray,' being mentioned, Johnson said, 'They are Colman's best
things.' Upon its being observed that it was believed these Odes were
made by Colman and Lloyd jointly;--JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, how can two
people make an Ode? Perhaps one made one of them, and one the other.'
I observed that two people had made a play, and quoted the anecdote of
Beaumont and Fletcher, who were brought under suspicion of treason,
because while concerting the plan of a tragedy when sitting together at
a tavern, one of them was overheard saying to the other, 'I'll kill the
King.' JOHNSON. 'The first of these Odes is the best: but they are both
good. They exposed a very bad kind of writing.' BOSWELL. 'Surely, Sir,
Mr. Mason's _Elfrida_ is a fine Poem: at least you will allow there are
some good passages in it.' JOHNSON. 'There are now and then some good
imitations of Milton's bad manner.'
I often wondered at his low estimation of the writings of Gray and
Mason. Of Gray's poetry I have in a former part of this work
expressed my high opinion; and for that of Mr. Mason I have ever
entertained a warm admiration. His _Elfrida_ is exquisite, both in
poetical description and moral sentiment; and his _Caractacus_ is a
noble drama. Nor can I omit paying my tribute of praise to some of
his smaller poems, which I have read with pleasure, and which no
criticism shall persuade me not to like. If I wondered at Johnson's not
tasting the works of Mason and Gray, still more have I wondered at their
not tasting his works; that they should be insensible to his energy of
diction, to his splendour of images, and comprehension of thought.
Tastes may differ as to the violin, the flute, the hautboy, in short all
the lesser instruments: but who can be insensible to the powerful
impressions of the majestick organ?
His _Taxation no Tyranny_ being mentioned, he said, 'I think I have not
been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action; I never think I
have hit hard, unless it rebounds.' BOSWELL. 'I don't know, Sir, what
you would be at. Five or six shots of small arms in every newspaper, and
repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I think, satisfy you. But,
Sir, you'll never make out this match, of which we have talked, with a
certain, political lady, since you are so severe against her
principles.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I have the better chance for that.
She is like the Amazons of old; she must be courted by the sword. But I
have not been severe upon her.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, you have made her
ridiculous.' JOHNSON. 'That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make
_her_ ridiculous, is like blacking the chimney.'
I put him in mind that the landlord at Ellon in Scotland said, that
he heard he was the greatest man in England,--next to Lord Mansfield.
'Ay, Sir, (said he,) the exception defined the idea. A Scotchman could
go no farther:
"The force of Nature could no farther go."'
Lady Miller's collection of verses by fashionable people, which were put
into her Vase at Batheaston villa, near Bath, in competition for
honorary prizes, being mentioned, he held them very cheap: '_Bouts
rimes_ (said he,) is a mere conceit, and an _old_ conceit now, I wonder
how people were persuaded to write in that manner for this lady.' I
named a gentleman of his acquaintance who wrote for the Vase. JOHNSON.
'He was a blockhead for his pains.' BOSWELL. 'The Duchess of
Northumberland wrote.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, the Duchess of Northumberland
may do what she pleases: nobody will say anything to a lady of her high
rank. But I should be apt to throw ----'s verses in his face.'
I talked of the chearfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant
quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance; but I
think the full tide of human existence is at Charing-cross.'
He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led a
busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying
themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of their
habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned as strong an
instance of this as can well be imagined. 'An eminent tallow-chandler in
London, who had acquired a considerable fortune, gave up the trade in
favour of his foreman, and went to live at a country-house near town. He
soon grew weary, and paid frequent visits to his old shop, where he
desired they might let him know their _melting-days_, and he would come
and assist them; which he accordingly did. Here, Sir, was a man, to whom
the most disgusting circumstance in the business to which he had been
used was a relief from idleness.'
On Wednesday, April 5, I dined with him at Messieurs Dilly's, with Mr.
John Scott of Amwell, the Quaker, Mr. Langton, Mr. Miller, (now Sir
John,) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, an Irish Clergyman, whom I took the
liberty of inviting to Mr. Billy's table, having seen him at Mr.
Thrale's, and been told that he had come to England chiefly with a view
to see Dr. Johnson, for whom he entertained the highest veneration. He
has since published _A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland_, a
very entertaining book, which has, however, one fault;--that it assumes
the fictitious character of an Englishman.
We talked of publick speaking.--JOHNSON. 'We must not estimate a man's
powers by his being able or not able to deliver his sentiments in
publick. Isaac Hawkins Browne, one of the first wits of this country,
got into Parliament, and never opened his mouth. For my own part, I
think it is more disgraceful never to try to speak, than to try it and
fail; as it is more disgraceful not to fight, than to fight and be
beaten.' This argument appeared to me fallacious; for if a man has not
spoken, it may be said that he would have done very well if he had
tried; whereas, if he has tried and failed, there is nothing to be said
for him. 'Why then, (I asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not
to fight, and not disgraceful not to speak in publick?' JOHNSON.
'Because there may be other reasons for a man's not speaking in publick
than want of resolution: he may have nothing to say, (laughing.)
Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues;
because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving
He observed, that 'the statutes against bribery were intended to prevent
upstarts with money from getting into Parliament;' adding, that 'if
he were a gentleman of landed property, he would turn out all his
tenants who did not vote for the candidate whom he supported.'
LANGTON. 'Would not that, Sir, be checking the freedom of election?'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, the law does not mean that the privilege of voting should
be independent of old family interest; of the permanent property of the
On Thursday, April 6, I dined with him at Mr. Thomas Davies's, with Mr.
Hicky, the painter, and my old acquaintance Mr. Moody, the player.
Dr. Johnson, as usual, spoke contemptuously of Colley Cibber. 'It is
wonderful that a man, who for forty years had lived with the great and
the witty, should have acquired so ill the talents of conversation: and
he had but half to furnish; for one half of what he said was oaths.'
He, however, allowed considerable merit to some of his comedies, and
said there was no reason to believe that the _Careless Husband_ was not
written by himself. Davies said, he was the first dramatick writer
who introduced genteel ladies upon the stage. Johnson refuted this
observation by instancing several such characters in comedies before his
time. DAVIES (trying to defend himself from a charge of ignorance,) 'I
mean genteel moral characters.' 'I think (said Hicky,) gentility and
morality are inseparable.' BOSWELL. 'By no means, Sir. The genteelest
characters are often the most immoral. Does not Lord Chesterfield give
precepts for uniting wickedness and the graces? A man, indeed, is not
genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very
genteelly: a man may debauch his friend's wife genteely: he may cheat at
cards genteelly.' HICKY. 'I do not think _that_ is genteel.' BOSWELL.
'Sir, it may not be like a gentleman, but it may be genteel.' JOHNSON.
'You are meaning two different things. One means exteriour grace; the
other honour. It is certain that a man may be very immoral with
exteriour grace. Lovelace, in _Clarissa_, is a very genteel and a very
wicked character. Tom Hervey, who died t'other day, though a vicious
man, was one of the genteelest men that ever lived.' Tom Davies
instanced Charles the Second. JOHNSON, (taking fire at any attack upon
that Prince, for whom he had an extraordinary partiality,) 'Charles
the Second was licentious in his practice; but he always had a reverence
for what was good. Charles the Second knew his people, and rewarded
merit. The Church was at no time better filled than in his reign. He
was the best King we have had from his time till the reign of his
present Majesty, except James the Second, who was a very good King, but
unhappily believed that it was necessary for the salvation of his
subjects that they should be Roman Catholicks. _He_ had the merit of
endeavouring to do what he thought was for the salvation of the souls of
his subjects, till he lost a great Empire. _We_, who thought that we
should _not_ be saved if we were Roman Catholicks, had the merit of
maintaining our religion, at the experience of submitting ourselves to
the government of King William, (for it could not be done
otherwise,)--to the government of one of the most worthless scoundrels
that ever existed. No; Charles the Second was not such a man as ----,
(naming another King). He did not destroy his father's will. He took
money, indeed, from France: but he did not betray those over whom he
ruled: He did not let the French fleet pass ours. George the First
knew nothing, and desired to know nothing; did nothing, and desired to
do nothing: and the only good thing that is told of him is, that he
wished to restore the crown to its hereditary successor.' He roared
with prodigious violence against George the Second. When he ceased,
Moody interjected, in an Irish tone, and with a comick look, 'Ah! poor
George the Second.'
I mentioned that Dr. Thomas Campbell had come from Ireland to London,
principally to see Dr. Johnson. He seemed angry at this observation.
DAVIES. 'Why, you know, Sir, there came a man from Spain to see Livy;
and Corelli came to England to see Purcell, and when he heard he was
dead, went directly back again to Italy.' JOHNSON. 'I should not have
wished to be dead to disappoint Campbell, had he been so foolish as you
represent him; but I should have wished to have been a hundred miles
off.' This was apparently perverse; and I do believe it was not his real
way of thinking: he could not but like a man who came so far to see him.
He laughed with some complacency, when I told him Campbell's odd
expression to me concerning him: 'That having seen such a man, was a
thing to talk of a century hence,'--as if he could live so long.
We got into an argument whether the Judges who went to India might with
propriety engage in trade. Johnson warmly maintained that they might.
'For why (he urged) should not Judges get riches, as well as those who
deserve them less?' I said, they should have sufficient salaries, and
have nothing to take off their attention from the affairs of the
publick. JOHNSON. 'No Judge, Sir, can give his whole attention to his
office; and it is very proper that he should employ what time he has to
himself, to his own advantage, in the most profitable manner.' 'Then,
Sir, (said Davies, who enlivened the dispute by making it somewhat
dramatick,) he may become an insurer; and when he is going to the bench,
he may be stopped,--"Your Lordship cannot go yet: here is a bunch of
invoices: several ships are about to sail."' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you may as
well say a Judge should not have a house; for they may come and tell
him, "Your Lordship's house is on fire;" and so, instead of minding the
business of his Court, he is to be occupied in getting the engine with
the greatest speed. There is no end of this. Every Judge who has land,
trades to a certain extent in corn or in cattle; and in the land itself,
undoubtedly. His steward acts for him, and so do clerks for a great
merchant. A Judge may be a farmer; but he is not to geld his own
pigs. A Judge may play a little at cards for his amusement; but he is
not to play at marbles, or at chuck-farthing in the Piazza. No, Sir;
there is no profession to which a man gives a very great proportion of
his time. It is wonderful, when a calculation is made, how little the
mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession. No man
would be a Judge, upon the condition of being totally a Judge. The best
employed lawyer has his mind at work but for a small proportion of his
time: a great deal of his occupation is merely mechanical. I once
wrote for a magazine: I made a calculation, that if I should write but a
page a day, at the same rate, I should, in ten years, write nine volumes
in folio, of an ordinary size and print.' BOSWELL. 'Such as Carte's
_History_?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. When a man writes from his own mind, he
writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in
reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make
I argued warmly against the Judges trading, and mentioned Hale as an
instance of a perfect Judge, who devoted himself entirely to his office.
JOHNSON. 'Hale, Sir, attended to other things besides law: he left a
great estate.' BOSWELL. 'That was, because what he got, accumulated
without any exertion and anxiety on his part.'
While the dispute went on, Moody once tried to say something upon our
side. Tom Davies clapped him on the back, to encourage him. Beauclerk,
to whom I mentioned this circumstance, said, 'that he could not conceive
a more humiliating situation than to be clapped on the back by Tom
We spoke of Rolt, to whose _Dictionary of Commerce_ Dr. Johnson wrote
the Preface. JOHNSON. 'Old Gardner the bookseller employed Rolt and
Smart to write a monthly miscellany, called _The Universal Visitor_.
There was a formal written contract, which Allen the printer saw.
Gardner thought as you do of the Judge. They were bound to write nothing
else; they were to have, I think, a third of the profits of this
sixpenny pamphlet; and the contract was for ninety-nine years. I wish I
had thought of giving this to Thurlow, in the cause about Literary
Property. What an excellent instance would it have been of the
oppression of booksellers towards poor authours!' (smiling)! Davies,
zealous for the honour of _the Trade_, said, Gardner was not properly
a bookseller. JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir; he certainly was a bookseller. He had
served his time regularly, was a member of the Stationers' company, kept
a shop in the face of mankind, purchased copyright, and was a
_bibliopole_, Sir, in every sense. I wrote for some months in _The
Universal Visitor_, for poor Smart, while he was mad, not then knowing
the terms on which he was engaged to write, and thinking I was doing him
good. I hoped his wits would soon return to him. Mine returned to me,
and I wrote in _The Universal Visitor_ no longer.'
Friday, April 7, I dined with him at a Tavern, with a numerous
company. JOHNSON. 'I have been reading Twiss's _Travels in Spain_,
which are just come out. They are as good as the first book of travels
that you will take up. They are as good as those of Keysler or
Blainville; nay, as Addison's, if you except the learning. They are
not so good as Brydone's, but they are better than Pococke's. I
have not, indeed, cut the leaves yet; but I have read in them where the
pages are open, and I do not suppose that what is in the pages which are
closed is worse than what is in the open pages. It would seem (he
added,) that Addison had not acquired much Italian learning, for we do
not find it introduced into his writings. The only instance that I
recollect, is his quoting "_Stavo bene; per star meglio, sto qui_."'
I mentioned Addison's having borrowed many of his classical remarks from
Leandro Alberti. Mr. Beauclerk said, 'It was alledged that he had
borrowed also from another Italian authour.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all who
go to look for what the Classicks have said of Italy, must find the same
passages; and I should think it would be one of the first things the
Italians would do on the revival of learning, to collect all that the
Roman authors have said of their country.'
Ossian being mentioned;--JOHNSON. 'Supposing the Irish and Erse
languages to be the same, which I do not believe, yet as there is no
reason to suppose that the inhabitants of the Highlands and Hebrides
ever wrote their native language, it is not to be credited that a long
poem was preserved among them. If we had no evidence of the art of
writing being practised in one of the counties of England, we should not
believe that a long poem was preserved _there_, though in the
neighbouring counties, where the same language was spoken, the
inhabitants could write.' BEAUCLERK. 'The ballad of _Lilliburlero_ was
once in the mouths of all the people of this country, and is said to
have had a great effect in bringing about the Revolution. Yet I
question whether any body can repeat it now; which shews how improbable
it is that much poetry should be preserved by tradition.'
One of the company suggested an internal objection to the antiquity of
the poetry said to be Ossian's, that we do not find the wolf in it,
which must have been the case had it been of that age.
The mention of the wolf had led Johnson to think of other wild beasts;
and while Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Langton were carrying on a
dialogue about something which engaged them earnestly, he, in the midst
of it, broke out, 'Pennant tells of Bears--'[what he added, I have
forgotten.] They went on, which he being dull of hearing, did not
perceive, or, if he did, was not willing to break off his talk; so he
continued to vociferate his remarks, and _Bear_ ('like a word in a
catch' as Beauclerk said,) was repeatedly heard at intervals, which
coming from him who, by those who did not know him, had been so often
assimilated to that ferocious animal, while we who were sitting
around could hardly stifle laughter, produced a very ludicrous effect.
Silence having ensued, he proceeded: 'We are told, that the black bear
is innocent; but I should not like to trust myself with him.' Mr. Gibbon
muttered, in a low tone of voice. 'I should not like to trust myself
with _you_.' This piece of sarcastick pleasantry was a prudent
resolution, if applied to a competition of abilities.
Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered,
in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start:
'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.' But let it be
considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our
country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and
countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintain, that
certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged, (not by
Johnson) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom
we all greatly admired. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not say that he is _not_
honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct
that he _is_ honest. Were he to accept of a place from this ministry, he
would lose that character of firmness which he has, and might be turned
out of his place in a year. This ministry is neither stable, nor
grateful to their friends, as Sir Robert Walpole was, so that he may
think it more for his interest to take his chance of his party coming
Mrs. Prichard being mentioned, he said, 'Her playing was quite
mechanical. It is wonderful how little mind she had. Sir, she had never
read the tragedy of _Macbeth_ all through. She no more thought of the
play out of which her part was taken, than a shoemaker thinks of the
skin, out of which the piece of leather, of which he is making a pair of
shoes, is cut.'
On Saturday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where we met
the Irish Dr. Campbell. Johnson had supped the night before at Mrs.
Abington's, with some fashionable people whom he named; and he seemed
much pleased with having made one in so elegant a circle. Nor did he
omit to pique his _mistress_ a little with jealousy of her
housewifery; for he said, (with a smile,) 'Mrs. Abington's jelly, my
dear Lady, was better than yours.'
Mrs. Thrale, who frequently practised a coarse mode of flattery, by
repeating his _bon-mots_ in his hearing, told us that he had said, a
certain celebrated actor was just fit to stand at the door of an
auction-room with a long pole, and cry 'Pray gentlemen, walk in;' and
that a certain authour, upon hearing this, had said, that another still
more celebrated actor was fit for nothing better than that, and would
pick your pocket after you came out. JOHNSON. 'Nay, my dear lady,
there is no wit in what our friend added; there is only abuse. You may
as well say of any man that he will pick a pocket. Besides, the man who
is stationed at the door does not pick people's pockets; that is done
within, by the auctioneer.'
Mrs. Thrale told us, that Tom Davies repeated, in a very bald manner,
the story of Dr. Johnson's first repartee to me, which I have related
exactly. He made me say, 'I was _born_ in Scotland,' instead of 'I
_come from_ Scotland;' so that Johnson saying, 'That, Sir, is what a
great many of your countrymen cannot help,' had no point, or even
meaning: and that upon this being mentioned to Mr. Fitzherbert, he
observed, 'It is not every man that can _carry_ a _bon mot_.'
On Monday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with Mr.
Langton and the Irish Dr. Campbell, whom the General had obligingly
given me leave to bring with me. This learned gentleman was thus
gratified with a very high intellectual feast, by not only being in
company with Dr. Johnson, but with General Oglethorpe, who had been so
long a celebrated name both at home and abroad.
I must, again and again, intreat of my readers not to suppose that my
imperfect record of conversation contains the whole of what was said by
Johnson, or other eminent persons who lived with him. What I have
preserved, however, has the value of the most perfect authenticity.
He this day enlarged upon Pope's melancholy remark,
'Man never _is_, but always _to be_ blest.'
He asserted that _the present_ was never a happy state to any human
being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was
at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was
expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed
upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion, that though,
in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not
sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, 'Never, but
when he is drunk.'
He urged General Oglethorpe to give the world his Life. He said, 'I know
no man whose Life would be more interesting. If I were furnished with
materials, I should be very glad to write it.'
Mr. Scott of Amwell's _Elegies_ were lying in the room. Dr. Johnson
observed, 'They are very well; but such as twenty people might write.'
Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim,
'--mediocribus esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, non concessere columnae.'
For here, (I observed,) was a very middle-rate poet, who pleased many
readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to some
esteem; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing else,
have different gradations of excellence, and consequently of value.
Johnson repeated the common remark, that, 'as there is no necessity for
our having poetry at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of
pleasure, it can have no value, unless when exquisite in its kind.' I
declared myself not satisfied. 'Why then, Sir, (said he,) Horace and you
must settle it.' He was not much in the humour of talking.
No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journal,
except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of lace for
his lady, he said, 'Well, Sir, you have done a good thing and a wise
thing.' 'I have done a good thing, (said the gentleman,) but I do not
know that I have done a wise thing.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; no money is
better spent than what is laid out for domestick satisfaction. A man is
pleased that his wife is drest as well as other people; and a wife is
pleased that she is drest.'
On Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the
morning, according to my usual custom on that day, and breakfasted with
him. I observed that he fasted so very strictly, that he did not even
taste bread, and took no milk with his tea; I suppose because it is a
kind of animal food.
He entered upon the state of the nation, and thus discoursed: 'Sir, the
great misfortune now is, that government has too little power. All that
it has to bestow must of necessity be given to support itself; so that
it cannot reward merit. No man, for instance, can now be made a Bishop
for his learning and piety; his only chance for promotion is his
being connected with somebody who has parliamentary interest. Our
several ministries in this reign have outbid each other in concessions
to the people. Lord Bute, though a very honourable man,--a man who meant
well,--a man who had his blood full of prerogative,--was a theoretical
statesman,--a book-minister,--and thought this country could be
governed by the influence of the Crown alone. Then, Sir, he gave up a
great deal. He advised the King to agree that the Judges should hold
their places for life, instead of losing them at the accession of a new
King. Lord Bute, I suppose, thought to make the King popular by this
concession; but the people never minded it; and it was a most impolitick
measure. There is no reason why a Judge should hold his office for life,
more than any other person in publick trust. A Judge may be partial
otherwise than to the Crown: we have seen Judges partial to the
populace. A Judge may become corrupt, and yet there may not be legal
evidence against him. A Judge may become froward from age. A Judge may
grow unfit for his office in many ways. It was desirable that there
should be a possibility of being delivered from him by a new King. That
is now gone by an act of Parliament _ex gratia_ of the Crown. Lord
Bute advised the King to give up a very large sum of money, for which
nobody thanked him. It was of consequence to the King, but nothing to
the publick, among whom it was divided. When I say Lord Bute advised, I
mean, that such acts were done when he was minister, and we are to
suppose that he advised them.--Lord Bute shewed an undue partiality to
Scotchmen. He turned out Dr. Nichols, a very eminent man, from being
physician to the King, to make room for one of his countrymen, a man
very low in his profession. He had ---- and ---- to go on
errands for him. He had occasion for people to go on errands for him;
but he should not have had Scotchmen; and, certainly, he should not have
suffered them to have access to him before the first people in England.'
I told him, that the admission of one of them before the first people in
England, which had given the greatest offence, was no more than what
happens at every minister's levee, where those who attend are admitted
in the order that they have come, which is better than admitting them
according to their rank; for if that were to be the rule, a man who has
waited all the morning might have the mortification to see a peer, newly
come, go in before him, and keep him waiting still. JOHNSON. 'True, Sir;
but ---- should not have come to the levee, to be in the way of people
of consequence. He saw Lord Bute at all times; and could have said what
he had to say at any time, as well as at the levee. There is now no
Prime Minister: there is only an agent for government in the House of
Commons. We are governed by the Cabinet: but there is no one head
there since Sir Robert Walpole's time.' BOSWELL. 'What then, Sir, is the
use of Parliament?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Parliament is a larger council
to the King; and the advantage of such a council is, having a great
number of men of property concerned in the legislature, who, for their
own interest, will not consent to bad laws. And you must have observed,
Sir, that administration is feeble and timid, and cannot act with that
authority and resolution which is necessary. Were I in power, I would
turn out every man who dared to oppose me. Government has the
distribution of offices, that it may be enabled to maintain its
'Lord Bute (he added,) took down too fast, without building up something
new.' BOSWELL. 'Because, Sir, he found a rotten building. The political
coach was drawn by a set of bad horses: it was necessary to change
them.' JOHNSON. 'But he should have changed them one by one.'
I told him that I had been informed by Mr. Orme, that many parts of
the East-Indies were better mapped than the Highlands of Scotland.
JOHNSON. 'That a country may be mapped, it must be travelled over.'
'Nay, (said I, meaning to laugh with him at one of his prejudices,)
can't you say, it is not _worth_ mapping?'
As we walked to St. Clement's church, and saw several shops open upon
this most solemn fast-day of the Christian world, I remarked, that one
disadvantage arising from the immensity of London, was, that nobody was
heeded by his neighbour; there was no fear of censure for not observing
Good Friday, as it ought to be kept, and as it is kept in country-towns.
He said, it was, upon the whole, very well observed even in London. He,
however, owned, that London was too large; but added, 'It is nonsense to
say the head is too big for the body. It would be as much too big,
though the body were ever so large; that is to say, though the country
were ever so extensive. It has no similarity to a head connected with a
Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College, Oxford, accompanied us home
from church; and after he was gone, there came two other gentlemen, one
of whom uttered the common-place complaints, that by the increase of
taxes, labour would be dear, other nations would undersell us, and our
commerce would be ruined. JOHNSON (smiling). 'Never fear, Sir. Our
commerce is in a very good state; and suppose we had no commerce at all,
we could live very well on the produce of our own country.' I cannot
omit to mention, that I never knew any man who was less disposed to be
querulous than Johnson. Whether the subject was his own situation, or
the state of the publick, or the state of human nature in general,
though he saw the evils, his mind was turned to resolution, and never to
whining or complaint.
We went again to St. Clement's in the afternoon. He had found fault with
the preacher in the morning for not choosing a text adapted to the day.
The preacher in the afternoon had chosen one extremely proper: 'It is
After the evening service, he said, 'Come, you shall go home with me,
and sit just an hour.' But he was better than his word; for after we had
drunk tea with Mrs. Williams, he asked me to go up to his study with
him, where we sat a long while together in a serene undisturbed frame of
mind, sometimes in silence, and sometimes conversing, as we felt
ourselves inclined, or more properly speaking, as _he_ was inclined; for
during all the course of my long intimacy with him, my respectful
attention never abated, and my wish to hear him was such, that I
constantly watched every dawning of communication from that great and
He observed, 'All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing
so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not.
In the same manner, all power, of whatever sort, is of itself desirable.
A man would not submit to learn to hem a ruffle, of his wife, or his
wife's maid; but if a mere wish could attain it, he would rather wish to
be able to hem a ruffle.'
He again advised me to keep a journal fully and minutely, but not to
mention such trifles as, that meat was too much or too little done, or
that the weather was fair or rainy. He had, till very near his death, a