Part 3 out of 12
and I maintained, 'that no man should be invested with the character of
a clergyman, unless he has a security for such an income as will enable
him to appear respectable; that, therefore, a clergyman should not be
allowed to have a curate, unless he gives him a hundred pounds a year;
if he cannot do that, let him perform the duty himself.' JOHNSON. 'To be
sure, Sir, it is wrong that any clergyman should be without a reasonable
income; but as the church revenues were sadly diminished at the
Reformation, the clergy who have livings cannot afford, in many
instances, to give good salaries to curates, without leaving themselves
too little; and, if no curate were to be permitted unless he had a
hundred pounds a year, their number would be very small, which would be
a disadvantage, as then there would not be such choice in the nursery
for the church, curates being candidates for the higher ecclesiastical
offices, according to their merit and good behaviour.' He explained the
system of the English Hierarchy exceedingly well. 'It is not thought fit
(said he) to trust a man with the care of a parish till he has given
proof as a curate that he shall deserve such a trust.' This is an
excellent _theory_; and if the _practice_ were according to it, the
Church of England would be admirable indeed. However, as I have heard
Dr. Johnson observe as to the Universities, bad practice does not infer
that the _constitution_ is bad.
We had with us at dinner several of Dr. Taylor's neighbours, good civil
gentlemen, who seemed to understand Dr. Johnson very well, and not to
consider him in the light that a certain person did, who being
struck, or rather stunned by his voice and manner, when he was
afterwards asked what he thought of him, answered, 'He's a tremendous
Johnson told me, that 'Taylor was a very sensible acute man, and had a
strong mind; that he had great activity in some respects, and yet
such a sort of indolence, that if you should put a pebble upon his
chimney-piece, you would find it there, in the same state, a year
And here is the proper place to give an account of Johnson's humane and
zealous interference in behalf of the Reverend Dr. William Dodd,
formerly Prebendary of Brecon, and chaplain in ordinary to his
Majesty; celebrated as a very popular preacher, an encourager of
charitable institutions, and authour of a variety of works, chiefly
theological. Having unhappily contracted expensive habits of living,
partly occasioned by licentiousness of manners, he in an evil hour, when
pressed by want of money, and dreading an exposure of his circumstances,
forged a bond of which he attempted to avail himself to support his
credit, flattering himself with hopes that he might be able to repay its
amount without being detected. The person, whose name he thus rashly and
criminally presumed to falsify, was the Earl of Chesterfield, to whom
he had been tutor, and who, he perhaps, in the warmth of his feelings,
flattered himself would have generously paid the money in case of an
alarm being taken, rather than suffer him to fall a victim to the
dreadful consequences of violating the law against forgery, the most
dangerous crime in a commercial country; but the unfortunate divine had
the mortification to find that he was mistaken. His noble pupil appeared
against him, and he was capitally convicted.
Johnson told me that Dr. Dodd was very little acquainted with him,
having been but once in his company, many years previous to this
period (which was precisely the state of my own acquaintance with
Dodd); but in his distress he bethought himself of Johnson's persuasive
power of writing, if haply it might avail to obtain for him the Royal
Mercy. He did not apply to him, directly, but, extraordinary as it may
seem, through the late Countess of Harrington, who wrote a letter to
Johnson, asking him to employ his pen in favour of Dodd. Mr. Allen, the
printer, who was Johnson's landlord and next neighbour in Bolt-court,
and for whom he had much kindness, was one of Dodd's friends, of whom
to the credit of humanity be it recorded, that he had many who did not
desert him, even after his infringement of the law had reduced him to
the state of a man under sentence of death. Mr. Allen told me that he
carried Lady Harrington's letter to Johnson, that Johnson read it
walking up and down his chamber, and seemed much agitated, after which
he said, 'I will do what I can;'--and certainly he did make
He this evening, as he had obligingly promised in one of his letters,
put into my hands the whole series of his writings upon this melancholy
occasion, and I shall present my readers with the abstract which I made
from the collection; in doing which I studied to avoid copying what had
appeared in print, and now make part of the edition of _Johnson's
Works_, published by the Booksellers of London, but taking care to mark
Johnson's variations in some of the pieces there exhibited.
Dr. Johnson wrote in the first place, Dr. Dodd's _Speech to the Recorder
of London_, at the Old-Bailey, when sentence of death was about to be
pronounced upon him.
He wrote also _The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren_, a sermon
delivered by Dr. Dodd, in the chapel of Newgate.
According to Johnson's manuscript it began thus after the text, _What
shall I do to be saved?_--
'These were the words with which the keeper, to whose custody Paul and
Silas were committed by their prosecutors, addressed his prisoners, when
he saw them freed from their bonds by the perceptible agency of divine
favour, and was, therefore, irresistibly convinced that they were not
offenders against the laws, but martyrs to the truth.'
Dr. Johnson was so good as to mark for me with his own hand, on a copy
of this sermon which is now in my possession, such passages as were
added by Dr. Dodd. They are not many: whoever will take the trouble to
look at the printed copy, and attend to what I mention, will be
satisfied of this.
There is a short introduction by Dr. Dodd, and he also inserted this
sentence, 'You see with what confusion and dishonour I now stand before
you;--no more in the pulpit of instruction, but on this humble seat with
yourselves.' The _notes_ are entirely Dodd's own, and Johnson's writing
ends at the words, 'the thief whom he pardoned on the cross.' What
follows was supplied by Dr. Dodd himself.
The other pieces mentioned by Johnson in the above-mentioned collection,
are two letters, one to the Lord Chancellor Bathurst, (not Lord North,
as is erroneously supposed,) and one to Lord Mansfield;--A Petition from
Dr. Dodd to the King;--A Petition from Mrs. Dodd to the Queen;--
Observations of some length inserted in the news-papers, on occasion of
Earl Percy's having presented to his Majesty a petition for mercy to
Dodd, signed by twenty thousand people, but all in vain. He told me that
he had also written a petition from the city of London; 'but (said he,
with a significant smile) they _mended_ it.' The last of these
articles which Johnson wrote is _Dr. Dodd's last solemn Declaration_,
which he left with the sheriff at the place of execution. Here also my
friend marked the variations on a copy of that piece now in my
possession. Dodd inserted, 'I never knew or attended to the calls of
frugality, or the needful minuteness of painful oeconomy;' and in the
next sentence he introduced the words which I distinguish by _Italicks_;
'My life for some _few unhappy_ years past has been _dreadfully
erroneous_.' Johnson's expression was _hypocritical_; but his remark on
the margin is 'With this he said he could not charge himself.'
Having thus authentically settled what part of the _Occasional Papers_,
concerning Dr. Dodd's miserable situation, came from the pen of Johnson,
I shall proceed to present my readers with my record of the unpublished
writings relating to that extraordinary and interesting matter.
I found a letter to Dr. Johnson from Dr. Dodd, May 23, 1777, in which
_The Convict's Address_ seems clearly to be meant:--
'I am so penetrated, my ever dear Sir, with a sense of your extreme
benevolence towards me, that I cannot find words equal to the sentiments
of my heart.
* * * * *
'You are too conversant in the world to need the slightest hint from me,
of what infinite utility the Speech on the aweful day has been to me.
I experience, every hour, some good effect from it. I am sure that
effects still more salutary and important must follow from _your kind
and intended favour_. I will labour--GOD being my helper,--to do justice
to it from the pulpit. I am sure, had I your sentiments constantly to
deliver from thence, in all their mighty force and power, not a soul
could be left unconvinced and unpersuaded.'
* * * * *
'May GOD ALMIGHTY bless and reward, with his choicest comforts, your
philanthropick actions, and enable me at all times to express what I
feel of the high and uncommon obligations which I owe to the _first man_
in our times.'
On Sunday, June 22, he writes, begging Dr. Johnson's assistance in
framing a supplicatory letter to his Majesty:--
'If his Majesty could be moved of his royal clemency to spare me and my
family the horrours and ignominy of a _publick death_, which the publick
itself is solicitous to wave, and to grant me in some silent distant
corner of the globe, to pass the remainder of my days in penitence and
prayer, I would bless his clemency and be humbled.'
This letter was brought to Dr. Johnson when in church. He stooped down
and read it, and wrote, when he went home, the following letter for Dr.
Dodd to the King:--
'May it not offend your Majesty, that the most miserable of men applies
himself to your clemency, as his last hope and his last refuge; that
your mercy is most earnestly and humbly implored by a clergyman, whom
your Laws and Judges have condemned to the horrour and ignominy of a
'I confess the crime, and own the enormity of its consequences, and the
danger of its example. Nor have I the confidence to petition for
impunity; but humbly hope, that publick security may be established,
without the spectacle of a clergyman dragged through the streets, to a
death of infamy, amidst the derision of the profligate and profane; and
that justice may be satisfied with irrevocable exile, perpetual
disgrace, and hopeless penury.
'My life, Sir, has not been useless to mankind. I have benefited many.
But my offences against GOD are numberless, and I have had little time
for repentance. Preserve me, Sir, by your prerogative of mercy, from the
necessity of appearing unprepared at that tribunal, before which Kings
and Subjects must stand at last together. Permit me to hide my guilt in
some obscure corner of a foreign country, where, if I can ever attain
confidence to hope that my prayers will be heard, they shall be poured
with all the fervour of gratitude for the life and happiness of your
Majesty. I am, Sir,
'Your Majesty's, &c.'
Subjoined to it was written as follows:
'To DR. DODD.
'I most seriously enjoin you not to let it be at all known that I have
written this letter, and to return the copy to Mr. Allen in a cover to
me. I hope I need not tell you, that I wish it success.--But do not
indulge hope.--Tell nobody.'
It happened luckily that Mr. Allen was pitched on to assist in this
melancholy office, for he was a great friend of Mr. Akerman, the keeper
of Newgate. Dr. Johnson never went to see Dr. Dodd. He said to me, 'it
would have done _him_ more harm, than good to Dodd, who once expressed a
desire to see him, but not earnestly.'
Dr. Johnson, on the 20th of June, wrote the following letter:
'To THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES JENKINSON.
'Since the conviction and condemnation of Dr. Dodd, I have had, by the
intervention of a friend, some intercourse with him, and I am sure I
shall lose nothing in your opinion by tenderness and commiseration.
Whatever be the crime, it is not easy to have any knowledge of the
delinquent, without a wish that his life may be spared; at least when no
life has been taken away by him. I will, therefore, take the liberty of
suggesting some reasons for which I wish this unhappy being to escape
the utmost rigour of his sentence.
'He is, so far as I can recollect, the first clergyman of our church who
has suffered publick execution for immorality; and I know not whether it
would not be more for the interest of religion to bury such an offender
in the obscurity of perpetual exile, than to expose him in a cart, and
on the gallows, to all who for any reason are enemies to the clergy.
'The supreme power has, in all ages, paid some attention to the voice of
the people; and that voice does not least deserve to be heard, when it
calls out for mercy. There is now a very general desire that Dodd's life
should be spared. More is not wished; and, perhaps, this is not too much
to be granted.
'If you, Sir, have any opportunity of enforcing these reasons, you may,
perhaps, think them worthy of consideration: but whatever you determine,
I most respectfully intreat that you will be pleased to pardon for this
'Your most obedient
'And most humble servant,
It has been confidently circulated, with invidious remarks, that to this
letter no attention whatever was paid by Mr. Jenkinson (afterwards Earl
of Liverpool), and that he did not even deign to shew the common
civility of owning the receipt of it. I could not but wonder at such
conduct in the noble Lord, whose own character and just elevation in
life, I thought, must have impressed him with all due regard for great
abilities and attainments. As the story had been much talked of, and
apparently from good authority, I could not but have animadverted upon
it in this work, had it been as was alleged; but from my earnest love of
truth, and having found reason to think that there might be a mistake, I
presumed to write to his Lordship, requesting an explanation; and it is
with the sincerest pleasure that I am enabled to assure the world, that
there is no foundation for it, the fact being, that owing to some
neglect, or accident, Johnson's letter never came to Lord Hawkesbury's
hands. I should have thought it strange indeed, if that noble Lord had
undervalued my illustrious friend; but instead of this being the case,
his Lordship, in the very polite answer with which he was pleased
immediately to honour me, thus expresses himself:--'I have always
respected the memory of Dr. Johnson, and admire his writings; and I
frequently read many parts of them with pleasure and great improvement.'
All applications for the Royal Mercy having failed, Dr. Dodd prepared
himself for death; and, with a warmth of gratitude, wrote to Dr. Johnson
'June 25, _Midnight_.
'Accept, thou _great_ and _good_ heart, my earnest and fervent thanks
and prayers for all thy benevolent and kind efforts in my behalf.--Oh!
Dr. Johnson! as I sought your knowledge at an early hour in life, would
to heaven I had cultivated the love and acquaintance of so excellent a
man!--I pray GOD most sincerely to bless you with the highest
transports--the infelt satisfaction of _humane_ and benevolent
exertions!--And admitted, as I trust I shall be, to the realms of bliss
before you, I shall hail _your_ arrival there with transports, and
rejoice to acknowledge that you was my Comforter, my Advocate and my
_Friend_! GOD _be ever_ with _you_!'
Dr. Johnson lastly wrote to Dr. Dodd this solemn and soothing
'To THE REVEREND DR. DODD.
'That which is appointed to all men is now coming upon you. Outward
circumstances, the eyes and the thoughts of men, are below the notice of
an immortal being about to stand the trial for eternity, before the
Supreme Judge of heaven and earth. Be comforted: your crime, morally or
religiously considered, has no very deep dye of turpitude. It corrupted
no man's principles; it attacked no man's life. It involved only a
temporary and reparable injury. Of this, and of all other sins, you are
earnestly to repent; and may GOD, who knoweth our frailty, and desireth
not our death, accept your repentance, for the sake of his Son JESUS
CHRIST our Lord.
'In requital of those well-intended offices which you are pleased so
emphatically to acknowledge, let me beg that you make in your devotions
one petition for my eternal welfare. I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate servant,
'June 26, 1777.'
Under the copy of this letter I found written, in Johnson's own hand,
'Next day, June 27, he was executed.'
To conclude this interesting episode with an useful application, let us
now attend to the reflections of Johnson at the end of the _Occasional
Papers_, concerning the unfortunate Dr. Dodd:
'Such were the last thoughts of a man whom we have seen exulting in
popularity, and sunk in shame. For his reputation, which no man can give
to himself, those who conferred it are to answer. Of his publick
ministry the means of judging were sufficiently attainable. He must be
allowed to preach well, whose sermons strike his audience with forcible
conviction. Of his life, those who thought it consistent with his
doctrine, did not originally form false notions. He was at first what he
endeavoured to make others; but the world broke down his resolution, and
he in time ceased to exemplify his own instructions.
'Let those who are tempted to his faults, tremble at his punishment; and
those whom he impressed from the pulpit with religious sentiments,
endeavour to confirm them, by considering the regret and self-abhorrence
with which he reviewed in prison his deviations from rectitude.'
Johnson gave us this evening, in his happy discriminative manner, a
portrait of the late Mr. Fitzherbert, of Derbyshire. 'There was (said
he) no sparkle, no brilliancy in Fitzherbert; but I never knew a man who
was so generally acceptable. He made every body quite easy,
overpowered nobody by the superiority of his talents, made no man think
worse of himself by being his rival, seemed always to listen, did not
oblige you to hear much from him, and did not oppose what you said.
Every body liked him; but he had no friend, as I understand the word,
nobody with whom he exchanged intimate thoughts. People were willing
to think well of every thing about him. A gentleman was making an
affected rant, as many people do, of great feelings about "his dear
son," who was at school near London; how anxious he was lest he might be
ill, and what he would give to see him. "Can't you (said Fitzherbert,)
take a post-chaise and go to him." This, to be sure, _finished_ the
affected man, but there was not much in it. However, this was
circulated as wit for a whole winter, and I believe part of a summer
too; a proof that he was no very witty man. He was an instance of the
truth of the observation, that a man will please more upon the whole by
negative qualities than by positive; by never offending, than by giving
a great deal of delight. In the first place, men hate more steadily than
they love; and if I have said something to hurt a man once, I shall not
get the better of this, by saying many things to please him.'
Tuesday, September 16, Dr. Johnson having mentioned to me the
extraordinary size and price of some cattle reared by Dr. Taylor, I rode
out with our host, surveyed his farm, and was shown one cow which he had
sold for a hundred and twenty guineas, and another for which he had been
offered a hundred and thirty. Taylor thus described to me his old
schoolfellow and friend, Johnson: 'He is a man of a very clear head,
great power of words, and a very gay imagination; but there is no
disputing with him. He will not hear you, and having a louder voice than
you, must roar you down.'
In the afternoon I tried to get Dr. Johnson to like the Poems of Mr.
Hamilton of Bangour, which I had brought with me: I had been much
pleased with them at a very early age; the impression still remained on
my mind; it was confirmed by the opinion of my friend the Honourable
Andrew Erskine, himself both a good poet and a good critick, who
thought Hamilton as true a poet as ever wrote, and that his not having
fame was unaccountable. Johnson, upon repeated occasions, while I was at
Ashbourne, talked slightingly of Hamilton. He said there was no power of
thinking in his verses, nothing that strikes one, nothing better than
what you generally find in magazines; and that the highest praise they
deserved was, that they were very well for a gentleman to hand about
among his friends. He said the imitation of _Ne sit ancillae tibi
amor_, &c. was too solemn; he read part of it at the beginning. He
read the beautiful pathetick song, _Ah the poor shepherd's mournful
fate_, and did not seem to give attention to what I had been used to
think tender elegant strains, but laughed at the rhyme, in Scotch
pronunciation, _wishes and blushes_, reading _wushes_--and there he
stopped. He owned that the epitaph on Lord Newhall was pretty well done.
He read the _Inscription in a Summer-house_, and a little of the
imitations of Horace's _Epistles_; but said he found nothing to make him
desire to read on. When I urged that there were some good poetical
passages in the book. 'Where (said he,) will you find so large a
collection without some?' I thought the description of Winter might
obtain his approbation:
'See Winter, from the frozen north
Drives his iron chariot forth!
His grisly hand in icy chains
Fair Tweeda's silver flood constrains,' &c.
He asked why an '_iron_ chariot'? and said 'icy chains' was an old
image. I was struck with the uncertainty of taste, and somewhat sorry
that a poet whom I had long read with fondness, was not approved by Dr.
Johnson. I comforted myself with thinking that the beauties were too
delicate for his robust perceptions. Garrick maintained that he had not
a taste for the finest productions of genius: but I was sensible, that
when he took the trouble to analyse critically, he generally convinced
us that he was right.
In the evening, the Reverend Mr. Seward, of Lichfield, who was
passing through Ashbourne in his way home, drank tea with us. Johnson
described him thus:--'Sir, his ambition is to be a fine talker; so he
goes to Buxton, and such places, where he may find companies to listen
to him. And, Sir, he is valetudinarian, one of those who are always
mending themselves. I do not know a more disagreeable character than a
valetudinarian, who thinks he may do any thing that is for his ease, and
indulges himself in the grossest freedoms: Sir, he brings himself to the
state of a hog in a stye.'
Dr. Taylor's nose happening to bleed, he said, it was because he had
omitted to have himself blooded four days after a quarter of a year's
interval. Dr. Johnson, who was a great dabbler in physick,
disapproved much of periodical bleeding. 'For (said he) you accustom
yourself to an evacuation which Nature cannot perform of herself, and
therefore she cannot help you, should you, from forgetfulness or any
other cause, omit it; so you may be suddenly suffocated. You may
accustom yourself to other periodical evacuations, because should you
omit them, Nature can supply the omission; but Nature cannot open a vein
to blood you.'--'I do not like to take an emetick, (said Taylor,) for
fear of breaking some small vessels.'--'Poh! (said Johnson,) if you have
so many things that will break, you had better break your neck at once,
and there's an end on't. You will break no small vessels' (blowing with
I mentioned to Dr. Johnson, that David Hume's persisting in his
infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much. JOHNSON. 'Why should it
shock you, Sir? Hume owned he had never read the New Testament with
attention. Here then was a man, who had been at no pains to inquire into
the truth of religion, and had continually turned his mind the other
way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of death would alter
his way of thinking, unless GOD should send an angel to set him right.'
I said, I had reason to believe that the thought of annihilation gave
Hume no pain. JOHNSON. 'It was not so, Sir. He had a vanity in being
thought easy. It is more probable that he should assume an appearance of
ease, than that so very improbable a thing should be, as a man not
afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive theory, he cannot be sure
but he may go,) into an unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving
all he knew. And you are to consider, that upon his own principle of
annihilation he had no motive to speak the truth.' The horrour of death
which I had always observed in Dr. Johnson, appeared strong to-night. I
ventured to tell him, that I had been, for moments in my life, not
afraid of death; therefore I could suppose another man in that state of
mind for a considerable space of time. He said, 'he never had a moment
in which death was not terrible to him.' He added, that it had been
observed, that scarce any man dies in publick, but with apparent
resolution; from that desire of praise which never quits us. I said, Dr.
Dodd seemed to be willing to die, and full of hopes of happiness. 'Sir,
(said he,) Dr. Dodd would have given both his hands and both his legs to
have lived. The better a man is, the more afraid he is of death, having
a clearer view of infinite purity.' He owned, that our being in an
unhappy uncertainty as to our salvation, was mysterious; and said, 'Ah!
we must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things
explained to us.' Even the powerful mind of Johnson seemed foiled by
futurity. But I thought, that the gloom of uncertainty in solemn
religious speculation, being mingled with hope, was yet more consolatory
than the emptiness of infidelity. A man can live in thick air, but
perishes in an exhausted receiver.
Dr. Johnson was much pleased with a remark which I told him was made to
me by General Paoli:--'That it is impossible not to be afraid of death;
and that those who at the time of dying are not afraid, are not thinking
of death, but of applause, or something else, which keeps death out of
their sight: so that all men are equally afraid of death when they see
it; only some have a power of turning their sight away from it better
On Wednesday, September 17, Dr. Butter, physician at Derby, drank tea
with us; and it was settled that Dr. Johnson and I should go on Friday
and dine with him. Johnson said, 'I'm glad of this.' He seemed weary of
the uniformity of life at Dr. Taylor's.
Talking of biography, I said, in writing a life, a man's peculiarities
should be mentioned, because they mark his character. JOHNSON. 'Sir,
there is no doubt as to peculiarities: the question is, whether a man's
vices should be mentioned; for instance, whether it should be mentioned
that Addison and Parnell drank too freely: for people will probably more
easily indulge in drinking from knowing this; so that more ill may be
done by the example, than good by telling the whole truth.' Here was
an instance of his varying from himself in talk; for when Lord Hailes
and he sat one morning calmly conversing in my house at Edinburgh, I
well remember that Dr. Johnson maintained, that 'If a man is to write A
_Panegyrick_, he may keep vices out of sight; but if he professes to
write _A Life_, he must represent it really as it was:' and when I
objected to the danger of telling that Parnell drank to excess, he said,
that 'it would produce an instructive caution to avoid drinking, when it
was seen, that even the learning and genius of Parnell could be debased
by it.' And in the Hebrides he maintained, as appears from my
_Journal_, that a man's intimate friend should mention his faults, if
he writes his life.
He had this evening, partly, I suppose, from the spirit of contradiction
to his Whig friend, a violent argument with Dr. Taylor, as to the
inclinations of the people of England at this time towards the Royal
Family of Stuart. He grew so outrageous as to say, 'that, if England
were fairly polled, the present King would be sent away to-night, and
his adherents hanged to-morrow.' Taylor, who was as violent a Whig as
Johnson was a Tory, was roused by this to a pitch of bellowing. He
denied, loudly, what Johnson said; and maintained, that there was an
abhorrence against the Stuart family, though he admitted that the people
were not much attached to the present King. JOHNSON. 'Sir, the state
of the country is this: the people knowing it to be agreed on all hands
that this King has not the hereditary right to the crown, and there
being no hope that he who has it can be restored, have grown cold and
indifferent upon the subject of loyalty, and have no warm attachment to
any King. They would not, therefore, risk any thing to restore the
exiled family. They would not give twenty shillings a piece to bring it
about. But, if a mere vote could do it, there would be twenty to one; at
least, there would be a very great majority of voices for it. For, Sir,
you are to consider, that all those who think a King has a right to his
crown, as a man has to his estate, which is the just opinion, would be
for restoring the King who certainly has the hereditary right, could he
be trusted with it; in which there would be no danger now, when laws and
every thing else are so much advanced: and every King will govern by the
laws. And you must also consider, Sir, that there is nothing on the
other side to oppose to this; for it is not alleged by any one that the
present family has any inherent right: so that the Whigs could not
have a contest between two rights.'
Dr. Taylor admitted, that if the question as to hereditary right were to
be tried by a poll of the people of England, to be sure the abstract
doctrine would be given in favour of the family of Stuart; but he said,
the conduct of that family, which occasioned their expulsion, was so
fresh in the minds of the people, that they would not vote for a
restoration. Dr. Johnson, I think, was contented with the admission as
to the hereditary right, leaving the original point in dispute, _viz_.
what the people upon the whole would do, taking in right and affection;
for he said, people were afraid of a change, even though they think it
right. Dr. Taylor said something of the slight foundation of the
hereditary right, of the house of Stuart. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) the
house of Stuart succeeded to the full right of both the houses of York
and Lancaster, whose common source had the undisputed right. A right to
a throne is like a right to any thing else. Possession is sufficient,
where no better right can be shown. This was the case with the Royal
Family of England, as it is now with the King of France: for as to the
first beginning of the right, we are in the dark.'
Thursday, September 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that the
crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor's large room, should be
lighted up some time or other. Taylor said, it should be lighted up next
night. 'That will do very well, (said I,) for it is Dr. Johnson's
birth-day.' When we were in the Isle of Sky, Johnson had desired me
not to mention his birth-day. He did not seem pleased at this time that
I mentioned it, and said (somewhat sternly) 'he would _not_ have the
lustre lighted the next day.'
Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his
birth-day, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally, by
wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birth-day
mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching nearer
to death, of which he had a constant dread.
I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low
spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly
placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. 'Sir,
(said Johnson,) this is only a disordered imagination taking a different
We talked of a collection being made of all the English Poets who had
published a volume of poems. Johnson told me 'that a Mr. Coxeter,
whom he knew, had gone the greatest length towards this; having
collected, I think, about five hundred volumes of poets whose works were
little known; but that upon his death Tom Osborne bought them, and
they were dispersed, which he thought a pity, as it was curious to see
any series complete; and in every volume of poems something good may be
He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into a
bad style of poetry of late. 'He puts (said he) a very common thing
in a strange dress till he does not know it himself, and thinks other
people do not know it.' BOSWELL. 'That is owing to his being so much
versant in old English poetry.' JOHNSON. 'What is the purpose, Sir?
If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much
drink, the matter is not mended. No, Sir, ---- has taken to an odd mode.
For example; he'd write thus:
"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray."
_Gray evening_ is common enough; but _evening gray_ he'd think
fine.--Stay;--we'll make out the stanza:
"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray;
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
What is bliss? and which the way?"'
BOSWELL. 'But why smite his bosom, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why to shew he was in
earnest,' (smiling).--He at an after period added the following stanza:
'Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh'd;
--Scarce repress'd the starting tear;--
When the smiling sage reply'd--
--Come, my lad, and drink some beer.'
I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also
the three first lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent
burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental enquirers. And, perhaps, the
advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited dissatisfied
being:--'Don't trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and
Friday, September 19, after breakfast Dr. Johnson and I set out in Dr.
Taylor's chaise to go to Derby. The day was fine, and we resolved to go
by Keddlestone, the seat of Lord Scarsdale, that I might see his
Lordship's fine house. I was struck with the magnificence of the
building; and the extensive park, with the finest verdure, covered with
deer, and cattle, and sheep, delighted me. The number of old oaks, of an
immense size, filled me with a sort of respectful admiration: for one of
them sixty pounds was offered. The excellent smooth gravel roads; the
large piece of water formed by his Lordship from some small brooks, with
a handsome barge upon it; the venerable Gothick church, now the family
chapel, just by the house; in short, the grand group of objects agitated
and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner. 'One should think
(said I) that the proprietor of all this _must_ be happy.'--'Nay, Sir,
(said Johnson,) all this excludes but one evil--poverty.'
Our names were sent up, and a well-drest elderly housekeeper, a most
distinct articulator, shewed us the house; which I need not describe, as
there is an account of it published in _Adam's Works in Architecture_.
Dr. Johnson thought better of it to-day than when he saw it before;
for he had lately attacked it violently, saying, 'It would do
excellently for a town-hall. The large room with the pillars (said he)
would do for the Judges to sit in at the assizes; the circular room for
a jury-chamber; and the room above for prisoners.' Still he thought the
large room ill lighted, and of no use but for dancing in; and the
bed-chambers but indifferent rooms; and that the immense sum which it
cost was injudiciously laid out. Dr. Taylor had put him in mind of his
_appearing_ pleased with the house. 'But (said he) that was when Lord
Scarsdale was present. Politeness obliges us to appear pleased with a
man's works when he is present. No man will be so ill bred as to
question you. You may therefore pay compliments without saying what is
not true. I should say to Lord Scarsdale of his large room, "My Lord,
this is the most _costly_ room that I ever saw;" which is true.'
Dr. Manningham, physician in London, who was visiting at Lord
Scarsdale's, accompanyed us through many of the rooms, and soon
afterwards my Lord himself, to whom Dr. Johnson was known, appeared, and
did the honours of the house. We talked of Mr. Langton. Johnson, with a
warm vehemence of affectionate regard, exclaimed, 'The earth does not
bear a worthier man than Bennet Langton.' We saw a good many fine
pictures, which I think are described in one of _Young's Tours_.
There is a printed catalogue of them which the housekeeper put into my
hand; I should like to view them at leisure. I was much struck with
Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream by Rembrandt. We were shown a
pretty large library. In his Lordship's dressing-room lay Johnson's
small _Dictionary_: he shewed it to me, with some eagerness, saying,
'Look 'ye! _Quae terra nostri non plena laboris_.' He observed, also,
Goldsmith's _Animated Nature_; and said, 'Here's our friend! The poor
Doctor would have been happy to hear of this.'
In our way, Johnson strongly expressed his love of driving fast in a
post-chaise. 'If (said he) I had no duties, and no reference to
futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with
a pretty woman; but she should be one who could understand me, and would
add something to the conversation.' I observed, that we were this day to
stop just where the Highland army did in 1745. JOHNSON. 'It was a
noble attempt.' BOSWELL. 'I wish we could have an authentick history of
it.' JOHNSON. 'If you were not an idle dog you might write it, by
collecting from every body what they can tell, and putting down your
authorities.' BOSWELL. 'But I could not have the advantage of it in my
life-time.' JOHNSON. 'You might have the satisfaction of its fame, by
printing it in Holland; and as to profit, consider how long it was
before writing came to be considered in a pecuniary view. Baretti says,
he is the first man that ever received copy-money in Italy.' I said
that I would endeavour to do what Dr. Johnson suggested; and I thought
that I might write so as to venture to publish my _History of the Civil
War in Great-Britain in 1745 and 1746_ without being obliged to go to a
When we arrived at Derby, Dr. Butter accompanied us to see the
manufactory of china there. I admired the ingenuity and delicate art
with which a man fashioned clay into a cup, a saucer, or a tea-pot,
while a boy turned round a wheel to give the mass rotundity. I thought
this as excellent in its species of power, as making good verses in
_its_ species. Yet I had no respect for this potter. Neither, indeed,
has a man of any extent of thinking for a mere verse-maker, in whose
numbers, however perfect, there is no poetry, no mind. The china was
beautiful, but Dr. Johnson justly observed it was too dear; for that he
could have vessels of silver, of the same size, as cheap as what were
here made of porcelain.
I felt a pleasure in walking about Derby such as I always have in
walking about any town to which I am not accustomed. There is an
immediate sensation of novelty; and one speculates on the way in which
life is passed in it, which, although there is a sameness every where
upon the whole, is yet minutely diversified. The minute diversities in
every thing are wonderful. Talking of shaving the other night at Dr.
Taylor's, Dr. Johnson said, 'Sir, of a thousand shavers, two do not
shave so much alike as not to be distinguished.' I thought this not
possible, till he specified so many of the varieties in
shaving;--holding the razor more or less perpendicular;--drawing long or
short strokes;--beginning at the upper part of the face, or the
under;--at the right side or the left side. Indeed, when one considers
what variety of sounds can be uttered by the windpipe, in the compass of
a very small aperture, we may be convinced how many degrees of
difference there may be in the application of a razor.
We dined with Dr. Butter, whose lady is daughter of my cousin Sir John
Douglas, whose grandson is now presumptive heir of the noble family of
Queensberry. Johnson and he had a good deal of medical conversation.
Johnson said, he had somewhere or other given an account of Dr.
Nichols's discourse _De Anima Medica_. He told us 'that whatever a
man's distemper was, Dr. Nichols would not attend him as a physician, if
his mind was not at ease; for he believed that no medicines would have
any influence. He once attended a man in trade, upon whom he found none
of the medicines he prescribed had any effect: he asked the man's wife
privately whether his affairs were not in a bad way? She said no. He
continued his attendance some time, still without success. At length the
man's wife told him, she had discovered that her husband's affairs
_were_ in a bad way. When Goldsmith was dying, Dr. Turton said to him,
"Your pulse is in greater disorder than it should be, from the degree of
fever which you have: is your mind at ease?" Goldsmith answered it was
After dinner, Mrs. Butter went with me to see the silk-mill which Mr.
John Lombe had had a patent for, having brought away the contrivance
from Italy. I am not very conversant with mechanicks; but the simplicity
of this machine, and its multiplied operations, struck me with an
agreeable surprize. I had learnt from Dr. Johnson, during this
interview, not to think with a dejected indifference of the works of
art, and the pleasures of life, because life is uncertain and short; but
to consider such indifference as a failure of reason, a morbidness of
mind; for happiness should be cultivated as much as we can, and the
objects which are instrumental to it should be steadily considered as of
importance, with a reference not only to ourselves, but to multitudes
in successive ages. Though it is proper to value small parts, as
'Sands make the mountain, moments make the year;'
yet we must contemplate, collectively, to have a just estimation of
objects. One moment's being uneasy or not, seems of no consequence; yet
this may be thought of the next, and the next, and so on, till there is
a large portion of misery. In the same way one must think of happiness,
of learning, of friendship. We cannot tell the precise moment when
friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at
last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there
is at last one which makes the heart run over. We must not divide
objects of our attention into minute parts, and think separately of each
part. It is by contemplating a large mass of human existence, that a
man, while he sets a just value on his own life, does not think of his
death as annihilating all that is great and pleasing in the world, as if
actually _contained in his mind_, according to Berkeley's reverie. If
his imagination be not sickly and feeble, it 'wings its distant way'
far beyond himself, and views the world in unceasing activity of every
sort. It must be acknowledged, however, that Pope's plaintive
reflection, that all things would be as gay as ever, on the day of his
death, is natural and common. We are apt to transfer to all around us
our own gloom, without considering that at any given point of time there
is, perhaps, as much youth and gaiety in the world as at another. Before
I came into this life, in which I have had so many pleasant scenes, have
not thousands and ten thousands of deaths and funerals happened, and
have not families been in grief for their nearest relations? But have
those dismal circumstances at all affected _me_? Why then should the
gloomy scenes which I experience, or which I know, affect others? Let us
guard against imagining that there is an end of felicity upon earth,
when we ourselves grow old, or are unhappy.
Dr. Johnson told us at tea, that when some of Dr. Dodd's pious friends
were trying to console him by saying that he was going to leave 'a
wretched world,' he had honesty enough not to join in the cant:--'No,
no (said he,) it has been a very agreeable world to me.' Johnson added,
'I respect Dodd for thus speaking the truth; for, to be sure, he had for
several years enjoyed a life of great voluptuousness.'
He told us, that Dodd's city friends stood by him so, that a thousand
pounds were ready to be given to the gaoler, if he would let him escape.
He added, that he knew a friend of Dodd's, who walked about Newgate for
some time on the evening before the day of his execution, with five
hundred pounds in his pocket, ready to be paid to any of the turnkeys
who could get him out: but it was too late; for he was watched with much
circumspection. He said, Dodd's friends had an image of him made of
wax, which was to have been left in his place; and he believed it was
carried into the prison.
Johnson disapproved of Dr. Dodd's leaving the world persuaded that _The
Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren_ was of his own writing.
'But, Sir, (said I,) you contributed to the deception; for when Mr.
Seward expressed a doubt to you that it was not Dodd's own, because it
had a great deal more force of mind in it than any thing known to be
his, you answered,--"Why should you think so? Depend upon it, Sir, when
a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind
wonderfully."' JOHNSON. 'Sir, as Dodd got it from me to pass as his own,
while that could do him any good, there was an _implied promise_ that I
should not own it. To own it, therefore, would have been telling a lie,
with the addition of breach of promise, which was worse than simply
telling a lie to make it be believed it was Dodd's. Besides, Sir, I did
not _directly_ tell a lie: I left the matter uncertain. Perhaps I
thought that Seward would not believe it the less to be mine for what I
said; but I would not put it in his power to say I had owned it.'
He praised Blair's sermons: 'Yet,' said he, (willing to let us see he
was aware that fashionable fame, however deserved, is not always the
most lasting,) 'perhaps, they may not be re-printed after seven years;
at least not after Blair's death.'
He said, 'Goldsmith was a plant that flowered late. There appeared
nothing remarkable about him when he was young; though when he had got
high in fame, one of his friends began to recollect something of his
being distinguished at College. Goldsmith in the same manner recollected
more of that friend's early years, as he grew a greater man.'
I mentioned that Lord Monboddo told me, he awaked every morning at four,
and then for his health got up and walked in his room naked, with the
window open, which he called taking _an air bath_; after which he
went to bed again, and slept two hours more. Johnson, who was always
ready to beat down any thing that seemed to be exhibited with
disproportionate importance, thus observed: 'I suppose, Sir, there is no
more in it than this, he awakes at four, and cannot sleep till he chills
himself, and makes the warmth of the bed a grateful sensation.'
I talked of the difficulty of rising in the morning. Dr. Johnson told
me, 'that the learned Mrs. Carter, at that period when she was eager in
study, did not awake as early as she wished, and she therefore had a
contrivance, that, at a certain hour, her chamber-light should burn a
string to which a heavy weight was suspended, which then fell with a
strong sudden noise: this roused her from sleep, and then she had no
difficulty in getting up.' But I said _that_ was my difficulty; and
wished there could be some medicine invented which would make one rise
without pain, which I never did, unless after lying in bed a very long
time. Perhaps there may be something in the stores of Nature which could
do this. I have thought of a pulley to raise me gradually; but that
would give me pain, as it would counteract my internal inclination. I
would have something that can dissipate the _vis inertiae_, and give
elasticity to the muscles. As I imagine that the human body may be put,
by the operation of other substances, into any state in which it has
ever been; and as I have experienced a state in which rising from bed
was not disagreeable, but easy, nay, sometimes agreeable; I suppose that
this state may be produced, if we knew by what. We can heat the body, we
can cool it; we can give it tension or relaxation; and surely it is
possible to bring it into a state in which rising from bed will not be a
Johnson observed, that 'a man should take a sufficient quantity of
sleep, which Dr. Mead says is between seven and nine hours.' I told him,
that Dr. Cullen said to me, that a man should not take more sleep than
he can take at once. JOHNSON. 'This rule, Sir, cannot hold in all cases;
for many people have their sleep broken by sickness; and surely, Cullen
would not have a man to get up, after having slept but an hour. Such a
regimen would soon end in a _long sleep_.' Dr. Taylor remarked, I
think very justly, that 'a man who does not feel an inclination to sleep
at the ordinary time, instead of being stronger than other people, must
not be well; for a man in health has all the natural inclinations to
eat, drink, and sleep, in a strong degree.'
Johnson advised me to-night not to _refine_ in the education of my
children. 'Life (said he) will not bear refinement: you must do as other
As we drove back to Ashbourne, Dr. Johnson recommended to me, as he had
often done, to drink water only: 'For (said he) you are then sure not to
get drunk; whereas if you drink wine you are never sure.' I said,
drinking wine was a pleasure which I was unwilling to give up. 'Why,
Sir, (said he,) there is no doubt that not to drink wine is a great
deduction from life; but it may be necessary.' He however owned, that in
his opinion a free use of wine did not shorten life; and said, he
would not give less for the life of a certain Scotch Lord (whom he
named) celebrated for hard drinking, than for that of a sober man. 'But
stay, (said he, with his usual intelligence, and accuracy of enquiry,)
does it take much wine to make him drunk?' I answered, 'a great deal
either of wine or strong punch.'--'Then (said he) that is the worse.' I
presume to illustrate my friend's observation thus: 'A fortress which
soon surrenders has its walls less shattered than when a long and
obstinate resistance is made.'
I ventured to mention a person who was as violent a Scotsman as he was
an Englishman; and literally had the same contempt for an Englishman
compared with a Scotsman, that he had for a Scotsman compared with an
Englishman; and that he would say of Dr. Johnson, 'Damned rascal! to
talk as he does, of the Scotch.' This seemed, for a moment, 'to give him
pause.' It, perhaps, presented his extreme prejudice against the
Scotch in a point of view somewhat new to him, by the effect of
By the time when we returned to Ashbourne, Dr. Taylor was gone to bed.
Johnson and I sat up a long time by ourselves.
He was much diverted with an article which I shewed him in the _Critical
Review_ of this year, giving an account of a curious publication,
entitled, _A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies_, by John Rutty, M.D. Dr.
Rutty was one of the people called Quakers, a physician of some eminence
in Dublin, and authour of several works. This Diary, which was kept
from 1753 to 1775, the year in which he died, and was now published in
two volumes octavo, exhibited, in the simplicity of his heart, a minute
and honest register of the state of his mind; which, though frequently
laughable enough, was not more so than the history of many men would be,
if recorded with equal fairness.
The following specimens were extracted by the Reviewers:--
'Tenth month, 1753.
23. Indulgence in bed an hour too long.
Twelfth month, 17. An hypochondriack obnubilation from wind
Ninth month, 28. An over-dose of whisky.
29. A dull, cross, cholerick day.
First month, 1757--22. A little swinish at dinner and repast.
31. Dogged on provocation.
Second month, 5. Very dogged or snappish.
14. Snappish on fasting.
26. Cursed snappishness to those under me, on a bodily
Third month, 11. On a provocation, exercised a dumb resentment
for two days, instead of scolding.
22. Scolded too vehemently.
23. Dogged again.
Fourth month, 29. Mechanically and sinfully dogged.'
Johnson laughed heartily at this good Quietist's self-condemning
minutes; particularly at his mentioning, with such a serious regret,
occasional instances of '_swinishness_ in eating, and _doggedness of
temper_.' He thought the observations of the Critical Reviewers upon
the importance of a man to himself so ingenious and so well expressed,
that I shall here introduce them.
After observing, that 'There are few writers who have gained any
reputation by recording their own actions,' they say:--
'We may reduce the egotists to four classes. In the _first_ we have
Julius Caesar: he relates his own transactions; but he relates them with
peculiar grace and dignity, and his narrative is supported by the
greatness of his character and atchievements. In the _second_ class we
have Marcus Antoninus: this writer has given us a series of reflections
on his own life; but his sentiments are so noble, his morality so
sublime, that his meditations are universally admired. In the _third_
class we have some others of tolerable credit, who have given importance
to their own private history by an intermixture of literary anecdotes,
and the occurrences of their own times: the celebrated _Huetius_ has
published an entertaining volume upon this plan, "_De rebus ad eum
pertinentibus_." In the _fourth_ class we have the journalists,
temporal and spiritual: Elias Ashmole, William Lilly, George Whitefield,
John Wesley, and a thousand other old women and fanatick writers of
memoirs and meditations.'
I mentioned to him that Dr. Hugh Blair, in his lectures on Rhetorick and
Belles Lettres, which I heard him deliver at Edinburgh, had animadverted
on the Johnsonian style as too pompous; and attempted to imitate it, by
giving a sentence of Addison in _The Spectator_, No. 411, in the manner
of Johnson. When treating of the utility of the pleasures of imagination
in preserving us from vice, it is observed of those 'who know not how to
be idle and innocent,' that 'their very first step out of business is
into vice or folly;' which Dr. Blair supposed would have been expressed
in _The Rambler_ thus: 'Their very first step out of the regions of
business is into the perturbation of vice, or the vacuity of folly.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, these are not the words I should have used. No, Sir; the
imitators of my style have not hit it. Miss Aikin has done it the best;
for she has imitated the sentiment as well as the diction.' I intend,
before this work is concluded, to exhibit specimens of imitation of
my friend's style in various modes; some caricaturing or mimicking it,
and some formed upon it, whether intentionally or with a degree of
similarity to it, of which, perhaps, the writers were not conscious.
In Baretti's Review, which he published in Italy, under the title of
_Frusta Letteraria_, it is observed, that Dr. Robertson the historian
had formed his style upon that of _Il celebre Samuele Johnson_. My
friend himself was of that opinion; for he once said to me, in a
pleasant humour, 'Sir, if Robertson's style be faulty, he owes it to me;
that is, having too many words, and those too big ones.'
I read to him a letter which Lord Monboddo had written to me, containing
some critical remarks upon the style of his _Journey to the Western
Islands of Scotland_. His Lordship praised the very fine passage upon
landing at Icolmkill; but his own style being exceedingly dry and
hard, he disapproved of the richness of Johnson's language, and of his
frequent use of metaphorical expressions. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, this
criticism would be just, if in my style, superfluous words, or words too
big for the thoughts, could be pointed out; but this I do not believe
can be done. For instance; in the passage which Lord Monboddo admires,
'We were now treading that illustrious region,' the word
_illustrious_, contributes nothing to the mere narration; for the fact
might be told without it: but it is not, therefore, superfluous; for it
wakes the mind to peculiar attention, where something of more than usual
importance is to be presented. "Illustrious!"--for what? and then the
sentence proceeds to expand the circumstances connected with Iona. And,
Sir, as to metaphorical expression, that is a great excellence in style,
when it is used with propriety, for it gives you two ideas for
one;--conveys the meaning more luminously, and generally with a
perception of delight.'
He told me, that he had been asked to undertake the new edition of the
_Biographia Britannica_, but had declined it; which he afterwards said
to me he regretted. In this regret many will join, because it would
have procured us more of Johnson's most delightful species of writing;
and although my friend Dr. Kippis has hitherto discharged the task
judiciously, distinctly, and with more impartiality than might have been
expected from a Separatist, it were to have been wished that the
superintendence of this literary Temple of Fame had been assigned to 'a
friend to the constitution in Church and State.' We should not then have
had it too much crowded with obscure dissenting teachers, doubtless men
of merit and worth, but not quite to be numbered amongst 'the most
eminent persons who have flourished in Great-Britain and Ireland.'
On Saturday, September 30, after breakfast, when Taylor was gone out to
his farm, Dr. Johnson and I had a serious conversation by ourselves on
melancholy and madness; which he was, I always thought, erroneously
inclined to confound together. Melancholy, like 'great wit,' may be
'near allied to madness;' but there is, in my opinion, a distinct
separation between them. When he talked of madness, he was to be
understood as speaking of those who were in any great degree disturbed,
or as it is commonly expressed, 'troubled in mind.' Some of the ancient
philosophers held, that all deviations from right reason were madness;
and whoever wishes to see the opinions both of ancients and moderns upon
this subject, collected and illustrated with a variety of curious facts,
may read Dr. Arnold's very entertaining work.
Johnson said, 'A madman loves to be with people whom he fears; not as a
dog fears the lash; but of whom he stands in awe.' I was struck with the
justice of this observation. To be with those of whom a person, whose
mind is wavering and dejected, stands in awe, represses and composes an
uneasy tumult of spirits, and consoles him with the contemplation of
something steady, and at least comparatively great.
He added, 'Madmen are all sensual in the lower stages of the distemper.
They are eager for gratifications to sooth their minds, and divert their
attention from the misery which they suffer: but when they grow very
ill, pleasure is too weak for them, and they seek for pain.
Employment, Sir, and hardships, prevent melancholy. I suppose in all our
army in America there was not one man who went mad.'
We entered seriously upon a question of much importance to me, which
Johnson was pleased to consider with friendly attention. I had long
complained to him that I felt myself discontented in Scotland, as too
narrow a sphere, and that I wished to make my chief residence in London,
the great scene of ambition, instruction, and amusement: a scene, which
was to me, comparatively speaking, a heaven upon earth. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, I never knew any one who had such a _gust_ for London as you
have: and I cannot blame you for your wish to live there: yet, Sir, were
I in your father's place, I should not consent to your settling there;
for I have the old feudal notions, and I should be afraid that
Auchinleck would be deserted, as you would soon find it more desirable
to have a country-seat in a better climate. I own, however, that to
consider it as a _duty_ to reside on a family estate is a prejudice; for
we must consider, that working-people get employment equally, and the
produce of land is sold equally, whether a great family resides at home
or not; and if the rents of an estate be carried to London, they return
again in the circulation of commerce; nay, Sir, we must perhaps allow,
that carrying the rents to a distance is a good, because it contributes
to that circulation. We must, however, allow, that a well-regulated
great family may improve a neighbourhood in civility and elegance, and
give an example of good order, virtue, and piety; and so its residence
at home may be of much advantage. But if a great family be disorderly
and vicious, its residence at home is very pernicious to a
neighbourhood. There is not now the same inducement to live in the
country as formerly; the pleasures of social life are much better
enjoyed in town; and there is no longer in the country that power and
influence in proprietors of land which they had in old times, and which
made the country so agreeable to them. The Laird of Auchinleck now is
not near so great a man as the Laird of Auchinleck was a hundred years
I told him, that one of my ancestors never went from home without being
attended by thirty men on horseback. Johnson's shrewdness and spirit of
enquiry were exerted upon every occasion. 'Pray (said he,) how did your
ancestor support his thirty men and thirty horses, when he went at a
distance from home, in an age when there was hardly any money in
circulation?' I suggested the same difficulty to a friend, who mentioned
Douglas's going to the Holy Land with a numerous train of followers.
Douglas could, no doubt, maintain followers enough while living upon his
own lands, the produce of which supplied them with food; but he could
not carry that food to the Holy Land; and as there was no commerce by
which he could be supplied with money, how could he maintain them in
I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite
zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I
might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you find no man, at all
intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is
tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that
life can afford.'
To obviate his apprehension, that by settling in London I might desert
the seat of my ancestors, I assured him, that I had old feudal
principles to a degree of enthusiasm; and that I felt all the _dulcedo_
of the _natale solum_. I reminded him, that the Laird of Auchinleck
had an elegant house, in front of which he could ride ten miles forward
upon his own territories, upon which he had upwards of six hundred
people attached to him; that the family seat was rich in natural
romantick beauties of rock, wood, and water; and that in my 'morn of
life,' I had appropriated the finest descriptions in the ancient
Classicks to certain scenes there, which were thus associated in my
mind. That when all this was considered, I should certainly pass a part
of the year at home, and enjoy it the more from variety, and from
bringing with me a share of the intellectual stores of the metropolis.
He listened to all this, and kindly 'hoped it might be as I now
He said, 'A country gentleman should bring his lady to visit London as
soon as he can, that they may have agreeable topicks for conversation
when they are by themselves.'
As I meditated trying my fortune in Westminster Hall, our conversation
turned upon the profession of the law in England. JOHNSON. 'You must not
indulge too sanguine hopes, should you be called to our bar. I was told,
by a very sensible lawyer, that there are a great many chances against
any man's success in the profession of the law; the candidates are so
numerous, and those who get large practice so few. He said, it was by no
means true that a man of good parts and application is sure of having
business, though he, indeed, allowed that if such a man could but appear
in a few causes, his merit would be known, and he would get forward; but
that the great risk was, that a man might pass half a life-time in the
Courts, and never have an opportunity of shewing his abilities.'
We talked of employment being absolutely necessary to preserve the mind
from wearying and growing fretful, especially in those who have a
tendency to melancholy; and I mentioned to him a saying which somebody
had related of an American savage, who, when an European was expatiating
on all the advantages of money, put this question: 'Will it purchase
_occupation_?' JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this saying is too refined
for a savage. And, Sir, money _will_ purchase occupation; it will
purchase all the conveniences of life; it will purchase variety of
company; it will purchase all sorts of entertainment.'
I talked to him of Forster's _Voyage to the South Seas_, which pleased
me; but I found he did not like it. 'Sir, (said he,) there is a great
affectation of fine writing in it.' BOSWELL. 'But he carries you along
with him.' JOHNSON, 'No, Sir; he does not carry _me_ along with him: he
leaves me behind him: or rather, indeed, he sets me before him; for he
makes me turn over many leaves at a time.'
On Sunday, September 12, we went to the church of Ashbourne, which is
one of the largest and most luminous that I have seen in any town of the
same size. I felt great satisfaction in considering that I was supported
in my fondness for solemn publick worship by the general concurrence and
munificence of mankind.
Johnson and Taylor were so different from each other, that I wondered at
their preserving an intimacy. Their having been at school and college
together, might, in some degree, account for this; but Sir Joshua
Reynolds has furnished me with a stronger reason; for Johnson mentioned
to him, that he had been told by Taylor he was to be his heir. I shall
not take upon me to animadvert upon this; but certain it is, that
Johnson paid great attention to Taylor. He now, however, said to me,
'Sir, I love him; but I do not love him more; my regard for him does not
increase. As it is said in the Apocrypha, "his talk is of bullocks:"
I do not suppose he is very fond of my company. His habits are by no
means sufficiently clerical: this he knows that I see; and no man likes
to live under the eye of perpetual disapprobation.'
I have no doubt that a good many sermons were composed for Taylor by
Johnson. At this time I found, upon his table, a part of one which he
had newly begun to write: and _Concio pro Tayloro_ appears in one of his
diaries. When to these circumstances we add the internal evidence from
the power of thinking and style, in the collection which the Reverend
Mr. Hayes has published, with the _significant_ title of Sermons _left
for publication_ by the Reverend John Taylor, LL.D., our conviction will
I, however, would not have it thought, that Dr. Taylor, though he could
not write like Johnson, (as, indeed, who could?) did not sometimes
compose sermons as good as those which we generally have from very
respectable divines. He showed me one with notes on the margin in
Johnson's hand-writing; and I was present when he read another to
Johnson, that he might have his opinion of it, and Johnson said it was
'very well.' These, we may be sure, were not Johnson's; for he was above
little arts, or tricks of deception.
Johnson was by no means of opinion, that every man of a learned
profession should consider it as incumbent upon him, or as necessary to
his credit, to appear as an authour. When in the ardour of ambition for
literary fame, I regretted to him one day that an eminent Judge had
nothing of it, and therefore would leave no perpetual monument of
himself to posterity. 'Alas, Sir, (said Johnson) what a mass of
confusion should we have, if every Bishop, and every Judge, every
Lawyer, Physician, and Divine, were to write books.'
I mentioned to Johnson a respectable person of a very strong mind, who
had little of that tenderness which is common to human nature; as an
instance of which, when I suggested to him that he should invite his
son, who had been settled ten years in foreign parts, to come home
and pay him a visit, his answer was, 'No, no, let him mind his
business.' JOHNSON. 'I do not agree with him, Sir, in this. Getting
money is not all a man's business: to cultivate kindness is a valuable
part of the business of life.'
In the evening, Johnson, being in very good spirits, entertained us with
several characteristical portraits. I regret that any of them escaped my
retention and diligence. I found, from experience, that to collect my
friend's conversation so as to exhibit it with any degree of its
original flavour, it was necessary to write it down without delay. To
record his sayings, after some distance of time, was like preserving or
pickling long-kept and faded fruits, or other vegetables, which, when in
that state, have little or nothing of their taste when fresh.
I shall present my readers with a series of what I gathered this evening
from the Johnsonian garden.
'My friend, the late Earl of Corke, had a great desire to maintain the
literary character of his family: he was a genteel man, but did not
keep up the dignity of his rank. He was so generally civil, that nobody
thanked him for it.'
'Did we not hear so much said of Jack Wilkes, we should think more
highly of his conversation. Jack has great variety of talk, Jack is a
scholar, and Jack has the manners of a gentleman. But after hearing
his name sounded from pole to pole, as the phoenix of convivial
felicity, we are disappointed in his company. He has always been _at
me_: but I would do Jack a kindness, rather than not. The contest is now
'Garrick's gaiety of conversation has delicacy and elegance: Foote makes
you laugh more; but Foote has the air of a buffoon paid for entertaining
the company. He, indeed, well deserves his hire.'
'Colley Cibber once consulted me as to one of his birth-day Odes, a
long time before it was wanted. I objected very freely to several
passages. Cibber lost patience, and would not read his Ode to an end.
When we had done with criticism, we walked over to Richardson's, the
authour of _Clarissa_, and I wondered to find Richardson displeased that
I "did not treat Gibber with more _respect_." Now, Sir, to talk of
_respect for a player_!' (smiling disdainfully). BOSWELL. 'There, Sir,
you are always heretical: you never will allow merit to a player.'
JOHNSON. 'Merit, Sir! what merit? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a
ballad-singer?' BOSWELL. 'No, Sir: but we respect a great player, as a
man who can conceive lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully.'
JOHNSON. 'What, Sir, a fellow who claps a hump on his back, and a lump
on his leg, and cries "_I am Richard the Third_"? Nay, Sir, a
ballad-singer is a higher man, for he does two things; he repeats and he
sings: there is both recitation and musick in his performance: the
player only recites.' BOSWELL. 'My dear Sir! you may turn anything into
ridicule. I allow, that a player of farce is not entitled to respect; he
does a little thing: but he who can represent exalted characters, and
touch the noblest passions, has very respectable powers; and mankind
have agreed in admiring great talents for the stage. We must consider,
too, that a great player does what very few are capable to do: his art
is a very rare faculty. _Who_ can repeat Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be, or
not to be," as Garrick does it?' JOHNSON. 'Any body may. Jemmy, there (a
boy about eight years old, who was in the room), will do it as well in a
week.' BOSWELL. 'No, no, Sir: and as a proof of the merit of great
acting, and of the value which mankind set upon it, Garrick has got a
hundred thousand pounds.' JOHNSON. 'Is getting a hundred thousand pounds
a proof of excellence? That has been done by a scoundrel commissary.'
This was most fallacious reasoning. I was sure, for once, that I had the
best side of the argument. I boldly maintained the just distinction
between a tragedian and a mere theatrical droll; between those who rouse
our terrour and pity, and those who only make us laugh. 'If (said I)
Betterton and Foote were to walk into this room, you would respect
Betterton much more than Foote.' JOHNSON. 'If Betterton were to walk
into this room with Foote, Foote would soon drive him out of it. Foote,
Sir, _quatenus_ Foote, has powers superiour to them all.'
On Monday, September 22, when at breakfast, I unguardedly said to Dr.
Johnson, 'I wish I saw you and Mrs. Macaulay together.' He grew very
angry; and, after a pause, while a cloud gathered on his brow, he burst
out, 'No, Sir; you would not see us quarrel, to make you sport. Don't
you know that it is very uncivil to _pit_ two people against one
another?' Then, checking himself, and wishing to be more gentle, he
added, 'I do not say you should be hanged or drowned for this; but it
_is_ very uncivil.' Dr. Taylor thought him in the wrong, and spoke to
him privately of it; but I afterwards acknowledged to Johnson that I was
to blame, for I candidly owned, that I meant to express a desire to see
a contest between Mrs. Macaulay and him; but then I knew how the contest
would end; so that I was to see him triumph. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you cannot
be sure how a contest will end; and no man has a right to engage two
people in a dispute by which their passions may be inflamed, and they
may part with bitter resentment against each other. I would sooner keep
company with a man from whom I must guard my pockets, than with a man
who contrives to bring me into a dispute with somebody that he may hear
it. This is the great fault of ----, (naming one of our friends)
endeavouring to introduce a subject upon which he knows two people in
the company differ.' BOSWELL. 'But he told me, Sir, he does it for
instruction.' JOHNSON. 'Whatever the motive be, Sir, the man who does
so, does very wrong. He has no more right to instruct himself at such
risk, than he has to make two people fight a duel, that he may learn how
to defend himself.'
He found great fault with a gentleman of our acquaintance for keeping a
bad table. 'Sir, (said he,) when a man is invited to dinner, he is
disappointed if he does not get something good. I advised Mrs. Thrale,
who has no card-parties at her house, to give sweet-meats, and such good
things, in an evening, as are not commonly given, and she would find
company enough come to her; for every body loves to have things which
please the palate put in their way, without trouble or preparation.'
Such was his attention to the _minutiae_ of life and manners.
He thus characterised the Duke of Devonshire, grandfather of the
present representative of that very respectable family: 'He was not a
man of superiour abilities, but he was a man strictly faithful to his
word. If, for instance, he had promised you an acorn, and none had grown
that year in his woods, he would not have contented himself with that
excuse; he would have sent to Denmark for it. So unconditional was he in
keeping his word; so high as to the point of honour.' This was a liberal
testimony from the Tory Johnson to the virtue of a great Whig nobleman.
Mr. Burke's _Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the affairs of
America_, being mentioned, Johnson censured the composition much, and
he ridiculed the definition of a free government, _viz_. 'For any
practical purpose, it is what the people think so.'--'I will let the
King of France govern me on those conditions, (said he,) for it is to be
governed just as I please.' And when Dr. Taylor talked of a girl being
sent to a parish workhouse, and asked how much she could be obliged to
work, 'Why, (said Johnson,) as much as is reasonable: and what is that?
as much as _she thinks_ reasonable.'
Dr. Johnson obligingly proposed to carry me to see Islam, a romantick
scene, now belonging to a family of the name of Port, but formerly the
seat of the Congreves. I suppose it is well described in some of the
Tours. Johnson described it distinctly and vividly, at which I could not
but express to him my wonder; because, though my eyes, as he observed,
were better than his, I could not by any means equal him in representing
visible objects. I said, the difference between us in this respect was
as that between a man who has a bad instrument, but plays well on it,
and a man who has a good instrument, on which he can play very
I recollect a very fine amphitheatre, surrounded with hills covered with
woods, and walks neatly formed along the side of a rocky steep, on the
quarter next the house, with recesses under projections of rock,
overshadowed with trees; in one of which recesses, we were told,
Congreve wrote his _Old Bachelor_. We viewed a remarkable natural
curiosity at Islam; two rivers bursting near each other from the rock,
not from immediate springs, but after having run for many miles under
ground. Plott, in his _History of Staffordshire_, gives an account of
this curiosity; but Johnson would not believe it, though we had the
attestation of the gardener, who said, he had put in corks, where the
river _Manyfold_ sinks into the ground, and had catched them in a net,
placed before one of the openings where the water bursts out. Indeed,
such subterraneous courses of water are found in various parts of our
Talking of Dr. Johnson's unwillingness to believe extraordinary
things, I ventured to say, 'Sir, you come near Hume's argument
against miracles, "That it is more probable witnesses should lie, or be
mistaken, than that they should happen."' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Hume,
taking the proposition simply, is right. But the Christian revelation is
not proved by the miracles alone, but as connected with prophecies, and
with the doctrines in confirmation of which the miracles were wrought.'
He repeated his observation, that the differences among Christians are
really of no consequence. 'For instance, (said he,) if a Protestant
objects to a Papist, "You worship images;" the Papist can answer, "I do
not insist on _your_ doing it; you may be a very good Papist without it:
I do it only as a help to my devotion."' I said, the great article of
Christianity is the revelation of immortality. Johnson admitted it was.
In the evening, a gentleman-farmer, who was on a visit at Dr. Taylor's,
attempted to dispute with Johnson in favour of Mungo Campbell, who shot
Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune upon his having fallen, when retreating
from his Lordship, who he believed was about to seize his gun, as he had
threatened to do. He said, he should have done just as Campbell did.
JOHNSON. 'Whoever would do as Campbell did, deserves to be hanged; not
that I could, as a juryman, have found him legally guilty of murder; but
I am glad they found means to convict him.' The gentleman-farmer said,
'A poor man has as much honour as a rich man; and Campbell had _that_ to
defend.' Johnson exclaimed, 'A poor man has no honour.' The English
yeoman, not dismayed, proceeded: 'Lord Eglintoune was a damned fool to
run on upon Campbell, after being warned that Campbell would shoot him
if he did.' Johnson, who could not bear any thing like swearing,
angrily replied, 'He was _not_ a _damned_ fool: he only thought too well
of Campbell. He did not believe Campbell would be such a _damned_
scoundrel, as to do so _damned_ a thing.' His emphasis on _damned_,
accompanied with frowning looks, reproved his opponent's want of decorum
in _his_ presence.
Talking of the danger of being mortified by rejection, when making
approaches to the acquaintance of the great, I observed: 'I am, however,
generally for trying, "Nothing venture, nothing have."' JOHNSON.
'Very true, Sir; but I have always been more afraid of failing, than
hopeful of success.' And, indeed, though he had all just respect for
rank, no man ever less courted the favour of the great.
During this interview at Ashbourne, Johnson seemed to be more uniformly
social, cheerful, and alert, than I had almost ever seen him. He was
prompt on great occasions and on small. Taylor, who praised every thing
of his own to excess; in short, 'whose geese were all swans,' as the
proverb says, expatiated on the excellence of his bull-dog, which, he
told us, was 'perfectly well shaped.' Johnson, after examining the
animal attentively, thus repressed the vain-glory of our host:--'No,
Sir, he is _not_ well shaped; for there is not the quick transition from
the thickness of the fore-part, to the _tenuity_--the thin part--
behind,--which a bull-dog ought to have.' This _tenuity_ was the only
_hard word_ that I heard him use during this interview, and it will be
observed, he instantly put another expression in its place. Taylor said,
a small bull-dog was as good as a large one. JOHNSON, 'No, Sir; for, in
proportion to his size, he has strength: and your argument would prove,
that a good bull-dog may be as small as a mouse.' It was amazing how he
entered with perspicuity and keenness upon every thing that occurred in
conversation. Most men, whom I know, would no more think of discussing a
question about a bull-dog, than of attacking a bull.
I cannot allow any fragment whatever that floats in my memory concerning
the great subject of this work to be lost. Though a small particular may
appear trifling to some, it will be relished by others; while every
little spark adds something to the general blaze: and to please the
true, candid, warm admirers of Johnson, and in any degree increase the
splendour of his reputation, I bid defiance to the shafts of ridicule,
or even of malignity. Showers of them have been discharged at my
_Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides_; yet it still sails unhurt along the
stream of time, and, as an attendant upon Johnson,
'Pursues the triumph, and partakes the gale.'
One morning after breakfast, when the sun shone bright, we walked out
together, and 'pored' for some time with placid indolence upon an
artificial water-fall, which Dr. Taylor had made by building a strong
dyke of stone across the river behind the garden. It was now somewhat
obstructed by branches of trees and other rubbish, which had come down
the river, and settled close to it. Johnson, partly from a desire to see
it play more freely, and partly from that inclination to activity which
will animate, at times, the most inert and sluggish mortal, took a long
pole which was lying on a bank, and pushed down several parcels of this
wreck with painful assiduity, while I stood quietly by, wondering to
behold the sage thus curiously employed, and smiling with an humorous
satisfaction each time when he carried his point. He worked till he was
quite out of breath; and having found a large dead cat so heavy that he
could not move it after several efforts, 'Come,' said he, (throwing down
the pole,) '_you_ shall take it now;' which I accordingly did, and being
a fresh man, soon made the cat tumble over the cascade. This may be
laughed at as too trifling to record; but it is a small characteristick
trait in the Flemish picture which I give of my friend, and in which,
therefore, I mark the most minute particulars. And let it be remembered,
that _AEsop at play_ is one of the instructive apologues of antiquity.
I mentioned an old gentleman of our acquaintance whose memory was
beginning to fail. JOHNSON. 'There must be a diseased mind, where there
is a failure of memory at seventy. A man's head, Sir, must be morbid, if
he fails so soon.' My friend, being now himself sixty-eight, might
think thus: but I imagine, that _threescore and ten_, the Psalmist's
period of sound human life in later ages, may have a failure, though
there be no disease in the constitution.
Talking of Rochester's Poems, he said, he had given them to Mr. Steevens
to castrate for the edition of the poets, to which he was to write
Prefaces. Dr. Taylor (the only time I ever heard him say any thing
witty) observed, that 'if Rochester had been castrated himself, his
exceptionable poems would not have been written.' I asked if Burnet
had not given a good Life of Rochester. JOHNSON. 'We have a good
_Death_: there is not much _Life_.'
I asked whether Prior's Poems were to be printed entire: Johnson said
they were. I mentioned Lord Hailes's censure of Prior, in his Preface to
a collection of _Sacred Poems_, by various hands, published by him at
Edinburgh a great many years ago, where he mentions, 'those impure tales
which will be the eternal opprobrium of their ingenious authour.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, Lord Hailes has forgot. There is nothing in Prior that
will excite to lewdness. If Lord Hailes thinks there is, he must be more
combustible than other people.'
I instanced the tale of _Paulo Purganti and his Wife_. JOHNSON. 'Sir,
there is nothing there, but that his wife wanted to be kissed when poor
Paulo was out of pocket. No, Sir, Prior is a lady's book. No lady is
ashamed to have it standing in her library.'
The hypochondriack disorder being mentioned, Dr. Johnson did not think
it so common as I supposed. 'Dr. Taylor (said he) is the same one day as
another. Burke and Reynolds are the same; Beauclerk, except when in
pain, is the same. I am not so myself; but this I do not mention
I complained of a wretched changefulness, so that I could not preserve,
for any long continuance, the same views of any thing. It was most
comfortable to me to experience, in Dr. Johnson's company, a relief from
this uneasiness. His steady vigorous mind held firm before me those
objects which my own feeble and tremulous imagination frequently
presented, in such a wavering state, that my reason could not judge well
Dr. Johnson advised me to-day, to have as many books about me as I
could; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for
instruction at the time. 'What you read _then_ (said he) you will
remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject
moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you again have a desire to study
it.' He added, 'If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he
should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better when a man reads
from immediate inclination.'
He repeated a good many lines of Horace's _Odes_, while we were in the
chaise. I remember particularly the Ode _Eheu fugaces_.
He said, the dispute as to the comparative excellence of Homer or
Virgil was inaccurate. 'We must consider (said he) whether Homer was
not the greatest poet, though Virgil may have produced the finest poem.
Virgil was indebted to Homer for the whole invention of the structure of
an epick poem, and for many of his beauties.'
He told me that Bacon was a favourite authour with him; but he had
never read his works till he was compiling the _English Dictionary_, in
which, he said, I might see Bacon very often quoted. Mr. Seward
recollects his having mentioned, that a Dictionary of the English
Language might be compiled from Bacon's writings alone, and that he
had once an intention of giving an edition of Bacon, at least of his
English works, and writing the Life of that great man. Had he executed
this intention, there can be no doubt that he would have done it in a
most masterly manner. Mallet's _Life of Bacon_ has no inconsiderable
merit as an acute and elegant dissertation relative to its subject; but
Mallet's mind was not comprehensive enough to embrace the vast extent of
Lord Verulam's genius and research. Dr. Warburton therefore observed,
with witty justness, 'that Mallet, in his _Life of Bacon_, had forgotten
that he was a philosopher; and if he should write the Life of the Duke
of Marlborough, which he had undertaken to do, he would probably forget
that he was a general.'
Wishing to be satisfied what degree of truth there was in a story which
a friend of Johnson's and mine had told me to his disadvantage, I
mentioned it to him in direct terms; and it was to this effect: that a
gentleman who had lived in great intimacy with him, shewn him much
kindness, and even relieved him from a spunging-house, having afterwards
fallen into bad circumstances, was one day, when Johnson was at dinner
with him, seized for debt, and carried to prison; that Johnson sat still
undisturbed, and went on eating and drinking; upon which the gentleman's
sister, who was present, could not suppress her indignation: 'What, Sir,
(said she,) are you so unfeeling, as not even to offer to go to my
brother in his distress; you who have been so much obliged to him?' And
that Johnson answered, 'Madam, I owe him no obligation; what he did for
me he would have done for a dog.'
Johnson assured me, that the story was absolutely false: but like a man
conscious of being in the right, and desirous of completely vindicating
himself from such a charge, he did not arrogantly rest on a mere denial,
and on his general character, but proceeded thus:--'Sir, I was very
intimate with that gentleman, and was once relieved by him from an
arrest; but I never was present when he was arrested, never knew that he
was arrested, and I believe he never was in difficulties after the time
when he relieved me. I loved him much; yet, in talking of his general
character, I may have said, though I do not remember that I ever did say
so, that as his generosity proceeded from no principle, but was a part
of his profusion, he would do for a dog what he would do for a friend:
but I never applied this remark to any particular instance, and
certainly not to his kindness to me. If a profuse man, who does not
value his money, and gives a large sum to a whore, gives half as much,
or an equally large sum to relieve a friend, it cannot be esteemed as
virtue. This was all that I could say of that gentleman; and, if said at
all, it must have been said after his death. Sir, I would have gone to
the world's end to relieve him. The remark about the dog, if made by me,
was such a sally as might escape one when painting a man highly.'
On Tuesday, September 23, Johnson was remarkably cordial to me. It being
necessary for me to return to Scotland soon, I had fixed on the next day
for my setting out, and I felt a tender concern at the thought of
parting with him. He had, at this time, frankly communicated to me many
particulars, which are inserted in this work in their proper places; and
once, when I happened to mention that the expence of my jaunt would come
to much more than I had computed, he said, 'Why, Sir, if the expence
were to be an inconvenience, you would have reason to regret it: but, if
you have had the money to spend, I know not that you could have
purchased as much pleasure with it in any other way.'
During this interview at Ashbourne, Johnson and I frequently talked with
wonderful pleasure of mere trifles which had occurred in our tour to the
Hebrides; for it had left a most agreeable and lasting impression upon
He found fault with me for using the phrase to _make_ money. 'Don't you
see (said he) the impropriety of it? To _make_ money is to _coin_ it:
you should say _get_ money.' The phrase, however, is, I think, pretty
current. But Johnson was at all times jealous of infractions upon the
genuine English language, and prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms;
such as, _pledging myself_, for _undertaking_; _line_, for _department_,
or _branch_, as, the _civil line_, the _banking line_. He was
particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word
_idea_ in the sense of _notion_ or _opinion_, when it is clear that
_idea_ can only signify something of which an image can be formed in the
mind. We may have an _idea_ or _image_ of a mountain, a tree, a
building; but we cannot surely have an _idea_ or _image_ of an
_argument_ or _proposition_. Yet we hear the sages of the law
'delivering their _ideas_ upon the question under consideration;' and
the first speakers in parliament 'entirely coinciding in the _idea_
which has been ably stated by an honourable member;'--or 'reprobating an
_idea_ unconstitutional, and fraught with the most dangerous
consequences to a great and free country.' Johnson called this 'modern
I perceived that he pronounced the word _heard_, as if spelt with a
double _e, heerd_, instead of sounding it _herd_, as is most usually
done. He said, his reason was, that if it was pronounced _herd_, there
would be a single exception from the English pronunciation of the
syllable _ear_, and he thought it better not to have that exception.
He praised Grainger's _Ode on Solitude_, in Dodsley's _Collection_, and
repeated, with great energy, the exordium:--
'O Solitude, romantick maid,
Whether by nodding towers you tread;
Or haunt the desart's trackless gloom,
Or hover o'er the yawning tomb;
Or climb the Andes' clifted side,
Or by the Nile's coy source abide;
Or, starting from your half-year's sleep,
From Hecla view the thawing deep;
Or, at the purple dawn of day,
Tadnor's marble waste survey';
observing, 'This, Sir, is very noble.'
In the evening our gentleman-farmer, and two others, entertained
themselves and the company with a great number of tunes on the fiddle.
Johnson desired to have 'Let ambition fire thy mind,' played over
again, and appeared to give a patient attention to it; though he owned
to me that he was very insensible to the power of musick. I told him,
that it affected me to such a degree, as often to agitate my nerves
painfully, producing in my mind alternate sensations of pathetick
dejection, so that I was ready to shed tears; and of daring resolution,
so that I was inclined to rush into the thickest part of the battle.
'Sir, (said he,) I should never hear it, if it made me such a fool.'
Much of the effect of musick, I am satisfied, is owing to the
association of ideas. That air, which instantly and irresistibly excites
in the Swiss, when in a foreign land, the _maladie du pais_, has, I am
told, no intrinsick power of sound. And I know from my own experience,
that Scotch reels, though brisk, make me melancholy, because I used to
hear them in my early years, at a time when Mr. Pitt called for soldiers
'from the mountains of the north,' and numbers of brave Highlanders were
going abroad, never to return. Whereas the airs in _The Beggar's
Opera_, many of which are very soft, never fail to render me gay,
because they are associated with the warm sensations and high spirits of
London. This evening, while some of the tunes of ordinary composition
were played with no great skill, my frame was agitated, and I was
conscious of a generous attachment to Dr. Johnson, as my preceptor and
friend, mixed with an affectionate regret that he was an old man, whom I
should probably lose in a short time. I thought I could defend him at
the point of my sword. My reverence and affection for him were in full
glow. I said to him, 'My dear Sir, we must meet every year, if you don't
quarrel with me.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you are more likely to quarrel
with me, than I with you. My regard for you is greater almost than I
have words to express; but I do not choose to be always repeating it;
write it down in the first leaf of your pocket-book, and never doubt of
I talked to him of misery being 'the doom of man' in this life, as
displayed in his _Vanity of Human Wishes_'. Yet I observed that
things were done upon the supposition of happiness; grand houses were
built, fine gardens were made, splendid places of publick amusement were
contrived, and crowded with company. JOHNSON. 'Alas, Sir, these are all
only struggles for happiness. When I first entered Ranelagh, it gave
an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I never experienced
any where else. But, as Xerxes wept when he viewed his immense army, and
considered that not one of that great multitude would be alive a hundred
years afterwards, so it went to my heart to consider that there was not
one in all that brilliant circle, that was not afraid to go home and
think; but that the thoughts of each individual there, would be
distressing when alone.' This reflection was experimentally just. The
feeling of languor, which succeeds the animation of gaiety, is itself
a very severe pain; and when the mind is then vacant, a thousand
disappointments and vexations rush in and excruciate. Will not many even
of my fairest readers allow this to be true?
I suggested, that being in love, and flattered with hopes of success; or
having some favourite scheme in view for the next day, might prevent
that wretchedness of which we had been talking. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it
may sometimes be so as you suppose; but my conclusion is in general but
While Johnson and I stood in calm conference by ourselves in Dr.
Taylor's garden, at a pretty late hour in a serene autumn night, looking
up to the heavens, I directed the discourse to the subject of a future
state. My friend was in a placid and most benignant frame. 'Sir, (said
he,) I do not imagine that all things will be made clear to us
immediately after death, but that the ways of Providence will be
explained to us very gradually.' I ventured to ask him whether, although
the words of some texts of Scripture seemed strong in support of the
dreadful doctrine of an eternity of punishment, we might not hope that
the denunciation was figurative, and would not literally be executed.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are to consider the intention of punishment in a
future state. We have no reason to be sure that we shall then be no
longer liable to offend against GOD. We do not know that even the angels
are quite in a state of security; nay we know that some of them have
fallen. It may, therefore, perhaps be necessary, in order to preserve
both men and angels in a state of rectitude, that they should have
continually before them the punishment of those who have deviated from
it; but we may hope that by some other means a fall from rectitude may
be prevented. Some of the texts of Scripture upon this subject are, as
you observe, indeed strong; but they may admit of a mitigated
interpretation.' He talked to me upon this awful and delicate question
in a gentle tone, and as if afraid to be decisive.
After supper I accompanied him to his apartment, and at my request he
dictated to me an argument in favour of the negro who was then claiming
his liberty, in an action in the Court of Session in Scotland. He had
always been very zealous against slavery in every form, in which I, with
all deference, thought that he discovered 'a zeal without knowledge.'
Upon one occasion, when in company with some very grave men at Oxford,
his toast was, 'Here's to the next insurrection of the negroes in the
West Indies.' His violent prejudice against our West Indian and
American settlers appeared whenever there was an opportunity. Towards
the conclusion of his _Taxation no Tyranny_, he says, 'how is it that we
hear the loudest _yelps_ for liberty among the drivers of negroes?'
and in his conversation with Mr. Wilkes, he asked, 'Where did Beckford
and Trecothick learn English?' That Trecothick could both speak and
write good English is well known. I myself was favoured with his
correspondence concerning the brave Corsicans. And that Beckford could
speak it with a spirit of honest resolution even to his Majesty, as his
'faithful Lord-Mayor of London,' is commemorated by the noble monument
erected to him in Guildhall.'
The argument dictated by Dr. Johnson was as follows:--
'It must be agreed that in most ages many countries have had part of
their inhabitants in a state of slavery; yet it may be doubted
whether slavery can ever be supposed the natural condition of man. It is
impossible not to conceive that men in their original state were
equal; and very difficult to imagine how one would be subjected to
another but by violent compulsion. An individual may, indeed, forfeit
his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty
of his children. What is true of a criminal seems true likewise of a
captive. A man may accept life from a conquering enemy on condition of
perpetual servitude; but it is very doubtful whether he can entail that
servitude on his descendants; for no man can stipulate without
commission for another. The condition which he himself accepts, his son
or grandson perhaps would have rejected. If we should admit, what
perhaps may with more reason be denied, that there are certain relations
between man and man which may make slavery necessary and just, yet it
can never be proved that he who is now suing for his freedom ever stood
in any of those relations. He is certainly subject by no law, but that
of violence, to his present master; who pretends no claim to his
obedience, but that he bought him from a merchant of slaves, whose right
to sell him never was examined. It is said that, according to the
constitutions of Jamaica, he was legally enslaved; these constitutions
are merely positive; and apparently injurious to the rights of mankind,
because whoever is exposed to sale is condemned to slavery without
appeal; by whatever fraud or violence he might have been originally
brought into the merchant's power. In our own time Princes have been
sold, by wretches to whose care they were entrusted, that they might
have an European education; but when once they were brought to a market
in the plantations, little would avail either their dignity or their
wrongs. The laws of Jamaica afford a Negro no redress. His colour is
considered as a sufficient testimony against him. It is to be lamented
that moral right should ever give way to political convenience. But if
temptations of interest are sometimes too strong for human virtue, let
us at least retain a virtue where there is no temptation to quit it. In
the present case there is apparent right on one side, and no convenience
on the other. Inhabitants of this island can neither gain riches nor
power by taking away the liberty of any part of the human species. The
sum of the argument is this:--No man is by nature the property of
another: The defendant is, therefore, by nature free: The rights of
nature must be some way forfeited before they can be justly taken away:
That the defendant has by any act forfeited the rights of nature we
require to be proved; and if no proof of such forfeiture can be given,
we doubt not but the justice of the court will declare him free.'
I record Dr. Johnson's argument fairly upon this particular case; where,
perhaps, he was in the right. But I beg leave to enter my most solemn
protest against his general doctrine with respect to the _Slave Trade_.
For I will resolutely say--that his unfavourable notion of it was owing
to prejudice, and imperfect or false information. The wild and dangerous
attempt which has for some time been persisted in to obtain an act of
our Legislature, to abolish so very important and necessary a branch of
commercial interest, must have been crushed at once, had not the
insignificance of the zealots who vainly took the lead in it, made the
vast body of Planters, Merchants, and others, whose immense properties
are involved in that trade, reasonably enough suppose that there could
be no danger. The encouragement which the attempt has received excites
my wonder and indignation: and though some men of superiour abilities
have supported it; whether from a love of temporary popularity, when
prosperous; or a love of general mischief, when desperate, my opinion is
unshaken. To abolish a _status_, which in all ages GOD has sanctioned,
and man has continued, would not only be _robbery_ to an innumerable
class of our fellow-subjects; but it would be extreme cruelty to the
African Savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre, or
intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much
happier state of life; especially now when their passage to the
West-Indies and their treatment there is humanely regulated. To abolish
that trade would be to
'--shut the gates of mercy on mankind'.
Whatever may have passed elsewhere concerning it, the HOUSE OF LORDS is
wise and independent:
_Intaminatis fulget honoribus;
Nec sumit aut ponit secures
Arbitrio popularis aurae_.
I have read, conversed, and thought much upon the subject, and would
recommend to all who are capable of conviction, an excellent Tract by my
learned and ingenious friend John Ranby, Esq., entitled _Doubts on the
Abolition of the Slave Trade_. To Mr. Ranby's _Doubts_ I will apply Lord
Chancellor Hardwicke's expression in praise of a Scotch Law Book, called
_Dirletons Doubts_; HIS _Doubts_, (said his Lordship,) are better than
most people's _Certainties_.
When I said now to Johnson, that I was afraid I kept him too late up.
'No, Sir, (said he,) I don't care though I sit all night with you.'
This was an animated speech from a man in his sixty-ninth year.
Had I been as attentive not to displease him as I ought to have been, I
know not but this vigil might have been fulfilled; but I unluckily
entered upon the controversy concerning the right of Great-Britain to
tax America, and attempted to argue in favour of our fellow-subjects on
the other side of the Atlantick. I insisted that America might be
very well governed, and made to yield sufficient revenue by the means of
_influence_, as exemplified in Ireland, while the people might be
pleased with the imagination of their participating of the British
constitution, by having a body of representatives, without whose consent
money could not be exacted from them. Johnson could not bear my thus
opposing his avowed opinion, which he had exerted himself with an
extreme degree of heat to enforce; and the violent agitation into which
he was thrown, while answering, or rather reprimanding me, alarmed me
so, that I heartily repented of my having unthinkingly introduced the
subject. I myself, however, grew warm, and the change was great, from
the calm state of philosophical discussion in which we had a little
before been pleasingly employed.
I talked of the corruption of the British Parliament, in which I alleged
that any question, however unreasonable or unjust, might be carried by a
venal majority; and I spoke with high admiration of the Roman Senate, as
if composed of men sincerely desirous to resolve what they should think
best for their country. My friend would allow no such character to
the Roman Senate; and he maintained that the British Parliament was not
corrupt, and that there was no occasion to corrupt its members;
asserting, that there was hardly ever any question of great importance
before Parliament, any question in which a man might not very well vote
either upon one side or the other. He said there had been none in his
time except that respecting America.
We were fatigued by the contest, which was produced by my want of
caution; and he was not then in the humour to slide into easy and
cheerful talk. It therefore so happened, that we were after an hour or
two very willing to separate and go to bed.
On Wednesday, September 24, I went into Dr. Johnson's room before he got
up, and finding that the storm of the preceding night was quite laid, I
sat down upon his bed-side, and he talked with as much readiness and
good-humour as ever. He recommended to me to plant a considerable part
of a large moorish farm which I had purchased, and he made several
calculations of the expence and profit: for he delighted in exercising
his mind on the science of numbers. He pressed upon me the importance
of planting at the first in a very sufficient manner, quoting the saying
'_In bello non licet bis errare_:' and adding, 'this is equally true in
I spoke with gratitude of Dr. Taylor's hospitality; and, as evidence
that it was not on account of his good table alone that Johnson visited
him often, I mentioned a little anecdote which had escaped my friend's
recollection, and at hearing which repeated, he smiled. One evening,
when I was sitting with him, Frank delivered this message: 'Sir, Dr.
Taylor sends his compliments to you, and begs you will dine with him
to-morrow. He has got a hare.'--'My compliments (said Johnson) and I'll
dine with him--hare or rabbit.'
After breakfast I departed, and pursued my journey northwards. I took
my post-chaise from the Green Man, a very good inn at Ashbourne, the
mistress of which, a mighty civil gentlewoman, courtseying very low,
presented me with an engraving of the sign of her house; to which she
had subjoined, in her own hand-writing, an address in such singular
simplicity of style, that I have preserved it pasted upon one of the
boards of my original Journal at this time, and shall here insert it for
the amusement of my readers:--
'_M. KILLINGLEY's duty waits upon_ Mr. Boswell, _is exceedingly
obliged to him for this favour; whenever he comes this way, hopes for
a continuance of the same. Would_ Mr. Boswell _name the house to his
extensive acquaintance, it would be a singular favour conferr'd on one
who has it not in her power to make any other return but her most
grateful thanks, and sincerest prayers for his happiness in time, and
in a blessed eternity.
From this meeting at Ashbourne I derived a considerable accession to my
Johnsonian store. I communicated my original Journal to Sir William
Forbes, in whom I have always placed deserved confidence; and what he
wrote to me concerning it is so much to my credit as the biographer of
Johnson, that my readers will, I hope, grant me their indulgence for
here inserting it: 'It is not once or twice going over it (says Sir
William,) that will satisfy me; for I find in it a high degree of
instruction as well as entertainment; and I derive more benefit from Dr.
Johnson's admirable discussions than I should be able to draw from his
personal conversation; for, I suppose there is not a man in the world to
whom he discloses his sentiments so freely as to yourself.'
I cannot omit a curious circumstance which occurred at Edensor-inn,
close by Chatsworth, to survey the magnificence of which I had gone a
considerable way out of my road to Scotland. The inn was then kept by a
very jolly landlord, whose name, I think, was Malton. He happened to
mention that 'the celebrated Dr. Johnson had been in his house.' I
inquired _who_ this Dr. Johnson was, that I might hear mine host's
notion of him. 'Sir, (said he,) Johnson, the great writer; _Oddity_, as
they call him. He's the greatest writer in England; he writes for the
ministry; he has a correspondence abroad, and lets them know what's
My friend, who had a thorough dependance upon the authenticity of my
relation without any _embellishment_, as _falsehood_ or _fiction_ is
too gently called, laughed a good deal at this representation of
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Sept. 29, 1777.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'By the first post I inform you of my safe arrival at my own house, and
that I had the comfort of finding my wife and children all in good
'When I look back upon our late interview, it appears to me to have
answered expectation better than almost any scheme of happiness that I
ever put in execution. My Journal is stored with wisdom and wit; and
my memory is filled with the recollection of lively and affectionate
feelings, which now, I think, yield me more satisfaction than at the
time when they were first excited. I have experienced this upon other
occasions. I shall be obliged to you if you will explain it to me; for
it seems wonderful that pleasure should be more vivid at a distance than
when near. I wish you may find yourself in a humour to do me this
favour; but I flatter myself with no strong hope of it; for I have
observed, that unless upon very serious occasions, your letters to me
are not answers to those which I write.'
[I then expressed much uneasiness that I had mentioned to him the name
of the gentleman who had told me the story so much to his
disadvantage, the truth of which he had completely refuted; for that my
having done so might be interpreted as a breach of confidence, and
offend one whose society I valued:--therefore earnestly requesting that
no notice might be taken of it to anybody, till I should be in London,
and have an opportunity to talk it over with the gentleman.]
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'You will wonder, or you have wondered, why no letter has come from me.
What you wrote at your return, had in it such a strain of cowardly
caution as gave me no pleasure. I could not well do what you wished; I
had no need to vex you with a refusal. I have seen Mr. ----, and as
to him have set all right, without any inconvenience, so far as I know,
to you. Mrs. Thrale had forgot the story. You may now be at ease.
'And at ease I certainly wish you, for the kindness that you showed in
coming so long a journey to see me. It was pity to keep you so long in
pain, but, upon reviewing the matter, I do not see what I could have
done better than as I did.
'I hope you found at your return my dear enemy and all her little
people quite well, and had no reason to repent of your journey. I think
on it with great gratitude.
'I was not well when you left me at the Doctor's, and I grew worse; yet
I staid on, and at Lichfield was very ill. Travelling, however, did not
make me worse; and when I came to London, I complied with a summons to
go to Brighthelmston, where I saw Beauclerk, and staid three days.
'Our CLUB has recommenced last Friday, but I was not there. Langton has
another wench. Mrs. Thrale is in hopes of a young brewer. They
got by their trade last year a very large sum, and their expenses
'Mrs. Williams's health is very bad. And I have had for some time a very
difficult and laborious respiration; but I am better by purges,
abstinence, and other methods. I am yet, however, much behind hand in my
health and rest.
'Dr. Blair's Sermons are now universally commended; but let him think
that I had the honour of first finding and first praising his
excellencies. I did not stay to add my voice to that of the publick.
'My dear friend, let me thank you once more for your visit; you did me
great honour, and I hope met with nothing that displeased you. I staid
long at Ashbourne, not much pleased, yet aukward at departing. I then
went to Lichfield, where I found my friend at Stow-hill very
dangerously diseased. Such is life. Let us try to pass it well, whatever
it be, for there is surely something beyond it.
'Well, now I hope all is well, write as soon as you can to, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate servant,
'London, Nov. 25, 1777.'
'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Nov. 29, 1777.
'My DEAR SIR,
'This day's post has at length relieved me from much uneasiness, by
bringing me a letter from you. I was, indeed, doubly uneasy;--on my own
account and yours. I was very anxious to be secured against any bad
consequences from my imprudence in mentioning the gentleman's name who
had told me a story to your disadvantage; and as I could hardly suppose
it possible, that you would delay so long to make me easy, unless you
were ill, I was not a little apprehensive about you. You must not be
offended when I venture to tell you that you appear to me to have been
too rigid upon this occasion. The "_cowardly caution which gave you no
pleasure_," was suggested to me by a friend here, to whom I mentioned
the strange story and the detection of its falsity, as an instance how
one may be deceived by what is apparently very good authority. But, as I
am still persuaded, that as I might have obtained the truth, without
mentioning the gentleman's name, it was wrong in me to do it, I cannot
see that you are just in blaming my caution. But if you were ever so
just in your disapprobation, might you not have dealt more tenderly with