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;35 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.’
35 He said, when in Scotland, that he was Johnson of that Ilk. — BOSWELL.
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 body.’
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 connected.
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 his footman.”’
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 Blenheim park.’
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.’36 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.’
36 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.”’— BOSWELL.
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 native place.
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 esteemed.
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 t’etre fif.’
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 for POONSH?’
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 his conversation.’
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 pleasing.
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 life.
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 of itself.’
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 London.
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 subsequent occasion.’
‘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 nature.
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 better cultivated.
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 son.)
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 drinking.’
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 promote marriage.’
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 animation.)
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 week.’
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-hill.
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 something.’
We sat together till it was too late for the afternoon service. Thrale said he had come with intention to go to church with us. We went at seven to evening prayers at St. Clement’s church, after having drank coffee; an indulgence, which I understood Johnson yielded to on this occasion, in compliment to Thrale.
On Sunday, April 7, Easter-day, after having been at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I came to Dr. Johnson, according to my usual custom. It seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and placid in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of the most joyful event in the history of our world, the resurrection of our LORD and SAVIOUR, who, having triumphed over death and the grave, proclaimed immortality to mankind.
I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who maintained, that her husband’s having been guilty of numberless infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they were reciprocal. JOHNSON. ‘This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party — Society; and if it be considered as a vow — GOD: and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another’s property with his own hand.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia.’ JOHNSON. ‘This lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.’
Mr. Macbean, authour of the Dictionary of ancient Geography, came in. He mentioned that he had been forty years absent from Scotland. ‘Ah, Boswell! (said Johnson, smiling,) what would you give to be forty years from Scotland?’ I said, ‘I should not like to be so long absent from the seat of my ancestors.’ This gentleman, Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Levet, dined with us.
Mrs. Williams was very peevish; and I wondered at Johnson’s patience with her now, as I had often done on similar occasions. The truth is, that his humane consideration of the forlorn and indigent state in which this lady was left by her father, induced him to treat her with the utmost tenderness, and even to be desirous of procuring her amusement, so as sometimes to incommode many of his friends, by carrying her with him to their houses, where, from her manner of eating, in consequence of her blindness, she could not but offend the delicacy of persons of nice sensations.
After coffee, we went to afternoon service in St. Clement’s church. Observing some beggars in the street as we walked along, I said to him I supposed there was no civilized country in the world, where the misery of want in the lowest classes of the people was prevented. JOHNSON. ‘I believe, Sir, there is not; but it is better that some should be unhappy, than that none should be happy, which would be the case in a general state of equality.’
When the service was ended, I went home with him, and we sat quietly by ourselves.
Upon the question whether a man who had been guilty of vicious actions would do well to force himself into solitude and sadness; JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir, unless it prevent him from being vicious again. With some people, gloomy penitence is only madness turned upside down. A man may be gloomy, till, in order to be relieved from gloom, he has recourse again to criminal indulgencies.’
On Wednesday, April 10, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale’s, where were Mr. Murphy and some other company. Before dinner, Dr. Johnson and I passed some time by ourselves. I was sorry to find it was now resolved that the proposed journey to Italy should not take place this year. He said, ‘I am disappointed, to be sure; but it is not a great disappointment.’ I wondered to see him bear, with a philosophical calmness, what would have made most people peevish and fretful. I perceived, however, that he had so warmly cherished the hope of enjoying classical scenes, that he could not easily part with the scheme; for he said: ‘I shall probably contrive to get to Italy some other way. But I won’t mention it to Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, as it might vex them.’ I suggested, that going to Italy might have done Mr. and Mrs. Thrale good. JOHNSON. ‘I rather believe not, Sir. While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be DIGESTED, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.’
I said, I disliked the custom which some people had of bringing their children into company, because it in a manner forced us to pay foolish compliments to please their parents. JOHNSON. ‘You are right, Sir. We may be excused for not caring much about other people’s children, for there are many who care very little about their own children. It may be observed, that men, who from being engaged in business, or from their course of life in whatever way, seldom see their children, do not care much about them. I myself should not have had much fondness for a child of my own.’ MRS. THRALE. ‘Nay, Sir, how can you talk so?’ JOHNSON. ‘At least, I never wished to have a child.’
He talked of Lord Lyttelton’s extreme anxiety as an authour; observing, that ‘he was thirty years in preparing his History, and that he employed a man to point it for him; as if (laughing) another man could point his sense better than himself.’ Mr. Murphy said, he understood his history was kept back several years for fear of Smollet. JOHNSON. ‘This seems strange to Murphy and me, who never felt that anxiety, but sent what we wrote to the press, and let it take its chance.’ MRS. THRALE. ‘The time has been, Sir, when you felt it.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, really, Madam, I do not recollect a time when that was the case.’
On Thursday, April 11, I dined with him at General Paoli’s, in whose house I now resided, and where I had ever afterwards the honour of being entertained with the kindest attention as his constant guest, while I was in London, till I had a house of my own there. I mentioned my having that morning introduced to Mr. Garrick, Count Neni, a Flemish Nobleman of great rank and fortune, to whom Garrick talked of Abel Drugger as A SMALL PART; and related, with pleasant vanity, that a Frenchman who had seen him in one of his low characters, exclaimed, ‘Comment! je ne le crois pas. Ce n’est pas Monsieur Garrick, ce Grand Homme!’ Garrick added, with an appearance of grave recollection, ‘If I were to begin life again, I think I should not play those low characters.’ Upon which I observed, ‘Sir, you would be in the wrong; for your great excellence is your variety of playing, your representing so well, characters so very different.’ JOHNSON. ‘Garrick, Sir, was not in earnest in what he said; for, to be sure, his peculiar excellence is his variety; and, perhaps, there is not any one character which has not been as well acted by somebody else, as he could do it.’ BOSWELL. ‘Why then, Sir, did he talk so?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, to make you answer as you did.’ BOSWELL. ‘I don’t know, Sir; he seemed to dip deep into his mind for the reflection.’ JOHNSON. ‘He had not far to dip, Sir: he said the same thing, probably, twenty times before.’
Of a nobleman raised at a very early period to high office, he said, ‘His parts, Sir, are pretty well for a Lord; but would not be distinguished in a man who had nothing else but his parts.’
A journey to Italy was still in his thoughts. He said, ‘A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see. The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. — All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean.’ The General observed, that ‘THE MEDITERRANEAN would be a noble subject for a poem.’
We talked of translation. I said, I could not define it, nor could I think of a similitude to illustrate it; but that it appeared to me the translation of poetry could be only imitation. JOHNSON. ‘You may translate books of science exactly. You may also translate history, in so far as it is not embellished with oratory, which is poetical. Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language, if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language.’
‘Goldsmith (he said,) referred every thing to vanity; his virtues, and his vices too, were from that motive. He was not a social man. He never exchanged mind with you.’
We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole’s. Mr. Mickle, the excellent translator of The Lusiad, was there. I have preserved little of the conversation of this evening. Dr. Johnson said, ‘Thomson had a true poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels, who compiled Cibber’s Lives of the Poets, was one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked — Is not this fine? Shiels having expressed the highest admiration. Well, Sir, (said I,) I have omitted every other line.’
I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day when they and I were dining at Tom Davies’s, in 1762. Goldsmith asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley appealed to his own Collection, and maintained, that though you could not find a palace like Dryden’s Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day, you had villages composed of very pretty houses; and he mentioned particularly The Spleen. JOHNSON. ‘I think Dodsley gave up the question. He and Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a softer manner than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged that there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit and humour in verse, and yet no poetry. Hudibras has a profusion of these; yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. The Spleen, in Dodsley’s Collection, on which you say he chiefly rested, is not poetry.’ BOSWELL. ‘Does not Gray’s poetry, Sir, tower above the common mark?’ JOHNSON. Yes, Sir; but we must attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do if he would. Sixteen-string Jack37 towered above the common mark.’ BOSWELL. ‘Then, Sir, what is poetry?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all KNOW what light is; but it is not easy to TELL what it is.’
37 A noted highwayman, who after having been several times tried and acquitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in his dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings at the knees of his breeches. — BOSWELL.
On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies’s. He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy’s having paid him the highest compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story.
Johnson and I supt this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one of the Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dunsinan, and my very worthy friend, Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question whether drinking improved conversation and benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained it did. JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir: before dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who are conscious of their inferiority, have the modesty not to talk. When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous: but he is not improved; he is only not sensible of his defects.’ Sir Joshua said the Doctor was talking of the effects of excess in wine; but that a moderate glass enlivened the mind, by giving a proper circulation to the blood. ‘I am (said he,) in very good spirits, when I get up in the morning. By dinner-time I am exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got up; and I am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.’ JOHNSON. ‘No, Sir; wine gives not light, gay, ideal hilarity; but tumultuous, noisy, clamorous merriment. I have heard none of those drunken — nay, drunken is a coarse word — none of those VINOUS flights.’ SIR JOSHUA. ‘Because you have sat by, quite sober, and felt an envy of the happiness of those who were drinking.’ JOHNSON. ‘Perhaps, contempt. — And, Sir, it is not necessary to be drunk one’s self, to relish the wit of drunkenness. Do we not judge of the drunken wit, of the dialogue between Iago and Cassio, the most excellent in its kind, when we are quite sober? Wit is wit, by whatever means it is produced; and, if good, will appear so at all times. I admit that the spirits are raised by drinking, as by the common participation of any pleasure: cock-fighting, or bear-baiting, will raise the spirits of a company, as drinking does, though surely they will not improve conversation. I also admit, that there are some sluggish men who are improved by drinking; as there are fruits which are not good till they are rotten. There are such men, but they are medlars. I indeed allow that there have been a very few men of talents who were improved by drinking; but I maintain that I am right as to the effects of drinking in general: and let it be considered, that there is no position, however false in its universality, which is not true of some particular man.’ Sir William Forbes said, ‘Might not a man warmed with wine be like a bottle of beer, which is made brisker by being set before the fire?’—‘Nay, (said Johnson, laughing,) I cannot answer that: that is too much for me.’
I observed, that wine did some people harm, by inflaming, confusing, and irritating their minds; but that the experience of mankind had declared in favour of moderate drinking. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I do not say it is wrong to produce self complacency by drinking; I only deny that it improves the mind. When I drank wine, I scorned to drink it when in company. I have drunk many a bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had need of it to raise my spirits; in the second place, because I would have nobody to witness its effects upon me.’
He told us, ‘almost all his Ramblers were written just as they were wanted for the press; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of an essay, and wrote the remainder, while the former part of it was printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was sure it would be done.’
He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, ‘what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’ He told us, he read Fielding’s Amelia through without stopping. He said, ‘if a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He may perhaps not feel again the inclination.’
Soon after this day, he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I had never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the opportunity of visiting it, while Johnson was there.
On the 26th of April, I went to Bath; and on my arrival at the Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly during my stay. They were gone to the rooms; but there was a kind note from Dr. Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening. I went to him directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we had by ourselves some hours of tea-drinking and talk.
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few days that I was at Bath.
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even put on rouge:— JohnsoN. ‘She is better employed at her toilet, than using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people’s characters.’
He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath; observing, ‘She does not gain upon me, Sir; I think her empty-headed.’ He was, indeed, a stern critick upon characters and manners. Even Mrs. Thrale did not escape his friendly animadversion at times. When he and I were one day endeavouring to ascertain, article by article, how one of our friends could possibly spend as much money in his family as he told us he did, she interrupted us by a lively extravagant sally, on the expence of clothing his children, describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful manner. Johnson looked a little angry, and said, ‘Nay, Madam, when you are declaiming, declaim; and when you are calculating, calculate.’ At another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, ‘I don’t like to fly.’ JOHNSON. ‘With YOUR wings, Madam, you MUST fly: but have a care, there are CLIPPERS abroad.’
On Monday, April 29, he and I made an excursion to Bristol, where I was entertained with seeing him enquire upon the spot, into the authenticity of ‘Rowley’s Poetry,’ as I had seen him enquire upon the spot into the authenticity of ‘Ossian’s Poetry.’ George Catcot, the pewterer, who was as zealous for Rowley, as Dr. Hugh Blair was for Ossian, (I trust my Reverend friend will excuse the comparison,) attended us at our inn, and with a triumphant air of lively simplicity called out, ‘I’ll make Dr. Johnson a convert.’ Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some of Chatterton’s fabricated verses, while Catcot stood at the back of his chair,, moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet, and now and then looking into Dr. Johnson’s face, wondering that he was not yet convinced. We called on Mr. Barret, the surgeon, and saw some of the ORIGINALS as they were called, which were executed very artificially; but from a careful inspection of them, and a consideration of the circumstances with which they were attended, we were quite satisfied of the imposture, which, indeed, has been clearly demonstrated from internal evidence, by several able criticks.
Honest Catcot seemed to pay no attention whatever to any objections, but insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we should go with him to the tower of the church of St. Mary, Redcliff, and VIEW WITH OUR OWN EYES the ancient chest in which the manuscripts were found. To this, Dr. Johnson good-naturedly agreed; and though troubled with a shortness of breathing, laboured up a long flight of steps, till we came to the place where the wonderous chest stood. ‘THERE, (said Cateot, with a bouncing confident credulity,) THERE is the very chest itself.’ After this OCULAR DEMONSTRATION, there was no more to be said. He brought to my recollection a Scotch Highlander, a man of learning too, and who had seen the world, attesting, and at the same time giving his reasons for the authenticity of Fingal:—‘I have heard all that poem when I was young.’—‘Have you, Sir? Pray what have you heard?’—‘I have heard Ossian, Oscar, and EVERY ONE OF THEM.’
Johnson said of Chatterton, ‘This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things.’
We were by no means pleased with our inn at Bristol. ‘Let us see now, (said I,) how we should describe it.’ Johnson was ready with his raillery. ‘Describe it, Sir? — Why, it was so bad that Boswell wished to be in Scotland!’
After Dr. Johnson’s return to London, I was several times with him at his house, where I occasionally slept, in the room that had been assigned to me. I dined with him at Dr. Taylor’s, at General Oglethorpe’s, and at General Paoli’s. To avoid a tedious minuteness, I shall group together what I have preserved of his conversation during this period also, without specifying each scene where it passed, except one, which will be found so remarkable as certainly to deserve a very particular relation.
‘Garrick (he observed,) does not play the part of Archer in The Beaux Stratagem well. The gentleman should break out through the footman, which is not the case as he does it.’
‘That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.’
‘Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son, I think, might be made a very pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put into the hands of every young gentleman. An elegant manner and easiness of behaviour are acquired gradually and imperceptibly. No man can say “I’ll be genteel.” There are ten genteel women for one genteel man, because they are more restrained. A man without some degree of restraint is insufferable; but we are all less restrained than women. Were a woman sitting in company to put out her legs before her as most men do, we should be tempted to kick them in.’
No man was a more attentive and nice observer of behaviour in those in whose company he happened to be, than Johnson; or, however strange it may seem to many, had a higher estimation of its refinements. Lord Eliot informs me, that one day when Johnson and he were at dinner at a gentleman’s house in London, upon Lord Chesterfield’s Letters being mentioned, Johnson surprized the company by this sentence: ‘Every man of any education would rather be called a rascal, than accused of deficiency in THE GRACES.’ Mr. Gibbon, who was present, turned to a lady who knew Johnson well, and lived much with him, and in his quaint manner, tapping his box, addressed her thus: ‘Don’t you think, Madam, (looking towards Johnson,) that among ALL your acquaintance, you could find ONE exception?’ The lady smiled, and seemed to acquiesce.
The uncommon vivacity of General Oglethorpe’s mind, and variety of knowledge, having sometimes made his conversation seem too desultory, Johnson observed, ‘Oglethorpe, Sir, never COMPLETES what he has to say.’
He on the same account made a similar remark on Patrick Lord Elibank: ‘Sir, there is nothing CONCLUSIVE in his talk.’
When I complained of having dined at a splendid table without hearing one sentence of conversation worthy of being remembered, he said, ‘Sir, there seldom is any such conversation.’ BOSWELL. ‘Why then meet at table?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, to eat and drink together, and to promote kindness; and, Sir, this is better done when there is no solid conversation; for when there is, people differ in opinion, and get into bad humour, or some of the company who are not capable of such conversation, are left out, and feel themselves uneasy. It was for this reason, Sir Robert Walpole said, he always talked bawdy at his table, because in that all could join.’
Being irritated by hearing a gentleman38 ask Mr. Levett a variety of questions concerning him, when he was sitting by, he broke out, ‘Sir, you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of both.’ ‘A man, (said he,) should not talk of himself, nor much of any particular person. He should take care not to be made a proverb; and, therefore, should avoid having any one topick of which people can say, “We shall hear him upon it.” There was a Dr. Oldfield, who was always talking of the Duke of Marlborough. He came into a coffee-house one day, and told that his Grace had spoken in the House of Lords for half an hour. “Did he indeed speak for half an hour?” (said Belehier, the surgeon,)—“Yes.”— “And what did he say of Dr. Oldfield?”—“Nothing”—“Why then, Sir, he was very ungrateful; for Dr. Oldfield could not have spoken for a quarter of an hour, without saying something of him.”’
38 Most likely Boswell himself. — HILL.
I am now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson’s Life, which fell under my own observation; of which pars magna fui, and which I am persuaded will, with the liberal-minded, be much to his credit.
My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description, had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two men more different could perhaps not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry, which can separate good qualities from evil in the same person.
Sir John Pringle, ‘mine own friend and my Father’s friend,’ between whom and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance, as I respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to me once, very ingeniously, ‘It is not in friendship as in mathematicks, where two things, each equal to a third, are equal between themselves. You agree with Johnson as a middle quality, and you agree with me as a middle quality; but Johnson and I should not agree.’ Sir John was not sufficiently flexible; so I desisted; knowing, indeed, that the repulsion was equally strong on the part of Johnson; who, I know not from what cause, unless his being a Scotchman, had formed a very erroneous opinion of Sir John. But I conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter.
My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry, at whose hospitable and well-covered table I have seen a greater number of literary men, than at any other, except that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, had invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more gentlemen on Wednesday, May 15. ‘Pray (said I,) let us have Dr. Johnson.’—‘What with Mr. Wilkes? not for the world, (said Mr. Edward Dilly:) Dr. Johnson would never forgive me.’—‘Come, (said I,) if you’ll let me negotiate for you, I will be answerable that all shall go well.’ DILLY. ‘Nay, if you will take it upon you, I am sure I shall be very happy to see them both here.’
Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, ‘Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?’ he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have answered, ‘Dine with Jack Wilkes, Sir! I’d as soon dine with Jack Ketch.’ I therefore, while we were sitting quietly by ourselves at his house in an evening, took occasion to open my plan thus:—‘Mr. Dilly, Sir, sends his respectful compliments to you, and would be happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him on Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him —’ BOSWELL. ‘Provided, Sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have, is agreeable to you.’ JOHNSON. ‘What do you mean, Sir? What do you take me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world as to imagine that I am to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to have at his table?’ BOSWELL. ‘I beg your pardon, Sir, for wishing to prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps he may have some of what he calls his patriotick friends with him.’ Johnson. ‘Well, Sir, and what then? What care I for his PATRIOTICK FRIENDS? Poh!’ BOSWELL. ‘I should not be surprized to find Jack Wilkes there.’ Johnson. ‘And if Jack Wilkes SHOULD be there, what is that to ME, Sir? My dear friend, let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you; but really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not meet any company whatever, occasionally.’ BOSWELL. ‘Pray forgive me, Sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me.’ Thus I secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well pleased to be one of his guests on the day appointed.
Upon the much-expected Wednesday, I called on him about half an hour before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out together, to see that he was ready in time, and to accompany him. I found him buffeting his books, as upon a former occasion, covered with dust, and making no preparation for going abroad. ‘How is this, Sir? (said I.) Don’t you recollect that you are to dine at Mr. Dilly’s?’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I did not think of going to Dilly’s: it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner at home with Mrs. Williams.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, my dear Sir, you know you were engaged to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so. He will expect you, and will be much disappointed if you don’t come.’ JOHNSON. ‘You must talk to Mrs. Williams about this.’
Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I had secured would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to shew Mrs. Williams such a degree of humane attention, as frequently imposed some restraint upon him; and I knew that if she should be obstinate, he would not stir. I hastened down stairs to the blind lady’s room, and told her I was in great uneasiness, for Dr. Johnson had engaged to me to dine this day at Mr. Dilly’s, but that he had told me he had forgotten his engagement, and had ordered dinner at home. ‘Yes, Sir, (said she, pretty peevishly,) Dr. Johnson is to dine at home.’—‘Madam, (said I,) his respect for you is such, that I know he will not leave you unless you absolutely desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you will be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for Dr. Johnson, and will be vexed if the Doctor neglects him to-day. And then, Madam, be pleased to consider my situation; I carried the message, and I assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come, and no doubt he has made a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted of the honour he expected to have. I shall be quite disgraced if the Doctor is not there.’ She gradually softened to my solicitations, which were certainly as earnest as most entreaties to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously pleased to empower me to tell Dr. Johnson, ‘That all things considered, she thought he should certainly go.’ I flew back to him, still in dust, and careless of what should be the event, ‘indifferent in his choice to go or stay;’ but as soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams’ consent, he roared, ‘Frank, a clean shirt,’ and was very soon drest. When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna-Green.
When we entered Mr. Dilly’s drawing room, he found himself in the midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly, ‘Who is that gentleman, Sir?’—‘Mr. Arthur Lee.’— JOHNSON. ‘Too, too, too,’ (under his breath,) which was one of his habitual mutterings. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a PATRIOT but an AMERICAN. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the court of Madrid. ‘And who is the gentleman in lace?’—‘Mr. Wilkes, Sir.’ This information confounded him still more; he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book, sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say, were aukward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company, and he, therefore, resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.
The cheering sound of ‘Dinner is upon the table,’ dissolved his reverie, and we ALL sat down without any symptom of ill humour. There were present, beside Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was an old companion of mine when he studied physick at Edinburgh, Mr. (now Sir John) Miller, Dr. Lettsom, and Mr. Slater the druggist. Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him with so much attention and politeness, that he gained upon him insensibly. No man eat more heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes was very assiduous in helping him to some fine veal. ‘Pray give me leave, Sir:— It is better here — A little of the brown — Some fat, Sir — A little of the stuffing — Some gravy — Let me have the pleasure of giving you some butter — Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange; — or the lemon, perhaps, may have more zest.’—‘Sir, Sir, I am obliged to you, Sir,’ cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his head to him with a look for some time of ‘surly virtue,’ but, in a short while, of complacency.
Foote being mentioned, Johnson said, ‘He is not a good mimick.’ One of the company added, ‘A merry Andrew, a buffoon.’ JOHNSON. ‘But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he’s gone, Sir, when you think you have got him — like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is under many restraints from which Foote is free.’ WILKES. ‘Garrick’s wit is more like Lord Chesterfield’s.’ JOHNSON. ‘The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert’s. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir, he was irresistible. He upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small-beer brewer, and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small-beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote’s small-beer no longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert’s, and this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote’s stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs, he told them, “This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small-beer.”’
Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES. ‘Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now leaving the stage; but he will play Scrub all his life.’ I knew that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as Garrick once said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, ‘I have heard Garrick is liberal.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, I know that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have money, he probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he could; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him. Garrick might have been much better attacked for living with more splendour than is suitable to a player: if they had had the wit to have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has rescued him from much obloquy and envy.’
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information for biography, Johnson told us, ‘When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the Life of Dryden, and in order to get materials, I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old Swinney, and old Cibber. Swinney’s information was no more than this, “That at Will’s coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter-chair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-chair.” Cibber could tell no more but “That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will’s.” You are to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other.’ BOSWELL. ‘Yet Cibber was a man of observation?’ JOHNSON. ‘I think not.’ BOSWELL. ‘You will allow his Apology to be well done.’ JOHNSON. ‘Very well done, to be sure, Sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope’s remark:
“Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand.”’
BOSWELL. ‘And his plays are good.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes; but that was his trade; l’esprit du corps: he had been all his life among players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then shewed me an Ode of his own, with an absurd couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle’s wing. I told him that when the ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real.’
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that ‘among all the bold flights of Shakspeare’s imagination, the boldest was making Birnamwood march to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland! ha! ha! ha!’ And he also observed, that ‘the clannish slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton’s remark of “The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty,” being worshipped in all hilly countries.’—‘When I was at Inverary (said he,) on a visit to my old friend, Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, “It is then, gentlemen, truely lucky for me; for if I had displeased the Duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes’s head to him in a charger. It would have been only
“Off with his head! So much for Aylesbury.”
I was then member for Aylesbury.’
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The SCOTCH would not know it to be barren.’ BOSWELL. ‘Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the enhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.’ All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him; but there must first be the judgement of a court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgement is obtained, can take place only, if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fugoe: WILKES. ‘That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation.’ JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes,) ‘You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell and shewed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.’ WILKES. ‘Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me.’ JOHNSON. (smiling,) ‘And we ashamed of him.’
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, ‘You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced.’ Wilkes talked with all imaginable freedom of the ludicrous title given to the Attorney-General, Diabolus Regis; adding, ‘I have reason to know something about that officer; for I was prosecuted for a libel.’ Johnson, who many people would have supposed must have been furiously angry at hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word. He was now, INDEED, ‘a good-humoured fellow.’
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady, well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. Amidst some patriotick groans, somebody (I think the Alderman) said, ‘Poor old England is lost.’ JOHNSON. ‘Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that Old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it.’ WILKES. ‘Had Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I should not have taken the trouble to write his eulogy, and dedicate Mortimer to him.’
Mr. Wilkes held a candle to shew a fine print of a beautiful female figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour of the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He afterwards, in a conversation with me, waggishly insisted, that all the time Johnson shewed visible signs of a fervent admiration of the corresponding charms of the fair Quaker.
This record, though by no means so perfect as I could wish, will serve to give a notion of a very curious interview, which was not only pleasing at the time, but had the agreeable and benignant effect of reconciling any animosity, and sweetening any acidity, which in the various bustle of political contest, had been produced in the minds of two men, who though widely different, had so many things in common — classical learning, modern literature, wit, and humour, and ready repartee — that it would have been much to be regretted if they had been for ever at a distance from each other.
Mr. Burke gave me much credit for this successful NEGOCIATION; and pleasantly said, that ‘there was nothing to equal it in the whole history of the Corps Diplomatique.’
I attended Dr. Johnson home, and had the satisfaction to hear him tell Mrs. Williams how much he had been pleased with Mr. Wilkes’s company, and what an agreeable day he had passed.
I talked a good deal to him of the celebrated Margaret Caroline Rudd, whom I had visited, induced by the fame of her talents, address, and irresistible power of fascination. To a lady who disapproved of my visiting her, he said on a former occasion, ‘Nay, Madam, Boswell is in the right; I should have visited her myself, were it not that they have now a trick of putting every thing into the news-papers.’ This evening he exclaimed, ‘I envy him his acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd.’
On the evening of the next day I took leave of him, being to set out for Scotland. I thanked him with great warmth for all his kindness. ‘Sir, (said he,) you are very welcome. Nobody repays it with more.
The following letters concerning an Epitaph which he wrote for the monument of Dr. Goldsmith, in Westminster-Abbey, afford at once a proof of his unaffected modesty, his carelessness as to his own writings, and of the great respect which he entertained for the taste and judgement of the excellent and eminent person to whom they are addressed:
‘TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
‘DEAR SIR— I have been kept away from you, I know not well how, and of these vexatious hindrances I know not when there will be an end. I therefore send you the poor dear Doctor’s epitaph. Read it first yourself; and if you then think it right, shew it to the Club. I am, you know, willing to be corrected. If you think any thing much amiss, keep it to yourself, till we come together. I have sent two copies, but prefer the card. The dates must be settled by Dr. Percy. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
‘May 16, 1776.’
It was, I think, after I had left London this year, that this Epitaph gave occasion to a Remonstrance to the MONARCH OF LITERATURE, for an account of which I am indebted to Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo.
That my readers may have the subject more fully and clearly before them, I shall first insert the Epitaph.
Poetae, Physici, Historici,
Qui nullum fere scribendi genus
Nullum quod tetiqit non ornavit:
Sive risus essent movendi,
Affectuum potens at lenis dominator:
Ingenio sublimis, vividus, versatilis,
Oratione grandis, nitidus, venustus:
Hoc monumento memoriam coluit
Natus in Hibernia Forniae Longfordiensis,
In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Nov. XXIX. MDCCXXXI;
Eblanae literis institutus;
April IV, MDCCLXXIV.’
Sir William Forbes writes to me thus:—
‘I enclose the Round Robin. This jeu d’esprit took its rise one day at dinner at our friend Sir Joshua Reynolds’s. All the company present, except myself, were friends and acquaintance of Dr. Goldsmith. The Epitaph, written for him by Dr. Johnson, became the subject of conversation, and various emendations were suggested, which it was agreed should be submitted to the Doctor’s consideration. But the question was, who should have the courage to propose them to him? At last it was hinted, that there could be no way so good as that of a Round Robin, as the sailors call it, which they make use of when they enter into a conspiracy, so as not to let it be known who puts his name first or last to the paper. This proposition was instantly assented to; and Dr. Barnard, Dean of Derry, now Bishop of Killaloe, drew up an address to Dr. Johnson on the occasion, replete with wit and humour, but which it was feared the Doctor might think treated the subject with too much levity. Mr. Burke then proposed the address as it stands in the paper in writing, to which I had the honour to officiate as clerk.
‘Sir Joshua agreed to carry it to Dr. Johnson, who received it with much good humour,39 and desired Sir Joshua to tell the gentlemen, that he would alter the Epitaph in any manner they pleased, as to the sense of it; but he would never consent to disgrace the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription.
39 He however, upon seeing Dr. Warton’s name to the suggestion, that the Epitaph should be in English, observed to Sir Joshua, ‘I wonder that Joe Warton, a scholar by profession, should be such a fool.’ He said too, ‘I should have thought Mund Burke would have had more sense.’ Mr. Langton, who was one of the company at Sir Joshua’s, like a sturdy scholar, resolutely refused to sign the Round Robin. The Epitaph is engraved upon Dr. Goldsmith’s monument without any alteration. At another time, when somebody endeavoured to argue in favour of its being in English, Johnson said, ‘The language of the country of which a learned man was a native, is not the language fit for his epitaph, which should be in ancient and permanent language. Consider, Sir; how you should feel, were you to find at Rotterdam an epitaph upon Erasmus IN DUTCH!’— BOSWELL.
‘I consider this Round Robin as a species of literary curiosity worth preserving, as it marks, in a certain degree, Dr. Johnson’s character.’
Sir William Forbes’s observation is very just. The anecdote now related proves, in the strongest manner, the reverence and awe with which Johnson was regarded, by some of the most eminent men of his time, in various departments, and even by such of them as lived most with him; while it also confirms what I have again and again inculcated, that he was by no means of that ferocious and irascible character which has been ignorantly imagined.
This hasty composition is also to be remarked as one of a thousand instances which evince the extraordinary promptitude of Mr. Burke; who while he is equal to the greatest things, can adorn the least; can, with equal facility, embrace the vast and complicated speculations of politicks, or the ingenious topicks of literary investigation.
‘DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. BOSWELL.
‘MADAM— You must not think me uncivil in omitting to answer the letter with which you favoured me some time ago. I imagined it to have been written without Mr. Boswell’s knowledge, and therefore supposed the answer to require, what I could not find, a private conveyance.
‘The difference with Lord Auchinleck is now over; and since young Alexander has appeared, I hope no more difficulties will arise among you; for I sincerely wish you all happy. Do not teach the young ones to dislike me, as you dislike me yourself; but let me at least have Veronica’s kindness, because she is my acquaintance.
‘You will now have Mr. Boswell home; it is well that you have him; he has led a wild life. I have taken him to Lichfield, and he has followed Mr. Thrale to Bath. Pray take care of him, and tame him. The only thing in which I have the honour to agree with you is, in loving him; and while we are so much of a mind in a matter of so much importance, our other quarrels will, I hope, produce no great bitterness. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
‘May 16, 1776.’
I select from his private register the following passage:
‘July 25, 1776. O God, who hast ordained that whatever is to be desired should be sought by labour, and who, by thy blessing, bringest honest labour to good effect, look with mercy upon my studies and endeavours. Grant me, O LORD, to design only what is lawful and right; and afford me calmness of mind, and steadiness of purpose, that I may so do thy will in this short life, as to obtain happiness in the world to come, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST our Lord. Amen.’
It appears from a note subjoined, that this was composed when he ‘purposed to apply vigorously to study, particularly of the Greek and Italian tongues.’
Such a purpose, so expressed, at the age of sixty-seven, is admirable and encouraging; and it must impress all the thinking part of my readers with a consolatory confidence in habitual devotion, when they see a man of such enlarged intellectual powers as Johnson, thus in the genuine earnestness of secrecy, imploring the aid of that Supreme Being, ‘from whom cometh down every good and every perfect gift.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48