Part 4 out of 12
One evening when a young gentleman teized him with an account of
the infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the
scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues,
and be sure that they were not invented, 'Why, foolish fellow,
(said Johnson,) has he any better authority for almost every thing
that he believes?' BOSWELL. 'Then the vulgar, Sir, never can know
they are right, but must submit themselves to the learned.'
JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir. The vulgar are the children of the
State, and must be taught like children.' BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, a
poor Turk must be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must be a
Christian?' JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir; and what then? This now is
such stuff as I used to talk to my mother, when I first began to
think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to have whipt me for
Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him, with the hope of
prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him
indisposed, and resolved not to go abroad. 'Come then, (said
Goldsmith,) we will not go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot
have the big man with us.' Johnson then called for a bottle of
port, of which Goldsmith and I partook, while our friend, now a
water-drinker, sat by us. GOLDSMITH. 'I think, Mr. Johnson, you
don't go near the theatres now. You give yourself no more concern
about a new play, than if you had never had any thing to do with
the stage.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, our tastes greatly alter. The
lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does not
care for the young man's whore.' GOLDSMITH. 'Nay, Sir, but your
Muse was not a whore.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not think she was.
But as we advance in the journey of life, we drop some of the
things which have pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued
and don't choose to carry so many things any farther, or that we
find other things which we like better.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, why
don't you give us something in some other way?' GOLDSMITH. 'Ay,
Sir, we have a claim upon you.' JOHNSON. No, Sir, I am not
obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can
do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier
has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he
retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised
long in a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town,
and takes less practice. Now, Sir, the good I can do by my
conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my
writings, that the practice of a physician, retired to a small
town, does to his practice in a great city.' BOSWELL. 'But I
wonder, Sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not
writing.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you MAY wonder.'
He talked of making verses, and observed, 'The great difficulty is
to know when you have made good ones. When composing, I have
generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up
and down in my room; and then I have written them down, and often,
from laziness, have written only half lines. I have written a
hundred lines in a day. I remember I wrote a hundred lines of The
Vanity of Human Wishes in a day. Doctor, (turning to Goldsmith,) I
am not quite idle; I made one line t'other day; but I made no
more.' GOLDSMITH. 'Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it.'
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I have forgot it.'
'TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE
'DEAR SIR,--What your friends have done, that from your departure
till now nothing has been heard of you, none of us are able to
inform the rest; but as we are all neglected alike, no one thinks
himself entitled to the privilege of complaint.
'I should have known nothing of you or of Langton, from the time
that dear Miss Langton left us, had not I met Mr. Simpson, of
Lincoln, one day in the street, by whom I was informed that Mr.
Langton, your Mamma, and yourself, had been all ill, but that you
were all recovered.
'That sickness should suspend your correspondence, I did not
wonder; but hoped that it would be renewed at your recovery.
'Since you will not inform us where you are, or how you live, I
know not whether you desire to know any thing of us. However, I
will tell you that THE CLUB subsists; but we have the loss of
Burke's company since he has been engaged in publick business, in
which he has gained more reputation than perhaps any man at his
[first] appearance ever gained before. He made two speeches in the
House for repealing the Stamp-act, which were publickly commended
by Mr. Pitt, and have filled the town with wonder.
'Burke is a great man by nature, and is expected soon to attain
civil greatness. I am grown greater too, for I have maintained the
news-papers these many weeks; and what is greater still, I have
risen every morning since New-year's day, at about eight; when I
was up, I have indeed done but little; yet it is no slight
advancement to obtain for so many hours more, the consciousness of
'I wish you were in my new study; I am now writing the first letter
in it. I think it looks very pretty about me.
'Dyer is constant at THE CLUB; Hawkins is remiss; I am not over
diligent. Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Reynolds, are very
constant. Mr. Lye is printing his Saxon and Gothick Dictionary;
all THE CLUB subscribes.
'You will pay my respects to all my Lincolnshire friends. I am,
dear Sir, most affectionately your's,
'March 9, 1766.
The Honourable Thomas Hervey and his lady having unhappily
disagreed, and being about to separate, Johnson interfered as their
friend, and wrote him a letter of expostulation, which I have not
been able to find; but the substance of it is ascertained by a
letter to Johnson in answer to it, which Mr. Hervey printed. The
occasion of this correspondence between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Harvey,
was thus related to me by Mr. Beauclerk. 'Tom Harvey had a great
liking for Johnson, and in his will had left him a legacy of fifty
pounds. One day he said to me, "Johnson may want this money now,
more than afterwards. I have a mind to give it him directly. Will
you be so good as to carry a fifty pound note from me to him?"
This I positively refused to do, as he might, perhaps, have knocked
me down for insulting him, and have afterwards put the note in his
pocket. But I said, if Harvey would write him a letter, and
enclose a fifty pound note, I should take care to deliver it. He
accordingly did write him a letter, mentioning that he was only
paying a legacy a little sooner. To his letter he added, "P. S. I
am going to part with my wife." Johnson then wrote to him, saying
nothing of the note, but remonstrating with him against parting
with his wife.'
In February, 1767, there happened one of the most remarkable
incidents of Johnson's life, which gratified his monarchical
enthusiasm, and which he loved to relate with all its
circumstances, when requested by his friends. This was his being
honoured by a private conversation with his Majesty, in the library
at the Queen's house. He had frequently visited those splendid
rooms and noble collection of books, which he used to say was more
numerous and curious than he supposed any person could have made in
the time which the King had employed. Mr. Barnard, the librarian,
took care that he should have every accommodation that could
contribute to his ease and convenience, while indulging his
literary taste in that place; so that he had here a very agreeable
resource at leisure hours.
His Majesty having been informed of his occasional visits, was
pleased to signify a desire that he should be told when Dr. Johnson
came next to the library. Accordingly, the next time that Johnson
did come, as soon as he was fairly engaged with a book, on which,
while he sat by the fire, he seemed quite intent, Mr. Barnard stole
round to the apartment where the King was, and, in obedience to his
Majesty's commands, mentioned that Dr. Johnson was then in the
library. His Majesty said he was at leisure, and would go to him;
upon which Mr. Barnard took one of the candles that stood on the
King's table, and lighted his Majesty through a suite of rooms,
till they came to a private door into the library, of which his
Majesty had the key. Being entered, Mr. Barnard stepped forward
hastily to Dr. Johnson, who was still in a profound study, and
whispered him, 'Sir, here is the King.' Johnson started up, and
stood still. His Majesty approached him, and at once was
His Majesty began by observing, that he understood he came
sometimes to the library; and then mentioning his having heard that
the Doctor had been lately at Oxford, asked him if he was not fond
of going thither. To which Johnson answered, that he was indeed
fond of going to Oxford sometimes, but was likewise glad to come
back again. The King then asked him what they were doing at
Oxford. Johnson answered, he could not much commend their
diligence, but that in some respects they were mended, for they had
put their press under better regulations, and were at that time
printing Polybius. He was then asked whether there were better
libraries at Oxford or Cambridge. He answered, he believed the
Bodleian was larger than any they had at Cambridge; at the same
time adding, 'I hope, whether we have more books or not than they
have at Cambridge, we shall make as good use of them as they do.'
Being asked whether All-Souls or Christ-Church library was the
largest, he answered, 'All-Souls library is the largest we have,
except the Bodleian.' 'Aye, (said the King,) that is the publick
His Majesty enquired if he was then writing any thing. He
answered, he was not, for he had pretty well told the world what he
knew, and must now read to acquire more knowledge. The King, as it
should seem with a view to urge him to rely on his own stores as an
original writer, and to continue his labours, then said 'I do not
think you borrow much from any body.' Johnson said, he thought he
had already done his part as a writer. 'I should have thought so
too, (said the King,) if you had not written so well.'--Johnson
observed to me, upon this, that 'No man could have paid a handsomer
compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay. It was decisive.'
When asked by another friend, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, whether he
made any reply to this high compliment, he answered, 'No, Sir.
When the King had said it, it was to be so. It was not for me to
bandy civilities with my Sovereign.' Perhaps no man who had spent
his whole life in courts could have shewn a more nice and dignified
sense of true politeness, than Johnson did in this instance.
His Majesty having observed to him that he supposed he must have
read a great deal; Johnson answered, that he thought more than he
read; that he had read a great deal in the early part of his life,
but having fallen into ill health, he had not been able to read
much, compared with others: for instance, he said he had not read
much, compared with Dr. Warburton. Upon which the King said, that
he heard Dr. Warburton was a man of such general knowledge, that
you could scarce talk with him on any subject on which he was not
qualified to speak; and that his learning resembled Garrick's
acting, in its universality. His Majesty then talked of the
controversy between Warburton and Lowth, which he seemed to have
read, and asked Johnson what he thought of it. Johnson answered,
'Warburton has most general, most scholastick learning; Lowth is
the more correct scholar. I do not know which of them calls names
best.' The King was pleased to say he was of the same opinion;
adding, 'You do not think, then, Dr. Johnson, that there was much
argument in the case.' Johnson said, he did not think there was.
'Why truly, (said the King,) when once it comes to calling names,
argument is pretty well at an end.'
His Majesty then asked him what he thought of Lord Lyttelton's
History, which was then just published. Johnson said, he thought
his style pretty good, but that he had blamed Henry the Second
rather too much. 'Why, (said the King,) they seldom do these
things by halves.' 'No, Sir, (answered Johnson,) not to Kings.'
But fearing to be misunderstood, he proceeded to explain himself;
and immediately subjoined, 'That for those who spoke worse of Kings
than they deserved, he could find no excuse; but that he could more
easily conceive how some might speak better of them than they
deserved, without any ill intention; for, as Kings had much in
their power to give, those who were favoured by them would
frequently, from gratitude, exaggerate their praises; and as this
proceeded from a good motive, it was certainly excusable, as far as
errour could be excusable.'
The King then asked him what he thought of Dr. Hill. Johnson
answered, that he was an ingenious man, but had no veracity; and
immediately mentioned, as an instance of it, an assertion of that
writer, that he had seen objects magnified to a much greater degree
by using three or four microscopes at a time, than by using one.
'Now, (added Johnson,) every one acquainted with microscopes knows,
that the more of them he looks through, the less the object will
appear.' 'Why, (replied the King,) this is not only telling an
untruth, but telling it clumsily; for, if that be the case, every
one who can look through a microscope will be able to detect him.'
'I now, (said Johnson to his friends, when relating what had
passed) began to consider that I was depreciating this man in the
estimation of his Sovereign, and thought it was time for me to say
something that might be more favourable.' He added, therefore,
that Dr. Hill was, notwithstanding, a very curious observer; and if
he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he
knew, he might have been a very considerable man, and needed not to
have recourse to such mean expedients to raise his reputation.
The King then talked of literary journals, mentioned particularly
the Journal des Savans, and asked Johnson if it was well done.
Johnson said, it was formerly very well done, and gave some account
of the persons who began it, and carried it on for some years;
enlarging, at the same time, on the nature and use of such works.
The King asked him if it was well done now. Johnson answered, he
had no reason to think that it was. The King then asked him if
there were any other literary journals published in this kingdom,
except the Monthly and Critical Reviews; and on being answered
there were no other, his Majesty asked which of them was the best:
Johnson answered, that the Monthly Review was done with most care,
the Critical upon the best principles; adding that the authours of
the Monthly Review were enemies to the Church. This the King said
he was sorry to hear.
The conversation next turned on the Philosophical Transactions,
when Johnson observed, that they had now a better method of
arranging their materials than formerly. 'Aye, (said the King,)
they are obliged to Dr. Johnson for that;' for his Majesty had
heard and remembered the circumstance, which Johnson himself had
His Majesty expressed a desire to have the literary biography of
this country ably executed, and proposed to Dr. Johnson to
undertake it. Johnson signified his readiness to comply with his
During the whole of this interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty
with profound respect, but still in his firm manly manner, with a
sonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly
used at the levee and in the drawing-room. After the King
withdrew, Johnson shewed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's
conversation, and gracious behaviour. He said to Mr. Barnard,
'Sir, they may talk of the King as they will; but he is the finest
gentleman I have ever seen.' And he afterwards observed to Mr.
Langton, 'Sir, his manners are those of as fine a gentleman as we
may suppose Lewis the Fourteenth or Charles the Second.'
At Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where a circle of Johnson's friends was
collected round him to hear his account of this memorable
conversation, Dr. Joseph Warton, in his frank and lively manner,
was very active in pressing him to mention the particulars. 'Come
now, Sir, this is an interesting matter; do favour us with it.'
Johnson, with great good humour, complied.
He told them, 'I found his Majesty wished I should talk, and I made
it my business to talk. I find it does a man good to be talked to
by his Sovereign. In the first place, a man cannot be in a
passion--.' Here some question interrupted him, which is to be
regretted, as he certainly would have pointed out and illustrated
many circumstances of advantage, from being in a situation, where
the powers of the mind are at once excited to vigorous exertion,
and tempered by reverential awe.
During all the time in which Dr. Johnson was employed in relating
to the circle at Sir Joshua Reynolds's the particulars of what
passed between the King and him, Dr. Goldsmith remained unmoved
upon a sopha at some distance, affecting not to join in the least
in the eager curiosity of the company. He assigned as a reason for
his gloom and seeming inattention, that he apprehended Johnson had
relinquished his purpose of furnishing him with a Prologue to his
play, with the hopes of which he had been flattered; but it was
strongly suspected that he was fretting with chagrin and envy at
the singular honour Dr. Johnson had lately enjoyed. At length, the
frankness and simplicity of his natural character prevailed. He
sprung from the sopha, advanced to Johnson, and in a kind of
flutter, from imagining himself in the situation which he had just
been hearing described, exclaimed, 'Well, you acquitted yourself in
this conversation better than I should have done; for I should have
bowed and stammered through the whole of it.'
His diary affords no light as to his employment at this time. He
passed three months at Lichfield; and I cannot omit an affecting
and solemn scene there, as related by himself:--
'Sunday, Oct. 18, 1767. Yesterday, Oct. 17, at about ten in the
morning, I took my leave for ever of my dear old friend, Catharine
Chambers, who came to live with my mother about 1724, and has been
but little parted from us since. She buried my father, my brother,
and my mother. She is now fifty-eight years old.
'I desired all to withdraw, then told her that we were to part for
ever; that as Christians, we should part with prayer; and that I
would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She
expressed great desire to hear me; and held up her poor hands, as
she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by
her, nearly in the following words:
'Almighty and most merciful Father, whose loving kindness is over
all thy works, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is
grieved with sickness. Grant that the sense of her weakness may
add strength to her faith, and seriousness to her repentance. And
grant that by the help of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and
labours of this short life, we may all obtain everlasting
happiness, through JESUS CHRIST our Lord; for whose sake hear our
prayers. Amen. Our Father, &c.
'I then kissed her. She told me, that to part was the greatest
pain that she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet
again in a better place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great
emotion of tenderness, the same hopes. We kissed, and parted. I
humbly hope to meet again, and to part no more.'
1768: AETAT. 59]--It appears from his notes of the state of his
mind, that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in 1768.
Nothing of his writing was given to the publick this year, except
the Prologue to his friend Goldsmith's comedy of The Good-natured
Man. The first lines of this Prologue are strongly
characteristical of the dismal gloom of his mind; which in his
case, as in the case of all who are distressed with the same malady
of imagination, transfers to others its own feelings. Who could
suppose it was to introduce a comedy, when Mr. Bensley solemnly
'Press'd with the load of life, the weary mind
Surveys the general toil of human kind.'
But this dark ground might make Goldsmith's humour shine the more.
In the spring of this year, having published my Account of Corsica,
with the Journal of a Tour to that Island, I returned to London,
very desirous to see Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject. I
found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now
Vinerian Professor, and lived in New Inn Hall. Having had no
letter from him since that in which he criticised the Latinity of
my Thesis, and having been told by somebody that he was offended at
my having put into my Book an extract of his letter to me at Paris,
I was impatient to be with him, and therefore followed him to
Oxford, where I was entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility
which I shall ever gratefully remember. I found that Dr. Johnson
had sent a letter to me to Scotland, and that I had nothing to
complain of but his being more indifferent to my anxiety than I
wished him to be. Instead of giving, with the circumstances of
time and place, such fragments of his conversation as I preserved
during this visit to Oxford, I shall throw them together in
Talking of some of the modern plays, he said False Delicacy was
totally void of character. He praised Goldsmith's Good-natured
Man; said, it was the best comedy that had appeared since The
Provoked Husband, and that there had not been of late any such
character exhibited on the stage as that of Croaker. I observed it
was the Suspirius of his Rambler. He said, Goldsmith had owned he
had borrowed it from thence. 'Sir, (continued he,) there is all
the difference in the world between characters of nature and
characters of manners; and THERE is the difference between the
characters of Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of
manners are very entertaining; but they are to be understood by a
more superficial observer than characters of nature, where a man
must dive into the recesses of the human heart.'
It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of
Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice
against Fielding. In comparing those two writers, he used this
expression: 'that there was as great a difference between them as
between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could
tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate.'
'I have not been troubled for a long time with authours desiring my
opinion of their works. I used once to be sadly plagued with a man
who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse,
but that it consisted of ten syllables. Lay your knife and your
fork, across your plate, was to him a verse:
Lay your knife and your fork, across your plate.
As he wrote a great number of verses, he sometimes by chance made
good ones, though he did not know it.'
Johnson expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning.
'There is here, Sir, (said he,) such a progressive emulation. The
students are anxious to appear well to their tutors; the tutors are
anxious to have their pupils appear well in the college; the
colleges are anxious to have their students appear well in the
University; and there are excellent rules of discipline in every
college. That the rules are sometimes ill observed, may be true;
but is nothing against the system. The members of an University
may, for a season, be unmindful of their duty. I am arguing for
the excellency of the institution.'
He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown
very weary before he left it. BOSWELL. 'I wonder at that, Sir; it
is your native place.' JOHNSON. 'Why, so is Scotland YOUR native
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this
time. When I talked of our advancement in literature, 'Sir, (said
he,) you have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves
very great men. Hume would never have written History, had not
Voltaire written it before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.'
BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, we have Lord Kames.' JOHNSON. 'You HAVE Lord
Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy you him. Do you ever
see Dr. Robertson?' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir.' JOHNSON. 'Does the dog
talk of me?' BOSWELL. 'Indeed, Sir, he does, and loves you.'
Thinking that I now had him in a corner, and being solicitous for
the literary fame of my country, I pressed him for his opinion on
the merit of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. But, to my
surprize, he escaped.--'Sir, I love Robertson, and I won't talk of
An essay, written by Mr. Deane, a divine of the Church of England,
maintaining the future life of brutes, by an explication of certain
parts of the scriptures, was mentioned, and the doctrine insisted
on by a gentleman who seemed fond of curious speculation. Johnson,
who did not like to hear of any thing concerning a future state
which was not authorised by the regular canons of orthodoxy,
discouraged this talk; and being offended at its continuation, he
watched an opportunity to give the gentleman a blow of
reprehension. So, when the poor speculatist, with a serious
metaphysical pensive face, addressed him, 'But really, Sir, when we
see a very sensible dog, we don't know what to think of him;'
Johnson, rolling with joy at the thought which beamed in his eye,
turned quickly round, and replied, 'True, Sir: and when we see a
very foolish FELLOW, we don't know what to think of HIM.' He then
rose up, strided to the fire, and stood for some time laughing and
I asked him if it was not hard that one deviation from chastity
should so absolutely ruin a young woman. Johnson. 'Why, no, Sir;
it is the great principle which she is taught. When she has given
up that principle, she has given up every notion of female honour
and virtue, which are all included in chastity.'
A gentleman talked to him of a lady whom he greatly admired and
wished to marry, but was afraid of her superiority of talents.
'Sir, (said he,) you need not be afraid; marry her. Before a year
goes about, you'll find that reason much weaker, and that wit not
so bright.' Yet the gentleman may be justified in his apprehension
by one of Dr. Johnson's admirable sentences in his life of Waller:
'He doubtless praised many whom he would have been afraid to marry;
and, perhaps, married one whom he would have been ashamed to
praise. Many qualities contribute to domestic happiness, upon
which poetry has no colours to bestow; and many airs and sallies
may delight imagination, which he who flatters them never can
He praised Signor Baretti. 'His account of Italy is a very
entertaining book; and, Sir, I know no man who carries his head
higher in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in
his mind. He has not, indeed, many hooks; but with what hooks he
has, he grapples very forcibly.'
At this time I observed upon the dial-plate of his watch a short
Greek inscription, taken from the New Testament, [Greek text omitted],
being the first words of our SAVIOUR'S solemn admonition to the
improvement of that time which is allowed us to prepare for eternity:
'the night cometh when no man can work.' He sometime afterwards laid
aside this dial-plate; and when I asked him the reason, he said,
'It might do very well upon a clock which a man keeps in his
closet; but to have it upon his watch which he carries about with
him, and which is often looked at by others, might be censured as
ostentatious.' Mr. Steevens is now possessed of the dial-plate
inscribed as above.
He remained at Oxford a considerable time; I was obliged to go to
London, where I received his letter, which had been returned from
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'MY DEAR BOSWELL,--I have omitted a long time to write to you,
without knowing very well why. I could now tell why I should not
write; for who would write to men who publish the letters of their
friends, without their leave? Yet I write to you in spite of my
caution, to tell you that I shall be glad to see you, and that I
wish you would empty your head of Corsica, which I think has filled
it rather too long. But, at all events, I shall be glad, very glad
to see you. I am, Sir, yours affectionately,
'Oxford, March 23, 1768.'
Upon his arrival in London in May, he surprized me one morning with
a visit at my lodgings in Half-Moon-street, was quite satisfied
with my explanation, and was in the kindest and most agreeable
frame of mind. As he had objected to a part of one of his letters
being published, I thought it right to take this opportunity of
asking him explicitly whether it would be improper to publish his
letters after his death. His answer was, 'Nay, Sir, when I am
dead, you may do as you will.'
He talked in his usual style with a rough contempt of popular
liberty. 'They make a rout about UNIVERSAL liberty, without
considering that all that is to be valued, or indeed can be enjoyed
by individuals, is PRIVATE liberty. Political liberty is good only
so far as it produces private liberty. Now, Sir, there is the
liberty of the press, which you know is a constant topick. Suppose
you and I and two hundred more were restrained from printing our
thoughts: what then? What proportion would that restraint upon us
bear to the private happiness of the nation?'
This mode of representing the inconveniences of restraint as light
and insignificant, was a kind of sophistry in which he delighted to
indulge himself, in opposition to the extreme laxity for which it
has been fashionable for too many to argue, when it is evident,
upon reflection, that the very essence of government is restraint;
and certain it is, that as government produces rational happiness,
too much restraint is better than too little. But when restraint
is unnecessary, and so close as to gall those who are subject to
it, the people may and ought to remonstrate; and, if relief is not
granted, to resist. Of this manly and spirited principle, no man
was more convinced than Johnson himself.
His sincere regard for Francis Barber, his faithful negro servant,
made him so desirous of his further improvement, that he now placed
him at a school at Bishop Stortford, in Hertfordshire. This humane
attention does Johnson's heart much honour. Out of many letters
which Mr. Barber received from his master, he has preserved three,
which he kindly gave me, and which I shall insert according to
'TO MR. FRANCIS BARBER.
'DEAR FRANCIS,--I have been very much out of order. I am glad to
hear that you are well, and design to come soon to see you. I
would have you stay at Mrs. Clapp's for the present, till I can
determine what we shall do. Be a good boy.
'My compliments to Mrs. Clapp and to Mr. Fowler. I am, your's
'May 28, 1768.'
Soon afterwards, he supped at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the
Strand, with a company whom I collected to meet him. They were Dr.
Percy, now Bishop of Dromore, Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury,
Mr. Langton, Dr. Robertson the Historian, Dr. Hugh Blair, and Mr.
Thomas Davies, who wished much to be introduced to these eminent
Scotch literati; but on the present occasion he had very little
opportunity of hearing them talk, for with an excess of prudence,
for which Johnson afterwards found fault with them, they hardly
opened their lips, and that only to say something which they were
certain would not expose them to the sword of Goliath; such was
their anxiety for their fame when in the presence of Johnson. He
was this evening in remarkable vigour of mind, and eager to exert
himself in conversation, which he did with great readiness and
fluency; but I am sorry to find that I have preserved but a small
part of what passed.
He was vehement against old Dr. Mounsey, of Chelsea College, as 'a
fellow who swore and talked bawdy.' 'I have been often in his
company, (said Dr. Percy,) and never heard him swear or talk
bawdy.' Mr. Davies, who sat next to Dr. Percy, having after this
had some conversation aside with him, made a discovery which, in
his zeal to pay court to Dr. Johnson, he eagerly proclaimed aloud
from the foot of the table: 'O, Sir, I have found out a very good
reason why Dr. Percy never heard Mounsey swear or talk bawdy; for
he tells me, he never saw him but at the Duke of Northumberland's
table.' 'And so, Sir, (said Johnson loudly, to Dr. Percy,) you
would shield this man from the charge of swearing and talking
bawdy, because he did not do so at the Duke of Northumberland's
table. Sir, you might as well tell us that you had seen him hold
up his hand at the Old Bailey, and he neither swore nor talked
bawdy; or that you had seen him in the cart at Tyburn, and he
neither swore nor talked bawdy. And is it thus, Sir, that you
presume to controvert what I have related?' Dr. Johnson's
animadversion was uttered in such a manner, that Dr. Percy seemed
to be displeased, and soon afterwards left the company, of which
Johnson did not at that time take any notice.
Swift having been mentioned, Johnson, as usual, treated him with
little respect as an authour. Some of us endeavoured to support
the Dean of St. Patrick's by various arguments. One in particular
praised his Conduct of the Allies. JOHNSON. 'Sir, his Conduct of
the Allies is a performance of very little ability.' 'Surely, Sir,
(said Dr. Douglas,) you must allow it has strong facts.' JOHNSON.
'Why yes, Sir; but what is that to the merit of the composition?
In the Sessions-paper of the Old Bailey, there are strong facts.
Housebreaking is a strong fact; robbery is a strong fact; and
murder is a MIGHTY strong fact; but is great praise due to the
historian of those strong facts? No, Sir. Swift has told what he
had to tell distinctly enough, but that is all. He had to count
ten, and he has counted it right.' Then recollecting that Mr.
Davies, by acting as an INFORMER, had been the occasion of his
talking somewhat too harshly to his friend Dr. Percy, for which,
probably, when the first ebullition was over, he felt some
compunction, he took an opportunity to give him a hit; so added,
with a preparatory laugh, 'Why, Sir, Tom Davies might have written
The Conduct of the Allies.' Poor Tom being thus suddenly dragged
into ludicrous notice in presence of the Scottish Doctors, to whom
he was ambitious of appearing to advantage, was grievously
mortified. Nor did his punishment rest here; for upon subsequent
occasions, whenever he, 'statesman all over,' assumed a strutting
importance, I used to hail him--'the Authour of The Conduct of the
When I called upon Dr. Johnson next morning, I found him highly
satisfied with his colloquial prowess the preceding evening.
'Well, (said he,) we had good talk.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir; you
tossed and gored several persons.'
The late Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune, who loved wit more than
wine, and men of genius more than sycophants, had a great
admiration of Johnson; but from the remarkable elegance of his own
manners, was, perhaps, too delicately sensible of the roughness
which sometimes appeared in Johnson's behaviour. One evening about
this time, when his Lordship did me the honour to sup at my
lodgings with Dr. Robertson and several other men of literary
distinction, he regretted that Johnson had not been educated with
more refinement, and lived more in polished society. 'No, no, my
Lord, (said Signor Baretti,) do with him what you would, he would
always have been a bear.' 'True, (answered the Earl, with a
smile,) but he would have been a DANCING bear.'
To obviate all the reflections which have gone round the world to
Johnson's prejudice, by applying to him the epithet of a BEAR, let
me impress upon my readers a just and happy saying of my friend
Goldsmith, who knew him well: 'Johnson, to be sure, has a roughness
in his manner; but no man alive has a more tender heart. He has
nothing of the bear but his skin.'
1769: AETAT. 60.]--I came to London in the autumn, and having
informed him that I was going to be married in a few months, I
wished to have as much of his conversation as I could before
engaging in a state of life which would probably keep me more in
Scotland, and prevent me seeing him so often as when I was a single
man; but I found he was at Brighthelmstone with Mr. and Mrs.
After his return to town, we met frequently, and I continued the
practice of making notes of his conversation, though not with so
much assiduity as I wish I had done. At this time, indeed, I had a
sufficient excuse for not being able to appropriate so much time to
my Journal; for General Paoli, after Corsica had been overpowered
by the monarchy of France, was now no longer at the head of his
brave countrymen, but having with difficulty escaped from his
native island, had sought an asylum in Great-Britain; and it was my
duty, as well as my pleasure, to attend much upon him. Such
particulars of Johnson's conversation at this period as I have
committed to writing, I shall here introduce, without any strict
attention to methodical arrangement. Sometimes short notes of
different days shall be blended together, and sometimes a day may
seem important enough to be separately distinguished.
He said, he would not have Sunday kept with rigid severity and
gloom, but with a gravity and simplicity of behaviour.
I told him that David Hume had made a short collection of
Scotticisms. 'I wonder, (said Johnson,) that HE should find them.'
On the 30th of September we dined together at the Mitre. I
attempted to argue for the superior happiness of the savage life,
upon the usual fanciful topicks. JOHNSON. 'Sir, there can be
nothing more false. The savages have no bodily advantages beyond
those of civilised men. They have not better health; and as to
care or mental uneasiness, they are not above it, but below it,
like bears. No, Sir; you are not to talk such paradox: let me have
no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less can it instruct. Lord
Monboddo, one of your Scotch Judges, talked a great deal of such
nonsense. I suffered HIM; but I will not suffer YOU.'--BOSWELL.
'But, Sir, does not Rousseau talk such nonsense?' JOHNSON. 'True,
Sir, but Rousseau KNOWS he is talking nonsense, and laughs at the
world for staring at him.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?' JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, a man who talks nonsense so well, must know that he is
talking nonsense. But I am AFRAID, (chuckling and laughing,)
Monboddo does NOT know that he is talking nonsense.' BOSWELL. 'Is
it wrong then, Sir, to affect singularity, in order to make people
stare?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, if you do it by propagating errour: and,
indeed, it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a general
inclination to make people stare; and every wise man has himself to
cure of it, and does cure himself. If you wish to make people
stare by doing better than others, why, make them stare till they
stare their eyes out. But consider how easy it is to make people
stare by being absurd. I may do it by going into a drawing-room
without my shoes. You remember the gentleman in The Spectator, who
had a commission of lunacy taken out against him for his extreme
singularity, such as never wearing a wig, but a night-cap. Now,
Sir, abstractedly, the night-cap was best; but, relatively, the
advantage was overbalanced by his making the boys run after him.'
Talking of a London life, he said, 'The happiness of London is not
to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture
to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference
of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the
kingdom.' BOSWELL. 'The only disadvantage is the great distance
at which people live from one another.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but
that is occasioned by the largeness of it, which is the cause of
all the other advantages.' BOSWELL. 'Sometimes I have been in the
humour of wishing to retire to a desart.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have
desart enough in Scotland.'
Although I had promised myself a great deal of instructive
conversation with him on the conduct of the married state, of which
I had then a near prospect, he did not say much upon that topick.
Mr. Seward heard him once say, that 'a man has a very bad chance
for happiness in that state, unless he marries a woman of very
strong and fixed principles of religion.' He maintained to me,
contrary to the common notion, that a woman would not be the worse
wife for being learned; in which, from all that I have observed of
Artemisias, I humbly differed from him.
When I censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a
second time, as it shewed a disregard of his first wife, he said,
'Not at all, Sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it
might be concluded that his first wife had given him a disgust to
marriage; but by taking a second wife he pays the highest
compliment to the first, by shewing that she made him so happy as a
married man, that he wishes to be so a second time.' So ingenious
a turn did he give to this delicate question. And yet, on another
occasion, he owned that he once had almost asked a promise of Mrs.
Johnson that she would not marry again, but had checked himself.
Indeed, I cannot help thinking, that in his case the request would
have been unreasonable; for if Mrs. Johnson forgot, or thought it
no injury to the memory of her first love,--the husband of her
youth and the father of her children,--to make a second marriage,
why should she be precluded from a third, should she be so
inclined? In Johnson's persevering fond appropriation of his
Tetty, even after her decease, he seems totally to have overlooked
the prior claim of the honest Birmingham trader. I presume that
her having been married before had, at times, given him some
uneasiness; for I remember his observing upon the marriage of one
of our common friends, 'He has done a very foolish thing, Sir; he
has married a widow, when he might have had a maid.'
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I had last year the pleasure of
seeing Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson's one morning, and had
conversation enough with her to admire her talents, and to shew her
that I was as Johnsonian as herself. Dr. Johnson had probably been
kind enough to speak well of me, for this evening he delivered me a
very polite card from Mr. Thrale and her, inviting me to Streatham.
On the 6th of October I complied with this obliging invitation, and
found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance
that can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was
yet looked up to with an awe, tempered by affection, and seemed to
be equally the care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing
him so happy.
He played off his wit against Scotland with a good humoured
pleasantry, which gave me, though no bigot to national prejudices,
an opportunity for a little contest with him. I having said that
England was obliged to us for gardeners, almost all their good
gardeners being Scotchmen. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is because
gardening is much more necessary amongst you than with us, which
makes so many of your people learn it. It is ALL gardening with
you. Things which grow wild here, must be cultivated with great
care in Scotland. Pray now (throwing himself back in his chair,
and laughing,) are you ever able to bring the SLOE to perfection?'
I boasted that we had the honour of being the first to abolish the
unhospitable, troublesome, and ungracious custom of giving vails to
servants. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you abolished vails, because you were
too poor to be able to give them.'
Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked
him powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt
it: his love verses were college verses; and he repeated the song
'Alexis shunn'd his fellow swains,' &c., in so ludicrous a manner,
as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with
such fantastical stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great
courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised,
till he at last silenced her by saying, 'My dear Lady, talk no more
of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.'
Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talent for light gay poetry;
and, as a specimen, repeated his song in Florizel and Perdita, and
dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line:
'I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, my dear Lady, this will never do. Poor David!
Smile with the simple;--What folly is that? And who would feed
with the poor that can help it? No, no; let me smile with the
wise, and feed with the rich.' I repeated this sally to Garrick,
and wondered to find his sensibility as a writer not a little
irritated by it. To sooth him, I observed, that Johnson spared
none of us; and I quoted the passage in Horace, in which he
compares one who attacks his friends for the sake of a laugh, to a
pushing ox, that is marked by a bunch of hay put upon his horns:
'foenum habet in cornu.' 'Ay, (said Garrick vehemently,) he has a
whole MOW of it.'
He would not allow much merit to Whitefield's oratory. 'His
popularity, Sir, (said be,) is chiefly owing to the peculiarity of
his manner. He would be followed by crowds were he to wear a
night-cap in the pulpit, or were he to preach from a tree.'
On the evening of October 10, I presented Dr. Johnson to General
Paoli. I had greatly wished that two men, for whom I had the
highest esteem, should meet. They met with a manly ease, mutually
conscious of their own abilities, and of the abilities of each
other. The General spoke Italian, and Dr. Johnson English, and
understood one another very well, with a little aid of
interpretation from me, in which I compared myself to an isthmus
which joins two great continents. Upon Johnson's approach, the
General said, 'From what I have read of your works, Sir, and from
what Mr. Boswell has told me of you, I have long held you in great
veneration.' The General talked of languages being formed on the
particular notions and manners of a people, without knowing which,
we cannot know the language. We may know the direct signification
of single words; but by these no beauty of expression, no sally of
genius, no wit is conveyed to the mind. All this must be by
allusion to other ideas. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) you talk of
language, as if you had never done any thing else but study it,
instead of governing a nation.' The General said, 'Questo e un
troppo gran complimento;' this is too great a compliment. Johnson
answered, 'I should have thought so, Sir, if I had not heard you
talk.' The General asked him, what he thought of the spirit of
infidelity which was so prevalent. JOHNSON. 'Sir, this gloom of
infidelity, I hope, is only a transient cloud passing through the
hemisphere, which will soon be dissipated, and the sun break forth
with his usual splendour.' 'You think then, (said the General,)
that they will change their principles like their clothes.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if they bestow no more thought on principles
than on dress, it must be so.' The General said, that 'a great
part of the fashionable infidelity was owing to a desire of shewing
courage. Men who have no opportunities of shewing it as to things
in this life, take death and futurity as objects on which to
display it.' JOHNSON. 'That is mighty foolish affectation. Fear
is one of the passions of human nature, of which it is impossible
to divest it. You remember that the Emperour Charles V, when he
read upon the tomb-stone of a Spanish nobleman, "Here lies one who
never knew fear," wittily said, "Then he never snuffed a candle
with his fingers."'
Dr. Johnson went home with me, and drank tea till late in the
night. He said, 'General Paoli had the loftiest port of any man he
had ever seen.' He denied that military men were always the best
bred men. 'Perfect good breeding,' he observed, 'consists in
having no particular mark of any profession, but a general elegance
of manners; whereas, in a military man, you can commonly
distinguish the BRAND of a soldier, l'homme d'epee.'
Dr. Johnson shunned to-night any discussion of the perplexed
question of fate and free will, which I attempted to agitate.
'Sir, (said he,) we KNOW our will is free, and THERE'S an end
He honoured me with his company at dinner on the 16th of October,
at my lodgings in Old Bond-street, with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr.
Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Bickerstaff, and Mr. Thomas
Davies. Garrick played round him with a fond vivacity, taking hold
of the breasts of his coat, and, looking up in his face with a
lively archness, complimented him on the good health which he
seemed then to enjoy; while the sage, shaking his head, beheld him
with a gentle complacency. One of the company not being come at
the appointed hour, I proposed, as usual upon such occasions, to
order dinner to be served; adding, 'Ought six people to be kept
waiting for one?' 'Why, yes, (answered Johnson, with a delicate
humanity,) if the one will suffer more by your sitting down, than
the six will do by waiting.' Goldsmith, to divert the tedious
minutes, strutted about, bragging of his dress, and I believe was
seriously vain of it, for his mind was wonderfully prone to such
impressions. 'Come, come, (said Garrick,) talk no more of that.
You are, perhaps, the worst--eh, eh!'--Goldsmith was eagerly
attempting to interrupt him, when Garrick went on, laughing
ironically, 'Nay, you will always LOOK like a gentleman; but I am
talking of being well or ILL DREST.' 'Well, let me tell you, (said
Goldsmith,) when my tailor brought home my bloom-coloured coat, he
said, "Sir, I have a favour to beg of you. When any body asks you
who made your clothes, be pleased to mention John Filby, at the
Harrow, in Waterlane."' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that was because he
knew the strange colour would attract crowds to gaze at it, and
thus they might hear of him, and see how well he could make a coat
even of so absurd a colour.'
After dinner our conversation first turned upon Pope. Johnson
said, his characters of men were admirably drawn, those of women
not so well. He repeated to us, in his forcible melodious manner,
the concluding lines of the Dunciad. While he was talking loudly
in praise of those lines, one of the company* ventured to say, 'Too
fine for such a poem:--a poem on what?' JOHNSON, (with a
disdainful look,) 'Why, on DUNCES. It was worth while being a
dunce then. Ah, Sir, hadst THOU lived in those days! It is not
worth while 'being a dunce now, when there are no wits.'
Bickerstaff observed, as a peculiar circumstance, that Pope's fame
was higher when he was alive than it was then. Johnson said, his
Pastorals were poor things, though the versification was fine. He
told us, with high satisfaction, the anecdote of Pope's inquiring
who was the authour of his London, and saying, he will be soon
deterre. He observed, that in Dryden's poetry there were passages
drawn from a profundity which Pope could never reach. He repeated
some fine lines on love, by the former, (which I have now
forgotten,) and gave great applause to the character of Zimri.
Goldsmith said, that Pope's character of Addison shewed a deep
knowledge of the human heart. Johnson said, that the description
of the temple, in The Mourning Bride, was the finest poetical
passage he had ever read; he recollected none in Shakspeare equal
to it. 'But, (said Garrick, all alarmed for the 'God of his
idolatry,') we know not the extent and variety of his powers. We
are to suppose there are such passages in his works. Shakspeare
must not suffer from the badness of our memories.' Johnson,
diverted by this enthusiastick jealousy, went on with greater
ardour: 'No, Sir; Congreve has NATURE;' (smiling on the tragick
eagerness of Garrick;) but composing himself, he added, 'Sir, this
is not comparing Congreve on the whole, with Shakspeare on the
whole; but only maintaining that Congreve has one finer passage
than any that can be found in Shakspeare. Sir, a man may have no
more than ten guineas in the world, but he may have those ten
guineas in one piece; and so may have a finer piece than a man who
has ten thousand pounds: but then he has only one ten-guinea piece.
What I mean is, that you can shew me no passage where there is
simply a description of material objects, without any intermixture
of moral notions, which produces such an effect.' Mr. Murphy
mentioned Shakspeare's description of the night before the battle
of Agincourt; but it was observed, it had MEN in it. Mr. Davies
suggested the speech of Juliet, in which she figures herself
awaking in the tomb of her ancestors. Some one mentioned the
description of Dover Cliff. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; it should be all
precipice,--all vacuum. The crows impede your fall. The
diminished appearance of the boats, and other circumstances, are
all very good descriptions; but do not impress the mind at once
with the horrible idea of immense height. The impression is
divided; you pass on by computation, from one stage of the
tremendous space to another. Had the girl in The Mourning Bride
said, she could not cast her shoe to the top of one of the pillars
in the temple, it would not have aided the idea, but weakened it.'
* Everyone guesses that 'one of the company' was Boswell.--HILL.
Talking of a Barrister who had a bad utterance, some one, (to rouse
Johnson,) wickedly said, that he was unfortunate in not having been
taught oratory by Sheridan. JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, if he had been
taught by Sheridan, he would have cleared the room.' GARRICK.
'Sheridan has too much vanity to be a good man.' We shall now see
Johnson's mode of DEFENDING a man; taking him into his own hands,
and discriminating. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. There is, to be sure, in
Sheridan, something to reprehend, and every thing to laugh at; but,
Sir, he is not a bad man. No, Sir; were mankind to be divided into
good and bad, he would stand considerably within the ranks of good.
And, Sir, it must be allowed that Sheridan excels in plain
declamation, though he can exhibit no character.'
Mrs. Montagu, a lady distinguished for having written an Essay on
Shakspeare, being mentioned; REYNOLDS. 'I think that essay does
her honour.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir: it does HER honour, but it would
do nobody else honour. I have, indeed, not read it all. But when
I take up the end of a web, and find it packthread, I do not
expect, by looking further, to find embroidery. Sir, I will
venture to say, there is not one sentence of true criticism in her
book.' GARRICK. 'But, Sir, surely it shews how much Voltaire has
mistaken Shakspeare, which nobody else has done.' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
nobody else has thought it worth while. And what merit is there in
that? You may as well praise a schoolmaster for whipping a boy who
has construed ill. No, Sir, there is no real criticism in it: none
shewing the beauty of thought, as formed on the workings of the
The admirers of this Essay may be offended at the slighting manner
in which Johnson spoke of it; but let it be remembered, that he
gave his honest opinion unbiassed by any prejudice, or any proud
jealousy of a woman intruding herself into the chair of criticism;
for Sir Joshua Reynolds has told me, that when the Essay first came
out, and it was not known who had written it, Johnson wondered how
Sir Joshua could like it. At this time Sir Joshua himself had
received no information concerning the authour, except being
assured by one of our most eminent literati, that it was clear its
authour did not know the Greek tragedies in the original. One day
at Sir Joshua's table, when it was related that Mrs. Montagu, in an
excess of compliment to the authour of a modern tragedy, had
exclaimed, 'I tremble for Shakspeare;' Johnson said, 'When
Shakspeare has got ---- for his rival, and Mrs. Montagu for his
defender, he is in a poor state indeed.'
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his
house. He advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to
Scotland, of which I shewed him a specimen. 'Sir, (said he,) Ray
has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those
of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of
the language. He bade me also go on with collections which I was
making upon the antiquities of Scotland. 'Make a large book; a
folio.' BOSWELL. 'But of what use will it be, Sir?' JOHNSON.
'Never mind the use; do it.'
I complained that he had not mentioned Garrick in his Preface to
Shakspeare; and asked him if he did not admire him. JOHNSON.
'Yes, as "a poor player, who frets and struts his hour upon the
stage;"--as a shadow.' BOSWELL. 'But has he not brought
Shakspeare into notice?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, to allow that, would be
to lampoon the age. Many of Shakspeare's plays are the worse for
being acted: Macbeth, for instance.' BOSWELL. 'What, Sir, is
nothing gained by decoration and action? Indeed, I do wish that
you had mentioned Garrick.' JOHNSON. 'My dear Sir, had I
mentioned him, I must have mentioned many more: Mrs. Pritchard,
Mrs. Cibber,--nay, and Mr. Cibber too; he too altered Shakspeare.'
BOSWELL. 'You have read his apology, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, it is
very entertaining. But as for Cibber himself, taking from his
conversation all that he ought not to have said, he was a poor
creature. I remember when he brought me one of his Odes to have my
opinion of it; I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let
him read it to the end; so little respect had I for THAT GREAT MAN!
(laughing.) Yet I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat
him with familiarity.'
I mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several
convicts at Tyburn, two days before, and that none of them seemed
to be under any concern. JOHNSON. 'Most of them, Sir, have never
thought at all.' BOSWELL. 'But is not the fear of death natural
to man?' JOHNSON. 'So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but
keeping away the thoughts of it.' He then, in a low and earnest
tone, talked of his meditating upon the aweful hour of his own
dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that
occasion: 'I know not (said he,) whether I should wish to have a
friend by me, or have it all between GOD and myself.'
Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others;--JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly
exaggerated. No, Sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to
prompt us to do good: more than that, Providence does not intend.
It would be misery to no purpose.' BOSWELL. 'But suppose now,
Sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an
offence for which he might be hanged.' JOHNSON. 'I should do what
I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he
were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.' BOSWELL. 'Would
you eat your dinner that day, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; and eat
it as if he were eating it with me. Why, there's Baretti, who is
to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him
on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a
slice of plumb-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling
goes a very little way in depressing the mind.'
I told him that I had dined lately at Foote's, who shewed me a
letter which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he
had not been able to sleep from the concern which he felt on
account of 'This sad affair of Baretti,' begging of him to try if
he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the
same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a
pickle-shop. JOHNSON. 'Ay, Sir, here you have a specimen of human
sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled. We know not
whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept Davies from sleep; nor
does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping, Sir; Tom Davies
is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and knows how to
do those things. I have not been upon the stage, and cannot do
those things.' BOSWELL. 'I have often blamed myself, Sir, for not
feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, don't be duped by them any more. You will find these very
feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They PAY you by
BOSWELL. 'Foote has a great deal of humour?' JOHNSON. 'Yes,
Sir.' BOSWELL. 'He has a singular talent of exhibiting
character.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not a talent; it is a vice; it
is what others abstain from. It is not comedy, which exhibits the
character of a species, as that of a miser gathered from many
misers: it is farce, which exhibits individuals.' BOSWELL. 'Did
not he think of exhibiting you, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, fear
restrained him; he knew I would have broken his bones. I would
have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg; I would not have
left him a leg to cut off.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, is not Foote an
infidel?' JOHNSON. 'I do not know, Sir, that the fellow is an
infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an
infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject.'*
BOSWELL. 'I suppose, Sir, he has thought superficially, and seized
the first notions which occurred to his mind.' JOHNSON. 'Why
then, Sir, still he is like a dog, that snatches the piece next
him. Did you never observe that dogs have not the power of
comparing? A dog will take a small bit of meat as readily as a
large, when both are before him.'
* When Mr. Foote was at Edinburgh, he thought fit to entertain a
numerous Scotch company, with a great deal of coarse jocularity, at
the expense of Dr. Johnson, imagining it would be acceptable. I
felt this as not civil to me; but sat very patiently till he had
exhausted his merriment on that subject; and then observed, that
surely Johnson must be allowed to have some sterling wit, and that
I had heard him say a very good thing of Mr. Foote himself. 'Ah,
my old friend Sam (cried Foote,) no man says better things; do let
us have it.' Upon which I told the above story, which produced a
very loud laugh from the company. But I never saw Foote so
BOSWELL. 'What do you think of Dr. Young's Night Thoughts, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there are very fine things in them.' BOSWELL.
'Is there not less religion in the nation now, Sir, than there was
formerly?' JOHNSON. 'I don't know, Sir, that there is.' BOSWELL.
'For instance, there used to be a chaplain in every great family,
which we do not find now.' JOHNSON. 'Neither do you find any of
the state servants, which great families used formerly to have.
There is a change of modes in the whole department of life.'
Next day, October 20, he appeared, for the only time I suppose in
his life, as a witness in a Court of Justice, being called to give
evidence to the character of Mr. Baretti, who having stabbed a man
in the street, was arraigned at the Old Bailey for murder. Never
did such a constellation of genius enlighten the aweful Sessions-
House, emphatically called JUSTICE HALL; Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick,
Mr. Beauclerk, and Dr. Johnson: and undoubtedly their favourable
testimony had due weight with the Court and Jury. Johnson gave his
evidence in a slow, deliberate, and distinct manner, which was
uncommonly impressive. It is well known that Mr. Baretti was
On the 26th of October, we dined together at the Mitre tavern. I
found fault with Foote for indulging his talent of ridicule at the
expence of his visitors, which I colloquially termed making fools
of his company. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, when you go to see Foote, you
do not go to see a saint: you go to see a man who will be
entertained at your house, and then bring you on a publick stage;
who will entertain you at his house, for the very purpose of
bringing you on a publick stage. Sir, he does not make fools of
his company; they whom he exposes are fools already: he only brings
them into action.'
We went home to his house to tea. Mrs. Williams made it with
sufficient dexterity, notwithstanding her blindness, though her
manner of satisfying herself that the cups were full enough
appeared to me a little aukward; for I fancied she put her finger
down a certain way, till she felt the tea touch it.* In my first
elation at being allowed the privilege of attending Dr. Johnson at
his late visits to this lady, which was like being e secretioribus
consiliis, I willingly drank cup after cup, as if it had been the
Heliconian spring. But as the charm of novelty went off, I grew
more fastidious; and besides, I discovered that she was of a
* Boswell afterwards learned that she felt the rising tea on the
outside of the cup.--ED.
There was a pretty large circle this evening. Dr. Johnson was in
very good humour, lively, and ready to talk upon all subjects. Mr.
Fergusson, the self-taught philosopher, told him of a new-invented
machine which went without horses: a man who sat in it turned a
handle, which worked a spring that drove it forward. 'Then, Sir,
(said Johnson,) what is gained is, the man has his choice whether
he will move himself alone, or himself and the machine too.'
Dominicetti being mentioned, he would not allow him any merit.
'There is nothing in all this boasted system. No, Sir; medicated
baths can be no better than warm water: their only effect can be
that of tepid moisture.' One of the company took the other side,
maintaining that medicines of various sorts, and some too of most
powerful effect, are introduced into the human frame by the medium
of the pores; and, therefore, when warm water is impregnated with
salutiferous substances, it may produce great effects as a bath.
This appeared to me very satisfactory. Johnson did not answer it;
but talking for victory, and determined to be master of the field,
he had recourse to the device which Goldsmith imputed to him in the
witty words of one of Cibber's comedies: 'There is no arguing with
Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with
the butt end of it.' He turned to the gentleman, 'well, Sir, go to
Dominicetti, and get thyself fumigated; but be sure that the steam
be directed to thy HEAD, for THAT is the PECCANT PART.' This
produced a triumphant roar of laughter from the motley assembly of
philosophers, printers, and dependents, male and female.
I know not how so whimsical a thought came into my mind, but I
asked, 'If, Sir, you were shut up in a castle, and a newborn child
with you, what would you do?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I should not
much like my company.' BOSWELL. 'But would you take the trouble
of rearing it?' He seemed, as may well be supposed, unwilling to
pursue the subject: but upon my persevering in my question,
replied, 'Why yes, Sir, I would; but I must have all conveniencies.
If I had no garden, I would make a shed on the roof, and take it
there for fresh air. I should feed it, and wash it much, and with
warm water to please it, not with cold water to give it pain.'
BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not heat relax?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are
not to imagine the water is to be very hot. I would not CODDLE the
child. No, Sir, the hardy method of treating children does no
good. I'll take you five children from London, who shall cuff five
Highland children. Sir, a man bred in London will carry a burthen,
or run, or wrestle, as well as a man brought up in the hardiest
manner in the country.' BOSWELL. 'Good living, I suppose, makes
the Londoners strong.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I don't know that it
does. Our Chairmen from Ireland, who are as strong men as any,
have been brought up upon potatoes. Quantity makes up for
quality.' BOSWELL. 'Would you teach this child that I have
furnished you with, any thing?' JOHNSON. 'No, I should not be apt
to teach it.' BOSWELL. 'Would not you have a pleasure in teaching
it?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I should NOT have a pleasure in teaching
it.' BOSWELL. 'Have you not a pleasure in teaching men?--THERE I
have you. You have the same pleasure in teaching men, that I
should have in teaching children.' JOHNSON. 'Why, something about
I had hired a Bohemian as my servant while I remained in London,
and being much pleased with him, I asked Dr. Johnson whether his
being a Roman Catholick should prevent my taking him with me to
Scotland. JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir, if HE has no objection, you can
have none.' BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you are no great enemy to the
Roman Catholick religion.' JOHNSON. 'No more, Sir, than to the
Presbyterian religion.' BOSWELL. 'You are joking.' JOHNSON.
'No, Sir, I really think so. Nay, Sir, of the two, I prefer the
Popish.' BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the
Presbyterians have no church, no apostolical ordination.' BOSWELL.
'And do you think that absolutely essential, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why,
Sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it is dangerous
to be without it. And, Sir, the Presbyterians have no public
worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to
join. They go to hear a man pray, and are to judge whether they
will join with him.'
I proceeded: 'What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by
the Roman Catholicks?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is a very harmless
doctrine. They are of opinion that the generality of mankind are
neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment,
nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed
spirits; and therefore that God is graciously pleased to allow of a
middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of
suffering. You see, Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.'
BOSWELL. 'But then, Sir, their masses for the dead?' JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in
purgatory, it is as proper to pray for THEM, as for our brethren of
mankind who are yet in this life.' BOSWELL. 'The idolatry of the
Mass?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. They
believe god to be there, and they adore him.' BOSWELL. 'The
worship of Saints?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they do not worship saints;
they invoke them; they only ask their prayers. I am talking all
this time of the DOCTRINES of the Church of Rome. I grant you that
in PRACTICE, Purgatory is made a lucrative imposition, and that the
people do become idolatrous as they recommend themselves to the
tutelary protection of particular saints. I think their giving the
sacrament only in one kind is criminal, because it is contrary to
the express institution of CHRIST, and I wonder how the Council of
Trent admitted it.' BOSWELL. 'Confession?' JOHNSON. 'Why, I
don't know but that is a good thing. The scripture says, "Confess
your faults one to another," and the priests confess as well as the
laity. Then it must be considered that their absolution is only
upon repentance, and often upon penance also. You think your sins
may be forgiven without penance, upon repentance alone.'
When we were alone, I introduced the subject of death, and
endeavoured to maintain that the fear of it might be got over. I
told him that David Hume said to me, he was no more uneasy to think
he should NOT BE after this life, than that he HAD NOT BEEN before
he began to exist. JOHNSON. Sir, if he really thinks so, his
perceptions are disturbed; he is mad: if he does not think so, he
lies. He may tell you, he holds his finger in the flame of a
candle, without feeling pain; would you believe him? When he dies,
he at least gives up all he has.' BOSWELL. 'Foote, Sir, told me,
that when he was very ill he was not afraid to die.' JOHNSON. 'It
is not true, Sir. Hold a pistol to Foote's breast, or to Hume's
breast, and threaten to kill them, and you'll see how they behave.'
BOSWELL. 'But may we not fortify our minds for the approach of
death?' Here I am sensible I was in the wrong, to bring before his
view what he ever looked upon with horrour; for although when in a
celestial frame, in his Vanity of Human Wishes he has supposed
death to be 'kind Nature's signal for retreat,' from this state of
being to 'a happier seat,' his thoughts upon this aweful change
were in general full of dismal apprehensions. His mind resembled
the vast amphitheatre, the Colisaeum at Rome. In the centre stood
his judgement, which, like a mighty gladiator, combated those
apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the Arena, were all
around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. After a conflict,
he drives them back into their dens; but not killing them, they
were still assailing him. To my question, whether we might not
fortify our minds for the approach of death, he answered, in a
passion, 'No, Sir, let it alone. It matters not how a man dies,
but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts
so short a time.' He added, (with an earnest look,) 'A man knows
it must be so, and submits. It will do him no good to whine.'
I attempted to continue the conversation. He was so provoked, that
he said, 'Give us no more of this;' and was thrown into such a
state of agitation, that he expressed himself in a way that alarmed
and distressed me; shewed an impatience that I should leave him,
and when I was going away, called to me sternly, 'Don't let us meet
I went home exceedingly uneasy. All the harsh observations which I
had ever heard made upon his character, crowded into my mind; and I
seemed to myself like the man who had put his head into the lion's
mouth a great many times with perfect safety, but at last had it
Next morning I sent him a note, stating, that I might have been in
the wrong, but it was not intentionally; he was therefore, I could
not help thinking, too severe upon me. That notwithstanding our
agreement not to meet that day, I would call on him in my way to
the city, and stay five minutes by my watch. 'You are, (said I,)
in my mind, since last night, surrounded with cloud and storm. Let
me have a glimpse of sunshine, and go about my affairs in serenity
Upon entering his study, I was glad that he was not alone, which
would have made our meeting more awkward. There were with him, Mr.
Steevens and Mr. Tyers, both of whom I now saw for the first time.
My note had, on his own reflection, softened him, for he received
me very complacently; so that I unexpectedly found myself at ease,
and joined in the conversation.
I whispered him, 'Well, Sir, you are now in good humour. JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir.' I was going to leave him, and had got as far as the
staircase. He stopped me, and smiling, said, 'Get you gone IN;' a
curious mode of inviting me to stay, which I accordingly did for
some time longer.
This little incidental quarrel and reconciliation, which, perhaps,
I may be thought to have detailed too minutely, must be esteemed as
one of many proofs which his friends had, that though he might be
charged with bad humour at times, he was always a good-natured man;
and I have heard Sir Joshua Reynolds, a nice and delicate observer
of manners, particularly remark, that when upon any occasion
Johnson had been rough to any person in company, he took the first
opportunity of reconciliation, by drinking to him, or addressing
his discourse to him; but if he found his dignified indirect
overtures sullenly neglected, he was quite indifferent, and
considered himself as having done all that he ought to do, and the
other as now in the wrong.
I went to him early on the morning of the tenth of November. 'Now
(said he,) that you are going to marry, do not expect more from
life, than life will afford. You may often find yourself out of
humour, and you may often think your wife not studious enough to
please you; and yet you may have reason to consider yourself as
upon the whole very happily married.'
1770: AETAT. 61.]--During this year there was a total cessation of
all correspondence between Dr. Johnson and me, without any coldness
on either side, but merely from procrastination, continued from day
to day; and as I was not in London, I had no opportunity of
enjoying his company and recording his conversation. To supply
this blank, I shall present my readers with some Collectanea,
obligingly furnished to me by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell, of Falkland, in
Ireland, sometime assistant preacher at the Temple, and for many
years the social friend of Johnson, who spoke of him with a very
'His general mode of life, during my acquaintance, seemed to be
pretty uniform. About twelve o'clock I commonly visited him, and
frequently found him in bed, or declaiming over his tea, which he
drank very plentifully. He generally had a levee of morning
visitors, chiefly men of letters; Hawkesworth, Goldsmith, Murphy,
Langton, Steevens, Beaucherk, &c. &c., and sometimes learned
ladies, particularly I remember a French lady of wit and fashion
doing him the honour of a visit. He seemed to me to be considered
as a kind of publick oracle, whom every body thought they had a
right to visit and consult; and doubtless they were well rewarded.
I never could discover how he found time for his compositions. He
declaimed all the morning, then went to dinner at a tavern, where
he commonly staid late, and then drank his tea at some friend's
house, over which he loitered a great while, but seldom took
supper. I fancy he must have read and wrote chiefly in the night,
for I can scarcely recollect that he ever refused going with me to
a tavern, and he often went to Ranelagh, which he deemed a place of
'He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who
watched him, between his house and the tavern where he dined. He
walked the streets at all hours, and said he was never robbed, for
the rogues knew he had little money, nor had the appearance of
'Though the most accessible and communicative man alive; yet when
he suspected he was invited to be exhibited, he constantly spurned
'Two young women from Staffordshire visited him when I was present,
to consult him on the subject of Methodism, to which they were
inclined. "Come, (said he,) you pretty fools, dine with Maxwell
and me at the Mitre, and we will talk over that subject;" which
they did, and after dinner he took one of them upon his knee, and
fondled her for half an hour together.
'Johnson was much attached to London: he observed, that a man
stored his mind better there, than any where else; and that in
remote situations a man's body might be feasted, but his mind was
starved, and his faculties apt to degenerate, from want of exercise
and competition. No place, (he said,) cured a man's vanity or
arrogance so well as London; for as no man was either great or good
per se, but as compared with others not so good or great, he was
sure to find in the metropolis many his equals, and some his
superiours. He observed, that a man in London was in less danger
of falling in love indiscreetly, than any where else; for there the
difficulty of deciding between the conflicting pretensions of a
vast variety of objects, kept him safe. He told me, that he had
frequently been offered country preferment, if he would consent to
take orders; but he could not leave the improved society of the
capital, or consent to exchange the exhilarating joys and splendid
decorations of publick life, for the obscurity, insipidity, and
uniformity of remote situations.
'Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, he said, was the only book that
ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.
'When exasperated by contradiction, he was apt to treat his
opponents with too much acrimony: as, "Sir, you don't see your way
through that question:"--"Sir, you talk the language of ignorance."
On my observing to him that a certain gentleman had remained silent
the whole evening, in the midst of a very brilliant and learned
society, "Sir, (said he,) the conversation overflowed, and drowned
'He observed, that the established clergy in general did not preach
plain enough; and that polished periods and glittering sentences
flew over the heads of the common people, without any impression
upon their hearts. Something might be necessary, he observed, to
excite the affections of the common people, who were sunk in
languor and lethargy, and therefore he supposed that the new
concomitants of methodism might probably produce so desirable an
effect. The mind, like the body, he observed, delighted in change
and novelty, and even in religion itself, courted new appearances
and modifications. Whatever might be thought of some methodist
teachers, he said, he could scarcely doubt the sincerity of that
man, who travelled nine hundred miles in a month, and preached
twelve times a week; for no adequate reward, merely temporal, could
be given for such indefatigable labour.
'In a Latin conversation with the Pere Boscovitch, at the house of
Mrs. Cholmondeley, I heard him maintain the superiority of Sir
Isaac Newton over all foreign philosophers, with a dignity and
eloquence that surprized that learned foreigner. It being observed
to him, that a rage for every thing English prevailed much in
France after Lord Chatham's glorious war, he said, he did not
wonder at it, for that we had drubbed those fellows into a proper
reverence for us, and that their national petulance required
'Speaking of a dull tiresome fellow, whom he chanced to meet, he
said, "That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is
a wrong one."
'Much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman, who had
quitted a company where Johnson was, and no information being
obtained; at last Johnson observed, that "he did not care to speak
ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was
'A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married
immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph
of hope over experience.
'He observed, that a man of sense and education should meet a
suitable companion in a wife. It was a miserable thing when the
conversation could only be such as, whether the mutton should be
boiled or roasted, and probably a dispute about that.
'He did not approve of late marriages, observing that more was lost
in point of time, than compensated for by any possible advantages.
Even ill assorted marriages were preferable to cheerless celibacy.
'He said, foppery was never cured; it was the bad stamina of the
mind, which, like those of the body, were never rectified: once a
coxcomb, and always a coxcomb.
'Being told that Gilbert Cowper called him the Caliban of
literature; "Well, (said he,) I must dub him the Punchinello."
'He said few people had intellectual resources sufficient to forego
the pleasures of wine. They could not otherwise contrive how to
fill the interval between dinner and supper.
'One evening at Mrs. Montagu's, where a splendid company was
assembled, consisting of the most eminent literary characters, I
thought he seemed highly pleased with the respect and attention
that were shewn him, and asked him on our return home if he was not
highly gratified by his visit:
"No, Sir, (said he,) not highly gratified; yet I do not recollect
to have passed many evenings with fewer objections."
'Though of no high extraction himself, he had much respect for
birth and family, especially among ladies. He said, "adventitious
accomplishments may be possessed by all ranks; but one may easily
distinguish the born gentlewoman."
'Speaking of Burke, he said, "It was commonly observed, he spoke
too often in parliament; but nobody could say he did not speak
well, though too frequently and too familiarly."
'We dined tete a tete at the Mitre, as I was preparing to return to
Ireland, after an absence of many years. I regretted much leaving
London, where I had formed many agreeable connexions: "Sir, (said
he,) I don't wonder at it; no man, fond of letters, leaves London
without regret. But remember, Sir, you have seen and enjoyed a
great deal;-- you have seen life in its highest decorations, and
the world has nothing new to exhibit. No man is so well qualifyed
to leave publick life as he who has long tried it and known it
well. We are always hankering after untried situations and
imagining greater felicity from them than they can afford. No,
Sir, knowledge and virtue may be acquired in all countries, and
your local consequence will make you some amends for the
intellectual gratifications you relinquish."
'He then took a most affecting leave of me; said, he knew, it was a
point of DUTY that called me away. "We shall all be sorry to lose
you," said he: "laudo tamen."'
1771, AETAT. 62.]--
'To SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS, IN LEICESTER-FIELDS.
'DEAR SIR,--When I came to Lichfield, I found that my portrait had
been much visited, and much admired. Every man has a lurking wish
to appear considerable in his native place; and I was pleased with
the dignity conferred by such a testimony of your regard.
'Be pleased, therefore, to accept the thanks of, Sir, your most
obliged and most humble servant,
'Ashbourn in Derbyshire,
July 17, 1771.'
'Compliments to Miss Reynolds.'
In his religious record of this year, we observe that he was better
than usual, both in body and mind, and better satisfied with the
regularity of his conduct. But he is still 'trying his ways' too
rigorously. He charges himself with not rising early enough; yet
he mentions what was surely a sufficient excuse for this, supposing
it to be a duty seriously required, as he all his life appears to
have thought it. 'One great hindrance is want of rest; my
nocturnal complaints grow less troublesome towards morning; and I
am tempted to repair the deficiencies of the night.' Alas! how
hard would it be if this indulgence were to be imputed to a sick
man as a crime. In his retrospect on the following Easter-Eve, he
says, 'When I review the last year, I am able to recollect so
little done, that shame and sorrow, though perhaps too weakly, come
In 1772 he was altogether quiescent as an authour; but it will be
found from the various evidences which I shall bring together that
his mind was acute, lively, and vigorous.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--That you are coming so soon to town I am very glad; and
still more glad that you are coming as an advocate. I think
nothing more likely to make your life pass happily away, than that
consciousness of your own value, which eminence in your profession
will certainly confer. If I can give you any collateral help, I
hope you do not suspect that it will be wanting. My kindness for
you has neither the merit of singular virtue, nor the reproach of
singular prejudice. Whether to love you be right or wrong, I have
many on my side: Mrs. Thrale loves you, and Mrs. Williams loves
you, and what would have inclined me to love you, if I had been
neutral before, you are a great favourite of Dr. Beattie.*
'Of Dr. Beattie I should have thought much, but that his lady puts
him out of my head; she is a very lovely woman.
'The ejection which you come hither to oppose, appears very cruel,
unreasonable, and oppressive. I should think there could not be
much doubt of your success.
'My health grows better, yet I am not fully recovered. I believe
it is held, that men do not recover very fast after threescore. I
hope yet to see Beattie's College: and have not given up the
western voyage. But however all this may be or not, let us try to
make each other happy when we meet, and not refer our pleasure to
distant times or distant places.
'How comes it that you tell me nothing of your lady? I hope to see
her some time, and till then shall be glad to hear of her. I am,
dear Sir, &c.
'March 15, 1772.'
* Boswell had given Beattie a letter of introduction to Johnson the
On the 21st of March, I was happy to find myself again in my
friend's study, and was glad to see my old acquaintance, Mr.
Francis Barber, who was now returned home. Dr. Johnson received me
with a hearty welcome; saying, 'I am glad you are come.'
I thanked him for showing civilities to Beattie. 'Sir, (said he,)
I should thank YOU. We all love Beattie. Mrs. Thrale says, if
ever she has another husband, she'll have Beattie. He sunk upon us
that he was married; else we should have shewn his lady more
civilities. She is a very fine woman. But how can you shew
civilities to a nonentity? I did not think he had been married.
Nay, I did not think about it one way or other; but he did not tell
us of his lady till late.'
He then spoke of St. Kilda, the most remote of the Hebrides. I
told him, I thought of buying it. JOHNSON. 'Pray do, Sir. We
will go and pass a winter amid the blasts there. We shall have
fine fish, and we will take some dried tongues with us, and some
books. We will have a strong built vessel, and some Orkney men to
navigate her. We must build a tolerable house: but we may carry
with us a wooden house ready made, and requiring nothing but to be
put up. Consider, Sir, by buying St. Kilda, you may keep the
people from falling into worse hands. We must give them a
clergyman, and he shall be one of Beattie's choosing. He shall be
educated at Marischal College. I'll be your Lord Chancellor, or
what you please.' BOSWELL. 'Are you serious, Sir, in advising me
to buy St. Kilda? for if you should advise me to go to Japan, I
believe I should do it.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir, I am serious.'
BOSWELL. 'Why then, I'll see what can be done.'
He was engaged to dine abroad, and asked me to return to him in the
evening at nine, which I accordingly did.
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams, who told us a story of second
sight, which happened in Wales where she was born. He listened to
it very attentively, and said he should be glad to have some
instances of that faculty well authenticated. His elevated wish
for more and more evidence for spirit, in opposition to the
groveling belief of materialism, led him to a love of such
mysterious disquisitions. He again justly observed, that we could
have no certainty of the truth of supernatural appearances, unless
something was told us which we could not know by ordinary means, or
something done which could not be done but by supernatural power;
that Pharaoh in reason and justice required such evidence from
Moses; nay, that our Saviour said, 'If I had not done among them
the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.'
We talked of the Roman Catholick religion, and how little
difference there was in essential matters between ours and it.
JOHNSON. 'True, Sir; all denominations of Christians have really
little difference in point of doctrine, though they may differ
widely in external forms. There is a prodigious difference between
the external form of one of your Presbyterian churches in Scotland,
and a church in Italy; yet the doctrine taught is essentially the
In the morning we had talked of old families, and the respect due
to them. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have a right to that kind of respect,
and are arguing for yourself. I am for supporting the principle,
and am disinterested in doing it, as I have no such right.'
BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, it is one more incitement to a man to do
well.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and it is a matter of opinion, very
necessary to keep society together. What is it but opinion, by
which we have a respect for authority, that prevents us, who are
the rabble, from rising up and pulling down you who are gentlemen
from your places, and saying, "We will be gentlemen in our turn?"
Now, Sir, that respect for authority is much more easily granted to
a man whose father has had it, than to an upstart, and so Society
is more easily supported.' BOSWELL. 'At present, Sir, I think
riches seem to gain most respect.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, riches do
not gain hearty respect; they only procure external attention. A
very rich man, from low beginnings, may buy his election in a
borough; but, coeteris paribus, a man of family will be preferred.
People will prefer a man for whose father their fathers have voted,
though they should get no more money, or even less. That shows
that the respect for family is not merely fanciful, but has an
actual operation. If gentlemen of family would allow the rich
upstarts to spend their money profusely, which they are ready
enough to do, and not vie with them in expence, the upstarts would
soon be at an end, and the gentlemen would remain: but if the
gentlemen will vie in expence with the upstarts, which is very
foolish, they must be ruined.'
On Monday, March 23, I found him busy, preparing a fourth edition
of his folio Dictionary. Mr. Peyton, one of his original
amanuenses, was writing for him.
He seemed also to be intent on some sort of chymical operation. I
was entertained by observing how he contrived to send Mr. Peyton on
an errand, without seeming to degrade him. 'Mr. Peyton,--Mr.
Peyton, will you be so good as to take a walk to Temple-Bar? You
will there see a chymist's shop; at which you will be pleased to
buy for me an ounce of oil of vitriol; not spirit of vitriol, but
oil of vitriol. It will cost three half-pence.' Peyton
immediately went, and returned with it, and told him it cost but a
On Saturday, March 27, I introduced to him Sir Alexander Macdonald,
with whom he had expressed a wish to be acquainted. He received
him very courteously.
SIR A. 'I think, Sir, almost all great lawyers, such at least as
have written upon law, have known only law, and nothing else.'
JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; Judge Hale was a great lawyer, and wrote
upon law; and yet he knew a great many other things; and has
written upon other things. Selden too.' SIR A. 'Very true, Sir;
and Lord Bacon. But was not Lord Coke a mere lawyer?' JOHNSON.
'Why, I am afraid he was; but he would have taken it very ill if
you had told him so. He would have prosecuted you for scandal.'
BOSWELL. 'Lord Mansfield is not a mere lawyer. JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir. I never was in Lord Mansfield's company; but Lord Mansfield
was distinguished at the University. Lord Mansfield, when he first
came to town, "drank champagne with the wits," as Prior says. He
was the friend of Pope.' SIR A. 'Barristers, I believe, are not
so abusive now as they were formerly. I fancy they had less law
long ago, and so were obliged to take to abuse, to fill up the
time. Now they have such a number of precedents, they have no
occasion for abuse.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, they had more law long
ago than they have now. As to precedents, to be sure they will
increase in course of time; but the more precedents there are, the
less occasion is there for law; that is to say, the less occasion
is there for investigating principles.' SIR A. 'I have been
correcting several Scotch accents in my friend Boswell. I doubt,
Sir, if any Scotchman ever attains to a perfect English
pronunciation.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, few of them do, because they
do not persevere after acquiring a certain degree of it. But, Sir,
there can be no doubt that they may attain to a perfect English
pronunciation, if they will. We find how near they come to it; and
certainly, a man who conquers nineteen parts of the Scottish
accent, may conquer the twentieth. But, Sir, when a man has got
the better of nine tenths he grows weary, he relaxes his diligence,
he finds he has corrected his accent so far as not to be
disagreeable, and he no longer desires his friends to tell him when
he is wrong; nor does he choose to be told. Sir, when people watch
me narrowly, and I do not watch myself, they will find me out to be
of a particular county. In the same manner, Dunning may be found
out to be a Devonshire man. So most Scotchmen may be found out.
But, Sir, little aberrations are of no disadvantage. I never
catched Mallet in a Scotch accent; and yet Mallet, I suppose, was
past five-and-twenty before he came to London.'
I again visited him at night. Finding him in a very good humour, I
ventured to lead him to the subject of our situation in a future
state, having much curiosity to know his notions on that point. . . .
BOSWELL. 'I do not know whether there are any well-attested
stories of the appearance of ghosts. You know there is a famous
story of the appearance of Mrs. Veal, prefixed to Drelincourt on
Death.' JOHNSON. 'I believe, Sir, that is given up. I believe
the woman declared upon her death-bed that it was a lie.' BOSWELL.
'This objection is made against the truth of ghosts appearing: that
if they are in a state of happiness, it would be a punishment to
them to return to this world; and if they are in a state of misery,
it would be giving them a respite.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as the
happiness or misery of embodied spirits does not depend upon place,
but is intellectual, we cannot say that they are less happy or less
miserable by appearing upon earth.'
We went down between twelve and one to Mrs. Williams's room, and
drank tea. I mentioned that we were to have the remains of Mr.
Gray, in prose and verse, published by Mr. Mason. JOHNSON. 'I
think we have had enough of Gray. I see they have published a
splendid edition of Akenside's works. One bad ode may be suffered;
but a number of them together makes one sick.' BOSWELL.
'Akenside's distinguished poem is his Pleasures of Imagination; but
for my part, I never could admire it so much as most people do.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, I could not read it through.' BOSWELL. 'I have
read it through; but I did not find any great power in it.'
On Tuesday, March 31, he and I dined at General Paoli's.
Dr. Johnson went home with me to my lodgings in Conduit-street and
drank tea, previous to our going to the Pantheon, which neither of
us had seen before.
He said, 'Goldsmith's Life of Parnell is poor; not that it is
poorly written, but that he had poor materials; for nobody can
write the life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived
in social intercourse with him.'
I said, that if it was not troublesome and presuming too much, I
would request him to tell me all the little circumstances of his
life; what schools he attended, when he came to Oxford, when he
came to London, &c. &c. He did not disapprove of my curiosity as
to these particulars; but said, 'They'll come out by degrees as we
We talked of the proper use of riches. JOHNSON. 'If I were a man
of a great estate, I would drive all the rascals whom I did not
like out of the county at an election.'
We then walked to the Pantheon. The first view of it did not
strike us so much as Ranelagh, of which he said, the 'coup d'oeil
was the finest thing he had ever seen.' The truth is, Ranelagh is
of a more beautiful form; more of it or rather indeed the whole
rotunda, appears at once, and it is better lighted. However, as
Johnson observed, we saw the Pantheon in time of mourning, when
there was a dull uniformity; whereas we had seen Ranelagh when the
view was enlivened with a gay profusion of colours. Mrs. Bosville,
of Gunthwait, in Yorkshire, joined us, and entered into
conversation with us. Johnson said to me afterwards, 'Sir, this is
a mighty intelligent lady.'
I said there was not half a guinea's worth of pleasure in seeing
this place. JOHNSON. 'But, Sir, there is half a guinea's worth of
inferiority to other people in not having seen it.' BOSWELL. 'I
doubt, Sir, whether there are many happy people here.' JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir, there are many happy people here. There are many people
here who are watching hundreds, and who think hundreds are watching
Happening to meet Sir Adam Fergusson, I presented him to Dr.
Johnson. Sir Adam expressed some apprehension that the Pantheon
would encourage luxury. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) I am a great friend
to publick amusements; for they keep people from vice. You now
(addressing himself to me,) would have been with a wench, had you
not been here.--O! I forgot you were married.'
Sir Adam suggested, that luxury corrupts a people, and destroys the
spirit of liberty. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is all visionary. I would
not give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather
than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an
individual. Sir, the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a
private man. What Frenchman is prevented from passing his life as
he pleases?' SIR ADAM. 'But, Sir, in the British constitution it
is surely of importance to keep up a spirit in the people, so as to
preserve a balance against the crown.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I perceive
you are a vile Whig. Why all this childish jealousy of the power
of the crown? The crown has not power enough. When I say that all
governments are alike, I consider that in no government power can
be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. If a sovereign
oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut off
his head. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that
will keep us safe under every form of government. Had not the
people of France thought themselves honoured as sharing in the
brilliant actions of Lewis XIV, they would not have endured him;
and we may say the same of the King of Prussia's people.' Sir Adam
introduced the ancient Greeks and Romans. JOHNSON. 'Sir, the mass
of both of them were barbarians. The mass of every people must be
barbarous where there is no printing, and consequently knowledge is
not generally diffused. Knowledge is diffused among our people by
the news-papers.' Sir Adam mentioned the orators, poets, and
artists of Greece. JOHNSON. 'Sir, I am talking of the mass of the
people. We see even what the boasted Athenians were. The little
effect which Demosthenes's orations had upon them, shews that they
On Sunday, April 5, after attending divine service at St. Paul's
church, I found him alone.
He said, he went more frequently to church when there were prayers
only, than when there was also a sermon, as the people required
more an example for the one than the other; it being much easier
for them to hear a sermon, than to fix their minds on prayer.
On Monday, April 6, I dined with him at Sir Alexander Macdonald's,
where was a young officer in the regimentals of the Scots Royal,
who talked with a vivacity, fluency, and precision so uncommon,
that he attracted particular attention. He proved to be the
Honourable Thomas Erskine, youngest brother to the Earl of Buchan,
who has since risen into such brilliant reputation at the bar in
Fielding being mentioned, Johnson exclaimed, 'he was a blockhead;'
and upon my expressing my astonishment at so strange an assertion,
he said, 'What I mean by his being a blockhead is that he was a
barren rascal.' BOSWELL. 'Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws
very natural pictures of human life?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is
of very low life. Richardson used to say, that had he not known
who Fielding was, he should have believed he was an ostler. Sir,
there is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's,
than in all Tom Jones. I, indeed, never read Joseph Andrews.'
ERSKINE. 'Surely, Sir, Richardson is very tedious.' JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your
impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself.
But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as
only giving occasion to the sentiment.'
We talked of gaming, and animadverted on it with severity.
JOHNSON. 'Nay, gentlemen, let us not aggravate the matter. It is
not roguery to play with a man who is ignorant of the game, while
you are master of it, and so win his money; for he thinks he can
play better than you, as you think you can play better than he; and
the superiour skill carries it.' ERSKINE. 'He is a fool, but you
are not a rogue.' JOHNSON. 'That's much about the truth, Sir. It
must be considered, that a man who only does what every one of the
society to which he belongs would do, is not a dishonest man. In
the republick of Sparta, it was agreed, that stealing was not
dishonourable, if not discovered. I do not commend a society where
there is an agreement that what would not otherwise be fair, shall
be fair; but I maintain, that an individual of any society, who
practises what is allowed, is not a dishonest man.' BOSWELL. 'So
then, Sir, you do not think ill of a man who wins perhaps forty
thousand pounds in a winter?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not call a
gamester a dishonest man; but I call him an unsocial man, an
unprofitable man. Gaming is a mode of transferring property
without producing any intermediate good. Trade gives employment to
numbers, and so produces intermediate good.'
On Thursday, April 9, I called on him to beg he would go and dine
with me at the Mitre tavern. He had resolved not to dine at all
this day, I know not for what reason; and I was so unwilling to be
deprived of his company, that I was content to submit to suffer a
want, which was at first somewhat painful, but he soon made me
forget it; and a man is always pleased with himself when he finds
his intellectual inclinations predominate.
He observed, that to reason philosophically on the nature of
prayer, was very unprofitable.
Talking of ghosts, he said, he knew one friend, who was an honest
man and a sensible man, who told him he had seen a ghost, old Mr.
Edward Cave, the printer at St. John's Gate. He said, Mr. Cave did
not like to talk of it, and seemed to be in great horrour whenever
it was mentioned. BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, what did he say was the
appearance?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, something of a shadowy being.'
On Friday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's,
where we found Dr. Goldsmith.
I started the question whether duelling was consistent with moral
duty. The brave old General fired at this, and said, with a lofty
air, 'Undoubtedly a man has a right to defend his honour.'
GOLDSMITH. (turning to me,) 'I ask you first, Sir, what would you
do if you were affronted?' I answered I should think it necessary
to fight. 'Why then, (replied Goldsmith,) that solves the
question.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it does not solve the question. It
does not follow that what a man would do is therefore right.' I
said, I wished to have it settled, whether duelling was contrary to
the laws of Christianity. Johnson immediately entered on the
subject, and treated it in a masterly manner; and so far as I have
been able to recollect, his thoughts were these: 'Sir, as men
become in a high degree refined, various causes of offence arise;
which are considered to be of such importance, that life must be
staked to atone for them, though in reality they are not so. A
body that has received a very fine polish may be easily hurt.
Before men arrive at this artificial refinement, if one tells his
neighbour he lies, his neighbour tells him he lies; if one gives
his neighbour a blow, his neighbour gives him a blow: but in a
state of highly polished society, an affront is held to be a
serious injury. It must therefore be resented, or rather a duel
must be fought upon it; as men have agreed to banish from their
society one who puts up with an affront without fighting a duel.
Now, Sir, it is never unlawful to fight in self-defence. He, then,
who fights a duel, does not fight from passion against his
antagonist, but out of self-defence; to avert the stigma of the
world, and to prevent himself from being driven out of society. I
could wish there was not that superfluity of refinement; but while
such notions prevail, no doubt a man may lawfully fight a duel.'
The General told us, that when he was a very young man, I think
only fifteen, serving under Prince Eugene of Savoy, he was sitting
in a company at table with a Prince of Wirtemberg. The Prince took
up a glass of wine, and, by a fillip, made some of it fly in
Oglethorpe's face. Here was a nice dilemma. To have challenged
him instantly, might have fixed a quarrelsome character upon the
young soldier: to have taken no notice of it might have been
considered as cowardice. Oglethorpe, therefore, keeping his eye
upon the Prince, and smiling all the time, as if he took what his
Highness had done in jest, said 'Mon Prince,--'. (I forget the
French words he used, the purport however was,) 'That's a good
joke; but we do it much better in England;' and threw a whole glass
of wine in the Prince's face. An old General who sat by, said, 'Il
a bien fait, mon Prince, vous l'avez commence:' and thus all ended
in good humour.
Dr. Johnson said, 'Pray, General, give us an account of the siege
of Belgrade.' Upon which the General, pouring a little wine upon
the table, described every thing with a wet finger: 'Here we were,
here were the Turks,' &c. &c. Johnson listened with the closest
A question was started, how far people who disagree in a capital
point can live in friendship together. Johnson said they might.
Goldsmith said they could not, as they had not the idem velle atque
idem nolle--the same likings and the same aversions. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, you must shun the subject as to which you disagree. For
instance, I can live very well with Burke: I love his knowledge,