Part 6 out of 12
him is, that he wished to restore the crown to its hereditary
successor.' He roared with prodigious violence against George the
Second. When he ceased, Moody interjected, in an Irish tone, and
with a comick look, 'Ah! poor George the Second.'
I mentioned that Dr. Thomas Campbell had come from Ireland to
London, principally to see Dr. Johnson. He seemed angry at this
observation. DAVIES. 'Why, you know, Sir, there came a man from
Spain to see Livy; and Corelli came to England to see Purcell, and
when he heard he was dead, went directly back again to Italy.'
JOHNSON. 'I should not have wished to be dead to disappoint
Campbell, had he been so foolish as you represent him; but I should
have wished to have been a hundred miles off.' This was apparently
perverse; and I do believe it was not his real way of thinking: he
could not but like a man who came so far to see him. He laughed
with some complacency, when I told him Campbell's odd expression to
me concerning him: 'That having seen such a man, was a thing to
talk of a century hence,'--as if he could live so long.
We got into an argument whether the Judges who went to India might
with propriety engage in trade. Johnson warmly maintained that
they might. 'For why (he urged,) should not Judges get riches, as
well as those who deserve them less?' I said, they should have
sufficient salaries, and have nothing to take off their attention
from the affairs of the publick. JOHNSON. 'No Judge, Sir, can
give his whole attention to his office; and it is very proper that
he should employ what time he has to himself, to his own advantage,
in the most profitable manner.' 'Then, Sir, (said Davies, who
enlivened the dispute by making it somewhat dramatick,) he may
become an insurer; and when he is going to the bench, he may be
stopped,--"Your Lordship cannot go yet: here is a bunch of
invoices: several ships are about to sail."' JOHNSON. Sir, you
may as well say a Judge should not have a house; for they may come
and tell him, "Your Lordship's house is on fire;" and so, instead
of minding the business of his Court, he is to be occupied in
getting the engine with the greatest speed. There is no end of
this. Every Judge who has land, trades to a certain extent in corn
or in cattle; and in the land itself, undoubtedly. His steward
acts for him, and so do clerks for a great merchant. A Judge may
be a farmer; but he is not to geld his own pigs. A Judge may play
a little at cards for his amusement; but he is not to play at
marbles, or at chuck-farthing in the Piazza. No, Sir; there is no
profession to which a man gives a very great proportion of his
time. It is wonderful, when a calculation is made, how little the
mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession. No
man would be a Judge, upon the condition of being totally a Judge.
The best employed lawyer has his mind at work but for a small
proportion of his time; a great deal of his occupation is merely
mechanical. I once wrote for a magazine: I made a calculation,
that if I should write but a page a day, at the same rate, I
should, in ten years, write nine volumes in folio, of an ordinary
size and print.' BOSWELL. 'Such as Carte's History?' JOHNSON.
'Yes, Sir. When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very
rapidly. The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading,
in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one
We spoke of Rolt, to whose Dictionary of Commerce Dr. Johnson wrote
the Preface. JOHNSON. 'Old Gardner the bookseller employed Rolt
and Smart to write a monthly miscellany, called The Universal
Visitor. There was a formal written contract, which Allen the
printer saw. Gardner thought as you do of the Judge. They were
bound to write nothing else; they were to have, I think, a third of
the profits of this sixpenny pamphlet; and the contract was for
ninety-nine years. I wish I had thought of giving this to Thurlow,
in the cause about Literary Property. What an excellent instance
would it have been of the oppression of booksellers towards poor
authours!' (smiling.) Davies, zealous for the honour of THE TRADE,
said, Gardner was not properly a bookseller. JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir;
he certainly was a bookseller. He had served his time regularly,
was a member of the Stationers' company, kept a shop in the face of
mankind, purchased copyright, and was a bibliopole, Sir, in every
sense. I wrote for some months in The Universal Visitor, for poor
Smart, while he was mad, not then knowing the terms on which he was
engaged to write, and thinking I was doing him good. I hoped his
wits would soon return to him. Mine returned to me, and I wrote in
The Universal Visitor no longer.
Friday, April 7, I dined with him at a Tavern, with a numerous
One of the company suggested an internal objection to the antiquity
of the poetry said to be Ossian's, that we do not find the wolf in
it, which must have been the case had it been of that age.
The mention of the wolf had led Johnson to think of other wild
beasts; and while Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Langton were carrying
on a dialogue about something which engaged them earnestly, he, in
the midst of it, broke out, 'Pennant tells of Bears--' [what he
added, I have forgotten.] They went on, which he being dull of
hearing, did not perceive, or, if he did, was not willing to break
off his talk; so he continued to vociferate his remarks, and BEAR
('like a word in a catch' as Beauclerk said,) was repeatedly heard
at intervals, which coming from him who, by those who did not know
him, had been so often assimilated to that ferocious animal, while
we who were sitting around could hardly stifle laughter, produced a
very ludicrous effect. Silence having ensued, he proceeded: 'We
are told, that the black bear is innocent; but I should not like to
trust myself with him.' Mr. Gibbon muttered, in a low tone of
voice, 'I should not like to trust myself with YOU.' This piece of
sarcastick pleasantry was a prudent resolution, if applied to a
competition of abilities.
Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly
uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many
will start: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.' But
let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love
of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all
ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.
Mrs. Prichard being mentioned, he said, 'Her playing was quite
mechanical. It is wonderful how little mind she had. Sir, she had
never read the tragedy of Macbeth all through. She no more thought
of the play out of which her part was taken, than a shoemaker
thinks of the skin, out of which the piece of leather, of which he
is making a pair of shoes, is cut.'
On Saturday, April 8, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where we
met the Irish Dr. Campbell. Johnson had supped the night before at
Mrs. Abington's, with some fashionable people whom he named; and he
seemed much pleased with having made one in so elegant a circle.
Nor did he omit to pique his MISTRESS a little with jealousy of her
housewifery; for he said, (with a smile,) 'Mrs. Abington's jelly,
my dear lady, was better than yours.'
Mrs. Thrale, who frequently practised a coarse mode of flattery, by
repeating his bon-mots in his hearing, told us that he had said, a
certain celebrated actor was just fit to stand at the door of an
auction-room with a long pole, and cry 'Pray gentlemen, walk in;'
and that a certain authour, upon hearing this, had said, that
another still more celebrated actor was fit for nothing better than
that, and would pick your pocket after you came out. JOHNSON.
'Nay, my dear lady, there is no wit in what our friend added; there
is only abuse. You may as well say of any man that he will pick a
pocket. Besides, the man who is stationed at the door does not
pick people's pockets; that is done within, by the auctioneer.'
On Monday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with
Mr. Langton and the Irish Dr. Campbell, whom the General had
obligingly given me leave to bring with me. This learned gentleman
was thus gratified with a very high intellectual feast, by not only
being in company with Dr. Johnson, but with General Oglethorpe, who
had been so long a celebrated name both at home and abroad.
I must, again and again, intreat of my readers not to suppose that
my imperfect record of conversation contains the whole of what was
said by Johnson, or other eminent persons who lived with him. What
I have preserved, however, has the value of the most perfect
He urged General Oglethorpe to give the world his Life. He said,
'I know no man whose Life would be more interesting. If I were
furnished with materials, I should be very glad to write it.'
Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the room. Dr. Johnson
observed, 'They are very well; but such as twenty people might
write.' Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim,
'------- mediocribus esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, non concessere columnae.'
For here, (I observed,) was a very middle-rate poet, who pleased
many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to
some esteem; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every
thing else, have different gradations of excellence, and
consequently of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that,
'as there is no necessity for our having poetry at all, it being
merely a luxury, an instrument of pleasure, it can have no value,
unless when exquisite in its kind.' I declared myself not
satisfied. 'Why then, Sir, (said he,) Horace and you must settle
it.' He was not much in the humour of talking.
No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journal,
except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of lace
for his lady, he said, 'Well, Sir, you have done a good thing and a
wise thing.' 'I have done a good thing, (said the gentleman,) but
I do not know that I have done a wise thing.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir;
no money is better spent than what is laid out for domestick
satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is drest as well as
other people; and a wife is pleased that she is drest.'
On Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the
morning, according to my usual custom on that day, and breakfasted
with him. I observed that he fasted so very strictly, that he did
not even taste bread, and took no milk with his tea; I suppose
because it is a kind of animal food.
I told him that I had been informed by Mr. Orme, that many parts of
the East-Indies were better mapped than the Highlands of Scotland.
JOHNSON. 'That a country may be mapped, it must be travelled
over.' 'Nay, (said I, meaning to laugh with him at one of his
prejudices,) can't you say, it is not WORTH mapping?'
As we walked to St. Clement's church, and saw several shops open
upon this most solemn fast-day of the Christian world, I remarked,
that one disadvantage arising from the immensity of London, was,
that nobody was heeded by his neighbour; there was no fear of
censure for not observing Good-Friday, as it ought to be kept, and
as it is kept in country-towns. He said, it was, upon the whole,
very well observed even in London. He, however, owned, that London
was too large; but added, 'It is nonsense to say the head is too
big for the body. It would be as much too big, though the body
were ever so large; that is to say, though the country were ever so
extensive. It has no similarity to a head connected with a body.'
Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College, Oxford, accompanied us
home from church; and after he was gone, there came two other
gentlemen, one of whom uttered the commonplace complaints, that by
the increase of taxes, labour would be dear, other nations would
undersell us, and our commerce would be ruined. JOHNSON.
(smiling,) 'Never fear, Sir. Our commerce is in a very good state;
and suppose we had no commerce at all, we could live very well on
the produce of our own country.' I cannot omit to mention, that I
never knew any man who was less disposed to be querulous than
Johnson. Whether the subject was his own situation, or the state
of the publick, or the state of human nature in general, though he
saw the evils, his mind was turned to resolution, and never to
whining or complaint.
We went again to St. Clement's in the afternoon. He had found
fault with the preacher in the morning for not choosing a text
adapted to the day. The preacher in the afternoon had chosen one
extremely proper: 'It is finished.'
After the evening service, he said, 'Come, you shall go home with
me, and sit just an hour.' But he was better than his word; for
after we had drunk tea with Mrs. Williams, he asked me to go up to
his study with him, where we sat a long while together in a serene
undisturbed frame of mind, sometimes in silence, and sometimes
conversing, as we felt ourselves inclined, or more properly
speaking, as HE was inclined; for during all the course of my long
intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated, and my
wish to hear him was such, that I constantly watched every dawning
of communication from that great and illuminated mind.
He again advised me to keep a journal fully and minutely, but not
to mention such trifles as, that meat was too much or too little
done, or that the weather was fair or rainy. He had, till very
near his death, a contempt for the notion that the weather affects
the human frame.
I told him that our friend Goldsmith had said to me, that he had
come too late into the world, for that Pope and other poets had
taken up the places in the Temple of Fame; so that, as but a few at
any period can possess poetical reputation, a man of genius can now
hardly acquire it. JOHNSON. 'That is one of the most sensible
things I have ever heard of Goldsmith. It is difficult to get
literary fame, and it is every day growing more difficult. Ah,
Sir, that should make a man think of securing happiness in another
world, which all who try sincerely for it may attain. In
comparison of that, how little are all other things! The belief of
immortality is impressed upon all men, and all men act under an
impression of it, however they may talk, and though, perhaps, they
may be scarcely sensible of it.' I said, it appeared to me that
some people had not the least notion of immortality; and I
mentioned a distinguished gentleman of our acquaintance. JOHNSON.
'Sir, if it were not for the notion of immortality, he would cut a
throat to fill his pockets.' When I quoted this to Beauclerk, who
knew much more of the gentleman than we did, he said, in his acid
manner, 'He would cut a throat to fill his pockets, if it were not
for fear of being hanged.'
He was pleased to say, 'If you come to settle here, we will have
one day in the week on which we will meet by ourselves. That is
the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity,
but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments.' In his private
register this evening is thus marked, 'Boswell sat with me till
night; we had some serious talk.' It also appears from the same
record, that after I left him he was occupied in religious duties,
in 'giving Francis, his servant, some directions for preparation to
communicate; in reviewing his life, and resolving on better
conduct.' The humility and piety which he discovers on such
occasions, is truely edifying. No saint, however, in the course of
his religious warfare, was more sensible of the unhappy failure of
pious resolves, than Johnson. He said one day, talking to an
acquaintance on this subject, 'Sir Hell is paved with good
On Sunday, April 16, being Easter Day, after having attended the
solemn service at St. Paul's, I dined with Dr. Johnson and Mrs.
Williams. I maintained that Horace was wrong in placing happiness
in Nil admirari, for that I thought admiration one of the most
agreeable of all our feelings; and I regretted that I had lost much
of my disposition to admire, which people generally do as they
advance in life. JOHNSON. 'Sir, as a man advances in life, he
gets what is better than admiration--judgement, to estimate things
at their true value.' I still insisted that admiration was more
pleasing than judgement, as love is more pleasing than friendship.
The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled
with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; admiration and love are like being intoxicated
with champagne; judgement and friendship like being enlivened.
Waller has hit upon the same thought with you: but I don't believe
you have borrowed from Waller. I wish you would enable yourself to
He then took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and
combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be
acquired in conversation. 'The foundation (said he,) must be laid
by reading. General principles must be had from books, which,
however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation
you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be
gathered from a hundred people. The parts of a truth, which a man
gets thus, are at such a distance from each other that he never
attains to a full view.'
On Tuesday, April 15, he and I were engaged to go with Sir Joshua
Reynolds to dine with Mr. Cambridge, at his beautiful villa on the
banks of the Thames, near Twickenham. Dr. Johnson's tardiness was
such, that Sir Joshua, who had an appointment at Richmond, early in
the day, was obliged to go by himself on horseback, leaving his
coach to Johnson and me. Johnson was in such good spirits, that
every thing seemed to please him as we drove along.
Our conversation turned on a variety of subjects. He thought
portrait-painting an improper employment for a woman. 'Publick
practice of any art, (he observed,) and staring in men's faces, is
very indelicate in a female.' I happened to start a question,
whether, when a man knows that some of his intimate friends are
invited to the house of another friend, with whom they are all
equally intimate, he may join them without an invitation. JOHNSON.
'No, Sir; he is not to go when he is not invited. They may be
invited on purpose to abuse him' (smiling).
As a curious instance how little a man knows, or wishes to know,
his own character in the world, or, rather, as a convincing proof
that Johnson's roughness was only external, and did not proceed
from his heart, I insert the following dialogue. JOHNSON. 'It is
wonderful, Sir, how rare a quality good humour is in life. We meet
with very few good humoured men.' I mentioned four of our friends,
none of whom he would allow to be good humoured. One was ACID,
another was MUDDY, and to the others he had objections which have
escaped me. Then, shaking his head and stretching himself at ease
in the coach, and smiling with much complacency, he turned to me
and said, 'I look upon MYSELF as a good humoured fellow.' The
epithet FELLOW, applied to the great Lexicographer, the stately
Moralist, the masterly critick, as if he had been SAM Johnson, a
mere pleasant companion, was highly diverting; and this light
notion of himself struck me with wonder. I answered, also smiling,
'No, no, Sir; that will NOT do. You are good natured, but not good
humoured: you are irascible. You have not patience with folly and
absurdity. I believe you would pardon them, if there were time to
deprecate your vengeance; but punishment follows so quick after
sentence, that they cannot escape.
I had brought with me a great bundle of Scotch magazines and news-
papers, in which his Journey to the Western Islands was attacked in
every mode; and I read a great part of them to him, knowing they
would afford him entertainment. I wish the writers of them had
been present: they would have been sufficiently vexed. One
ludicrous imitation of his style, by Mr. Maclaurin, now one of the
Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dreghorn, was distinguished
by him from the rude mass. 'This (said he,) is the best. But I
could caricature my own style much better myself.' He defended his
remark upon the general insufficiency of education in Scotland; and
confirmed to me the authenticity of his witty saying on the
learning of the Scotch;--'Their learning is like bread in a
besieged town: every man gets a little, but no man gets a full
meal.' 'There is (said he,) in Scotland, a diffusion of learning,
a certain portion of it widely and thinly spread. A merchant there
has as much learning as one of their clergy.
No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library,
than Johnson ran eagerly to one side of the room, intent on poring
over the backs of the books. Sir Joshua observed, (aside,) 'He
runs to the books, as I do to the pictures: but I have the
advantage. I can see much more of the pictures than he can of the
books.' Mr. Cambridge, upon this, politely said, 'Dr. Johnson, I
am going, with your pardon, to accuse myself, for I have the same
custom which I perceive you have. But it seems odd that one should
have such a desire to look at the backs of books.' Johnson, ever
ready for contest, instantly started from his reverie, wheeled
about, and answered, 'Sir, the reason is very plain. Knowledge is
of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can
find information upon it. When we enquire into any subject, the
first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it.
This leads us to look at catalogues, and the backs of books in
libraries.' Sir Joshua observed to me the extraordinary
promptitude with which Johnson flew upon an argument. 'Yes, (said
I,) he has no formal preparation, no flourishing with his sword; he
is through your body in an instant.'
Johnson was here solaced with an elegant entertainment, a very
accomplished family, and much good company; among whom was Mr.
Harris of Salisbury, who paid him many compliments on his Journey
to the Western Islands.
The common remark as to the utility of reading history being made;--
JOHNSON. 'We must consider how very little history there is; I
mean real authentick history. That certain Kings reigned, and
certain battles were fought, we can depend upon as true; but all
the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture.'
BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, you would reduce all history to no better
than an almanack, a mere chronological series of remarkable
events.' Mr. Gibbon, who must at that time have been employed upon
his History, of which he published the first volume in the
following year, was present; but did not step forth in defence of
that species of writing. He probably did not like to TRUST himself
The Beggar's Opera, and the common question, whether it was
pernicious in its effects, having been introduced;--JOHNSON. 'As
to this matter, which has been very much contested, I myself am of
opinion, that more influence has been ascribed to The Beggar's
Opera, than it in reality ever had; for I do not believe that any
man was ever made a rogue by being present at its representation.
At the same time I do not deny that it may have some influence, by
making the character of a rogue familiar, and in some degree
pleasing.' Then collecting himself as it were, to give a heavy
stroke: 'There is in it such a LABEFACTATION of all principles, as
may be injurious to morality.'
While he pronounced this response, we sat in a comical sort of
restraint, smothering a laugh, which we were afraid might burst
We talked of a young gentleman's* marriage with an eminent singer,
and his determination that she should no longer sing in publick,
though his father was very earnest she should, because her talents
would be liberally rewarded, so as to make her a good fortune. It
was questioned whether the young gentleman, who had not a shilling
in the world, but was blest with very uncommon talents, was not
foolishly delicate, or foolishly proud, and his father truely
rational without being mean. Johnson, with all the high spirit of
a Roman senator, exclaimed, 'He resolved wisely and nobly to be
sure. He is a brave man. Would not a gentleman be disgraced by
having his wife singing publickly for hire? No, Sir, there can be
no doubt here. I know not if I should not PREPARE myself for a
publick singer, as readily as let my wife be one.'
* Probably Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose romantic marriage with
the beautiful Elizabeth Linley took place in 1773. He became a
member of the Club on Johnson's proposal. See below, p. 325.--ED.
Johnson arraigned the modern politicks of this country, as entirely
devoid of all principle of whatever kind. 'Politicks (said he,)
are now nothing more than means of rising in the world. With this
sole view do men engage in politicks, and their whole conduct
proceeds upon it.'
Somebody found fault with writing verses in a dead language,
maintaining that they were merely arrangements of so many words,
and laughed at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, for
sending forth collections of them not only in Greek and Latin, but
even in Syriac, Arabick, and other more unknown tongues. JOHNSON.
'I would have as many of these as possible; I would have verses in
every language that there are the means of acquiring. Nobody
imagines that an University is to have at once two hundred poets;
but it should be able to show two hundred scholars. Pieresc's
death was lamented, I think, in forty languages. And I would have
had at every coronation, and every death of a King, every Gaudium,
and every Luctus, University verses, in as many languages as can be
acquired. I would have the world to be thus told, "Here is a
school where every thing may be learnt."'
Having set out next day on a visit to the Earl of Pembroke, at
Wilton, and to my friend, Mr. Temple, at Mamhead, in Devonshire,
and not having returned to town till the second of May, I did not
see Dr. Johnson for a considerable time, and during the remaining
part of my stay in London, kept very imperfect notes of his
conversation, which had I according to my usual custom written out
at large soon after the time, much might have been preserved, which
is now irretrievably lost.
On Monday, May 8, we went together and visited the mansions of
Bedlam. I had been informed that he had once been there before
with Mr. Wedderburne, (now Lord Loughborough,) Mr. Murphy, and Mr.
Foote; and I had heard Foote give a very entertaining account of
Johnson's happening to have his attention arrested by a man who was
very furious, and who, while beating his straw, supposed it was
William Duke of Cumberland, whom he was punishing for his cruelties
in Scotland, in 1746. There was nothing peculiarly remarkable this
day; but the general contemplation of insanity was very affecting.
I accompanied him home, and dined and drank tea with him.
On Friday, May 12, as he had been so good as to assign me a room in
his house, where I might sleep occasionally, when I happened to sit
with him to a late hour, I took possession of it this night, found
every thing in excellent order, and was attended by honest Francis
with a most civil assiduity. I asked Johnson whether I might go to
a consultation with another lawyer upon Sunday, as that appeared to
me to be doing work as much in my way, as if an artisan should work
on the day appropriated for religious rest. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir,
when you are of consequence enough to oppose the practice of
consulting upon Sunday, you should do it: but you may go now. It
is not criminal, though it is not what one should do, who is
anxious for the preservation and increase of piety, to which a
peculiar observance of Sunday is a great help. The distinction is
clear between what is of moral and what is of ritual obligation.'
On Saturday, May 13, I breakfasted with him by invitation,
accompanied by Mr. Andrew Crosbie, a Scotch Advocate, whom he had
seen at Edinburgh, and the Hon. Colonel (now General) Edward
Stopford, brother to Lord Courtown, who was desirous of being
introduced to him. His tea and rolls and butter, and whole
breakfast apparatus were all in such decorum, and his behaviour was
so courteous, that Colonel Stopford was quite surprized, and
wondered at his having heard so much said of Johnson's slovenliness
I passed many hours with him on the 17th, of which I find all my
memorial is, 'much laughing.' It should seem he had that day been
in a humour for jocularity and merriment, and upon such occasions I
never knew a man laugh more heartily. We may suppose, that the
high relish of a state so different from his habitual gloom,
produced more than ordinary exertions of that distinguishing
faculty of man, which has puzzled philosophers so much to explain.
Johnson's laugh was as remarkable as any circumstance in his
manner. It was a kind of good humoured growl. Tom Davies
described it drolly enough: 'He laughs like a rhinoceros.'
'TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--I have an old amanuensis in great distress. I have
given what I think I can give, and begged till I cannot tell where
to beg again. I put into his hands this morning four guineas. If
you could collect three guineas more, it would clear him from his
present difficulty. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
'May 21, 1775.'
After my return to Scotland, I wrote three letters to him.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--I am returned from the annual ramble into the middle
counties. Having seen nothing I had not seen before, I have
nothing to relate. Time has left that part of the island few
antiquities; and commerce has left the people no singularities. I
was glad to go abroad, and, perhaps, glad to come home; which is,
in other words, I was, I am afraid, weary of being at home, and
weary of being abroad. Is not this the state of life? But, if we
confess this weariness, let us not lament it, for all the wise and
all the good say, that we may cure it. . . .
'Mrs. Thrale was so entertained with your Journal,* that she almost
read herself blind. She has a great regard for you.
'Of Mrs. Boswell, though she knows in her heart that she does not
love me, I am always glad to hear any good, and hope that she and
the little dear ladies will have neither sickness nor any other
affliction. But she knows that she does not care what becomes of
me, and for that she may be sure that I think her very much to
'Never, my dear Sir, do you take it into your head to think that I
do not love you; you may settle yourself in full confidence both of
my love and my esteem; I love you as a kind man, I value you as a
worthy man, and hope in time to reverence you as a man of exemplary
piety. I hold you, as Hamlet has it, "in my heart of hearts," and
therefore, it is little to say, that I am, Sir, your affectionate
'London, Aug. 27, 1775.'
* My Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, which that lady read in the
'TO MR. ROBERT LEVET.
'Paris,* Oct. 22, 1775.
'DEAR SIR,--We are still here, commonly very busy in looking about
us. We have been to-day at Versailles. You have seen it, and I
shall not describe it. We came yesterday from Fontainbleau, where
the Court is now. We went to see the King and Queen at dinner, and
the Queen was so impressed by Miss,** that she sent one of the
Gentlemen to enquire who she was. I find all true that you have
ever told me of Paris. Mr. Thrale is very liberal, and keeps us
two coaches, and a very fine table; but I think our cookery very
bad. Mrs. Thrale got into a convent of English nuns; and I talked
with her through the grate, and I am very kindly used by the
English Benedictine friars. But upon the whole I cannot make much
acquaintance here; and though the churches, palaces, and some
private houses are very magnificent, there is no very great
pleasure after having seen many, in seeing more; at least the
pleasure, whatever it be, must some time have an end, and we are
beginning to think when we shall come home. Mr. Thrale calculates
that, as we left Streatham on the fifteenth of September, we shall
see it again about the fifteenth of November.
* Written from a tour in France with the Thrales, Johnson's only
visit to the Continent.--ED.
** Miss Thrale.
'I think I had not been on this side of the sea five days before I
found a sensible improvement in my health. I ran a race in the
rain this day, and beat Baretti. Baretti is a fine fellow, and
speaks French, I think, quite as well as English.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Williams; and give my love to Francis;
and tell my friends that I am not lost. I am, dear Sir, your
affectionate humble, &c.
It is to be regretted that he did not write an account of his
travels in France; for as he is reported to have once said, that
'he could write the Life of a Broomstick,' so, notwithstanding so
many former travellers have exhausted almost every subject for
remark in that great kingdom, his very accurate observation, and
peculiar vigour of thought and illustration, would have produced a
When I met him in London the following year, the account which he
gave me of his French tour, was, 'Sir, I have seen all the
visibilities of Paris, and around it; but to have formed an
acquaintance with the people there, would have required more time
than I could stay. I was just beginning to creep into acquaintance
by means of Colonel Drumgold, a very high man, Sir, head of L'Ecole
Militaire, a most complete character, for he had first been a
professor of rhetorick, and then became a soldier. And, Sir, I was
very kindly treated by the English Benedictines, and have a cell
appropriated to me in their convent.'
He observed, 'The great in France live very magnificently, but the
rest very miserably. There is no happy middle state as in England.
The shops of Paris are mean; the meat in the markets is such as
would be sent to a gaol in England: and Mr. Thrale justly observed,
that the cookery of the French was forced upon them by necessity;
for they could not eat their meat, unless they added some taste to
it. The French are an indelicate people; they will spit upon any
place. At Madame ------'s, a literary lady of rank, the footman
took the sugar in his fingers, and threw it into my coffee. I was
going to put it aside; but hearing it was made on purpose for me, I
e'en tasted Tom's fingers. The same lady would needs make tea a
l'Angloise. The spout of the tea-pot did not pour freely; she had
the footman blow into it. France is worse than Scotland in every
thing but climate. Nature has done more for the French; but they
have done less for themselves than the Scotch have done.'
It happened that Foote was at Paris at the same time with Dr.
Johnson, and his description of my friend while there, was
abundantly ludicrous. He told me, that the French were quite
astonished at his figure and manner, and at his dress, which he
obstinately continued exactly as in London;--his brown clothes,
black stockings, and plain shirt. He mentioned, that an Irish
gentleman said to Johnson, 'Sir, you have not seen the best French
players.' JOHNSON. 'Players, Sir! I look on them as no better
than creatures set upon tables and joint-stools to make faces and
produce laughter, like dancing dogs.'--'But, Sir, you will allow
that some players are better than others?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, as
some dogs dance better than others.'
While Johnson was in France, he was generally very resolute in
speaking Latin. It was a maxim with him that a man should not let
himself down, by speaking a language which he speaks imperfectly.
Indeed, we must have often observed how inferiour, how much like a
child a man appears, who speaks a broken tongue. When Sir Joshua
Reynolds, at one of the dinners of the Royal Academy, presented him
to a Frenchman of great distinction, he would not deign to speak
French, but talked Latin, though his Excellency did not understand
it, owing, perhaps, to Johnson's English pronunciation: yet upon
another occasion he was observed to speak French to a Frenchman of
high rank, who spoke English; and being asked the reason, with some
expression of surprise,--he answered, 'because I think my French is
as good as his English.' Though Johnson understood French
perfectly, he could not speak it readily, as I have observed at his
first interview with General Pauli, in 1769; yet he wrote it, I
imagine, pretty well.
Here let me not forget a curious anecdote, as related to me by Mr.
Beauclerk, which I shall endeavour to exhibit as well as I can in
that gentleman's lively manner; and in justice to him it is proper
to add, that Dr. Johnson told me I might rely both on the
correctness of his memory, and the fidelity of his narrative.
'When Madame de Boufflers was first in England, (said Beauclerk,)
she was desirous to see Johnson. I accordingly went with her to
his chambers in the Temple, where she was entertained with his
conversation for some time. When our visit was over, she and I
left him, and were got into Inner Temple-lane, when all at once I
heard a noise like thunder. This was occasioned by Johnson, who it
seems, upon a little recollection, had taken it into his head that
he ought to have done the honours of his literary residence to a
foreign lady of quality, and eager to shew himself a man of
gallantry, was hurrying down the stair-case in violent agitation.
He overtook us before we reached the Temple-gate, and brushing in
between me and Madame de Boufflers, seized her hand, and conducted
her to her coach. His dress was a rusty brown morning suit, a pair
of old shoes by way of slippers, a little shrivelled wig sticking
on the top of his head, and the sleeves of his shirt and the knees
of his breeches hanging loose. A considerable crowd of people
gathered round, and were not a little struck by this singular
He spoke Latin with wonderful fluency and elegance. When Pere
Boscovich was in England, Johnson dined in company with him at Sir
Joshua Reynolds's, and at Dr. Douglas's, now Bishop of Salisbury.
Upon both occasions that celebrated foreigner expressed his
astonishment at Johnson's Latin conversation. When at Paris,
Johnson thus characterised Voltaire to Freron the Journalist: 'Vir
est acerrimi ingenii et paucarum literarum.'
In the course of this year Dr. Burney informs me that 'he very
frequently met Dr. Johnson at Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where
they had many long conversations, often sitting up as long as the
fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the
A few of Johnson's sayings, which that gentleman recollects, shall
here be inserted.
'I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night,
and then the nap takes me.'
'The writer of an epitaph should not be considered as saying
nothing but what is strictly true. Allowance must be made for some
degree of exaggerated praise. In lapidary inscriptions a man is
not upon oath.'
'There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but
then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end
they lose at the other.'
'More is learned in publick than in private schools, from
emulation; there is the collision of mind with mind, or the
radiation of many minds pointing to one centre. Though few boys
make their own exercises, yet if a good exercise is given up, out
of a great number of boys, it is made by somebody.'
'I hate by-roads in education. Education is as well known, and has
long been as well known, as ever it can be. Endeavouring to make
children prematurely wise is useless labour. Suppose they have
more knowledge at five or six years old than other children, what
use can be made of it? It will be lost before it is wanted, and
the waste of so much time and labour of the teacher can never be
repaid. Too much is expected from precocity, and too little
performed. Miss ---- was an instance of early cultivation, but in
what did it terminate? In marrying a little Presbyterian parson,
who keeps an infant boarding-school, so that all her employment now
"To suckle fools, and chronicle small-beer."
She tells the children, "This is a cat, and that is a dog, with
four legs and a tail; see there! you are much better than a cat or
a dog, for you can speak." If I had bestowed such an education on
a daughter, and had discovered that she thought of marrying such a
fellow, I would have sent her to the Congress.'
'After having talked slightingly of musick, he was observed to
listen very attentively while Miss Thrale played on the
harpsichord, and with eagerness he called to her, "Why don't you
dash away like Burney?" Dr. Burney upon this said to him, "I
believe, Sir, we shall make a musician of you at last." Johnson
with candid complacency replied, "Sir, I shall be glad to have a
new sense given to me."'
'He had come down one morning to the breakfast-room, and been a
considerable time by himself before any body appeared. When, on a
subsequent day, he was twitted by Mrs. Thrale for being very late,
which he generally was, he defended himself by alluding to the
extraordinary morning, when he had been too early. "Madame, I do
not like to come down to VACUITY."'
'Dr. Burney having remarked that Mr. Garrick was beginning to look
old, he said, "Why, Sir, you are not to wonder at that; no man's
face has had more wear and tear."'
1776: AETAT. 67.]--Having arrived in London late on Friday, the
15th of March, I hastened next morning to wait on Dr. Johnson, at
his house; but found he was removed from Johnson's-court, No. 7, to
Bolt-court, No. 8, still keeping to his favourite Fleet-street. My
reflection at the time upon this change as marked in my Journal, is
as follows: 'I felt a foolish regret that he had left a court which
bore his name;* but it was not foolish to be affected with some
tenderness of regard for a place in which I had seen him a great
deal, from whence I had often issued a better and a happier man
than when I went in, and which had often appeared to my imagination
while I trod its pavements, in the solemn darkness of the night, to
be sacred to wisdom and piety.' Being informed that he was at Mr.
Thrale's, in the Borough, I hastened thither, and found Mrs. Thrale
and him at breakfast. I was kindly welcomed. In a moment he was
in a full glow of conversation, and I felt myself elevated as if
brought into another state of being. Mrs. Thrale and I looked to
each other while he talked, and our looks expressed our congenial
admiration and affection for him. I shall ever recollect this
scene with great pleasure, I exclaimed to her, 'I am now,
intellectually, Hermippus redivivus, I am quite restored by him, by
transfusion of mind.' 'There are many (she replied) who admire and
respect Mr. Johnson; but you and I LOVE him.'
* He said, when in Scotland, that he was Johnson of that Ilk.--
He seemed very happy in the near prospect of going to Italy with
Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. 'But, (said he,) before leaving England I am
to take a jaunt to Oxford, Birmingham, my native city Lichfield,
and my old friend, Dr. Taylor's, at Ashbourn, in Derbyshire. I
shall go in a few days, and you, Boswell, shall go with me.' I was
ready to accompany him; being willing even to leave London to have
the pleasure of his conversation.
We got into a boat to cross over to Black-friars; and as we moved
along the Thames, I talked to him of a little volume, which,
altogether unknown to him, was advertised to be published in a few
days, under the title of Johnsoniana, or Bon-Mots of Dr. Johnson.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing.' BOSWELL. 'Pray,
Sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher
for bringing out, under your name, what you never said, and
ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear
profanely, as many ignorant relaters of your bon-mots do?'
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; there will always be some truth mixed with the
falsehood, and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how
much is false? Besides, Sir, what damages would a jury give me for
having been represented as swearing?' BOSWELL. 'I think, Sir, you
should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and
posterity might with much plausible foundation say, "Here is a
volume which was publickly advertised and came out in Dr. Johnson's
own time, and, by his silence, was admitted by him to be genuine."'
JOHNSON. 'I shall give myself no trouble about the matter.'
He was, perhaps, above suffering from such spurious publications;
but I could not help thinking, that many men would be much injured
in their reputation, by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed
to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.
He said, 'The value of every story depends on its being true. A
story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in
general: if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance:
suppose a man should tell that Johnson, before setting out for
Italy, as he had to cross the Alps, sat down to make himself wings.
This many people would believe; but it would be a picture of
nothing. ******* (naming a worthy friend of ours,) used to think a
story, a story, till I shewed him that truth was essential to it.'
I observed, that Foote entertained us with stories which were not
true; but that, indeed, it was properly not as narratives that
Foote's stories pleased us, but as collections of ludicrous images.
JOHNSON. 'Foote is quite impartial, for he tells lies of every
The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too
often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to
it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance
was mentioned with exact precision. The knowledge of his having
such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance
on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have
been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may
mention an odd incident which he related as having happened to him
one night in Fleet-street. 'A gentlewoman (said he) begged I would
give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I
accordingly did; upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me
to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor.'
This, if told by most people, would have been thought an invention;
when told by Johnson, it was believed by his friends as much as if
they had seen what passed.
We landed at the Temple-stairs, where we parted.
I found him in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room. Finding him
still persevering in his abstinence from wine, I ventured to speak
to him of it--JOHNSON. 'Sir, I have no objection to a man's
drinking wine, if he can do it in moderation. I found myself apt
to go to excess in it, and therefore, after having been for some
time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to
return to it. Every man is to judge for himself, according to the
effects which he experiences. One of the fathers tells us, he
found fasting made him so peevish that he did not practise it.'
Though he often enlarged upon the evil of intoxication, he was by
no means harsh and unforgiving to those who indulged in occasional
excess in wine. One of his friends, I well remember, came to sup
at a tavern with him and some other gentlemen, and too plainly
discovered that he had drunk too much at dinner. When one who
loved mischief, thinking to produce a severe censure, asked
Johnson, a few days afterwards, 'Well, Sir, what did your friend
say to you, as an apology for being in such a situation?' Johnson
answered, 'Sir, he said all that a man SHOULD say: he said he was
sorry for it.'
I again visited him on Monday. He took occasion to enlarge, as he
often did, upon the wretchedness of a sea-life. 'A ship is worse
than a gaol. There is, in a gaol, better air, better company,
better conveniency of every kind; and a ship has the additional
disadvantage of being in danger. When men come to like a sea-life,
they are not fit to live on land.'--'Then (said I) it would be
cruel in a father to breed his son to the sea.' JOHNSON. 'It
would be cruel in a father who thinks as I do. Men go to sea,
before they know the unhappiness of that way of life; and when they
have come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is
then too late to choose another profession; as indeed is generally
the case with men, when they have once engaged in any particular
way of life.'
On Tuesday, March 19, which was fixed for our proposed jaunt, we
met in the morning at the Somerset coffee-house in the Strand,
where we were taken up by the Oxford coach. He was accompanied by
Mr. Gwyn, the architect; and a gentleman of Merton College, whom we
did not know, had the fourth seat. We soon got into conversation;
for it was very remarkable of Johnson, that the presence of a
stranger had no restraint upon his talk. I observed that Garrick,
who was about to quit the stage, would soon have an easier life.
JOHNSON. 'I doubt that, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, he will be
Atlas with the burthen off his back.' JOHNSON. 'But I know not,
Sir, if he will be so steady without his load. However, he should
never play any more, but be entirely the gentleman, and not partly
the player: he should no longer subject himself to be hissed by a
mob, or to be insolently treated by performers, whom he used to
rule with a high hand, and who would gladly retaliate.' BOSWELL.
'I think he should play once a year for the benefit of decayed
actors, as it has been said he means to do.' JOHNSON. 'Alas, Sir!
he will soon be a decayed actor himself.'
Johnson expressed his disapprobation of ornamental architecture,
such as magnificent columns supporting a portico, or expensive
pilasters supporting merely their own capitals, 'because it
consumes labour disproportionate to its utility.' For the same
reason he satyrised statuary. 'Painting (said he) consumes labour
not disproportionate to its effect; but a fellow will hack half a
year at a block of marble to make something in stone that hardly
resembles a man. The value of statuary is owing to its difficulty.
You would not value the finest head cut upon a carrot.'
Gwyn was a fine lively rattling fellow. Dr. Johnson kept him in
subjection, but with a kindly authority. The spirit of the artist,
however, rose against what he thought a Gothick attack, and he made
a brisk defence. 'What, Sir, will you allow no value to beauty in
architecture or in statuary? Why should we allow it then in
writing? Why do you take the trouble to give us so many fine
allusions, and bright images, and elegant phrases? You might
convey all your instruction without these ornaments.' Johnson
smiled with complacency; but said, 'Why, Sir, all these ornaments
are useful, because they obtain an easier reception for truth; but
a building is not at all more convenient for being decorated with
superfluous carved work.'
Gwyn at last was lucky enough to make one reply to Dr. Johnson,
which he allowed to be excellent. Johnson censured him for taking
down a church which might have stood many years, and building a new
one at a different place, for no other reason but that there might
be a direct road to a new bridge; and his expression was, 'You are
taking a church out of the way, that the people may go in a
straight line to the bridge.'--'No, Sir, (said Gwyn,) I am putting
the church IN the way, that the people may not GO OUT OF THE WAY.'
JOHNSON. (with a hearty loud laugh of approbation,) 'Speak no
more. Rest your colloquial fame upon this.'
Upon our arrival at Oxford, Dr. Johnson and I went directly to
University College, but were disappointed on finding that one of
the fellows, his friend Mr. Scott, who accompanied him from
Newcastle to Edinburgh, was gone to the country. We put up at the
Angel inn, and passed the evening by ourselves in easy and familiar
conversation. Talking of constitutional melancholy, he observed,
'A man so afflicted, Sir, must divert distressing thoughts, and not
combat with them.' BOSWELL. 'May not he think them down, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. To attempt to THINK THEM DOWN is madness. He
should have a lamp constantly burning in his bed-chamber during the
night, and if wakefully disturbed, take a book, and read, and
compose himself to rest. To have the management of the mind is a
great art, and it may be attained in a considerable degree by
experience and habitual exercise.' BOSWELL. 'Should not he
provide amusements for himself? Would it not, for instance, be
right for him to take a course of chymistry?' JOHNSON. 'Let him
take a course of chymistry, or a course of rope-dancing, or a
course of any thing to which he is inclined at the time. Let him
contrive to have as many retreats for his mind as he can, as many
things to which it can fly from itself. Burton's Anatomy of
Melancholy is a valuable work. It is, perhaps, overloaded with
quotation. But there is great spirit and great power in what
Burton says, when he writes from his own mind.'
Next morning we visited Dr. Wetherell, Master of University
College, with whom Dr. Johnson conferred on the most advantageous
mode of disposing of the books printed at the Clarendon press. I
often had occasion to remark, Johnson loved business, loved to have
his wisdom actually operate on real life.
We then went to Pembroke College, and waited on his old friend Dr.
Adams, the master of it, whom I found to be a most polite,
pleasing, communicative man. Before his advancement to the
headship of his college, I had intended to go and visit him at
Shrewsbury, where he was rector of St. Chad's, in order to get from
him what particulars he could recollect of Johnson's academical
life. He now obligingly gave me part of that authentick
information, which, with what I afterwards owed to his kindness,
will be found incorporated in its proper place in this work.
Dr. Adams told us, that in some of the Colleges at Oxford, the
fellows had excluded the students from social intercourse with them
in the common room. JOHNSON. 'They are in the right, Sir: there
can be no real conversation, no fair exertion of mind amongst them,
if the young men are by; for a man who has a character does not
choose to stake it in their presence.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, may
there not be very good conversation without a contest for
superiority?' JOHNSON. 'No animated conversation, Sir, for it
cannot be but one or other will come off superiour. I do not mean
that the victor must have the better of the argument, for he may
take the weak side; but his superiority of parts and knowledge will
necessarily appear: and he to whom he thus shews himself superiour
is lessened in the eyes of the young men.'
We walked with Dr. Adams into the master's garden, and into the
common room. JOHNSON. (after a reverie of meditation,) 'Ay! Here
I used to play at draughts with Phil. Jones and Fludyer. Jones
loved beer, and did not get very forward in the church. Fludyer
turned out a scoundrel, a Whig, and said he was ashamed of having
been bred at Oxford. He had a living at Putney, and got under the
eye of some retainers to the court at that time, and so became a
violent Whig: but he had been a scoundrel all along to be sure.'
BOSWELL. 'Was he a scoundrel, Sir, in any other way than that of
being a political scoundrel? Did he cheat at draughts?' JOHNSON.
'Sir, we never played for MONEY.'
He then carried me to visit Dr. Bentham, Canon of Christ-Church,
and Divinity Professor, with whose learned and lively conversation
we were much pleased. He gave us an invitation to dinner, which
Dr. Johnson told me was a high honour. 'Sir, it is a great thing
to dine with the Canons of Christ-Church.' We could not accept his
invitation, as we were engaged to dine at University College. We
had an excellent dinner there, with the Master and Fellows, it
being St. Cuthbert's day, which is kept by them as a festival, as
he was a saint of Durham, with which this college is much
We drank tea with Dr. Horne, late President of Magdalen College,
and Bishop of Norwich, of whose abilities, in different respects,
the publick has had eminent proofs, and the esteem annexed to whose
character was increased by knowing him personally.
We then went to Trinity College, where he introduced me to Mr.
Thomas Warton, with whom we passed a part of the evening. We
talked of biography--JOHNSON. 'It is rarely well executed. They
only who live with a man can write his life with any genuine
exactness and discrimination; and few people who have lived with a
man know what to remark about him. The chaplain of a late Bishop,
whom I was to assist in writing some memoirs of his Lordship, could
tell me scarcely any thing.'
I said, Mr. Robert Dodsley's life should be written, as he had been
so much connected with the wits of his time, and by his literary
merit had raised himself from the station of a footman. Mr. Warton
said, he had published a little volume under the title of The Muse
in Livery. JOHNSON. 'I doubt whether Dodsley's brother would
thank a man who should write his life: yet Dodsley himself was not
unwilling that his original low condition should be recollected.
When Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues of the Dead came out, one of which
is between Apicius, an ancient epicure, and Dartineuf, a modern
epicure, Dodsley said to me, "I knew Dartineuf well, for I was once
I mentioned Sir Richard Steele having published his Christian Hero,
with the avowed purpose of obliging himself to lead a religious
life; yet, that his conduct was by no means strictly suitable.
JOHNSON. 'Steele, I believe, practised the lighter vices.'
Mr. Warton, being engaged, could not sup with us at our inn; we had
therefore another evening by ourselves. I asked Johnson, whether a
man's being forward to make himself known to eminent people, and
seeing as much of life, and getting as much information as he could
in every way, was not yet lessening himself by his forwardness.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, a man always makes himself greater as he
increases his knowledge.
I censured some ludicrous fantastick dialogues between two coach-
horses and other such stuff, which Baretti had lately published.
He joined with me, and said, 'Nothing odd will do long. Tristram
Shandy did not last.' I expressed a desire to be acquainted with a
lady who had been much talked of, and universally celebrated for
extraordinary address and insinuation. JOHNSON. 'Never believe
extraordinary characters which you hear of people. Depend upon it,
Sir, they are exaggerated. You do not see one man shoot a great
deal higher than another.' I mentioned Mr. Burke. JOHNSON. 'Yes;
Burke is an extraordinary man. His stream of mind is perpetual.'
It is very pleasing to me to record, that Johnson's high estimation
of the talents of this gentleman was uniform from their early
acquaintance. Sir Joshua Reynolds informs me, that when Mr. Burke
was first elected a member of Parliament, and Sir John Hawkins
expressed a wonder at his attaining a seat, Johnson said, 'Now we
who know Mr. Burke, know, that he will be one of the first men in
this country.' And once, when Johnson was ill, and unable to exert
himself as much as usual without fatigue, Mr. Burke having been
mentioned, he said, 'That fellow calls forth all my powers. Were I
to see Burke now it would kill me.' So much was he accustomed to
consider conversation as a contest, and such was his notion of
Burke as an opponent.
Next morning, Thursday, March 21, we set out in a post-chaise to
pursue our ramble. It was a delightful day, and we rode through
Blenheim park. When I looked at the magnificent bridge built by
John Duke of Marlborough, over a small rivulet, and recollected the
Epigram made upon it--
'The lofty arch his high ambition shows,
The stream, an emblem of his bounty flows:'
and saw that now, by the genius of Brown, a magnificent body of
water was collected, I said, 'They have DROWNED the Epigram.' I
observed to him, while in the midst of the noble scene around us,
'You and I, Sir, have, I think, seen together the extremes of what
can be seen in Britain:--the wild rough island of Mull, and
We dined at an excellent inn at Chapel-house, where he expatiated
on the felicity of England in its taverns and inns, and triumphed
over the French for not having, in any perfection, the tavern life.
'There is no private house, (said he,) in which people can enjoy
themselves so well, as at a capital tavern. Let there be ever so
great plenty of good things, ever so much grandeur, ever so much
elegance, ever so much desire that every body should be easy; in
the nature of things it cannot be: there must always be some degree
of care and anxiety. The master of the house is anxious to
entertain his guests; the guests are anxious to be agreeable to
him: and no man, but a very impudent dog indeed, can as freely
command what is in another man's house, as if it were his own.
Whereas, at a tavern, there is a general freedom from anxiety. You
are sure you are welcome: and the more noise you make, the more
trouble you give, the more good things you call for, the welcomer
you are. No servants will attend you with the alacrity which
waiters do, who are incited by the prospect of an immediate reward,
in proportion as they please. No, Sir; there is nothing which has
yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced
as by a good tavern or inn.'* He then repeated, with great
emotion, Shenstone's lines:--
'Whoe'er has travell'd life's dull round,
Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome at an inn.'
* Sir John Hawkins has preserved very few Memorabilia of Johnson.
There is, however, to be found, in his bulky tome [p. 87], a very
excellent one upon this subject:--'In contradiction to those, who,
having a wife and children, prefer domestick enjoyments to those
which a tavern affords, I have heard him assert, that a tavern
chair was the throne of human felicity.--"As soon," said he, "as I
enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a
freedom from solicitude: when I am seated, I find the master
courteous, and the servants obsequious to my call; anxious to know
and ready to supply my wants: wine there exhilarates my spirits,
and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse
with those whom I most love: I dogmatise and am contradicted, and
in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight."'--
In the afternoon, as we were driven rapidly along in the post-
chaise, he said to me 'Life has not many things better than this.'
We stopped at Stratford-upon-Avon, and drank tea and coffee; and it
pleased me to be with him upon the classick ground of Shakspeare's
He spoke slightingly of Dyer's Fleece.--'The subject, Sir, cannot
be made poetical. How can a man write poetically of serges and
druggets? Yet you will hear many people talk to you gravely of
that excellent poem, The Fleece.' Having talked of Grainger's
Sugar-Cane, I mentioned to him Mr. Langton's having told me, that
this poem, when read in manuscript at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, had
made all the assembled wits burst into a laugh, when, after much
blank-verse pomp, the poet began a new paragraph thus:--
'Now, Muse, let's sing of rats.'
And what increased the ridicule was, that one of the company, who
slily overlooked the reader, perceived that the word had been
originally MICE, and had been altered to RATS, as more dignified.
Johnson said, that Dr. Grainger was an agreeable man; a man who
would do any good that was in his power. His translation of
Tibullus, he thought, was very well done; but The Sugar-Cane, a
poem, did not please him; for, he exclaimed, 'What could he make of
a sugar-cane? One might as well write the "Parsley-bed, a Poem;"
or "The Cabbage-garden, a Poem."' BOSWELL. 'You must then pickle
your cabbage with the sal atticum.' JOHNSON. 'You know there is
already The Hop-Garden, a Poem: and, I think, one could say a great
deal about cabbage. The poem might begin with the advantages of
civilized society over a rude state, exemplified by the Scotch, who
had no cabbages till Oliver Cromwell's soldiers introduced them;
and one might thus shew how arts are propagated by conquest, as
they were by the Roman arms.' He seemed to be much diverted with
the fertility of his own fancy.
I told him, that I heard Dr. Percy was writing the history of the
wolf in Great-Britain. JOHNSON. 'The wolf, Sir! why the wolf? why
does he not write of the bear, which we had formerly? Nay, it is
said we had the beaver. Or why does he not write of the grey rat,
the Hanover rat, as it is called, because it is said to have come
into this country about the time that the family of Hanover came?
I should like to see The History of the Grey Rat, by Thomas Percy,
D. D., Chaplain in Ordinary to his Majesty,' (laughing
immoderately). BOSWELL. 'I am afraid a court chaplain could not
decently write of the grey rat.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, he need not give
it the name of the Hanover rat.' Thus could he indulge a luxuriant
sportive imagination, when talking of a friend whom he loved and
On Friday, March 22, having set out early from Henley, where we had
lain the preceding night, we arrived at Birmingham about nine
o'clock, and, after breakfast, went to call on his old schoolfellow
Mr. Hector. A very stupid maid, who opened the door, told us, that
'her master was gone out; he was gone to the country; she could not
tell when he would return.' In short, she gave us a miserable
reception; and Johnson observed, 'She would have behaved no better
to people who wanted him in the way of his profession.' He said to
her, 'My name is Johnson; tell him I called. Will you remember the
name?' She answered with rustick simplicity, in the Warwickshire
pronunciation, 'I don't understand you, Sir.'--'Blockhead, (said
he,) I'll write.' I never heard the word blockhead applied to a
woman before, though I do not see why it should not, when there is
evident occasion for it. He, however, made another attempt to make
her understand him, and roared loud in her ear, 'Johnson,' and then
she catched the sound.
We next called on Mr. Lloyd, one of the people called Quakers. He
too was not at home; but Mrs. Lloyd was, and received us
courteously, and asked us to dinner. Johnson said to me, 'After
the uncertainty of all human things at Hector's, this invitation
came very well.' We walked about the town, and he was pleased to
see it increasing.
Mr. Lloyd joined us in the street; and in a little while we met
Friend Hector, as Mr. Lloyd called him. It gave me pleasure to
observe the joy which Johnson and he expressed on seeing each other
again. Mr. Lloyd and I left them together, while he obligingly
shewed me some of the manufactures of this very curious assemblage
of artificers. We all met at dinner at Mr. Lloyd's, where we were
entertained with great hospitality. Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd had been
married the same year with their Majesties, and like them, had been
blessed with a numerous family of fine children, their numbers
being exactly the same. Johnson said, 'Marriage is the best state
for a man in general; and every man is a worse man, in proportion
as he is unfit for the married state.'
Dr. Johnson said to me in the morning, 'You will see, Sir, at Mr.
Hector's, his sister, Mrs. Careless, a clergyman's widow. She was
the first woman with whom I was in love. It dropt out of my head
imperceptibly; but she and I shall always have a kindness for each
other.' He laughed at the notion that a man never can be really in
love but once, and considered it as a mere romantick fancy.
On our return from Mr. Bolton's, Mr. Hector took me to his house,
where we found Johnson sitting placidly at tea, with his first
love; who, though now advanced in years, was a genteel woman, very
agreeable, and well-bred.
Johnson lamented to Mr. Hector the state of one of their school-
fellows, Mr. Charles Congreve, a clergyman, which he thus
described: 'He obtained, I believe, considerable preferment in
Ireland, but now lives in London, quite as a valetudinarian, afraid
to go into any house but his own. He takes a short airing in his
post-chaise every day. He has an elderly woman, whom he calls
cousin, who lives with him, and jogs his elbow when his glass has
stood too long empty, and encourages him in drinking, in which he
is very willing to be encouraged; not that he gets drunk, for he is
a very pious man, but he is always muddy. He confesses to one
bottle of port every day, and he probably drinks more. He is quite
unsocial; his conversation is quite monosyllabical: and when, at my
last visit, I asked him what a clock it was? that signal of my
departure had so pleasing an effect on him, that he sprung up to
look at his watch, like a greyhound bounding at a hare.' When
Johnson took leave of Mr. Hector, he said, 'Don't grow like
Congreve; nor let me grow like him, when you are near me.'
When he again talked of Mrs. Careless to-night, he seemed to have
had his affection revived; for he said, 'If I had married her, it
might have been as happy for me.' BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, do you not
suppose that there are fifty women in the world, with any one of
whom a man may be as happy, as with any one woman in particular?'
JOHNSON. 'Ay, Sir, fifty thousand.' BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, you are
not of opinion with some who imagine that certain men and certain
women are made for each other; and that they cannot be happy if
they miss their counterparts?' JOHNSON. 'To be sure not, Sir. I
believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so,
if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due
consideration of characters and circumstances, without the parties
having any choice in the matter.'
I wished to have staid at Birmingham to-night, to have talked more
with Mr. Hector; but my friend was impatient to reach his native
city; so we drove on that stage in the dark, and were long pensive
and silent. When we came within the focus of the Lichfield lamps,
'Now (said he,) we are getting out of a state of death.' We put up
at the Three Crowns, not one of the great inns, but a good old
fashioned one, which was kept by Mr. Wilkins, and was the very next
house to that in which Johnson was born and brought up, and which
was still his own property. We had a comfortable supper, and got
into high spirits. I felt all my Toryism glow in this old capital
of Staffordshire. I could have offered incense genio loci; and I
indulged in libations of that ale, which Boniface, in The Beaux
Stratagem, recommends with such an eloquent jollity.
Next morning he introduced me to Mrs. Lucy Porter, his step-
daughter. She was now an old maid, with much simplicity of manner.
She had never been in London. Her brother, a Captain in the navy,
had left her a fortune of ten thousand pounds; about a third of
which she had laid out in building a stately house, and making a
handsome garden, in an elevated situation in Lichfield. Johnson,
when here by himself, used to live at her house. She reverenced
him, and he had a parental tenderness for her.
We then visited Mr. Peter Garrick, who had that morning received a
letter from his brother David, announcing our coming to Lichfield.
He was engaged to dinner, but asked us to tea, and to sleep at his
house. Johnson, however, would not quit his old acquaintance
Wilkins, of the Three Crowns. The family likeness of the Garricks
was very striking; and Johnson thought that David's vivacity was
not so peculiar to himself as was supposed. 'Sir, (said he,) I
don't know but if Peter had cultivated all the arts of gaiety as
much as David has done, he might have been as brisk and lively.
Depend upon it, Sir, vivacity is much an art, and depends greatly
on habit.' I believe there is a good deal of truth in this,
notwithstanding a ludicrous story told me by a lady abroad, of a
heavy German baron, who had lived much with the young English at
Geneva, and was ambitious to be as lively as they; with which view,
he, with assiduous exertion, was jumping over the tables and chairs
in his lodgings; and when the people of the house ran in and asked,
with surprize, what was the matter, he answered, 'Sh' apprens
We dined at our inn, and had with us a Mr. Jackson, one of
Johnson's schoolfellows, whom he treated with much kindness, though
he seemed to be a low man, dull and untaught. He had a coarse grey
coat, black waistcoat, greasy leather breeches, and a yellow
uncurled wig; and his countenance had the ruddiness which betokens
one who is in no haste to 'leave his can.' He drank only ale. He
had tried to be a cutler at Birmingham, but had not succeeded; and
now he lived poorly at home, and had some scheme of dressing
leather in a better manner than common; to his indistinct account
of which, Dr. Johnson listened with patient attention, that he
might assist him with his advice. Here was an instance of genuine
humanity and real kindness in this great man, who has been most
unjustly represented as altogether harsh and destitute of
tenderness. A thousand such instances might have been recorded in
the course of his long life; though that his temper was warm and
hasty, and his manner often rough, cannot be denied.
I saw here, for the first time, oat ale; and oat cakes not hard as
in Scotland, but soft like a Yorkshire cake, were served at
breakfast. It was pleasant to me to find, that Oats, the food of
horses, were so much used as the food of the people in Dr.
Johnson's own town. He expatiated in praise of Lichfield and its
inhabitants, who, he said, were 'the most sober, decent people in
England, the genteelest in proportion to their wealth, and spoke
the purest English.' I doubted as to the last article of this
eulogy: for they had several provincial sounds; as THERE,
pronounced like FEAR, instead of like FAIR; ONCE pronounced WOONSE,
instead of WUNSE, or WONSE. Johnson himself never got entirely
free of those provincial accents. Garrick sometimes used to take
him off, squeezing a lemon into a punch-bowl, with uncouth
gesticulations, looking round the company, and calling out, 'Who's
Very little business appeared to be going forward in Lichfield. I
found however two strange manufactures for so inland a place, sail-
cloth and streamers for ships; and I observed them making some
saddle-cloths, and dressing sheepskins: but upon the whole, the
busy hand of industry seemed to be quite slackened. 'Surely, Sir,
(said I,) you are an idle set of people.' 'Sir, (said Johnson,) we
are a city of philosophers, we work with our heads, and make the
boobies of Birmingham work for us with their hands.'
There was at this time a company of players performing at
Lichfield, The manager, Mr. Stanton, sent his compliments, and
begged leave to wait on Dr. Johnson. Johnson received him very
courteously, and he drank a glass of wine with us. He was a plain
decent well-behaved man, and expressed his gratitude to Dr. Johnson
for having once got him permission from Dr. Taylor at Ashbourne to
play there upon moderate terms. Garrick's name was soon
introduced. JOHNSON. 'Garrick's conversation is gay and
grotesque. It is a dish of all sorts, but all good things. There
is no solid meat in it: there is a want of sentiment in it. Not
but that he has sentiment sometimes, and sentiment, too, very
powerful and very pleasing: but it has not its full proportion in
When we were by ourselves he told me, 'Forty years ago, Sir, I was
in love with an actress here, Mrs. Emmet, who acted Flora, in Hob
in the Well.' What merit this lady had as an actress, or what was
her figure, or her manner, I have not been informed: but, if we may
believe Mr. Garrick, his old master's taste in theatrical merit was
by no means refined; he was not an elegans formarum spectator.
Garrick used to tell, that Johnson said of an actor, who played Sir
Harry Wildair at Lichfield, 'There is a courtly vivacity about the
fellow;' when in fact, according to Garrick's account, 'he was the
most vulgar ruffian that ever went upon boards.'
We had promised Mr. Stanton to be at his theatre on Monday. Dr.
Johnson jocularly proposed me to write a Prologue for the occasion:
'A Prologue, by James Boswell, Esq. from the Hebrides.' I was
really inclined to take the hint. Methought, 'Prologue, spoken
before Dr. Samuel Johnson, at Lichfield, 1776;' would have sounded
as well as, 'Prologue, spoken before the Duke of York, at Oxford,'
in Charles the Second's time. Much might have been said of what
Lichfield had done for Shakspeare, by producing Johnson and
Garrick. But I found he was averse to it.
We went and viewed the museum of Mr. Richard Green, apothecary
here, who told me he was proud of being a relation of Dr.
Johnson's. It was, truely, a wonderful collection, both of
antiquities and natural curiosities, and ingenious works of art.
He had all the articles accurately arranged, with their names upon
labels, printed at his own little press; and on the staircase
leading to it was a board, with the names of contributors marked in
gold letters. A printed catalogue of the collection was to be had
at a bookseller's. Johnson expressed his admiration of the
activity and diligence and good fortune of Mr. Green, in getting
together, in his situation, so great a variety of things; and Mr.
Green told me that Johnson once said to him, 'Sir, I should as soon
have thought of building a man of war, as of collecting such a
museum.' Mr. Green's obliging alacrity in shewing it was very
We drank tea and coffee at Mr. Peter Garrick's, where was Mrs.
Aston, one of the maiden sisters of Mrs. Walmsley, wife of
Johnson's first friend, and sister also of the lady of whom Johnson
used to speak with the warmest admiration, by the name of Molly
Aston, who was afterwards married to Captain Brodie of the navy.
On Sunday, March 24, we breakfasted with Mrs. Cobb, a widow lady,
who lived in an agreeable sequestered place close by the town,
called the Friary, it having been formerly a religious house. She
and her niece, Miss Adey, were great admirers of Dr. Johnson; and
he behaved to them with a kindness and easy pleasantry, such as we
see between old and intimate acquaintance. He accompanied Mrs.
Cobb to St. Mary's church, and I went to the cathedral, where I was
very much delighted with the musick, finding it to be peculiarly
solemn and accordant with the words of the service.
We dined at Mr. Peter Garrick's, who was in a very lively humour,
and verified Johnson's saying, that if he had cultivated gaiety as
much as his brother David, he might have equally excelled in it.
He was to-day quite a London narrator, telling us a variety of
anecdotes with that earnestness and attempt at mimicry which we
usually find in the wits of the metropolis. Dr. Johnson went with
me to the cathedral in the afternoon. It was grand and pleasing to
contemplate this illustrious writer, now full of fame, worshipping
in the 'solemn temple' of his native city.
I returned to tea and coffee at Mr. Peter Garrick's, and then found
Dr. Johnson at the Reverend Mr. Seward's, Canon Residentiary, who
inhabited the Bishop's palace, in which Mr. Walmsley lived, and
which had been the scene of many happy hours in Johnson's early
On monday, March 25, we breakfasted at Mrs. Lucy Porter's. Johnson
had sent an express to Dr. Taylor's, acquainting him of our being
at Lichfield, and Taylor had returned an answer that his postchaise
should come for us this day. While we sat at breakfast, Dr.
Johnson received a letter by the post, which seemed to agitate him
very much. When he had read it, he exclaimed, 'One of the most
dreadful things that has happened in my time.' The phrase my time,
like the word age, is usually understood to refer to an event of a
publick or general nature. I imagined something like an
assassination of the King--like a gunpowder plot carried into
execution--or like another fire of London. When asked, 'What is
it, Sir?' he answered, 'Mr. Thrale has lost his only son!' This
was, no doubt, a very great affliction to Mr. and Mrs. Thrale,
which their friends would consider accordingly; but from the manner
in which the intelligence of it was communicated by Johnson, it
appeared for the moment to be comparatively small. I, however,
soon felt a sincere concern, and was curious to observe, how Dr.
Johnson would be affected. He said, 'This is a total extinction to
their family, as much as if they were sold into captivity.' Upon
my mentioning that Mr. Thrale had daughters, who might inherit his
wealth;--'Daughters, (said Johnson, warmly,) he'll no more value
his daughters than--' I was going to speak.--'Sir, (said he,)
don't you know how you yourself think? Sir, he wishes to propagate
his name.' In short, I saw male succession strong in his mind,
even where there was no name, no family of any long standing. I
said, it was lucky he was not present when this misfortune
happened. JOHNSON. 'It is lucky for ME. People in distress never
think that you feel enough.' BOSWELL. 'And Sir, they will have
the hope of seeing you, which will be a relief in the mean time;
and when you get to them, the pain will be so far abated, that they
will be capable of being consoled by you, which, in the first
violence of it, I believe, would not be the case.' JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir; violent pain of mind, like violent pain of body, MUST be
severely felt.' BOSWELL. 'I own, Sir, I have not so much feeling
for the distress of others, as some people have, or pretend to
have: but I know this, that I would do all in my power to relieve
them.' JOHNSON. 'Sir it is affectation to pretend to feel the
distress of others, as much as they do themselves. It is equally
so, as if one should pretend to feel as much pain while a friend's
leg is cutting off, as he does. No, Sir; you have expressed the
rational and just nature of sympathy. I would have gone to the
extremity of the earth to have preserved this boy.'
He was soon quite calm. The letter was from Mr. Thrale's clerk,
and concluded, 'I need not say how much they wish to see you in
London.' He said, 'We shall hasten back from Taylor's.'
Mrs. Lucy Porter and some other ladies of the place talked a great
deal of him when he was out of the room, not only with veneration
but affection. It pleased me to find that he was so much BELOVED
in his native city.
Mrs. Aston, whom I had seen the preceding night, and her sister,
Mrs. Gastrel, a widow lady, had each a house and garden, and
pleasure-ground, prettily situated upon Stowhill, a gentle
eminence, adjoining to Lichfield. Johnson walked away to dinner
there, leaving me by myself without any apology; I wondered at this
want of that facility of manners, from which a man has no
difficulty in carrying a friend to a house where he is intimate; I
felt it very unpleasant to be thus left in solitude in a country
town, where I was an entire stranger, and began to think myself
unkindly deserted; but I was soon relieved, and convinced that my
friend, instead of being deficient in delicacy, had conducted the
matter with perfect propriety, for I received the following note in
his handwriting: 'Mrs. Gastrel, at the lower house on Stowhill,
desires Mr. Boswell's company to dinner at two.' I accepted of the
invitation, and had here another proof how amiable his character
was in the opinion of those who knew him best. I was not informed,
till afterwards, that Mrs. Gastrel's husband was the clergyman who,
while he lived at Stratford upon Avon, where he was proprietor of
Shakspeare's garden, with Gothick barbarity cut down his mulberry-
tree, and, as Dr. Johnson told me, did it to vex his neighbours.
His lady, I have reason to believe, on the same authority,
participated in the guilt of what the enthusiasts for our immortal
bard deem almost a species of sacrilege.
After dinner Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to Mrs. Thrale on the death
of her son. I said it would be very distressing to Thrale, but she
would soon forget it, as she had so many things to think of.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, Thrale will forget it first. SHE has many
things that she MAY think of. HE has many things that he MUST
think of.' This was a very just remark upon the different effect
of those light pursuits which occupy a vacant and easy mind, and
those serious engagements which arrest attention, and keep us from
brooding over grief.
In the evening we went to the Town-hall, which was converted into a
temporary theatre, and saw Theodosius, with The Stratford Jubilee.
I was happy to see Dr. Johnson sitting in a conspicuous part of the
pit, and receiving affectionate homage from all his acquaintance.
We were quite gay and merry. I afterwards mentioned to him that I
condemned myself for being so, when poor Mr. and Mrs. Thrale were
in such distress. JOHNSON. 'You are wrong, Sir; twenty years
hence Mr. and Mrs. Thrale will not suffer much pain from the death
of their son. Now, Sir, you are to consider, that distance of
place, as well as distance of time, operates upon the human
feelings. I would not have you be gay in the presence of the
distressed, because it would shock them; but you may be gay at a
distance. Pain for the loss of a friend, or of a relation whom we
love, is occasioned by the want which we feel. In time the vacuity
is filled with something else; or sometimes the vacuity closes up
Mr. Seward and Mr. Pearson, another clergyman here, supt with us at
our inn, and after they left us, we sat up late as we used to do in
Here I shall record some fragments of my friend's conversation
during this jaunt.
'Marriage, Sir, is much more necessary to a man than to a woman;
for he is much less able to supply himself with domestick comforts.
You will recollect my saying to some ladies the other day, that I
had often wondered why young women should marry, as they have so
much more freedom, and so much more attention paid to them while
unmarried, than when married. I indeed did not mention the STRONG
reason for their marrying--the MECHANICAL reason.' BOSWELL. 'Why,
that IS a strong one. But does not imagination make it much more
important than it is in reality? Is it not, to a certain degree, a
delusion in us as well as in women?' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; but
it is a delusion that is always beginning again.' BOSWELL. 'I
don't know but there is upon the whole more misery than happiness
produced by that passion.' JOHNSON. 'I don't think so, Sir.'
'Never speak of a man in his own presence. It is always
indelicate, and may be offensive.'
'Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It
is assuming a superiority, and it is particularly wrong to question
a man concerning himself. There may be parts of his former life
which he may not wish to be made known to other persons, or even
brought to his own recollection.'
'A man should be careful never to tell tales of himself to his own
disadvantage. People may be amused and laugh at the time, but they
will be remembered, and brought out against him upon some
'Much may be done if a man puts his whole mind to a particular
object. By doing so, Norton has made himself the great lawyer that
he is allowed to be.'
On Tuesday, March 26, there came for us an equipage properly suited
to a wealthy well-beneficed clergyman;--Dr. Taylor's large roomy
post-chaise, drawn by four stout plump horses, and driven by two
steady jolly postillions, which conveyed us to Ashbourne; where I
found my friend's schoolfellow living upon an establishment
perfectly corresponding with his substantial creditable equipage:
his house, garden, pleasure-grounds, table, in short every thing
good, and no scantiness appearing. Every man should form such a
plan of living as he can execute completely. Let him not draw an
outline wider than he can fill up. I have seen many skeletons of
shew and magnificence which excite at once ridicule and pity. Dr.
Taylor had a good estate of his own, and good preferment in the
church, being a prebendary of Westminster, and rector of Bosworth.
He was a diligent justice of the peace, and presided over the town
of Ashbourne, to the inhabitants of which I was told he was very
liberal; and as a proof of this it was mentioned to me, he had the
preceding winter distributed two hundred pounds among such of them
as stood in need of his assistance. He had consequently a
considerable political interest in the county of Derby, which he
employed to support the Devonshire family; for though the
schoolfellow and friend of Johnson, he was a Whig. I could not
perceive in his character much congeniality of any sort with that
of Johnson, who, however, said to me, 'Sir, he has a very strong
understanding.' His size, and figure, and countenance, and manner,
were that of a hearty English 'Squire, with the parson super-
induced: and I took particular notice of his upper servant, Mr.
Peters, a decent grave man, in purple clothes, and a large white
wig, like the butler or major domo of a Bishop.
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Taylor met with great cordiality; and Johnson
soon gave him the same sad account of their school-fellow,
Congreve, that he had given to Mr. Hector; adding a remark of such
moment to the rational conduct of a man in the decline of life,
that it deserves to be imprinted upon every mind: 'There is nothing
against which an old man should be so much upon his guard as
putting himself to nurse. Innumerable have been the melancholy
instances of men once distinguished for firmness, resolution, and
spirit, who in their latter days have been governed like children,
by interested female artifice.
Dr. Taylor commended a physician who was known to him and Dr.
Johnson, and said, 'I fight many battles for him, as many people in
the country dislike him.' JOHNSON. 'But you should consider, Sir,
that by every one of your victories he is a loser; for, every man
of whom you get the better, will be very angry, and resolve not to
employ him; whereas if people get the better of you in argument
about him, they'll think, "We'll send for Dr. ******
nevertheless."' This was an observation deep and sure in human
Next day, as Dr. Johnson had acquainted Dr. Taylor of the reason
for his returning speedily to London, it was resolved that we
should set out after dinner. A few of Dr. Taylor's neighbours were
his guests that day.
Dr. Johnson talked with approbation of one who had attained to the
state of the philosophical wise man, that is to have no want of any
thing. 'Then, Sir, (said I,) the savage is a wise man.' 'Sir,
(said he,) I do not mean simply being without,--but not having a
want.' I maintained, against this proposition, that it was better
to have fine clothes, for instance, than not to feel the want of
them. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; fine clothes are good only as they
supply the want of other means of procuring respect. Was Charles
the Twelfth, think you, less respected for his coarse blue coat and
black stock? And you find the King of Prussia dresses plain,
because the dignity of his character is sufficient.' I here
brought myself into a scrape, for I heedlessly said, 'Would not
YOU, Sir, be the better for velvet and embroidery?' JOHNSON.
'Sir, you put an end to all argument when you introduce your
opponent himself. Have you no better manners? There is YOUR
WANT.' I apologised by saying, I had mentioned him as an instance
of one who wanted as little as any man in the world, and yet,
perhaps, might receive some additional lustre from dress.
Having left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped to change horses
at Derby, and availed ourselves of a moment to enjoy the
conversation of my countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there.
He was in great indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a
Scotch militia had been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against
it. 'I am glad, (said he,) that Parliament has had the spirit to
throw it out. You wanted to take advantage of the timidity of our
scoundrels;' (meaning, I suppose, the ministry). It may be
observed, that he used the epithet scoundrel very commonly not
quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but as a
strong term of disapprobation; as when he abruptly answered Mrs.
Thrale, who had asked him how he did, 'Ready to become a scoundrel,
Madam; with a little more spoiling you will, I think, make me a
complete rascal:' he meant, easy to become a capricious and self-
indulgent valetudinarian; a character for which I have heard him
express great disgust. We lay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. He said, 'It is
commonly a weak man who marries for love.' We then talked of
marrying women of fortune; and I mentioned a common remark, that a
man may be, upon the whole, richer by marrying a woman with a very
small portion, because a woman of fortune will be proportionally
expensive; whereas a woman who brings none will be very moderate in
expenses. JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this is not true. A
woman of fortune being used to the handling of money, spends it
judiciously: but a woman who gets the command of money for the
first time upon her marriage, has such a gust in spending it, that
she throws it away with great profusion.'
He praised the ladies of the present age, insisting that they were
more faithful to their husbands, and more virtuous in every
respect, than in former times, because their understandings were
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James was dead. I
thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom
he had lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-
traveller much: but he only said, Ah! poor Jamy.' Afterwards,
however, when we were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness,
'Since I set out on this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a
young one;--Dr. James, and poor Harry.' (Meaning Mr. Thrale's
I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London, that metropolis
which we both loved so much, for the high and varied intellectual
pleasure which it furnishes. I experienced immediate happiness
while whirled along with such a companion, and said to him, 'Sir,
you observed one day at General Oglethorpe's, that a man is never
happy for the present, but when he is drunk. Will you not add,--or
when driving rapidly in a post-chaise?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, you
are driving rapidly FROM something, or TO something.'
Talking of melancholy, he said, 'Some men, and very thinking men
too, have not those vexing thoughts. Sir Joshua Reynolds is the
same all the year round. Beauclerk, except when ill and in pain,
is the same. But I believe most men have them in the degree in
which they are capable of having them. If I were in the country,
and were distressed by that malady, I would force myself to take a
book; and every time I did it I should find it the easier.
Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but
We stopped at Messieurs Dillys, booksellers in the Poultry; from
whence he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr. Thrale's, in the
Borough. I called at his house in the evening, having promised to
acquaint Mrs. Williams of his safe return; when, to my surprize, I
found him sitting with her at tea, and, as I thought, not in a very
good humour: for, it seems, when he had got to Mr. Thrale's, he
found the coach was at the door waiting to carry Mrs. and Miss
Thrale, and Signor Baretti, their Italian master, to Bath. This
was not shewing the attention which might have been expected to the
'Guide, Philosopher, and Friend,' the Imlac who had hastened from
the country to console a distressed mother, who he understood was
very anxious for his return. They had, I found, without ceremony,
proceeded on their intended journey. I was glad to understand from
him that it was still resolved that his tour to Italy with Mr. and
Mrs. Thrale should take place, of which he had entertained some
doubt, on account of the loss which they had suffered; and his
doubts afterwards proved to be well-founded. He observed, indeed
very justly, that 'their loss was an additional reason for their
going abroad; and if it had not been fixed that he should have been
one of the party, he would force them out; but he would not advise
them unless his advice was asked, lest they might suspect that he
recommended what he wished on his own account.' I was not pleased
that his intimacy with Mr. Thrale's family, though it no doubt
contributed much to his comfort and enjoyment, was not without some
degree of restraint: not, as has been grossly suggested, that it
was required of him as a task to talk for the entertainment of them
and their company; but that he was not quite at his ease; which,
however, might partly be owing to his own honest pride--that
dignity of mind which is always jealous of appearing too compliant.
On Sunday, March 31, I called on him, and shewed him as a curiosity
which I had discovered, his Translation of Lobo's Account of
Abyssinia, which Sir John Pringle had lent me, it being then little
known as one of his works. He said, 'Take no notice of it,' or
'don't talk of it.' He seemed to think it beneath him, though done
at six-and-twenty. I said to him, 'Your style, Sir, is much
improved since you translated this.' He answered with a sort of
triumphant smile, 'Sir, I hope it is.'
On Wednesday, April 3, in the morning I found him very busy putting
his books in order, and as they were generally very old ones,
clouds of dust were flying around him. He had on a pair of large
gloves such as hedgers use. His present appearance put me in mind
of my uncle, Dr. Boswell's description of him, 'A robust genius,
born to grapple with whole libraries.'
He had been in company with Omai, a native of one of the South Sea
Islands, after he had been some time in this country. He was
struck with the elegance of his behaviour, and accounted for it
thus: 'Sir, he had passed his time, while in England, only in the
best company; so that all that he had acquired of our manners was
genteel. As a proof of this, Sir, Lord Mulgrave and he dined one
day at Streatham; they sat with their backs to the light fronting
me, so that I could not see distinctly; and there was so little of
the savage in Omai, that I was afraid to speak to either, lest I
should mistake one for the other.'
We agreed to dine to-day at the Mitre-tavern after the rising of
the House of Lords, where a branch of the litigation concerning the
Douglas Estate, in which I was one of the counsel, was to come on.
I introduced the topick, which is often ignorantly urged, that the
Universities of England are too rich; so that learning does not
flourish in them as it would do, if those who teach had smaller
salaries, and depended on their assiduity for a great part of their
income. JOHNSON. 'Sir, the very reverse of this is the truth; the
English Universities are not rich enough. Our fellowships are only
sufficient to support a man during his studies to fit him for the
world, and accordingly in general they are held no longer than till
an opportunity offers of getting away. Now and then, perhaps,
there is a fellow who grows old in his college; but this is against
his will, unless he be a man very indolent indeed. A hundred a
year is reckoned a good fellowship, and that is no more than is
necessary to keep a man decently as a scholar. We do not allow our
fellows to marry, because we consider academical institutions as
preparatory to a settlement in the world. It is only by being
employed as a tutor, that a fellow can obtain any thing more than a
livelihood. To be sure a man, who has enough without teaching,
will probably not teach; for we would all be idle if we could. In
the same manner, a man who is to get nothing by teaching, will not
exert himself. Gresham College was intended as a place of
instruction for London; able professors were to read lectures
gratis, they contrived to have no scholars; whereas, if they had
been allowed to receive but sixpence a lecture from each scholar,
they would have been emulous to have had many scholars. Every body
will agree that it should be the interest of those who teach to
have scholars and this is the case in our Universities. That they
are too rich is certainly not true; for they have nothing good
enough to keep a man of eminent learning with them for his life.
In the foreign Universities a professorship is a high thing. It is
as much almost as a man can make by his learning; and therefore we
find the most learned men abroad are in the Universities. It is
not so with us. Our Universities are impoverished of learning, by
the penury of their provisions. I wish there were many places of a
thousand a-year at Oxford, to keep first-rate men of learning from
quitting the University.'
I mentioned Mr. Maclaurin's uneasiness on account of a degree of
ridicule carelessly thrown on his deceased father, in Goldsmith's
History of Animated Nature, in which that celebrated mathematician
is represented as being subject to fits of yawning so violent as to
render him incapable of proceeding in his lecture; a story
altogether unfounded, but for the publication of which the law
would give no reparation. This led us to agitate the question,
whether legal redress could be obtained, even when a man's deceased
relation was calumniated in a publication.
On Friday, April 5, being Good Friday, after having attended the
morning service at St. Clement's Church, I walked home with
Johnson. We talked of the Roman Catholick religion. JOHNSON. 'In
the barbarous ages, Sir, priests and people were equally deceived;
but afterwards there were gross corruptions introduced by the
clergy, such as indulgencies to priests to have concubines, and the
worship of images, not, indeed, inculcated, but knowingly
permitted.' He strongly censured the licensed stews at Rome.
BOSWELL. 'So then, Sir, you would allow of no irregular
intercourse whatever between the sexes?' JOHNSON. 'To be sure I
would not, Sir. I would punish it much more than it is done, and
so restrain it. In all countries there has been fornication, as in
all countries there has been theft; but there may be more or less
of the one, as well as of the other, in proportion to the force of
law. All men will naturally commit fornication, as all men will
naturally steal. And, Sir, it is very absurd to argue, as has been
often done, that prostitutes are necessary to prevent the violent
effects of appetite from violating the decent order of life; nay,
should be permitted, in order to preserve the chastity of our wives
and daughters. Depend upon it, Sir, severe laws, steadily
enforced, would be sufficient against those evils, and would
Mr. Thrale called upon him, and appeared to bear the loss of his
son with a manly composure. There was no affectation about him;
and he talked, as usual, upon indifferent subjects. He seemed to
me to hesitate as to the intended Italian tour, on which, I
flattered myself, he and Mrs. Thrale and Dr. Johnson were soon to
set out; and, therefore, I pressed it as much as I could. I
mentioned, that Mr. Beauclerk had said, that Baretti, whom they
were to carry with them, would keep them so long in the little
towns of his own district, that they would not have time to see
Rome. I mentioned this, to put them on their guard. JOHNSON.
'Sir, we do not thank Mr. Beauclerk for supposing that we are to be
directed by Baretti. No, Sir; Mr. Thrale is to go, by my advice,
to Mr. Jackson, (the all-knowing) and get from him a plan for
seeing the most that can be seen in the time that we have to
travel. We must, to be sure, see Rome, Naples, Florence, and
Venice, and as much more as we can.' (Speaking with a tone of
When I expressed an earnest wish for his remarks on Italy, he said,
'I do not see that I could make a book upon Italy; yet I should be
glad to get two hundred pounds, or five hundred pounds, by such a
work.' This shewed both that a journal of his Tour upon the
Continent was not wholly out of his contemplation, and that he
uniformly adhered to that strange opinion, which his indolent
disposition made him utter: 'No man but a blockhead ever wrote,
except for money.' Numerous instances to refute this will occur to
all who are versed in the history of literature.
He gave us one of the many sketches of character which were
treasured in his mind, and which he was wont to produce quite
unexpectedly in a very entertaining manner. 'I lately, (said he,)
received a letter from the East Indies, from a gentleman whom I
formerly knew very well; he had returned from that country with a
handsome fortune, as it was reckoned, before means were found to
acquire those immense sums which have been brought from thence of
late; he was a scholar, and an agreeable man, and lived very
prettily in London, till his wife died. After her death, he took
to dissipation and gaming, and lost all he had. One evening he
lost a thousand pounds to a gentleman whose name I am sorry I have
forgotten. Next morning he sent the gentleman five hundred pounds,
with an apology that it was all he had in the world. The gentleman
sent the money back to him, declaring he would not accept of it;
and adding, that if Mr. ------ had occasion for five hundred pounds
more, he would lend it to him. He resolved to go out again to the
East Indies, and make his fortune anew. He got a considerable
appointment, and I had some intention of accompanying him. Had I
thought then as I do now, I should have gone: but, at that time, I
had objections to quitting England.'
It was a very remarkable circumstance about Johnson, whom shallow
observers have supposed to have been ignorant of the world, that
very few men had seen greater variety of characters; and none could
observe them better, as was evident from the strong, yet nice
portraits which he often drew. I have frequently thought that if
he had made out what the French call une catalogue raisonnee of all
the people who had passed under his observation, it would have
afforded a very rich fund of instruction and entertainment. The
suddenness with which his accounts of some of them started out in
conversation, was not less pleasing than surprizing. I remember he
once observed to me, 'It is wonderful, Sir, what is to be found in
London. The most literary conversation that I ever enjoyed, was at
the table of Jack Ellis, a money-scrivener behind the Royal
Exchange, with whom I at one period used to dine generally once a
Volumes would be required to contain a list of his numerous and
various acquaintance, none of whom he ever forgot; and could
describe and discriminate them all with precision and vivacity. He
associated with persons the most widely different in manners,
abilities, rank, and accomplishments. He was at once the companion
of the brilliant Colonel Forrester of the Guards, who wrote The
Polite Philosopher, and of the aukward and uncouth Robert Levet; of
Lord Thurlow, and Mr. Sastres, the Italian master; and has dined
one day with the beautiful, gay, and fascinating Lady Craven, and
the next with good Mrs. Gardiner, the tallow-chandler, on Snow-
On my expressing my wonder at his discovering so much of the
knowledge peculiar to different professions, he to]d me, 'I learnt
what I know of law, chiefly from Mr. Ballow, a very able man. I
learnt some, too, from Chambers; but was not so teachable then.
One is not willing to be taught by a young man.' When I expressed
a wish to know more about Mr. Ballow, Johnson said, 'Sir, I have
seen him but once these twenty years. The tide of life has driven
us different ways.' I was sorry at the time to hear this; but
whoever quits the creeks of private connections, and fairly gets
into the great ocean of London, will, by imperceptible degrees,
unavoidably experience such cessations of acquaintance.
'My knowledge of physick, (he added,) I learnt from Dr. James, whom
I helped in writing the proposals for his Dictionary and also a
little in the Dictionary itself. I also learnt from Dr. Lawrence,
but was then grown more stubborn.'
A curious incident happened to-day, while Mr. Thrale and I sat with
him. Francis announced that a large packet was brought to him from
the post-office, said to have come from Lisbon, and it was charged
SEVEN POUNDS TEN SHILLINGS. He would not receive it, supposing it
to be some trick, nor did he even look at it. But upon enquiry
afterwards he found that it was a real packet for him, from that
very friend in the East Indies of whom he had been speaking; and
the ship which carried it having come to Portugal, this packet,
with others, had been put into the post-office at Lisbon.
I mentioned a new gaming-club, of which Mr. Beauclerk had given me
an account, where the members played to a desperate extent.
JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this is mere talk. WHO is ruined
by gaming? You will not find six instances in an age. There is a
strange rout made about deep play: whereas you have many more
people ruined by adventurous trade, and yet we do not hear such an
outcry against it.' THRALE. 'There may be few people absolutely
ruined by deep play; but very many are much hurt in their
circumstances by it.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and so are very many by
other kinds of expence.' I had heard him talk once before in the
same manner; and at Oxford he said, 'he wished he had learnt to
play at cards.' The truth, however, is, that he loved to display
his ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in
conversation maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong,
but in supporting which, his reasoning and wit would be most
conspicuous. He would begin thus: 'Why, Sir, as to the good or
evil of card-playing--' 'Now, (said Garrick,) he is thinking which
side he shall take.' He appeared to have a pleasure in
contradiction, especially when any opinion whatever was delivered
with an air of confidence; so that there was hardly any topick, if
not one of the great truths of Religion and Morality, that he might
not have been incited to argue, either for or against. Lord
Elibank had the highest admiration of his powers. He once observed
to me, 'Whatever opinion Johnson maintains, I will not say that he
convinces me; but he never fails to shew me, that he has good
reasons for it.' I have heard Johnson pay his Lordship this high
compliment: 'I never was in Lord Elibank's company without learning