Part 5 out of 12
his genius, his diffusion, and affluence of conversation; but I
would not talk to him of the Rockingham party.' GOLDSMITH. 'But,
Sir, when people live together who have something as to which they
disagree, and which they want to shun, they will be in the
situation mentioned in the story of Bluebeard: "You may look into
all the chambers but one." But we should have the greatest
inclination to look into that chamber, to talk of that subject.'
JOHNSON. (with a loud voice,) 'Sir, I am not saying that YOU could
live in friendship with a man from whom you differ as to some
point: I am only saying that I could do it. You put me in mind of
Sappho in Ovid.'
Goldsmith told us, that he was now busy in writing a natural
history, and, that he might have full leisure for it, he had taken
lodgings, at a farmer's house, near to the six milestone, on the
Edgeware road, and had carried down his books in two returned post-
chaises. He said, he believed the farmer's family thought him an
odd character, similar to that in which the Spectator appeared to
his landlady and her children: he was The Gentleman. Mr. Mickle,
the translator of The Lusiad, and I went to visit him at this place
a few days afterwards. He was not at home; but having a curiosity
to see his apartment, we went in and found curious scraps of
descriptions of animals, scrawled upon the wall with a black lead
On Saturday, April 11, he appointed me to come to him in the
evening, when he should be at leisure to give me some assistance
for the defence of Hastie, the schoolmaster of Campbelltown, for
whom I was to appear in the house of Lords. When I came, I found
him unwilling to exert himself. I pressed him to write down his
thoughts upon the subject. He said, 'There's no occasion for my
writing. I'll talk to you.' . . .
Of our friend, Goldsmith, he said, 'Sir, he is so much afraid of
being unnoticed, that he often talks merely lest you should forget
that he is in the company.' BOSWELL. 'Yes, he stands forward.'
JOHNSON. 'True, Sir; but if a man is to stand forward, he should
wish to do it not in an aukward posture, not in rags, not so as
that he shall only be exposed to ridicule.' BOSWELL. 'For my
part, I like very well to hear honest Goldsmith talk away
carelessly.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; but he should not like to
hear himself.' . . .
On Tuesday, April 14, the decree of the Court of Session in the
schoolmaster's cause was reversed in the House of Lords, after a
very eloquent speech by Lord Mansfield, who shewed himself an adept
in school discipline, but I thought was too rigorous towards my
client. On the evening of the next day I supped with Dr. Johnson,
at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, in company with Mr.
Langton and his brother-in-law, Lord Binning.
I talked of the recent expulsion of six students from the
University of Oxford, who were methodists and would not desist from
publickly praying and exhorting. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that expulsion
was extremely just and proper. What have they to do at an
University who are not willing to be taught, but will presume to
teach? Where is religion to be learnt but at an University? Sir,
they were examined, and found to be mighty ignorant fellows.'
BOSWELL. 'But, was it not hard, Sir, to expel them, for I am told
they were good beings?' JOHNSON. 'I believe they might be good
beings; but they were not fit to be in the University of Oxford. A
cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a
garden.' Lord Elibank used to repeat this as an illustration
Desirous of calling Johnson forth to talk, and exercise his wit,
though I should myself be the object of it, I resolutely ventured
to undertake the defence of convivial indulgence in wine, though he
was not to-night in the most genial humour. After urging the
common plausible topicks, I at last had recourse to the maxim, in
vino veritas, a man who is well warmed with wine will speak truth.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that may be an argument for drinking, if you
suppose men in general to be liars. But, Sir, I would not keep
company with a fellow, who lyes as long as he is sober, and whom
you must make drunk before you can get a word of truth out of him.'
At this time it appears from his Prayers and Meditations, that he
had been more than commonly diligent in religious duties,
particularly in reading the Holy Scriptures. It was Passion Week,
that solemn season which the Christian world has appropriated to
the commemoration of the mysteries of our redemption, and during
which, whatever embers of religion are in our breasts, will be
kindled into pious warmth.
I paid him short visits both on Friday and Saturday, and seeing his
large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a
reverential awe, and would not intrude upon his time. While he was
thus employed to such good purpose, and while his friends in their
intercourse with him constantly found a vigorous intellect and a
lively imagination, it is melancholy to read in his private
register, 'My mind is unsettled and my memory confused. I have of
late turned my thoughts with a very useless earnestness upon past
incidents. I have yet got no command over my thoughts; an
unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my rest.' What
philosophick heroism was it in him to appear with such manly
fortitude to the world while he was inwardly so distressed! We may
surely believe that the mysterious principle of being 'made perfect
through suffering' was to be strongly exemplified in him.
On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, General Paoli and I paid him
a visit before dinner.
We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a
simple sound, but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I
presumed to differ from this opinion, and mentioned the soft and
sweet sound of a fine woman's voice. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, if a
serpent or a toad uttered it, you would think it ugly.' BOSWELL.
'So you would think, Sir, were a beautiful tune to be uttered by
one of those animals.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it would be admired.
We have seen fine fiddlers whom we liked as little as toads.'
While I remained in London this spring, I was with him at several
other times, both by himself and in company. I dined with him one
day at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, with Lord
Elibank, Mr. Langton, and Dr. Vansittart of Oxford. Without
specifying each particular day, I have preserved the following
I regretted the reflection in his Preface to Shakspeare against
Garrick, to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: 'I
collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but
have not found the collectors of these rarities very
communicative.' I told him, that Garrick had complained to me of
it, and had vindicated himself by assuring me, that Johnson was
made welcome to the full use of his collection, and that he left
the key of it with a servant, with orders to have a fire and every
convenience for him. I found Johnson's notion was, that Garrick
wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the contrary, Garrick
should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his own accord.
But, indeed, considering the slovenly and careless manner in which
books were treated by Johnson, it could not be expected that scarce
and valuable editions should have been lent to him.
A gentleman* having to some of the usual arguments for drinking
added this: 'You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us
forget whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to
drink for that reason?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, if he sat next YOU.'
* The gentleman most likely is Boswell.--HILL.
A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to
inform us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at
Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose, seven or
eight minutes in relating it circumstantially. He in a plenitude
of phrase told us, that large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in
the town-hall;--that by reason of this, fleas nestled there in
prodigious numbers; that the lodgings of the counsel were near to
the town-hall;--and that those little animals moved from place to
place with wonderful agility. Johnson sat in great impatience till
the gentleman had finished his tedious narrative, and then burst
out (playfully however), 'It is a pity, Sir, that you have not seen
a lion; for a flea has taken you such a time, that a lion must have
served you a twelvemonth.'
He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord
Mansfield; for he was educated in England. 'Much (said he,) may be
made of a Scotchman, if he be CAUGHT young.'
He said, 'I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours,
and give them my opinion. If the authours who apply to me have
money, I bid them boldly print without a name; if they have written
in order to get money, I tell them to go to the booksellers, and
make the best bargain they can.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, if a
bookseller should bring you a manuscript to look at?' JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, I would desire the bookseller to take it away.'
I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain, and was
unwilling to return to Britain. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he is attached to
some woman.' BOSWELL. 'I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine
climate which keeps him there.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, how can you
talk so? What is CLIMATE to happiness? Place me in the heart of
Asia, should I not be exiled? What proportion does climate bear to
the complex system of human life? You may advise me to go to live
at Bologna to eat sausages. The sausages there are the best in the
world; they lose much by being carried.'
On Saturday, May 9, Mr. Dempster and I had agreed to dine by
ourselves at the British Coffee-house. Johnson, on whom I happened
to call in the morning, said he would join us, which he did, and we
spent a very agreeable day, though I recollect but little of what
He said, 'Walpole was a minister given by the King to the people:
Pitt was a minister given by the people to the King,--as an
'The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this: he goes on
without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his
knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he
is not rich, we may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not
knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself.'
1773: AETAT. 64.]--In 1773 his only publication was an edition of
his folio Dictionary, with additions and corrections; nor did he,
so far as is known, furnish any productions of his fertile pen to
any of his numerous friends or dependants, except the Preface to
his old amanuensis Macbean's Dictionary of Ancient Geography.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,-- . . . A new edition of my great Dictionary is printed,
from a copy which I was persuaded to revise; but having made no
preparation, I was able to do very little. Some superfluities I
have expunged, and some faults I have corrected, and here and there
have scattered a remark; but the main fabrick of the work remains
as it was. I had looked very little into it since I wrote it, and,
I think, I found it full as often better, as worse, than I
'Baretti and Davies have had a furious quarrel; a quarrel, I think,
irreconcileable. Dr. Goldsmith has a new comedy, which is expected
in the spring. No name is yet given it. The chief diversion
arises from a stratagem by which a lover is made to mistake his
future father-in-law's house for an inn. This, you see, borders
upon farce. The dialogue is quick and gay, and the incidents are
so prepared as not to seem improbable. . . .
'My health seems in general to improve; but I have been troubled
for many weeks with a vexatious catarrh, which is sometimes
sufficiently distressful. I have not found any great effects from
bleeding and physick; and am afraid, that I must expect help from
brighter days and softer air.
'Write to me now and then; and whenever any good befalls you, make
haste to let me know it, for no one will rejoice at it more than,
dear Sir, your most humble servant,
'London, Feb. 24, 1773.'
'You continue to stand very high in the favour of Mrs. Thrale.'
While a former edition of my work was passing through the press, I
was unexpectedly favoured with a packet from Philadelphia, from Mr.
James Abercrombie, a gentleman of that country, who is pleased to
honour me with very high praise of my Life of Dr. Johnson. To have
the fame of my illustrious friend, and his faithful biographer,
echoed from the New World is extremely flattering; and my grateful
acknowledgements shall be wafted across the Atlantick. Mr.
Abercrombie has politely conferred on me a considerable additional
obligation, by transmitting to me copies of two letters from Dr.
Johnson to American gentlemen.
On Saturday, April 3, the day after my arrival in London this year,
I went to his house late in the evening, and sat with Mrs. Williams
till he came home. I found in the London Chronicle, Dr.
Goldsmith's apology to the publick for beating Evans, a bookseller,
on account of a paragraph in a newspaper published by him, which
Goldsmith thought impertinent to him and to a lady of his
acquaintance. The apology was written so much in Dr. Johnson's
manner, that both Mrs. Williams and I supposed it to be his; but
when he came home, he soon undeceived us. When he said to Mrs.
Williams, 'Well, Dr. Goldsmith's manifesto has got into your
paper;' I asked him if Dr. Goldsmith had written it, with an air
that made him see I suspected it was his, though subscribed by
Goldsmith. JOHNSON. 'Sir, Dr. Goldsmith would no more have asked
me to write such a thing as that for him, than he would have asked
me to feed him with a spoon, or to do anything else that denoted
his imbecility. I as much believe that he wrote it, as if I had
seen him do it. Sir, had he shewn it to any one friend, he would
not have been allowed to publish it. He has, indeed, done it very
well; but it is a foolish thing well done. I suppose he has been
so much elated with the success of his new comedy, that he has
thought every thing that concerned him must he of importance to the
publick.' BOSWELL. 'I fancy, Sir, this is the first time that he
has been engaged in such an adventure.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I
believe it is the first time he has BEAT; he may have BEEN BEATEN
before. This, Sir, is a new plume to him.'
At Mr. Thrale's, in the evening, he repeated his usual paradoxical
declamation against action in publick speaking. 'Action can have no
effect upon reasonable minds. It may augment noise, but it never
can enforce argument.'
Lord Chesterfield being mentioned, Johnson remarked, that almost
all of that celebrated nobleman's witty sayings were puns. He,
however, allowed the merit of good wit to his Lordship's saying of
Lord Tyrawley and himself, when both very old and infirm: 'Tyrawley
and I have been dead these two years; but we don't choose to have
The conversation having turned on modern imitations of ancient
ballads, and some one having praised their simplicity, he treated
them with that ridicule which he always displayed when that subject
He disapproved of introducing scripture phrases into secular
discourse. This seemed to me a question of some difficulty. A
scripture expression may be used, like a highly classical phrase,
to produce an instantaneous strong impression; and it may be done
without being at all improper. Yet I own there is danger, that
applying the language of our sacred book to ordinary subjects may
tend to lessen our reverence for it. If therefore it be introduced
at all, it should be with very great caution.
On Thursday, April 8, I sat a good part of the evening with him,
but he was very silent.
Though he was not disposed to talk, he was unwilling that I should
leave him; and when I looked at my watch, and told him it was
twelve o'clock, he cried, What's that to you and me?' and ordered
Frank to tell Mrs. Williams that we were coming to drink tea with
her, which we did. It was settled that we should go to church
together next day.
On the 9th of April, being Good Friday, I breakfasted with him on
tea and cross-buns; DOCTOR Levet, as Frank called him, making the
tea. He carried me with him to the church of St. Clement Danes,
where he had his seat; and his behaviour was, as I had imaged to
myself, solemnly devout. I never shall forget the tremulous
earnestness with which he pronounced the awful petition in the
Litany: 'In the hour of death, and at the day of judgement, good
LORD deliver us.
We went to church both in the morning and evening. In the interval
between the two services we did not dine; but he read in the Greek
New Testament, and I turned over several of his books.
I told him that Goldsmith had said to me a few days before, 'As I
take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the taylor, so I
take my religion from the priest.' I regretted this loose way of
talking. JOHNSON. 'Sir, he knows nothing; he has made up his mind
To my great surprize he asked me to dine with him on Easter-day. I
never supposed that he had a dinner at his house; for I had not
then heard of any one of his friends having been entertained at his
table. He told me, 'I generally have a meat pye on Sunday: it is
baked at a publick oven, which is very properly allowed, because
one man can attend it; and thus the advantage is obtained of not
keeping servants from church to dress dinners.'
April 11, being Easter-Sunday, after having attended Divine Service
at St. Paul's, I repaired to Dr. Johnson's. I had gratified my
curiosity much in dining with JEAN JAQUES ROUSSEAU, while he lived
in the wilds of Neufchatel: I had as great a curiosity to dine with
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, in the dusky recess of a court in Fleet-street.
I supposed we should scarcely have knives and forks, and only some
strange, uncouth, ill-drest dish: but I found every thing in very
good order. We had no other company but Mrs. Williams and a young
woman whom I did not know. As a dinner here was considered as a
singular phaenomenon, and as I was frequently interrogated on the
subject, my readers may perhaps be desirous to know our bill of
fare. Foote, I remember, in allusion to Francis, the NEGRO, was
willing to suppose that our repast was BLACK BROTH. But the fact
was, that we had a very good soup, a boiled leg of lamb and
spinach, a veal pye, and a rice pudding.
He owned that he thought Hawkesworth was one of his imitators, but
he did not think Goldsmith was. Goldsmith, he said, had great
merit. BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, he is much indebted to you for his
getting so high in the publick estimation.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
he has perhaps got SOONER to it by his intimacy with me.'
Goldsmith, though his vanity often excited him to occasional
competition, had a very high regard for Johnson, which he at this
time expressed in the strongest manner in the Dedication of his
comedy, entitled, She Stoops to Conquer.
He told me that he had twelve or fourteen times attempted to keep a
journal of his life, but never could persevere. He advised me to
do it. 'The great thing to be recorded, (said he,) is the state of
your own mind; and you should write down every thing that you
remember, for you cannot judge at first what is good or bad; and
write immediately while the impression is fresh, for it will not be
the same a week afterwards.'
I again solicited him to communicate to me the particulars of his
early life. He said, 'You shall have them all for two-pence. I
hope you shall know a great deal more of me before you write my
Life.' He mentioned to me this day many circumstances, which I
wrote down when I went home, and have interwoven in the former part
of this narrative.
On Tuesday, April 13, he and Dr. Goldsmith and I dined at General
Oglethorpe's. Goldsmith expatiated on the common topick, that the
race of our people was degenerated, and that this was owing to
luxury. JOHNSON. 'Sir, in the first place, I doubt the fact. I
believe there are as many tall men in England now, as ever there
were. But, secondly, supposing the stature of our people to be
diminished, that is not owing to luxury; for, Sir, consider to how
very small a proportion of our people luxury can reach. Our
soldiery, surely, are not luxurious, who live on sixpence a day;
and the same remark will apply to almost all the other classes.
Luxury, so far as it reaches the poor, will do good to the race of
people; it will strengthen and multiply them. Sir, no nation was
ever hurt by luxury; for, as I said before, it can reach but to a
very few. I admit that the great increase of commerce and
manufactures hurts the military spirit of a people; because it
produces a competition for something else than martial honours,--a
competition for riches. It also hurts the bodies of the people;
for you will observe, there is no man who works at any particular
trade, but you may know him from his appearance to do so. One part
or other of his body being more used than the rest, he is in some
degree deformed: but, Sir, that is not luxury. A tailor sits
cross-legged; but that is not luxury.' GOLDSMITH. 'Come, you're
just going to the same place by another road.' JOHNSON. 'Nay,
Sir, I say that is not LUXURY. Let us take a walk from Charing-
cross to White-chapel, through, I suppose, the greatest series of
shops in the world; what is there in any of these shops (if you
except gin-shops,) that can do any human being any harm?'
GOLDSMITH. 'Well, Sir, I'll accept your challenge. The very next
shop to Northumberland-house is a pickle-shop.' JOHNSON. 'Well,
Sir: do we not know that a maid can in one afternoon make pickles
sufficient to serve a whole family for a year? nay, that five
pickle-shops can serve all the kingdom? Besides, Sir, there is no
harm done to any body by the making of pickles, or the eating of
We drank tea with the ladies; and Goldsmith sung Tony Lumpkin's
song in his comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, and a very pretty one,
to an Irish tune, which he had designed for Miss Hardcastle; but as
Mrs. Bulkeley, who played the part, could not sing, it was left
out. He afterwards wrote it down for me, by which means it was
preserved, and now appears amongst his poems. Dr. Johnson, in his
way home, stopped at my lodgings in Piccadilly, and sat with me,
drinking tea a second time, till a late hour.
I told him that Mrs. Macaulay said, she wondered how he could
reconcile his political principles with his moral; his notions of
inequality and subordination with wishing well to the happiness of
all mankind, who might live so agreeably, had they all their
portions of land, and none to domineer over another. JOHNSON.
'Why, Sir, I reconcile my principles very well, because mankind are
happier in a state of inequality and subordination. Were they to
be in this pretty state of equality, they would soon degenerate
into brutes;--they would become Monboddo's nation;--their tails
would grow. Sir, all would be losers were all to work for all--
they would have no intellectual improvement. All intellectual
improvement arises from leisure; all leisure arises from one
working for another.'
Talking of the family of Stuart, he said, 'It should seem that the
family at present on the throne has now established as good a right
as the former family, by the long consent of the people; and that
to disturb this right might be considered as culpable. At the same
time I own, that it is a very difficult question, when considered
with respect to the house of Stuart. To oblige people to take
oaths as to the disputed right, is wrong. I know not whether I
could take them: but I do not blame those who do.' So
conscientious and so delicate was he upon this subject, which has
occasioned so much clamour against him.
On Thursday, April 15, I dined with him and Dr. Goldsmith at
I spoke of Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, in the Scottish dialect,
as the best pastoral that had ever been written; not only abounding
with beautiful rural imagery, and just and pleasing sentiments, but
being a real picture of manners; and I offered to teach Dr. Johnson
to understand it. 'No, Sir, (said he,) I won't learn it. You
shall retain your superiority by my not knowing it.'
It having been observed that there was little hospitality in
London;--JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, any man who has a name, or who has
the power of pleasing, will be very generally invited in London.
The man, Sterne, I have been told, has had engagements for three
months.' GOLDSMITH. 'And a very dull fellow.' JOHNSON. 'Why,
Martinelli told us, that for several years he lived much with
Charles Townshend, and that he ventured to tell him he was a bad
joker. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, thus much I can say upon the subject.
One day he and a few more agreed to go and dine in the country, and
each of them was to bring a friend in his carriage with him.
Charles Townshend asked Fitzherbert to go with him, but told him,
"You must find somebody to bring you back: I can only carry you
there." Fitzherbert did not much like this arrangement. He
however consented, observing sarcastically, "It will do very well;
for then the same jokes will serve you in returning as in going."'
An eminent publick character being mentioned;--JOHNSON. 'I
remember being present when he shewed himself to be so corrupted,
or at least something so different from what I think right, as to
maintain, that a member of parliament should go along with his
party right or wrong. Now, Sir, this is so remote from native
virtue, from scholastick virtue, that a good man must have
undergone a great change before he can reconcile himself to such a
doctrine. It is maintaining that you may lie to the publick; for
you lie when you call that right which you think wrong, or the
reverse. A friend of ours, who is too much an echo of that
gentleman, observed, that a man who does not stick uniformly to a
party, is only waiting to be bought. Why then, said I, he is only
waiting to be what that gentleman is already.'
We talked of the King's coming to see Goldsmith's new play.--'I
wish he would,' said Goldsmith; adding, however, with an affected
indifference, 'Not that it would do me the least good.' JOHNSON.
'Well then, Sir, let us say it would do HIM good, (laughing.) No,
Sir, this affectation will not pass;--it is mighty idle. In such a
state as ours, who would not wish to please the Chief Magistrate?'
GOLDSMITH. 'I DO wish to please him. I remember a line in
"And every poet is the monarch's friend."
It ought to be reversed.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, there are finer lines in
Dryden on this subject:--
"For colleges on bounteous Kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend."'
General Paoli observed, that 'successful rebels might.'
MARTINELLI. 'Happy rebellions.' GOLDSMITH. 'We have no such
phrase.' GENERAL PAOLI. 'But have you not the THING?' GOLDSMITH.
'Yes; all our HAPPY revolutions. They have hurt our constitution,
and will hurt it, till we mend it by another HAPPY REVOLUTION.' I
never before discovered that my friend Goldsmith had so much of the
old prejudice in him.
General Paoli, talking of Goldsmith's new play, said, 'Il a fait un
compliment tres gracieux a une certaine grande dame;' meaning a
Duchess of the first rank.
I expressed a doubt whether Goldsmith intended it, in order that I
might hear the truth from himself. It, perhaps, was not quite fair
to endeavour to bring him to a confession, as he might not wish to
avow positively his taking part against the Court. He smiled and
hesitated. The General at once relieved him, by this beautiful
image: 'Monsieur Goldsmith est comme la mer, qui jette des perles
et beaucoup d'autres belles choses, sans s'en appercevoir.'
GOLDSMITH. 'Tres bien dit et tres elegamment.'
A person was mentioned, who it was said could take down in short
hand the speeches in parliament with perfect exactness. JOHNSON.
'Sir, it is impossible. I remember one, Angel, who came to me to
write for him a Preface or Dedication to a book upon short hand,
and he professed to write as fast as a man could speak. In order
to try him, I took down a book, and read while he wrote; and I
favoured him, for I read more deliberately than usual. I had
proceeded but a very little way, when he begged I would desist, for
he could not follow me.' Hearing now for the first time of this
Preface or Dedication, I said, 'What an expense, Sir, do you put us
to in buying books, to which you have written Prefaces or
Dedications.' JOHNSON. 'Why, I have dedicated to the Royal family
all round; that is to say, to the last generation of the Royal
family.' GOLDSMITH. 'And perhaps, Sir, not one sentence of wit in
a whole Dedication.' JOHNSON. 'Perhaps not, Sir.' BOSWELL.
'What then is the reason for applying to a particular person to do
that which any one may do as well?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, one man
has greater readiness at doing it than another.'
I spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man,
and in particular an eminent Grecian. JOHNSON. 'I am not sure of
that. His friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his
friends are able to judge of it.' GOLDSMITH. 'He is what is much
better: he is a worthy humane man.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, that is
not to the purpose of our argument: that will as much prove that he
can play upon the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an
eminent Grecian.' GOLDSMITH. 'The greatest musical performers
have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above
seven hundred a year.' JOHNSON. 'That is indeed but little for a
man to get, who does best that which so many endeavour to do.
There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so
much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do
something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give
him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will
saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give
him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing.'
On Monday, April 19, he called on me with Mrs. Williams, in Mr.
Strahan's coach, and carried me out to dine with Mr. Elphinston, at
his academy at Kensington. A printer having acquired a fortune
sufficient to keep his coach, was a good topick for the credit of
literature. Mrs. Williams said, that another printer, Mr.
Hamilton, had not waited so long as Mr. Strahan, but had kept his
coach several years sooner. JOHNSON. 'He was in the right. Life
is short. The sooner that a man begins to enjoy his wealth the
Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and
asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. 'I have looked into
it.' 'What, (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through?'
Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his
cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, 'No, Sir, do YOU read
On Wednesday, April 21, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's. A
gentleman attacked Garrick for being vain. JOHNSON. 'No wonder,
Sir, that he is vain; a man who is perpetually flattered in every
mode that can be conceived. So many bellows have blown the fire,
that one wonders he is not by this time become a cinder.' BOSWELL.
'And such bellows too. Lord Mansfield with his cheeks like to
burst: Lord Chatham like an Aeolus. I have read such notes from
them to him, as were enough to turn his head.' JOHNSON. 'True.
When he whom every body else flatters, flatters me, I then am truly
happy.' Mrs. THRALE. 'The sentiment is in Congreve, I think.'
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Madam, in The Way of the World:
"If there's delight in love, 'tis when I see
That heart which others bleed for, bleed for me."
No, Sir, I should not be surprized though Garrick chained the
ocean, and lashed the winds.' BOSWELL. 'Should it not be, Sir,
lashed the ocean and chained the winds?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir,
recollect the original:
"In Corum atque Eurum solitus saevire flagellis
Barbarus, Aeolia nunquam hoc in carcere passos,
Ipsum compedibus qui vinxerat Ennosigaeum."
The modes of living in different countries, and the various views
with which men travel in quest of new scenes, having been talked
of, a learned gentleman who holds a considerable office in the law,
expatiated on the happiness of a savage life; and mentioned an
instance of an officer who had actually lived for some time in the
wilds of America, of whom, when in that state, he quoted this
reflection with an air of admiration, as if it had been deeply
philosophical: 'Here am I, free and unrestrained, amidst the rude
magnificence of Nature, with this Indian woman by my side, and this
gun with which I can procure food when I want it; what more can be
desired for human happiness?' It did not require much sagacity to
foresee that such a sentiment would not be permitted to pass
without due animadversion. JOHNSON. 'Do not allow yourself, Sir,
to be imposed upon by such gross absurdity. It is sad stuff; it is
brutish. If a bull could speak, he might as well exclaim,--Here am
I with this cow and this grass; what being can enjoy greater
We talked of the melancholy end of a gentleman who had destroyed
himself. JOHNSON. 'It was owing to imaginary difficulties in his
affairs, which, had he talked with any friend, would soon have
vanished.' BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, that all who commit
suicide are mad?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, they are often not universally
disordered in their intellects, but one passion presses so upon
them, that they yield to it, and commit suicide, as a passionate
man will stab another.' He added, 'I have often thought, that
after a man has taken the resolution to kill himself, it is not
courage in him to do any thing, however desperate, because he has
nothing to fear.' GOLDSMITH. 'I don't see that.' JOHNSON. 'Nay,
but my dear Sir, why should not you see what every one else sees?'
GOLDSMITH. 'It is for fear of something that he has resolved to
kill himself; and will not that timid disposition restrain him?'
JOHNSON. 'It does not signify that the fear of something made him
resolve; it is upon the state of his mind, after the resolution is
taken, that I argue. Suppose a man, either from fear, or pride, or
conscience, or whatever motive, has resolved to kill himself; when
once the resolution is taken, he has nothing to fear. He may then
go and take the King of Prussia by the nose, at the head of his
army. He cannot fear the rack, who is resolved to kill himself.
When Eustace Budgel was walking down to the Thames, determined to
drown himself, he might, if he pleased, without any apprehension of
danger, have turned aside, and first set fire to St. James's
On Tuesday, April 27, Mr. Beauclerk and I called on him in the
morning. As we walked up Johnson's-court, I said, 'I have a
veneration for this court;' and was glad to find that Beauclerk had
the same reverential enthusiasm. We found him alone. We talked of
Mr. Andrew Stuart's elegant and plausible Letters to Lord
Mansfield: a copy of which had been sent by the authour to Dr.
Johnson. JOHNSON. 'They have not answered the end. They have not
been talked of; I have never heard of them. This is owing to their
not being sold. People seldom read a book which is given to them;
and few are given. The way to spread a work is to sell it at a low
price. No man will send to buy a thing that costs even sixpence,
without an intention to read it.'
He said, 'Goldsmith should not be for ever attempting to shine in
conversation: he has not temper for it, he is so much mortified
when he fails. Sir, a game of jokes is composed partly of skill,
partly of chance, a man may be beat at times by one who has not the
tenth part of his wit. Now Goldsmith's putting himself against
another, is like a man laying a hundred to one who cannot spare the
hundred. It is not worth a man's while. A man should not lay a
hundred to one, unless he can easily spare it, though he has a
hundred chances for him: he can get but a guinea, and he may lose a
hundred. Goldsmith is in this state. When he contends, if he gets
the better, it is a very little addition to a man of his literary
reputation: if he does not get the better, he is miserably vexed.'
Johnson's own superlative powers of wit set him above any risk of
such uneasiness. Garrick had remarked to me of him, a few days
before, 'Rabelais and all other wits are nothing compared with him.
You may be diverted by them; but Johnson gives you a forcible hug,
and shakes laughter out of you, whether you will or no.'
Goldsmith, however, was often very fortunate in his witty contests,
even when he entered the lists with Johnson himself. Sir Joshua
Reynolds was in company with them one day, when Goldsmith said,
that he thought he could write a good fable, mentioned the
simplicity which that kind of composition requires, and observed,
that in most fables the animals introduced seldom talk in
character. 'For instance, (said he,) the fable of the little
fishes, who saw birds fly over their heads, and envying them,
petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill (continued
he,) consists in making them talk like little fishes.' While he
indulged himself in this fanciful reverie, he observed Johnson
shaking his sides, and laughing. Upon which he smartly proceeded,
'Why, Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if
you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like WHALES.'
On Thursday, April 29, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's,
where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr.
Thrale. I was very desirous to get Dr. Johnson absolutely fixed in
his resolution to go with me to the Hebrides this year; and I told
him that I had received a letter from Dr. Robertson the historian,
upon the subject, with which he was much pleased; and now talked in
such a manner of his long-intended tour, that I was satisfied he
meant to fulfil his engagement.
The character of Mallet having been introduced, and spoken of
slightingly by Goldsmith; JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Mallet had talents
enough to keep his literary reputation alive as long as he himself
lived; and that, let me tell you, is a good deal.' GOLDSMITH.
'But I cannot agree that it was so. His literary reputation was
dead long before his natural death. I consider an authour's
literary reputation to be alive only while his name will ensure a
good price for his copy from the booksellers. I will get you (to
Johnson,) a hundred guineas for any thing whatever that you shall
write, if you put your name to it.'
Dr. Goldsmith's new play, She Stoops to Conquer, being mentioned;
JOHNSON. 'I know of no comedy for many years that has so much
exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of
comedy--making an audience merry.'
Goldsmith having said, that Garrick's compliment to the Queen,
which he introduced into the play of The Chances, which he had
altered and revised this year, was mean and gross flattery;
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I would not WRITE, I would not give solemnly
under my hand, a character beyond what I thought really true; but a
speech on the stage, let it flatter ever so extravagantly, is
formular. It has always been formular to flatter Kings and Queens;
so much so, that even in our church-service we have "our most
religious King," used indiscriminately, whoever is King. Nay, they
even flatter themselves;--"we have been graciously pleased to
grant." No modern flattery, however, is so gross as that of the
Augustan age, where the Emperour was deified. "Proesens Divus
habebitur Augustus." And as to meanness, (rising into warmth,) how
is it mean in a player,--a showman,--a fellow who exhibits himself
for a shilling, to flatter his Queen? The attempt, indeed, was
dangerous; for if it had missed, what became of Garrick, and what
became of the Queen? As Sir William Temple says of a great
General, it is necessary not only that his designs be formed in a
masterly manner, but that they should be attended with success.
Sir, it is right, at a time when the Royal Family is not generally
liked, to let it be seen that the people like at least one of
them.' SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'I do not perceive why the profession
of a player should be despised; for the great and ultimate end of
all the employments of mankind is to produce amusement. Garrick
produces more amusement than any body.' BOSWELL. 'You say, Dr.
Johnson, that Garrick exhibits himself for a shilling. In this
respect he is only on a footing with a lawyer who exhibits himself
for his fee, and even will maintain any nonsense or absurdity, if
the case requires it. Garrick refuses a play or a part which he
does not like; a lawyer never refuses.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, what
does this prove? only that a lawyer is worse. Boswell is now like
Jack in The Tale of a Tub, who, when he is puzzled by an argument,
hangs himself. He thinks I shall cut him down, but I'll let him
hang.' (laughing vociferously.) SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Mr. Boswell
thinks that the profession of a lawyer being unquestionably
honourable, if he can show the profession of a player to be more
honourable, he proves his argument.'
On Friday, April 30, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk's, where
were Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some more members of
the LITERARY CLUB, whom he had obligingly invited to meet me, as I
was this evening to be balloted for as candidate for admission into
that distinguished society. Johnson had done me the honour to
propose me, and Beauclerk was very zealous for me.
Goldsmith being mentioned; JOHNSON. 'It is amazing how little
Goldsmith knows. He seldom comes where he is not more ignorant
than any one else.' SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Yet there is no man
whose company is more liked.' JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir. When
people find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer,
their inferiour while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying
to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself is very true,--
he always gets the better when he argues alone; meaning, that he is
master of a subject in his study, and can write well upon it; but
when he comes into company, grows confused, and unable to talk.
Take him as a poet, his Traveller is a very fine performance; ay,
and so is his Deserted Village, were it not sometimes too much the
echo of his Traveller. Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet,--as
a comick writer,--or as an historian, he stands in the first
class.' BOSWELL. 'An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not
rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other
historians of this age?' JOHNSON. 'Why, who are before him?'
BOSWELL. 'Hume,--Robertson,--Lord Lyttelton.' JOHNSON (his
antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise). 'I have not read Hume;
but, doubtless, Goldsmith's History is better than the VERBIAGE of
Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.' BOSwELL. 'Will you not
admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose History we find such
penetration--such painting?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must consider how
that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not
history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw,
draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints
faces in a history-piece: he imagines an heroic countenance. You
must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that
standard. History it is not. Besides, Sir, it is the great
excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book
will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his History. Now Robertson
might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a
man who has packed gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than
the gold. No, Sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by
his own weight,--would be buried under his own ornaments.
Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains
you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous
detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please
again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a
college said to one of his pupils: "Read over your compositions,
and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is
particularly fine, strike it out." Goldsmith's abridgement is
better than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture
to say, that if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of
the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he
has the art of compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say
in a pleasing manner. He is now writing a Natural History and will
make it as entertaining as a Persian Tale.'
I cannot dismiss the present topick without observing, that it is
probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often 'talked for
victory,' rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson's
excellent historical works, in the ardour of contest, than
expressed his real and decided opinion; for it is not easy to
suppose, that he should so widely differ from the rest of the
JOHNSON. 'I remember once being with Goldsmith in Westminster-
abbey. While we surveyed the Poets' Corner, I said to him,
"Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis."
when we got to Temple-bar he stopped me, pointed to the heads upon
it, and slily whispered me,
"Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur ISTIS."'*
* In allusion to Dr. Johnson's supposed political principles, and
perhaps his own. Boswell.
Johnson praised John Bunyan highly. 'His Pilgrim's Progress has
great merit, both for invention, imagination, and the conduct of
the story; and it has had the best evidence of its merit, the
general and continued approbation of mankind. Few books, I
believe, have had a more extensive sale. It is remarkable, that it
begins very much like the poem of Dante; yet there was no
translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. There is reason to think
that he had read Spenser.'
A proposition which had been agitated, that monuments to eminent
persons should, for the time to come, be erected in St. Paul's
church as well as in Westminster-abbey, was mentioned; and it was
asked, who should be honoured by having his monument first erected
there. Somebody suggested Pope. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as Pope was
a Roman Catholick, I would not have his to be first. I think
Milton's rather should have the precedence. I think more highly of
him now than I did at twenty. There is more thinking in him and in
Butler, than in any of our poets.'
The gentlemen went away to their club, and I was left at
Beauclerk's till the fate of my election should be announced to me.
I sat in a state of anxiety which even the charming conversation of
Lady Di Beauclerk could not entirely dissipate. In a short time I
received the agreeable intelligence that I was chosen. I hastened
to the place of meeting, and was introduced to such a society as
can seldom be found. Mr. Edmund Burke, whom I then saw for the
first time, and whose splendid talents had long made me ardently
wish for his acquaintance; Dr. Nugent, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith,
Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, and the company with whom I had
dined. Upon my entrance, Johnson placed himself behind a chair, on
which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and with humorous formality
gave me a Charge, pointing out the conduct expected from me as a
good member of this club.
Goldsmith produced some very absurd verses which had been publickly
recited to an audience for money. JOHNSON. 'I can match this
nonsense. There was a poem called Eugenio, which came out some
years ago, and concludes thus:
"And now, ye trifling, self-assuming elves,
Brimful of pride, of nothing, of yourselves,
Survey Eugenio, view him o'er and o'er,
Then sink into yourselves, and be no more."
Nay, Dryden in his poem on the Royal Society, has these lines:
"Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go,
And see the ocean leaning on the sky;
From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,
And on the lunar world securely pry."'
Much pleasant conversation passed, which Johnson relished with
great good humour. But his conversation alone, or what led to it,
or was interwoven with it, is the business of this work.
On Saturday, May 1, we dined by ourselves at our old rendezvous,
the Mitre tavern. He was placid, but not much disposed to talk.
He observed that 'The Irish mix better with the English than the
Scotch do; their language is nearer to English; as a proof of
which, they succeed very well as players, which Scotchmen do not.
Then, Sir, they have not that extreme nationality which we find in
the Scotch. I will do you, Boswell, the justice to say, that you
are the most UNSCOTTIFIED of your countrymen. You are almost the
only instance of a Scotchman that I have known, who did not at
every other sentence bring in some other Scotchman.'
On Friday, May 7, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Thrale's in the
Borough. While we were alone, I endeavoured as well as I could to
apologise for a lady who had been divorced from her husband by act
of Parliament. I said, that he had used her very ill, had behaved
brutally to her, and that she could not continue to live with him
without having her delicacy contaminated; that all affection for
him was thus destroyed; that the essence of conjugal union being
gone, there remained only a cold form, a mere civil obligation;
that she was in the prime of life, with qualities to produce
happiness; that these ought not to be lost; and, that the gentleman
on whose account she was divorced had gained her heart while thus
unhappily situated. Seduced, perhaps, by the charms of the lady in
question, I thus attempted to palliate what I was sensible could
not be justified; for when I had finished my harangue, my venerable
friend gave me a proper check: 'My dear Sir, never accustom your
mind to mingle virtue and vice. The woman's a whore, and there's
an end on't.'
He described the father of one of his friends thus: 'Sir, he was so
exuberant a talker at publick meeting, that the gentlemen of his
county were afraid of him. No business could be done for his
He did not give me full credit when I mentioned that I had carried
on a short conversation by signs with some Esquimaux who were then
in London, particularly with one of them who was a priest. He
thought I could not make them understand me. No man was more
incredulous as to particular facts, which were at all
extraordinary; and therefore no man was more scrupulously
inquisitive, in order to discover the truth.
I dined with him this day at the house of my friends, Messieurs
Edward and Charles Dilly, booksellers in the Poultry: there were
present, their elder brother Mr. Dilly of Bedfordshire, Dr.
Goldsmith, Mr. Langton, Mr. Claxton, Reverend Dr. Mayo a dissenting
minister, the Reverend Mr. Toplady, and my friend the Reverend Mr.
BOSWELL. 'I am well assured that the people of Otaheite who have
the bread tree, the fruit of which serves them for bread, laughed
heartily when they were informed of the tedious process necessary
with us to have bread;--plowing, sowing, harrowing, reaping,
threshing, grinding, baking.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all ignorant
savages will laugh when they are told of the advantages of
civilized life. Were you to tell men who live without houses, how
we pile brick upon brick, and rafter upon rafter, and that after a
house is raised to a certain height, a man tumbles off a scaffold,
and breaks his neck; he would laugh heartily at our folly in
building; but it does not follow that men are better without
houses. No, Sir, (holding up a slice of a good loaf,) this is
better than the bread tree.'
I introduced the subject of toleration. JOHNSON. 'Every society
has a right to preserve publick peace and order, and therefore has
a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a
dangerous tendency. To say the MAGISTRATE has this right, is using
an inadequate word: it is the SOCIETY for which the magistrate is
agent. He may be morally or theologically wrong in restraining the
propagation of opinions which he thinks dangerous, but he is
politically right.' MAYO. 'I am of opinion, Sir, that every man
is entitled to liberty of conscience in religion; and that the
magistrate cannot restrain that right.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I agree
with you. Every man has a right to liberty of conscience, and with
that the magistrate cannot interfere. People confound liberty of
thinking with liberty of talking; nay, with liberty of preaching.
Every man has a physical right to think as he pleases; for it
cannot be discovered how he thinks. He has not a moral right, for
he ought to inform himself, and think justly. But, Sir, no member
of a society has a right to TEACH any doctrine contrary to what the
society holds to be true. The magistrate, I say, may be wrong in
what he thinks: but while he thinks himself right, he may and ought
to enforce what he thinks.' MAYO. 'Then, Sir, we are to remain
always in errour, and truth never can prevail; and the magistrate
was right in persecuting the first Christians.' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
the only method by which religious truth can be established is by
martyrdom. The magistrate has a right to enforce what he thinks;
and he who is conscious of the truth has a right to suffer. I am
afraid there is no other way of ascertaining the truth, but by
persecution on the one hand and enduring it on the other.'
GOLDSMITH. 'But how is a man to act, Sir? Though firmly convinced
of the truth of his doctrine, may he not think it wrong to expose
himself to persecution? Has he a right to do so? Is it not, as it
were, committing voluntary suicide?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, as to
voluntary suicide, as you call it, there are twenty thousand men in
an army who will go without scruple to be shot at, and mount a
breach for five-pence a day.' GOLDSMITH. 'But have they a moral
right to do this?' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, if you will not take the
universal opinion of mankind, I have nothing to say. If mankind
cannot defend their own way of thinking, I cannot defend it. Sir,
if a man is in doubt whether it would be better for him to expose
himself to martyrdom or not, he should not do it. He must be
convinced that he has a delegation from heaven.' GOLDSMITH. 'I
would consider whether there is the greater chance of good or evil
upon the whole. If I see a man who had fallen into a well, I would
wish to help him out; but if there is a greater probability that he
shall pull me in, than that I shall pull him out, I would not
attempt it. So were I to go to Turkey, I might wish to convert the
Grand Signor to the Christian faith; but when I considered that I
should probably be put to death without effectuating my purpose in
any degree, I should keep myself quiet.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must
consider that we have perfect and imperfect obligations. Perfect
obligations, which are generally not to do something, are clear and
positive; as, "thou shalt not kill?' But charity, for instance, is
not definable by limits. It is a duty to give to the poor; but no
man can say how much another should give to the poor, or when a man
has given too little to save his soul. In the same manner it is a
duty to instruct the ignorant, and of consequence to convert
infidels to Christianity; but no man in the common course of things
is obliged to carry this to such a degree as to incur the danger of
martyrdom, as no man is obliged to strip himself to the shirt in
order to give charity. I have said, that a man must be persuaded
that he has a particular delegation from heaven.' GOLDSMITH. 'How
is this to be known? Our first reformers, who were burnt for not
believing bread and wine to be CHRIST'--JOHNSON. (interrupting
him,) 'Sir, they were not burnt for not believing bread and wine to
be CHRIST, but for insulting those who did believe it. And, Sir,
when the first reformers began, they did not intend to be martyred:
as many of them ran away as could.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, there was
your countryman, Elwal, who you told me challenged King George with
his black-guards, and his red-guards.' JOHNSON. 'My countryman,
Elwal, Sir, should have been put in the stocks; a proper pulpit for
him; and he'd have had a numerous audience. A man who preaches in
the stocks will always have hearers enough.' BOSWELL. 'But Elwal
thought himself in the right.' JOHNSON. 'We are not providing for
mad people; there are places for them in the neighbourhood.'
(meaning moorfields.) MAYO. 'But, Sir, is it not very hard that I
should not be allowed to teach my children what I really believe to
be the truth?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you might contrive to teach
your children extra scandalum; but, Sir, the magistrate, if he
knows it, has a right to restrain you. Suppose you teach your
children to be thieves?' MAYO. 'This is making a joke of the
subject.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, take it thus:--that you teach them
the community of goods; for which there are as many plausible
arguments as for most erroneous doctrines. You teach them that all
things at first were in common, and that no man had a right to any
thing but as he laid his hands upon it; and that this still is, or
ought to be, the rule amongst mankind. Here, Sir, you sap a great
principle in society,--property. And don't you think the
magistrate would have a right to prevent you? Or, suppose you
should teach your children the notion of the Adamites, and they
should run naked into the streets, would not the magistrate have a
right to flog 'em into their doublets?' MAYO. 'I think the
magistrate has no right to interfere till there is some overt act.'
BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, though he sees an enemy to the state charging a
blunderbuss, he is not to interfere till it is fired off?' MAYO.
'He must be sure of its direction against the state.' JOHNSON.
'The magistrate is to judge of that.--He has no right to restrain
your thinking, because the evil centers in yourself. If a man were
sitting at this table, and chopping off his fingers, the
magistrate, as guardian of the community, has no authority to
restrain him, however he might do it from kindness as a parent.--
Though, indeed, upon more consideration, I think he may; as it is
probable, that he who is chopping off his own fingers, may soon
proceed to chop off those of other people. If I think it right to
steal Mr. Dilly's plate, I am a bad man; but he can say nothing to
me. If I make an open declaration that I think so, he will keep me
out of his house. If I put forth my hand, I shall be sent to
Newgate. This is the gradation of thinking, preaching, and acting:
if a man thinks erroneously, he may keep his thoughts to himself,
and nobody will trouble him; if he preaches erroneous doctrine,
society may expel him; if he acts in consequence of it, the law
takes place, and he is hanged.' MAYO. 'But, Sir, ought not
Christians to have liberty of conscience?' JOHNSON. 'I have
already told you so, Sir. You are coming back to where you were.'
BOSWELL. 'Dr. Mayo is always taking a return post-chaise, and
going the stage over again. He has it at half price.' JOHNSON.
'Dr. Mayo, like other champions for unlimited toleration, has got a
set of words. Sir, it is no matter, politically, whether the
magistrate be right or wrong. Suppose a club were to be formed, to
drink confusion to King George the Third, and a happy restoration
to Charles the Third, this would be very bad with respect to the
State; but every member of that club must either conform to its
rules, or be turned out of it. Old Baxter, I remember, maintains,
that the magistrate should "tolerate all things that are
tolerable." This is no good definition of toleration upon any
principle; but it shows that he thought some things were not
tolerable.' TOPLADY. 'Sir, you have untwisted this difficult
subject with great dexterity.'
During this argument, Goldsmith sat in restless agitation, from a
wish to get in and SHINE. Finding himself excluded, he had taken
his hat to go away, but remained for some time with it in his hand,
like a gamester, who at the close of a long night, lingers for a
little while, to see if he can have a favourable opening to finish
with success. Once when he was beginning to speak, he found
himself overpowered by the loud voice of Johnson, who was at the
opposite end of the table, and did not perceive Goldsmith's
attempt. Thus disappointed of his wish to obtain the attention of
the company, Goldsmith in a passion threw down his hat, looking
angrily at Johnson, and exclaiming in a bitter tone, 'TAKE IT.'
When Toplady was going to speak, Johnson uttered some sound, which
led Goldsmith to think that he was beginning again, and taking the
words from Toplady. Upon which, he seized this opportunity of
venting his own envy and spleen, under the pretext of supporting
'Sir, (said he to Johnson,) the gentleman has heard you patiently
for an hour; pray allow us now to hear him.' JOHNSON. (sternly,)
'Sir, I was not interrupting the gentleman. I was only giving him
a signal of my attention. Sir, you are impertinent.' Goldsmith
made no reply, but continued in the company for some time.
A gentleman present ventured to ask Dr. Johnson if there was not a
material difference as to toleration of opinions which lead to
action, and opinions merely speculative; for instance, would it be
wrong in the magistrate to tolerate those who preach against the
doctrine of the TRINITY? Johnson was highly offended, and said, 'I
wonder, Sir, how a gentleman of your piety can introduce this
subject in a mixed company.' He told me afterwards, that the
impropriety was, that perhaps some of the company might have talked
on the subject in such terms as might have shocked him; or he might
have been forced to appear in their eyes a narrow-minded man. The
gentleman, with submissive deference, said, he had only hinted at
the question from a desire to hear Dr. Johnson's opinion upon it.
JOHNSON. 'Why then, Sir, I think that permitting men to preach any
opinion contrary to the doctrine of the established church tends,
in a certain degree, to lessen the authority of the church, and
consequently, to lessen the influence of religion.' 'It may be
considered, (said the gentleman,) whether it would not be politick
to tolerate in such a case.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, we have been talking
of RIGHT: this is another question. I think it is NOT politick to
tolerate in such a case.'
BOSWELL. 'Pray, Mr. Dilly, how does Dr. Leland's History of
Ireland sell?' JOHNSON. (bursting forth with a generous
indignation,) 'The Irish are in a most unnatural state; for we see
there the minority prevailing over the majority. There is no
instance, even in the ten persecutions, of such severity as that
which the protestants of Ireland have exercised against the
Catholicks. Did we tell them we have conquered them, it would be
above board: to punish them by confiscation and other penalties, as
rebels, was monstrous injustice. King William was not their lawful
sovereign: he had not been acknowledged by the Parliament of
Ireland, when they appeared in arms against him.'
He and Mr. Langton and I went together to THE CLUB, where we found
Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, and some other members, and amongst them
our friend Goldsmith, who sat silently brooding over Johnson's
reprimand to him after dinner. Johnson perceived this, and said
aside to some of us, 'I'll make Goldsmith forgive me;' and then
called to him in a loud voice, 'Dr. Goldsmith,--something passed
to-day where you and I dined; I ask your pardon.' Goldsmith
answered placidly, 'It must be much from you, Sir, that I take
ill.' And so at once the difference was over, and they were on as
easy terms as ever, and Goldsmith rattled away as usual.
In our way to the club to-night, when I regretted that Goldsmith
would, upon every occasion, endeavour to shine, by which he often
exposed himself, Mr. Langton observed, that he was not like
Addison, who was content with the fame of his writings, and did not
aim also at excellency in conversation, for which he found himself
unfit; and that he said to a lady who complained of his having
talked little in company, 'Madam, I have but ninepence in ready
money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds.' I observed, that
Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his cabinet, but, not content
with that, was always taking out his purse. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir,
and that so often an empty purse!'
Goldsmith's incessant desire of being conspicuous in company, was
the occasion of his sometimes appearing to such disadvantage as one
should hardly have supposed possible in a man of his genius. When
his literary reputation had risen deservedly high, and his society
was much courted, he became very jealous of the extraordinary
attention which was every where paid to Johnson. One evening, in a
circle of wits, he found fault with me for talking of Johnson as
entitled to the honour of unquestionable superiority. 'Sir, (said
he,) you are for making a monarchy of what should be a republick.'
He was still more mortified, when talking in a company with fluent
vivacity, and, as he flattered himself, to the admiration of all
who were present; a German who sat next him, and perceived Johnson
rolling himself, as if about to speak, suddenly stopped him,
saying, 'Stay, stay,--Toctor Shonson is going to say something.'
This was, no doubt, very provoking, especially to one so irritable
as Goldsmith, who frequently mentioned it with strong expressions
It may also be observed, that Goldsmith was sometimes content to be
treated with an easy familiarity, but, upon occasions, would be
consequential and important. An instance of this occurred in a
small particular. Johnson had a way of contracting the names of
his friends; as Beauclerk, Beau; Boswell, Bozzy; Langton, Lanky;
Murphy, Mur; Sheridan, Sherry. I remember one day, when Tom Davies
was telling that Dr. Johnson said, 'We are all in labour for a name
to GOLDY'S play,' Goldsmith seemed displeased that such a liberty
should be taken with his name, and said, 'I have often desired him
not to call me GOLDY.' Tom was remarkably attentive to the most
minute circumstance about Johnson. I recollect his telling me
once, on my arrival in London, 'Sir, our great friend has made an
improvement on his appellation of old Mr. Sheridan. He calls him
now Sherry derry.'
On Monday, May 9, as I was to set out on my return to Scotland next
morning, I was desirous to see as much of Dr. Johnson as I could.
But I first called on Goldsmith to take leave of him. The jealousy
and envy which, though possessed of many most amiable qualities, he
frankly avowed, broke out violently at this interview. Upon
another occasion, when Goldsmith confessed himself to be of an
envious disposition, I contended with Johnson that we ought not to
be angry with him, he was so candid in owning it. 'Nay, Sir, (said
Johnson,) we must be angry that a man has such a superabundance of
an odious quality, that he cannot keep it within his own breast,
but it boils over.' In my opinion, however, Goldsmith had not more
of it than other people have, but only talked of it freely.
He now seemed very angry that Johnson was going to be a traveller;
said 'he would be a dead weight for me to carry, and that I should
never be able to lug him along through the Highlands and Hebrides.'
Nor would he patiently allow me to enlarge upon Johnson's wonderful
abilities; but exclaimed, 'Is he like Burke, who winds into a
subject like a serpent?' 'But, (said I,) Johnson is the Hercules
who strangled serpents in his cradle.'
I dined with Dr. Johnson at General Paoli's. He was obliged, by
indisposition, to leave the company early; he appointed me,
however, to meet him in the evening at Mr. (now Sir Robert)
Chambers's in the Temple, where he accordingly came, though he
continued to be very ill. Chambers, as is common on such
occasions, prescribed various remedies to him. JOHNSON. (fretted
by pain,) 'Pr'ythee don't tease me. Stay till I am well, and then
you shall tell me how to cure myself.' He grew better, and talked
with a noble enthusiasm of keeping up the representation of
respectable families. His zeal on this subject was a circumstance
in his character exceedingly remarkable, when it is considered that
he himself had no pretensions to blood. I heard him once say, 'I
have great merit in being zealous for subordination and the honours
of birth; for I can hardly tell who was my grandfather.' He
maintained the dignity and propriety of male succession, in
opposition to the opinion of one of our friends, who had that day
employed Mr. Chambers to draw his will, devising his estate to his
three sisters, in preference to a remote heir male. Johnson called
them 'three DOWDIES,' and said, with as high a spirit as the
boldest Baron in the most perfect days of the feudal system, 'An
ancient estate should always go to males. It is mighty foolish to
let a stranger have it because he marries your daughter, and takes
your name. As for an estate newly acquired by trade, you may give
it, if you will, to the dog Towser, and let him keep his OWN name.'
I have known him at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to
others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without
any reason that we could perceive, at our friend's making his will;
called him the TESTATOR, and added, 'I dare say, he thinks he has
done a mighty thing. He won't stay till he gets home to his seat
in the country, to produce this wonderful deed: he'll call up the
landlord of the first inn on the road; and, after a suitable
preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him
that he should not delay making his will; and here, Sir, will he
say, is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one
of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he will read it to him
(laughing all the time). He believes he has made this will; but he
did not make it: you, Chambers, made it for him. I trust you have
had more conscience than to make him say, "being of sound
understanding;" ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I'd
have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.'
Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a
matter of which pars magna fuit, and seemed impatient till he got
rid of us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it
all the way till we got without the Temple-gate. He then burst
into such a fit of laughter, that he appeared to be almost in a
convulsion; and, in order to support himself, laid hold of one of
the posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so
loud, that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound
from Temple-bar to Fleet-ditch.
This most ludicrous exhibition of the aweful, melancholy, and
venerable Johnson, happened well to counteract the feelings of
sadness which I used to experience when parting with him for a
considerable time. I accompanied him to his door, where he gave me
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR Sir,--I shall set out from London on Friday the sixth of this
month, and purpose not to loiter much by the way. Which day I
shall be at Edinburgh, I cannot exactly tell. I suppose I must
drive to an inn, and send a porter to find you.
'I am afraid Beattie will not be at his College soon enough for us,
and I shall be sorry to miss him; but there is no staying for the
concurrence of all conveniences. We will do as well as we can. I
am, Sir, your most humble servant,
'August 3, 1773.'
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Newcastle, Aug. 11, 1773.
'DEAR SIR, I came hither last night, and hope, but do not
absolutely promise, to be in Edinburgh on Saturday. Beattie will
not come so soon. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
'My compliments to your lady.'
TO THE SAME.
'Mr. Johnson sends his compliments to Mr. Boswell, being just
arrived at Boyd's.--Saturday night.'
His stay in Scotland was from the 18th of August, on which day he
arrived, till the 22nd of November, when he set out on his return
to London; and I believe ninety-four days were never passed by any
man in a more vigorous exertion.*
* In his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, published the year
after Johnson died, Boswell gives a detailed account of Johnson's
conversation and adventures with him throughout the journey of
1773. Partly owing to their uninterrupted association, partly to
the strangeness and variation of background and circumstances, and
partly to Boswell's larger leisure during the tour for the
elaboration of his account, the journal is even more racy,
picturesque, and interesting than any equal part of the Life. No
reader who enjoys the Life should fail to read the Tour--
His humane forgiving disposition was put to a pretty strong test on
his return to London, by a liberty which Mr. Thomas Davies had
taken with him in his absence, which was, to publish two volumes,
entitled, Miscellaneous and fugitive Pieces, which he advertised in
the news-papers, 'By the Authour of the Rambler.' In this
collection, several of Dr. Johnson's acknowledged writings, several
of his anonymous performances, and some which he had written for
others, were inserted; but there were also some in which he had no
concern whatever. He was at first very angry, as he had good
reason to be. But, upon consideration of his poor friend's narrow
circumstances, and that he had only a little profit in view, and
meant no harm, he soon relented, and continued his kindness to him
In the course of his self-examination with retrospect to this year,
he seems to have been much dejected; for he says, January 1, 1774,
'This year has passed with so little improvement, that I doubt
whether I have not rather impaired than increased my learning'; and
yet we have seen how he READ, and we know how he TALKED during that
He was now seriously engaged in writing an account of our travels
in the Hebrides, in consequence of which I had the pleasure of a
more frequent correspondence with him.
'TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'DEAR SIR,--You have reason to reproach me that I have left your
last letter so long unanswered, but I had nothing particular to
say. Chambers, you find, is gone far, and poor Goldsmith is gone
much further. He died of a fever, exasperated, as I believe, by
the fear of distress. He had raised money and squandered it, by
every artifice of acquisition, and folly of expence. But let not
his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.
'I have just begun to print my Journey to the Hebrides, and am
leaving the press to take another journey into Wales, whither Mr.
Thrale is going, to take possession of, at least, five hundred a
year, fallen to his lady. All at Streatham, that are alive, are
'I have never recovered from the last dreadful illness, but flatter
myself that I grow gradually better; much, however, yet remains to
mend. [Greek text omitted].
'If you have the Latin version of Busy, curious, thirsty fly, be so
kind as to transcribe and send it; but you need not be in haste,
for I shall be I know not where, for at least five weeks. I wrote
the following tetastrick on poor Goldsmith:--
[Greek text omitted]
'Please to make my most respectful compliments to all the ladies,
and remember me to young George and his sisters. I reckon George
begins to shew a pair of heels.
'Do not be sullen now, but let me find a letter when I come back.
I am, dear Sir, your affectionate, humble servant,
In his manuscript diary of this year, there is the following
'Nov. 27. Advent Sunday. I considered that this day, being the
beginning of the ecclesiastical year, was a proper time for a new
course of life. I began to read the Greek Testament regularly at
160 verses every Sunday. This day I began the Acts.
'In this week I read Virgil's Pastorals. I learned to repeat the
Pollio and Gallus. I read carelessly the first Georgick.'
Such evidences of his unceasing ardour, both for 'divine and human
lore,' when advanced into his sixty-fifth year, and notwithstanding
his many disturbances from disease, must make us at once honour his
spirit, and lament that it should be so grievously clogged by its
1775: AETAT. 66.]--
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Feb. 2,1775.
'. . . As to Macpherson,' I am anxious to have from yourself a full
and pointed account of what has passed between you and him. It is
confidently told here, that before your book came out he sent to
you, to let you know that he understood you meant to deny the
authenticity of Ossian's poems; that the originals were in his
possession; that you might have inspection of them, and might take
the evidence of people skilled in the Erse language; and that he
hoped, after this fair offer, you would not be so uncandid as to
assert that he had refused reasonable proof. That you paid no
regard to his message, but published your strong attack upon him;
and then he wrote a letter to you, in such terms as he thought
suited to one who had not acted as a man of veracity.' . . .
What words were used by Mr. Macpherson in his letter to the
venerable Sage, I have never heard; but they are generally said to
have been of a nature very different from the language of literary
contest. Dr. Johnson's answer appeared in the news-papers of the
day, and has since been frequently re-published; but not with
perfect accuracy. I give it as dictated to me by himself, written
down in his presence, and authenticated by a note in his own
handwriting, 'This, I think, is a true copy.'
'MR. JAMES MACPHERSON,--I received your foolish and impudent
letter. Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and
what I cannot do for myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I
shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat, by the
menaces of a ruffian.
'What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture;
I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my
reasons to the publick, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage
I defy. Your abilities, since your Homer, are not so formidable;
and what I hear of your morals, inclines me to pay regard not to
what you shall say, but to what you shall prove. You may print
Mr. Macpherson little knew the character of Dr. Johnson, if he
supposed that he could be easily intimidated; for no man was ever
more remarkable for personal courage. He had, indeed, an aweful
dread of death, or rather, 'of something after death;' and what
rational man, who seriously thinks of quitting all that he has ever
known, and going into a new and unknown state of being, can be
without that dread? But his fear was from reflection; his courage
natural. His fear, in that one instance, was the result of
philosophical and religious consideration. He feared death, but he
feared nothing else, not even what might occasion death. Many
instances of his resolution may be mentioned. One day, at Mr.
Beauclerk's house in the country, when two large dogs were
fighting, he went up to them, and beat them till they separated;
and at another time, when told of the danger there was that a gun
might burst if charged with many balls, he put in six or seven, and
fired it off against a wall. Mr. Langton told me, that when they
were swimming together near Oxford, he cautioned Dr. Johnson
against a pool, which was reckoned particularly dangerous; upon
which Johnson directly swam into it. He told me himself that one
night he was attacked in the street by four men, to whom he would
not yield, but kept them all at bay, till the watch came up, and
carried both him and them to the round-house. In the playhouse at
Lichfield, as Mr. Garrick informed me, Johnson having for a moment
quitted a chair which was placed for him between the side-scenes, a
gentleman took possession of it, and when Johnson on his return
civilly demanded his seat, rudely refused to give it up; upon which
Johnson laid hold of it, and tossed him and the chair into the pit.
Foote, who so successfully revived the old comedy, by exhibiting
living characters, had resolved to imitate Johnson on the stage,
expecting great profits from his ridicule of so celebrated a man.
Johnson being informed of his intention, and being at dinner at Mr.
Thomas Davies's the bookseller, from whom I had the story, he asked
Mr. Davies 'what was the common price of an oak stick;' and being
answered six-pence, 'Why then, Sir, (said he,) give me leave to
send your servant to purchase me a shilling one. I'll have a
double quantity; for I am told Foote means to take me off, as he
calls it, and I am determined the fellow shall not do it with
impunity. Davies took care to acquaint Foote of this, which
effectually checked the wantonness of the mimick. Mr. Macpherson's
menaces made Johnson provide himself with the same implement of
defence; and had he been attacked, I have no doubt that, old as he
was, he would have made his corporal prowess be felt as much as his
His Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland is a most valuable
performance. Johnson's grateful acknowledgements of kindnesses
received in the course of this tour, completely refute the brutal
reflections which have been thrown out against him, as if he had
made an ungrateful return; and his delicacy in sparing in his book
those who we find from his letters to Mrs. Thrale were just objects
of censure, is much to be admired. His candour and amiable
disposition is conspicuous from his conduct, when informed by Mr.
Macleod, of Rasay, that he had committed a mistake, which gave that
gentleman some uneasiness. He wrote him a courteous and kind
letter, and inserted in the news-papers an advertisement,
correcting the mistake.
As to his prejudice against the Scotch, which I always ascribed to
that nationality which he observed in THEM, he said to the same
gentleman, 'When I find a Scotchman, to whom an Englishman is as a
Scotchman, that Scotchman shall be as an Englishman to me.' His
intimacy with many gentlemen of Scotland, and his employing so many
natives of that country as his amanuenses, prove that his prejudice
was not virulent; and I have deposited in the British Museum,
amongst other pieces of his writing, the following note in answer
to one from me, asking if he would meet me at dinner at the Mitre,
though a friend of mine, a Scotchman, was to be there:--
'Mr. Johnson does not see why Mr. Boswell should suppose a
Scotchman less acceptable than any other man. He will be at the
My much-valued friend Dr. Barnard, now Bishop of Killaloc, having
once expressed to him an apprehension, that if he should visit
Ireland he might treat the people of that country more unfavourably
than he had done the Scotch, he answered, with strong pointed
double-edged wit, 'Sir, you have no reason to be afraid of me. The
Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false
representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir; the
Irish are a FAIR PEOPLE;--they never speak well of one another.'
All the miserable cavillings against his Journey, in newspapers,
magazines, and other fugitive publications, I can speak from
certain knowledge, only furnished him with sport. At last there
came out a scurrilous volume, larger than Johnson's own, filled
with malignant abuse, under a name, real or fictitious, of some low
man in an obscure corner of Scotland, though supposed to be the
work of another Scotchman, who has found means to make himself well
known both in Scotland and England. The effect which it had upon
Johnson was, to produce this pleasant observation to Mr. Seward, to
whom he lent the book: 'This fellow must be a blockhead. They
don't know how to go about their abuse. Who will read a five-
shilling book against me? No, Sir, if they had wit, they should
have kept pelting me with pamphlets.'
On Tuesday, March 21, I arrived in London; and on repairing to Dr.
Johnson's before dinner, found him in his study, sitting with Mr.
Peter Garrick, the elder brother of David, strongly resembling him
in countenance and voice, but of more sedate and placid manners.
Johnson informed me, that 'though Mr. Beauclerk was in great pain,
it was hoped he was not in danger, and that he now wished to
consult Dr. Heberden to try the effect of a NEW UNDERSTANDING.'
Both at this interview, and in the evening at Mr. Thrale's where he
and Mr. Peter Garrick and I met again, he was vehement on the
subject of the Ossian controversy; observing, 'We do not know that
there are any ancient Erse manuscripts; and we have no other reason
to disbelieve that there are men with three heads, but that we do
not know that there are any such men.' He also was outrageous upon
his supposition that my countrymen 'loved Scotland better than
truth,' saying, 'All of them,--nay not all,--but DROVES of them,
would come up, and attest any thing for the honour of Scotland.'
He also persevered in his wild allegation, that he questioned if
there was a tree between Edinburgh and the English border older
than himself. I assured him he was mistaken, and suggested that
the proper punishment would be that he should receive a stripe at
every tree above a hundred years old, that was found within that
space. He laughed, and said, 'I believe I might submit to it for a
The doubts which, in my correspondence with him, I had ventured to
state as to the justice and wisdom of the conduct of Great-Britain
towards the American colonies, while I at the same time requested
that he would enable me to inform myself upon that momentous
subject, he had altogether disregarded; and had recently published
a pamphlet, entitled, Taxation no Tyranny; an answer to the
Resolutions and Address of the American Congress.
He had long before indulged most unfavourable sentiments of our
fellow-subjects in America. For, as early as 1769, I was told by
Dr. John Campbell, that he had said of them, 'Sir, they are a race
of convicts, and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them
short of hanging.'
Of this performance I avoided to talk with him; for I had now
formed a clear and settled opinion, that the people of America were
well warranted to resist a claim that their fellow-subjects in the
mother-country should have the entire command of their fortunes, by
taxing them without their own consent; and the extreme violence
which it breathed, appeared to me so unsuitable to the mildness of
a christian philosopher, and so directly opposite to the principles
of peace which he had so beautifully recommended in his pamphlet
respecting Falkland's Islands, that I was sorry to see him appear
in so unfavourable a light.
On Friday, March 24, I met him at the LITERARY CLUB, where were Mr.
Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Mr. Colman, Dr. Percy, Mr. Vesey, Sir
Charles Bunbury, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Charles
Fox. Before he came in, we talked of his Journey to the Western
Islands, and of his coming away 'willing to believe the second
sight,' which seemed to excite some ridicule. I was then so
impressed with the truth of many of the stories of it which I had
been told, that I avowed my conviction, saying, 'He is only WILLING
to believe: I DO believe. The evidence is enough for me, though
not for his great mind. What will not fill a quart bottle will
fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief.' 'Are you? (said
Colman,) then cork it up.'
I found his Journey the common topick of conversation in London at
this time, wherever I happened to be. At one of Lord Mansfield's
formal Sunday evening conversations, strangely called Levees, his
Lordship addressed me, 'We have all been reading your travels, Mr.
Boswell.' I answered, 'I was but the humble attendant of Dr.
Johnson.' The Chief Justice replied, with that air and manner
which none, who ever saw and heard him, can forget, 'He speaks ill
of nobody but Ossian.'
Johnson was in high spirits this evening at the club, and talked
with great animation and success. He attacked Swift, as he used to
do upon all occasions. The Tale of a Tub is so much superiour to
his other writings, that one can hardly believe he was the authour
of it: 'there is in it such a vigour of mind, such a swarm of
thoughts, so much of nature, and art, and life.' I wondered to
hear him say of Gulliver's Travels, 'When once you have thought of
big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest.' I
endeavoured to make a stand for Swift, and tried to rouse those who
were much more able to defend him; but in vain. Johnson at last,
of his own accord, allowed very great merit to the inventory of
articles found in the pocket of the Man Mountain, particularly the
description of his watch, which it was conjectured was his God; as
he consulted it upon all occasions. He observed, that 'Swift put
his name to but two things, (after he had a name to put,) The Plan
for the Improvement of the English Language, and the last Drapier's
From Swift, there was an easy transition to Mr. Thomas Sheridan--
JOHNSON. 'Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of
Douglas, and presented its authour with a gold medal. Some years
ago, at a coffee-house in Oxford, I called to him, "Mr. Sheridan,
Mr. Sheridan, how came you to give a gold medal to Home, for
writing that foolish play?" This you see, was wanton and insolent;
but I MEANT to be wanton and insolent. A medal has no value but as
a stamp of merit. And was Sheridan to assume to himself the right
of giving that stamp? If Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow
a gold medal as an honorary reward of dramatick excellence, he
should have requested one of the Universities to choose the person
on whom it should be conferred. Sheridan had no right to give a
stamp of merit: it was counterfeiting Apollo's coin.'
On Monday, March 27, I breakfasted with him at Mr Strahan's. He
told us, that he was engaged to go that evening to Mrs. Abington's
benefit. 'She was visiting some ladies whom I was visiting, and
begged that I would come to her benefit. I told her I could not
hear: but she insisted so much on my coming, that it would have
been brutal to have refused her.' This was a speech quite
characteristical. He loved to bring forward his having been in the
gay circles of life; and he was, perhaps, a little vain of the
solicitations of this elegant and fashionable actress. He told us,
the play was to be the The Hypocrite, altered from Cibber's
Nonjuror, so as to satirize the Methodists. 'I do not think (said
he,) the character of The Hypocrite justly applicable to the
Methodists, but it was very applicable to the Nonjurors.'
Mr. Strahan had taken a poor boy from the country as an apprentice,
upon Johnson's recommendation. Johnson having enquired after him,
said, 'Mr. Strahan, let me have five guineas on account, and I'll
give this boy one. Nay if a man recommends a boy, and does nothing
for him, it is sad work. Call him down.'
I followed him into the court-yard, behind Mr. Strahan's house; and
there I had a proof of what I had heard him profess, that he talked
alike to all. 'Some people tell you that they let themselves down
to the capacity of their hearers. I never do that. I speak
uniformly, in as intelligible a manner as I can.'
'Well, my boy, how do you go on?'--'Pretty well, Sir; but they are
afraid I an't strong enough for some parts of the business.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, I shall be sorry for it; for when you consider with
how little mental power and corporeal labour a printer can get a
guinea a week, it is a very desirable occupation for you. Do you
hear,--take all the pains you can; and if this does not do, we must
think of some other way of life for you. There's a guinea.'
Here was one of the many, many instances of his active benevolence.
At the same time, the slow and sonorous solemnity with which, while
he bent himself down, he addressed a little thick short-legged boy,
contrasted with the boy's aukwardness and awe, could not but excite
some ludicrous emotions.
I met him at Drury-lane play-house in the evening. Sir Joshua
Reynolds, at Mrs. Abington's request, had promised to bring a body
of wits to her benefit; and having secured forty places in the
front boxes, had done me the honour to put me in the group.
Johnson sat on the seat directly behind me; and as he could neither
see nor hear at such a distance from the stage, he was wrapped up
in grave abstraction, and seemed quite a cloud, amidst all the
sunshine of glitter and gaiety. I wondered at his patience in
sitting out a play of five acts, and a farce of two. He said very
little; but after the prologue to Bon Ton had been spoken, which he
could hear pretty well from the more slow and distinct utterance,
he talked of prologue-writing, and observed, 'Dryden has written
prologues superiour to any that David Garrick has written; but
David Garrick has written more good prologues than Dryden has done.
It is wonderful that he has been able to write such variety of
At Mr. Beauclerk's, where I supped, was Mr. Garrick, whom I made
happy with Johnson's praise of his prologues; and I suppose, in
gratitude to him, he took up one of his favourite topicks, the
nationality of the Scotch, which he maintained in a pleasant
manner, with the aid of a little poetical fiction. 'Come, come,
don't deny it: they are really national. Why, now, the Adams are
as liberal-minded men as any in the world: but, I don't know how it
is, all their workmen are Scotch. You are, to be sure, wonderfully
free from that nationality: but so it happens, that you employ the
only Scotch shoe-black in London.' He imitated the manner of his
old master with ludicrous exaggeration; repeating, with pauses and
'Os homini sublime dedit,--caelumque tueri
Jussit,--et erectos ad sidera--tollere vultus';
looking downwards all the time, and, while pronouncing the four
last words, absolutely touching the ground with a kind of contorted
Garrick, however, when he pleased, could imitate Johnson very
exactly; for that great actor, with his distinguished powers of
expression which were so universally admired, possessed also an
admirable talent of mimickry. He was always jealous that Johnson
spoke lightly of him. I recollect his exhibiting him to me one
day, as if saying, 'Davy has some convivial pleasantry about him,
but 'tis a futile fellow;' which he uttered perfectly with the tone
and air of Johnson.
I cannot too frequently request of my readers, while they peruse my
account of Johnson's conversation, to endeavour to keep in mind his
deliberate and strong utterance. His mode of speaking was indeed
very impressive; and I wish it could be preserved as musick is
written, according to the very ingenious method of Mr. Steele, who
has shewn how the recitation of Mr. Garrick, and other eminent
speakers, might be transmitted to posterity IN SCORE.
Next day I dined with Johnson at Mr. Thrale's. He attacked Gray,
calling him 'a dull fellow.' BOSWELL. 'I understand he was
reserved, and might appear dull in company; but surely he was not
dull in poetry.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, he was dull in company, dull in
his closet, dull every where. He was dull in a new way, and that
made many people think him GREAT. He was a mechanical poet.' He
then repeated some ludicrous lines, which have escaped my memory,
and said, 'Is not that GREAT, like his Odes?' Mrs. Thrale
maintained that his Odes were melodious; upon which he exclaimed,
'Weave the warp, and weave the woof;'--
I added, in a solemn tone,
'The winding-sheet of Edward's race.'
'THERE is a good line.' 'Ay, (said he,) and the next line is a
good one,' (pronouncing it contemptuously;)
'Give ample verge and room enough.'--
'No, Sir, there are but two good stanzas in Gray's poetry, which
are in his Elegy in a Country Church-yard.' He then repeated the
'For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey,' &c.
mistaking one word; for instead of precincts he said confines. He
added, 'The other stanza I forget.'
A young lady who had married a man much her inferiour in rank being
mentioned, a question arose how a woman's relations should behave
to her in such a situation; and, while I recapitulate the debate,
and recollect what has since happened, I cannot but be struck in a
manner that delicacy forbids me to express. While I contended that
she ought to be treated with an inflexible steadiness of
displeasure, Mrs. Thrale was all for mildness and forgiveness, and,
according to the vulgar phrase, 'making the best of a bad bargain.'
JOHNSON. Madam, we must distinguish. Were I a man of rank, I
would not let a daughter starve who had made a mean marriage; but
having voluntarily degraded herself from the station which she was
originally entitled to hold, I would support her only in that which
she herself had chosen; and would not put her on a level with my
other daughters. You are to consider, Madam, that it is our duty
to maintain the subordination of civilized society; and when there
is a gross and shameful deviation from rank, it should be punished
so as to deter others from the same perversion.'
On Friday, March 31, I supped with him and some friends at a
tavern. One of the company* attempted, with too much forwardness,
to rally him on his late appearance at the theatre; but had reason
to repent of his temerity. 'Why, Sir, did you go to Mrs.
Abington's benefit? Did you see?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 'Did you
hear?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 'Why then, Sir, did you go?'
JOHNSON. 'Because, Sir, she is a favourite of the publick; and
when the publick cares the thousandth part for you that it does for
her, I will go to your benefit too.'
* Very likely Boswell.--HILL.
Next morning I won a small bet from Lady Diana Beauclerk, by asking
him as to one of his particularities, which her Ladyship laid I
durst not do. It seems he had been frequently observed at the Club
to put into his pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed
the juice of them into the drink which he made for himself.
Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it to me, and seemed to think that
he had a strange unwillingness to be discovered. We could not
divine what he did with them; and this was the bold question to be
put. I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding night, some
fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces. 'O, Sir, (said I,)
I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you
put into your pocket at the Club.' JOHNSON. 'I have a great love
for them.' BOSWELL. 'And pray, Sir, what do you do with them?
You scrape them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?' JOHNSON.
'Let them dry, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'And what next?' JOHNSON. 'Nay,
Sir, you shall know their fate no further.' BOSWELL. 'Then the
world must be left in the dark. It must be said (assuming a mock
solemnity,) he scraped them, and let them dry, but what he did with
them next, he never could be prevailed upon to tell.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically:--he could not be
prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.'
He had this morning received his Diploma as Doctor of Laws from the
University of Oxford. He did not vaunt of his new dignity, but I
understood he was highly pleased with it.
I observed to him that there were very few of his friends so
accurate as that I could venture to put down in writing what they
told me as his sayings. JOHNSON. 'Why should you write down MY
sayings?' BOSWELL. 'I write them when they are good.' JOHNSON.
'Nay, you may as well write down the sayings of any one else that
are good.' But WHERE, I might with great propriety have added, can
I find such?
Next day, Sunday, April 2, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's. We
talked of Pope. JOHNSON. 'He wrote, his Dunciad for fame. That
was his primary motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might
have railed against him till they were weary, without his troubling
himself about them. He delighted to vex them, no doubt; but he had
more delight in seeing how well he could vex them.'
His Taxation no Tyranny being mentioned, he said, 'I think I have
not been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action; I never
think I have hit hard, unless it rebounds.' BOSWELL. 'I don't
know, Sir, what you would be at. Five or six shots of small arms
in every newspaper, and repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I
think, satisfy you. But, Sir, you'll never make out this match, of
which we have talked, with a certain political lady,* since you are
so severe against her principles.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I have the
better chance for that. She is like the Amazons of old; she must
be courted by the sword. But I have not been severe upon her.'
BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, you have made her ridiculous.' JOHNSON.
'That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make HER ridiculous,
is like blacking the chimney.'
* Croker identifies her as Mrs. Macaulay. See p. 119.--ED.
I talked of the cheerfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant
quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance;
but I think the full tide of human existence is at Charing-cross.'
He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led
a busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying
themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of
their habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned
as strong an instance of this as can well be imagined. 'An eminent
tallow-chandler in London, who had acquired a considerable fortune,
gave up the trade in favour of his foreman, and went to live at a
country-house near town. He soon grew weary, and paid frequent
visits to his old shop, where he desired they might let him know
their melting-days, and he would come and assist them; which he
accordingly did. Here, Sir, was a man, to whom the most disgusting
circumstance in the business to which he had been used was a relief
On Wednesday, April 5, I dined with him at Messieurs Dilly's, with
Mr. John Scott of Amwell, the Quaker, Mr. Langton, Mr. Miller, (now
Sir John,) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, an Irish clergyman, whom I took
the liberty of inviting to Mr. Dilly's table, having seen him at
Mr. Thrale's, and been told that he had come to England chiefly
with a view to see Dr. Johnson, for whom he entertained the highest
veneration. He has since published A Philosophical Survey of the
South of Ireland, a very entertaining book, which has, however, one
fault;--that it assumes the fictitious character of an Englishman.
We talked of publick speaking--JOHNSON. 'We must not estimate a
man's powers by his being able, or not able to deliver his
sentiments in publick. Isaac Hawkins Browne, one of the first wits
of this country, got into Parliament, and never opened his mouth.
For my own part, I think it is more disgraceful never to try to
speak, than to try it and fail; as it is more disgraceful not to
fight, than to fight and be beaten.' This argument appeared to me
fallacious; for if a man has not spoken, it may be said that he
would have done very well it he had tried; whereas, if he has tried
and failed, there is nothing to be said for him. 'Why then, (I
asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not to fight, and not
disgraceful not to speak in publick?' JOHNSON. 'Because there may
be other reasons for a man's not speaking in publick than want of
resolution: he may have nothing to say, (laughing.) Whereas, Sir,
you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because,
unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any
On Thursday, April 6, I dined with him at Mr. Thomas Davies's, with
Mr. Hicky, the painter, and my old acquaintance Mr. Moody, the
Dr. Johnson, as usual, spoke contemptuously of Colley Cibber. 'It
is wonderful that a man, who for forty years had lived with the
great and the witty, should have acquired so ill the talents of
conversation: and he had but half to furnish; for one half of what
he said was oaths.' He, however, allowed considerable merit to
some of his comedies, and said there was no reason to believe that
the Careless Husband was not written by himself. Davies said, he
was the first dramatick writer who introduced genteel ladies upon
the stage. Johnson refuted this observation by instancing several
such characters in comedies before his time. DAVIES. (trying to
defend himself from a charge of ignorance,) 'I mean genteel moral
characters.' 'I think (said Hicky,) gentility and morality are
inseparable.' BOSWELL. 'By no means, Sir. The genteelest
characters are often the most immoral. Does not Lord Chesterfield
give precepts for uniting wickedness and the graces? A man,
indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be
committed very genteelly: a man may debauch his friend's wife
genteelly: he may cheat at cards genteelly.' HICKY. 'I do not
think THAT is genteel.' BOSWELL. 'Sir, it may not be like a
gentleman, but it may be genteel.' JOHNSON. 'You are meaning two
different things. One means exteriour grace; the other honour. It
is certain that a man may be very immoral with exteriour grace.
Lovelace, in Clarissa, is a very genteel and a very wicked
character. Tom Hervey, who died t'other day, though a vicious man,
was one of the genteelest men that ever lived.' Tom Davies
instanced Charles the Second. JOHNSON. (taking fire at any attack
upon that Prince, for whom he had an extraordinary partiality,)
'Charles the Second was licentious in his practice; but he always
had a reverence for what was good. Charles the Second knew his
people, and rewarded merit. The Church was at no time better
filled than in his reign. He was the best King we have had from
his time till the reign of his present Majesty, except James the
Second, who was a very good King, but unhappily believed that it
was necessary for the salvation of his subjects that they should be
Roman Catholicks. HE had the merit of endeavouring to do what he
thought was for the salvation of the souls of his subjects, till he
lost a great Empire. WE, who thought that we should NOT be saved
if we were Roman Catholicks, had the merit of maintaining our
religion, at the expence of submitting ourselves to the government
of King William, (for it could not be done otherwise,)--to the
government of one of the most worthless scoundrels that ever
existed. No; Charles the Second was not such a man as -----,
(naming another King). He did not destroy his father's will. He
took money, indeed, from France: but he did not betray those over
whom he ruled: he did not let the French fleet pass ours. George
the First knew nothing, and desired to know nothing; did nothing,
and desired to do nothing: and the only good thing that is told of