Part 1 out of 12
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LIFE OF JOHNSON
INCLUDING BOSWELL'S JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES
AND JOHNSON'S DIARY OF A JOURNEY INTO NORTH WALES
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL, D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, OXFORD
IN SIX VOLUMES
VOLUME III.--LIFE (1776-1780)
CONTENTS OF VOL. III.
LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. (MARCH 1776--OCT. 1780).
A. GEORGE PSALMANAZAR
B. JOHNSON'S TRAVELS AND LOVE OF TRAVELLING
C. ELECTION OF LORD MAYORS OF LONDON
D. THE INMATES OF JOHNSON'S HOUSE
E. BOSWELL'S LETTERS OF ACCEPTANCE OF THE OFFICE
OF SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE TO
THE ROYAL ACADEMY
THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
Having left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped to change horses at
Derby, and availed ourselves of a moment to enjoy the conversation of my
countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there. He was in great
indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia had
been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against it. 'I am glad, (said he,)
that Parliament has had the spirit to throw it out. You wanted to take
advantage of the timidity of our scoundrels;' (meaning, I suppose, the
ministry). It may be observed, that he used the epithet scoundrel very
commonly not quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but
as a strong term of disapprobation; as when he abruptly answered Mrs.
Thrale, who had asked him how he did, 'Ready to become a scoundrel,
Madam; with a little more spoiling you will, I think, make me a complete
rascal:' he meant, easy to become a capricious and self-indulgent
valetudinarian; a character for which I have heard him express great
Johnson had with him upon this jaunt, '_Il Palmerino d'Inghilterra_,' a
romance praised by Cervantes; but did not like it much. He said, he
read it for the language, by way of preparation for his Italian
expedition.--We lay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I mentioned that old Mr.
Sheridan complained of the ingratitude of Mr. Wedderburne and General
Fraser, who had been much obliged to him when they were young Scotchmen
entering upon life in England. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man is very apt to
complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man
when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot
keep up all his former connections. Then, Sir, those who knew him
formerly upon a level with themselves, may think that they ought still
to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a
former situation may bring out things which it would be very
disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps,
every body knows of them.' He placed this subject in a new light to me,
and shewed that a man who has risen in the world, must not be condemned
too harshly for being distant to former acquaintance, even though he may
have been much obliged to them.' It is, no doubt, to be wished that a
proper degree of attention should be shewn by great men to their early
friends. But if either from obtuse insensibility to difference of
situation, or presumptuous forwardness, which will not submit even to an
exteriour observance of it, the dignity of high place cannot be
preserved, when they are admitted into the company of those raised above
the state in which they once were, encroachment must be repelled, and
the kinder feelings sacrificed. To one of the very fortunate persons
whom I have mentioned, namely, Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, I
must do the justice to relate, that I have been assured by another early
acquaintance of his, old Mr. Macklin, who assisted in improving his
pronunciation, that he found him very grateful. Macklin, I suppose, had
not pressed upon his elevation with so much eagerness as the gentleman
who complained of him. Dr. Johnson's remark as to the jealousy
'entertained of our friends who rise far above us,' is certainly very
just. By this was withered the early friendship between Charles
Townshend and Akenside; and many similar instances might be adduced.
He said, 'It is commonly a weak man who marries for love.' We then
talked of marrying women of fortune; and I mentioned a common remark,
that a man may be, upon the whole, richer by marrying a woman with a
very small portion, because a woman of fortune will be proportionally
expensive; whereas a woman who brings none will be very moderate in
expenses. JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this is not true. A woman of
fortune being used to the handling of money, spends it judiciously: but
a woman who gets the command of money for the first time upon her
marriage, has such a gust in spending it, that she throws it away with
He praised the ladies of the present age, insisting that they were more
faithful to their husbands, and more virtuous in every respect, than in
former times, because their understandings were better cultivated. It
was an undoubted proof of his good sense and good disposition, that he
was never querulous, never prone to inveigh against the present times,
as is so common when superficial minds are on the fret. On the contrary,
he was willing to speak favourably of his own age; and, indeed,
maintained its superiority in every respect, except in its reverence
for government; the relaxation of which he imputed, as its grand cause,
to the shock which our monarchy received at the Revolution, though
necessary; and secondly, to the timid concessions made to faction by
successive administrations in the reign of his present Majesty. I am
happy to think, that he lived to see the Crown at last recover its just
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James was dead. I
thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom he had
lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-traveller
much: but he only said, 'Ah! poor Jamy.' Afterwards, however, when we
were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness, 'Since I set out on
this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a young one;--Dr. James, and
poor Harry.' (Meaning Mr. Thrale's son.)
Having lain at St. Alban's, on Thursday, March 28, we breakfasted the
next morning at Barnet. I expressed to him a weakness of mind which I
could not help; an uneasy apprehension that my wife and children, who
were at a great distance from me, might, perhaps, be ill. 'Sir, (said
he,) consider how foolish you would think it in _them_ to be
apprehensive that _you_ are ill.' This sudden turn relieved me for
the moment; but I afterwards perceived it to be an ingenious fallacy. I
might, to be sure, be satisfied that they had no reason to be
apprehensive about me, because I _knew_ that I myself was well: but we
might have a mutual anxiety, without the charge of folly; because each
was, in some degree, uncertain as to the condition of the other.
I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London, that metropolis which we
both loved so much, for the high and varied intellectual pleasure which
it furnishes. I experienced immediate happiness while whirled along
with such a companion, and said to him, 'Sir, you observed one day at
General Oglethorpe's, that a man is never happy for the present, but
when he is drunk. Will you not add,--or when driving rapidly in a
post-chaise?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, you are driving rapidly from
something, or to something.'
Talking of melancholy, he said, 'Some men, and very thinking men too,
have not those vexing thoughts. Sir Joshua Reynolds is the same all
the year round. Beauclerk, except when ill and in pain, is the same.
But I believe most men have them in the degree in which they are capable
of having them. If I were in the country, and were distressed by that
malady, I would force myself to take a book; and every time I did it I
should find it the easier. Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by
every means but drinking.'
We stopped at Messieurs Dillys, booksellers in the Poultry; from whence
he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr. Thrale's, in the Borough. I
called at his house in the evening, having promised to acquaint Mrs.
Williams of his safe return; when, to my surprize, I found him sitting
with her at tea, and, as I thought, not in a very good humour: for, it
seems, when he had got to Mr. Thrale's, he found the coach was at the
door waiting to carry Mrs. and Miss Thrale, and Signor Baretti, their
Italian master, to Bath. This was not shewing the attention which
might have been expected to the 'Guide, Philosopher, and Friend,' the
_Imlac_ who had hastened from the country to console a distressed
mother, who he understood was very anxious for his return. They had, I
found, without ceremony, proceeded on their intended journey. I was glad
to understand from him that it was still resolved that his tour to Italy
with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale should take place, of which he had entertained
some doubt, on account of the loss which they had suffered; and his
doubts afterwards proved to be well-founded. He observed, indeed very
justly, that 'their loss was an additional reason for their going
abroad; and if it had not been fixed that he should have been one of the
party, he would force them out; but he would not advise them unless his
advice was asked, lest they might suspect that he recommended what he
wished on his own account.' I was not pleased that his intimacy with Mr.
Thrale's family, though it no doubt contributed much to his comfort and
enjoyment, was not without some degree of restraint: not, as has been
grossly suggested, that it was required of him as a task to talk for the
entertainment of them and their company; but that he was not quite at
his ease; which, however, might partly be owing to his own honest
pride--that dignity of mind which is always jealous of appearing too
On Sunday, March 31, I called on him, and shewed him as a curiosity
which I had discovered, his _Translation of Lobo's Account of
Abyssinia_, which Sir John Pringle had lent me, it being then little
known as one of his works. He said, 'Take no notice of it,' or 'don't
talk of it.' He seemed to think it beneath him, though done at
six-and-twenty. I said to him, 'Your style, Sir, is much improved since
you translated this.' He answered with a sort of triumphant smile, 'Sir,
I hope it is.'
On Wednesday, April 3, in the morning I found him very busy putting his
books in order, and as they were generally very old ones, clouds of dust
were flying around him. He had on a pair of large gloves such as hedgers
use. His present appearance put me in mind of my uncle, Dr. Boswell's
description of him, 'A robust genius, born to grapple with whole
I gave him an account of a conversation which had passed between me and
Captain Cook, the day before, at dinner at Sir John Pringle's; and he
was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated
circumnavigator, who set me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts
given by Dr. Hawkesworth of his Voyages. I told him that while I was
with the Captain, I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and
adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next
voyage. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man _does_ feel so, till he considers how
very little he can learn from such voyages.' BOSWELL. 'But one is
carried away with the general grand and indistinct notion of A VOYAGE
ROUND THE WORLD.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, but a man is to guard himself
against taking a thing in general.' I said I was certain that a great
part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be
conjecture, because they had not enough of the language of those
countries to understand so much as they have related. Objects falling
under the observation of the senses might be clearly known; but every
thing intellectual, every thing abstract--politicks, morals, and
religion, must be darkly guessed. Dr. Johnson was of the same opinion.
He upon another occasion, when a friend mentioned to him several
extraordinary facts, as communicated to him by the circumnavigators,
slily observed, 'Sir, I never before knew how much I was respected by
these gentlemen; they told _me_ none of these things.'
He had been in company with Omai, a native of one of the South Sea
Islands, after he had been some time in this country. He was struck with
the elegance of his behaviour, and accounted for it thus: 'Sir, he had
passed his time, while in England, only in the best company; so that all
that he had acquired of our manners was genteel. As a proof of this,
Sir, Lord Mulgrave and he dined one day at Streatham; they sat with
their backs to the light fronting me, so that I could not see
distinctly; and there was so little of the savage in Omai, that I was
afraid to speak to either, lest I should mistake one for the other.'
We agreed to dine to-day at the Mitre-tavern, after the rising of the
House of Lords, where a branch of the litigation concerning the Douglas
Estate, in which I was one of the counsel, was to come on. I brought
with me Mr. Murray, Solicitor-General of Scotland, now one of the Judges
of the Court of Session, with the title of Lord Henderland. I mentioned
Mr. Solicitor's relation, Lord Charles Hay, with whom I knew Dr.
Johnson had been acquainted. JOHNSON. 'I wrote something for Lord
Charles; and I thought he had nothing to fear from a court-martial. I
suffered a great loss when he died; he was a mighty pleasing man in
conversation, and a reading man. The character of a soldier is high.
They who stand forth the foremost in danger, for the community, have the
respect of mankind. An officer is much more respected than any other man
who has as little money. In a commercial country, money will always
purchase respect. But you find, an officer, who has, properly speaking,
no money, is every where well received and treated with attention. The
character of a soldier always stands him in stead.' BOSWELL. 'Yet,
Sir, I think that common soldiers are worse thought of than other men in
the same rank of life; such as labourers.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a common
soldier is usually a very gross man, and any quality which procures
respect may be overwhelmed by grossness. A man of learning may be so
vicious or so ridiculous that you cannot respect him. A common soldier
too, generally eats more than he can pay for. But when a common soldier
is civil in his quarters, his red coat procures him a degree of
respect.' The peculiar respect paid to the military character in
France was mentioned. BOSWELL. 'I should think that where military men
are so numerous, they would be less valued as not being rare.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, Sir, wherever a particular character or profession is high in the
estimation of a people, those who are of it will be valued above other
men. We value an Englishman highly in this country, and yet Englishmen
are not rare in it.'
Mr. Murray praised the ancient philosophers for the candour and good
humour with which those of different sects disputed with each other.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, they disputed with good humour, because they were not in
earnest as to religion. Had the ancients been serious in their belief,
we should not have had their Gods exhibited in the manner we find them
represented in the Poets. The people would not have suffered it. They
disputed with good humour upon their fanciful theories, because they
were not interested in the truth of them: when a man has nothing to
lose, he may be in good humour with his opponent. Accordingly you see in
Lucian, the Epicurean, who argues only negatively, keeps his temper; the
Stoick, who has something positive to preserve, grows angry. Being
angry with one who controverts an opinion which you value, is a
necessary consequence of the uneasiness which you feel. Every man who
attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and
therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me
uneasy. Those only who believed in revelation have been angry at
having their faith called in question; because they only had something
upon which they could rest as matter of fact.' MURRAY. 'It seems to me
that we are not angry at a man for controverting an opinion which we
believe and value; we rather pity him.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir; to be sure
when you wish a man to have that belief which you think is of infinite
advantage, you wish well to him; but your primary consideration is your
own quiet. If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his
hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary
consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him
down first, and pity him afterwards. No, Sir; every man will dispute
with great good humour upon a subject in which he is not interested. I
will dispute very calmly upon the probability of another man's son being
hanged; but if a man zealously enforces the probability that my own son
will be hanged, I shall certainly not be in a very good humour with
him.' I added this illustration, 'If a man endeavours to convince me
that my wife, whom I love very much, and in whom I place great
confidence, is a disagreeable woman, and is even unfaithful to me, I
shall be very angry, for he is putting me in fear of being unhappy.'
MURRAY. 'But, Sir, truth will always bear an examination.' JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir, but it is painful to be forced to defend it. Consider, Sir,
how should you like, though conscious of your innocence, to be tried
before a jury for a capital crime, once a week.'
We talked of education at great schools; the advantages and
disadvantages of which Johnson displayed in a luminous manner; but his
arguments preponderated so much in favour of the benefit which a boy of
good parts might receive at one of them, that I have reason to
believe Mr. Murray was very much influenced by what he had heard to-day,
in his determination to send his own son to Westminster school.--I
have acted in the same manner with regard to my own two sons; having
placed the eldest at Eton, and the second at Westminster. I cannot say
which is best. But in justice to both those noble seminaries, I with
high satisfaction declare, that my boys have derived from them a great
deal of good, and no evil: and I trust they will, like Horace, be
grateful to their father for giving them so valuable an education.
I introduced the topick, which is often ignorantly urged, that the
Universities of England are too rich; so that learning does not
flourish in them as it would do, if those who teach had smaller
salaries, and depended on their assiduity for a great part of their
income. JOHNSON. 'Sir, the very reverse of this is the truth; the
English Universities are not rich enough. Our fellowships are only
sufficient to support a man during his studies to fit him for the world,
and accordingly in general they are held no longer than till an
opportunity offers of getting away. Now and then, perhaps, there is a
fellow who grows old in his college; but this is against his will,
unless he be a man very indolent indeed. A hundred a year is reckoned a
good fellowship, and that is no more than is necessary to keep a man
decently as a scholar. We do not allow our fellows to marry, because we
consider academical institutions as preparatory to a settlement in the
world. It is only by being employed as a tutor, that a fellow can obtain
any thing more than a livelihood. To be sure a man, who has enough
without teaching, will probably not teach; for we would all be idle if
we could. In the same manner, a man who is to get nothing by
teaching, will not exert himself. Gresham-College was intended as a
place of instruction for London; able professors were to read lectures
gratis, they contrived to have no scholars; whereas, if they had been
allowed to receive but sixpence a lecture from each scholar, they would
have been emulous to have had many scholars. Every body will agree that
it should be the interest of those who teach to have scholars; and this
is the case in our Universities. That they are too rich is certainly
not true; for they have nothing good enough to keep a man of eminent
learning with them for his life. In the foreign Universities a
professorship is a high thing. It is as much almost as a man can make by
his learning; and therefore we find the most learned men abroad are in
the Universities. It is not so with us. Our Universities are
impoverished of learning, by the penury of their provisions. I wish
there were many places of a thousand a-year at Oxford, to keep
first-rate men of learning from quitting the University.' Undoubtedly if
this were the case, Literature would have a still greater dignity and
splendour at Oxford, and there would be grander living sources of
I mentioned Mr. Maclaurin's uneasiness on account of a degree of
ridicule carelessly thrown on his deceased father, in Goldsmith's
_History of Animated Nature_, in which that celebrated mathematician is
represented as being subject to fits of yawning so violent as to render
him incapable of proceeding in his lecture; a story altogether
unfounded, but for the publication of which the law would give no
reparation. This led us to agitate the question, whether legal
redress could be obtained, even when a man's deceased relation was
calumniated in a publication. Mr. Murray maintained there should be
reparation, unless the author could justify himself by proving the fact.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is of so much more consequence that truth should be
told, than that individuals should not be made uneasy, that it is much
better that the law does not restrain writing freely concerning the
characters of the dead. Damages will be given to a man who is
calumniated in his life-time, because he may be hurt in his worldly
interest, or at least hurt in his mind: but the law does not regard that
uneasiness which a man feels on having his ancestor calumniated. That
is too nice. Let him deny what is said, and let the matter have a fair
chance by discussion. But, if a man could say nothing against a
character but what he can prove, history could not be written; for a
great deal is known of men of which proof cannot be brought. A minister
may be notoriously known to take bribes, and yet you may not be able to
prove it.' Mr. Murray suggested, that the authour should be obliged to
shew some sort of evidence, though he would not require a strict legal
proof: but Johnson firmly and resolutely opposed any restraint whatever,
as adverse to a free investigation of the characters of mankind.
On Thursday, April 4, having called on Dr. Johnson, I said, it was a
pity that truth was not so firm as to bid defiance to all attacks, so
that it might be shot at as much as people chose to attempt, and yet
remain unhurt. JOHNSON. 'Then, Sir, it would not be shot at. Nobody
attempts to dispute that two and two make four: but with contests
concerning moral truth, human passions are generally mixed, and
therefore it must ever be liable to assault and misrepresentation.'
On Friday, April 5, being Good Friday, after having attended the morning
service at St. Clement's Church, I walked home with Johnson. We
talked of the Roman Catholick religion. JOHNSON. 'In the barbarous ages,
Sir, priests and people were equally deceived; but afterwards there were
gross corruptions introduced by the clergy, such as indulgences to
priests to have concubines, and the worship of images, not, indeed,
inculcated, but knowingly permitted.' He strongly censured the licensed
stews at Rome. BOSWELL. 'So then, Sir, you would allow of no irregular
intercourse whatever between the sexes?' JOHNSON. 'To be sure I would
not, Sir. I would punish it much more than it is done, and so restrain
it. In all countries there has been fornication, as in all countries
there has been theft; but there may be more or less of the one, as well
as of the other, in proportion to the force of law. All men will
naturally commit fornication, as all men will naturally steal. And, Sir,
it is very absurd to argue, as has been often done, that prostitutes are
necessary to prevent the violent effects of appetite from violating the
decent order of life; nay, should be permitted, in order to preserve the
chastity of our wives and daughters. Depend upon it, Sir, severe laws,
steadily enforced, would be sufficient against those evils, and would
I stated to him this case:--'Suppose a man has a daughter, who he knows
has been seduced, but her misfortune is concealed from the world? should
he keep her in his house? Would he not, by doing so, be accessory to
imposition? And, perhaps, a worthy, unsuspecting man might come and
marry this woman, unless the father inform him of the truth.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, he is accessory to no imposition. His daughter is in his house;
and if a man courts her, he takes his chance. If a friend, or, indeed,
if any man asks his opinion whether he should marry her, he ought to
advise him against it, without telling why, because his real opinion is
then required. Or, if he has other daughters who know of her frailty, he
ought not to keep her in his house. You are to consider the state of
life is this; we are to judge of one another's characters as well as we
can; and a man is not bound, in honesty or honour, to tell us the faults
of his daughter or of himself. A man who has debauched his friend's
daughter is not obliged to say to every body--"Take care of me; don't
let me into your houses without suspicion. I once debauched a friend's
daughter. I may debauch yours."'
Mr. Thrale called upon him, and appeared to bear the loss of his son
with a manly composure. There was no affectation about him; and he
talked, as usual, upon indifferent subjects. He seemed to me to
hesitate as to the intended Italian tour, on which, I flattered myself,
he and Mrs. Thrale and Dr. Johnson were soon to set out; and, therefore,
I pressed it as much as I could. I mentioned, that Mr. Beauclerk had
said, that Baretti, whom they were to carry with them, would keep them
so long in the little towns of his own district, that they would not
have time to see Rome. I mentioned this, to put them on their guard.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, we do not thank Mr. Beauclerk for supposing that we are
to be directed by Baretti. No, Sir; Mr. Thrale is to go, by my advice,
to Mr. Jackson, (the all-knowing) and get from him a plan for seeing
the most that can be seen in the time that we have to travel. We must,
to be sure, see Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice, and as much more as
we can.' (Speaking with a tone of animation.)
When I expressed an earnest wish for his remarks on Italy, he said, 'I
do not see that I could make a book upon Italy; yet I should be glad
to get two hundred pounds, or five hundred pounds, by such a work.' This
shewed both that a journal of his Tour upon the Continent was not wholly
out of his contemplation, and that he uniformly adhered to that strange
opinion, which his indolent disposition made him utter: 'No man but a
blockhead ever wrote, except for money.' Numerous instances to refute
this will occur to all who are versed in the history of literature.
He gave us one of the many sketches of character which were treasured in
his mind, and which he was wont to produce quite unexpectedly in a very
entertaining manner. 'I lately, (said he,) received a letter from the
East Indies, from a gentleman whom I formerly knew very well; he had
returned from that country with a handsome fortune, as it was reckoned,
before means were found to acquire those immense sums which have been
brought from thence of late; he was a scholar, and an agreeable man, and
lived very prettily in London, till his wife died. After her death, he
took to dissipation and gaming, and lost all he had. One evening he lost
a thousand pounds to a gentleman whose name I am sorry I have forgotten.
Next morning he sent the gentleman five hundred pounds, with an apology
that it was all he had in the world. The gentleman sent the money back
to him, declaring he would not accept of it; and adding, that if Mr.
---- had occasion for five hundred pounds more, he would lend it to him.
He resolved to go out again to the East Indies, and make his fortune
anew. He got a considerable appointment, and I had some intention of
accompanying him. Had I thought then as I do now, I should have gone:
but, at that time, I had objections to quitting England.'
It was a very remarkable circumstance about Johnson, whom shallow
observers have supposed to have been ignorant of the world, that very
few men had seen greater variety of characters; and none could observe
them better, as was evident from the strong, yet nice portraits which he
often drew. I have frequently thought that if he had made out what the
French call _une catalogue raisonnee_ of all the people who had passed
under his observation, it would have afforded a very rich fund of
instruction and entertainment. The suddenness with which his accounts of
some of them started out in conversation, was not less pleasing than
surprising. I remember he once observed to me, 'It is wonderful, Sir,
what is to be found in London. The most literary conversation that I
ever enjoyed, was at the table of Jack Ellis, a money-scrivener behind
the Royal Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine generally
once a week.'
Volumes would be required to contain a list of his numerous and various
acquaintance, none of whom he ever forgot; and could describe and
discriminate them all with precision and vivacity. He associated with
persons the most widely different in manners, abilities, rank and
accomplishments. He was at once the companion of the brilliant
Colonel Forrester of the Guards, who wrote _The Polite Philosopher_,
and of the aukward and uncouth Robert Levet; of Lord Thurlow, and Mr.
Sastres, the Italian master; and has dined one day with the beautiful,
gay, and fascinating Lady Craven, and the next with good Mrs.
Gardiner, the tallow-chandler, on Snow-hill.
On my expressing my wonder at his discovering so much of the knowledge
peculiar to different professions, he told me, 'I learnt what I know of
law, chiefly from Mr. Ballow, a very able man. I learnt some, too,
from Chambers; but was not so teachable then. One is not willing to
be taught by a young man.' When I expressed a wish to know more about
Mr. Ballow, Johnson said, 'Sir, I have seen him but once these twenty
years. The tide of life has driven us different ways.' I was sorry at
the time to hear this; but whoever quits the creeks of private
connections, and fairly gets into the great ocean of London, will, by
imperceptible degrees, unavoidably experience such cessations of
'My knowledge of physick, (he added,) I learnt from Dr. James, whom I
helped in writing the proposals for his _Dictionary_ and also a little
in the Dictionary itself. I also learnt from Dr. Lawrence, but was
then grown more stubborn.'
A curious incident happened to-day, while Mr. Thrale and I sat with him.
Francis announced that a large packet was brought to him from the
post-office, said to have come from Lisbon, and it was charged _seven
pounds ten shillings_. He would not receive it, supposing it to be some
trick, nor did he even look at it. But upon enquiry afterwards he found
that it was a real packet for him, from that very friend in the East
Indies of whom he had been speaking; and the ship which carried it
having come to Portugal, this packet, with others, had been put into the
post-office at Lisbon.
I mentioned a new gaming-club, of which Mr. Beauclerk had given me an
account, where the members played to a desperate extent. JOHNSON.
'Depend upon it, Sir, this is mere talk. _Who_ is ruined by gaming? You
will not find six instances in an age. There is a strange rout made
about deep play: whereas you have many more people ruined by adventurous
trade, and yet we do not hear such an outcry against it.' THRALE. 'There
may be few people absolutely ruined by deep play; but very many are much
hurt in their circumstances by it.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and so are very
many by other kinds of expence.' I had heard him talk once before in the
same manner; and at Oxford he said, 'he wished he had learnt to play at
cards.' The truth, however, is, that he loved to display his
ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in conversation
maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong, but in supporting
which, his reasoning and wit would be most conspicuous. He would
begin thus: 'Why, Sir, as to the good or evil of card-playing--' 'Now,
(said Garrick,) he is thinking which side he shall take.' He appeared
to have a pleasure in contradiction, especially when any opinion
whatever was delivered with an air of confidence; so that there was
hardly any topick, if not one of the great truths of Religion and
Morality, that he might not have been incited to argue, either for or
against. Lord Elibank had the highest admiration of his powers. He
once observed to me, 'Whatever opinion Johnson maintains, I will not say
that he convinces me; but he never fails to shew me, that he has good
reasons for it.' I have heard Johnson pay his Lordship this high
compliment: 'I never was in Lord Elibank's company without learning
We sat together till it was too late for the afternoon service. Thrale
said he had come with intention to go to church with us. We went at
seven to evening prayers at St. Clement's church, after having drank
coffee; an indulgence, which I understood Johnson yielded to on this
occasion, in compliment to Thrale.
On Sunday, April 7, Easter-day, after having been at St. Paul's
Cathedral, I came to Dr. Johnson, according to my usual custom. It
seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and placid
in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of the most
joyful event in the history of our world, the resurrection of our LORD
and SAVIOUR, who, having triumphed over death and the grave, proclaimed
immortality to mankind.
I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who
maintained, that her husband's having been guilty of numberless
infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they were
reciprocal. JOHNSON. 'This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of
marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party--Society; and
if it be considered as a vow--GOD: and, therefore, it cannot be
dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are not made for particular
cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband;
but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil
and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so
rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another's property with his
own hand.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract
should be dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in
gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes
care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir,
what Macrobius has told us of Julia.' JOHNSON. 'This lady of yours,
Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.'
Mr. Macbean, authour of the _Dictionary of ancient Geography_, came
in. He mentioned that he had been forty years absent from Scotland. 'Ah,
Boswell! (said Johnson, smiling,) what would you give to be forty years
from Scotland?' I said, 'I should not like to be so long absent from the
seat of my ancestors.' This gentleman, Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Levet,
dined with us.
Dr. Johnson made a remark, which both Mr. Macbean and I thought new. It
was this: that 'the law against usury is for the protection of creditors
as well as of debtors; for if there were no such check, people would be
apt, from the temptation of great interest, to lend to desperate
persons, by whom they would lose their money. Accordingly there are
instances of ladies being ruined, by having injudiciously sunk their
fortunes for high annuities, which, after a few years, ceased to be
paid, in consequence of the ruined circumstances of the borrower.'
Mrs. Williams was very peevish; and I wondered at Johnson's patience
with her now, as I had often done on similar occasions. The truth is,
that his humane consideration of the forlorn and indigent state in which
this lady was left by her father, induced him to treat her with the
utmost tenderness, and even to be desirous of procuring her amusement,
so as sometimes to incommode many of his friends, by carrying her with
him to their houses, where, from her manner of eating, in consequence of
her blindness, she could not but offend the delicacy of persons of nice
After coffee, we went to afternoon service in St. Clement's church.
Observing some beggars in the street as we walked along, I said to him I
supposed there was no civilised country in the world, where the misery
of want in the lowest classes of the people was prevented. JOHNSON. 'I
believe, Sir, there is not; but it is better that some should be
unhappy, than that none should be happy, which would be the case in a
general state of equality.'
When the service was ended, I went home with him, and we sat quietly by
ourselves. He recommended Dr. Cheyne's books. I said, I thought Cheyne
had been reckoned whimsical. 'So he was, (said he,) in some things; but
there is no end of objections. There are few books to which some
objection or other may not be made.' He added, 'I would not have you
read anything else of Cheyne, but his book on Health, and his _English
Upon the question whether a man who had been guilty of vicious actions
would do well to force himself into solitude and sadness; JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir, unless it prevent him from being vicious again. With some people,
gloomy penitence is only madness turned upside down. A man may be
gloomy, till, in order to be relieved from gloom, he has recourse again
to criminal indulgencies.'
On Wednesday, April 10, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where were Mr.
Murphy and some other company. Before dinner, Dr. Johnson and I passed
some time by ourselves. I was sorry to find it was now resolved that the
proposed journey to Italy should not take place this year. He said,
'I am disappointed, to be sure; but it is not a great disappointment.' I
wondered to see him bear, with a philosophical calmness, what would have
made most people peevish and fretful. I perceived, however, that he had
so warmly cherished the hope of enjoying classical scenes, that he could
not easily part with the scheme; for he said, 'I shall probably contrive
to get to Italy some other way. But I won't mention it to Mr. and Mrs.
Thrale, as it might vex them.' I suggested, that going to Italy might
have done Mr. and Mrs. Thrale good. JOHNSON. 'I rather believe not, Sir.
While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must
wait till grief be _digested_, and then amusement will dissipate the
remains of it.'
At dinner, Mr. Murphy entertained us with the history of Mr. Joseph
Simpson, a schoolfellow of Dr. Johnson's, a barrister at law, of good
parts, but who fell into a dissipated course of life, incompatible with
that success in his profession which he once had, and would otherwise
have deservedly maintained; yet he still preserved a dignity in his
deportment. He wrote a tragedy on the story of Leonidas, entitled _The
Patriot_. He read it to a company of lawyers, who found so many faults,
that he wrote it over again: so then there were two tragedies on the
same subject and with the same title. Dr. Johnson told us, that one of
them was still in his possession. This very piece was, after his death,
published by some person who had been about him, and, for the sake of a
little hasty profit, was fallaciously advertised, so as to make it be
believed to have been written by Johnson himself.
I said, I disliked the custom which some people had of bringing their
children into company, because it in a manner forced us to pay
foolish compliments to please their parents. JOHNSON. 'You are right,
Sir. We may be excused for not caring much about other people's
children, for there are many who care very little about their own
children. It may be observed, that men, who from being engaged in
business, or from their course of life in whatever way, seldom see their
children, do not care much about them. I myself should not have had much
fondness for a child of my own.' MRS. THRALE. 'Nay, Sir, how can you
talk so?' JOHNSON. 'At least, I never wished to have a child.'
Mr. Murphy mentioned Dr. Johnson's having a design to publish an edition
of _Cowley_. Johnson said, he did not know but he should; and he
expressed his disapprobation of Dr. Hurd, for having published a
mutilated edition under the title of _Select Works of Abraham
Cowley_. Mr. Murphy thought it a bad precedent; observing that any
authour might be used in the same manner; and that it was pleasing to
see the variety of an authour's compositions, at different periods.
We talked of Flatman's Poems; and Mrs. Thrale observed, that Pope had
partly borrowed from him _The dying Christian to his Soul_. Johnson
repeated Rochester's verses upon Flatman, which I think by much too
'Nor that slow drudge in swift Pindarick strains,
Flatman, who Cowley imitates with pains,
And rides a jaded Muse, whipt with loose reins.'
I like to recollect all the passages that I heard Johnson repeat: it
stamps a value on them.
He told us, that the book entitled _The Lives of the Poets_, by Mr.
Cibber, was entirely compiled by Mr. Shiels, a Scotchman, one of his
amanuenses. 'The bookseller (said he,) gave Theophilus Cibber, who was
then in prison, ten guineas, to allow _Mr. Cibber_ to be put upon the
title-page, as the authour; by this, a double imposition was intended:
in the first place, that it was the work of a Cibber at all; and, in the
second place, that it was the work of old Cibber.'
Mr. Murphy said, that _The Memoirs of Gray's Life_ set him much higher
in his estimation than his poems did; 'for you there saw a man
constantly at work in literature.' Johnson acquiesced in this; but
depreciated the book, I thought, very unreasonably. For he said, 'I
forced myself to read it, only because it was a common topick of
conversation. I found it mighty dull; and, as to the style, it is fit
for the second table.' Why he thought so I was at a loss to conceive.
He now gave it as his opinion, that 'Akenside was a superiour poet
both to Gray and Mason.'
Talking of the Reviews, Johnson said, 'I think them very impartial: I do
not know an instance of partiality.' He mentioned what had passed
upon the subject of the _Monthly_ and _Critical Reviews_, in the
conversation with which his Majesty had honoured him. He expatiated a
little more on them this evening. 'The Monthly Reviewers (said he) are
not Deists; but they are Christians with as little christianity as may
be; and are for pulling down all establishments. The Critical Reviewers
are for supporting the constitution both in church and state. The
Critical Reviewers, I believe, often review without reading the books
through; but lay hold of a topick, and write chiefly from their own
minds. The Monthly Reviewers are duller men, and are glad to read the
He talked of Lord Lyttelton's extreme anxiety as an authour; observing,
that 'he was thirty years in preparing his _History_, and that he
employed a man to point it for him; as if (laughing) another man could
point his sense better than himself.' Mr. Murphy said, he understood
his history was kept back several years for fear of Smollet. JOHNSON.
'This seems strange to Murphy and me, who never felt that anxiety, but
sent what we wrote to the press, and let it take its chance.' MRS.
THRALE. 'The time has been, Sir, when you felt it.' JOHNSON. 'Why
really, Madam, I do not recollect a time when that was the case.'
Talking of _The Spectator_, he said, 'It is wonderful that there is such
a proportion of bad papers, in the half of the work which was not
written by Addison; for there was all the world to write that half, yet
not a half of that half is good. One of the finest pieces in the English
language is the paper on Novelty, yet we do not hear it talked of. It
was written by Grove, a dissenting _teacher_.' He would not, I
perceived, call him a _clergyman_, though he was candid enough to allow
very great merit to his composition. Mr. Murphy said, he remembered when
there were several people alive in London, who enjoyed a considerable
reputation merely from having written a paper in _The Spectator_. He
mentioned particularly Mr. Ince, who used to frequent Tom's
coffee-house. 'But (said Johnson,) you must consider how highly Steele
speaks of Mr. Ince.' He would not allow that the paper on carrying
a boy to travel, signed _Philip Homebred_, which was reported to be
written by the Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, had merit. He said, 'it was
quite vulgar, and had nothing luminous.'
Johnson mentioned Dr. Barry's System of Physick. 'He was a man (said
he,) who had acquired a high reputation in Dublin, came over to England,
and brought his reputation with him, but had not great success. His
notion was, that pulsation occasions death by attrition; and that,
therefore, the way to preserve life is to retard pulsation. But we
know that pulsation is strongest in infants, and that we increase in
growth while it operates in its regular course; so it cannot be the
cause of destruction.' Soon after this, he said something very
flattering to Mrs. Thrale, which I do not recollect; but it concluded
with wishing her long life. 'Sir, (said I,) if Dr. Barry's system be
true, you have now shortened Mrs. Thrale's life, perhaps, some minutes,
by accelerating her pulsation.'
On Thursday, April 11, I dined with him at General Paoli's, in whose
house I now resided, and where I had ever afterwards the honour of being
entertained with the kindest attention as his constant guest, while I
was in London, till I had a house of my own there. I mentioned my having
that morning introduced to Mr. Garrick, Count Neni, a Flemish Nobleman
of great rank and fortune, to whom Garrick talked of Abel Drugger as
_a small part_; and related, with pleasant vanity, that a Frenchman who
had seen him in one of his low characters, exclaimed, '_Comment! je ne
le crois pas. Ce n'est pas Monsieur Garrick, ce Grand Homme_!' Garrick
added, with an appearance of grave recollection, 'If I were to begin
life again, I think I should not play those low characters.' Upon which
I observed, 'Sir, you would be in the wrong; for your great excellence
is your variety of playing, your representing so well, characters so
very different.' JOHNSON. 'Garrick, Sir, was not in earnest in what he
said; for, to be sure, his peculiar excellence is his variety: and,
perhaps, there is not any one character which has not been as well acted
by somebody else, as he could do it.' BOSWELL. 'Why then, Sir, did he
talk so?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, to make you answer as you did.' BOSWELL.
'I don't know, Sir; he seemed to dip deep into his mind for the
reflection.' JOHNSON. 'He had not far to dip, Sir: he said the same
thing, probably, twenty times before.'
Of a nobleman raised at a very early period to high office, he said,
'His parts, Sir, are pretty well for a Lord; but would not be
distinguished in a man who had nothing else but his parts'.
A journey to Italy was still in his thoughts. He said, 'A man who has
not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not
having seen what it is expected a man should see. The grand object of
travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores
were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the
Grecian, and the Roman.--All our religion, almost all our law, almost
all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from
the shores of the Mediterranean.' The General observed, that 'THE
MEDITERRANEAN would be a noble subject for a poem.'
We talked of translation. I said, I could not define it, nor could I
think of a similitude to illustrate it; but that it appeared to me the
translation of poetry could be only imitation. JOHNSON. 'You may
translate books of science exactly. You may also translate history, in
so far as it is not embellished with oratory, which is poetical.
Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets
that preserve languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a
language, if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a
translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any
language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the
A gentleman maintained that the art of printing had hurt real learning,
by disseminating idle writings.--JOHNSON. 'Sir, if it had not been for
the art of printing, we should now have no learning at all; for books
would have perished faster than they could have been transcribed.' This
observation seems not just, considering for how many ages books were
preserved by writing alone.
The same gentleman maintained, that a general diffusion of knowledge
among a people was a disadvantage; for it made the vulgar rise above
their humble sphere. JOHNSON. 'Sir, while knowledge is a distinction,
those who are possessed of it will naturally rise above those who are
not. Merely to read and write was a distinction at first; but we see
when reading and writing have become general, the common people keep
their stations. And so, were higher attainments to become general the
effect would be the same.'
'Goldsmith (he said), referred every thing to vanity; his virtues, and
his vices too, were from that motive. He was not a social man. He never
exchanged mind with you.'
We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole's. Mr. Mickle, the excellent
translator of _The Lusiad_, was there. I have preserved little of the
conversation of this evening. Dr. Johnson said, 'Thomson had a true
poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a poetical light.
His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly
peep through. Shiels, who compiled _Cibber's Lives of the Poets_, was
one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large
portion of him, and then asked,--Is not this fine? Shiels having
expressed the highest admiration. Well, Sir, (said I,) I have omitted
every other line.'
I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day
when they and I were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762. Goldsmith
asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley
appealed to his own _Collection_, and maintained, that though you
could not find a palace like Dryden's _Ode on St. Cecilia's Day_, you
had villages composed of very pretty houses; and he mentioned
particularly _The Spleen_. JOHNSON. 'I think Dodsley gave up the
question. He and Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a
softer manner than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged that there was no
poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit and
humour in verse, and yet no poetry. _Hudibras_ has a profusion of these;
yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. _The Spleen_, in Dodsley's
_Collection_, on which you say he chiefly rested, is not poetry.'
BOSWELL. 'Does not Gray's poetry, Sir, tower above the common mark?'
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but we must attend to the difference between what
men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do if he
would. Sixteen-string Jack towered above the common mark.' BOSWELL.
'Then, Sir, what is poetry?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is much easier to
say what it is not. We all _know_ what light is; but it is not easy to
_tell_ what it is.'
On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's, where
we met Mr. Cradock, of Leicestershire, authour of _Zobeide_, a
tragedy; a very pleasing gentleman, to whom my friend Dr. Farmer's
very excellent _Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare_ is addressed;
and Dr. Harwood, who has written and published various works;
particularly a fantastical translation of the New Testament, in modern
phrase, and with a Socinian twist.
I introduced Aristotle's doctrine in his _Art of Poetry_, of 'the
[Greek: katharis ton pathaematon], the purging of the passions,' as the
purpose of tragedy. 'But how are the passions to be purged by terrour
and pity?' (said I, with an assumed air of ignorance, to incite him to
talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address).
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you are to consider what is the meaning of purging
in the original sense. It is to expel impurities from the human body.
The mind is subject to the same imperfection. The passions are the great
movers of human actions; but they are mixed with such impurities, that
it is necessary they should be purged or refined by means of terrour and
pity. For instance, ambition is a noble passion; but by seeing upon the
stage, that a man who is so excessively ambitious as to raise himself by
injustice, is punished, we are terrified at the fatal consequences of
such a passion. In the same manner a certain degree of resentment is
necessary; but if we see that a man carries it too far, we pity the
object of it, and are taught to moderate that passion.' My record upon
this occasion does great injustice to Johnson's expression, which was so
forcible and brilliant, that Mr. Cradock whispered me, 'O that his words
were written in a book!'
I observed, the great defect of the tragedy of _Othello_ was, that it
had not a moral; for that no man could resist the circumstances of
suspicion which were artfully suggested to Othello's mind. JOHNSON. 'In
the first place, Sir, we learn from _Othello_ this very useful moral,
not to make an unequal match; in the second place, we learn not to yield
too readily to suspicion. The handkerchief is merely a trick, though a
very pretty trick; but there are no other circumstances of reasonable
suspicion, except what is related by Iago of Cassio's warm expressions
concerning Desdemona in his sleep; and that depended entirely upon the
assertion of one man. No, Sir, I think _Othello_ has more moral than
almost any play.'
Talking of a penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, Johnson said,
'Sir, he is narrow, not so much from avarice, as from impotence to spend
his money. He cannot find in his heart to pour out a bottle of wine; but
he would not much care if it should sour.'
He said, he wished to see John Dennis's _Critical Works_ collected.
Davies said they would not sell. Dr. Johnson seemed to think
Davies said of a well-known dramatick authour, that 'he lived upon
_potted stories_, and that he made his way as Hannibal did, by vinegar;
having begun by attacking people; particularly the players.'
He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him the highest
compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for
repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story.
Johnson and I supt this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in
company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one of
the Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dunsinan, and my very worthy
friend, Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question whether drinking improved conversation and
benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained it did. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir: before
dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who
are conscious of their inferiority, have the modesty not to talk. When
they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that
modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous: but he is not improved; he
is only not sensible of his defects.' Sir Joshua said the Doctor was
talking of the effects of excess in wine; but that a moderate glass
enlivened the mind, by giving a proper circulation to the blood. 'I am
(said he,) in very good spirits, when I get up in the morning. By
dinner-time I am exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got
up; and I am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.'
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; wine gives not light, gay, ideal hilarity; but
tumultuous, noisy, clamorous merriment. I have heard none of those
drunken,--nay, drunken is a coarse word,--none of those _vinous_
flights.' SIR JOSHUA. 'Because you have sat by, quite sober, and felt an
envy of the happiness of those who were drinking.' JOHNSON. 'Perhaps,
contempt.--And, Sir, it is not necessary to be drunk one's self, to
relish the wit of drunkenness. Do we not judge of the drunken wit, of
the dialogue between Iago and Cassio, the most excellent in its kind,
when we are quite sober? Wit is wit, by whatever means it is produced;
and, if good, will appear so at all times. I admit that the spirits are
raised by drinking, as by the common participation of any pleasure:
cock-fighting, or bear-baiting, will raise the spirits of a company, as
drinking does, though surely they will not improve conversation. I also
admit, that there are some sluggish men who are improved by drinking; as
there are fruits which are not good till they are rotten. There are such
men, but they are medlars. I indeed allow that there have been a very
few men of talents who were improved by drinking; but I maintain that I
am right as to the effects of drinking in general: and let it be
considered, that there is no position, however false in its
universality, which is not true of some particular man.' Sir William
Forbes said, 'Might not a man warmed with wine be like a bottle of beer,
which is made brisker by being set before the fire?' 'Nay, (said
Johnson, laughing,) I cannot answer that: that is too much for me.'
I observed, that wine did some people harm, by inflaming, confusing, and
irritating their minds; but that the experience of mankind had declared
in favour of moderate drinking. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not say it is wrong
to produce self complacency by drinking; I only deny that it improves
the mind. When I drank wine, I scorned to drink it when in company. I
have drunk many a bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had
need of it to raise my spirits; in the second place, because I would
have nobody to witness its effects upon me.'
He told us, 'almost all his _Ramblers_ were written just as they were
wanted for the press; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of
an essay, and wrote the remainder, while the former part of it was
printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was
sure it would be done.'
He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his
immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a
science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added,
'what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we
read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the
attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.'
He told us, he read Fielding's _Amelia_ through without stopping. He
said, 'if a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an
inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He
may perhaps not feel again the inclination.'
Sir Joshua mentioned Mr. Cumberland's _Odes_, which were just
published. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, they would have been thought as good as
Odes commonly are, if Cumberland had not put his name to them; but a
name immediately draws censure, unless it be a name that bears down
everything before it. Nay, Cumberland has made his _Odes_ subsidiary to
the fame of another man. They might have run well enough by
themselves; but he has not only loaded them with a name, but has made
them carry double.'
We talked of the Reviews, and Dr. Johnson spoke of them as he did at
Thrale's. Sir Joshua said, what I have often thought, that he
wondered to find so much good writing employed in them, when the
authours were to remain unknown, and so could not have the motive of
fame. JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, those who write in them, write well, in order
to be paid well.'
Soon after this day, he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I had
never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the opportunity of
visiting it, while Johnson was there. Having written to him, I received
the following answer.
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Why do you talk of neglect? When did I neglect you? If you will come to
Bath, we shall all be glad to see you. Come, therefore, as soon as you
'But I have a little business for you at London. Bid Francis look in the
paper-drawer of the chest of drawers in my bed-chamber, for two cases;
one for the Attorney-General, and one for the Solicitor-General.
They lie, I think, at the top of my papers; otherwise they are somewhere
else, and will give me more trouble.
'Please to write to me immediately, if they can be found. Make my
compliments to all our friends round the world, and to Mrs. Williams at
'I am, Sir, your, &c.
'Search for the papers as soon as you can, that, if it is necessary, I
may write to you again before you come down.'
On the 26th of April, I went to Bath; and on my arrival at the
Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and Mrs.
Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly during my
stay. They were gone to the rooms; but there was a kind note from Dr.
Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening. I went to him
directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we had by ourselves
some hours of tea-drinking and talk.
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few
days that I was at Bath.
Of a person who differed from him in politicks, he said, 'In private
life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in
publick life. People _may_ be honest, though they are doing wrong: that
is, between their Maker and them. But _we_, who are suffering by their
pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that ---- acts from
interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their
passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are
criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain
female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late
become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even
put on rouge:--JOHNSON. 'She is better employed at her toilet, than
using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than
blackening other people's characters.'
He told us that 'Addison wrote Budgell's papers in the _Spectator_, at
least mended them so much, that he made them almost his own; and that
Draper, Tonson's partner, assured Mrs. Johnson, that the much admired
Epilogue to _The Distressed Mother_, which came out in Budgell's name,
was in reality written by Addison.'
'The mode of government by one may be ill adapted to a small society,
but is best for a great nation. The characteristick of our own
government at present is imbecility. The magistrate dare not call the
guards for fear of being hanged. The guards will not come, for fear of
being given up to the blind rage of popular juries.'
Of the father of one of our friends, he observed, 'He never clarified
his notions, by filtrating them through other minds. He had a canal upon
his estate, where at one place the bank was too low.--I dug the canal
deeper,' said he.
He told me that 'so long ago as 1748 he had read "_The Grave_, a
Poem," but did not like it much.' I differed from him; for though it
is not equal throughout, and is seldom elegantly correct, it abounds in
solemn thought, and poetical imagery beyond the common reach. The world
has differed from him; for the poem has passed through many editions,
and is still much read by people of a serious cast of mind.
A literary lady of large fortune was mentioned, as one who did good
to many, but by no means 'by stealth,' and instead of 'blushing to find
it fame, acted evidently from vanity. JOHNSON. 'I have seen no beings
who do as much good from benevolence, as she does, from whatever motive.
If there are such under the earth, or in the clouds, I wish they would
come up, or come down. What Soame Jenyns says upon this subject is not
to be minded; he is a wit. No, Sir; to act from pure benevolence is not
possible for finite beings. Human benevolence is mingled with vanity,
interest, or some other motive.'
He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath; observing 'She does
not gain upon me, Sir; I think her empty-headed.' He was, indeed, a
stern critick upon characters and manners. Even Mrs. Thrale did not
escape his friendly animadversion at times. When he and I were one day
endeavouring to ascertain, article by article, how one of our friends
could possibly spend as much money in his family as he told us he did,
she interrupted us by a lively extravagant sally, on the expence of
clothing his children, describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful
manner. Johnson looked a little angry, and said, 'Nay, Madam, when you
are declaiming, declaim; and when you are calculating, calculate.' At
another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, 'I don't like to fly.'
JOHNSON. 'With _your_ wings, Madam, you _must_ fly: but have a care,
there are _clippers_ abroad.' How very well was this said, and how fully
has experience proved the truth of it! But have they not _clipped_
rather _rudely_, and gone a great deal _closer_ than was necessary?
A gentleman expressed a wish to go and live three years at Otaheite,
or New-Zealand, in order to obtain a full acquaintance with people, so
totally different from all that we have ever known, and be satisfied
what pure nature can do for man. JOHNSON. 'What could you learn, Sir?
What can savages tell, but what they themselves have seen? Of the past,
or the invisible, they can tell nothing. The inhabitants of Otaheite and
New-Zealand are not in a state of pure nature; for it is plain they
broke off from some other people. Had they grown out of the ground, you
might have judged of a state of pure nature. Fanciful people may talk of
a mythology being amongst them; but it must be invention. They have once
had religion, which has been gradually debased. And what account of
their religion can you suppose to be learnt from savages? Only consider,
Sir, our own state: our religion is in a book; we have an order of men
whose duty it is to teach it; we have one day in the week set apart for
it, and this is in general pretty well observed: yet ask the first ten
gross men you meet, and hear what they can tell of their religion.'
On Monday, April 29, he and I made an excursion to Bristol, where I was
entertained with seeing him enquire upon the spot, into the authenticity
of 'Rowley's Poetry,' as I had seen him enquire upon the spot into
the authenticity of 'Ossian's Poetry.' George Catcot, the pewterer,
who was as zealous for Rowley, as Dr. Hugh Blair was for Ossian, (I
trust my Reverend friend will excuse the comparison,) attended us at our
inn, and with a triumphant air of lively simplicity called out, 'I'll
make Dr. Johnson a convert.' Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some
of Chatterton's fabricated verses, while Catcot stood at the back of his
chair, moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet,
and now and then looking into Dr. Johnson's face, wondering that he was
not yet convinced. We called on Mr. Barret, the surgeon, and saw some of
the _originals_ as they were called, which were executed very
artificially; but from a careful inspection of them, and a
consideration of the circumstances with which they were attended, we
were quite satisfied of the imposture, which, indeed, has been clearly
demonstrated from internal evidence, by several able criticks.'
Honest Catcot seemed to pay no attention whatever to any objections, but
insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we should go with him to
the tower of the church of St. Mary, Redcliff, and _view with our own
eyes_ the ancient chest in which the manuscripts were found. To this,
Dr. Johnson good-naturedly agreed; and though troubled with a shortness
of breathing, laboured up a long flight of steps, till we came to the
place where the wonderous chest stood. '_There_, (said Catcot, with a
bouncing confident credulity,) _there_ is the very chest itself.'
'After this _ocular demonstration_, there was no more to be said. He
brought to my recollection a Scotch Highlander, a man of learning too,
and who had seen the world, attesting, and at the same time giving his
reasons for the authenticity of Fingal:--'I have heard all that poem
when I was young.'--'Have you, Sir? Pray what have you heard?'--'I have
heard Ossian, Oscar, and _every one of them_.'
Johnson said of Chatterton, 'This is the most extraordinary young man
that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has
written such things.'
We were by no means pleased with our inn at Bristol. 'Let us see now,
(said I,) how we should describe it.' Johnson was ready with his
raillery. 'Describe it, Sir?--Why, it was so bad that Boswell wished to
be in Scotland!'
After Dr. Johnson's return to London, I was several times with him at
his house, where I occasionally slept, in the room that had been
assigned to me. I dined with him at Dr. Taylor's, at General
Oglethorpe's, and at General Paoli's. To avoid a tedious minuteness, I
shall group together what I have preserved of his conversation during
this period also, without specifying each scene where it passed, except
one, which will be found so remarkable as certainly to deserve a very
particular relation. Where the place or the persons do not contribute to
the zest of the conversation, it is unnecessary to encumber my page with
mentioning them. To know of what vintage our wine is, enables us to
judge of its value, and to drink it with more relish: but to have the
produce of each vine of one vineyard, in the same year, kept separate,
would serve no purpose. To know that our wine, (to use an advertising
phrase,) is 'of the stock of an Ambassadour lately deceased,' heightens
its flavour: but it signifies nothing to know the bin where each bottle
was once deposited.
'Garrick (he observed,) does not play the part of Archer in _The Beaux
Stratagem_ well. The gentleman should break out through the footman,
which is not the case as he does it.'
'Where there is no education, as in savage countries, men will have the
upper hand of women. Bodily strength, no doubt, contributes to this; but
it would be so, exclusive of that; for it is mind that always governs.
When it comes to dry understanding, man has the better.'
'The little volumes entitled _Respublicae_, which are very well done,
were a bookseller's work.'
'There is much talk of the misery which we cause to the brute creation;
but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to
man, and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so
numerous.' This argument is to be found in the able and benignant
Hutchinson's _Moral Philosophy_. But the question is, whether the
animals who endure such sufferings of various kinds, for the service and
entertainment of man, would accept of existence upon the terms on which
they have it. Madame Sevigne, who, though she had many enjoyments,
felt with delicate sensibility the prevalence of misery, complains of
the task of existence having been imposed upon her without her
'That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief
from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is
a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.'
'Though many men are nominally entrusted with the administration of
hospitals and other publick institutions, almost all the good is done by
one man, by whom the rest are driven on; owing to confidence in him, and
indolence in them.'
'Lord Chesterfield's _Letters to his Son_, I think, might be made a very
pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put into the
hands of every young gentleman. An elegant manner and easiness of
behaviour are acquired gradually and imperceptibly. No man can say "I'll
be genteel." There are ten genteel women for one genteel man, because
they are more restrained. A man without some degree of restraint is
insufferable; but we are all less restrained than women. Were a woman
sitting in company to put out her legs before her as most men do, we
should be tempted to kick them in.'
No man was a more attentive and nice observer of behaviour in those in
whose company he happened to be, than Johnson; or, however strange it
may seem to many, had a higher estimation of its refinements. Lord
Eliot informs me, that one day when Johnson and he were at dinner at a
gentleman's house in London, upon Lord Chesterfield's Letters being
mentioned, Johnson surprized the company by this sentence: 'Every man of
any education would rather be called a rascal, than accused of
deficiency in _the graces_.' Mr. Gibbon, who was present, turned to a
lady who knew Johnson well, and lived much with him, and in his quaint
manner, tapping his box, addressed her thus: 'Don't you think, Madam,
(looking towards Johnson,) that among _all_ your acquaintance, you could
find _one_ exception?' The lady smiled, and seemed to acquiesce.
'I read (said he,) Sharpe's letters on Italy over again, when I was at
Bath. There is a great deal of matter in them.'
'Mrs. Williams was angry that Thrale's family did not send regularly to
her every time they heard from me while I was in the Hebrides. Little
people are apt to be jealous: but they should not be jealous; for they
ought to consider, that superiour attention will necessarily be paid to
superiour fortune or rank. Two persons may have equal merit, and on that
account may have an equal claim to attention; but one of them may have
also fortune and rank, and so may have a double claim.'
Talking of his notes on Shakspeare, he said, 'I despise those who do not
see that I am right in the passage where _as_ is repeated, and "asses of
great charge" introduced. That on "To be, or not to be," is
A gentleman, whom I found sitting with him one morning, said, that in
his opinion the character of an infidel was more detestable than that of
a man notoriously guilty of an atrocious crime. I differed from him,
because we are surer of the odiousness of the one, than of the errour of
the other. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I agree with him; for the infidel would be
guilty of any crime if he were inclined to it.'
'Many things which are false are transmitted from book to book, and gain
credit in the world. One of these is the cry against the evil of luxury.
Now the truth is, that luxury produces much good. Take the luxury of
buildings in London. Does it not produce real advantage in the
conveniency and elegance of accommodation, and this all from the
exertion of industry? People will tell you, with a melancholy face, how
many builders are in gaol. It is plain they are in gaol, not for
building; for rents are not fallen.--A man gives half a guinea for a
dish of green peas. How much gardening does this occasion? how many
labourers must the competition to have such things early in the market,
keep in employment? You will hear it said, very gravely, Why was not the
half-guinea, thus spent in luxury, given to the poor? To how many might
it have afforded a good meal. Alas! has it not gone to the _industrious_
poor, whom it is better to support than the _idle_ poor? You are much
surer that you are doing good when you _pay_ money to those who work, as
the recompence of their labour, than when you _give_ money merely in
charity. Suppose the ancient luxury of a dish of peacock's brains were
to be revived, how many carcases would be left to the poor at a cheap
rate: and as to the rout that is made about people who are ruined by
extravagance, it is no matter to the nation that some individuals
suffer. When so much general productive exertion is the consequence of
luxury, the nation does not care though there are debtors in gaol; nay,
they would not care though their creditors were there too.'
The uncommon vivacity of General Oglethorpe's mind, and variety of
knowledge, having sometimes made his conversation seem too desultory,
Johnson observed, 'Oglethorpe, Sir, never _completes_ what he has to
He on the same account made a similar remark on Patrick Lord Elibank:
'Sir, there is nothing _conclusive_ in his talk.'
When I complained of having dined at a splendid table without hearing
one sentence of conversation worthy of being remembered, he said, 'Sir,
there seldom is any such conversation.' BOSWELL. 'Why then meet at
table?' JOHNSON. 'Why to eat and drink together, and to promote
kindness; and, Sir, this is better done when there is no solid
conversation; for when there is, people differ in opinion, and get into
bad humour, or some of the company who are not capable of such
conversation, are left out, and feel themselves uneasy. It was for this
reason, Sir Robert Walpole said, he always talked bawdy at his table,
because in that all could join.'
Being irritated by hearing a gentleman ask Mr. Levett a variety of
questions concerning him, when he was sitting by, he broke out, 'Sir,
you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of both.' 'A man,
(said he,) should not talk of himself, nor much of any particular
person. He should take care not to be made a proverb; and, therefore,
should avoid having any one topick of which people can say, "We shall
hear him upon it."' There was a Dr. Oldfield, who was always talking of
the Duke of Marlborough. He came into a coffee-house one day, and told
that his Grace had spoken in the House of Lords for half an hour. 'Did
he indeed speak for half an hour?' (said Belchier, the surgeon,)--
'Yes.'--'And what did he say of Dr. Oldfield?'--'Nothing.'--'Why then,
Sir, he was very ungrateful; for Dr. Oldfield could not have spoken for
a quarter of an hour, without saying something of him.'
'Every man is to take existence on the terms on which it is given to
him. To some men it is given on condition of not taking liberties,
which other men may take without much harm. One may drink wine, and be
nothing the worse for it; on another, wine may have effects so
inflammatory as to injure him both in body and mind, and perhaps, make
him commit something for which he may deserve to be hanged.'
'Lord Hailes's _Annals of Scotland_ have not that painted form which
is the taste of this age; but it is a book which will always sell, it
has such a stability of dates, such a certainty of facts, and such a
punctuality of citation. I never before read Scotch history with
I asked him whether he would advise me to read the Bible with a
commentary, and what commentaries he would recommend. JOHNSON. 'To be
sure, Sir, I would have you read the Bible with a commentary; and I
would recommend Lowth and Patrick on the Old Testament, and Hammond on
During my stay in London this spring, I solicited his attention to
another law case, in which I was engaged. In the course of a contested
election for the Borough of Dumfermline, which I attended as one of my
friend Colonel (afterwards Sir Archibald) Campbell's counsel; one of his
political agents, who was charged with having been unfaithful to his
employer, and having deserted to the opposite party for a pecuniary
reward--attacked very rudely in a news-paper the Reverend Mr. James
Thomson, one of the ministers of that place, on account of a supposed
allusion to him in one of his sermons. Upon this the minister, on a
subsequent Sunday, arraigned him by name from the pulpit with some
severity; and the agent, after the sermon was over, rose up and asked
the minister aloud, 'What bribe he had received for telling so many lies
from the chair of verity.' I was present at this very extraordinary
scene. The person arraigned, and his father and brother, who had also
had a share both of the reproof from the pulpit, and in the retaliation,
brought an action against Mr. Thomson, in the Court of Session, for
defamation and damages, and I was one of the counsel for the reverend
defendant. The _Liberty of the Pulpit_ was our great ground of defence;
but we argued also on the provocation of the previous attack, and on the
instant retaliation. The Court of Session, however--the fifteen Judges,
who are at the same time the Jury, decided against the minister,
contrary to my humble opinion; and several of them expressed themselves
with indignation against him. He was an aged gentleman, formerly a
military chaplain, and a man of high spirit and honour. Johnson was
satisfied that the judgement was wrong, and dictated to me the following
argument in confutation of it:
'Of the censure pronounced from the pulpit, our determination must be
formed, as in other cases, by a consideration of the action itself, and
the particular circumstances with which it is invested.
'The right of censure and rebuke seems necessarily appendant to the
pastoral office. He, to whom the care of a congregation is entrusted, is
considered as the shepherd of a flock, as the teacher of a school, as
the father of a family. As a shepherd tending not his own sheep but
those of his master, he is answerable for those that stray, and that
lose themselves by straying. But no man can be answerable for losses
which he has not power to prevent, or for vagrancy which he has not
authority to restrain.
'As a teacher giving instruction for wages, and liable to reproach, if
those whom he undertakes to inform make no proficiency, he must have the
power of enforcing attendance, of awakening negligence, and repressing
'As a father, he possesses the paternal authority of admonition, rebuke,
and punishment. He cannot, without reducing his office to an empty name,
be hindered from the exercise of any practice necessary to stimulate the
idle, to reform the vicious, to check the petulant, and correct the
'If we enquire into the practice of the primitive church, we shall, I
believe, find the ministers of the word exercising the whole authority
of this complicated character. We shall find them not only encouraging
the good by exhortation, but terrifying the wicked by reproof and
denunciation. In the earliest ages of the Church, while religion was yet
pure from secular advantages, the punishment of sinners was publick
censure, and open penance; penalties inflicted merely by ecclesiastical
authority, at a time while the church had yet no help from the civil
power; while the hand of the magistrate lifted only the rod of
persecution; and when governours were ready to afford a refuge to all
those who fled from clerical authority.
'That the Church, therefore, had once a power of publick censure is
evident, because that power was frequently exercised. That it borrowed
not its power from the civil authority, is likewise certain, because
civil authority was at that time its enemy.
'The hour came at length, when after three hundred years of struggle and
distress, Truth took possession of imperial power, and the civil laws
lent their aid to the ecclesiastical constitutions. The magistrate from
that time co-operated with the priest, and clerical sentences were made
efficacious by secular force. But the State, when it came to the
assistance of the church, had no intention to diminish its authority.
Those rebukes and those censures which were lawful before, were lawful
still. But they had hitherto operated only upon voluntary submission.
The refractory and contemptuous were at first in no danger of temporal
severities, except what they might suffer from the reproaches of
conscience, or the detestation of their fellow Christians. When religion
obtained the support of law, if admonitions and censures had no effect,
they were seconded by the magistrates with coercion and punishment.
'It therefore appears from ecclesiastical history, that the right of
inflicting shame by publick censure, has been always considered as
inherent in the Church; and that this right was not conferred by the
civil power; for it was exercised when the civil power operated against
it. By the civil power it was never taken away; for the Christian
magistrate interposed his office, not to rescue sinners from censure,
but to supply more powerful means of reformation; to add pain where
shame was insufficient; and when men were proclaimed unworthy of the
society of the faithful, to restrain them by imprisonment, from
spreading abroad the contagion of wickedness.
'It is not improbable that from this acknowledged power of publick
censure, grew in time the practice of auricular confession. Those who
dreaded the blast of publick reprehension, were willing to submit
themselves to the priest, by a private accusation of themselves; and to
obtain a reconciliation with the Church by a kind of clandestine
absolution and invisible penance; conditions with which the priest would
in times of ignorance and corruption, easily comply, as they increased
his influence, by adding the knowledge of secret sins to that of
notorious offences, and enlarged his authority, by making him the sole
arbiter of the terms of reconcilement.
'From this bondage the Reformation set us free. The minister has no
longer power to press into the retirements of conscience, to torture us
by interrogatories, or put himself in possession of our secrets and our
lives. But though we have thus controlled his usurpations, his just and
original power remains unimpaired. He may still see, though he may not
pry: he may yet hear, though he may not question. And that knowledge
which his eyes and ears force upon him it is still his duty to use, for
the benefit of his flock. A father who lives near a wicked neighbour,
may forbid a son to frequent his company. A minister who has in his
congregation a man of open and scandalous wickedness, may warn his
parishioners to shun his conversation. To warn them is not only lawful,
but not to warn them would be criminal. He may warn them one by one in
friendly converse, or by a parochial visitation. But if he may warn each
man singly, what shall forbid him to warn them altogether? Of that which
is to be made known to all, how is there any difference whether it be
communicated to each singly, or to all together? What is known to all,
must necessarily be publick. Whether it shall be publick at once, or
publick by degrees, is the only question. And of a sudden and solemn
publication the impression is deeper, and the warning more effectual.
'It may easily be urged, if a minister be thus left at liberty to delate
sinners from the pulpit, and to publish at will the crimes of a
parishioner, he may often blast the innocent, and distress the timorous.
He may be suspicious, and condemn without evidence; he may be rash, and
judge without examination; he may be severe, and treat slight offences
with too much harshness; he may be malignant and partial, and gratify
his private interest or resentment under the shelter of his pastoral
'Of all this there is possibility, and of all this there is danger. But
if possibility of evil be to exclude good, no good ever can be done. If
nothing is to be attempted in which there is danger, we must all sink
into hopeless inactivity. The evils that may be feared from this
practice arise not from any defect in the institution, but from the
infirmities of human nature. Power, in whatever hands it is placed, will
be sometimes improperly exerted; yet courts of law must judge, though
they will sometimes judge amiss. A father must instruct his children,
though he himself may often want instruction. A minister must censure
sinners, though his censure may be sometimes erroneous by want of
judgement, and sometimes unjust by want of honesty.
'If we examine the circumstances of the present case, we shall find the
sentence neither erroneous nor unjust; we shall find no breach of
private confidence, no intrusion into secret transactions. The fact was
notorious and indubitable; so easy to be proved, that no proof was
desired. The act was base and treacherous, the perpetration insolent and
open, and the example naturally mischievous. The minister, however,
being retired and recluse, had not yet heard what was publickly known
throughout the parish; and on occasion of a publick election, warned his
people, according to his duty, against the crimes which publick
elections frequently produce. His warning was felt by one of his
parishioners, as pointed particularly at himself. But instead of
producing, as might be wished, private compunction and immediate
reformation, it kindled only rage and resentment. He charged his
minister, in a publick paper, with scandal, defamation, and falsehood.
The minister, thus reproached, had his own character to vindicate, upon
which his pastoral authority must necessarily depend. To be charged with
a defamatory lie is an injury which no man patiently endures in common
life. To be charged with polluting the pastoral office with scandal and
falsehood, was a violation of character still more atrocious, as it
affected not only his personal but his clerical veracity. His
indignation naturally rose in proportion to his honesty, and with all
the fortitude of injured honesty, he dared this calumniator in the
church, and at once exonerated himself from censure, and rescued his
flock from deception and from danger. The man whom he accuses pretends
not to be innocent; or at least only pretends; for he declines a trial.
The crime of which he is accused has frequent opportunities and strong
temptations. It has already spread far, with much depravation of private
morals, and much injury to publick happiness. To warn the people,
therefore, against it was not wanton and officious, but necessary and
'What then is the fault with which this worthy minister is charged? He
has usurped no dominion over conscience. He has exerted no authority in
support of doubtful and controverted opinions. He has not dragged into
light a bashful and corrigible sinner. His censure was directed against
a breach of morality, against an act which no man justifies. The man who
appropriated this censure to himself, is evidently and notoriously
guilty. His consciousness of his own wickedness incited him to attack
his faithful reprover with open insolence and printed accusations. Such
an attack made defence necessary; and we hope it will be at last decided
that the means of defence were just and lawful.'
When I read this to Mr. Burke, he was highly pleased, and exclaimed,
'Well; he does his work in a workman-like manner.'
Mr. Thomson wished to bring the cause by appeal before the House of
Lords, but was dissuaded by the advice of the noble person who lately
presided so ably in that Most Honourable House, and who was then
Attorney-General. As my readers will no doubt be glad also to read the
opinion of this eminent man upon the same subject, I shall here insert
'There is herewith laid before you,
1. Petition for the Reverend Mr. James Thomson, minister of Dumfermline.
2. Answers thereto.
3. Copy of the judgement of the Court of Session upon both.
4. Notes of the opinions of the Judges, being the reasons upon which
their decree is grounded.
'These papers you will please to peruse, and give your opinion, Whether
there is a probability of the above decree of the Court of Session's
being reversed, if Mr. Thomson should appeal from the same?'
'I don't think the appeal adviseable: not only because the value of the
judgement is in no degree adequate to the expence; but because there are
many chances, that upon the general complexion of the case, the
impression will be taken to the disadvantage of the appellant.
'It is impossible to approve the style of that sermon. But the
_complaint_ was not less ungracious from that man, who had behaved so
ill by his original libel, and, at the time, when he received the
reproach he complains of. In the last article, all the plaintiffs are
equally concerned. It struck me also with some wonder, that the Judges
should think so much fervour apposite to the occasion of reproving the
defendant for a little excess.
'Upon the matter, however, I agree with them in condemning the behaviour
of the minister; and in thinking it a subject fit for ecclesiastical
censure; and even for an action, if any individual could qualify a
wrong, and a damage arising from it. But this I doubt. The circumstance
of publishing the reproach in a pulpit, though extremely indecent, and
culpable in another view, does not constitute a different sort of wrong,
or any other rule of law, than would have obtained, if the same words
had been pronounced elsewhere. I don't know whether there be any
difference in the law of Scotland, in the definition of slander, before
the Commissaries, or the Court of Session. The common law of England
does not give way to actions for every reproachful word. An action
cannot be brought for general damages, upon any words which import less
than an offence cognisable by law; consequently no action could have
been brought here for the words in question. Both laws admit the truth
to be a justification in action _for words_; and the law of England does
the same in actions for libels. The judgement, therefore, seems to me to
have been wrong, in that the Court repelled that defence.
I am now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson's Life, which
fell under my own observation; of which _pars magna fui_, and which I
am persuaded will, with the liberal-minded, be much to his credit.
My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description,
had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr.
Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two men more different could
perhaps not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one
another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits
of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each;
for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry, which can
separate good qualities from evil in the same person.
Sir John Pringle, 'mine own friend and my Father's friend,' between whom
and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance, as I
respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to me once,
very ingeniously, 'It is not in friendship as in mathematicks, where two
things, each equal to a third, are equal between themselves. You agree
with Johnson as a middle quality, and you agree with me as a middle
quality; but Johnson and I should not agree.' Sir John was not
sufficiently flexible; so I desisted; knowing, indeed, that the
repulsion was equally strong on the part of Johnson; who, I know not
from what cause, unless his being a Scotchman, had formed a very
erroneous opinion of Sir John. But I conceived an irresistible wish, if
possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage
it, was a nice and difficult matter.
My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry, at
whose hospitable and well-covered table I have seen a greater number of
literary men, than at any other, except that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, had
invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more gentlemen on Wednesday, May
15. 'Pray (said I,) let us have Dr. Johnson.'--'What with Mr. Wilkes?
not for the world, (said Mr. Edward Dilly:) Dr. Johnson would never
forgive me.'--'Come, (said I,) if you'll let me negociate for you, I
will be answerable that all shall go well.' DILLY. 'Nay, if you will
take it upon you, I am sure I shall be very happy to see them both
Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson,
I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of
contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I
was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, 'Sir,
will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?' he would have flown into a
passion, and would probably have answered, 'Dine with Jack Wilkes, Sir!
I'd as soon dine with Jack Ketch.' I therefore, while we were sitting
quietly, by ourselves at his house in an evening, took occasion to open
my plan thus:--'Mr. Dilly, Sir, sends his respectful compliments to you,
and would be happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him on
Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him--'BOSWELL.
'Provided, Sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have, is
agreeable to you.' JOHNSON. 'What do you mean, Sir? What do you take me
for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world, as to imagine that I am
to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to have at his table?'
BOSWELL. 'I beg your pardon, Sir, for wishing to prevent you from
meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps he may have some of what
he calls his patriotick friends with him.' JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, and what
then? What care _I_ for his _patriotick friends_? Poh!' BOSWELL. 'I
should not be surprized to find Jack Wilkes there.' JOHNSON. 'And if
Jack Wilkes _should_ be there, what is that to _me_, Sir? My dear
friend, let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you;
but really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not
meet any company whatever, occasionally.' BOSWELL. 'Pray forgive me,
Sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me.' Thus I
secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well pleased to
be one of his guests on the day appointed.
Upon the much-expected Wednesday, I called on him about half an hour
before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out together, to see
that he was ready in time, and to accompany him. I found him buffeting
his books, as upon a former occasion, covered with dust, and making
no preparation for going abroad. 'How is this, Sir? (said I.) Don't you
recollect that you are to dine at Mr. Dilly's?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I did not
think of going to Dilly's: it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner
at home with Mrs. Williams.' BOSWELL, 'But, my dear Sir, you know you
were engaged to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so. He will expect you, and
will be much disappointed if you don't come.' JOHNSON. 'You must talk to
Mrs. Williams about this.'
Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I had
secured would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to shew Mrs.
Williams such a degree of humane attention, as frequently imposed some
restraint upon him; and I knew that if she should be obstinate, he would
not stir. I hastened down stairs to the blind lady's room, and told her
I was in great uneasiness, for Dr. Johnson had engaged to me to dine
this day at Mr. Dilly's, but that he had told me he had forgotten his
engagement, and had ordered dinner at home. 'Yes, Sir, (said she, pretty
peevishly,) Dr. Johnson is to dine at home,'--'Madam, (said I,) his
respect for you is such, that I know he will not leave you unless you
absolutely desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you
will be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very
worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for Dr.
Johnson, and will be vexed if the Doctor neglects him to-day. And then,
Madam, be pleased to consider my situation; I carried the message, and I
assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come, and no doubt he has made
a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted of the honour he expected
to have. I shall be quite disgraced if the Doctor is not there.' She
gradually softened to my solicitations, which were certainly as earnest
as most entreaties to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously
pleased to empower me to tell Dr. Johnson, 'That all things considered
she thought he should certainly go.' I flew back to him still in dust,
and careless of what should be the event, 'indifferent in his choice to
go or stay;' but as soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams'
consent, he roared, 'Frank, a clean shirt,' and was very soon drest.
When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I exulted as
much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with
him to set out for Gretna-Green.
When we entered Mr. Dilly's drawing room, he found himself in the midst
of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching
how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly,
'Who is that gentleman, Sir?'--'Mr. Arthur Lee.'--JOHNSON. 'Too, too,
too,' (under his breath,) which was one of his habitual mutterings.
Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was
not only a _patriot_ but an _American_. He was afterwards minister
from the United States at the court of Madrid. 'And who is the gentleman
in lace?'--'Mr. Wilkes, Sir.' This information confounded him still
more; he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book,
sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it
intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare
say, were aukward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated
me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company,
and he, therefore, resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man
of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and
manners of those whom he might chance to meet.
The cheering sound of 'Dinner is upon the table,' dissolved his reverie,
and we _all_ sat down without any symptom of ill humour. There were
present, beside Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was an old companion
of mine when he studied physick at Edinburgh, Mr. (now Sir John) Miller,
Dr. Lettsom, and Mr. Slater the druggist. Mr. Wilkes placed himself next
to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him with so much attention and
politeness, that he gained upon him insensibly. No man eat more
heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate. Mr.
Wilkes was very assiduous in helping him to some fine veal. 'Pray give
me leave, Sir:--It is better here--A little of the brown--Some fat,
Sir--A little of the stuffing--Some gravy--Let me have the pleasure of
giving you some butter--Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this
orange;--or the lemon, perhaps, may have more zest.'--'Sir, Sir, I am
obliged to you, Sir,' cried Johnson, bowing, and turning--his head to
him with a look for some time of 'surly virtue,' but, in a short
while, of complacency.
Foote being mentioned, Johnson said. 'He is not a good mimick.' One
of the company added, 'A merry Andrew, a buffoon.' JOHNSON. 'But he has
wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of
imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up
his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of
escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he's gone, Sir,
when you think you have got him--like an animal that jumps over your
head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand
between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is
under many restraints from which Foote is free.' WILKES. 'Garrick's
wit is more like Lord Chesterfield's.' JOHNSON. 'The first time I was in
company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the
fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to
please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty
sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical,
that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon
my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir, he was irresistible. He
upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy
of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which
he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small-beer brewer,
and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers
amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his
small-beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink
it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid
of offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a
companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a
favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and
having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to
inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that
they would drink Foote's small-beer no longer. On that day Foote
happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and this boy served at table; he was
so delighted with Foote's stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when
he went down stairs, he told them, "This is the finest man I have ever
seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small-beer."'
Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES.
'Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now leaving
the stage; but he will play _Scrub_ all his life.' I knew that
Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as Garrick once
said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so to bring out
his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, 'I have heard
Garrick is liberal.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, I know that Garrick has
given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with,
and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he
began life; so when he came to have money, he probably was very
unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick
began to be liberal as soon as he could; and I am of opinion, the
reputation of avarice which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and
prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do
not hate him. Garrick might have been much better attacked for living
with more splendour than is suitable to a player: if they had had the
wit to have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him
more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has rescued
him from much obloquy and envy.'
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information for
biography, Johnson told us, 'When I was a young fellow I wanted to
write the _Life of Dryden_, and in order to get materials, I applied to
the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old
Swinney and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this,
"That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself,
which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his
winter-chair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in
summer, and was then called his summer-chair." Cibber could tell no more
but "That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical
disputes at Will's." You are to consider that Cibber was then at a
great distance from Dryden, had perhaps one leg only in the room, and
durst not draw in the other.' BOSWELL. 'Yet Cibber was a man of
observation?' JOHNSON. 'I think not.' BOSWELL. 'You will allow his
_Apology_ to be well done.' JOHNSON. 'Very well done, to be sure,
Sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:
"Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand."
BOSWELL. 'And his plays are good.' JOHNSON. 'Yes; but that was his
trade; _l'esprit du corps_; he had been all his life among players and
play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in
conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can
be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then shewed me an Ode of
his own, with an absurd couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle's
wing. I told him that when the ancients made a simile, they always
made it like something real.'
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that 'among all the bold flights of Shakspeare's
imagination, the boldest was making Birnamwood march to Dunsinane;
creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland! ha!
ha! ha!' And he also observed, that 'the clannish slavery of the
Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of
"The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty," being worshipped in all hilly
countries.'--'When I was at Inverary (said he,) on a visit to my old
friend, Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on
being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, "It is then, gentlemen,
truely lucky for me; for if I had displeased the Duke, and he had wished
it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring
John Wilkes's head to him in a charger. It would have been only
'"'Off with his head! So much for Aylesbury.'"
'I was then member for Aylesbury.'
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's
_Art of Poetry_, '_Difficile est proprie communia dicere_.' Mr.
Wilkes according to my note, gave the interpretation thus; 'It is
difficult to speak with propriety of common things; as, if a poet had to
speak of Queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the
vulgarity of cups and saucers.' But upon reading my note, he tells me
that he meant to say, that 'the word _communia_, being a Roman law term,
signifies here things _communis juris_, that is to say, what have never
yet been treated by any body; and this appears clearly from what
Rectius Iliacum carmen deducis in actus
Quam si proferres ignota indictaque primus."
'You will easier make a tragedy out of the _Iliad_ than on any subject
not handled before.' JOHNSON. 'He means that it is difficult to
appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all
mankind, as Homer has done.'
WILKES. 'We have no City-Poet now: that is an office which has gone into
disuse. The last was Elkanah Settle. There is something in _names_ which
one cannot help feeling. Now _Elkanah Settle_ sounds so _queer_, who can
expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for
John Dryden, in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only,
without knowing their different merits.' JOHNSON. 'I suppose, Sir,
Settle did as well for Aldermen in his time, as John Home could do now.
Where did Beckford and Trecothick learn English?'
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a
barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The _Scotch_ would not know it
to be barren.' BOSWELL. 'Come, come, he is flattering the English. You
have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and
drink enough there.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to
give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.' All
these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and
with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he
and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union
between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited
Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of
those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused
themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a
superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be
arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him;
but there must first be the judgement of a court of law ascertaining its
justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgement is obtained,
can take place only, if his creditor should swear that he is about to
fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is _in
meditatione fugae_: WILKES. 'That, I should think, may be safely sworn
of all the Scotch nation.' JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes) 'You must know, Sir,
I lately took my friend Boswell and shewed him genuine civilised life in
an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native
city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know he lives
among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.' WILKES. 'Except
when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me.' JOHNSON,
(smiling) 'And we ashamed of him.'
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his asking
Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the
ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said
to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, 'You saw Mr. Wilkes
acquiesced.' Wilkes talked with all imaginable freedom of the ludicrous
title given to the Attorney-General, _Diabolus Regis_; adding, 'I have
reason to know something about that officer; for I was prosecuted for a
libel.' Johnson, who many people would have supposed must have been
furiously angry at hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word.
He was now, _indeed_, 'a good-humoured fellow.'
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady,
well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. Amidst some
patriotick groans, somebody (I think the Alderman) said, 'Poor old
England is lost.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that
Old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it.' WILKES. 'Had
Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I should not have taken the trouble to
write his eulogy, and dedicate _Mortimer_ to him.'
Mr. Wilkes held a candle to shew a fine print of a beautiful female
figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour of
the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He afterwards, in a
conversation with me, waggishly insisted, that all the time Johnson
shewed visible signs of a fervent admiration of the corresponding charms
of the fair Quaker.
This record, though by no means so perfect as I could wish, will serve
to give a notion of a very curious interview, which was not only
pleasing at the time, but had the agreeable and benignant effect of
reconciling any animosity, and sweetening any acidity, which in the
various bustle of political contest, had been produced in the minds of
two men, who though widely different, had so many things in
common--classical learning, modern literature, wit, and humour, and
ready repartee--that it would have been much to be regretted if they had
been for ever at a distance from each other.
Mr. Burke gave me much credit for this successful _negociation_; and
pleasantly said, that 'there was nothing to equal it in the whole
history of the _Corps Diplomatique_'.
I attended Dr. Johnson home, and had the satisfaction to hear him tell
Mrs. Williams how much he had been pleased with Mr. Wilkes's company,
and what an agreeable day he had passed.
I talked a good deal to him of the celebrated Margaret Caroline Rudd,
whom I had visited, induced by the fame of her talents, address, and
irresistible power of fascination. To a lady who disapproved of my
visiting her, he said on a former occasion, 'Nay, Madam, Boswell is
in the right; I should have visited her myself, were it not that they
have now a trick of putting every thing into the news-papers.' This
evening he exclaimed, 'I envy him his acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd.'
I mentioned a scheme which I had of making a tour to the Isle of Man,
and giving a full account of it; and that Mr. Burke had playfully
suggested as a motto,
'The proper study of mankind is MAN.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, you will get more by the book than the jaunt will cost
you; so you will have your diversion for nothing, and add to your
On the evening of the next day I took leave of him, being to set out for
Scotland. I thanked him with great warmth for all his kindness. 'Sir,
(said he,) you are very welcome. Nobody repays it with more.'
How very false is the notion which has gone round the world of the
rough, and passionate, and harsh manners of this great and good man.
That he had occasional sallies of heat of temper, and that he was
sometimes, perhaps, too 'easily provoked' by absurdity and folly, and
sometimes too desirous of triumph in colloquial contest, must be
allowed. The quickness both of his perception and sensibility disposed
him to sudden explosions of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness
of wit was a strong and almost irresistible incitement. To adopt one of
the finest images in Mr. Home's _Douglas_,
'On each glance of thought
Decision followed, as the thunderbolt
Pursues the flash!'
I admit that the beadle within him was often so eager to apply the lash,
that the Judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient
That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may be
granted: but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be supposed
that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a club in his hand,
to knock down every one who approached him. On the contrary, the truth
is, that by much the greatest part of his time he was civil, obliging,
nay, polite in the true sense of the word; so much so, that many
gentlemen, who were long acquainted with him, never received, or even
heard a strong expression from him.
The following letters concerning an Epitaph which he wrote for the
monument of Dr. Goldsmith, in Westminster-Abbey, afford at once a proof
of his unaffected modesty, his carelessness as to his own writings, and
of the great respect which he entertained for the taste and judgement of
the excellent and eminent person to whom they are addressed:
'TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.