In 1773 his only publication was an edition of his folio Dictionary, with additions and corrections; nor did he, so far as is known, furnish any productions of his fertile pen to any of his numerous friends or dependants, except the Preface to his old amanuensis Macbean’s Dictionary of Ancient Geography.
‘TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
‘DEAR SIR— . . . A new edition of my great Dictionary is printed, from a copy which I was persuaded to revise; but having made no preparation, I was able to do very little. Some superfluities I have expunged, and some faults I have corrected, and here and there have scattered a remark; but the main fabrick of the work remains as it was. I had looked very little into it since I wrote it, and, I think, I found it full as often better, as worse, than I expected.
‘Baretti and Davies have had a furious quarrel; a quarrel, I think, irreconcileable. Dr. Goldsmith has a new comedy, which is expected in the spring. No name is yet given it. The chief diversion arises from a stratagem by which a lover is made to mistake his future father-in-law’s house for an inn. This, you see, borders upon farce. The dialogue is quick and gay, and the incidents are so prepared as not to seem improbable. . . .
‘My health seems in general to improve; but I have been troubled for many weeks with a vexatious catarrh, which is sometimes sufficiently distressful. I have not found any great effects from bleeding and physick; and am afraid, that I must expect help from brighter days and softer air.
‘Write to me now and then; and whenever any good befalls you, make haste to let me know it, for no one will rejoice at it more than, dear Sir, your most humble servant,
‘London, Feb. 24, 1773.’
‘You continue to stand very high in the favour of Mrs. Thrale.’
While a former edition of my work was passing through the press, I was unexpectedly favoured with a packet from Philadelphia, from Mr. James Abercrombie, a gentleman of that country, who is pleased to honour me with very high praise of my Life of Dr. Johnson. To have the fame of my illustrious friend, and his faithful biographer, echoed from the New World is extremely flattering; and my grateful acknowledgements shall be wafted across the Atlantick. Mr. Abercrombie has politely conferred on me a considerable additional obligation, by transmitting to me copies of two letters from Dr. Johnson to American gentlemen.
On Saturday, April 3, the day after my arrival in London this year, I went to his house late in the evening, and sat with Mrs. Williams till he came home. I found in the London Chronicle, Dr. Goldsmith’s apology to the publick for beating Evans, a bookseller, on account of a paragraph in a newspaper published by him, which Goldsmith thought impertinent to him and to a lady of his acquaintance. The apology was written so much in Dr. Johnson’s manner, that both Mrs. Williams and I supposed it to be his; but when he came home, he soon undeceived us. When he said to Mrs. Williams, ‘Well, Dr. Goldsmith’s manifesto has got into your paper;’ I asked him if Dr. Goldsmith had written it, with an air that made him see I suspected it was his, though subscribed by Goldsmith. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, Dr. Goldsmith would no more have asked me to write such a thing as that for him, than he would have asked me to feed him with a spoon, or to do anything else that denoted his imbecility. I as much believe that he wrote it, as if I had seen him do it. Sir, had he shewn it to any one friend, he would not have been allowed to publish it. He has, indeed, done it very well; but it is a foolish thing well done. I suppose he has been so much elated with the success of his new comedy, that he has thought every thing that concerned him must he of importance to the publick.’ BOSWELL. ‘I fancy, Sir, this is the first time that he has been engaged in such an adventure.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, I believe it is the first time he has BEAT; he may have BEEN BEATEN before. This, Sir, is a new plume to him.’
At Mr. Thrale’s, in the evening, he repeated his usual paradoxical declamation against action in publick speaking. ‘Action can have no effect upon reasonable minds. It may augment noise, but it never can enforce argument.’
Lord Chesterfield being mentioned, Johnson remarked, that almost all of that celebrated nobleman’s witty sayings were puns. He, however, allowed the merit of good wit to his Lordship’s saying of Lord Tyrawley and himself, when both very old and infirm: ‘Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years; but we don’t choose to have it known.’
The conversation having turned on modern imitations of ancient ballads, and some one having praised their simplicity, he treated them with that ridicule which he always displayed when that subject was mentioned.
He disapproved of introducing scripture phrases into secular discourse. This seemed to me a question of some difficulty. A scripture expression may be used, like a highly classical phrase, to produce an instantaneous strong impression; and it may be done without being at all improper. Yet I own there is danger, that applying the language of our sacred book to ordinary subjects may tend to lessen our reverence for it. If therefore it be introduced at all, it should be with very great caution.
On Thursday, April 8, I sat a good part of the evening with him, but he was very silent.
Though he was not disposed to talk, he was unwilling that I should leave him; and when I looked at my watch, and told him it was twelve o’clock, he cried, What’s that to you and me?’ and ordered Frank to tell Mrs. Williams that we were coming to drink tea with her, which we did. It was settled that we should go to church together next day.
On the 9th of April, being Good Friday, I breakfasted with him on tea and cross-buns; DOCTOR Levet, as Frank called him, making the tea. He carried me with him to the church of St. Clement Danes, where he had his seat; and his behaviour was, as I had imaged to myself, solemnly devout. I never shall forget the tremulous earnestness with which he pronounced the awful petition in the Litany: ‘In the hour of death, and at the day of judgement, good LORD deliver us.
We went to church both in the morning and evening. In the interval between the two services we did not dine; but he read in the Greek New Testament, and I turned over several of his books.
I told him that Goldsmith had said to me a few days before, ‘As I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the taylor, so I take my religion from the priest.’ I regretted this loose way of talking. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, he knows nothing; he has made up his mind about nothing.’
To my great surprize he asked me to dine with him on Easter-day. I never supposed that he had a dinner at his house; for I had not then heard of any one of his friends having been entertained at his table. He told me, ‘I generally have a meat pye on Sunday: it is baked at a publick oven, which is very properly allowed, because one man can attend it; and thus the advantage is obtained of not keeping servants from church to dress dinners.’
April 11, being Easter-Sunday, after having attended Divine Service at St. Paul’s, I repaired to Dr. Johnson’s. I had gratified my curiosity much in dining with JEAN JAQUES ROUSSEAU, while he lived in the wilds of Neufchatel: I had as great a curiosity to dine with DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, in the dusky recess of a court in Fleet-street. I supposed we should scarcely have knives and forks, and only some strange, uncouth, ill-drest dish: but I found every thing in very good order. We had no other company but Mrs. Williams and a young woman whom I did not know. As a dinner here was considered as a singular phaenomenon, and as I was frequently interrogated on the subject, my readers may perhaps be desirous to know our bill of fare. Foote, I remember, in allusion to Francis, the NEGRO, was willing to suppose that our repast was BLACK BROTH. But the fact was, that we had a very good soup, a boiled leg of lamb and spinach, a veal pye, and a rice pudding.
He owned that he thought Hawkesworth was one of his imitators, but he did not think Goldsmith was. Goldsmith, he said, had great merit. BOSWELL. ‘But, Sir, he is much indebted to you for his getting so high in the publick estimation.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, he has perhaps got SOONER to it by his intimacy with me.’
Goldsmith, though his vanity often excited him to occasional competition, had a very high regard for Johnson, which he at this time expressed in the strongest manner in the Dedication of his comedy, entitled, She Stoops to Conquer.
He told me that he had twelve or fourteen times attempted to keep a journal of his life, but never could persevere. He advised me to do it. ‘The great thing to be recorded, (said he,) is the state of your own mind; and you should write down every thing that you remember, for you cannot judge at first what is good or bad; and write immediately while the impression is fresh, for it will not be the same a week afterwards.’
I again solicited him to communicate to me the particulars of his early life. He said, ‘You shall have them all for two-pence. I hope you shall know a great deal more of me before you write my Life.’ He mentioned to me this day many circumstances, which I wrote down when I went home, and have interwoven in the former part of this narrative.
On Tuesday, April 13, he and Dr. Goldsmith and I dined at General Oglethorpe’s. Goldsmith expatiated on the common topick, that the race of our people was degenerated, and that this was owing to luxury. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, in the first place, I doubt the fact. I believe there are as many tall men in England now, as ever there were. But, secondly, supposing the stature of our people to be diminished, that is not owing to luxury; for, Sir, consider to how very small a proportion of our people luxury can reach. Our soldiery, surely, are not luxurious, who live on sixpence a day; and the same remark will apply to almost all the other classes. Luxury, so far as it reaches the poor, will do good to the race of people; it will strengthen and multiply them. Sir, no nation was ever hurt by luxury; for, as I said before, it can reach but to a very few. I admit that the great increase of commerce and manufactures hurts the military spirit of a people; because it produces a competition for something else than martial honours — a competition for riches. It also hurts the bodies of the people; for you will observe, there is no man who works at any particular trade, but you may know him from his appearance to do so. One part or other of his body being more used than the rest, he is in some degree deformed: but, Sir, that is not luxury. A tailor sits cross-legged; but that is not luxury.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘Come, you’re just going to the same place by another road.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, Sir, I say that is not LUXURY. Let us take a walk from Charing-cross to White-chapel, through, I suppose, the greatest series of shops in the world; what is there in any of these shops (if you except gin-shops,) that can do any human being any harm?’ GOLDSMITH. ‘Well, Sir, I’ll accept your challenge. The very next shop to Northumberland-house is a pickle-shop.’ JOHNSON. ‘Well, Sir: do we not know that a maid can in one afternoon make pickles sufficient to serve a whole family for a year? nay, that five pickle-shops can serve all the kingdom? Besides, Sir, there is no harm done to any body by the making of pickles, or the eating of pickles.’
We drank tea with the ladies; and Goldsmith sung Tony Lumpkin’s song in his comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, and a very pretty one, to an Irish tune, which he had designed for Miss Hardcastle; but as Mrs. Bulkeley, who played the part, could not sing, it was left out. He afterwards wrote it down for me, by which means it was preserved, and now appears amongst his poems. Dr. Johnson, in his way home, stopped at my lodgings in Piccadilly, and sat with me, drinking tea a second time, till a late hour.
I told him that Mrs. Macaulay said, she wondered how he could reconcile his political principles with his moral; his notions of inequality and subordination with wishing well to the happiness of all mankind, who might live so agreeably, had they all their portions of land, and none to domineer over another. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, I reconcile my principles very well, because mankind are happier in a state of inequality and subordination. Were they to be in this pretty state of equality, they would soon degenerate into brutes; — they would become Monboddo’s nation; — their tails would grow. Sir, all would be losers were all to work for all — they would have no intellectual improvement. All intellectual improvement arises from leisure; all leisure arises from one working for another.’
Talking of the family of Stuart, he said, ‘It should seem that the family at present on the throne has now established as good a right as the former family, by the long consent of the people; and that to disturb this right might be considered as culpable. At the same time I own, that it is a very difficult question, when considered with respect to the house of Stuart. To oblige people to take oaths as to the disputed right, is wrong. I know not whether I could take them: but I do not blame those who do.’ So conscientious and so delicate was he upon this subject, which has occasioned so much clamour against him.
On Thursday, April 15, I dined with him and Dr. Goldsmith at General Paoli’s.
I spoke of Allan Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd, in the Scottish dialect, as the best pastoral that had ever been written; not only abounding with beautiful rural imagery, and just and pleasing sentiments, but being a real picture of manners; and I offered to teach Dr. Johnson to understand it. ‘No, Sir, (said he,) I won’t learn it. You shall retain your superiority by my not knowing it.’
It having been observed that there was little hospitality in London; — JOHNSON. ‘Nay, Sir, any man who has a name, or who has the power of pleasing, will be very generally invited in London. The man, Sterne, I have been told, has had engagements for three months.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘And a very dull fellow.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, no, Sir.’
Martinelli told us, that for several years he lived much with Charles Townshend, and that he ventured to tell him he was a bad joker. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, thus much I can say upon the subject. One day he and a few more agreed to go and dine in the country, and each of them was to bring a friend in his carriage with him. Charles Townshend asked Fitzherbert to go with him, but told him, “You must find somebody to bring you back: I can only carry you there.” Fitzherbert did not much like this arrangement. He however consented, observing sarcastically, “It will do very well; for then the same jokes will serve you in returning as in going.”’
An eminent publick character being mentioned; — JOHNSON. ‘I remember being present when he shewed himself to be so corrupted, or at least something so different from what I think right, as to maintain, that a member of parliament should go along with his party right or wrong. Now, Sir, this is so remote from native virtue, from scholastick virtue, that a good man must have undergone a great change before he can reconcile himself to such a doctrine. It is maintaining that you may lie to the publick; for you lie when you call that right which you think wrong, or the reverse. A friend of ours, who is too much an echo of that gentleman, observed, that a man who does not stick uniformly to a party, is only waiting to be bought. Why then, said I, he is only waiting to be what that gentleman is already.’
We talked of the King’s coming to see Goldsmith’s new play. —‘I wish he would,’ said Goldsmith; adding, however, with an affected indifference, ‘Not that it would do me the least good.’ JOHNSON. ‘Well then, Sir, let us say it would do HIM good, (laughing.) No, Sir, this affectation will not pass; — it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours, who would not wish to please the Chief Magistrate?’ GOLDSMITH. ‘I DO wish to please him. I remember a line in Dryden —
“And every poet is the monarch’s friend.”
It ought to be reversed.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, there are finer lines in Dryden on this subject:—
“For colleges on bounteous Kings depend,
And never rebel was to arts a friend.”’
General Paoli observed, that ‘successful rebels might.’ MARTINELLI. ‘Happy rebellions.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘We have no such phrase.’ GENERAL PAOLI. ‘But have you not the THING?’ GOLDSMITH. ‘Yes; all our HAPPY revolutions. They have hurt our constitution, and will hurt it, till we mend it by another HAPPY REVOLUTION.’ I never before discovered that my friend Goldsmith had so much of the old prejudice in him.
General Paoli, talking of Goldsmith’s new play, said, ‘Il a fait un compliment tres gracieux a une certaine grande dame;’ meaning a Duchess of the first rank.
I expressed a doubt whether Goldsmith intended it, in order that I might hear the truth from himself. It, perhaps, was not quite fair to endeavour to bring him to a confession, as he might not wish to avow positively his taking part against the Court. He smiled and hesitated. The General at once relieved him, by this beautiful image: ‘Monsieur Goldsmith est comme la mer, qui jette des perles et beaucoup d’autres belles choses, sans s’en appercevoir.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘Tres bien dit et tres elegamment.’
A person was mentioned, who it was said could take down in short hand the speeches in parliament with perfect exactness. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it is impossible. I remember one, Angel, who came to me to write for him a Preface or Dedication to a book upon short hand, and he professed to write as fast as a man could speak. In order to try him, I took down a book, and read while he wrote; and I favoured him, for I read more deliberately than usual. I had proceeded but a very little way, when he begged I would desist, for he could not follow me.’ Hearing now for the first time of this Preface or Dedication, I said, ‘What an expense, Sir, do you put us to in buying books, to which you have written Prefaces or Dedications.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, I have dedicated to the Royal family all round; that is to say, to the last generation of the Royal family.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘And perhaps, Sir, not one sentence of wit in a whole Dedication.’ JOHNSON. ‘Perhaps not, Sir.’ BOSWELL. ‘What then is the reason for applying to a particular person to do that which any one may do as well?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, one man has greater readiness at doing it than another.’
I spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man, and in particular an eminent Grecian. JOHNSON. ‘I am not sure of that. His friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his friends are able to judge of it.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘He is what is much better: he is a worthy humane man.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, Sir, that is not to the purpose of our argument: that will as much prove that he can play upon the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘The greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above seven hundred a year.’ JOHNSON. ‘That is indeed but little for a man to get, who does best that which so many endeavour to do. There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing.’
On Monday, April 19, he called on me with Mrs. Williams, in Mr. Strahan’s coach, and carried me out to dine with Mr. Elphinston, at his academy at Kensington. A printer having acquired a fortune sufficient to keep his coach, was a good topick for the credit of literature. Mrs. Williams said, that another printer, Mr. Hamilton, had not waited so long as Mr. Strahan, but had kept his coach several years sooner. JOHNSON. ‘He was in the right. Life is short. The sooner that a man begins to enjoy his wealth the better.’
Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it. JOHNSON. ‘I have looked into it.’ ‘What, (said Elphinston,) have you not read it through?’ Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, ‘No, Sir, do YOU read books THROUGH?’
On Wednesday, April 21, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale’s. A gentleman attacked Garrick for being vain. JOHNSON. ‘No wonder, Sir, that he is vain; a man who is perpetually flattered in every mode that can be conceived. So many bellows have blown the fire, that one wonders he is not by this time become a cinder.’ BOSWELL. ‘And such bellows too. Lord Mansfield with his cheeks like to burst: Lord Chatham like an Aeolus. I have read such notes from them to him, as were enough to turn his head.’ JOHNSON. ‘True. When he whom every body else flatters, flatters me, I then am truly happy.’ Mrs. THRALE. ‘The sentiment is in Congreve, I think.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Madam, in The Way of the World:
“If there’s delight in love, ’tis when I see
That heart which others bleed for, bleed for me.”
No, Sir, I should not be surprized though Garrick chained the ocean, and lashed the winds.’ BOSWELL. ‘Should it not be, Sir, lashed the ocean and chained the winds?’ JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir, recollect the original:
“In Corum atque Eurum solitus saevire flagellis
Barbarus, Aeolia nunquam hoc in carcere passos,
Ipsum compedibus qui vinxerat Ennosigaeum.”
The modes of living in different countries, and the various views with which men travel in quest of new scenes, having been talked of, a learned gentleman who holds a considerable office in the law, expatiated on the happiness of a savage life; and mentioned an instance of an officer who had actually lived for some time in the wilds of America, of whom, when in that state, he quoted this reflection with an air of admiration, as if it had been deeply philosophical: ‘Here am I, free and unrestrained, amidst the rude magnificence of Nature, with this Indian woman by my side, and this gun with which I can procure food when I want it; what more can be desired for human happiness?’ It did not require much sagacity to foresee that such a sentiment would not be permitted to pass without due animadversion. JOHNSON. ‘Do not allow yourself, Sir, to be imposed upon by such gross absurdity. It is sad stuff; it is brutish. If a bull could speak, he might as well exclaim — Here am I with this cow and this grass; what being can enjoy greater felicity?’
We talked of the melancholy end of a gentleman who had destroyed himself. JOHNSON. ‘It was owing to imaginary difficulties in his affairs, which, had he talked with any friend, would soon have vanished.’ BOSWELL. ‘Do you think, Sir, that all who commit suicide are mad?’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, they are often not universally disordered in their intellects, but one passion presses so upon them, that they yield to it, and commit suicide, as a passionate man will stab another.’ He added, ‘I have often thought, that after a man has taken the resolution to kill himself, it is not courage in him to do any thing, however desperate, because he has nothing to fear.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘I don’t see that.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, but my dear Sir, why should not you see what every one else sees?’ GOLDSMITH. ‘It is for fear of something that he has resolved to kill himself; and will not that timid disposition restrain him?’ JOHNSON. ‘It does not signify that the fear of something made him resolve; it is upon the state of his mind, after the resolution is taken, that I argue. Suppose a man, either from fear, or pride, or conscience, or whatever motive, has resolved to kill himself; when once the resolution is taken, he has nothing to fear. He may then go and take the King of Prussia by the nose, at the head of his army. He cannot fear the rack, who is resolved to kill himself. When Eustace Budgel was walking down to the Thames, determined to drown himself, he might, if he pleased, without any apprehension of danger, have turned aside, and first set fire to St. James’s palace.’
On Tuesday, April 27, Mr. Beauclerk and I called on him in the morning. As we walked up Johnson’s-court, I said, ‘I have a veneration for this court;’ and was glad to find that Beauclerk had the same reverential enthusiasm. We found him alone. We talked of Mr. Andrew Stuart’s elegant and plausible Letters to Lord Mansfield: a copy of which had been sent by the authour to Dr. Johnson. JOHNSON. ‘They have not answered the end. They have not been talked of; I have never heard of them. This is owing to their not being sold. People seldom read a book which is given to them; and few are given. The way to spread a work is to sell it at a low price. No man will send to buy a thing that costs even sixpence, without an intention to read it.’
He said, ‘Goldsmith should not be for ever attempting to shine in conversation: he has not temper for it, he is so much mortified when he fails. Sir, a game of jokes is composed partly of skill, partly of chance, a man may be beat at times by one who has not the tenth part of his wit. Now Goldsmith’s putting himself against another, is like a man laying a hundred to one who cannot spare the hundred. It is not worth a man’s while. A man should not lay a hundred to one, unless he can easily spare it, though he has a hundred chances for him: he can get but a guinea, and he may lose a hundred. Goldsmith is in this state. When he contends, if he gets the better, it is a very little addition to a man of his literary reputation: if he does not get the better, he is miserably vexed.’
Johnson’s own superlative powers of wit set him above any risk of such uneasiness. Garrick had remarked to me of him, a few days before, ‘Rabelais and all other wits are nothing compared with him. You may be diverted by them; but Johnson gives you a forcible hug, and shakes laughter out of you, whether you will or no.’
Goldsmith, however, was often very fortunate in his witty contests, even when he entered the lists with Johnson himself. Sir Joshua Reynolds was in company with them one day, when Goldsmith said, that he thought he could write a good fable, mentioned the simplicity which that kind of composition requires, and observed, that in most fables the animals introduced seldom talk in character. ‘For instance, (said he,) the fable of the little fishes, who saw birds fly over their heads, and envying them, petitioned Jupiter to be changed into birds. The skill (continued he,) consists in making them talk like little fishes.’ While he indulged himself in this fanciful reverie, he observed Johnson shaking his sides, and laughing. Upon which he smartly proceeded, ‘Why, Dr. Johnson, this is not so easy as you seem to think; for if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like WHALES.’
On Thursday, April 29, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe’s, where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Thrale. I was very desirous to get Dr. Johnson absolutely fixed in his resolution to go with me to the Hebrides this year; and I told him that I had received a letter from Dr. Robertson the historian, upon the subject, with which he was much pleased; and now talked in such a manner of his long-intended tour, that I was satisfied he meant to fulfil his engagement.
The character of Mallet having been introduced, and spoken of slightingly by Goldsmith; JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, Mallet had talents enough to keep his literary reputation alive as long as he himself lived; and that, let me tell you, is a good deal.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘But I cannot agree that it was so. His literary reputation was dead long before his natural death. I consider an authour’s literary reputation to be alive only while his name will ensure a good price for his copy from the booksellers. I will get you (to Johnson,) a hundred guineas for any thing whatever that you shall write, if you put your name to it.’
Dr. Goldsmith’s new play, She Stoops to Conquer, being mentioned; JOHNSON. ‘I know of no comedy for many years that has so much exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of comedy — making an audience merry.’
Goldsmith having said, that Garrick’s compliment to the Queen, which he introduced into the play of The Chances, which he had altered and revised this year, was mean and gross flattery; JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, I would not WRITE, I would not give solemnly under my hand, a character beyond what I thought really true; but a speech on the stage, let it flatter ever so extravagantly, is formular. It has always been formular to flatter Kings and Queens; so much so, that even in our church-service we have “our most religious King,” used indiscriminately, whoever is King. Nay, they even flatter themselves; —“we have been graciously pleased to grant.” No modern flattery, however, is so gross as that of the Augustan age, where the Emperour was deified. “Proesens Divus habebitur Augustus.” And as to meanness, (rising into warmth,) how is it mean in a player — a showman — a fellow who exhibits himself for a shilling, to flatter his Queen? The attempt, indeed, was dangerous; for if it had missed, what became of Garrick, and what became of the Queen? As Sir William Temple says of a great General, it is necessary not only that his designs be formed in a masterly manner, but that they should be attended with success. Sir, it is right, at a time when the Royal Family is not generally liked, to let it be seen that the people like at least one of them.’ SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. ‘I do not perceive why the profession of a player should be despised; for the great and ultimate end of all the employments of mankind is to produce amusement. Garrick produces more amusement than any body.’ BOSWELL. ‘You say, Dr. Johnson, that Garrick exhibits himself for a shilling. In this respect he is only on a footing with a lawyer who exhibits himself for his fee, and even will maintain any nonsense or absurdity, if the case requires it. Garrick refuses a play or a part which he does not like; a lawyer never refuses.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, what does this prove? only that a lawyer is worse. Boswell is now like Jack in The Tale of a Tub, who, when he is puzzled by an argument, hangs himself. He thinks I shall cut him down, but I’ll let him hang.’ (laughing vociferously.) SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. ‘Mr. Boswell thinks that the profession of a lawyer being unquestionably honourable, if he can show the profession of a player to be more honourable, he proves his argument.’
On Friday, April 30, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk’s, where were Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some more members of the LITERARY CLUB, whom he had obligingly invited to meet me, as I was this evening to be balloted for as candidate for admission into that distinguished society. Johnson had done me the honour to propose me, and Beauclerk was very zealous for me.
Goldsmith being mentioned; JOHNSON. ‘It is amazing how little Goldsmith knows. He seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else.’ SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. ‘Yet there is no man whose company is more liked.’ JOHNSON. ‘To be sure, Sir. When people find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferiour while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself is very true — he always gets the better when he argues alone; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his study, and can write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows confused, and unable to talk. Take him as a poet, his Traveller is a very fine performance; ay, and so is his Deserted Village, were it not sometimes too much the echo of his Traveller. Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet — as a comick writer — or as an historian, he stands in the first class.’ BOSWELL. ‘An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of this age?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, who are before him?’ BOSWELL. ‘Hume — Robertson — Lord Lyttelton.’ JOHNSON (his antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise). ‘I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith’s History is better than the VERBIAGE of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.’ BOSwELL. ‘Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose History we find such penetration — such painting?’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces in a history-piece: he imagines an heroic countenance. You must look upon Robertson’s work as romance, and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, Sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his History. Now Robertson might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, Sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight — would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson’s cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith’s plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Goldsmith’s abridgement is better than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture to say, that if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing manner. He is now writing a Natural History and will make it as entertaining as a Persian Tale.’
I cannot dismiss the present topick without observing, that it is probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often ‘talked for victory,’ rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson’s excellent historical works, in the ardour of contest, than expressed his real and decided opinion; for it is not easy to suppose, that he should so widely differ from the rest of the literary world.
JOHNSON. ‘I remember once being with Goldsmith in Westminster-abbey. While we surveyed the Poets’ Corner, I said to him,
“Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis.”
when we got to Temple-bar he stopped me, pointed to the heads upon it, and slily whispered me,
“Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur ISTIS.”’27
27 In allusion to Dr. Johnson’s supposed political principles, and perhaps his own. Boswell.
Johnson praised John Bunyan highly. ‘His Pilgrim’s Progress has great merit, both for invention, imagination, and the conduct of the story; and it has had the best evidence of its merit, the general and continued approbation of mankind. Few books, I believe, have had a more extensive sale. It is remarkable, that it begins very much like the poem of Dante; yet there was no translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. There is reason to think that he had read Spenser.’
A proposition which had been agitated, that monuments to eminent persons should, for the time to come, be erected in St. Paul’s church as well as in Westminster-abbey, was mentioned; and it was asked, who should be honoured by having his monument first erected there. Somebody suggested Pope. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, as Pope was a Roman Catholick, I would not have his to be first. I think Milton’s rather should have the precedence. I think more highly of him now than I did at twenty. There is more thinking in him and in Butler, than in any of our poets.’
The gentlemen went away to their club, and I was left at Beauclerk’s till the fate of my election should be announced to me. I sat in a state of anxiety which even the charming conversation of Lady Di Beauclerk could not entirely dissipate. In a short time I received the agreeable intelligence that I was chosen. I hastened to the place of meeting, and was introduced to such a society as can seldom be found. Mr. Edmund Burke, whom I then saw for the first time, and whose splendid talents had long made me ardently wish for his acquaintance; Dr. Nugent, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, and the company with whom I had dined. Upon my entrance, Johnson placed himself behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and with humorous formality gave me a Charge, pointing out the conduct expected from me as a good member of this club.
Goldsmith produced some very absurd verses which had been publickly recited to an audience for money. JOHNSON. ‘I can match this nonsense. There was a poem called Eugenio, which came out some years ago, and concludes thus:
“And now, ye trifling, self-assuming elves,
Brimful of pride, of nothing, of yourselves,
Survey Eugenio, view him o’er and o’er,
Then sink into yourselves, and be no more.”
Nay, Dryden in his poem on the Royal Society, has these lines:
“Then we upon our globe’s last verge shall go,
And see the ocean leaning on the sky;
From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,
And on the lunar world securely pry.”’
Much pleasant conversation passed, which Johnson relished with great good humour. But his conversation alone, or what led to it, or was interwoven with it, is the business of this work.
On Saturday, May 1, we dined by ourselves at our old rendezvous, the Mitre tavern. He was placid, but not much disposed to talk. He observed that ‘The Irish mix better with the English than the Scotch do; their language is nearer to English; as a proof of which, they succeed very well as players, which Scotchmen do not. Then, Sir, they have not that extreme nationality which we find in the Scotch. I will do you, Boswell, the justice to say, that you are the most UNSCOTTIFIED of your countrymen. You are almost the only instance of a Scotchman that I have known, who did not at every other sentence bring in some other Scotchman.’
On Friday, May 7, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Thrale’s in the Borough. While we were alone, I endeavoured as well as I could to apologise for a lady who had been divorced from her husband by act of Parliament. I said, that he had used her very ill, had behaved brutally to her, and that she could not continue to live with him without having her delicacy contaminated; that all affection for him was thus destroyed; that the essence of conjugal union being gone, there remained only a cold form, a mere civil obligation; that she was in the prime of life, with qualities to produce happiness; that these ought not to be lost; and, that the gentleman on whose account she was divorced had gained her heart while thus unhappily situated. Seduced, perhaps, by the charms of the lady in question, I thus attempted to palliate what I was sensible could not be justified; for when I had finished my harangue, my venerable friend gave me a proper check: ‘My dear Sir, never accustom your mind to mingle virtue and vice. The woman’s a whore, and there’s an end on’t.’
He described the father of one of his friends thus: ‘Sir, he was so exuberant a talker at publick meeting, that the gentlemen of his county were afraid of him. No business could be done for his declamation.’
He did not give me full credit when I mentioned that I had carried on a short conversation by signs with some Esquimaux who were then in London, particularly with one of them who was a priest. He thought I could not make them understand me. No man was more incredulous as to particular facts, which were at all extraordinary; and therefore no man was more scrupulously inquisitive, in order to discover the truth.
I dined with him this day at the house of my friends, Messieurs Edward and Charles Dilly, booksellers in the Poultry: there were present, their elder brother Mr. Dilly of Bedfordshire, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Langton, Mr. Claxton, Reverend Dr. Mayo a dissenting minister, the Reverend Mr. Toplady, and my friend the Reverend Mr. Temple.
BOSWELL. ‘I am well assured that the people of Otaheite who have the bread tree, the fruit of which serves them for bread, laughed heartily when they were informed of the tedious process necessary with us to have bread; — plowing, sowing, harrowing, reaping, threshing, grinding, baking.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, all ignorant savages will laugh when they are told of the advantages of civilized life. Were you to tell men who live without houses, how we pile brick upon brick, and rafter upon rafter, and that after a house is raised to a certain height, a man tumbles off a scaffold, and breaks his neck; he would laugh heartily at our folly in building; but it does not follow that men are better without houses. No, Sir, (holding up a slice of a good loaf,) this is better than the bread tree.’
I introduced the subject of toleration. JOHNSON. ‘Every society has a right to preserve publick peace and order, and therefore has a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency. To say the MAGISTRATE has this right, is using an inadequate word: it is the SOCIETY for which the magistrate is agent. He may be morally or theologically wrong in restraining the propagation of opinions which he thinks dangerous, but he is politically right.’ MAYO. ‘I am of opinion, Sir, that every man is entitled to liberty of conscience in religion; and that the magistrate cannot restrain that right.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I agree with you. Every man has a right to liberty of conscience, and with that the magistrate cannot interfere. People confound liberty of thinking with liberty of talking; nay, with liberty of preaching. Every man has a physical right to think as he pleases; for it cannot be discovered how he thinks. He has not a moral right, for he ought to inform himself, and think justly. But, Sir, no member of a society has a right to TEACH any doctrine contrary to what the society holds to be true. The magistrate, I say, may be wrong in what he thinks: but while he thinks himself right, he may and ought to enforce what he thinks.’ MAYO. ‘Then, Sir, we are to remain always in errour, and truth never can prevail; and the magistrate was right in persecuting the first Christians.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, the only method by which religious truth can be established is by martyrdom. The magistrate has a right to enforce what he thinks; and he who is conscious of the truth has a right to suffer. I am afraid there is no other way of ascertaining the truth, but by persecution on the one hand and enduring it on the other.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘But how is a man to act, Sir? Though firmly convinced of the truth of his doctrine, may he not think it wrong to expose himself to persecution? Has he a right to do so? Is it not, as it were, committing voluntary suicide?’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, as to voluntary suicide, as you call it, there are twenty thousand men in an army who will go without scruple to be shot at, and mount a breach for five-pence a day.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘But have they a moral right to do this?’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have nothing to say. If mankind cannot defend their own way of thinking, I cannot defend it. Sir, if a man is in doubt whether it would be better for him to expose himself to martyrdom or not, he should not do it. He must be convinced that he has a delegation from heaven.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘I would consider whether there is the greater chance of good or evil upon the whole. If I see a man who had fallen into a well, I would wish to help him out; but if there is a greater probability that he shall pull me in, than that I shall pull him out, I would not attempt it. So were I to go to Turkey, I might wish to convert the Grand Signor to the Christian faith; but when I considered that I should probably be put to death without effectuating my purpose in any degree, I should keep myself quiet.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, you must consider that we have perfect and imperfect obligations. Perfect obligations, which are generally not to do something, are clear and positive; as, “thou shalt not kill?’ But charity, for instance, is not definable by limits. It is a duty to give to the poor; but no man can say how much another should give to the poor, or when a man has given too little to save his soul. In the same manner it is a duty to instruct the ignorant, and of consequence to convert infidels to Christianity; but no man in the common course of things is obliged to carry this to such a degree as to incur the danger of martyrdom, as no man is obliged to strip himself to the shirt in order to give charity. I have said, that a man must be persuaded that he has a particular delegation from heaven.’ GOLDSMITH. ‘How is this to be known? Our first reformers, who were burnt for not believing bread and wine to be CHRIST’— JOHNSON. (interrupting him,) ‘Sir, they were not burnt for not believing bread and wine to be CHRIST, but for insulting those who did believe it. And, Sir, when the first reformers began, they did not intend to be martyred: as many of them ran away as could.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, Sir, there was your countryman, Elwal, who you told me challenged King George with his black-guards, and his red-guards.’ JOHNSON. ‘My countryman, Elwal, Sir, should have been put in the stocks; a proper pulpit for him; and he’d have had a numerous audience. A man who preaches in the stocks will always have hearers enough.’ BOSWELL. ‘But Elwal thought himself in the right.’ JOHNSON. ‘We are not providing for mad people; there are places for them in the neighbourhood.’ (meaning moorfields.) MAYO. ‘But, Sir, is it not very hard that I should not be allowed to teach my children what I really believe to be the truth?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, you might contrive to teach your children extra scandalum; but, Sir, the magistrate, if he knows it, has a right to restrain you. Suppose you teach your children to be thieves?’ MAYO. ‘This is making a joke of the subject.’ JOHNSON. ‘Nay, Sir, take it thus:— that you teach them the community of goods; for which there are as many plausible arguments as for most erroneous doctrines. You teach them that all things at first were in common, and that no man had a right to any thing but as he laid his hands upon it; and that this still is, or ought to be, the rule amongst mankind. Here, Sir, you sap a great principle in society — property. And don’t you think the magistrate would have a right to prevent you? Or, suppose you should teach your children the notion of the Adamites, and they should run naked into the streets, would not the magistrate have a right to flog ’em into their doublets?’ MAYO. ‘I think the magistrate has no right to interfere till there is some overt act.’ BOSWELL. ‘So, Sir, though he sees an enemy to the state charging a blunderbuss, he is not to interfere till it is fired off?’ MAYO. ‘He must be sure of its direction against the state.’ JOHNSON. ‘The magistrate is to judge of that. — He has no right to restrain your thinking, because the evil centers in yourself. If a man were sitting at this table, and chopping off his fingers, the magistrate, as guardian of the community, has no authority to restrain him, however he might do it from kindness as a parent. — Though, indeed, upon more consideration, I think he may; as it is probable, that he who is chopping off his own fingers, may soon proceed to chop off those of other people. If I think it right to steal Mr. Dilly’s plate, I am a bad man; but he can say nothing to me. If I make an open declaration that I think so, he will keep me out of his house. If I put forth my hand, I shall be sent to Newgate. This is the gradation of thinking, preaching, and acting: if a man thinks erroneously, he may keep his thoughts to himself, and nobody will trouble him; if he preaches erroneous doctrine, society may expel him; if he acts in consequence of it, the law takes place, and he is hanged.’ MAYO. ‘But, Sir, ought not Christians to have liberty of conscience?’ JOHNSON. ‘I have already told you so, Sir. You are coming back to where you were.’ BOSWELL. ‘Dr. Mayo is always taking a return post-chaise, and going the stage over again. He has it at half price.’ JOHNSON. ‘Dr. Mayo, like other champions for unlimited toleration, has got a set of words. Sir, it is no matter, politically, whether the magistrate be right or wrong. Suppose a club were to be formed, to drink confusion to King George the Third, and a happy restoration to Charles the Third, this would be very bad with respect to the State; but every member of that club must either conform to its rules, or be turned out of it. Old Baxter, I remember, maintains, that the magistrate should “tolerate all things that are tolerable.” This is no good definition of toleration upon any principle; but it shows that he thought some things were not tolerable.’ TOPLADY. ‘Sir, you have untwisted this difficult subject with great dexterity.’
During this argument, Goldsmith sat in restless agitation, from a wish to get in and SHINE. Finding himself excluded, he had taken his hat to go away, but remained for some time with it in his hand, like a gamester, who at the close of a long night, lingers for a little while, to see if he can have a favourable opening to finish with success. Once when he was beginning to speak, he found himself overpowered by the loud voice of Johnson, who was at the opposite end of the table, and did not perceive Goldsmith’s attempt. Thus disappointed of his wish to obtain the attention of the company, Goldsmith in a passion threw down his hat, looking angrily at Johnson, and exclaiming in a bitter tone, ‘TAKE IT.’ When Toplady was going to speak, Johnson uttered some sound, which led Goldsmith to think that he was beginning again, and taking the words from Toplady. Upon which, he seized this opportunity of venting his own envy and spleen, under the pretext of supporting another person:
‘Sir, (said he to Johnson,) the gentleman has heard you patiently for an hour; pray allow us now to hear him.’ JOHNSON. (sternly,) ‘Sir, I was not interrupting the gentleman. I was only giving him a signal of my attention. Sir, you are impertinent.’ Goldsmith made no reply, but continued in the company for some time.
A gentleman present ventured to ask Dr. Johnson if there was not a material difference as to toleration of opinions which lead to action, and opinions merely speculative; for instance, would it be wrong in the magistrate to tolerate those who preach against the doctrine of the TRINITY? Johnson was highly offended, and said, ‘I wonder, Sir, how a gentleman of your piety can introduce this subject in a mixed company.’ He told me afterwards, that the impropriety was, that perhaps some of the company might have talked on the subject in such terms as might have shocked him; or he might have been forced to appear in their eyes a narrow-minded man. The gentleman, with submissive deference, said, he had only hinted at the question from a desire to hear Dr. Johnson’s opinion upon it. JOHNSON. ‘Why then, Sir, I think that permitting men to preach any opinion contrary to the doctrine of the established church tends, in a certain degree, to lessen the authority of the church, and consequently, to lessen the influence of religion.’ ‘It may be considered, (said the gentleman,) whether it would not be politick to tolerate in such a case.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, we have been talking of RIGHT: this is another question. I think it is NOT politick to tolerate in such a case.’
BOSWELL. ‘Pray, Mr. Dilly, how does Dr. Leland’s History of Ireland sell?’ JOHNSON. (bursting forth with a generous indignation,) ‘The Irish are in a most unnatural state; for we see there the minority prevailing over the majority. There is no instance, even in the ten persecutions, of such severity as that which the protestants of Ireland have exercised against the Catholicks. Did we tell them we have conquered them, it would be above board: to punish them by confiscation and other penalties, as rebels, was monstrous injustice. King William was not their lawful sovereign: he had not been acknowledged by the Parliament of Ireland, when they appeared in arms against him.’
He and Mr. Langton and I went together to THE CLUB, where we found Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, and some other members, and amongst them our friend Goldsmith, who sat silently brooding over Johnson’s reprimand to him after dinner. Johnson perceived this, and said aside to some of us, ‘I’ll make Goldsmith forgive me;’ and then called to him in a loud voice, ‘Dr. Goldsmith — something passed to-day where you and I dined; I ask your pardon.’ Goldsmith answered placidly, ‘It must be much from you, Sir, that I take ill.’ And so at once the difference was over, and they were on as easy terms as ever, and Goldsmith rattled away as usual.
In our way to the club to-night, when I regretted that Goldsmith would, upon every occasion, endeavour to shine, by which he often exposed himself, Mr. Langton observed, that he was not like Addison, who was content with the fame of his writings, and did not aim also at excellency in conversation, for which he found himself unfit; and that he said to a lady who complained of his having talked little in company, ‘Madam, I have but ninepence in ready money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds.’ I observed, that Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his cabinet, but, not content with that, was always taking out his purse. JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, and that so often an empty purse!’
Goldsmith’s incessant desire of being conspicuous in company, was the occasion of his sometimes appearing to such disadvantage as one should hardly have supposed possible in a man of his genius. When his literary reputation had risen deservedly high, and his society was much courted, he became very jealous of the extraordinary attention which was every where paid to Johnson. One evening, in a circle of wits, he found fault with me for talking of Johnson as entitled to the honour of unquestionable superiority. ‘Sir, (said he,) you are for making a monarchy of what should be a republick.’
He was still more mortified, when talking in a company with fluent vivacity, and, as he flattered himself, to the admiration of all who were present; a German who sat next him, and perceived Johnson rolling himself, as if about to speak, suddenly stopped him, saying, ‘Stay, stay — Toctor Shonson is going to say something.’ This was, no doubt, very provoking, especially to one so irritable as Goldsmith, who frequently mentioned it with strong expressions of indignation.
It may also be observed, that Goldsmith was sometimes content to be treated with an easy familiarity, but, upon occasions, would be consequential and important. An instance of this occurred in a small particular. Johnson had a way of contracting the names of his friends; as Beauclerk, Beau; Boswell, Bozzy; Langton, Lanky; Murphy, Mur; Sheridan, Sherry. I remember one day, when Tom Davies was telling that Dr. Johnson said, ‘We are all in labour for a name to GOLDY’S play,’ Goldsmith seemed displeased that such a liberty should be taken with his name, and said, ‘I have often desired him not to call me GOLDY.’ Tom was remarkably attentive to the most minute circumstance about Johnson. I recollect his telling me once, on my arrival in London, ‘Sir, our great friend has made an improvement on his appellation of old Mr. Sheridan. He calls him now Sherry derry.’
On Monday, May 9, as I was to set out on my return to Scotland next morning, I was desirous to see as much of Dr. Johnson as I could. But I first called on Goldsmith to take leave of him. The jealousy and envy which, though possessed of many most amiable qualities, he frankly avowed, broke out violently at this interview. Upon another occasion, when Goldsmith confessed himself to be of an envious disposition, I contended with Johnson that we ought not to be angry with him, he was so candid in owning it. ‘Nay, Sir, (said Johnson,) we must be angry that a man has such a superabundance of an odious quality, that he cannot keep it within his own breast, but it boils over.’ In my opinion, however, Goldsmith had not more of it than other people have, but only talked of it freely.
He now seemed very angry that Johnson was going to be a traveller; said ‘he would be a dead weight for me to carry, and that I should never be able to lug him along through the Highlands and Hebrides.’ Nor would he patiently allow me to enlarge upon Johnson’s wonderful abilities; but exclaimed, ‘Is he like Burke, who winds into a subject like a serpent?’ ‘But, (said I,) Johnson is the Hercules who strangled serpents in his cradle.’
I dined with Dr. Johnson at General Paoli’s. He was obliged, by indisposition, to leave the company early; he appointed me, however, to meet him in the evening at Mr. (now Sir Robert) Chambers’s in the Temple, where he accordingly came, though he continued to be very ill. Chambers, as is common on such occasions, prescribed various remedies to him. JOHNSON. (fretted by pain,) ‘Pr’ythee don’t tease me. Stay till I am well, and then you shall tell me how to cure myself.’ He grew better, and talked with a noble enthusiasm of keeping up the representation of respectable families. His zeal on this subject was a circumstance in his character exceedingly remarkable, when it is considered that he himself had no pretensions to blood. I heard him once say, ‘I have great merit in being zealous for subordination and the honours of birth; for I can hardly tell who was my grandfather.’ He maintained the dignity and propriety of male succession, in opposition to the opinion of one of our friends, who had that day employed Mr. Chambers to draw his will, devising his estate to his three sisters, in preference to a remote heir male. Johnson called them ‘three DOWDIES,’ and said, with as high a spirit as the boldest Baron in the most perfect days of the feudal system, ‘An ancient estate should always go to males. It is mighty foolish to let a stranger have it because he marries your daughter, and takes your name. As for an estate newly acquired by trade, you may give it, if you will, to the dog Towser, and let him keep his OWN name.’
I have known him at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without any reason that we could perceive, at our friend’s making his will; called him the TESTATOR, and added, ‘I dare say, he thinks he has done a mighty thing. He won’t stay till he gets home to his seat in the country, to produce this wonderful deed: he’ll call up the landlord of the first inn on the road; and, after a suitable preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him that he should not delay making his will; and here, Sir, will he say, is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he will read it to him (laughing all the time). He believes he has made this will; but he did not make it: you, Chambers, made it for him. I trust you have had more conscience than to make him say, “being of sound understanding;” ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I’d have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.’
Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a matter of which pars magna fuit, and seemed impatient till he got rid of us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it all the way till we got without the Temple-gate. He then burst into such a fit of laughter, that he appeared to be almost in a convulsion; and, in order to support himself, laid hold of one of the posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud, that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound from Temple-bar to Fleet-ditch.
This most ludicrous exhibition of the aweful, melancholy, and venerable Johnson, happened well to counteract the feelings of sadness which I used to experience when parting with him for a considerable time. I accompanied him to his door, where he gave me his blessing.
‘TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
‘DEAR Sir — I shall set out from London on Friday the sixth of this month, and purpose not to loiter much by the way. Which day I shall be at Edinburgh, I cannot exactly tell. I suppose I must drive to an inn, and send a porter to find you.
‘I am afraid Beattie will not be at his College soon enough for us, and I shall be sorry to miss him; but there is no staying for the concurrence of all conveniences. We will do as well as we can. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
‘August 3, 1773.’
‘TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
‘Newcastle, Aug. 11, 1773.
‘DEAR SIR, I came hither last night, and hope, but do not absolutely promise, to be in Edinburgh on Saturday. Beattie will not come so soon. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
‘My compliments to your lady.’
‘TO THE SAME.
‘Mr. Johnson sends his compliments to Mr. Boswell, being just arrived at Boyd’s. — Saturday night.’
His stay in Scotland was from the 18th of August, on which day he arrived, till the 22nd of November, when he set out on his return to London; and I believe ninety-four days were never passed by any man in a more vigorous exertion.28
28 In his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, published the year after Johnson died, Boswell gives a detailed account of Johnson’s conversation and adventures with him throughout the journey of 1773. Partly owing to their uninterrupted association, partly to the strangeness and variation of background and circumstances, and partly to Boswell’s larger leisure during the tour for the elaboration of his account, the journal is even more racy, picturesque, and interesting than any equal part of the Life. No reader who enjoys the Life should fail to read the Tour — unabridged! — ED.
His humane forgiving disposition was put to a pretty strong test on his return to London, by a liberty which Mr. Thomas Davies had taken with him in his absence, which was, to publish two volumes, entitled, Miscellaneous and fugitive Pieces, which he advertised in the news-papers, ‘By the Authour of the Rambler.’ In this collection, several of Dr. Johnson’s acknowledged writings, several of his anonymous performances, and some which he had written for others, were inserted; but there were also some in which he had no concern whatever. He was at first very angry, as he had good reason to be. But, upon consideration of his poor friend’s narrow circumstances, and that he had only a little profit in view, and meant no harm, he soon relented, and continued his kindness to him as formerly.
In the course of his self-examination with retrospect to this year, he seems to have been much dejected; for he says, January 1, 1774, ‘This year has passed with so little improvement, that I doubt whether I have not rather impaired than increased my learning’; and yet we have seen how he READ, and we know how he TALKED during that period.
He was now seriously engaged in writing an account of our travels in the Hebrides, in consequence of which I had the pleasure of a more frequent correspondence with him.
‘TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
‘DEAR SIR— You have reason to reproach me that I have left your last letter so long unanswered, but I had nothing particular to say. Chambers, you find, is gone far, and poor Goldsmith is gone much further. He died of a fever, exasperated, as I believe, by the fear of distress. He had raised money and squandered it, by every artifice of acquisition, and folly of expence. But let not his frailties be remembered; he was a very great man.
‘I have just begun to print my Journey to the Hebrides, and am leaving the press to take another journey into Wales, whither Mr. Thrale is going, to take possession of, at least, five hundred a year, fallen to his lady. All at Streatham, that are alive, are well.
‘I have never recovered from the last dreadful illness, but flatter myself that I grow gradually better; much, however, yet remains to mend. [Greek text omitted].
‘If you have the Latin version of Busy, curious, thirsty fly, be so kind as to transcribe and send it; but you need not be in haste, for I shall be I know not where, for at least five weeks. I wrote the following tetastrick on poor Goldsmith:—
[Greek text omitted]
‘Please to make my most respectful compliments to all the ladies, and remember me to young George and his sisters. I reckon George begins to shew a pair of heels.
‘Do not be sullen now, but let me find a letter when I come back. I am, dear Sir, your affectionate, humble servant,
In his manuscript diary of this year, there is the following entry:—
‘Nov. 27. Advent Sunday. I considered that this day, being the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, was a proper time for a new course of life. I began to read the Greek Testament regularly at 160 verses every Sunday. This day I began the Acts.
‘In this week I read Virgil’s Pastorals. I learned to repeat the Pollio and Gallus. I read carelessly the first Georgick.’
Such evidences of his unceasing ardour, both for ‘divine and human lore,’ when advanced into his sixty-fifth year, and notwithstanding his many disturbances from disease, must make us at once honour his spirit, and lament that it should be so grievously clogged by its material tegument.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06