Part 10 out of 12
'I have at last finished my Lives, and have laid up for you a load
of copy, all out of order, so that it will amuse you a long time to
set it right. Come to me, my dear Bozzy, and let us be as happy as
we can. We will go again to the Mitre, and talk old times over. I
am, dear Sir, yours affectionately,
'March 14, 1781.'
On Monday, March 19, I arrived in London, and on Tuesday, the 20th,
met him in Fleet-street, walking, or rather indeed moving along;
for his peculiar march is thus described in a very just and
picturesque manner, in a short Life of him published very soon
after his death:--'When he walked the streets, what with the
constant roll of his head, and the concomitant motion of his body,
he appeared to make his way by that motion, independent of his
feet.' That he was often much stared at while he advanced in this
manner, may easily be believed; but it was not safe to make sport
of one so robust as he was. Mr. Langton saw him one day, in a fit
of absence, by a sudden start, drive the load off a porter's back,
and walk forward briskly, without being conscious of what he had
done. The porter was very angry, but stood still, and eyed the
huge figure with much earnestness, till he was satisfied that his
wisest course was to be quiet, and take up his burthen again.
Our accidental meeting in the street after a long separation was a
pleasing surprize to us both. He stepped aside with me into
Falcon-court, and made kind inquiries about my family, and as we
were in a hurry going different ways, I promised to call on him
next day; he said he was engaged to go out in the morning. 'Early,
Sir?' said I. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a London morning does not go
with the sun.'
I waited on him next evening, and he gave me a great portion of his
original manuscript of his Lives of the Poets, which he had
preserved for me.
I found on visiting his friend, Mr. Thrale, that he was now very
ill, and had removed, I suppose by the solicitation of Mrs. Thrale,
to a house in Grosvenor-square. I was sorry to see him sadly
changed in his appearance.
He told me I might now have the pleasure to see Dr. Johnson drink
wine again, for he had lately returned to it. When I mentioned
this to Johnson, he said, 'I drink it now sometimes, but not
socially.' The first evening that I was with him at Thrale's, I
observed he poured a large quantity of it into a glass, and
swallowed it greedily. Every thing about his character and manners
was forcible and violent; there never was any moderation; many a
day did he fast, many a year did he refrain from wine; but when he
did eat, it was voraciously; when he did drink wine, it was
copiously. He could practise abstinence, but not temperance.
Mrs. Thrale and I had a dispute, whether Shakspeare or Milton had
drawn the most admirable picture of a man.* I was for Shakspeare;
Mrs. Thrale for Milton; and after a fair hearing, Johnson decided
for my opinion.
* The passages considered, according to Boswell's note, were the
portrait of Hamlet's father (Ham. 3. 4. 55-62), and the portrait of
Adam (P. L. 4. 300-303).--ED.
I told him of one of Mr. Burke's playful sallies upon Dean Marlay:
'I don't like the Deanery of Ferns, it sounds so like a BARREN
title.'--'Dr. HEATH should have it;' said I. Johnson laughed, and
condescending to trifle in the same mode of conceit, suggested Dr.
He said, 'Mrs. Montagu has dropt me. Now, Sir, there are people
whom one should like very well to drop, but would not wish to be
dropped by.' He certainly was vain of the society of ladies, and
could make himself very agreeable to them, when he chose it; Sir
Joshua Reynolds agreed with me that he could. Mr. Gibbon, with his
usual sneer, controverted it, perhaps in resentment of Johnson's
having talked with some disgust of his ugliness, which one would
think a PHILOSOPHER would not mind. Dean Marlay wittily observed,
'A lady may be vain, when she can turn a wolf-dog into a lap-dog.'
His notion of the duty of a member of Parliament, sitting upon an
election-committee, was very high; and when he was told of a
gentleman upon one of those committees, who read the newspapers
part of the time, and slept the rest, while the merits of a vote
were examined by the counsel; and as an excuse, when challenged by
the chairman for such behaviour, bluntly answered, 'I had made up
my mind upon that case.'--Johnson, with an indignant contempt,
said, 'If he was such a rogue as to make up his mind upon a case
without hearing it, he should not have been such a fool as to tell
it.' 'I think (said Mr. Dudley Long, now North,) the Doctor has
pretty plainly made him out to be both rogue and fool.'
Johnson's profound reverence for the Hierarchy made him expect from
bishops the highest degree of decorum; he was offended even at
their going to taverns; 'A bishop (said he,) has nothing to do at a
tippling-house. It is not indeed immoral in him to go to a tavern;
neither would it be immoral in him to whip a top in Grosvenor-
square. But, if he did, I hope the boys would fall upon him, and
apply the whip to HIM. There are gradations in conduct; there is
morality,--decency,--propriety. None of these should be violated
by a bishop. A bishop should not go to a house where he may meet a
young fellow leading out a wench.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, every
tavern does not admit women.' JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, any
tavern will admit a well-drest man and a well-drest woman; they
will not perhaps admit a woman whom they see every night walking by
their door, in the street. But a well-drest man may lead in a
well-drest woman to any tavern in London. Taverns sell meat and
drink, and will sell them to any body who can eat and can drink.
You may as well say that a mercer will not sell silks to a woman of
He also disapproved of bishops going to routs, at least of their
staying at them longer than their presence commanded respect. He
mentioned a particular bishop. 'Poh! (said Mrs. Thrale,) the
Bishop of ------ is never minded at a rout.' BOSWELL. 'When a
bishop places himself in a situation where he has no distinct
character, and is of no consequence, he degrades the dignity of his
order.' JOHNSON. 'Mr. Boswell, Madam has said it as correctly as
it could be.'
Johnson and his friend, Beauclerk, were once together in company
with several clergymen, who thought that they should appear to
advantage, by assuming the lax jollity of men of the world; which,
as it may be observed in similar cases, they carried to noisy
excess. Johnson, who they expected would be ENTERTAINED, sat grave
and silent for some time; at last, turning to Beauclerk, he said,
by no means in a whisper, 'This merriment of parsons is mighty
On Friday, March 30, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's,
with the Earl of Charlemont, Sir Annesley Stewart, Mr. Eliot of
Port-Eliot, Mr. Burke, Dean Marlay, Mr. Langton; a most agreeable
day, of which I regret that every circumstance is not preserved;
but it is unreasonable to require such a multiplication of
Mr. Eliot mentioned a curious liquor peculiar to his country, which
the Cornish fishermen drink. They call it Mahogany; and it is made
of two parts gin, and one part treacle, well beaten together. I
begged to have some of it made, which was done with proper skill by
Mr. Eliot. I thought it very good liquor; and said it was a
counterpart of what is called Athol Porridge in the Highlands of
Scotland, which is a mixture of whisky and honey. Johnson said,
'that must be a better liquor than the Cornish, for both its
component parts are better.' He also observed, 'Mahogany must be a
modern name; for it is not long since the wood called mahogany was
known in this country.' I mentioned his scale of liquors;--claret
for boys,--port for men,--brandy for heroes. 'Then (said Mr.
Burke,) let me have claret: I love to be a boy; to have the
careless gaiety of boyish days.' JOHNSON. 'I should drink claret
too, if it would give me that; but it does not: it neither makes
boys men, nor men boys. You'll be drowned by it, before it has any
effect upon you.'
I ventured to mention a ludicrous paragraph in the newspapers, that
Dr. Johnson was learning to dance of Vestris. Lord Charlemont,
wishing to excite him to talk, proposed in a whisper, that he
should be asked, whether it was true. 'Shall I ask him?' said his
Lordship. We were, by a great majority, clear for the experiment.
Upon which his Lordship very gravely, and with a courteous air
said, 'Pray, Sir, is it true that you are taking lessons of
Vestris?' This was risking a good deal, and required the boldness
of a General of Irish Volunteers to make the attempt. Johnson was
at first startled, and in some heat answered, 'How can your
Lordship ask so simple a question?' But immediately recovering
himself, whether from unwillingness to be deceived, or to appear
deceived, or whether from real good humour, he kept up the joke:
'Nay, but if any body were to answer the paragraph, and contradict
it, I'd have a reply, and would say, that he who contradicted it
was no friend either to Vestris or me. For why should not Dr.
Johnson add to his other powers a little corporeal agility?
Socrates learnt to dance at an advanced age, and Cato learnt Greek
at an advanced age. Then it might proceed to say, that this
Johnson, not content with dancing on the ground, might dance on the
rope; and they might introduce the elephant dancing on the rope.'
On Sunday, April 1, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, with Sir
Philip Jennings Clerk and Mr. Perkins, who had the superintendence
of Mr. Thrale's brewery, with a salary of five hundred pounds a
year. Sir Philip had the appearance of a gentleman of ancient
family, well advanced in life. He wore his own white hair in a bag
of goodly size, a black velvet coat, with an embroidered waistcoat,
and very rich laced ruffles; which Mrs. Thrale said were old
fashioned, but which, for that reason, I thought the more
respectable, more like a Tory; yet Sir Philip was then in
Opposition in Parliament. 'Ah, Sir, (said Johnson,) ancient
ruffles and modern principles do not agree.' Sir Philip defended
the Opposition to the American war ably and with temper, and I
joined him. He said, the majority of the nation was against the
ministry. JOHNSON. 'I, Sir, am against the ministry; but it is
for having too little of that, of which Opposition thinks they have
too much. Were I minister, if any man wagged his finger against
me, he should be turned out; for that which it is in the power of
Government to give at pleasure to one or to another, should be
given to the supporters of Government. If you will not oppose at
the expence of losing your place, your opposition will not be
honest, you will feel no serious grievance; and the present
opposition is only a contest to get what others have. Sir Robert
Walpole acted as I would do. As to the American war, the SENSE of
the nation is WITH the ministry. The majority of those who can
UNDERSTAND is with it; the majority of those who can only HEAR, is
against it; and as those who can only hear are more numerous than
those who can understand, and Opposition is always loudest, a
majority of the rabble will be for Opposition.'
This boisterous vivacity entertained us; but the truth in my
opinion was, that those who could understand the best were against
the American war, as almost every man now is, when the question has
been coolly considered.
Mrs. Thrale gave high praise to Mr. Dudley Long, (now North).
JOHNSON. 'Nay, my dear lady, don't talk so. Mr. Long's character
is very SHORT. It is nothing. He fills a chair. He is a man of
genteel appearance, and that is all. I know nobody who blasts by
praise as you do: for whenever there is exaggerated praise, every
body is set against a character. They are provoked to attack it.
Now there is Pepys; you praised that man with such disproportion,
that I was incited to lessen him, perhaps more than he deserves.
His blood is upon your head. By the same principle, your malice
defeats itself; for your censure is too violent. And yet, (looking
to her with a leering smile,) she is the first woman in the world,
could she but restrain that wicked tongue of hers;--she would be
the only woman, could she but command that little whirligig.'
Upon the subject of exaggerated praise I took the liberty to say,
that I thought there might be very high praise given to a known
character which deserved it, and therefore it would not be
exaggerated. Thus, one might say of Mr. Edmund Burke, He is a very
wonderful man. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, you would not be safe if
another man had a mind perversely to contradict. He might answer,
"Where is all the wonder? Burke is, to be sure, a man of uncommon
abilities, with a great quantity of matter in his mind, and a great
fluency of language in his mouth. But we are not to be stunned and
astonished by him." So you see, Sir, even Burke would suffer, not
from any fault of his own, but from your folly.'
Mrs. Thrale mentioned a gentleman who had acquired a fortune of
four thousand a year in trade, but was absolutely miserable,
because he could not talk in company; so miserable, that he was
impelled to lament his situation in the street to ******, whom he
hates, and who he knows despises him. 'I am a most unhappy man,
(said he). I am invited to conversations. I go to conversations;
but, alas! I have no conversation.' JOHNSON. 'Man commonly cannot
be successful in different ways. This gentleman has spent, in
getting four thousand pounds a year, the time in which he might
have learnt to talk; and now he cannot talk.' Mr. Perkins made a
shrewd and droll remark: 'If he had got his four thousand a year as
a mountebank, he might have learnt to talk at the same time that he
was getting his fortune.'
Some other gentlemen came in. The conversation concerning the
person whose character Dr. Johnson had treated so slightingly, as
he did not know his merit, was resumed. Mrs. Thrale said, 'You
think so of him, Sir, because he is quiet, and does not exert
himself with force. You'll be saying the same thing of Mr. *****
there, who sits as quiet--.' This was not well-bred; and Johnson
did not let it pass without correction. 'Nay, Madam, what right
have you to talk thus? Both Mr. ***** and I have reason to take it
ill. You may talk so of Mr. *****; but why do you make me do it?
Have I said anything against Mr. *****? You have set him, that I
might shoot him: but I have not shot him.'
One of the gentlemen said, he had seen three folio volumes of Dr.
Johnson's sayings collected by me. 'I must put you right, Sir,
(said I,) for I am very exact in authenticity. You could not see
folio volumes, for I have none: you might have seen some in quarto
and octavo. This is inattention which one should guard against.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is a want of concern about veracity. He does
not know that he saw any volumes. If he had seen them he could
have remembered their size.'
Mr. Thrale appeared very lethargick to-day. I saw him again on
Monday evening, at which time he was not thought to be in immediate
danger; but early in the morning of Wednesday, the 4th, he expired.
Johnson was in the house, and thus mentions the event: 'I felt
almost the last flutter of his pulse, and looked for the last time
upon the face that for fifteen years had never been turned upon me
but with respect and benignity.' Upon that day there was a Call of
The LITERARY CLUB; but Johnson apologised for his absence by the
'MR. JOHNSON knows that Sir Joshua Reynolds and the other gentlemen
will excuse his incompliance with the call, when they are told that
Mr. Thrale died this morning.--Wednesday.'
Mr. Thrale's death was a very essential loss to Johnson, who,
although he did not foresee all that afterwards happened, was
sufficiently convinced that the comforts which Mr. Thrale's family
afforded him, would now in a great measure cease. He, however,
continued to shew a kind attention to his widow and children as
long as it was acceptable; and he took upon him, with a very
earnest concern, the office of one of his executors, the importance
of which seemed greater than usual to him, from his circumstances
having been always such, that he had scarcely any share in the real
business of life. His friends of THE CLUB were in hopes that Mr.
Thrale might have made a liberal provision for him for his life,
which, as Mr. Thrale left no son, and a very large fortune, it
would have been highly to his honour to have done; and, considering
Dr. Johnson's age, could not have been of long duration; but he
bequeathed him only two hundred pounds, which was the legacy given
to each of his executors. I could not but be somewhat diverted by
hearing Johnson talk in a pompous manner of his new office, and
particularly of the concerns of the brewery, which it was at last
resolved should be sold. Lord Lucan tells a very good story,
which, if not precisely exact, is certainly characteristical: that
when the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson
appeared bustling about, with an ink-horn and pen in his button-
hole, like an excise-man; and on being asked what he really
considered to be the value of the property which was to be disposed
of, answered, 'We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and
vats, but the potentiality of growing rich, beyond the dreams of
On Friday, April 6, he carried me to dine at a club, which, at his
desire, had been lately formed at the Queen's Arms, in St. Paul's
Church-yard. He told Mr. Hoole, that he wished to have a City
Club, and asked him to collect one; but, said he, 'Don't let them
be PATRIOTS.' The company were to-day very sensible, well-behaved
On Friday, April 13, being Good-Friday, I went to St. Clement's
church with him as usual. There I saw again his old fellow-
collegian, Edwards, to whom I said, 'I think, Sir, Dr. Johnson and
you meet only at Church.'--'Sir, (said he,) it is the best place we
can meet in, except Heaven, and I hope we shall meet there too.'
Dr. Johnson told me, that there was very little communication
between Edwards and him, after their unexpected renewal of
acquaintance. 'But, (said he, smiling), he met me once, and said,
"I am told you have written a very pretty book called The Rambler."
I was unwilling that he should leave the world in total darkness,
and sent him a set.'
Mr. Berrenger visited him to-day, and was very pleasing. We talked
of an evening society for conversation at a house in town, of which
we were all members, but of which Johnson said, 'It will never do,
Sir. There is nothing served about there, neither tea, nor coffee,
nor lemonade, nor any thing whatever; and depend upon it, Sir, a
man does not love to go to a place from whence he comes out exactly
as he went in.' I endeavoured, for argument's sake, to maintain
that men of learning and talents might have very good intellectual
society, without the aid of any little gratifications of the
senses. Berrenger joined with Johnson, and said, that without
these any meeting would be dull and insipid. He would therefore
have all the slight refreshments; nay, it would not be amiss to
have some cold meat, and a bottle of wine upon a side-board. 'Sir,
(said Johnson to me, with an air of triumph,) Mr. Berrenger knows
the world. Every body loves to have good things furnished to them
without any trouble. I told Mrs. Thrale once, that as she did not
choose to have card tables, she should have a profusion of the best
sweetmeats, and she would be sure to have company enough come to
On Sunday, April 15, being Easter-day, after solemn worship in St.
Paul's church, I found him alone; Dr. Scott of the Commons came in.
We talked of the difference between the mode of education at
Oxford, and that in those Colleges where instruction is chiefly
conveyed by lectures. JOHNSON. 'Lectures were once useful; but
now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are
unnecessary. If your attention fails, and you miss a part of a
lecture, it is lost; you cannot go back as you do upon a book.'
Dr. Scott agreed with him. 'But yet (said I), Dr. Scott, you
yourself gave lectures at Oxford.' He smiled. 'You laughed (then
said I,) at those who came to you.'
Dr. Scott left us, and soon afterwards we went to dinner. Our
company consisted of Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Desmoulins, Mr. Levett,
Mr. Allen, the printer, and Mrs. Hall, sister of the Reverend Mr.
John Wesley, and resembling him, as I thought, both in figure and
manner. Johnson produced now, for the first time, some handsome
silver salvers, which he told me he had bought fourteen years ago;
so it was a great day. I was not a little amused by observing
Allen perpetually struggling to talk in the manner of Johnson, like
the little frog in the fable blowing himself up to resemble the
He mentioned a thing as not unfrequent, of which I had never heard
before,--being CALLED, that is, hearing one's name pronounced by
the voice of a known person at a great distance, far beyond the
possibility of being reached by any sound uttered by human organs.
'An acquaintance, on whose veracity I can depend, told me, that
walking home one evening to Kilmarnock, he heard himself called
from a wood, by the voice of a brother who had gone to America; and
the next packet brought accounts of that brother's death.' Macbean
asserted that this inexplicable CALLING was a thing very well
known. Dr. Johnson said, that one day at Oxford, as he was turning
the key of his chamber, he heard his mother distinctly call SAM.
She was then at Lichfleld; but nothing ensued. This phaenomenon
is, I think, as wonderful as any other mysterious fact, which many
people are very slow to believe, or rather, indeed, reject with an
Some time after this, upon his making a remark which escaped my
attention, Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Hall were both together striving
to answer him. He grew angry, and called out loudly, 'Nay, when
you both speak at once, it is intolerable.' But checking himself,
and softening, he said, 'This one may say, though you ARE ladies.'
Then he brightened into gay humour, and addressed them in the words
of one of the songs in The Beggar's Opera:--
'But two at a time there's no mortal can bear.'
'What, Sir, (said I,) are you going to turn Captain Macheath?'
There was something as pleasantly ludicrous in this scene as can be
imagined. The contrast between Macheath, Polly, and Lucy--and Dr.
Samuel Johnson, blind, peevish Mrs. Williams, and lean, lank,
preaching Mrs. Hall, was exquisite.
On Friday, April 20, I spent with him one of the happiest days that
I remember to have enjoyed in the whole course of my life. Mrs.
Garrick, whose grief for the loss of her husband was, I believe, as
sincere as wounded affection and admiration could produce, had this
day, for the first time since his death, a select party of his
friends to dine with her. The company was Miss Hannah More, who
lived with her, and whom she called her Chaplain; Mrs. Boscawen,
Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Burney, Dr.
Johnson, and myself. We found ourselves very elegantly entertained
at her house in the Adelphi, where I have passed many a pleasing
hour with him 'who gladdened life.' She looked well, talked of her
husband with complacency, and while she cast her eyes on his
portrait, which hung over the chimney-piece, said, that 'death was
now the most agreeable object to her.' The very semblance of David
Garrick was cheering.
We were all in fine spirits; and I whispered to Mrs. Boscawen, 'I
believe this is as much as can be made of life.' In addition to a
splendid entertainment, we were regaled with Lichfield ale, which
had a peculiar appropriated value. Sir Joshua, and Dr. Burney, and
I, drank cordially of it to Dr. Johnson's health; and though he
would not join us, he as cordially answered, 'Gentlemen, I wish you
all as well as you do me.'
The general effect of this day dwells upon my mind in fond
remembrance; but I do not find much conversation recorded. What I
have preserved shall be faithfully given.
One of the company mentioned Mr. Thomas Hollis, the strenuous Whig,
who used to send over Europe presents of democratical books, with
their boards stamped with daggers and caps of liberty. Mrs. Carter
said, 'He was a bad man. He used to talk uncharitably.' JOHNSON.
'Poh! poh! Madam; who is the worse for being talked of
uncharitably? Besides, he was a dull poor creature as ever lived:
and I believe he would not have done harm to a man whom he knew to
be of very opposite principles to his own. I remember once at the
Society of Arts, when an advertisement was to be drawn up, he
pointed me out as the man who could do it best. This, you will
observe, was kindness to me. I however slipt away, and escaped
Mrs. Carter having said of the same person, 'I doubt he was an
Atheist.' JOHNSON. 'I don't know that. He might perhaps have
become one, if he had had time to ripen, (smiling.) He might have
EXUBERATED into an Atheist.'
Sir Joshua Reynolds praised Mudge's Sermons. JOHNSON. 'Mudge's
Sermons are good, but not practical. He grasps more sense than he
can hold; he takes more corn than he can make into meal; he opens a
wide prospect, but it is so distant, it is indistinct. I love
Blair's Sermons. Though the dog is a Scotchman, and a
Presbyterian, and every thing he should not be, I was the first to
praise them. Such was my candour,' (smiling.) MRS. BOSCAWEN.
'Such his great merit to get the better of all your prejudices.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, let us compound the matter; let us ascribe
it to my candour, and his merit.'
In the evening we had a large company in the drawing-room, several
ladies, the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr. Percy, Mr. Chamberlayne, of the
Treasury, &c. &c.
Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious
circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a
printer's devil. REYNOLDS. 'A printer's devil, Sir! Why, I
thought a printer's devil was a creature with a black face and in
rags.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face
washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious,
and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a
bottom of good sense.' The word bottom thus introduced, was so
ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could
not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the
Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness,
while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady's back who
sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any
expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend
it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power,
glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, 'Where's
the merriment?' Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to
make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were
searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly
pronounced, 'I say the WOMAN was FUNDAMENTALLY sensible;' as if he
had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat
composed as at a funeral.
He and I walked away together; we stopped a little while by the
rails of the Adelphi, looking on the Thames, and I said to him with
some emotion that I was now thinking of two friends we had lost,
who once lived in the buildings behind us, Beauclerk and Garrick.
'Ay, Sir, (said he, tenderly,) and two such friends as cannot be
For some time after this day I did not see him very often, and of
the conversation which I did enjoy, I am sorry to find I have
preserved but little. I was at this time engaged in a variety of
other matters, which required exertion and assiduity, and
necessarily occupied almost all my time.
On Tuesday, May 8, I had the pleasure of again dining with him and
Mr. Wilkes, at Mr. Dilly's. No NEGOCIATION was now required to
bring them together; for Johnson was so well satisfied with the
former interview, that he was very glad to meet Wilkes again, who
was this day seated between Dr. Beattie and Dr. Johnson; (between
Truth and Reason, as General Paoli said, when I told him of it.)
WILKES. 'I have been thinking, Dr. Johnson, that there should be a
bill brought into parliament that the controverted elections for
Scotland should be tried in that country, at their own Abbey of
Holy-Rood House, and not here; for the consequence of trying them
here is, that we have an inundation of Scotchmen, who come up and
never go back again. Now here is Boswell, who is come up upon the
election for his own county, which will not last a fortnight.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I see no reason why they should be tried at
all; for, you know, one Scotchman is as good as another.' WILKES.
'Pray, Boswell, how much may be got in a year by an Advocate at the
Scotch bar?' BOSWELL. 'I believe two thousand pounds.' WILKES.
'How can it be possible to spend that money in Scotland?' JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, the money may be spent in England: but there is a harder
question. If one man in Scotland gets possession of two thousand
pounds, what remains for all the rest of the nation?' WILKES.
'You know, in the last war, the immense booty which Thurot carried
off by the complete plunder of seven Scotch isles; he re-embarked
with THREE AND SIX-PENCE.' Here again Johnson and Wilkes joined in
extravagant sportive raillery upon the supposed poverty of
Scotland, which Dr. Beattie and I did not think it worth our while
The subject of quotation being introduced, Mr. Wilkes censured it
as pedantry. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it is a good thing; there is a
community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of
literary men all over the world.'
He gave us an entertaining account of Bet Flint, a woman of the
town, who, with some eccentrick talents and much effrontery, forced
herself upon his acquaintance. 'Bet (said he,) wrote her own Life
in verse, which she brought to me, wishing that I would furnish her
with a Preface to it, (laughing.) I used to say of her that she
was generally slut and drunkard; occasionally, whore and thief.
She had, however, genteel lodgings, a spinnet on which she played,
and a boy that walked before her chair. Poor Bet was taken up on a
charge of stealing a counterpane, and tried at the Old Bailey.
Chief Justice ------, who loved a wench, summed up favourably, and
she was acquitted. After which Bet said, with a gay and satisfied
air, "Now that the counterpane is MY OWN, I shall make a petticoat
Talking of oratory, Mr. Wilkes described it as accompanied with all
the charms of poetical expression. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; oratory is
the power of beating down your adversary's arguments, and putting
better in their place.' WILKES. 'But this does not move the
passions.' JOHNSON. 'He must be a weak man, who is to be so
moved.' WILKES. (naming a celebrated orator,) 'Amidst all the
brilliancy of ------'s imagination, and the exuberance of his wit,
there is a strange want of TASTE. It was observed of Apelles's
Venus, that her flesh seemed as if she had been nourished by roses:
his oratory would sometimes make one suspect that he eats potatoes
and drinks whisky.'
Mr. Wilkes said to me, loud enough for Dr. Johnson to hear, 'Dr.
Johnson should make me a present of his Lives of the Poets, as I am
a poor patriot, who cannot afford to buy them.' Johnson seemed to
take no notice of this hint; but in a little while, he called to
Mr. Dilly, 'Pray, Sir, be so good as to send a set of my Lives to
Mr. Wilkes, with my compliments.' This was accordingly done; and
Mr. Wilkes paid Dr. Johnson a visit, was courteously received, and
sat with him a long time.
The company gradually dropped away. Mr. Dilly himself was called
down stairs upon business; I left the room for some time; when I
returned, I was struck with observing Dr. Samuel Johnson and John
Wilkes, Esq., literally tete-a-tete; for they were reclined upon
their chairs, with their heads leaning almost close to each other,
and talking earnestly, in a kind of confidential whisper, of the
personal quarrel between George the Second and the King of Prussia.
Such a scene of perfectly easy sociality between two such opponents
in the war of political controversy, as that which I now beheld,
would have been an excellent subject for a picture. It presented
to my mind the happy days which are foretold in Scripture, when the
lion shall lie down with the kid.
After this day there was another pretty long interval, during which
Dr. Johnson and I did not meet. When I mentioned it to him with
regret, he was pleased to say, 'Then, Sir, let us live double.'
About this time it was much the fashion for several ladies to have
evening assemblies, where the fair sex might participate in
conversation with literary and ingenious men, animated by a desire
to please. These societies were denominated Blue-stocking Clubs,
the origin of which title being little known, it may be worth while
to relate it. One of the most eminent members of those societies,
when they first commenced, was Mr. Stillingfleet, whose dress was
remarkably grave, and in particular it was observed, that he wore
blue stockings. Such was the excellence of his conversation, that
his absence was felt as so great a loss, that it used to be said,
'We can do nothing without the blue stockings;' and thus by degrees
the title was established. Miss Hannah More has admirably
described a Blue-stocking Club, in her Bas Bleu, a poem in which
many of the persons who were most conspicuous there are mentioned.
Johnson was prevailed with to come sometimes into these circles,
and did not think himself too grave even for the lively Miss
Monckton (now Countess of Corke), who used to have the finest BIT
OF BLUE at the house of her mother, Lady Galway. Her vivacity
enchanted the Sage, and they used to talk together with all
imaginable ease. A singular instance happened one evening, when
she insisted that some of Sterne's writings were very pathetick.
Johnson bluntly denied it. 'I am sure (said she,) they have
affected ME.' 'Why, (said Johnson, smiling, and rolling himself
about,) that is, because, dearest, you're a dunce.' When she some
time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said with equal truth and
politeness; 'Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not
have said it.'
Another evening Johnson's kind indulgence towards me had a pretty
difficult trial. I had dined at the Duke of Montrose's with a very
agreeable party, and his Grace, according to his usual custom, had
circulated the bottle very freely. Lord Graham and I went together
to Miss Monckton's, where I certainly was in extraordinary spirits,
and above all fear or awe. In the midst of a great number of
persons of the first rank, amongst whom I recollect with confusion,
a noble lady of the most stately decorum, I placed myself next to
Johnson, and thinking myself now fully his match, talked to him in
a loud and boisterous manner, desirous to let the company know how
I could contend with Ajax. I particularly remember pressing him
upon the value of the pleasures of the imagination, and as an
illustration of my argument, asking him, 'What, Sir, supposing I
were to fancy that the ----- (naming the most charming Duchess in
his Majesty's dominions) were in love with me, should I not be very
happy?' My friend with much address evaded my interrogatories, and
kept me as quiet as possible; but it may easily be conceived how he
must have felt. However, when a few days afterwards I waited upon
him and made an apology, he behaved with the most friendly
While I remained in London this year, Johnson and I dined together
at several places. I recollect a placid day at Dr. Butter's, who
had now removed from Derby to Lower Grosvenor-street, London; but
of his conversation on that and other occasions during this period,
I neglected to keep any regular record, and shall therefore insert
here some miscellaneous articles which I find in my Johnsonian
His disorderly habits, when 'making provision for the day that was
passing over him,' appear from the following anecdote, communicated
to me by Mr. John Nichols:--'In the year 1763, a young bookseller,
who was an apprentice to Mr. Whiston, waited on him with a
subscription to his Shakspeare: and observing that the Doctor made
no entry in any book of the subscriber's name, ventured diffidently
to ask, whether he would please to have the gentleman's address,
that it might be properly inserted in the printed list of
subscribers. "I shall print no list of subscribers;" said Johnson,
with great abruptness: but almost immediately recollecting himself,
added, very complacently, "Sir, I have two very cogent reasons for
not printing any list of subscribers;--one, that I have lost all
the names,--the other, that I have spent all the money."
Johnson could not brook appearing to be worsted in argument, even
when he had taken the wrong side, to shew the force and dexterity
of his talents. When, therefore, he perceived that his opponent
gained ground, he had recourse to some sudden mode of robust
sophistry. Once when I was pressing upon him with visible
advantage, he stopped me thus:--'My dear Boswell, let's have no
more of this; you'll make nothing of it. I'd rather have you
whistle a Scotch tune.'
Care, however, must be taken to distinguish between Johnson when he
'talked for victory,' and Johnson when he had no desire but to
inform and illustrate. 'One of Johnson s principal talents (says
an eminent friend of his) was shewn in maintaining the wrong side
of an argument, and in a splendid perversion of the truth. If you
could contrive to have his fair opinion on a subject, and without
any bias from personal prejudice, or from a wish to be victorious
in argument, it was wisdom itself, not only convincing, but
He had, however, all his life habituated himself to consider
conversation as a trial of intellectual vigour and skill; and to
this, I think, we may venture to ascribe that unexampled richness
and brilliancy which appeared in his own. As a proof at once of
his eagerness for colloquial distinction, and his high notion of
this eminent friend, he once addressed him thus:-- '-----, we now
have been several hours together; and you have said but one thing
for which I envied you.'
Goldsmith could sometimes take adventurous liberties with him, and
escape unpunished. Beauclerk told me that when Goldsmith talked of
a project for having a third Theatre in London, solely for the
exhibition of new plays, in order to deliver authours from the
supposed tyranny of managers, Johnson treated it slightingly; upon
which Goldsmith said, 'Ay, ay, this may be nothing to you, who can
now shelter yourself behind the corner of a pension;' and that
Johnson bore this with good-humour.
Johnson had called twice on the Bishop of Killaloe before his
Lordship set out for Ireland, having missed him the first time. He
said, 'It would have hung heavy on my heart if I had not seen him.
No man ever paid more attention to another than he has done to me;
and I have neglected him, not wilfully, but from being otherwise
occupied. Always, Sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness.
He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of
his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at
pains to attach to you.'
I asked him if he was not dissatisfied with having so small a share
of wealth, and none of those distinctions in the state which are
the objects of ambition. He had only a pension of three hundred a
year. Why was he not in such circumstances as to keep his coach?
Why had he not some considerable office? JOHNSON. 'Sir, I have
never complained of the world; nor do I think that I have reason to
complain. It is rather to be wondered at that I have so much. My
pension is more out of the usual course of things than any instance
that I have known. Here, Sir, was a man avowedly no friend to
Government at the time, who got a pension without asking for it. I
never courted the great; they sent for me; but I think they now
give me up. They are satisfied; they have seen enough of me.'
Strange, however, it is, to consider how few of the great sought
his society; so that if one were disposed to take occasion for
satire on that account, very conspicuous objects present
themselves. His noble friend, Lord Elibank, well observed, that if
a great man procured an interview with Johnson, and did not wish to
see him more, it shewed a mere idle curiosity, and a wretched want
of relish for extraordinary powers of mind. Mrs. Thrale justly and
wittily accounted for such conduct by saying, that Johnson's
conversation was by much too strong for a person accustomed to
obsequiousness and flattery; it was mustard in a young child's
On Saturday, June 2, I set out for Scotland, and had promised to
pay a visit in my way, as I sometimes did, at Southill, in
Bedfordshire, at the hospitable mansion of 'Squire Dilly, the elder
brother of my worthy friends, the booksellers, in the Poultry. Dr.
Johnson agreed to be of the party this year, with Mr. Charles Dilly
and me, and to go and see Lord Bute's seat at Luton Hoe. He talked
little to us in the carriage, being chiefly occupied in reading Dr.
Watson's second volume of Chemical Essays, which he liked very
well, and his own Prince of Abyssinia, on which he seemed to be
intensely fixed; having told us, that he had not looked at it since
it was first published. I happened to take it out of my pocket
this day, and he seized upon it with avidity.
We stopped at Welwyn, where I wished much to see, in company with
Dr. Johnson, the residence of the authour of Night Thoughts, which
was then possessed by his son, Mr. Young. Here some address was
requisite, for I was not acquainted with Mr. Young, and had I
proposed to Dr. Johnson that we should send to him, he would have
checked my wish, and perhaps been offended. I therefore concerted
with Mr. Dilly, that I should steal away from Dr. Johnson and him,
and try what reception I could procure from Mr. Young; if
unfavourable, nothing was to be said; but if agreeable, I should
return and notify it to them. I hastened to Mr. Young's, found he
was at home, sent in word that a gentleman desired to wait upon
him, and was shewn into a parlour, where he and a young lady, his
daughter, were sitting. He appeared to be a plain, civil, country
gentleman; and when I begged pardon for presuming to trouble him,
but that I wished much to see his place, if he would give me leave;
he behaved very courteously, and answered, 'By all means, Sir; we
are just going to drink tea; will you sit down?' I thanked him,
but said, that Dr. Johnson had come with me from London, and I must
return to the inn and drink tea with him; that my name was Boswell,
I had travelled with him in the Hebrides. 'Sir, (said he,) I
should think it a great honour to see Dr. Johnson here. Will you
allow me to send for him?' Availing myself of this opening, I said
that 'I would go myself and bring him, when he had drunk tea; he
knew nothing of my calling here.' Having been thus successful, I
hastened back to the inn, and informed Dr. Johnson that 'Mr. Young,
son of Dr. Young, the authour of Night Thoughts, whom I had just
left, desired to have the honour of seeing him at the house where
his father lived.' Dr. Johnson luckily made no inquiry how this
invitation had arisen, but agreed to go, and when we entered Mr.
Young's parlour, he addressed him with a very polite bow, 'Sir, I
had a curiosity to come and see this place. I had the honour to
know that great man, your father.' We went into the garden, where
we found a gravel walk, on each side of which was a row of trees,
planted by Dr. Young, which formed a handsome Gothick arch; Dr.
Johnson called it a fine grove. I beheld it with reverence.
We sat some time in the summer-house, on the outside wall of which
was inscribed, 'Ambulantes in horto audiebant vocem Dei;' and in
reference to a brook by which it is situated, 'Vivendi recte qui
prorogat horam,' &c. I said to Mr. Young, that I had been told his
father was cheerful. 'Sir, (said he,) he was too well-bred a man
not to be cheerful in company; but he was gloomy when alone. He
never was cheerful after my mother's death, and he had met with
many disappointments.' Dr. Johnson observed to me afterwards,
'That this was no favourable account of Dr. Young; for it is not
becoming in a man to have so little acquiescence in the ways of
Providence, as to be gloomy because he has not obtained as much
preferment as he expected; nor to continue gloomy for the loss of
his wife. Grief has its time.' The last part of this censure was
theoretically made. Practically, we know that grief for the loss
of a wife may be continued very long, in proportion as affection
has been sincere. No man knew this better than Dr. Johnson.
Upon the road we talked of the uncertainty of profit with which
authours and booksellers engage in the publication of literary
works. JOHNSON. 'My judgement I have found is no certain rule as
to the sale of a book.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, have you been much
plagued with authours sending you their works to revise?' JOHNSON.
'No, Sir; I have been thought a sour, surly fellow.' BOSWELL.
'Very lucky. for you, Sir,--in that respect.' I must however
observe, that notwithstanding what he now said, which he no doubt
imagined at the time to be the fact, there was, perhaps, no man who
more frequently yielded to the solicitations even of very obscure
authours, to read their manuscripts, or more liberally assisted
them with advice and correction.
He found himself very happy at 'Squire Dilly's, where there is
always abundance of excellent fare, and hearty welcome.
On Sunday, June 3, we all went to Southill church, which is very
near to Mr. Dilly's house. It being the first Sunday of the month,
the holy sacrament was administered, and I staid to partake of it.
When I came afterwards into Dr. Johnson's room, he said, 'You did
right to stay and receive the communion; I had not thought of it.'
This seemed to imply that he did not choose to approach the altar
without a previous preparation, as to which good men entertain
different opinions, some holding that it is irreverent to partake
of that ordinance without considerable premeditation.
Although upon most occasions I never heard a more strenuous
advocate for the advantages of wealth, than Dr. Johnson: he this
day, I know not from what caprice, took the other side. 'I have
not observed (said he,) that men of very large fortunes enjoy any
thing extraordinary that makes happiness. What has the Duke of
Bedford? What has the Duke of Devonshire? The only great instance
that I have ever known of the enjoyment of wealth was, that of
Jamaica Dawkins, who, going to visit Palmyra, and hearing that the
way was infested by robbers, hired a troop of Turkish horse to
Dr. Gibbons, the Dissenting minister, being mentioned, he said, 'I
took to Dr. Gibbons.' And addressing himself to Mr. Charles Dilly,
added, 'I shall be glad to see him. Tell him, if he'll call on me,
and dawdle over a dish of tea in an afternoon, I shall take it
The Reverend Mr. Smith, Vicar of Southill, a very respectable man,
with a very agreeable family, sent an invitation to us to drink
tea. I remarked Dr. Johnson's very respectful politeness. Though
always fond of changing the scene, he said, 'We must have Mr.
Dilly's leave. We cannot go from your house, Sir, without your
permission.' We all went, and were well satisfied with our visit.
When I observed that a housebreaker was in general very timorous;
JOHNSON. 'No wonder, Sir; he is afraid of being shot getting INTO
a house, or hanged when he has got OUT of it.'
He told us, that he had in one day written six sheets of a
translation from the French, adding, 'I should be glad to see it
now. I wish that I had copies of all the pamphlets written against
me, as it is said Pope had. Had I known that I should make so much
noise in the world, I should have been at pains to collect them. I
believe there is hardly a day in which there is not something about
me in the newspapers.'
On Monday, June 4, we all went to Luton-Hoe, to see Lord Bute's
magnificent seat, for which I had obtained a ticket. As we entered
the park, I talked in a high style of my old friendship with Lord
Mountstuart, and said, 'I shall probably be much at this place.'
The Sage, aware of human vicissitudes, gently checked me: 'Don't
you be too sure of that.' He made two or three peculiar
observations; as when shewn the botanical garden, 'Is not EVERY
garden a botanical garden?' When told that there was a shrubbery
to the extent of several miles: 'That is making a very foolish use
of the ground; a little of it is very well.' When it was proposed
that we should walk on the pleasure-ground; 'Don't let us fatigue
ourselves. Why should we walk there? Here's a fine tree, let's
get to the top of it.' But upon the whole, he was very much
pleased. He said, 'This is one of the places I do not regret
having come to see. It is a very stately place, indeed; in the
house magnificence is not sacrificed to convenience, nor
convenience to magnificence. The library is very splendid: the
dignity of the rooms is very great; and the quantity of pictures is
beyond expectation, beyond hope.'
It happened without any previous concert, that we visited the seat
of Lord Bute upon the King's birthday; we dined and drank his
Majesty's health at an inn, in the village of Luton.
In the evening I put him in mind of his promise to favour me with a
copy of his celebrated Letter to the Earl of Chesterfield, and he
was at last pleased to comply with this earnest request, by
dictating it to me from his memory; for he believed that he himself
had no copy. There was an animated glow in his countenance while
he thus recalled his high-minded indignation.
On Tuesday, June 5, Johnson was to return to London. He was very
pleasant at breakfast; I mentioned a friend of mine having resolved
never to marry a pretty woman. JOHNSON. 'Sir it is a very foolish
resolution to resolve not to marry a pretty woman. Beauty is of
itself very estimable. No, Sir, I would prefer a pretty woman,
unless there are objections to her. A pretty woman may be foolish;
a pretty woman may be wicked; a pretty woman may not like me. But
there is no such danger in marrying a pretty woman as is
apprehended: she will not be persecuted if she does not invite
persecution. A pretty woman, if she has a mind to be wicked, can
find a readier way than another; and that is all.'
At Shefford I had another affectionate parting from my revered
friend, who was taken up by the Bedford coach and carried to the
metropolis. I went with Messieurs Dilly, to see some friends at
Bedford; dined with the officers of the militia of the county, and
next day proceeded on my journey.
Johnson's charity to the poor was uniform and extensive, both from
inclination and principle. He not only bestowed liberally out of
his own purse, but what is more difficult as well as rare, would
beg from others, when he had proper objects in view. This he did
judiciously as well as humanely. Mr. Philip Metcalfe tells me,
that when he has asked him for some money for persons in distress,
and Mr. Metcalfe has offered what Johnson thought too much, he
insisted on taking less, saying, 'No, no, Sir; we must not PAMPER
I am indebted to Mr. Malone, one of Sir Joshua Reynolds's
executors, for the following note, which was found among his papers
after his death, and which, we may presume, his unaffected modesty
prevented him from communicating to me with the other letters from
Dr. Johnson with which he was pleased to furnish me. However
slight in itself, as it does honour to that illustrious painter,
and most amiable man, I am happy to introduce it.
'TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
'DEAR SIR,--It was not before yesterday that I received your
splendid benefaction. To a hand so liberal in distributing, I hope
nobody will envy the power of acquiring. I am, dear Sir, your
obliged and most humble servant,
'June 23, 1781.'
The following curious anecdote I insert in Dr. Burney's own words:--
'Dr. Burney related to Dr. Johnson the partiality which his
writings had excited in a friend of Dr. Burney's, the late Mr.
Bewley, well known in Norfolk by the name of the Philosopher of
Massingham: who, from the Ramblers and Plan of his Dictionary, and
long before the authour's fame was established by the Dictionary
itself, or any other work, had conceived such a reverence for him,
that he urgently begged Dr. Burney to give him the cover of the
first letter he had received from him, as a relick of so estimable
a writer. This was in 1755. In 1760, when Dr. Burney visited Dr.
Johnson at the Temple in London, where he had then chambers, he
happened to arrive there before he was up; and being shewn into the
room where he was to breakfast, finding himself alone, he examined
the contents of the apartment, to try whether he could undiscovered
steal anything to send to his friend Bewley, as another relick of
the admirable Dr. Johnson. But finding nothing better to his
purpose, he cut some bristles off his hearth-broom, and enclosed
them in a letter to his country enthusiast, who received them with
due reverence. The Doctor was so sensible of the honour done him
by a man of genius and science, to whom he was an utter stranger,
that he said to Dr. Burney, "Sir, there is no man possessed of the
smallest portion of modesty, but must be flattered with the
admiration of such a man. I'll give him a set of my Lives, if he
will do me the honour to accept of them." In this he kept his
word; and Dr. Burney had not only the pleasure of gratifying his
friend with a present more worthy of his acceptance than the
segment from the hearth-broom, but soon after of introducing him to
Dr. Johnson himself in Bolt-court, with whom he had the
satisfaction of conversing a considerable time, not a fortnight
before his death; which happened in St. Martin's-street, during his
visit to Dr. Burney, in the house where the great Sir Isaac Newton
had lived and died before.'
In one of his little memorandum-books is the following minute:--
'August 9, 3 P.M., aetat. 72, in the summer-house at Streatham.
'After innumerable resolutions formed and neglected, I have retired
hither, to plan a life of greater diligence, in hope that I may yet
be useful, and be daily better prepared to appear before my Creator
and my Judge, from whose infinite mercy I humbly call for
assistance and support.
'My purpose is,
'To pass eight hours every day in some serious employment.
'Having prayed, I purpose to employ the next six weeks upon the
Italian language, for my settled study.'
In autumn he went to Oxford, Birmingham, Lichfield, and Ashbourne,
for which very good reasons might be given in the conjectural yet
positive manner of writers, who are proud to account for every
event which they relate. He himself, however, says, 'The motives
of my journey I hardly know; I omitted it last year, and am not
willing to miss it again.'
But some good considerations arise, amongst which is the kindly
recollection of Mr. Hector, surgeon at Birmingham: 'Hector is
likewise an old friend, the only companion of my childhood that
passed through the school with me. We have always loved one
another; perhaps we may be made better by some serious
conversation, of which however I have no distinct hope.' He says
too, 'At Lichfield, my native place, I hope to shew a good example
by frequent attendance on publick worship.'
1782: AETAT. 73.]--In 1782, his complaints increased, and the
history of his life this year, is little more than a mournful
recital of the variations of his illness, in the midst of which,
however, it will appear from his letters, that the powers of his
mind were in no degree impaired.
At a time when he was less able than he had once been to sustain a
shock, he was suddenly deprived of Mr. Levett, which event he thus
communicated to Dr. Lawrence:--
'SIR,--Our old friend, Mr. Levett, who was last night eminently
cheerful, died this morning. The man who lay in the same room,
hearing an uncommon noise, got up and tried to make him speak, but
without effect, he then called Mr. Holder, the apothecary, who,
though when he came he thought him dead, opened a vein, but could
draw no blood. So has ended the long life of a very useful and
very blameless man. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
'Jan. 17, 1782.'
In one of his memorandum-books in my possession, is the following
entry:--'January 20, Sunday. Robert Levett was buried in the
church-yard of Bridewell, between one and two in the afternoon. He
died on Thursday 17, about seven in the morning, by an
instantaneous death. He was an old and faithful friend; I have
known him from about 46. Commendavi. May GOD have mercy on him.
May he have mercy on me.'
On the 30th of August, I informed him that my honoured father had
died that morning; a complaint under which he had long laboured
having suddenly come to a crisis, while I was upon a visit at the
seat of Sir Charles Preston, from whence I had hastened the day
before, upon receiving a letter by express.
In answer to my next letter, I received one from him, dissuading me
from hastening to him as I had proposed; what is proper for
publication is the following paragraph, equally just and tender:--
'One expence, however, I would not have you to spare: let nothing
be omitted that can preserve Mrs. Boswell, though it should be
necessary to transplant her for a time into a softer climate. She
is the prop and stay of your life. How much must your children
suffer by losing her.'
My wife was now so much convinced of his sincere friendship for me,
and regard for her, that, without any suggestion on my part, she
wrote him a very polite and grateful letter:--
'DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. BOSWELL.
'DEAR LADY,--I have not often received so much pleasure as from
your invitation to Auchinleck. The journey thither and back is,
indeed, too great for the latter part of the year; but if my health
were fully recovered, I would suffer no little heat and cold, nor a
wet or a rough road to keep me from you. I am, indeed, not without
hope of seeing Auchinleek again; but to make it a pleasant place I
must see its lady well, and brisk, and airy. For my sake,
therefore, among many greater reasons, take care, dear Madam, of
your health, spare no expence, and want no attendance that can
procure ease, or preserve it. Be very careful to keep your mind
quiet; and do not think it too much to give an account of your
recovery to, Madam, yours, &c.
'London, Sept. 7, 1782.'
The death of Mr. Thrale had made a very material alteration with
respect to Johnson's reception in that family. The manly authority
of the husband no longer curbed the lively exuberance of the lady;
and as her vanity had been fully gratified, by having the Colossus
of Literature attached to her for many years, she gradually became
less assiduous to please him. Whether her attachment to him was
already divided by another object, I am unable to ascertain; but it
is plain that Johnson's penetration was alive to her neglect or
forced attention; for on the 6th of October this year, we find him
making a 'parting use of the library' at Streatham, and pronouncing
a prayer, which he composed on leaving Mr. Thrale's family:--
'Almighty God, Father of all mercy, help me by thy grace, that I
may, with humble and sincere thankfulness, remember the comforts
and conveniences which I have enjoyed at this place; and that I may
resign them with holy submission, equally trusting in thy
protection when thou givest, and when thou takest away. Have mercy
upon me, O Lord, have mercy upon me.
'To thy fatherly protection, O Lord, I commend this family. Bless,
guide, and defend them, that they may so pass through this world,
as finally to enjoy in thy presence everlasting happiness, for
Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.'
One cannot read this prayer, without some emotions not very
favourable to the lady whose conduct occasioned it.
In one of his memorandum-books I find, 'Sunday, went to church at
Streatham. Templo valedixi cam osculo.'
He met Mr. Philip Metcalfe often at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, and
other places, and was a good deal with him at Brighthelmston this
autumn, being pleased at once with his excellent table and animated
conversation. Mr. Metcalfe shewed him great respect, and sent him
a note that he might have the use of his carriage whenever he
pleased. Johnson (3rd October, 1782) returned this polite answer:--
'Mr. Johnson is very much obliged by the kind offer of the
carriage, but he has no desire of using Mr. Metcalfe's carriage,
except when he can have the pleasure of Mr. Metcalfe's company.'
Mr. Metcalfe could not but be highly pleased that his company was
thus valued by Johnson, and he frequently attended him in airings.
They also went together to Chichester, and they visited Petworth,
and Cowdry, the venerable seat of the Lords Montacute. 'Sir, (said
Johnson,) I should like to stay here four-and-twenty hours. We see
here how our ancestors lived.'
'TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
'DEAR SIR,--I heard yesterday of your late disorder, and should
think ill of myself if I had heard of it without alarm. I heard
likewise of your recovery, which I sincerely wish to be complete
and permanent. Your country has been in danger of losing one of
its brightest ornaments, and I of losing one of my oldest and
kindest friends: but I hope you will still live long, for the
honour of the nation: and that more enjoyment of your elegance,
your intelligence, and your benevolence, is still reserved for,
dear Sir, your most affectionate, &c.
'Brighthelmston, Nov. 14, 1782.'
1783: AETAT. 74.]--In 1783, he was more severely afflicted than
ever, as will appear in the course of his correspondence; but still
the same ardour for literature, the same constant piety, the same
kindness for his friends, and the same vivacity both in
conversation and writing, distinguished him.
On Friday, March 21, having arrived in London the night before, I
was glad to find him at Mrs. Thrale's house, in Argyll-street,
appearances of friendship between them being still kept up. I was
shewn into his room, and after the first salutation he said, 'I am
glad you are come. I am very ill.' He looked pale, and was
distressed with a difficulty of breathing; but after the common
inquiries he assumed his usual strong animated style of
conversation. Seeing me now for the first time as a Laird, or
proprietor of land, he began thus: 'Sir, the superiority of a
country-gentleman over the people upon his estate is very
agreeable; and he who says he does not feel it to be agreeable,
lies; for it must be agreeable to have a casual superiority over
those who are by nature equal with us.' BOSWELL. 'Yet, Sir, we
see great proprietors of land who prefer living in London.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the pleasure of living in London, the
intellectual superiority that is enjoyed there, may counterbalance
the other. Besides, Sir, a man may prefer the state of the
country-gentleman upon the whole, and yet there may never be a
moment when he is willing to make the change to quit London for
He talked with regret and indignation of the factious opposition to
Government at this time, and imputed it in a great measure to the
Revolution. 'Sir, (said he, in a low voice, having come nearer to
me, while his old prejudices seemed to be fermenting in his mind,)
this Hanoverian family is isolee here. They have no friends. Now
the Stuarts had friends who stuck by them so late as 1745. When
the right of the King is not reverenced, there will not be
reverence for those appointed by the King.'
He repeated to me his verses on Mr. Levett, with an emotion which
gave them full effect; and then he was pleased to say, 'You must be
as much with me as you can. You have done me good. You cannot
think how much better I am since you came in.
He sent a message to acquaint Mrs. Thrale that I was arrived. I
had not seen her since her husband's death. She soon appeared, and
favoured me with an invitation to stay to dinner, which I accepted.
There was no other company but herself and three of her daughters,
Dr. Johnson, and I. She too said, she was very glad I was come,
for she was going to Bath, and should have been sorry to leave Dr.
Johnson before I came. This seemed to be attentive and kind; and I
who had not been informed of any change, imagined all to be as well
as formerly. He was little inclined to talk at dinner, and went to
sleep after it; but when he joined us in the drawing-room, he
seemed revived, and was again himself.
Talking of conversation, he said, 'There must, in the first place,
be knowledge, there must be materials; in the second place, there
must be a command of words; in the third place, there must be
imagination, to place things in such views as they are not commonly
seen in; and in the fourth place, there must be presence of mind,
and a resolution that is not to be overcome by failures: this last
is an essential requisite; for want of it many people do not excel
in conversation. Now I want it: I throw up the game upon losing a
trick.' I wondered to hear him talk thus of himself, and said, 'I
don't know, Sir, how this may be; but I am sure you beat other
people's cards out of their hands.' I doubt whether he heard this
remark. While he went on talking triumphantly, I was fixed in
admiration, and said to Mrs. Thrale, 'O, for short-hand to take
this down!' 'You'll carry it all in your head, (said she;) a long
head is as good as short-hand.'
It has been observed and wondered at, that Mr. Charles Fox never
talked with any freedom in the presence of Dr. Johnson, though it
is well known, and I myself can witness, that his conversation is
various, fluent, and exceedingly agreeable. Johnson's own
experience, however, of that gentleman's reserve was a sufficient
reason for his going on thus: 'Fox never talks in private company;
not from any determination not to talk, but because he has not the
first motion. A man who is used to the applause of the House of
Commons, has no wish for that of a private company. A man
accustomed to throw for a thousand pounds, if set down to throw for
sixpence, would not be at the pains to count his dice. Burke's
talk is the ebullition of his mind; he does not talk from a desire
of distinction, but because his mind is full.'
After musing for some time, he said, 'I wonder how I should have
any enemies; for I do harm to nobody.' BOSWELL. 'In the first
place, Sir, you will be pleased to recollect, that you set out with
attacking the Scotch; so you got a whole nation for your enemies.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, I own, that by my definition of OATS I meant to vex
them.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, can you trace the cause of your
antipathy to the Scotch?' JOHNSON. 'I cannot, Sir.' BOSWELL.
'Old Mr. Sheridan says, it was because they sold Charles the
First.' JOHNSON. 'Then, Sir, old Mr. Sheridan has found out a
very good reason.'
I had paid a visit to General Oglethorpe in the morning,* and was
told by him that Dr. Johnson saw company on Saturday evenings, and
he would meet me at Johnson's that night. When I mentioned this to
Johnson, not doubting that it would please him, as he had a great
value for Oglethorpe, the fretfulness of his disease unexpectedly
shewed itself; his anger suddenly kindled, and he said, with
vehemence, 'Did not you tell him not to come? Am I to be HUNTED in
this manner?' I satisfied him that I could not divine that the
visit would not be convenient, and that I certainly could not take
it upon me of my own accord to forbid the General.
* March 22.--Ed.
I found Dr. Johnson in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room, at tea
and coffee with her and Mrs. Desmoulins, who were also both ill; it
was a sad scene, and he was not in very good humour. He said of a
performance that had lately come out, 'Sir, if you should search
all the madhouses in England, you would not find ten men who would
write so, and think it sense.'
I was glad when General Oglethorpe's arrival was announced, and we
left the ladies. Dr. Johnson attended him in the parlour, and was
as courteous as ever.
On Sunday, March 23, I breakfasted with Dr. Johnson, who seemed
much relieved, having taken opium the night before. He however
protested against it, as a remedy that should be given with the
utmost reluctance, and only in extreme necessity. I mentioned how
commonly it was used in Turkey, and that therefore it could not be
so pernicious as he apprehended. He grew warm and said, 'Turks
take opium, and Christians take opium; but Russel, in his Account
of Aleppo, tells us, that it is as disgraceful in Turkey to take
too much opium, as it is with us to get drunk. Sir, it is amazing
how things are exaggerated. A gentleman was lately telling in a
company where I was present, that in France as soon as a man of
fashion marries, he takes an opera girl into keeping; and this he
mentioned as a general custom. "Pray, Sir, (said I,) how many
opera girls may there be?" He answered, "About fourscore." "Well
then, Sir, (said I,) you see there can be no more than fourscore
men of fashion who can do this."'
Mrs. Desmoulins made tea; and she and I talked before him upon a
topick which he had once borne patiently from me when we were by
ourselves,--his not complaining of the world, because he was not
called to some great office, nor had attained to great wealth. He
flew into a violent passion, I confess with some justice, and
commanded us to have done. 'Nobody, (said he,) has a right to talk
in this manner, to bring before a man his own character, and the
events of his life, when he does not choose it should be done. I
never have sought the world; the world was not to seek me. It is
rather wonderful that so much has been done for me. All the
complaints which are made of the world are unjust. I never knew a
man of merit neglected: it was generally by his own fault that he
failed of success. A man may hide his head in a hole: he may go
into the country, and publish a book now and then, which nobody
reads, and then complain he is neglected. There is no reason why
any person should exert himself for a man who has written a good
book: he has not written it for any individual. I may as well make
a present to the postman who brings me a letter. When patronage
was limited, an authour expected to find a Maecenas, and complained
if he did not find one. Why should he complain? This Maecenas has
others as good as he, or others who have got the start of him.'
On the subject of the right employment of wealth, Johnson observed,
'A man cannot make a bad use of his money, so far as regards
Society, if he does not hoard it; for if he either spends it or
lends it out, Society has the benefit. It is in general better to
spend money than to give it away; for industry is more promoted by
spending money than by giving it away. A man who spends his money
is sure he is doing good with it: he is not so sure when he gives
it away. A man who spends ten thousand a year will do more good
than a man who spends two thousand and gives away eight.'
In the evening I came to him again. He was somewhat fretful from
his illness. A gentleman asked him, whether he had been abroad to-
day. 'Don't talk so childishly, (said he.) You may as well ask if
I hanged myself to-day.' I mentioned politicks. JOHNSON. 'Sir,
I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of publick
affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as
bad as they can be.'
He said, 'Goldsmith's blundering speech to Lord Shelburne, which
has been so often mentioned, and which he really did make to him,
was only a blunder in emphasis: "I wonder they should call your
Lordship Malagrida, for Malagrida was a very good man;" meant, I
wonder they should use Malagrida as a term of reproach.'
Soon after this time I had an opportunity of seeing, by means of
one of his friends, a proof that his talents, as well as his
obliging service to authours, were ready as ever. He had revised
The Village, an admirable poem, by the Reverend Mr. Crabbe. Its
sentiments as to the false notions of rustick happiness and rustick
virtue were quite congenial with his own; and he had taken the
trouble not only to suggest slight corrections and variations, but
to furnish some lines, when he thought he could give the writer's
meaning better than in the words of the manuscript.
On Sunday, March 30, I found him at home in the evening, and had
the pleasure to meet with Dr. Brocklesby, whose reading, and
knowledge of life, and good spirits, supply him with a never-
failing source of conversation.
I shall here insert a few of Johnson's sayings, without the
formality of dates, as they have no reference to any particular
time or place.
'The more a man extends and varies his acquaintance the better.'
This, however, was meant with a just restriction; for, he on
another occasion said to me, 'Sir, a man may be so much of every
thing, that he is nothing of any thing.'
'It is a very good custom to keep a journal for a man's own use; he
may write upon a card a day all that is necessary to be written,
after he has had experience of life. At first there is a great
deal to be written, because there is a great deal of novelty; but
when once a man has settled his opinions, there is seldom much to
be set down.'
Talking of an acquaintance of ours, whose narratives, which
abounded in curious and interesting topicks, were unhappily found
to be very fabulous; I mentioned Lord Mansfield's having said to
me, 'Suppose we believe one HALF of what he tells.' JOHNSON. 'Ay;
but we don't know WHICH half to believe. By his lying we lose not
only our reverence for him, but all comfort in his conversation.'
BOSWELL. 'May we not take it as amusing fiction?' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
the misfortune is, that you will insensibly believe as much of it
as you incline to believe.'
It is remarkable, that notwithstanding their congeniality in
politicks, he never was acquainted with a late eminent noble judge,
whom I have heard speak of him as a writer, with great respect.
Johnson, I know not upon what degree of investigation, entertained
no exalted opinion of his Lordship's intellectual character.
Talking of him to me one day, he said, 'It is wonderful, Sir, with
how little real superiority of mind men can make an eminent figure
in publick life.' He expressed himself to the same purpose
concerning another law-Lord, who, it seems, once took a fancy to
associate with the wits of London; but with so little success, that
Foote said, 'What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only
dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.' Trying him by
the test of his colloquial powers, Johnson had found him very
defective. He once said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'This man now has
been ten years about town, and has made nothing of it;' meaning as
a companion. He said to me, 'I never heard any thing from him in
company that was at all striking; and depend upon it, Sir, it is
when you come close to a man in conversation, that you discover
what his real abilities are; to make a speech in a publick assembly
is a knack. Now I honour Thurlow, Sir; Thurlow is a fine fellow;
he fairly puts his mind to yours.'
After repeating to him some of his pointed, lively sayings, I said,
'It is a pity, Sir, you don't always remember your own good things,
that you may have a laugh when you will.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, it
is better that I forget them, that I may be reminded of them, and
have a laugh on their being brought to my recollection.'
When I recalled to him his having said as we sailed up Loch-lomond,
'That if he wore any thing fine, it should be VERY fine;' I
observed that all his thoughts were upon a great scale. JOHNSON.
'Depend upon it, Sir, every man will have as fine a thing as he can
get; as a large diamond for his ring.' BOSWELL. 'Pardon me, Sir:
a man of a narrow mind will not think of it, a slight trinket will
"Nec sufferre queat majoris pondera gemmae."'
I told him I should send him some Essays which I had written, which
I hoped he would be so good as to read, and pick out the good ones.
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, send me only the good ones; don't make ME pick
As a small proof of his kindliness and delicacy of feeling, the
following circumstance may be mentioned: One evening when we were
in the street together, and I told him I was going to sup at Mr.
Beauclerk's, he said, 'I'll go with you.' After having walked part
of the way, seeming to recollect something, he suddenly stopped and
said, 'I cannot go,--but I do not love Beauclerk the less.'
On the frame of his portrait, Mr. Beauclerk had inscribed,--
'-------- Ingenium ingens
Inculto latet hoc sub corpore.'
After Mr. Beauclerk's death, when it became Mr. Langton's property,
he made the inscription be defaced. Johnson said complacently, 'It
was kind in you to take it off;' and then after a short pause,
added, 'and not unkind in him to put it on.'
He said, 'How few of his friends' houses would a man choose to be
at when he is sick.' He mentioned one or two. I recollect only
He observed, 'There is a wicked inclination in most people to
suppose an old man decayed in his intellects. If a young or
middle-aged man, when leaving a company, does not recollect where
he laid his hat, it is nothing; but if the same inattention is
discovered in an old man, people will shrug up their shoulders, and
say, "His memory is going."'
Sir Joshua Reynolds communicated to me the following particulars:--
Johnson thought the poems published as translations from Ossian had
so little merit, that he said, 'Sir, a man might write such stuff
for ever, if he would ABANDON his mind to it.'
He said, 'A man should pass a part of his time with THE LAUGHERS,
by which means any thing ridiculous or particular about him might
be presented to his view, and corrected.' I observed, he must have
been a bold laugher who would have ventured to tell Dr. Johnson of
any of his particularities.*
* I am happy, however, to mention a pleasing instance of his
enduring with great gentleness to hear one of his most striking
particularities pointed out:--Miss Hunter, a niece of his friend
Christopher Smart, when a very young girl, struck by his
extraordinary motions, said to him, Pray, Dr. Johnson, why do you
make such strange gestures?' From bad habit, he replied. 'Do you,
my dear, take care to guard against bad habits.' This I was told
by the young lady's brother at Margate.--Boswell.
Dr. Goldsmith said once to Dr. Johnson, that he wished for some
additional members to THE LITERARY CLUB, to give it an agreeable
variety; for (said he,) there can now be nothing new among us: we
have travelled over one another's minds. Johnson seemed a little
angry, and said, 'Sir, you have not travelled over MY mind, I
promise you.' Sir Joshua, however, thought Goldsmith right;
observing, that 'when people have lived a great deal together, they
know what each of them will say on every subject. A new
understanding, therefore, is desirable; because though it may only
furnish the same sense upon a question which would have been
furnished by those with whom we are accustomed to live, yet this
sense will have a different colouring; and colouring is of much
effect in every thing else as well as in painting.'
Johnson used to say that he made it a constant rule to talk as well
as he could both as to sentiment and expression, by which means,
what had been originally effort became familiar and easy. The
consequence of this, Sir Joshua observed, was, that his common
conversation in all companies was such as to secure him universal
attention, as something above the usual colloquial style was
Yet, though Johnson had this habit in company, when another mode
was necessary, in order to investigate truth, he could descend to a
language intelligible to the meanest capacity. An instance of this
was witnessed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were present at an
examination of a little blackguard boy, by Mr. Saunders Welch, the
late Westminster Justice. Welch, who imagined that he was exalting
himself in Dr. Johnson's eyes by using big words, spoke in a manner
that was utterly unintelligible to the boy; Dr. Johnson perceiving
it, addressed himself to the boy, and changed the pompous
phraseology into colloquial language. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was
much amused by this procedure, which seemed a kind of reversing of
what might have been expected from the two men, took notice of it
to Dr. Johnson, as they walked away by themselves. Johnson said,
that it was continually the case; and that he was always obliged to
TRANSLATE the Justice's swelling diction, (smiling,) so as that his
meaning might be understood by the vulgar, from whom information
was to be obtained.
Sir Joshua once observed to him, that he had talked above the
capacity of some people with whom they had been in company
together. 'No matter, Sir, (said Johnson;) they consider it as a
compliment to be talked to, as if they were wiser than they are.
So true is this, Sir, that Baxter made it a rule in every sermon
that he preached, to say something that was above the capacity of
Johnson's dexterity in retort, when he seemed to be driven to an
extremity by his adversary, was very remarkable. Of his power in
this respect, our common friend, Mr. Windham of Norfolk, has been
pleased to furnish me with an eminent instance. However
unfavourable to Scotland, he uniformly gave liberal praise to
George Buchanan, as a writer. In a conversation concerning the
literary merits of the two countries, in which Buchanan was
introduced, a Scotchman, imagining that on this ground he should
have an undoubted triumph over him, exclaimed, 'Ah, Dr. Johnson,
what would you have said of Buchanan, had he been an Englishman?'
'Why, Sir, (said Johnson, after a little pause,) I should NOT have
said of Buchanan, had he been an ENGLISHMAN, what I will now say of
him as a SCOTCHMAN,--that he was the only man of genius his country
Though his usual phrase for conversation was TALK, yet he made a
distinction; for when he once told me that he dined the day before
at a friend's house, with 'a very pretty company;' and I asked him
if there was good conversation, he answered, 'No, Sir; we had TALK
enough, but no CONVERSATION; there was nothing DISCUSSED.'
Such was his sensibility, and so much was he affected by pathetick
poetry, that, when he was reading Dr. Beattie's Hermit in my
presence, it brought tears into his eyes.
Mr. Hoole told him, he was born in Moorfields, and had received
part of his early instruction in Grub-street. 'Sir, (said Johnson,
smiling,) you have been REGULARLY educated.' Having asked who was
his instructor, and Mr. Hoole having answered, 'My uncle, Sir, who
was a taylor;' Johnson, recollecting himself, said, 'Sir, I knew
him; we called him the metaphysical taylor. He was of a club in
Old-street, with me and George Psalmanazar, and some others: but
pray, Sir, was he a good taylor?' Mr. Hoole having answered that
he believed he was too mathematical, and used to draw squares and
triangles on his shop-board, so that he did not excel in the cut of
a coat;--'I am sorry for it (said Johnson,) for I would have every
man to be master of his own business.'
In pleasant reference to himself and Mr. Hoole, as brother
authours, he often said, 'Let you and I, Sir, go together, and eat
a beef-steak in Grub-street.'
He said to Sir William Scott, 'The age is running mad after
innovation; all the business of the world is to be done in a new
way; men are to be hanged in a new way; Tyburn itself is not safe
from the fury of innovation.' It having been argued that this was
an improvement,--'No, Sir, (said he, eagerly,) it is NOT an
improvement: they object that the old method drew together a number
of spectators. Sir, executions are intended to draw spectators.
If they do not draw spectators they don't answer their purpose.
The old method was most satisfactory to all parties; the publick
was gratified by a procession; the criminal was supported by it.
Why is all this to be swept away?' I perfectly agree with Dr.
Johnson upon this head, and am persuaded that executions now, the
solemn procession being discontinued, have not nearly the effect
which they formerly had. Magistrates both in London, and
elsewhere, have, I am afraid, in this had too much regard to their
Johnson's attention to precision and clearness in expression was
very remarkable. He disapproved of parentheses; and I believe in
all his voluminous writings, not half a dozen of them will be
found. He never used the phrases the former and the latter, having
observed, that they often occasioned obscurity; he therefore
contrived to construct his sentences so as not to have occasion for
them, and would even rather repeat the same words, in order to
avoid them. Nothing is more common than to mistake surnames when
we hear them carelessly uttered for the first time. To prevent
this, he used not only to pronounce them slowly and distinctly, but
to take the trouble of spelling them; a practice which I have often
followed; and which I wish were general.
Such was the heat and irritability of his blood, that not only did
he pare his nails to the quick; but scraped the joints of his
fingers with a pen-knife, till they seemed quite red and raw.
The heterogeneous composition of human nature was remarkably
exemplified in Johnson. His liberality in giving his money to
persons in distress was extraordinary. Yet there lurked about him
a propensity to paultry saving. One day I owned to him that 'I was
occasionally troubled with a fit of NARROWNESS.' 'Why, Sir, (said
he,) so am I. BUT I DO NOT TELL IT.' He has now and then borrowed
a shilling of me; and when I asked for it again, seemed to be
rather out of humour. A droll little circumstance once occurred:
as if he meant to reprimand my minute exactness as a creditor, he
thus addressed me;--'Boswell, LEND me sixpence--NOT TO BE REPAID.'
This great man's attention to small things was very remarkable. As
an instance of it, he one day said to me, 'Sir, when you get silver
in change for a guinea, look carefully at it; you may find some
curious piece of coin.'
Though a stern TRUE-BORN ENGLISHMAN, and fully prejudiced against
all other nations, he had discernment enough to see, and candour
enough to censure, the cold reserve too common among Englishmen
towards strangers: 'Sir, (said he,) two men of any other nation who
are shewn into a room together, at a house where they are both
visitors, will immediately find some conversation. But two
Englishmen will probably go each to a different window, and remain
in obstinate silence. Sir, we as yet do not enough understand the
common rights of humanity.'
Johnson, for sport perhaps, or from the spirit of contradiction,
eagerly maintained that Derrick had merit as a writer. Mr.
Morgann* argued with him directly, in vain. At length he had
recourse to this device. 'Pray, Sir, (said he,) whether do you
reckon Derrick or Smart the best poet?' Johnson at once felt
himself roused; and answered, 'Sir, there is no settling the point
of precedency between a louse and a flea.'
* Author of the Essay on the Character of Falstaff.--ED.
He was pleased to say to me one morning when we were left alone in
his study, 'Boswell, I think I am easier with you than with almost
He would not allow Mr. David Hume any credit for his political
principles, though similar to his own; saying of him, 'Sir, he was
a Tory by chance.'
His acute observation of human life made him remark, 'Sir, there is
nothing by which a man exasperates most people more, than by
displaying a superiour ability or brilliancy in conversation. They
seem pleased at the time; but their envy makes them curse him in
Johnson's love of little children, which he discovered upon all
occasions, calling them 'pretty dears,' and giving them sweetmeats,
was an undoubted proof of the real humanity and gentleness of his
His uncommon kindness to his servants, and serious concern, not
only for their comfort in this world, but their happiness in the
next, was another unquestionable evidence of what all, who were
intimately acquainted with him, knew to be true.
Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which
he shewed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I
never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his
cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the
servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor
creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a
cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I
frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same
Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast,
apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and
half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail;
and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, 'Why yes, Sir, but I
have had cats whom I liked better than this;' and then as if
perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is a
very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.'
This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton,
of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. 'Sir,
when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.'
And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his
own favourite cat, and said, 'But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no,
Hodge shall not be shot.'
On Thursday, April 10, I introduced to him, at his house in Bolt-
court, the Honourable and Reverend William Stuart, son of the Earl
of Bute; a gentleman truly worthy of being known to Johnson; being,
with all the advantages of high birth, learning, travel, and
elegant manners, an exemplary parish priest in every respect.
After some compliments on both sides, the tour which Johnson and I
had made to the Hebrides was mentioned. JOHNSON. 'I got an
acquisition of more ideas by it than by any thing that I remember.
I saw quite a different system of life.' BOSWELL. 'You would not
like to make the same journey again?' JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; not
the same: it is a tale told. Gravina, an Italian critick,
observes, that every man desires to see that of which he has read;
but no man desires to read an account of what he has seen: so much
does description fall short of reality. Description only excites
curiosity: seeing satisfies it. Other people may go and see the
Hebrides.' BOSWELL. 'I should wish to go and see some country
totally different from what I have been used to; such as Turkey,
where religion and every thing else are different.' JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir; there are two objects of curiosity,--the Christian
world, and the Mahometan world. All the rest may be considered as
barbarous.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, is the Turkish Spy a genuine
book?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. Mrs. Manley, in her Life, says that
her father wrote the first two volumes: and in another book,
Dunton's Life and Errours, we find that the rest was written by one
Sault, at two guineas a sheet, under the direction of Dr.
About this time he wrote to Mrs. Lucy Porter, mentioning his bad
health, and that he intended a visit to Lichfield. 'It is, (says
he,) with no great expectation of amendment that I make every year
a journey into the country; but it is pleasant to visit those whose
kindness has been often experienced.'
On April 18, (being Good-Friday,) I found him at breakfast, in his
usual manner upon that day, drinking tea without milk, and eating a
cross-bun to prevent faintness; we went to St. Clement's church, as
formerly. When we came home from church, he placed himself on one
of the stone-seats at his garden-door, and I took the other, and
thus in the open air and in a placid frame of mind, he talked away
very easily. JOHNSON. 'Were I a country gentleman, I should not
be very hospitable, I should not have crowds in my house.'
BOSWELL. 'Sir Alexander Dick tells me, that he remembers having a
thousand people in a year to dine at his house: that is, reckoning
each person as one, each time that he dined there.' JOHNSON.
'That, Sir, is about three a day.' BOSWELL. 'How your statement
lessens the idea.' JOHNSON. 'That, Sir, is the good of counting.
It brings every thing to a certainty, which before floated in the
BOSWELL. 'I wish to have a good walled garden.' JOHNSON. 'I
don't think it would be worth the expence to you. We compute in
England, a park wall at a thousand pounds a mile; now a garden-wall
must cost at least as much. You intend your trees should grow
higher than a deer will leap. Now let us see; for a hundred pounds
you could only have forty-four square yards, which is very little;
for two hundred pounds, you may have eighty-four square yards,
which is very well. But when will you get the value of two hundred
pounds of walls, in fruit, in your climate? No, Sir, such
contention with Nature is not worth while. I would plant an
orchard, and have plenty of such fruit as ripen well in your
country. My friend, Dr. Madden, of Ireland, said, that "in an
orchard there should be enough to eat, enough to lay up, enough to
be stolen, and enough to rot upon the ground." Cherries are an
early fruit, you may have them; and you may have the early apples
and pears.' BOSWELL. 'We cannot have nonpareils.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, you can no more have nonpareils than you can have grapes.'
BOSWELL. 'We have them, Sir; but they are very bad.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, Sir, never try to have a thing merely to shew that you CANNOT
have it. From ground that would let for forty shillings you may
have a large orchard; and you see it costs you only forty
shillings. Nay, you may graze the ground when the trees are grown
up; you cannot while they are young.' BOSWELL. 'Is not a good
garden a very common thing in England, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Not so
common, Sir, as you imagine. In Lincolnshire there is hardly an
orchard; in Staffordshire very little fruit.' BOSWELL. 'Has
Langton no orchard?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'How so,
Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, from the general negligence of the
county. He has it not, because nobody else has it.' BOSWELL. 'A
hot-house is a certain thing; I may have that.' JOHNSON. 'A hot-
house is pretty certain; but you must first build it, then you must
keep fires in it, and you must have a gardener to take care of it.'
BOSWELL. 'But if I have a gardener at any rate ?--' JOHNSON.
'Why, yes.' BOSWELL. 'I'd have it near my house; there is no need
to have it in the orchard.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, I'd have it near my
house. I would plant a great many currants; the fruit is good, and
they make a pretty sweetmeat.'
I record this minute detail, which some may think trifling, in
order to shew clearly how this great man, whose mind could grasp
such large and extensive subjects, as he has shewn in his literary
labours, was yet well-informed in the common affairs of life, and
loved to illustrate them.
Talking of the origin of language; JOHNSON. 'It must have come by
inspiration. A thousand, nay, a million of children could not
invent a language. While the organs are pliable, there is not
understanding enough to form a language; by the time that there is
understanding enough, the organs are become stiff. We know that
after a certain age we cannot learn to pronounce a new language.
No foreigner, who comes to England when advanced in life, ever
pronounces English tolerably well; at least such instances are very
rare. When I maintain that language must have come by inspiration,
I do not mean that inspiration is required for rhetorick, and all
the beauties of language; for when once man has language, we can
conceive that he may gradually form modifications of it. I mean
only that inspiration seems to me to be necessary to give man the
faculty of speech; to inform him that he may have speech; which I
think he could no more find out without inspiration, than cows or
hogs would think of such a faculty.' WALKER. 'Do you think, Sir,
that there are any perfect synonimes in any language?' JOHNSON.
'Originally there were not; but by using words negligently, or in
poetry, one word comes to be confounded with another.'
He talked of Dr. Dodd. 'A friend of mine, (said he,) came to me
and told me, that a lady wished to have Dr. Dodd's picture in a
bracelet, and asked me for a motto. I said, I could think of no
better than Currat Lex. I was very willing to have him pardoned,
that is, to have the sentence changed to transportation: but, when
he was once hanged, I did not wish he should be made a saint.'
Mrs. Burney, wife of his friend Dr. Burney, came in, and he seemed
to be entertained with her conversation.
Garrick's funeral was talked of as extravagantly expensive.
Johnson, from his dislike to exaggeration, would not allow that it
was distinguished by any extraordinary pomp. 'Were there not six
horses to each coach?' said Mrs. Burney. JOHNSON. 'Madam, there
were no more six horses than six phoenixes.'
Time passed on in conversation till it was too late for the service
of the church at three o'clock. I took a walk, and left him alone
for some time; then returned, and we had coffee and conversation
again by ourselves.
We went to evening prayers at St. Clement's, at seven, and then
On Sunday, April 20, being Easter-day, after attending solemn
service at St. Paul's, I came to Dr. Johnson, and found Mr. Lowe,
the painter, sitting with him. Mr. Lowe mentioned the great number
of new buildings of late in London, yet that Dr. Johnson had
observed, that the number of inhabitants was not increased.
JOHNSON. Why, Sir, the bills of mortality prove that no more
people die now than formerly; so it is plain no more live. The
register of births proves nothing, for not one tenth of the people
of London are born there.' BOSWELL. 'I believe, Sir, a great many
of the children born in London die early.' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes,
Sir.' BOSWELL. 'But those who do live, are as stout and strong
people as any: Dr. Price says, they must be naturally stronger to
get through.' JOHNSON. 'That is system, Sir. A great traveller
observes, that it is said there are no weak or deformed people
among the Indians; but he with much sagacity assigns the reason of
this, which is, that the hardship of their life as hunters and
fishers does not allow weak or diseased children to grow up. Now
had I been an Indian, I must have died early; my eyes would not
have served me to get food. I indeed now could fish, give me
English tackle; but had I been an Indian I must have starved, or
they would have knocked me on the head, when they saw I could do
nothing.' BOSWELL. 'Perhaps they would have taken care of you: we
are told they are fond of oratory, you would have talked to them.'
JOHNSON. Nay, Sir, I should not have lived long enough to be fit
to talk; I should have been dead before I was ten years old.
Depend upon it, Sir, a savage, when he is hungry, will not carry
about with him a looby of nine years old, who cannot help himself.
They have no affection, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'I believe natural
affection, of which we hear so much, is very small.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, natural affection is nothing: but affection from principle
and established duty is sometimes wonderfully strong.' LOWE. 'A
hen, Sir, will feed her chickens in preference to herself.'
JOHNSON. 'But we don't know that the hen is hungry; let the hen be
fairly hungry, and I'll warrant she'll peck the corn herself. A
cock, I believe, will feed hens instead of himself; but we don't
know that the cock is hungry.' BOSWELL. 'And that, Sir, is not
from affection but gallantry. But some of the Indians have
affection.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, that they help some of their children
is plain; for some of them live, which they could not do without
I dined with him; the company were, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Desmoulins,
and Mr. Lowe. He seemed not to be well, talked little, grew drowsy
soon after dinner, and retired, upon which I went away.
Having next day gone to Mr. Burke's seat in the country, from
whence I was recalled by an express, that a near relation of mine
had killed his antagonist in a duel, and was himself dangerously
wounded, I saw little of Dr. Johnson till Monday, April 28, when I
spent a considerable part of the day with him, and introduced the
subject, which then chiefly occupied my mind. JOHNSON. 'I do not
see, Sir, that fighting is absolutely forbidden in Scripture; I see
revenge forbidden, but not self-defence.' BOSWELL. 'The Quakers
say it is; "Unto him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer him also
the other."' JOHNSON. 'But stay, Sir; the text is meant only to
have the effect of moderating passion; it is plain that we are not
to take it in a literal sense. We see this from the context, where
there are other recommendations, which I warrant you the Quaker
will not take literally; as, for instance, "From him that would
borrow of thee, turn thou not away." Let a man whose credit is
bad, come to a Quaker, and say, "Well, Sir, lend me a hundred
pounds;" he'll find him as unwilling as any other man. No, Sir, a
man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot
him who attempts to break into his house.* So in 1745, my friend,
Tom Gumming, the Quaker, said, he would not fight, but he would
drive an ammunition cart; and we know that the Quakers have sent
flannel waistcoats to our soldiers, to enable them to fight
better.' BOSWELL. 'When a man is the aggressor, and by ill-usage
forces on a duel in which he is killed, have we not little ground
to hope that he is gone into a state of happiness?' JOHNSON.
'Sir, we are not to judge determinately of the state in which a man
leaves this life. He may in a moment have repented effectually,
and it is possible may have been accepted by GOD.'
* I think it necessary to caution my readers against concluding
that in this or any other conversation of Dr. Johnson, they have
his serious and deliberate opinion on the subject of duelling. In
my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. p. 386 [p. 366,
Oct. 24], it appears that he made this frank confession:--'Nobody
at times, talks more laxly than I do;' and, ib., p. 231 [Sept. 19,
1773], 'He fairly owned he could not explain the rationality of
duelling.' We may, therefore, infer, that he could not think that
justifiable, which seems so inconsistent with the spirit of the
Upon being told that old Mr. Sheridan, indignant at the neglect of
his oratorical plans, had threatened to go to America; JOHNSON. 'I
hope he will go to America.' BOSWELL. 'The Americans don't want
oratory.' JOHNSON. 'But we can want Sheridan.'
On Monday, April 29, I found him at home in the forenoon, and Mr.
Seward with him. Horace having been mentioned; BOSWELL. 'There is
a great deal of thinking in his works. One finds there almost
every thing but religion.' SEWARD. 'He speaks of his returning to
it, in his Ode Parcus Deorum cultor et infrequens.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, he was not in earnest: this was merely poetical.' BOSWELL.
'There are, I am afraid, many people who have no religion at all.'
SEWARD. 'And sensible people too.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, not
sensible in that respect. There must be either a natural or a
moral stupidity, if one lives in a total neglect of so very
important a concern. SEWARD. 'I wonder that there should be
people without religion.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you need not wonder at
this, when you consider how large a proportion of almost every
man's life is passed without thinking of it. I myself was for some
years totally regardless of religion. It had dropped out of my
mind. It was at an early part of my life. Sickness brought it
back, and I hope I have never lost it since.' BOSWELL. 'My dear
Sir, what a man must you have been without religion! Why you must
have gone on drinking, and swearing, and--' JOHNSON (with a
smile,) 'I drank enough and swore enough, to be sure.' SEWARD.
'One should think that sickness and the view of death would make
more men religious.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they do not know how to go
about it: they have not the first notion. A man who has never had
religion before, no more grows religious when he is sick, than a
man who has never learnt figures can count when he has need of
I mentioned Dr. Johnson's excellent distinction between liberty of
conscience and liberty of teaching. JOHNSON. 'Consider, Sir; if
you have children whom you wish to educate in the principles of the
Church of England, and there comes a Quaker who tries to pervert
them to his principles, you would drive away the Quaker. You would
not trust to the predomination of right, which you believe is in
your opinions; you would keep wrong out of their heads. Now the
vulgar are the children of the State. If any one attempts to teach
them doctrines contrary to what the State approves, the magistrate
may and ought to restrain him.' SEWARD. 'Would you restrain
private conversation, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is difficult
to say where private conversation begins, and where it ends. If we
three should discuss even the great question concerning the
existence of a Supreme Being by ourselves, we should not be
restrained; for that would be to put an end to all improvement.
But if we should discuss it in the presence of ten boarding-school
girls, and as many boys, I think the magistrate would do well to
put us in the stocks, to finish the debate there.'
'How false (said he,) is all this, to say that in ancient times
learning was not a disgrace to a Peer as it is now. In ancient
times a Peer was as ignorant as any one else. He would have been
angry to have it thought he could write his name. Men in ancient
times dared to stand forth with a degree of ignorance with which
nobody would dare now to stand forth. I am always angry when I
hear ancient times praised at the expence of modern times. There
is now a great deal more learning in the world than there was
formerly; for it is universally diffused. You have, perhaps, no
man who knows as much Greek and Latin as Bentley; no man who knows
as much mathematicks as Newton: but you have many more men who know
Greek and Latin, and who know mathematicks.'
On Thursday, May 1, I visited him in the evening along with young
Mr. Burke. He said, 'It is strange that there should be so little
reading in the world, and so much writing. People in general do
not willingly read, if they can have any thing else to amuse them.
There must be an external impulse; emulation, or vanity, or
avarice. The progress which the understanding makes through a
book, has more pain than pleasure in it. Language is scanty, and
inadequate to express the nice gradations and mixtures of our
feelings. No man reads a book of science from pure inclination.
The books that we do read with pleasure are light compositions,
which contain a quick succession of events. However, I have this
year read all Virgil through. I read a book of the Aeneid every
night, so it was done in twelve nights, and I had great delight in
it. The Georgicks did not give me so much pleasure, except the
fourth book. The Eclogues I have almost all by heart. I do not
think the story of the Aeneid interesting. I like the story of the
Odyssey much better; and this not on account of the wonderful
things which it contains; for there are wonderful things enough in
the Aeneid;--the ships of the Trojans turned to sea-nymphs,--the
tree at Polydorus's tomb dropping blood. The story of the Odyssey
is interesting, as a great part of it is domestick. It has been
said, there is pleasure in writing, particularly in writing verses.
I allow you may have pleasure from writing, after it is over, if
you have written well; but you don't go willingly to it again. I
know when I have been writing verses, I have run my finger down the
margin, to see how many I had made, and how few I had to make.'
He seemed to be in a very placid humour, and although I have no
note of the particulars of young Mr. Burke's conversation, it is
but justice to mention in general, that it was such that Dr.