Part 11 out of 12
Johnson said to me afterwards, 'He did very well indeed; I have a
mind to tell his father.'
I have no minute of any interview with Johnson till Thursday, May
15, when I find what follows:--BOSWELL. 'I wish much to be in
Parliament, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, unless you come resolved to
support any administration, you would be the worse for being in
Parliament, because you would be obliged to live more expensively.'
BOSWELL. 'Perhaps, Sir, I should be the less happy for being in
Parliament. I never would sell my vote, and I should be vexed if
things went wrong.' JOHNSON. 'That's cant, Sir. It would not vex
you more in the house, than in the gallery: publick affairs vex no
man.' BOSWELL. 'Have not they vexed yourself a little, Sir? Have
not you been vexed by all the turbulence of this reign, and by that
absurd vote of the house of Commons, "That the influence of the
Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished?"'
Johnson. 'Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor eat an ounce
less meat. I would have knocked the factious dogs on the head, to
be sure; but I was not VEXED.' BOSWELL. 'I declare, Sir, upon my
honour, I did imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it
WAS, perhaps, cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less.'
JOHNSON. 'My dear friend, clear your MIND of cant. You may TALK
as other people do: you may say to a man, "Sir, I am your most
humble servant." You are not his most humble servant. You may
say, "These are bad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved
to such times." You don't mind the times. You tell a man, "I am
sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and
were so much wet." You don't care six-pence whether he is wet or
dry. You may TALK in this manner; it is a mode of talking in
Society: but don't THINK foolishly.'
Here he discovered a notion common enough in persons not much
accustomed to entertain company, that there must be a degree of
elaborate attention, otherwise company will think themselves
neglected; and such attention is no doubt very fatiguing. He
proceeded: 'I would not, however, be a stranger in my own county; I
would visit my neighbours, and receive their visits; but I would
not be in haste to return visits. If a gentleman comes to see me,
I tell him he does me a great deal of honour. I do not go to see
him perhaps for ten weeks; then we are very complaisant to each
other. No, Sir, you will have much more influence by giving or
lending money where it is wanted, than by hospitality.'
On Saturday, May 17, I saw him for a short time. Having mentioned
that I had that morning been with old Mr. Sheridan, he remembered
their former intimacy with a cordial warmth, and said to me, 'Tell
Mr. Sheridan, I shall be glad to see him, and shake hands with
him.' BOSWELL. 'It is to me very wonderful that resentment should
be kept up so long.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is not altogether
resentment that he does not visit me; it is partly falling out of
the habit,--partly disgust, as one has at a drug that has made him
sick. Besides, he knows that I laugh at his oratory.'
Another day I spoke of one of our friends, of whom he, as well as
I, had a very high opinion. He expatiated in his praise; but
added, 'Sir, he is a cursed Whig, a BOTTOMLESS Whig, as they all
On Monday, May 26, I found him at tea, and the celebrated Miss
Burney, the authour of Evelina and Cecilia, with him. I asked if
there would be any speakers in Parliament, if there were no places
to be obtained. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. Why do you speak here?
Either to instruct and entertain, which is a benevolent motive; or
for distinction, which is a selfish motive.' I mentioned Cecilia.
JOHNSON. (with an air of animated satisfaction,) 'Sir, if you talk
of Cecilia, talk on.'
We talked of Mr. Barry's exhibition of his pictures. JOHNSON.
'Whatever the hand may have done, the mind has done its part.
There is a grasp of mind there which you find nowhere else.'
I asked whether a man naturally virtuous, or one who has overcome
wicked inclinations, is the best. JOHNSON. 'Sir, to YOU, the man
who has overcome wicked inclinations is not the best. He has more
merit to HIMSELF: I would rather trust my money to a man who has no
hands, and so a physical impossibility to steal, than to a man of
the most honest principles. There is a witty satirical story of
Foote. He had a small bust of Garrick placed upon his bureau.
"You may be surprized (said he,) that I allow him to be so near my
gold;--but you will observe he has no hands."'
On Friday, May 29, being to set out for Scotland next morning, I
passed a part of the day with him in more than usual earnestness;
as his health was in a more precarious state than at any time when
I had parted from him. He, however, was quick and lively, and
critical as usual. I mentioned one who was a very learned man.
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, he has a great deal of learning; but it never
lies straight. There is never one idea by the side of another;
'tis all entangled: and their he drives it so aukwardly upon
He said, 'Get as much force of mind as you can. Live within your
income. Always have something saved at the end of the year. Let
your imports be more than your exports, and you'll never go far
I assured him, that in the extensive and various range of his
acquaintance there never had been any one who had a more sincere
respect and affection for him than I had. He said, 'I believe it,
Sir. Were I in distress, there is no man to whom I should sooner
come than to you. I should like to come and have a cottage in your
park, toddle about, live mostly on milk, and be taken care of by
Mrs. Boswell. She and I are good friends now; are we not?'
He embraced me, and gave me his blessing, as usual when I was
leaving him for any length of time. I walked from his door to-day,
with a fearful apprehension of what might happen before I returned.
My anxious apprehensions at parting with him this year, proved to
be but too well founded; for not long afterwards he had a dreadful
stroke of the palsy, of which there are very full and accurate
accounts in letters written by himself, to shew with what composure
of mind, and resignation to the Divine Will, his steady piety
enabled him to behave.
'TO MR. EDMUND ALLEN.
'DEAR SIR,--It has pleased GOD, this morning, to deprive me of the
powers of speech; and as I do not know but that it may be his
further good pleasure to deprive me soon of my senses, I request
you will on the receipt of this note, come to me, and act for me,
as the exigencies of my case may require. I am, sincerely yours,
'June 17, 1783.'
Two days after he wrote thus to Mrs. Thrale:--
'On Monday, the 16th, I sat for my picture, and walked a
considerable way with little inconvenience. In the afternoon and
evening I felt myself light and easy, and began to plan schemes of
life. Thus I went to bed, and in a short time waked and sat up, as
has been long my custom, when I felt a confusion and indistinctness
in my head, which lasted, I suppose, about half a minute. I was
alarmed, and prayed God, that however he might afflict my body, he
would spare my understanding. This prayer, that I might try the
integrity of my faculties, I made in Latin verse. The lines were
not very good, but I knew them not to be very good: I made them
easily, and concluded myself to be unimpaired in my faculties.
'Soon after I perceived that I had suffered a paralytick stroke,
and that my speech was taken from me. I had no pain, and so little
dejection in this dreadful state, that I wondered at my own apathy,
and considered that perhaps death itself, when it should come,
would excite less horrour than seems now to attend it.
'In order to rouse the vocal organs, I took two drams. Wine has
been celebrated for the production of eloquence. I put myself into
violent motion, and I think repeated it; but all was vain. I then
went to bed, and strange as it may seem, I think slept. When I saw
light, it was time to contrive what I should do. Though God
stopped my speech, he left me my hand; I enjoyed a mercy which was
not granted to my dear friend Lawrence, who now perhaps overlooks
me as I am writing, and rejoices that I have what he wanted. My
first note was necessarily to my servant, who came in talking, and
could not immediately comprehend why he should read what I put into
'I then wrote a card to Mr. Allen, that I might have a discreet
friend at hand, to act as occasion should require. In penning this
note, I had some difficulty; my hand, I knew not how nor why, made
wrong letters. I then wrote to Dr. Taylor to come to me, and bring
Dr. Heberden; and I sent to Dr. Brocklesby, who is my neighbour.
My physicians are very friendly, and give me great hopes; but you
may imagine my situation. I have so far recovered my vocal powers,
as to repeat the Lord's Prayer with no very imperfect articulation.
My memory, I hope, yet remains as it was; but such an attack
produces solicitude for the safety of every faculty.'
'TO MR. THOMAS DAVIES.
'DEAR SIR,--I have had, indeed, a very heavy blow; but GOD, who yet
spares my life, I humbly hope will spare my understanding, and
restore my speech. As I am not at all helpless, I want no
particular assistance, but am strongly affected by Mrs. Davies's
tenderness; and when I think she can do me good, shall be very glad
to call upon her. I had ordered friends to be shut out; but one or
two have found the way in; and if you come you shall be admitted:
for I know not whom I can see, that will bring more amusement on
his tongue, or more kindness in his heart. I am, &c.
'June 18, 1783.'
It gives me great pleasure to preserve such a memorial of Johnson's
regard for Mr. Davies, to whom I was indebted for my introduction
to him. He indeed loved Davies cordially, of which I shall give
the following little evidence. One day when he had treated him
with too much asperity, Tom, who was not without pride and spirit,
went off in a passion; but he had hardly reached home when Frank,
who had been sent after him, delivered this note:--'Come, come,
dear Davies, I am always sorry when we quarrel; send me word that
we are friends.'
Such was the general vigour of his constitution, that he recovered
from this alarming and severe attack with wonderful quickness; so
that in July he was able to make a visit to Mr. Langton at
Rochester, where he passed about a fortnight, and made little
excursions as easily as at any time of his life. In August he went
as far as the neighbourhood of Salisbury, to Heale, the seat of
William Bowles, Esq., a gentleman whom I have heard him praise for
exemplary religious order in his family. In his diary I find a
short but honourable mention of this visit:--'August 28, I came to
Heale without fatigue. 30, I am entertained quite to my mind.'
While he was here he had a letter from Dr. Brocklesby, acquainting
him of the death of Mrs. Williams, which affected him a good deal.
Though for several years her temper had not been complacent, she
had valuable qualities, and her departure left a blank in his
house. Upon this occasion he, according to his habitual course of
piety, composed a prayer.
I shall here insert a few particulars concerning him, with which I
have been favoured by one of his friends.
'He spoke often in praise of French literature. "The French are
excellent in this, (he would say,) they have a book on every
subject." From what he had seen of them he denied them the praise
of superiour politeness, and mentioned, with very visible disgust,
the custom they have of spitting on the floors of their apartments.
"This, (said the Doctor), is as gross a thing as can well be done;
and one wonders how any man, or set of men, can persist in so
offensive a practice for a whole day together; one should expect
that the first effort towards civilization would remove it even
'Chymistry was always an interesting pursuit with Dr. Johnson.
Whilst he was in Wiltshire, he attended some experiments that were
made by a physician at Salisbury, on the new kinds of air. In the
course of the experiments frequent mention being made of Dr.
Priestley, Dr. Johnson knit his brows, and in a stern manner
inquired, "Why do we hear so much of Dr. Priestley?" He was very
properly answered, "Sir, because we are indebted to him for these
important discoveries." On this Dr. Johnson appeared well content;
and replied, "Well, well, I believe we are; and let every man have
the honour he has merited."'
'A friend was one day, about two years before his death, struck
with some instance of Dr. Johnson's great candour. "Well, Sir,
(said he,) I will always say that you are a very candid man."
"Will you, (replied the Doctor,) I doubt then you will be very
singular. But, indeed, Sir, (continued he,) I look upon myself to
be a man very much misunderstood. I am not an uncandid, nor am I a
severe man. I sometimes say more than I mean, in jest; and people
are apt to believe me serious: however, I am more candid than I was
when I was younger. As I know more of mankind I expect less of
them, and am ready now to call a man A GOOD MAN, upon easier terms
than I was formerly."'
On his return from Heale he wrote to Dr. Burney:--
'I came home on the 18th at noon to a very disconsolate house. You
and I have lost our friends; but you have more friends at home. My
domestick companion is taken from me. She is much missed, for her
acquisitions were many, and her curiosity universal; so that she
partook of every conversation. I am not well enough to go much
out; and to sit, and eat, or fast alone, is very wearisome. I
always mean to send my compliments to all the ladies.'
His fortitude and patience met with severe trials during this year.
The stroke of the palsy has been related circumstantially; but he
was also afflicted with the gout, and was besides troubled with a
complaint which not only was attended with immediate inconvenience,
but threatened him with a chirurgical operation, from which most
men would shrink. The complaint was a sarcocele, which Johnson
bore with uncommon firmness, and was not at all frightened while he
looked forward to amputation. He was attended by Mr. Pott and Mr.
Happily the complaint abated without his being put to the torture
of amputation. But we must surely admire the manly resolution
which he discovered while it hung over him.
He this autumn received a visit from the celebrated Mrs. Siddons.
He gives this account of it in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale:--
'Mrs. Siddons, in her visit to me, behaved with great modesty and
propriety, and left nothing behind her to be censured or despised.
Neither praise nor money, the two powerful corrupters of mankind,
seem to have depraved her. I shall be glad to see her again. Her
brother Kemble calls on me, and pleases me very well. Mrs. Siddons
and I talked of plays; and she told me her intention of exhibiting
this winter the characters of Constance, Catharine, and Isabella,
Mr. Kemble has favoured me with the following minute of what passed
at this visit:--
'When Mrs. Siddons came into the room, there happened to be no
chair ready for her, which he observing, said with a smile, "Madam,
you who so often occasion a want of seats to other people, will the
more easily excuse the want of one yourself."
'Having placed himself by her, he with great good-humour entered
upon a consideration of the English drama; and, among other
inquiries, particularly asked her which of Shakspeare's characters
she was most pleased with. Upon her answering that she thought the
character of Queen Catharine, in Henry the Eighth, the most
natural:--"I think so too, Madam, (said he;) and whenever you
perform it, I will once more hobble out to the theatre myself."
Mrs. Siddons promised she would do herself the honour of acting his
favourite part for him; but many circumstances happened to prevent
the representation of King Henry the Eighth during the Doctor's
'In the course of the evening he thus gave his opinion upon the
merits of some of the principal performers whom he remembered to
have seen upon the stage. "Mrs. Porter in the vehemence of rage,
and Mrs. Clive in the sprightliness of humour, I have never seen
equalled. What Clive did best, she did better than Garrick; but
could not do half so many things well; she was a better romp than
any I ever saw in nature. Pritchard, in common life, was a vulgar
ideot; she would talk of her GOWND: but, when she appeared upon the
stage, seemed to be inspired by gentility and understanding. I
once talked with Colley Cibber, and thought him ignorant of the
principles of his art. Garrick, Madam; was no declaimer; there was
not one of his own scene-shifters who could not have spoken To be,
or not to be, better than he did; yet he was the only actor I ever
saw, whom I could call a master both in tragedy and comedy; though
I liked him best in comedy. A true conception of character, and
natural expression of it, were his distinguished excellencies."
Having expatiated, with his usual force and eloquence, on Mr.
Garrick's extraordinary eminence as an actor, he concluded with
this compliment to his social talents: "And after all, Madam, I
thought him less to be envied on the stage than at the head of a
Johnson, indeed, had thought more upon the subject of acting than
might be generally supposed. Talking of it one day to Mr. Kemble,
he said, 'Are you, Sir, one of those enthusiasts who believe
yourself transformed into the very character you represent?' Upon
Mr. Kemble's answering that he had never felt so strong a
persuasion himself; 'To be sure not, Sir, (said Johnson;) the thing
is impossible. And if Garrick really believed himself to be that
monster, Richard the Third, he deserved to be hanged every time he
I find in this, as in former years, notices of his kind attention
to Mrs. Gardiner, who, though in the humble station of a tallow-
chandler upon Snow-hill, was a woman of excellent good sense,
pious, and charitable. She told me, she had been introduced to him
by Mrs. Masters, the poetess, whose volumes he revised, and, it is
said, illuminated here and there with a ray of his own genius.
Mrs. Gardiner was very zealous for the support of the Ladies'
charity-school, in the parish of St. Sepulchre. It is confined to
females; and, I am told, it afforded a hint for the story of Betty
Broom in The Idler.
The late ingenious Mr. Mickle, some time before his death, wrote me
a letter concerning Dr. Johnson, in which he mentions,--'I was
upwards of twelve years acquainted with him, was frequently in his
company, always talked with ease to him, and can truly say, that I
never received from him one rough word.'
Mr. Mickle reminds me in this letter of a conversation, at dinner
one day at Mr. Hoole's with Dr. Johnson, when Mr. Nicol the King's
bookseller and I attempted to controvert the maxim, 'better that
ten guilty should escape, than one innocent person suffer;' and
were answered by Dr. Johnson with great power of reasoning and
eloquence. I am very sorry that I have no record of that day: but
I well recollect my illustrious friend's having ably shewn, that
unless civil institutions insure protection to the innocent, all
the confidence which mankind should have in them would be lost.
Notwithstanding the complication of disorders under which Johnson
now laboured, he did not resign himself to despondency and
discontent, but with wisdom and spirit endeavoured to console and
amuse his mind with as many innocent enjoyments as he could
procure. Sir John Hawkins has mentioned the cordiality with which
he insisted that such of the members of the old club in Ivy-lane as
survived, should meet again and dine together, which they did,
twice at a tavern and once at his house: and in order to insure
himself society in the evening for three days in the week, he
instituted a club at the Essex Head, in Essex-street, then kept by
Samuel Greaves, an old servant of Mr. Thrale's.
'TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
'DEAR SIR,--It is inconvenient to me to come out, I should else
have waited on you with an account of a little evening Club which
we are establishing in Essex-street, in the Strand, and of which
you are desired to be one. It will be held at the Essex Head, now
kept by an old servant of Thrale's. The company is numerous, and,
as you will see by the list, miscellaneous. The terms are lax, and
the expences light. Mr. Barry was adopted by Dr. Brocklesby, who
joined with me in forming the plan. We meet thrice a week, and he
who misses forfeits two-pence.
'If you are willing to become a member, draw a line under your
name. Return the list. We meet for the first time on Monday at
eight. I am, &c.
'Dec. 4, 1783.'
It did not suit Sir Joshua to be one of this Club. But when I
mention only Mr. Daines Barrington, Dr. Brocklesby, Mr. Murphy, Mr.
John Nichols, Mr. Cooke, Mr. Joddrel, Mr. Paradise, Dr. Horsley,
Mr. Windham,* I shall sufficiently obviate the misrepresentation of
it by Sir John Hawkins, as if it had been a low ale-house
association, by which Johnson was degraded. Johnson himself, like
his namesake Old Ben, composed the Rules of his Club.
* I was in Scotland when this Club was founded, and during all the
winter. Johnson, however, declared I should be a member, and
invented a word upon the occasion: Boswell (said he,) is a very
CLUBABLE man.' When I came to town I was proposed by Mr.
Barrington, and chosen. I believe there are few societies where
there is better conversation or more decorum, several of us
resolved to continue it after our great founder was removed by
death. Other members were added; and now, above eight years since
that loss, we go on happily.--BOSWELL.
In the end of this year he was seized with a spasmodick asthma of
such violence, that he was confined to the house in great pain,
being sometimes obliged to sit all night in his chair, a recumbent
posture being so hurtful to his respiration, that he could not
endure lying in bed; and there came upon him at the same time that
oppressive and fatal disease, a dropsy. It was a very severe
winter, which probably aggravated his complaints; and the solitude
in which Mr. Levett and Mrs. Williams had left him, rendered his
life very gloomy. Mrs. Desmoulins, who still lived, was herself so
very ill, that she could contribute very little to his relief. He,
however, had none of that unsocial shyness which we commonly see in
people afflicted with sickness. He did not hide his head from the
world, in solitary abstraction; he did not deny himself to the
visits of his friends and acquaintances; but at all times, when he
was not overcome by sleep, was ready for conversation as in his
'TO MRS. LUCY PORTER, IN LICHFIELD.
'DEAR MADAM,--You may perhaps think me negligent that I have not
written to you again upon the loss of your brother; but condolences
and consolations are such common and such useless things, that the
omission of them is no great crime: and my own diseases occupy my
mind, and engage my care. My nights are miserably restless, and my
days, therefore, are heavy. I try, however, to hold up my head as
high as I can.
'I am sorry that your health is impaired; perhaps the spring and
the summer may, in some degree, restore it: but if not, we must
submit to the inconveniences of time, as to the other dispensations
of Eternal Goodness. Pray for me, and write to me, or let Mr.
Pearson write for you. I am, &c.
'London, Nov. 29, 1783.'
1784: AETAT. 75.]--And now I am arrived at the last year of the
life of SAMUEL JOHNSON, a year in which, although passed in severe
indisposition, he nevertheless gave many evidences of the
continuance of those wondrous powers of mind, which raised him so
high in the intellectual world. His conversation and his letters
of this year were in no respect inferiour to those of former years.
In consequence of Johnson's request that I should ask our
physicians about his case, and desire Sir Alexander Dick to send
his opinion, I transmitted him a letter from that very amiable
Baronet, then in his eighty-first year, with his faculties as
entire as ever; and mentioned his expressions to me in the note
accompanying it: 'With my most affectionate wishes for Dr.
Johnson's recovery, in which his friends, his country, and all
mankind have so deep a stake:' and at the same time a full opinion
upon his case by Dr. Gillespie, who, like Dr. Cullen, had the
advantage of having passed through the gradations of surgery and
pharmacy, and by study and practice had attained to such skill,
that my father settled on him two hundred pounds a year for five
years, and fifty pounds a year during his life, as an honorarium to
secure his particular attendance.
I also applied to three of the eminent physicians who had chairs in
our celebrated school of medicine at Edinburgh, Doctors Cullen,
Hope, and Monro.
All of them paid the most polite attention to my letter, and its
venerable object. Dr. Cullen's words concerning him were, 'It
would give me the greatest pleasure to be of any service to a man
whom the publick properly esteem, and whom I esteem and respect as
much as I do Dr. Johnson.' Dr. Hope's, 'Few people have a better
claim on me than your friend, as hardly a day passes that I do not
ask his opinion about this or that word.' Dr. Monro's, 'I most
sincerely join you in sympathizing with that very worthy and
ingenious character, from whom his country has derived much
instruction and entertainment.'
'TO THE REVEREND DR. TAYLOR, ASHBOURNE, DERBYSHIRE.
'DEAR SIR,--What can be the reason that I hear nothing from you? I
hope nothing disables you from writing. What I have seen, and what
I have felt, gives me reason to fear every thing. Do not omit
giving me the comfort of knowing, that after all my losses I have
yet a friend left.
'I want every comfort. My life is very solitary and very
cheerless. Though it has pleased GOD wonderfully to deliver me
from the dropsy, I am yet very weak, and have not passed the door
since the 13th of December. I hope for some help from warm
weather, which will surely come in time.
'I could not have the consent of the physicians to go to church
yesterday; I therefore received the holy sacrament at home, in the
room where I communicated with dear Mrs. Williams, a little before
her death. O! my friend, the approach of death is very dreadful.
I am afraid to think on that which I know I cannot avoid. It is
vain to look round and round for that help which cannot be had.
Yet we hope and hope, and fancy that he who has lived to-day may
live to-morrow. But let us learn to derive our hope only from GOD.
'In the mean time, let us be kind to one another. I have no friend
now living but you and Mr. Hector, that was the friend of my youth.
Do not neglect, dear Sir, yours affectionately,
April 12, 1784.'
What follows is a beautiful specimen of his gentleness and
complacency to a young lady his god-child, one of the daughters of
his friend Mr. Langton, then I think in her seventh year. He took
the trouble to write it in a large round hand, nearly resembling
printed characters, that she might have the satisfaction of reading
it herself. The original lies before me, but shall be faithfully
restored to her; and I dare say will be preserved by her as a jewel
as long as she lives.
'TO MISS JANE LANGTON, IN ROCHESTER, KENT.
'MY DEAREST MISS JENNY,--I am sorry that your pretty letter has
been so long without being answered; but, when I am not pretty
well, I do not always write plain enough for young ladies. I am
glad, my dear, to see that you write so well, and hope that you
mind your pen, your book, and your needle, for they are all
necessary. Your books will give you knowledge, and make you
respected; and your needle will find you useful employment when you
do not care to read. When you are a little older, I hope you will
be very diligent in learning arithmetick, and, above all, that
through your whole life you will carefully say your prayers, and
read your Bible. I am, my dear, your most humble servant,
'May 10, 1784.'
On Wednesday, May 5, I arrived in London, and next morning had the
pleasure to find Dr. Johnson greatly recovered. I but just saw
him; for a coach was waiting to carry him to Islington, to the
house of his friend the Reverend Mr. Strahan, where he went
sometimes for the benefit of good air, which, notwithstanding his
having formerly laughed at the general opinion upon the subject, he
now acknowledged was conducive to health.
One morning afterwards, when I found him alone, he communicated to
me, with solemn earnestness, a very remarkable circumstance which
had happened in the course of his illness, when he was much
distressed by the dropsy. He had shut himself up, and employed a
day in particular exercises of religion--fasting, humiliation, and
prayer. On a sudden he obtained extraordinary relief, for which he
looked up to Heaven with grateful devotion. He made no direct
inference from this fact; but from his manner of telling it, I
could perceive that it appeared to him as something more than an
incident in the common course of events. For my own part, I have
no difficulty to avow that cast of thinking, which by many modern
pretenders to wisdom is called SUPERSTITIOUS. But here I think
even men of dry rationality may believe, that there was an
intermediate interposition of Divine Providence, and that 'the
fervent prayer of this righteous man' availed.
On Saturday, May 15, I dined with him at Dr. Brocklesby's, where
were Colonel Vallancy, Mr. Murphy, and that ever-cheerful companion
Mr. Devaynes, apothecary to his Majesty. Of these days, and others
on which I saw him, I have no memorials, except the general
recollection of his being able and animated in conversation, and
appearing to relish society as much as the youngest man. I find
only these three small particulars:--When a person was mentioned,
who said, 'I have lived fifty-one years in this world without
having had ten minutes of uneasiness;' he exclaimed, 'The man who
says so, lies: he attempts to impose on human credulity.' The
Bishop of Exeter in vain observed, that men were very different.
His Lordship's manner was not impressive, and I learnt afterwards
that Johnson did not find out that the person who talked to him was
a Prelate; if he had, I doubt not that he would have treated him
with more respect; for once talking of George Psalmanazar, whom he
reverenced for his piety, he said, 'I should as soon think of
contradicting a BISHOP.' One of the company* provoked him greatly
by doing what he could least of all bear, which was quoting
something of his own writing, against what he then maintained.
'What, Sir, (cried the gentleman,) do you say to
"The busy day, the peaceful night,
Unfelt, uncounted, glided by?"'--
Johnson finding himself thus presented as giving an instance of a
man who had lived without uneasiness, was much offended, for he
looked upon such a quotation as unfair. His anger burst out in an
unjustifiable retort, insinuating that the gentleman's remark was a
sally of ebriety; 'Sir, there is one passion I would advise you to
command: when you have drunk out that glass, don't drink another.'
Here was exemplified what Goldsmith said of him, with the aid of a
very witty image from one of Cibber's Comedies: 'There is no
arguing with Johnson; for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you
down with the butt end of it.' Another was this: when a gentleman
of eminence in the literary world was violently censured for
attacking people by anonymous paragraphs in news-papers; he, from
the spirit of contradiction as I thought, took up his defence, and
said, 'Come, come, this is not so terrible a crime; he means only
to vex them a little. I do not say that I should do it; but there
is a great difference between him and me; what is fit for
Hephaestion is not fit for Alexander.' Another, when I told him
that a young and handsome Countess had said to me, 'I should think
that to be praised by Dr. Johnson would make one a fool all one's
life;' and that I answered, 'Madam, I shall make him a fool to-day,
by repeating this to him,' he said, 'I am too old to be made a
fool; but if you say I am made a fool, I shall not deny it. I am
much pleased with a compliment, especially from a pretty woman.'
* Boswell himself, likely enough.--HILL.
On the evening of Saturday, May 15, he was in fine spirits, at our
Essex-Head Club. He told us, 'I dined yesterday at Mrs. Garrick's,
with Mrs. Carter, Miss Hannah More, and Miss Fanny Burney. Three
such women are not to be found: I know not where I could find a
fourth, except Mrs. Lennox, who is superiour to them all.'
BOSWELL. 'What! had you them all to yourself, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'I
had them all as much as they were had; but it might have been
better had there been more company there.' BOSWELL. 'Might not
Mrs. Montagu have been a fourth?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, Mrs. Montagu
does not make a trade of her wit; but Mrs. Montagu is a very
extraordinary woman; she has a constant stream of conversation, and
it is always impregnated; it has always meaning.' BOSWELL. 'Mr.
Burke has a constant stream of conversation.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir;
if a man were to go by chance at the same time with Burke under a
shed, to shun a shower, he would say--"this is an extraordinary
man." If Burke should go into a stable to see his horse drest, the
ostler would say--"we have had an extraordinary man here."'
BOSWELL. 'Foote was a man who never failed in conversation. If he
had gone into a stable--' JOHNSON. 'Sir, if he had gone into a
stable, the ostler would have said, "here has been a comical
fellow"; but he would not have respected him.' BOSWELL. 'And,
Sir, the ostler would have answered him, would have given him as
good as he brought, as the common saying is.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir;
and Foote would have answered the ostler.--When Burke does not
descend to be merry, his conversation is very superiour indeed.
There is no proportion between the powers which he shews in serious
talk and in jocularity. When he lets himself down to that, he is
in the kennel.' I have in another place opposed, and I hope with
success, Dr. Johnson's very singular and erroneous notion as to Mr.
Burke's pleasantry. Mr. Windham now said low to me, that he
differed from our great friend in this observation; for that Mr.
Burke was often very happy in his merriment. It would not have
been right for either of us to have contradicted Johnson at this
time, in a Society all of whom did not know and value Mr. Burke as
much as we did. It might have occasioned something more rough, and
at any rate would probably have checked the flow of Johnson's good-
humour. He called to us with a sudden air of exultation, as the
thought started into his mind, 'O! Gentlemen, I must tell you a
very great thing. The Empress of Russia has ordered the Rambler to
be translated into the Russian language: so I shall be read on the
banks of the Wolga. Horace boasts that his fame would extend as
far as the banks of the Rhone; now the Wolga is farther from me
than the Rhone was from Horace.' BOSWELL. 'You must certainly be
pleased with this, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'I am pleased, Sir, to be sure.
A man is pleased to find he has succeeded in that which he has
endeavoured to do.'
One of the company mentioned his having seen a noble person driving
in his carriage, and looking exceedingly well, notwithstanding his
great age. JOHNSON. 'Ah, Sir; that is nothing. Bacon observes,
that a stout healthy old man is like a tower undermined.'
On Sunday, May 16, I found him alone; he talked of Mrs. Thrale with
much concern, saying, 'Sir, she has done every thing wrong, since
Thrale's bridle was off her neck;' and was proceeding to mention
some circumstances which have since been the subject of publick
discussion, when he was interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Douglas,
now Bishop of Salisbury.
In one of his little manuscript diaries, about this time, I find a
short notice, which marks his amiable disposition more certainly
than a thousand studied declarations.--'Afternoon spent cheerfully
and elegantly, I hope without offence to GOD or man; though in no
holy duty, yet in the general exercise and cultivation of
On Monday, May 17, I dined with him at Mr. Dilly's, where were
Colonel Vallancy, the Reverend Dr. Gibbons, and Mr. Capel Lofft,
who, though a most zealous Whig, has a mind so full of learning and
knowledge, and so much exercised in various departments, and withal
so much liberality, that the stupendous powers of the literary
Goliath, though they did not frighten this little David of popular
spirit, could not but excite his admiration. There was also Mr.
Braithwaite of the Post-office, that amiable and friendly man, who,
with modest and unassuming manners, has associated with many of the
wits of the age. Johnson was very quiescent to-day. Perhaps too I
was indolent. I find nothing more of him in my notes, but that
when I mentioned that I had seen in the King's library sixty-three
editions of my favourite Thomas a Kempis, amongst which it was in
eight languages, Latin, German, French, Italian, Spanish, English,
Arabick, and Armenian, he said, he thought it unnecessary to
collect many editions of a book, which were all the same, except as
to the paper and print; he would have the original, and all the
translations, and all the editions which had any variations in the
text. He approved of the famous collection of editions of Horace
by Douglas, mentioned by Pope, who is said to have had a closet
filled with them; and he added, every man should try to collect one
book in that manner, and present it to a publick library.'
On Wednesday, May 19, I sat a part of the evening with him, by
ourselves. I observed, that the death of our friends might be a
consolation against the fear of our own dissolution, because we
might have more friends in the other world than in this. He
perhaps felt this as a reflection upon his apprehension as to
death; and said, with heat, 'How can a man know WHERE his departed
friends are, or whether they will be his friends in the other
world? How many friendships have you known formed upon principles
of virtue? Most friendships are formed by caprice or by chance,
mere confederacies in vice or leagues in folly.'
We talked of our worthy friend Mr. Langton. He said, 'I know not
who will go to Heaven if Langton does not. Sir, I could almost
say, Sit anima mea cum Langtono.' I mentioned a very eminent
friend as a virtuous man. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but ------ has not
the evangelical virtue of Langton. ------, I am afraid, would not
scruple to pick up a wench.'
He however charged Mr. Langton with what he thought want of
judgment upon an interesting occasion. 'When I was ill, (said he,)
I desired he would tell me sincerely in what he thought my life was
faulty. Sir, he brought me a sheet of paper, on which he had
written down several texts of Scripture, recommending christian
charity. And when I questioned him what occasion I had given for
such an animadversion, all that he could say amounted to this,--
that I sometimes contradicted people in conversation. Now what
harm does it do to any man to be contradicted?' BOSWELL. 'I
suppose he meant the MANNER of doing it; roughly,--and harshly.'
JOHNSON. 'And who is the worse for that?' BOSWELL. 'It hurts
people of weak nerves.' JOHNSON. 'I know no such weak-nerved
people.' Mr. Burke, to whom I related this conference, said, 'It
is well, if when a man comes to die, he has nothing heavier upon
his conscience than having been a little rough in conversation.'
Johnson, at the time when the paper was presented to him, though at
first pleased with the attention of his friend, whom he thanked in
an earnest manner, soon exclaimed, in a loud and angry tone, 'What
is your drift, Sir?' Sir Joshua Reynolds pleasantly observed, that
it was a scene for a comedy, to see a penitent get into a violent
passion and belabour his confessor.
He had dined that day at Mr. Hoole's, and Miss Helen Maria Williams
being expected in the evening, Mr. Hoole put into his hands her
beautiful Ode on the Peace: Johnson read it over, and when this
elegant and accomplished young lady was presented to him, he took
her by the hand in the most courteous manner, and repeated the
finest stanza of her poem; this was the most delicate and pleasing
compliment he could pay. Her respectable friend, Dr. Kippis, from
whom I had this anecdote, was standing by, and was not a little
Miss Williams told me, that the only other time she was fortunate
enough to be in Dr. Johnson's company, he asked her to sit down by
him, which she did, and upon her inquiring how he was, he answered,
'I am very ill indeed, Madam. I am very ill even when you are near
me; what should I be were you at a distance?'
He had now a great desire to go to Oxford, as his first jaunt after
his illness; we talked of it for some days, and I had promised to
accompany him. He was impatient and fretful to-night, because I
did not at once agree to go with him on Thursday. When I
considered how ill he had been, and what allowance should be made
for the influence of sickness upon his temper, I resolved to
indulge him, though with some inconvenience to myself, as I wished
to attend the musical meeting in honour of Handel, in Westminster-
Abbey, on the following Saturday.
In the midst of his own diseases and pains, he was ever
compassionate to the distresses of others, and actively earnest in
procuring them aid, as appears from a note to Sir Joshua Reynolds,
of June, in these words:--'I am ashamed to ask for some relief for
a poor man, to whom, I hope, I have given what I can be expected to
spare. The man importunes me, and the blow goes round. I am going
to try another air on Thursday.'
On Thursday, June 3, the Oxford post-coach took us up in the
morning at Bolt-court. The other two passengers were Mrs.
Beresford and her daughter, two very agreeable ladies from America;
they were going to Worcestershire, where they then resided. Frank
had been sent by his master the day before to take places for us;
and I found, from the waybill, that Dr. Johnson had made our names
be put down. Mrs. Beresford, who had read it, whispered me, 'Is
this the great Dr. Johnson?' I told her it was; so she was then
prepared to listen. As she soon happened to mention in a voice so
low that Johnson did not hear it, that her husband had been a
member of the American Congress, I cautioned her to beware of
introducing that subject, as she must know how very violent Johnson
was against the people of that country. He talked a great deal,
but I am sorry I have preserved little of the conversation. Miss
Beresford was so much charmed, that she said to me aside, 'How he
does talk! Every sentence is an essay.' She amused herself in the
coach with knotting; he would scarcely allow this species of
employment any merit. 'Next to mere idleness (said he,) I think
knotting is to be reckoned in the scale of insignificance; though I
once attempted to learn knotting. Dempster's sister (looking to
me,) endeavoured to teach me it; but I made no progress.'
I was surprised at his talking without reserve in the publick post-
coach of the state of his affairs; 'I have (said he,) about the
world I think above a thousand pounds, which I intend shall afford
Frank an annuity of seventy pounds a year.' Indeed his openness
with people at a first interview was remarkable. He said once to
Mr. Langton, 'I think I am like Squire Richard in The Journey to
London, "I'm never strange in a strange place."' He was truly
SOCIAL. He strongly censured what is much too common in England
among persons of condition,--maintaining an absolute silence, when
unknown to each other; as for instance, when occasionally brought
together in a room before the master or mistress of the house has
appeared. 'Sir, that is being so uncivilised as not to understand
the common rights of humanity.'
At the inn where we stopped he was exceedingly dissatisfied with
some roast mutton which we had for dinner. The ladies I saw
wondered to see the great philosopher, whose wisdom and wit they
had been admiring all the way, get into ill-humour from such a
cause. He scolded the waiter, saying, 'It is as bad as bad can be:
it is ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-drest.'
He bore the journey very well, and seemed to feel himself elevated
as he approached Oxford, that magnificent and venerable seat of
learning, Orthodoxy, and Toryism. Frank came in the heavy coach,
in readiness to attend him; and we were received with the most
polite hospitality at the house of his old friend Dr. Adams, Master
of Pembroke College, who had given us a kind invitation. Before we
were set down, I communicated to Johnson, my having engaged to
return to London directly, for the reason I have mentioned, but
that I would hasten back to him again. He was pleased that I had
made this journey merely to keep him company. He was easy and
placid with Dr. Adams, Mrs. and Miss Adams, and Mrs. Kennicot,
widow of the learned Hebraean, who was here on a visit. He soon
dispatched the inquiries which were made about his illness and
recovery, by a short and distinct narrative; and then assuming a
gay air, repeated from Swift,--
'Nor think on our approaching ills,
And talk of spectacles and pills.'
I fulfilled my intention by going to London, and returned to Oxford
on Wednesday the 9th of June, when I was happy to find myself again
in the same agreeable circle at Pembroke College, with the
comfortable prospect of making some stay. Johnson welcomed my
return with more than ordinary glee.
Next morning at breakfast, he pointed out a passage in Savage's
Wanderer, saying, 'These are fine verses.' 'If (said he,) I had
written with hostility of Warburton in my Shahspeare, I should have
quoted this couplet:--
"Here Learning, blinded first and then beguil'd,
Looks dark as Ignorance, as Fancy wild."
You see they'd have fitted him to a T,' (smiling.) Dr. ADAMS. 'But
you did not write against Warburton.' JOHNSON. No, Sir, I treated
him with great respect both in my Preface and in my Notes.'
After dinner, when one of us talked of there being a great enmity
between Whig and Tory;--Johnson. 'Why not so much, I think, unless
when they come into competition with each other. There is none
when they are only common acquaintance, none when they are of
different sexes. A Tory will marry into a Whig family, and a Whig
into a Tory family, without any reluctance. But indeed, in a
matter of much more concern than political tenets, and that is
religion, men and women do not concern themselves much about
difference of opinion; and ladies set no value on the moral
character of men who pay their addresses to them; the greatest
profligate will be as well received as the man of the greatest
virtue, and this by a very good woman, by a woman who says her
prayers three times a day.' Our ladies endeavoured to defend their
sex from this charge; but he roared them down! 'No, no, a lady
will take Jonathan Wild as readily as St. Austin, if he has
threepence more; and, what is worse, her parents will give her to
him. Women have a perpetual envy of our vices; they are less
vicious than we, not from choice, but because we restrict them;
they are the slaves of order and fashion; their virtue is of more
consequence to us than our own, so far as concerns this world.'
Miss Adams mentioned a gentleman of licentious character, and said,
'Suppose I had a mind to marry that gentleman, would my parents
consent?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, they'd consent, and you'd go. You'd go
though they did not consent.' Miss ADAMS. 'Perhaps their opposing
might make me go.' JOHNSON. 'O, very well; you'd take one whom
you think a bad man, to have the pleasure of vexing your parents.
You put me in mind of Dr. Barrowby, the physician, who was very
fond of swine's flesh. One day, when he was eating it, he said, "I
wish I was a Jew." "Why so? (said somebody;) the Jews are not
allowed to eat your favourite meat." "Because, (said he,) I should
then have the gust of eating it, with the pleasure of sinning."'
Johnson then proceeded in his declamation.
Miss Adams soon afterwards made an observation that I do not
recollect, which pleased him much: he said with a good-humoured
smile, 'That there should be so much excellence united with so much
DEPRAVITY, is strange.'
Indeed, this lady's good qualities, merit, and accomplishments, and
her constant attention to Dr. Johnson, were not lost upon him. She
happened to tell him that a little coffeepot, in which she had made
his coffee, was the only thing she could call her own. He turned
to her with a complacent gallantry, 'Don't say so, my dear; I hope
you don't reckon my heart as nothing.'
On Friday, June 11, we talked at breakfast, of forms of prayer.
JOHNSON. 'I know of no good prayers but those in the Book of
Common Prayer.' DR. ADAMS. (in a very earnest manner:) 'I wish,
Sir, you would compose some family prayers.' JOHNSON. 'I will not
compose prayers for you, Sir, because you can do it for yourself.
But I have thought of getting together all the books of prayers
which I could, selecting those which should appear to me the best,
putting out some, inserting others, adding some prayers of my own,
and prefixing a discourse on prayer.' We all now gathered about
him, and two or three of us at a time joined in pressing him to
execute this plan. He seemed to be a little displeased at the
manner of our importunity, and in great agitation called out, 'Do
not talk thus of what is so aweful. I know not what time GOD will
allow me in this world. There are many things which I wish to do.'
Some of us persisted, and Dr. Adams said, 'I never was more serious
about any thing in my life.' JOHNSON. 'Let me alone, let me
alone; I am overpowered.' And then he put his hands before his
face, and reclined for some time upon the table.
Dr. Johnson and I went in Dr. Adams's coach to dine with Dr.
Nowell, Principal of St. Mary Hall, at his beautiful villa at
Iffley, on the banks of the Isis, about two miles from Oxford.
While we were upon the road, I had the resolution to ask Johnson
whether he thought that the roughness of his manner had been an
advantage or not, and if he would not have done more good if he had
been more gentle. I proceeded to answer myself thus: 'Perhaps it
has been of advantage, as it has given weight to what you said: you
could not, perhaps, have talked with such authority without it.'
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; I have done more good as I am. Obscenity and
Impiety have always been repressed in my company.' BOSWELL.
'True, Sir; and that is more than can be said of every Bishop.
Greater liberties have been taken in the presence of a Bishop,
though a very good man, from his being milder, and therefore not
commanding such awe. Yet, Sir, many people who might have been
benefited by your conversation, have been frightened away. A
worthy friend of ours has told me, that he has often been afraid to
talk to you.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, he need not have been afraid, if he
had any thing rational to say. If he had not, it was better he did
We talked of a certain clergyman of extraordinary character, who by
exerting his talents in writing on temporary topicks, and
displaying uncommon intrepidity, had raised himself to affluence.
I maintained that we ought not to be indignant at his success; for
merit of every sort was entitled to reward. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I will
not allow this man to have merit. No, Sir; what he has is rather
the contrary; I will, indeed, allow him courage, and on this
account we so far give him credit. We have more respect for a man
who robs boldly on the highway, than for a fellow who jumps out of
a ditch, and knocks you down behind your back. Courage is a
quality so necessary for maintaining virtue, that it is always
respected, even when it is associated with vice.'
Mr. Henderson, with whom I had sauntered in the venerable walks of
Merton College, and found him a very learned and pious man, supped
with us. Dr. Johnson surprised him not a little, by acknowledging
with a look of horrour, that he was much oppressed by the fear of
death. The amiable Dr. Adams suggested that GOD was infinitely
good. JOHNSON. 'That he is infinitely good, as far as the
perfection of his nature will allow, I certainly believe; but it is
necessary for good upon the whole, that individuals should be
punished. As to an INDIVIDUAL, therefore, he is not infinitely
good; and as I cannot be SURE that I have fulfilled the conditions
on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those
who shall be damned.' (looking dismally). DR. ADAMS. 'What do you
mean by damned?' JOHNSON. (passionately and loudly,) 'Sent to
Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly!' DR. ADAMS. 'I don't
believe that doctrine.' JOHNSON. 'Hold, Sir, do you believe that
some will be punished at all?' DR. ADAMS. 'Being excluded from
Heaven will be a punishment; yet there may be no great positive
suffering.' JOHNSON. Well, Sir; but, if you admit any degree of
punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness
simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict no
punishment whatever. There is not infinite goodness physically
considered; morally there is.' BOSWELL. 'But may not a man attain
to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of
death?' JOHNSON. 'A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep
him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I
talk; but I do not despair.' MRS. ADAMS. 'You seem, Sir, to
forget the merits of our Redeemer.' JOHNSON. 'Madam, I do not
forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he
will set some on his right hand and some on his left.' He was in
gloomy agitation, and said, 'I'll have no more on't.' If what has
now been stated should be urged by the enemies of Christianity, as
if its influence on the mind were not benignant, let it be
remembered, that Johnson's temperament was melancholy, of which
such direful apprehensions of futurity are often a common effect.
We shall presently see that when he approached nearer to his aweful
change, his mind became tranquil, and he exhibited as much
fortitude as becomes a thinking man in that situation.
From the subject of death we passed to discourse of life, whether
it was upon the whole more happy or miserable. Johnson was
decidedly for the balance of misery: in confirmation of which I
maintained, that no man would choose to lead over again the life
which he had experienced. Johnson acceded to that opinion in the
On Sunday, June 13, our philosopher was calm at breakfast. There
was something exceedingly pleasing in our leading a College life,
without restraint, and with superiour elegance, in consequence of
our living in the Master's house, and having the company of ladies.
Mrs. Kennicot related, in his presence, a lively saying of Dr.
Johnson to Miss Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the
poet who had written Paradise Lost should write such poor Sonnets:--
'Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a
rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.'
On Monday, June 14, and Tuesday, 15, Dr. Johnson and I dined, on
one of them, I forget which, with Mr. Mickle, translator of the
Lusiad, at Wheatley, a very pretty country place a few miles from
Oxford; and on the other with Dr. Wetherell, Master of University
College. From Dr. Wetherell's he went to visit Mr. Sackville
Parker, the bookseller; and when he returned to us, gave the
following account of his visit, saying, 'I have been to see my old
friend, Sack Parker; I find he has married his maid; he has done
right. She had lived with him many years in great confidence, and
they had mingled minds; I do not think he could have found any wife
that would have made him so happy. The woman was very attentive
and civil to me; she pressed me to fix a day for dining with them,
and to say what I liked, and she would be sure to get it for me.
Poor Sack! He is very ill, indeed. We parted as never to meet
again. It has quite broke me down.' This pathetic narrative was
strangely diversified with the grave and earnest defence of a man's
having married his maid. I could not but feel it as in some degree
In the morning of Tuesday, June 15, while we sat at Dr. Adams's, we
talked of a printed letter from the Reverend Herbert Croft, to a
young gentleman who had been his pupil, in which he advised him to
read to the end of whatever books he should begin to read.
JOHNSON. 'This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve
that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to
keep to them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there
may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all
through? These Voyages, (pointing to the three large volumes of
Voyages to the South Sea, which were just come out) WHO will read
them through? A man had better work his way before the mast, than
read them through; they will be eaten by rats and mice, before they
are read through. There can be little entertainment in such books;
one set of Savages is like another.' BOSWELL. 'I do not think the
people of Otaheite can be reckoned Savages.' JOHNSON. 'Don't cant
in defence of Savages.' BOSWELL. 'They have the art of
navigation.' JOHNSON. 'A dog or a cat can swim.' BOSWELL. 'They
carve very ingeniously.' JOHNSON. 'A cat can scratch, and a child
with a nail can scratch.' I perceived this was none of the mollia
tempora fandi; so desisted.
Upon his mentioning that when he came to College he wrote his first
exercise twice over; but never did so afterwards; MISS ADAMS. 'I
suppose, Sir, you could not make them better?' JOHNSON. 'Yes,
Madam, to be sure, I could make them better. Thought is better
than no thought.' MISS ADAMS. 'Do you think, Sir, you could make
your Ramblers better?' JOHNSON. 'Certainly I could.' BOSWELL.
'I'll lay a bet, Sir, you cannot.' JOHNSON. 'But I will, Sir, if
I choose. I shall make the best of them you shall pick out,
better.' BOSWELL. 'But you may add to them. I will not allow of
that.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, there are three ways of making them
better;--putting out,-- adding,--or correcting.'
During our visit at Oxford, the following conversation passed
between him and me on the subject of my trying my fortune at the
English bar: Having asked whether a very extensive acquaintance in
London, which was very valuable, and of great advantage to a man at
large, might not be prejudicial to a lawyer, by preventing him from
giving sufficient attention to his business;--JOHNSON. 'Sir, you
will attend to business, as business lays hold of you. When not
actually employed, you may see your friends as much as you do now.
You may dine at a Club every day, and sup with one of the members
every night; and you may be as much at publick places as one who
has seen them all would wish to be. But you must take care to
attend constantly in Westminster-Hall; both to mind your business,
as it is almost all learnt there, (for nobody reads now;) and to
shew that you want to have business. And you must not be too often
seen at publick places, that competitors may not have it to say,
"He is always at the Playhouse or at Ranelagh, and never to be
found at his chambers." And, Sir, there must be a kind of
solemnity in the manner of a professional man. I have nothing
particular to say to you on the subject. All this I should say to
any one; I should have said it to Lord Thurlow twenty years ago.'
On Wednesday, June 19, Dr. Johnson and I returned to London; he was
not well to-day, and said very little, employing himself chiefly in
reading Euripides. He expressed some displeasure at me, for not
observing sufficiently the various objects upon the road. 'If I
had your eyes, Sir, (said he,) I should count the passengers.' It
was wonderful how accurate his observation of visual objects was,
notwithstanding his imperfect eyesight, owing to a habit of
attention. That he was much satisfied with the respect paid to him
at Dr. Adams's is thus attested by himself: 'I returned last night
from Oxford, after a fortnight's abode with Dr. Adams, who treated
me as well as I could expect or wish; and he that contents a sick
man, a man whom it is impossible to please, has surely done his
After his return to London from this excursion, I saw him
frequently, but have few memorandums: I shall therefore here insert
some particulars which I collected at various times.
It having been mentioned to Dr. Johnson that a gentleman who had a
son whom he imagined to have an extreme degree of timidity,
resolved to send him to a publick school, that he might acquire
confidence;--'Sir, (said Johnson,) this is a preposterous expedient
for removing his infirmity; such a disposition should be cultivated
in the shade. Placing him at a publick school is forcing an owl
Speaking of a gentleman whose house was much frequented by low
company; 'Rags, Sir, (said he,) will always make their appearance
where they have a right to do it.'
Of the same gentleman's mode of living, he said, 'Sir, the
servants, instead of doing what they are bid, stand round the table
in idle clusters, gaping upon the guests; and seem as unfit to
attend a company, as to steer a man of war.'
A dull country magistrate gave Johnson a long tedious account of
his exercising his criminal jurisdiction, the result of which was
his having sentenced four convicts to transportation. Johnson, in
an agony of impatience to get rid of such a companion, exclaimed,
'I heartily wish, Sir, that I were a fifth.'
Johnson was present when a tragedy was read, in which there
occurred this line:--
'Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free.'
The company having admired it much, 'I cannot agree with you (said
Johnson). It might as well be said,--
'Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.'
Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman;
his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to
say, 'I don't understand you, Sir:' upon which Johnson observed,
'Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find
you an understanding.'
Talking to me of Horry Walpole, (as Horace late Earl of Orford was
often called,) Johnson allowed that he got together a great many
curious little things, and told them in an elegant manner. Mr.
Walpole thought Johnson a more amiable character after reading his
Letters to Mrs. Thrale: but never was one of the true admirers of
that great man. We may suppose a prejudice conceived, if he ever
heard Johnson's account to Sir George Staunton, that when he made
the speeches in parliament for the Gentleman's Magazine, 'he always
took care to put Sir Robert Walpole in the wrong, and to say every
thing he could against the electorate of Hanover.' The celebrated
Heroick Epistle, in which Johnson is satyrically introduced, has
been ascribed both to Mr. Walpole and Mr. Mason. One day at Mr.
Courtenay's, when a gentleman expressed his opinion that there was
more energy in that poem than could be expected from Mr. Walpole;
Mr. Warton, the late Laureat, observed, 'It may have been written
by Walpole, and BUCKRAM'D by Mason.'
Sir Joshua Reynolds having said that he took the altitude of a
man's taste by his stories and his wit, and of his understanding by
the remarks which he repeated; being always sure that he must be a
weak man who quotes common things with an emphasis as if they were
oracles; Johnson agreed with him; and Sir Joshua having also
observed that the real character of a man was found out by his
amusements,--Johnson added, 'Yes, Sir; no man is a hypocrite in his
I have mentioned Johnson's general aversion to a pun. He once,
however, endured one of mine. When we were talking of a numerous
company in which he had distinguished himself highly, I said, 'Sir,
you were a COD surrounded by smelts. Is not this enough for you?
at a time too when you were not FISHING for a compliment?' He
laughed at this with a complacent approbation. Old Mr. Sheridan
observed, upon my mentioning it to him, 'He liked your compliment
so well, he was willing to take it with PUN SAUCE.' For my own
part, I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be
suppressed; and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller
excellencies of lively conversation.
Mr. Burke uniformly shewed Johnson the greatest respect; and when
Mr. Townshend, now Lord Sydney, at a period when he was conspicuous
in opposition, threw out some reflection in parliament upon the
grant of a pension to a man of such political principles as
Johnson; Mr. Burke, though then of the same party with Mr.
Townshend, stood warmly forth in defence of his friend, to whom, he
justly observed, the pension was granted solely on account of his
eminent literary merit. I am well assured, that Mr. Townshend's
attack upon Johnson was the occasion of his 'hitching in a rhyme;'
for, that in the original copy of Goldsmith's character of Mr.
Burke, in his Retaliation, another person's name stood in the
couplet where Mr. Townshend is now introduced:--
'Though fraught with all learning kept straining his throat,
To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote.'
It may be worth remarking, among the minutiae of my collection,
that Johnson was once drawn to serve in the militia, the Trained
Bands of the City of London, and that Mr. Rackstrow, of the Museum
in Fleet-street, was his Colonel. It may be believed he did not
serve in person; but the idea, with all its circumstances, is
certainly laughable. He upon that occasion provided himself with a
musket, and with a sword and belt, which I have seen hanging in his
An authour of most anxious and restless vanity being mentioned,
'Sir, (said he,) there is not a young sapling upon Parnassus more
severely blown about by every wind of criticism than that poor
The difference, he observed, between a well-bred and an ill-bred
man is this: 'One immediately attracts your liking, the other your
aversion. You love the one till you find reason to hate him; you
hate the other till you find reason to love him.'
A foppish physician once reminded Johnson of his having been in
company with him on a former occasion; 'I do not remember it, Sir.'
The physician still insisted; adding that he that day wore so fine
a coat that it must have attracted his notice. 'Sir, (said
Johnson,) had you been dipt in Pactolus I should not have noticed
He seemed to take a pleasure in speaking in his own style; for when
he had carelessly missed it, he would repeat the thought translated
into it. Talking of the Comedy of The Rehearsal, he said, 'It has
not wit enough to keep it sweet.' This was easy; he therefore
caught himself, and pronounced a more round sentence; 'It has not
vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.'
Though he had no taste for painting, he admired much the manner in
which Sir Joshua Reynolds treated of his art, in his Discourses to
the Royal Academy. He observed one day of a passage in them, 'I
think I might as well have said this myself:' and once when Mr.
Langton was sitting by him, he read one of them very eagerly, and
expressed himself thus:--'Very well, Master Reynolds; very well,
indeed. But it will not be understood.'
When I observed to him that Painting was so far inferiour to
Poetry, that the story or even emblem which it communicates must be
previously known, and mentioned as a natural and laughable instance
of this, that a little Miss on seeing a picture of Justice with the
scales, had exclaimed to me, 'See, there's a woman selling
sweetmeats;' he said, 'Painting, Sir, can illustrate, but cannot
No man was more ready to make an apology when he had censured
unjustly, than Johnson. When a proof-sheet of one of his works was
brought to him, he found fault with the mode in which a part of it
was arranged, refused to read it, and in a passion desired that the
compositor might be sent to him. The compositor was Mr. Manning, a
decent sensible man, who had composed about one half of his
Dictionary, when in Mr. Strahan's printing-house; and a great part
of his Lives of the Poets, when in that of Mr. Nichols; and who (in
his seventy-seventh year), when in Mr. Baldwin's printing-house,
composed a part of the first edition of this work concerning him.
By producing the manuscript, he at once satisfied Dr. Johnson that
he was not to blame. Upon which Johnson candidly and earnestly
said to him, 'Mr. Compositor, I ask your pardon. Mr. Compositor, I
ask your pardon, again and again.'
His generous humanity to the miserable was almost beyond example.
The following instance is well attested:--Coming home late one
night, he found a poor woman lying in the street, so much exhausted
that she could not walk; he took her upon his back, and carried her
to his house, where he discovered that she was one of those
wretched females who had fallen into the lowest state of vice,
poverty, and disease. Instead of harshly upbraiding her, he had
her taken care of with all tenderness for a long time, at
considerable expence, till she was restored to health, and
endeavoured to put her into a virtuous way of living.
He once in his life was known to have uttered what is called a
BULL: Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were riding together in
Devonshire, complained that he had a very bad horse, for that even
when going down hill he moved slowly step by step. 'Ay (said
Johnson,) and when he goes up hill, he STANDS STILL.'
He had a great aversion to gesticulating in company. He called
once to a gentleman who offended him in that point, 'Don't
ATTITUDENISE.' And when another gentleman thought he was giving
additional force to what he uttered, by expressive movements of his
hands, Johnson fairly seized them, and held them down.
Mr. Steevens, who passed many a social hour with him during their
long acquaintance, which commenced when they both lived in the
Temple, has preserved a good number of particulars concerning him,
most of which are to be found in the department of Apothegms, &c.
in the Collection of Johnson's Works. But he has been pleased to
favour me with the following, which are original:--
'Dr. Johnson once assumed a character in which perhaps even Mr.
Boswell never saw him. His curiosity having been excited by the
praises bestowed on the celebrated Torre's fireworks at Marybone-
Gardens, he desired Mr. Steevens to accompany him thither. The
evening had proved showery; and soon after the few people present
were assembled, publick notice was given, that the conductors to
the wheels, suns, stars, &c., were so thoroughly water-soaked, that
it was impossible any part of the exhibition should be made. "This
is a mere excuse, (says the Doctor,) to save their crackers for a
more profitable company. Let us but hold up our sticks, and
threaten to break those coloured lamps that surround the Orchestra,
and we shall soon have our wishes gratified. The core of the
fireworks cannot be injured; let the different pieces be touched in
their respective centers, and they will do their offices as well as
ever." Some young men who overheard him, immediately began the
violence he had recommended, and an attempt was speedily made to
fire some of the wheels which appeared to have received the
smallest damage; but to little purpose were they lighted, for most
of them completely failed. The authour of The Rambler, however,
may be considered, on this occasion, as the ringleader of a
successful riot, though not as a skilful pyrotechnist.'
'It has been supposed that Dr. Johnson, so far as fashion was
concerned, was careless of his appearance in publick. But this is
not altogether true, as the following slight instance may show:--
Goldsmith's last Comedy was to be represented during some court-
mourning: and Mr. Steevens appointed to call on Dr. Johnson, and
carry him to the tavern where he was to dine with others of the
Poet's friends. The Doctor was ready dressed, but in coloured
cloaths; yet being told that he would find every one else in black,
received the intelligence with a profusion of thanks, hastened to
change his attire, all the while repeating his gratitude for the
information that had saved him from an appearance so improper in
the front row of a front box. "I would not (added he,) for ten
pounds, have seemed so retrograde to any general observance."
'He would sometimes found his dislikes on very slender
circumstances. Happening one day to mention Mr. Flexman, a
Dissenting Minister, with some compliment to his exact memory in
chronological matters; the Doctor replied, "Let me hear no more of
him, Sir. That is the fellow who made the Index to my Ramblers,
and set down the name of Milton thus: Milton, MR. John."'
In the course of this work a numerous variety of names has been
mentioned, to which many might be added. I cannot omit Lord and
Lady Lucan, at whose house he often enjoyed all that an elegant
table and the best company can contribute to happiness; he found
hospitality united with extraordinary accomplishments, and
embellished with charms of which no man could be insensible.
On Tuesday, June 22, I dined with him at THE LITERARY CLUB, the
last time of his being in that respectable society. The other
members present were the Bishop of St. Asaph, Lord Eliot, Lord
Palmerston, Dr. Fordyce, and Mr. Malone. He looked ill; but had
such a manly fortitude, that he did not trouble the company with
melancholy complaints. They all shewed evident marks of kind
concern about him, with which he was much pleased, and he exerted
himself to be as entertaining as his indisposition allowed him.
The anxiety of his friends to preserve so estimable a life, as long
as human means might be supposed to have influence, made them plan
for him a retreat from the severity of a British winter, to the
mild climate of Italy. This scheme was at last brought to a
serious resolution at General Paoli's, where I had often talked of
it. One essential matter, however, I understood was necessary to
be previously settled, which was obtaining such an addition to his
income, as would be sufficient to enable him to defray the expence
in a manner becoming the first literary character of a great
nation, and independent of all his other merits, the Authour of THE
DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The person to whom I above all
others thought I should apply to negociate this business, was the
Lord Chancellor, because I knew that he highly valued Johnson, and
that Johnson highly valued his Lordship; so that it was no
degradation of my illustrious friend to solicit for him the favour
of such a man. I have mentioned what Johnson said of him to me
when he was at the bar; and after his Lordship was advanced to the
seals, he said of him, 'I would prepare myself for no man in
England but Lord Thurlow. When I am to meet with him I should wish
to know a day before.' How he would have prepared himself I cannot
conjecture. Would he have selected certain topicks, and considered
them in every view so as to be in readiness to argue them at all
points? and what may we suppose those topicks to have been? I once
started the curious inquiry to the great man who was the subject of
this compliment: he smiled, but did not pursue it.
I first consulted with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who perfectly coincided
in opinion with me; and I therefore, though personally very little
known to his Lordship, wrote to him, stating the case, and
requesting his good offices for Dr. Johnson. I mentioned that I
was obliged to set out for Scotland early in the following week, so
that if his Lordship should have any commands for me as to this
pious negociation, he would be pleased to send them before that
time; otherwise Sir Joshua Reynolds would give all attention to it.
This application was made not only without any suggestion on the
part of Johnson himself, but was utterly unknown to him, nor had he
the smallest suspicion of it. Any insinuations, therefore, which
since his death have been thrown out, as if he had stooped to ask
what was superfluous, are without any foundation. But, had he
asked it, it would not have been superfluous; for though the money
he had saved proved to be more than his friends imagined, or than I
believe he himself, in his carelessness concerning worldly matters,
knew it to be, had he travelled upon the Continent, an augmentation
of his income would by no means have been unnecessary.
On Thursday, June 24, I dined with him at Mr. Dilly's, where were
the Rev. Mr. (now Dr.) Knox, master of Tunbridge-school, Mr. Smith,
Vicar of Southill, Dr. Beattie, Mr. Pinkerton, authour of various
literary performances, and the Rev. Dr. Mayo. At my desire old Mr.
Sheridan was invited, as I was earnest to have Johnson and him
brought together again by chance, that a reconciliation might be
effected. Mr. Sheridan happened to come early, and having learned
that Dr. Johnson was to be there, went away; so I found, with
sincere regret, that my friendly intentions were hopeless. I
recollect nothing that passed this day, except Johnson's quickness,
who, when Dr. Beattie observed, as something remarkable which had
happened to him, that he had chanced to see both No. 1, and No.
1000, of the hackney-coaches, the first and the last; 'Why, Sir,
(said Johnson,) there is an equal chance for one's seeing those two
numbers as any other two.'
On Friday, June 25, I dined with him at General Paoli's, where, he
says in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, 'I love to dine.' There
was a variety of dishes much to his taste, of all which he seemed
to me to eat so much, that I was afraid he might be hurt by it; and
I whispered to the General my fear, and begged he might not press
him. 'Alas! (said the General,) see how very ill he looks; he can
live but a very short time. Would you refuse any slight
gratifications to a man under sentence of death? There is a humane
custom in Italy, by which persons in that melancholy situation are
indulged with having whatever they like best to eat and drink, even
with expensive delicacies.'
On Sunday, June 27, I found him rather better. I mentioned to him
a young man who was going to Jamaica with his wife and children, in
expectation of being provided for by two of her brothers settled in
that island, one a clergyman, and the other a physician. JOHNSON.
'It is a wild scheme, Sir, unless he has a positive and deliberate
invitation. There was a poor girl, who used to come about me, who
had a cousin in Barbadoes, that, in a letter to her, expressed a
wish she should come out to that Island, and expatiated on the
comforts and happiness of her situation. The poor girl went out:
her cousin was much surprised, and asked her how she could think of
coming. "Because, (said she,) you invited me." "Not I," answered
the cousin. The letter was then produced. "I see it is true,
(said she,) that I did invite you: but I did not think you would
come." They lodged her in an out-house, where she passed her time
miserably; and as soon as she had an opportunity she returned to
England. Always tell this, when you hear of people going abroad to
relations, upon a notion of being well received. In the case which
you mention, it is probable the clergyman spends all he gets, and
the physician does not know how much he is to get.'
We this day dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with General Paoli,
Lord Eliot, (formerly Mr. Eliot, of Port Eliot,) Dr. Beattie, and
some other company. Talking of Lord Chesterfield;--JOHNSON. 'His
manner was exquisitely elegant, and he had more knowledge than I
expected.' BOSWELL. 'Did you find, Sir, his conversation to be of
a superiour style?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, in the conversation which I
had with him I had the best right to superiority, for it was upon
philology and literature.' Lord Eliot, who had travelled at the
same time with Mr. Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield's natural son,
justly observed, that it was strange that a man who shewed he had
so much affection for his son as Lord Chesterfield did, by writing
so many long and anxious letters to him, almost all of them when he
was Secretary of State, which certainly was a proof of great
goodness of disposition, should endeavour to make his son a rascal.
His Lordship told us, that Foote had intended to bring on the stage
a father who had thus tutored his son, and to shew the son an
honest man to every one else, but practising his father's maxims
upon him, and cheating him. JOHNSON. 'I am much pleased with this
design; but I think there was no occasion to make the son honest at
all. No; he should be a consummate rogue: the contrast between
honesty and knavery would be the stronger. It should be contrived
so that the father should be the only sufferer by the son's
villainy, and thus there would be poetical justice.'
A young gentleman present took up the argument against him, and
maintained that no man ever thinks of the NOSE OF THE MIND, not
adverting that though that figurative sense seems strange to us, as
very unusual, it is truly not more forced than Hamlet's 'In my
MIND'S EYE, Horatio.' He persisted much too long, and appeared to
Johnson as putting himself forward as his antagonist with too much
presumption; upon which he called to him in a loud tone, 'What is
it you are contending for, if you BE contending?' And afterwards
imagining that the gentleman retorted upon him with a kind of smart
drollery, he said, 'Mr. ***** it does not become you to talk so to
me. Besides, ridicule is not your talent; you have THERE neither
intuition nor sagacity.' The gentleman protested that he had
intended no improper freedom, but had the greatest respect for Dr.
Johnson. After a short pause, during which we were somewhat
uneasy,--JOHNSON. 'Give me your hand, Sir. You were too tedious,
and I was too short.' Mr. *****. 'Sir, I am honoured by your
attention in any way.' JOHNSON. 'Come, Sir, let's have no more of
it. We offended one another by our contention; let us not offend
the company by our compliments.'
He now said, 'He wished much to go to Italy, and that he dreaded
passing the winter in England.' I said nothing; but enjoyed a
secret satisfaction in thinking that I had taken the most effectual
measures to make such a scheme practicable.
On Monday, June 28, I had the honour to receive from the Lord
Chancellor the following letter:--
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'SIR,--I should have answered your letter immediately, if (being
much engaged when I received it) I had not put it in my pocket, and
forgot to open it till this morning.
'I am much obliged to you for the suggestion; and I will adopt and
press it as far as I can. The best argument, I am sure, and I hope
it is not likely to fail, is Dr. Johnson's merit. But it will be
necessary, if I should be so unfortunate as to miss seeing you, to
converse with Sir Joshua on the sum it will be proper to ask,--in
short, upon the means of setting him out. It would be a reflection
on us all, if such a man should perish for want of the means to
take care of his health. Yours, &c.
This letter gave me a very high satisfaction; I next day went and
shewed it to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was exceedingly pleased with
it. He thought that I should now communicate the negociation to
Dr. Johnson, who might afterwards complain if the attention with
which he had been honoured, should be too long concealed from him.
I intended to set out for Scotland next morning; but Sir Joshua
cordially insisted that I should stay another day, that Johnson and
I might dine with him, that we three might talk of his Italian
Tour, and, as Sir Joshua expressed himself, 'have it all out.' I
hastened to Johnson, and was told by him that he was rather better
to-day. BOSWELL. 'I am very anxious about you, Sir, and
particularly that you should go to Italy for the winter, which I
believe is your own wish.' JOHNSON. 'It is, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'You
have no objection, I presume, but the money it would require.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir.' Upon which I gave him a particular
account of what had been done, and read to him the Lord
Chancellor's letter. He listened with much attention; then warmly
said, 'This is taking prodigious pains about a man.' 'O! Sir,
(said I, with most sincere affection,) your friends would do every
thing for you.' He paused, grew more and more agitated, till tears
started into his eyes, and he exclaimed with fervent emotion, 'GOD
bless you all.' I was so affected that I also shed tears. After a
short silence, he renewed and extended his grateful benediction,
'GOD bless you all, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake.' We both remained for
some time unable to speak. He rose suddenly and quitted the room,
quite melted in tenderness. He staid but a short time, till he had
recovered his firmness; soon after he returned I left him, having
first engaged him to dine at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, next day. I
never was again under that roof which I had so long reverenced.
On Wednesday, June 30, the friendly confidential dinner with Sir
Joshua Reynolds took place, no other company being present. Had I
known that this was the last time that I should enjoy in this
world, the conversation of a friend whom I so much respected, and
from whom I derived so much instruction and entertainment, I should
have been deeply affected. When I now look back to it, I am vexed
that a single word should have been forgotten.
Both Sir Joshua and I were so sanguine in our expectations, that we
expatiated with confidence on the liberal provision which we were
sure would be made for him, conjecturing whether munificence would
be displayed in one large donation, or in an ample increase of his
pension. He himself catched so much of our enthusiasm, as to allow
himself to suppose it not impossible that our hopes might in one
way or other be realised. He said that he would rather have his
pension doubled than a grant of a thousand pounds; 'For, (said he,)
though probably I may not live to receive as much as a thousand
pounds, a man would have the consciousness that he should pass the
remainder of his life in splendour, how long soever it might be.'
Considering what a moderate proportion an income of six hundred
pounds a year bears to innumerable fortunes in this country, it is
worthy of remark, that a man so truly great should think it
As an instance of extraordinary liberality of friendship, he told
us, that Dr. Brocklesby had upon this occasion offered him a
hundred a year for his life. A grateful tear started into his eye,
as he spoke this in a faultering tone.
Sir Joshua and I endeavoured to flatter his imagination with
agreeable prospects of happiness in Italy. 'Nay, (said he,) I must
not expect much of that; when a man goes to Italy merely to feel
how he breathes the air, he can enjoy very little.'
Our conversation turned upon living in the country, which Johnson,
whose melancholy mind required the dissipation of quick successive
variety, had habituated himself to consider as a kind of mental
imprisonment. 'Yet, Sir, (said I,) there are many people who are
content to live in the country.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is in the
intellectual world as in the physical world; we are told by natural
philosophers that a body is at rest in the place that is fit for
it; they who are content to live in the country, are FIT for the
Talking of various enjoyments, I argued that a refinement of taste
was a disadvantage, as they who have attained to it must be
seldomer pleased than those who have no nice discrimination, and
are therefore satisfied with every thing that comes in their way.
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir; that is a paltry notion. Endeavour to be as
perfect as you can in every respect.'
I accompanied him in Sir Joshua Reynolds's coach, to the entry of
Bolt-court. He asked me whether I would not go with him to his
house; I declined it, from an apprehension that my spirits would
sink. We bade adieu to each other affectionately in the carriage.
When he had got down upon the foot-pavement, he called out, 'Fare
you well;' and without looking back, sprung away with a kind of
pathetick briskness, if I may use that expression, which seemed to
indicate a struggle to conceal uneasiness, and impressed me with a
foreboding of our long, long separation.
I remained one day more in town, to have the chance of talking over
my negociation with the Lord Chancellor; but the multiplicity of
his Lordship's important engagements did not allow of it; so I left
the management of the business in the hands of Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Soon after this time Dr. Johnson had the mortification of being
informed by Mrs. Thrale, that, 'what she supposed he never
believed,' was true; namely, that she was actually going to marry
Signor Piozzi, an Italian musick-master. He endeavoured to prevent
it; but in vain. If she would publish the whole of the
correspondence that passed between Dr. Johnson and her on the
subject, we should have a full view of his real sentiments. As it
is, our judgement must be biassed by that characteristick specimen
which Sir John Hawkins has given us: 'Poor Thrale! I thought that
either her virtue or her vice would have restrained her from such a
marriage. She is now become a subject for her enemies to exult
over; and for her friends, if she has any left, to forget, or
It must be admitted that Johnson derived a considerable portion of
happiness from the comforts and elegancies which he enjoyed in Mr.
Thrale's family; but Mrs. Thrale assures us he was indebted for
these to her husband alone, who certainly respected him sincerely.
Having left the PIOUS NEGOCIATION, as I called it, in the best
hands, I shall here insert what relates to it. Johnson wrote to
Sir Joshua Reynolds on July 6, as follows:--
'I am going, I hope, in a few days, to try the air of Derbyshire,
but hope to see you before I go. Let me, however, mention to you
what I have much at heart. If the Chancellor should continue his
attention to Mr. Boswell's request, and confer with you on the
means of relieving my languid state, I am very desirous to avoid
the appearance of asking money upon false pretences. I desire you
to represent to his Lordship, what, as soon as it is suggested, he
will perceive to be reasonable,--That, if I grow much worse, I
shall be afraid to leave my physicians, to suffer the
inconveniences of travel, and pine in the solitude of a foreign
country; That, if I grow much better, of which indeed there is now
little appearance, I shall not wish to leave my friends and my
domestick comforts; for I do not travel, for pleasure or curiosity;
yet if I should recover, curiosity would revive. In my present
state, I am desirous to make a struggle for a little longer life,
and hope to obtain some help from a softer climate. Do for me what
By a letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds I was informed, that the Lord
Chancellor had called on him, and acquainted him that the
application had not been successful; but that his Lordship, after
speaking highly in praise of Johnson, as a man who was an honour to
his country, desired Sir Joshua to let him know, that on granting a
mortgage of his pension, he should draw on his Lordship to the
amount of five or six hundred pounds; and that his Lordship
explained the meaning of the mortgage to be, that he wished the
business to be conducted in such a manner, that Dr. Johnson should
appear to be under the least possible obligation. Sir Joshua
mentioned, that he had by the same post communicated all this to
How Johnson was affected upon the occasion will appear from what he
wrote to Sir Joshua Reynolds:--
'Ashbourne, Sept. 9. Many words I hope are not necessary between
you and me, to convince you what gratitude is excited in my heart
by the Chancellor's liberality, and your kind offices. . . .
'I have enclosed a letter to the Chancellor, which, when you have
read it, you will be pleased to seal with a head, or any other
general seal, and convey it to him: had I sent it directly to him,
I should have seemed to overlook the favour of your intervention.'
'TO THE LORD HIGH CHANCELLOR.
'MY LORD,--After a long and not inattentive observation of mankind,
the generosity of your Lordship's offer raises in me not less
wonder than gratitude. Bounty, so liberally bestowed, I should
gladly receive, if my condition made it necessary; for, to such a
mind, who would not be proud to own his obligations? But it has
pleased GOD to restore me to so great a measure of health, that if
I should now appropriate so much of a fortune destined to do good,
I could not escape from myself the charge of advancing a false
claim. My journey to the continent, though I once thought it
necessary, was never much encouraged by my physicians; and I was
very desirous that your Lordship should be told of it by Sir Joshua
Reynolds, as an event very uncertain; for if I grew much better, I
should not be willing, if much worse, not able, to migrate. Your
Lordship was first solicited without my knowledge; but, when I was
told that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did
not expect to hear of a refusal; yet, as I have had no long time to
brood hope, and have not rioted in imaginary opulence, this cold
reception has been scarce a disappointment; and, from your
Lordship's kindness, I have received a benefit, which only men like
you are able to bestow. I shall now live mihi carior, with a
higher opinion of my own merit. I am, my Lord, your Lordship's
most obliged, most grateful, and most humble servant,
Upon this unexpected failure I abstain from presuming to make any
remarks, or to offer any conjectures.
Let us now contemplate Johnson thirty years after the death of his
wife, still retaining for her all the tenderness of affection.
'TO THE REVEREND MR. BAGSHAW, AT BROMLEY.
'SIR,--Perhaps you may remember, that in the year 1753, you
committed to the ground my dear wife. I now entreat your
permission to lay a stone upon her; and have sent the inscription,
that, if you find it proper, you may signify your allowance.
'You will do me a great favour by showing the place where she lies,
that the stone may protect her remains.
'Mr. Ryland will wait on you for the inscription, and procure it to
be engraved. You will easily believe that I shrink from this
mournful office. When it is done, if I have strength remaining, I
will visit Bromley once again, and pay you part of the respect to
which you have a right from, Reverend Sir, your most humble
'July 12, 1784.'
Next day he set out on a jaunt to Staffordshire and Derbyshire,
flattering himself that he might be in some degree relieved.
During his absence from London he kept up a correspondence with
several of his friends, from which I shall select what appears to
me proper for publication, without attending nicely to
TO DR. BROCKLESBY, he writes, Ashbourne, Sept. 9:--
'Do you know the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire? And have you ever
seen Chatsworth? I was at Chatsworth on Monday: I had indeed seen
it before, but never when its owners were at home; I was very
kindly received, and honestly pressed to stay: but I told them that
a sick man is not a fit inmate of a great house. But I hope to go
again some time.'
Sept. 11. 'I think nothing grows worse, but all rather better,
except sleep, and that of late has been at its old pranks. Last
evening, I felt what I had not known for a long time, an
inclination to walk for amusement; I took a short walk, and came
back again neither breathless nor fatigued. This has been a
gloomy, frigid, ungenial summer, but of late it seems to mend; I
hear the heat sometimes mentioned, but I do not feel it:
"Praeterea minimus gelido jam in corpore sanguis
Febre calet sola.--"
I hope, however, with good help, to find means of supporting a
winter at home, and to hear and tell at the Club what is doing, and
what ought to be doing in the world. I have no company here, and
shall naturally come home hungry for conversation. To wish you,
dear Sir, more leisure, would not be kind; but what leisure you
have, you must bestow upon me.'
Lichfield, Sept. 29. 'On one day I had three letters about the
air-balloon: yours was far the best, and has enabled me to impart
to my friends in the country an idea of this species of amusement.
In amusement, mere amusement, I am afraid it must end, for I do not
find that its course can be directed so as that it should serve any
purposes of communication; and it can give no new intelligence of
the state of the air at different heights, till they have ascended
above the height of mountains, which they seem never likely to do.
I came hither on the 27th. How long I shall stay I have not
determined. My dropsy is gone, and my asthma much remitted, but I
have felt myself a little declining these two days, or at least to-
day; but such vicissitudes must be expected. One day may be worse
than another; but this last month is far better than the former; if
the next should be as much better than this, I shall run about the
town on my own legs.'
October 25. 'You write to me with a zeal that animates, and a
tenderness that melts me. I am not afraid either of a journey to
London, or a residence in it. I came down with little fatigue, and
am now not weaker. In the smoky atmosphere I was delivered from
the dropsy, which I consider as the original and radical disease.
The town is my element*; there are my friends, there are my books,
to which I have not yet bid farewell, and there are my amusements.
Sir Joshua told me long ago that my vocation was to publick life,
and I hope still to keep my station, till God shall bid me Go in
* His love of London continually appears. In a letter from him to
Mrs. Smart, wife of his friend the Poet, which is published in a
well-written life of him, prefixed to an edition of his Poems, in
1791, there is the following sentence:--'To one that has passed so
many years in the pleasures and opulence of London, there are few
places that can give much delight.'
Once, upon reading that line in the curious epitaph quoted in The
'Born in New-England, did in London die;'
he laughed and said, 'I do not wonder at this. It would have been
strange, if born in London, he had died in New-England.'--BOSWELL.
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS:--
Ashbourne, Sept. 2. '. . . I still continue by God's mercy to
mend. My breath is easier, my nights are quieter, and my legs are
less in bulk, and stronger in use. I have, however, yet a great
deal to overcome, before I can yet attain even an old man's health.
Write, do write to me now and then; we are now old acquaintance,
and perhaps few people have lived so much and so long together,
with less cause of complaint on either side. The retrospection of
this is very pleasant, and I hope we shall never think on each
other with less kindness.'
Sept. 9. 'I could not answer your letter before this day, because
I went on the sixth to Chatsworth, and did not come back till the
post was gone. Many words, I hope, are not necessary between you
and me, to convince you what gratitude is excited in my heart, by
the Chancellor's liberality and your kind offices. I did not
indeed expect that what was asked by the Chancellor would have been
refused, but since it has, we will not tell that any thing has been
asked. I have enclosed a letter to the Chancellor which, when you
have read it, you will be pleased to seal with a head, or other
general seal, and convey it to him; had I sent it directly to him,
I should have seemed to overlook the favour of your intervention.
I do not despair of supporting an English winter. At Chatsworth, I
met young Mr. Burke, who led me very commodiously into conversation
with the Duke and Duchess. We had a very good morning. The dinner
Sept. 18. 'I have three letters this day, all about the balloon, I
could have been content with one. Do not write about the balloon,
whatever else you may think proper to say.'
It may be observed, that his writing in every way, whether for the
publick, or privately to his friends, was by fits and starts; for
we see frequently, that many letters are written on the same day.
When he had once overcome his aversion to begin, he was, I suppose,
desirous to go on, in order to relieve his mind from the uneasy
reflection of delaying what he ought to do.
We now behold Johnson for the last time, in his native city, for
which he ever retained a warm affection, and which, by a sudden
apostrophe, under the word Lich, he introduces with reverence, into
his immortal Work, THE ENGLISH DICTIONARY:--Salve, magna parens!
While here, he felt a revival of all the tenderness of filial
affection, an instance of which appeared in his ordering the grave-
stone and inscription over Elizabeth Blaney* to be substantially
and carefully renewed.
* His mother.--ED.
To Mr. Henry White, a young clergyman, with whom he now formed an
intimacy, so as to talk to him with great freedom, he mentioned
that he could not in general accuse himself of having been an
undutiful son. 'Once, indeed, (said he,) I was disobedient; I
refused to attend my father to Uttoxeter-market. Pride was the
source of that refusal, and the remembrance of it was painful. A
few years ago, I desired to atone for this fault; I went to
Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood for a considerable time
bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father's stall used to
stand. In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was
'I told him (says Miss Seward) in one of my latest visits to him,
of a wonderful learned pig, which I had seen at Nottingham; and
which did all that we have observed exhibited by dogs and horses.
The subject amused him. "Then, (said he,) the pigs are a race
unjustly calumniated. PIG has, it seems, not been wanting to MAN,
but MAN to PIG. We do not allow TIME for his education, we kill
him at a year old." Mr. Henry White, who was present, observed
that if this instance had happened in or before Pope's time, he
would not have been justified in instancing the swine as the lowest
degree of groveling instinct. Dr. Johnson seemed pleased with the
observation, while the person who made it proceeded to remark, that
great torture must have been employed, ere the indocility of the
animal could have been subdued. "Certainly, (said the Doctor;)
but, (turning to me,) how old is your pig?" I told him, three
years old. "Then, (said he,) the pig has no cause to complain; he
would have been killed the first year if he had not been EDUCATED,
and protracted existence is a good recompence for very considerable
degrees of torture."'
As Johnson had now very faint hopes of recovery, and as Mrs. Thrale
was no longer devoted to him, it might have been supposed that he
would naturally have chosen to remain in the comfortable house of
his beloved wife's daughter, and end his life where he began it.
But there was in him an animated and lofty spirit, and however
complicated diseases might depress ordinary mortals, all who saw
him, beheld and acknowledged the invictum animum Catonis. Such was
his intellectual ardour even at this time, that he said to one
friend, 'Sir, I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not
make a new acquaintance;' and to another, when talking of his
illness, 'I will be conquered; I will not capitulate.' And such
was his love of London, so high a relish had he of its magnificent
extent, and variety of intellectual entertainment, that he
languished when absent from it, his mind having become quite
luxurious from the long habit of enjoying the metropolis; and,
therefore, although at Lichfield, surrounded with friends, who
loved and revered him, and for whom he had a very sincere
affection, he still found that such conversation as London affords,
could be found no where else. These feelings, joined, probably, to
some flattering hopes of aid from the eminent physicians and
surgeons in London, who kindly and generously attended him without
accepting fees, made him resolve to return to the capital.
From Lichfield he came to Birmingham, where he passed a few days
with his worthy old schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, who thus writes to
me:--'He was very solicitous with me to recollect some of our most
early transactions, and transmit them to him, for I perceive
nothing gave him greater pleasure than calling to mind those days
of our innocence. I complied with his request, and he only
received them a few days before his death. I have transcribed for
your inspection, exactly the minutes I wrote to him.' This paper
having been found in his repositories after his death, Sir John
Hawkins has inserted it entire, and I have made occasional use of
it and other communications from Mr. Hector, in the course of this
Work. I have both visited and corresponded with him since Dr.
Johnson's death, and by my inquiries concerning a great variety of
particulars have obtained additional information. I followed the
same mode with the Reverend Dr. Taylor, in whose presence I wrote
down a good deal of what he could tell; and he, at my request,
signed his name, to give it authenticity. It is very rare to find
any person who is able to give a distinct account of the life even
of one whom he has known intimately, without questions being put to
them. My friend Dr. Kippis has told me, that on this account it is
a practice with him to draw out a biographical catechism.
Johnson then proceeded to Oxford, where he was again kindly
received by Dr. Adams.
He arrived in London on the 16th of November, and next day sent to
Dr. Burney the following note, which I insert as the last token of
his remembrance of that ingenious and amiable man, and as another
of the many proofs of the tenderness and benignity of his heart:--
'MR. JOHNSON, who came home last night, sends his respects to dear
Dr. Burney, and all the dear Burneys, little and great.'
Having written to him, in bad spirits, a letter filled with
dejection and fretfulness, and at the same time expressing anxious
apprehensions concerning him, on account of a dream which had
disturbed me; his answer was chiefly in terms of reproach, for a
supposed charge of 'affecting discontent, and indulging the vanity
of complaint.' It, however, proceeded,--