[ 1780] In 1780 the world was kept in impatience for the completion of his
I wrote to him on January 1, and March 13, sending him my notes of Lord Marchmont's information concerning Pope;—complaining that I had not heard from him for almost four months, though he was two letters in my debt;—that I had suffered again from melancholy;—hoping that he had been in so much better company, (the Poets,) that he had not time to think of his distant friends; for if that were the case, I should have some recompence for my uneasiness;—that the state of my affairs did not admit of my coming to London this year;—and, begging he would return me Goldsmith's two poems, with his lines marked.
His friend Dr. Lawrence having now suffered the greatest affliction to which a man is liable, and which Johnson himself had felt in the most severe manner; Johnson wrote to him in an admirable strain of sympathy and pious consolation.
To Dr. LAWRENCE.
AT a time when all your friends ought to shew their kindness, and with a character which ought to make all that know you your friends, you may wonder that you have yet heard nothing from me.
I have been hindered by a vexatious and incessant cough, for which within these ten days I have been bled once, fasted four or five times, taken physick five times, and opiates, I think, six. This day it seems to remit.
Page 312 [ 1780. Aetat. 71.] The loss, dear Sir, which you have lately suffered, I felt many years ago, and know therefore how much has been taken from you, and how little help can be had from consolation. He that outlives a wife whom he has long loved, sees himself disjoined from the only mind that has the same hopes, and fears, and interest; from the only companion with whom he has shared much good or evil; and with whom he could set his mind at liberty, to retrace the past, or anticipate the future. The continuity of being is lacerated; the settled course of sentiment and action is stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless, till it is driven by external causes into a new channel. But the time of suspense is dreadful.
Our first recourse in this distressful solitude, is, perhaps for want of ha∣bitual piety, to a gloomy acquiescence in necessity. Of two mortal beings, one must lose the other; but surely there is a higher and a better comfort to be drawn from the consideration of that Providence which watches over all, and a belief that the living and the dead are equally in the hands of GOD, who will reunite those whom he has separated, or who sees that it is best not to reunite them.
I am, dear Sir, Your most affectionate, And most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
Jan. 20, 1780.
To JAMES BOSWELL, Esq.
WELL, I had resolved to send you the Chesterfield letter; but I will write once again without it. Never impose tasks upon mortals. To require two things is the way to have them both undone.
For the difficulties which you mention in your affairs I am sorry; but difficulty is now very general: it is not therefore less grievous, for there is less hope of help. I pretend not to give you advice, not knowing the state of your affairs; and general counsels about prudence and frugality would do you little good. You are, however, in the right not to increase your own perplexity by a journey hither; and I hope that by staying at home you will please your father.
Poor dear Beauclerk—nec, ut soles, dabis joca. His wit and his folly, his acuteness and maliciousness, his merriment and reasoning, are now over. Such another will not often be found among mankind. He directed himself to be buried by the side of his mother, an instance of tenderness which I Page 313 hardly expected. He has left his children to the care of Lady Di. and if she dies, of Mr. Langton, and of Mr. Leicester, his relation, and a man of good character. His library has been offered to sale to the Ruffian ambassador.
Dr. Percy, notwithstanding all the noise of the newspapers, has had no literary loss 2. Clothes and moveables were burnt to the value of about one hundred pounds; but his papers, and I think his books, were all preserved.
Poor Mr. Thrale has been in extreme danger from an apoplectical disorder, and recovered, beyond the expectation of his physicians; he is now at Bath, that his mind may be quiet, and Mrs. Thrale and Miss are with him.
Having told you what has happened to your friends, let me say some∣thing to you of yourself. You are always complaining of melancholy, and I conclude from those complaints that you are fond of it. No man talks of that which he is desirous to conceal, and every man desires to conceal that of which he is ashamed. Do not pretend to deny it; manifestum habemus furem; make it an invariable and obligatory law to yourself, never to mention your own mental diseases; If you are never to speak of them you will think on them but little, and if you think little of them, they will molest you rarely. When you talk of them, it is plain that you want either praise or pity; for praise there is no room, and pity will do you no good; therefore, from this hour speak no more, think no more about them.
Your transaction with Mrs. Stuart gave me great satisfaction; I am much obliged to you for your attention. Do not lose sight of her, your countenance may be of great credit, and of consequence of great advantage to her. The memory of her brother is yet fresh in my mind; he was an ingenious and worthy man.
Please to make my compliments to your lady, and to the young ladies. I should like to see them, pretty loves.
I am dear Sir, Yours, affectionately, SAM. JOHNSON.
April 8▪ 1780.
Mrs. Thrale being now at Bath with her husband, the correspondence between Johnson and her was carried on briskly. I shall present my readers with one of her original letters to him at this time, which will amuse them probably more than those well-written but studied epistles which she has inserted Page 314 in her collection, because it exhibits the easy vivacity of their literary inter∣course. It is also of value as a key to Johnson's answer, which she has printed by itself, and of which I shall subjoin extracts.
Mrs. THRALE to Dr. JOHNSON.
I HAD a very kind letter from you yesterday, dear Sir, with a most circumstantial date. You took trouble with my circulating letter, Mr. Evans writes me word, and I thank you sincerely for so doing: one might do mischief else not being on the spot.
Yesterday's evening was passed at Mrs. Montagu's: there was Mr. Melmoth; I do not like him though, nor he me; it was expected we should have pleased each other; he is, however, just Tory enough to hate the Bishop of Peterborough for Whiggism, and Whig enough to abhor you for Toryism.
Mrs. Montagu flattered him finely; so he had a good afternoon on't. This evening we spend at a concert. Poor Queeney's3 sore eyes have just released her; she had a long confinement, and could neither read nor write, so my master4 treated her very good-naturedly with the visits of a young woman in this town, a taylor's daughter, who professes musick, and teaches so as to give six lessons a day to ladies, at five and three-pence a lesson. Miss Burney says she is a great performer; and I respect the wench for getting her living so prettily; she is very modest and pretty mannered, and not seventeen years old.
You live in a fine whirl indeed, if I did not write regularly you would half forget me, and that would be very wrong, for I felt my regard for you in my face last night, when the criticisms were going on.
This morning it was all connoisseurship; we went to see some pictures painted by a gentleman artist, Mr. Taylor, of this place; my master makes one every where, and he has got a dawling companion to ride with him now. * * * * * * * *. He looks well enough, but I have no notion of health for a man whose mouth cannot be sewed up. Burney and I and Queeney teize him every meal he eats, and Mr. Montagu is quite serious with him; but what can one do? He will eat, I think, and if he does eat I know Page 315 he will not live; it makes me very unhappy, but I must bear it. Let me always have your friendship.
I am, most sincerely, dear Sir, Your faithful servant, H. L. T.
Bath, Friday, April 28.
Dr. JOHNSON to Mrs. THRALE.
MR. THRALE never will live abstinently, till he can persuade himself to live by rule 5. * * * * * * * *. Encourage, as you can, the musical girl.
Nothing is more common than mutual dislike where mutual approbation is particularly expected. There is often on both sides a vigilance not over benevolent; and as attention is strongly excited, so that nothing drops un∣heeded, any difference in taste or opinion, and some difference where there is no restraint, will commonly appear, it immediately generates dislike.
Never let criticisms operate upon your face or your mind; it is very rarely that an authour is hurt by his criticks. The blaze of reputation cannot be blown out, but it often dies in the socket; a very few names may be considered as perpetual lamps that shine unconsumed. From the authour of 'Fitzosborne's Letters' I cannot think myself in much danger. I met him only once about thirty years ago, and in some small dispute reduced him to whistle; having not seen him since, that is the last impression. Poor Moore, the fabulist, was one of the company.
Mrs. Montagu's long stay, against her own inclination, is very con∣venient. You would, by your own confession, want a companion; and she is par pluribus; conversing with her you may find variety in one.
London, May 1, 1780.
On the 2d of May I wrote to him, and requested that we might have another meeting somewhere in the North of England, in the autumn of this year.
From Mr. Langton I received soon after this time a letter, of which I extract a passage, relative at once to Mr. Beauclerk and Dr. Johnson.
The melancholy information you have received concerning Mr. Beauclerk's death is true. Had his talents been directed in any sufficient degree as they ought, I have always been strongly of opinion that they were calculated to make an illustrious figure; and that opinion, as it had been in Page 316 part formed upon Dr. Johnson's judgement, receives more and more con∣firmation by hearing, that since his death, Dr. Johnson has said concerning them; a few evenings ago, he was at Mr. Vesey's, where Lord Althorpe, who was one of a numerous company there, addressed Dr. Johnson on the subject of Mr. Beauclerk's death, saying,
At the evening I have spoken of above, at Mr. Vesey's, you would have been much gratified, as it exhibited an instance of the high importance in which Dr. Johnson's character is held, I think even beyond any I ever before was witness to. The company consisted chiefly of ladies, among whom were the Duchess Dowager of Portland, the Duchess of Beaufort, whom I suppose from her rank, I must name before her mother Mrs. Boscawen, and her elder sister Mrs. Lewson, who was likewise there; Lady Lucan, Lady Clermont, and others of note both for their station and understandings. Among the gentlemen were, Lord Althorpe, whom I have before named, Lord Macartney, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Lucan, Mr. Wraxal, whose book you have probably seen, 'The Tour to the Northern Parts of Europe;' a very agreeable ingenious man; Dr. Warren, Mr. Pepys, the Master in Chancery, whom I believe you know, and Dr. Barnard, the Provost of Eton. As soon as Dr. Johnson was come in and had taken a chair, the company began to collect round him till they became not less than four if not five deep; those behind standing, and listening over the heads of those that were sitting near him. The conversation for some time was chiefly between Dr. Johnson and the Provost of Eton, while the others contributed occasionally their remarks. Without attempting to detail the particulars of the conversation, which perhaps if I did, I should spin my account out to a tedious length, I thought, my dear Sir, this general account of the respect with which our valued friend was attended to, might be acceptable.
To the Reverend Dr. FARMER.
May 2, 1780.
I KNOW your disposition to second any literary attempt, and therefore venture upon the liberty of entreating you to procure from College or University registers, all the dates, or other informations which they can supply relating to Ambrose Philips, Broom, and Gray, who were all of Cam∣bridge, and of whose lives I am to give such accounts as I can gather. Be pleased to forgive this trouble from, Sir,
Your most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
While Johnson was thus engaged in preparing a delightful literary entertainment for the world, the tranquillity of the metropolis of Great-Britain was unexpectedly disturbed, by the most horrid series of outrage that ever disgraced a civilized country. A relaxation of some of the severe penal provisions against our fellow subjects of the Catholick communion had been granted by the legislature, with an opposition so inconsiderable, that the genuine mildness of Christianity, united with liberal policy, seemed to have become general in this island. But a dark and malignant spirit of persecution soon shewed itself, in an unworthy petition for the repeal of the wise and humane statute. That petition was brought forward by a mob, with the evident purpose of intimidation, and was justly rejected. But the attempt was accompanied and followed by such daring violence as is unexampled in history. Of this extraordinary tumult, Dr. Johnson has given the following concise, lively, and just account in his
Such was the end of this miserable sedition, from which London was delivered by the magnanimity of the Sovereign himself. Whatever some may maintain, I am satisfied that there was no combination or plan, either domestick or foreign; but that the mischief spread by a gradual contagion of frenzy, augmented by the quantities of fermented liquors, of which the deluded populace possessed themselves in the course of their depredations.
I should think myself very much to blame, did I here neglect to do justice to my esteemed friend Mr. Akerman, the keeper of Newgate, who has long discharged a very important trust with an uniform intrepid firmness, and at the same time a tenderness and a liberal charity, which entitle him to be recorded with distinguished honour.
Upon this occasion, from the timidity and negligence of magistracy on the one hand, and the almost incredible exertions of the mob on the other, the first prison of this great country was laid open, and the prisoners set free; but that Mr. Akerman, whose house was burnt, would have prevented all this, had proper aid been sent to him in due time, there can be no doubt.
Page 320 Many years ago, a fire broke out in the brick part which was built as an addition to the old gaol of Newgate. The prisoners were in consternation and tumult, calling out,
Johnson has been heard to relate the substance of this story with high praise, in which he was joined by Mr. Burke. My illustrious friend, speak∣ing of Mr. Akerman's kindness to his prisoners, pronounced this eulogy upon his character:—
In the course of this month my brother David waited upon Dr. Johnson, with the following letter of introduction, which I had taken care should be lying ready on his arrival in London.
To Dr. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, April 29, 1780.
THIS will be delivered to you by my brother David, on his return from Spain. You will be glad to see the man who vowed to
I have the honour to be, with affectionate veneration,
my dear Sir,
Your most faithful humble servant, JAMES BOSWELL.
Johnson received him very politely, and has thus mentioned him in a letter to Mrs. Thrale 7:
To Dr. BEATTIE, at ABERDEEN.
MORE years9 than I have any delight to reckon, have past since you and I saw one another; of this, however, there is no reason for making any reprehensory complaint, Sic fata ferunt. But methinks there might pass some small interchange of regard between us. If you say, that I ought to have written, I now write, and I write to tell you, that I have much kindness for you and Mrs. Beattie; and that I wish your health better, and Page 322 your life long. Try change of air, and come a few degrees Southwards; a softer climate may do you both good; winter is coming on; and London will be warmer, and gayer, and busier, and more fertile of amusement than Aberdeen.
My health is better; but that will be little in the balance, when I tell you that Mrs. Montagu has been very ill, and is I doubt now but weakly. Mr. Thrale has been very dangerously disordered; but is much better, and I hope will totally recover. He has withdrawn himself from business the whole summer. Sir Joshua and his sister are well; and Mr. Davies has had great success as an authour 1, generated by the corruption of a bookseller. More news I have not to tell you, and therefore you must be contented with hearing, what I know not whether you much wish to hear 2, that I am, Sir,
Your most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
Bolt-court, Fleet-street, August 21, 1780.
To JAMES BOSWELL, Esq.
I FIND you have taken one of your fits of taciturnity, and have resolved not to write till you are written to; it is but a peevish humour, but you shall have your way.
I have sate at home in Bolt-court, all the summer, thinking to write the Lives, and a great part of the time only thinking. Several of them, however, are done, and I still think to do the rest.
Mr. Thrale and his family have, since his illness, passed their time first at Bath, and then at Brighthelmston; but I have been at neither place. I would have gone to Lichfield, if I could have had time, and I might have had time, if I had been active; but I have missed much, and done little.
Page 323 In the late disturbances, Mr. Thrale's house and stock were in great danger; the mob was pacified at their first invasion, with about fifty pounds in drink and meat; and at their second, were driven away by the soldiers. Mr. Strahan got a garrison into his house, and maintained them a fortnight; he was so frighted that he removed part of his goods. Mrs. Williams took shelter in the country.
I know not whether I shall get a ramble this autumn; it is now about the time when we were travelling. I have, however, better health than I had then, and hope you and I may yet shew ourselves on some part of Europe, Asia, or Africa 3. In the mean time let us play no trick, but keep each other's kindness by all means in our power.
The bearer of this is Dr. Dunbar, of Aberdeen, who has written and published a very ingenious book 4, and who I think has a kindness for me, and will when he knows you have a kindness for you.
I suppose your little ladies are grown tall; and your son is become a learned young man. I love them all, and I love your naughty lady, whom I never shall persuade to love me. When the Lives are done, I shall send them to complete her collection, but must send them in paper, as for want of a pattern, I cannot bind them to fit the rest.
I am, Sir, Yours most affectionately, SAM. JOHNSON.
London, Aug. 21, 1780.
This year he wrote to a young clergyman in the country, the following very excellent letter, which contains valuable advice to Divines in general:
NOT many days ago Dr. Lawrence shewed me a letter, in which you make mention of me: I hope, therefore, you will not be displeased that I endeavour to preserve your good-will by some observations which your letter suggested to me.
You are afraid of falling into some improprieties in the daily service, by reading to an audience that requires no exactness. Your fear, I hope, Page 324 secures you from danger. They who contract absurd habits are such as have no fear. It is impossible to do the same thing very often, without some pecu∣liarity of manner: but that manner may be good or bad, and a little care will at least preserve it from being bad: to make it very good, there must, I think, be something of natural or casual felicity, which cannot be taught.
Your present method of making your sermons seems very judicious. Few frequent preachers can be supposed to have sermons more their own than yours will be. Take care to register, somewhere or other, the authours from whom your several discourses are borrowed; and do not imagine that you shall always remember, even what perhaps you now think it impossible to forget.
My advice, however, is, that you attempt, from time to time, an original sermon; and in the labour of composition, do not burden your mind with too much at once; do not exact from yourself, at one effort of excogi∣tation, propriety of thought and elegance of expression. Invent first, and then embellish. The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced. Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise, in the first words that occur; and, when you have matter, you will easily give it form: nor, perhaps, will this method be always necessary; for, by habit, your thoughts and diction will flow together.
The composition of sermons is not very difficult: the divisions not only help the memory of the hearer, but direct the judgement of the writer; they supply sources of invention, and keep every part in its proper place.
What I like least in your letter is your account of the manners of your parish; from which I gather, that it has been long neglected by the parson. The Dean of Carlisle 5, who was then a little rector in Northamptonshire, told me, that it might be discerned whether or no there was a clergyman resident in a parish, by the civil or savage manner of the people. Such a congregation as yours stands in much need of reformation; and I would not have you think it impossible to reform them. A very savage parish was civilised by a decayed gentlewoman, who came among them to teach a petty school. My learned friend Dr. Wheeler of Oxford, when he was a young man, had the care of a neighbouring parish for fifteen pounds a year, which he was never paid; but he counted it a convenience that it compelled him to make a sermon weekly. One woman he could not bring to the communion; and, when he reproved or exhorted her, she only answered, that she was no scholar. He was advised to set some good woman or man of the parish, a Page 325 little wiser than herself, to talk to her in language level to her mind. Such honest, I may call them holy artifices, must be practised by every clergy∣man; for all means must be tried by which souls may be saved. Talk to your people, however, as much as you can; and you will find, that the more frequently you converse with them upon religious subjects, the more willingly they will attend, and the more submissively they will learn. A clergyman's diligence always makes him venerable. I think I have now only to say, that in the momentous work you have undertaken, I pray GOD to bless you.
I am, Sir, Your most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
Bolt-court, Aug. 30, 1780.
My next letters to him were of dates August 24, September 6, and October 1, and from them I extract the following passages:
My brother David and I find the long indulged fancy of our comfortable meeting again at Auchinleck, so well realised, that it in some degree con∣firms the pleasing hope of O! praeclarum diem! in a future state.
I beg that you may never again harbour a suspicion of my indulging a peevish humour, or playing tricks; you will recollect, that when I confessed to you, that when I had once been intentionally silent to try your regard, I gave you my word and honour that I should not do so again.
I rejoice to hear of your good state of health; I pray GOD to continue it long. I have often said, that I would willingly have ten years added to my life, to have ten taken from yours; I mean, that I would be ten years older, to have you ten years younger. But let me be thankful for the years during which I have enjoyed your friendship, and please myself with the hopes of enjoying it many years to come in this state of being, trusting always, that in another state, we shall meet never to be separated. Of this we can form no notion; but the thought, though indistinct, is delightful, when the mind is calm and clear.
The riots in London were certainly horrible; but you give me no account of your own situation, during the barbarous anarchy. A description of it by DR. JOHNSON would be a great painting 6; you might write another 'LONDON, A POEM.'
I am charmed with your condescending affectionate expression,
I write now for the third time, to tell you that my desire for our meeting this autumn, is much increased. I wrote to 'Squire Godfrey Bosville, my Yorkshire Chief, that I should, perhaps, pay him a visit, as I was to hold a conference with Dr. Johnson, at York. I give you my word and honour that I said not a word of his inviting you; but he wrote to me as follows:
We have thus, my dear Sir, good comfortable quarters in the neigh∣bourhood of York, where you may be assured we shall be heartily welcome. I pray you then resolve to set out; and let not the year 1780 be a blank in our social calendar, and in that record of wisdom and wit, which I keep with so much diligence, to your honour, and the instruction and delight of others.
Mr. Thrale had now another contest for the representation in parliament of the borough of Southwark, and Johnson kindly lent him his assistance, by writing advertisements and letters for him. I shall insert one, as a specimen: *
To the worthy ELECTORS of the Borough of SOUTHWARK.
A NEW Parliament being now called, I again solicit the honour of being elected for one of your representatives, and solicit it with the greater Page 327 confidence, as I am not conscious of having neglected my duty, or of having acted otherwise than as becomes the independent representative of independent constituents, superiour to fear, hope, and expectation, who has no private purposes to promote, and whose prosperity is involved in the prosperity of his country. As my recovery from a very severe distemper is not yet perfect, I have declined to attend the Hall, and hope an omission so necessary will not be harshly censured.
I can only send my respectful wishes, that all your deliberations may tend to the happiness of the kingdom, and the peace of the borough.
I am, Gentlemen, Your most faithful and obedient servant, HENRY THRALE.
Southwark, Sept. 5, 1780.
On his birth-day, Johnson has this note,
Mr. Macbean, whom I have mentioned more than once, as one of Johnson's humble friends, a deserving but unfortunate man, being now oppressed by age and poverty, Johnson solicited the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, to have him admitted into the Charter-house. I take the liberty to insert his Lord∣ship's answer, as I am eager to embrace every occasion of augmenting the respectable notion which should ever be entertained of my illustrious friend:
To Dr. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
London, Oct. 24, 1780.
I HAVE this moment received your letter, dated the 19th, and returned from Bath.
In the beginning of the summer I placed one in the Chartreux, without the sanction of a recommendation so distinct, and so authoritative as yours of Macbean; and I am afraid, that according to the establishment of the House, the opportunity of making the charity so good amends will not soon recur. But whenever a vacancy shall happen, if you'll savour me with notice Page [unnumbered] of it, I will try to recommend him to the place, even though it should not be my turn to nominate.
I am, Sir, with great regard, Your most faithful And obedient servant, THURLOW.
To JAMES BOSWELL, Esq.
I AM sorry to write you a letter that will not please you, and yet it is at last what I resolve to do. This year must pass without an interview; the summer has been foolishly lost, like many other of my summers and winters. I hardly saw a green field, but staid in town to work, without working much.
Mr. Thrale's loss of health has lost him the election; he is now going to Brighthelmston, and expects me to go with him, and how long I shall stay I cannot tell. I do not much like the place, but yet I shall go, and stay while my stay is desired. We must, therefore, content ourselves with knowing what we know as well as man can know the mind of man, that we love one another, and that we wish each other's happiness, and that the lapse of a year cannot lessen our mutual kindness.
I was pleased to be told that I accused Mrs. Boswell unjustly, in supposing that she bears me ill-will. I love you so much, that I would be glad to love all that love you, and that you love; and I have love very ready for Mrs. Boswell, if she thinks it worthy of acceptance. I hope all the young ladies and gentlemen are well.
I take a great liking to your brother. He tells me that his father received him kindly, but not fondly; however, you seem to have lived well enough at Auchinleck, while you staid. Make your father as happy as you can.
You lately told me of your health: I can tell you in return, that my health has been for more than a year past, better than it has been for many years before. Perhaps it may please GOD to give us some time together before we are parted.
I am, dear Sir, Yours, most affectionately, SAM. JOHNSON.
Oct. 17, 1780.
Page 329 Being disappointed in my hopes of meeting Johnson this year, so that I could hear none of his admirable sayings, I shall compensate for this want by inserting a collection of them, for which I am indebted to my worthy friend Mr. Langton, whose kind communications have been separately interwoven in many parts of this work. A very few articles of this collection were committed to writing by himself, he not having that habit; which he regrets, and which those who know the numerous opportunities he had of gathering the rich fruits of Johnsonian wit and wisdom, must ever regret. I however found, in conversations with him, that a good store of Johnsoniana was treasured in his mind; and I compared it to Herculaneum, or some old Roman field, which, when dug, fully rewards the labour employed. The authenticity of every article is unquestionable. For the expression, I, who wrote them down in his presence, am partly answerable.
Theocritus is not deserving of very high respect as a writer; as to the pastoral part, Virgil is very evidently superiour. He wrote when there had been a larger influx of knowledge into the world than when Theocritus lived. Theocritus does not abound in description, though living in a beautiful country: the manners painted are coarse and gross. Virgil has much more description, more sentiment, more of Nature, and more of art. Some of the most excellent parts of Theocritus are, where Castor and Pollux, going with the other Argonauts, land on the Bebrycian coast, and there fall into a dispute with Amycus, the King of that country; which is as well conducted as Euripides could have done it; and the battle is well related. Afterwards they carry off a woman, whose two brothers come to recover her, and expostulate with Castor and Pollux on their injustice; but they pay no regard to the brothers, and a battle ensues, where Castor and his brother are triumphant. Theocritus seems not to have seen that the brothers have the advantage in their argument over his Argonaut heroes.—'The Sicilian Gossips' is a piece of merit.
Callimachus is a writer of little excellence. The chief thing to be learned from him is his account of Rites and Mythology; which, though desirable to be known for the sake of understanding other parts of ancient authours, is the least pleasing or valuable part of their writings.
Mattaire's account of the Stephani is a heavy book. He seems to have been a puzzle-headed man, with a large share of scholarship, but with little geometry or logick in his head, without method, and possessed of little genius. He wrote Latin verses from time to time, and published a set in his old age, Page 330 which he called 'Senilia;' in which he shews so little learning or taste in writing, as to make Carteret a dactyl.—In matters of genealogy it is necessary to give the bare names as they are; but in poetry, and in prose of any elegance in the writing, they require to have inflection given to them.—His book of the Dialects is a sad heap of confusion; the only way to write on them is to tabulate them with Notes, added at the bottom of the page, and references.
It may be questioned, whether there is not some mistake as to the methods of employing the poor, seemingly on a supposition that there is a certain portion of work left undone for want of persons to do it; but if that is otherwise, and all the materials we have are actually worked up, or all the manufactures we can use or dispose of are already executed, then what is given to the poor, who are to be set at work, must be taken from some who now have it, as time must be taken for learning, according to Sir William Petty's observation; a certain part of those very materials that, as it is, are properly worked up, must be spoiled by the unskilfulness of novices. We may apply to well-meaning, but misjudging persons in particular of this nature, what Giannone said to a monk, who wanted what he called to convert him: 'Tu se• santo ma Tu non se• Filosofo.'—It is an unhappy circumstance that one might give away five hundred pounds in a year to those that importune in the streets, and not do any good.
There is nothing more likely to betray a man into absurdity than condescension; when he seems to suppose his understanding too powerful for his company.
Having asked Mr. Langton if his father and mother had sate for their pictures, which he thought it right for each generation of a family to do, and being told they had opposed it, he said, 'Sir, among the infractuosities of the human mind, I know not if it may not be one, that there is a super∣stitious reluctance to sit for a picture.
John Gilbert Cooper related, that soon after the publication of his Dictionary, Garrick being asked by Johnson what people said of it, told him, that among other animadversions, it was objected that he cited authori∣ties which were beneath the dignity of such a work, and mentioned Richardson. 'Nay, (said Johnson,) I have done worse than that: I have cited thee, David.
Talking of expence, he observed, with what munificence a great mer∣chant will spend his money, both from his having it at command, and from his enlarged views by calculation of a good effect upon the whole. 'Whereas Page 331 (said he) you will hardly ever find a country gentleman who is not a good deal disconcerted at an unexpected occasion for his being obliged to lay out ten pounds.
When in good humour he would talk of his own writings with a won∣derful frankness and candour, and would even criticise them with the closest severity. One day, having read over one of his Ramblers, Mr. Langton asked him, how he liked that paper; he shook his head, and answered, 'too wordy.' And at another time, when one was reading his tragedy of 'Irene,' to a company at a house in the country, he left the room; and somebody having asked him the reason of this, he replied, 'Sir, I thought it had been better.
Talking of a point of delicate scrupulosity of moral conduct, he said to Mr. Langton, 'Men of harder minds than ours will do many things from which you and I would shrink; yet, Sir, they will, perhaps, do more good in life than we. But let us try to help one another. If there be a wrong twist, it may be set right. It is not probable that two people can be wrong the same way.
Of the Preface to Capel's Shakspeare, he said, 'If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to 'endow his purposes with words;' for, as it is, 'he doth gabble monstrously.
He related, that he had once in a dream a contest of wit with some other person, and that he was very much mortified by imagining that his opponent had the better of him. 'Now (said he) one may mark here the effect of sleep in weakening the power of reflection; for had not my judge∣ment failed me, I should have seen, that the wit of this supposed antagonist, by whose superiority I felt myself depressed, was as much furnished by me, as that which I thought I had been uttering in my own character.
One evening in company, an ingenious and learned gentleman read a letter of compliment to him from one of the Professors of a foreign University. Johnson, in an irritable fit, thinking there was too much ostentation, said, 'I never receive any of these tributes of applause from abroad. One instance I recollect of a foreign publication, in which mention is made of l'illustre Lockman.
Of Sir Joshua Reynolds he said, 'Sir, I know no man who has passed through life with more observation than Reynolds.
He repeated to Mr. Langton, with great energy, in the Greek, our SAVIOUR'S gracious expression concerning the forgiveness of Mary Magdalen, Page 332〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace 8.' He said, 'the manner of this dismission is exceedingly affecting.
He thus defined the difference between physical and moral truth; 'Physical truth, is, when you tell a thing as it actually is. Moral truth, is, when you tell a thing sincerely and precisely as it appears to you. I say such a one walked across the street; if he really did so I told a physical truth. If I thought so, though I should have been mistaken, I told a moral truth.
Huggins, the translator of Ariosto, and Mr. Thomas Warton, in the early part of his literary life, had a dispute concerning that poet, of whom Mr. Warton, in his 'Observations on Spencer's Fairy Queen,' gave some account, which Huggins attempted to answer with violence, and said,
Talking of the Farce of 'High Life below Stairs,' he said,
He used at one time to go occasionally to the green-room of Drury-lane Theatre, where he was much regarded by the players, and was very easy and facetious with them. He had a very high opinion of Mrs. Clive's comick powers, and conversed more with her than with any of them. He said,
His friend Garrick was so busy in conducting the drama, that they could not have so much intercourse as Mr. Garrick used to profess an anxious wish that there should be. There might indeed be something in the con∣temptuous severity as to the merit of acting, which his old preceptor nourished in himself, that would mortify Garrick after the great applause which he received from the audience. For though Johnson said of him,
Once he asked Tom Davies, whom he saw drest in a fine suit of clothes,
Of Mr. Longley, at Rochester, a gentleman of very considerable learning, whom Dr. Johnson met there, he said,
Talking of the minuteness with which people will record the sayings of eminent persons, a story was told, that when Pope was on a visit to Spence at Oxford, as they looked from the window they saw a Gentleman Commoner, who was just come in from riding, amusing himself with whipping at a post. Pope took occasion to say,
He would allow no settled indulgence of idleness upon principle, and always repelled every attempt to urge excuses for it. A friend one day sug∣gested, that it was not wholesome to study soon after dinner. JOHNSON.
Mr. Beauclerk one day repeated to Dr. Johnson, Pope's lines,
Dr. Goldsmith, upon occasion of Mrs. Lennox's bringing out a play, said to Dr. Johnson at the CLUB, that a person had advised him to go and hiss it, because she had attacked Shakspeare in her book called 'Shakspeare Page 334 Illustrated.' JOHNSON.
His affection for Topham Beauclerk was so great, that when Beauclerk was labouring under that severe illness which at last occasioned his death, Johnson said, (with a voice faultering with emotion,)
One night at the CLUB he produced a translation of an Epitaph which Lord Elibank had written in English, for his Lady, and requested of Johnson to turn into Latin for him. Having read Domina de North et Gray, he said to Dyer,
Johnson was well acquainted with Mr. Dossie, authour of a treatise on Agriculture; and said of him,
Page 335 Talking on the subject of toleration, one day when some friends were with him in his study, he made his usual remark, that the State has a right to regulate the religion of the people, who are the children of the State. A clergyman having readily acquiesced in this, Johnson, who loved discussion, observed,
A man, he observed, should begin to write soon; for, if he waits till his judgement is matured, his inability, through want of practice to express his conceptions, will make the disproportion so great between what he sees, and what he can attain, that he will probably be discouraged from writing at all. As a proof of the justness of this remark, we may instance what is related of the great Lord Granville; that after he had written his letter, giving an account of the battle of Dettingen, he said,
Talking of a Court-martial that was sitting upon a very momentous publick occasion, he expressed much doubt of an enlightened decision; and said, that perhaps there was not a member of it, who in the whole course of his life, had ever spent an hour by himself in balancing probabilities.
Goldsmith one day brought to the CLUB a printed Ode, which he, with others, had been hearing read by its authour in a publick room, at the rate of five shillings each for admission. One of the company having read it aloud, Dr. Johnson said,
Talking of Gray's Odes, he said,
His distinction of the different degrees of attainment of learning was thus marked upon two occasions. Of Queen Elizabeth he said,
He used to quote, with great warmth, the saying of Aristotle recorded by Diogenes Laertius; that there was the same difference between one learned and unlearned, as between the living and the dead.
Page 336 It is very remarkable, that he retained in his memory very slight and trivial, as well as important things. As an instance of this, it seems that an inferiour domestick of the Duke of Leeds had attempted to celebrate his Grace's marriage in such homely rhymes as he could make; and this curious composition having been sung to Dr. Johnson he got it by heart, and used to repeat it in a very pleasant manner. Two of the stanzas were these:
An eminent foreigner, when he was shewn the British Museum, was very troublesome with many absurd inquiries.
His unjust contempt for foreigners was, indeed, extreme. One evening, at Old Slaughter's coffee-house, when a number of them were talking loud about little matters, he said,
He said, that once, when he had a violent tooth-ache, a Frenchman accosted him thus: Ah, Monsieur, vous etudiez trop.
Having spent an evening at Mr. Langton's, with the Reverend Dr. Parr, he was much pleased with the conversation of that learned gentleman; and, after he was gone, said to Mr. Langton,
We may fairly institute a criticism between Shakspeare and Corneille, as they both had, though in a different degree, the lights of a latter age. It is not so just between the Greek dramatick writers and Shakspeare. It may be replied to what is said by one of the remarkers on Shakspeare, that though Darius's shade had Prescience, it does not necessarily follow that he had all past particulars revealed to him.
Spanish plays, being wildly and improbably farcical, would please children here, as children are entertained with stories full of prodigies; their experience not being sufficient to cause them to be so readily startled at deviations from the natural course of life. The machinery of the Pagans is uninteresting to us: when a Goddess appears in Homer or Virgil, we grow weary; still more so in the Grecian tragedies, as in that kind of composition a nearer approach to Nature is intended. Yet there are good reasons for reading romances; as the fertility of invention, the beauty of style, and expression, the curiosity of seeing with what kind of performances the age and country in which they were written was delighted: for it is to be appre∣hended, that at the time when very wild improbable tales were well received, the people were in a barbarous state, and so on the footing of children, as has been explained.
It is evident enough that no one who writes now can use the Pagan deities and mythology; the only machinery, therefore, seems that of ministring spirits, the ghosts of the departed, witches, and fairies, though these latter, as the vulgar superstition concerning them (which, while in its force, infected at least the imagination of those that had more advantage in education, and only their reason set them free from it,) is every day wearing out, seem likely to be of little further assistance in the machinery of poetry. As I recollect Hammond introduces a hag or witch into one of his love elegies, where the effect is unmeaning and disgusting.
The man who uses his talent of ridicule in creating or grossly exag∣gerating the instances he gives, who imputes absurdities that did not happen, or when a man was a little ridiculous, describes him as having been very much so, abuses his talents greatly. The great use of delineating absurdities is, that we may know how far human folly can go; the account, there∣fore, ought of absolute necessity to be faithful. A certain character (naming the person) as to the general cast of it, is well described by Garrick, but a great deal of the phraseology he uses in it, is quite his own, particularly in Page 338 the proverbial comparisons, 'obstinate as a pig,' &c. but I don't know whether it might not be true of him, that from a too great eagerness for praise and popularity, and a politeness carried to a ridiculous excess, he was likely, after asserting a thing in general, to give it up again in parts. For instance, if he had said Reynolds was the first of painters, he was capable enough of giving up, as objections might happen to be severally made; first, his outline—then the grace in form—then the colouring—and lastly, to have owned that he was such a mannerist, that the disposition of his pictures was all alike.
For hospitality, as formerly practised, there is no longer the same reason; heretofore the poorer people were more numerous, and from want of commerce, their means of getting a livelihood more difficult; therefore the supporting them was an act of great benevolence; now that the poor can find maintenance for themselves and their labour is wanted, a general undiscerning hospitality tends to ill, by withdrawing them from their work to idleness and drunkenness. Then formerly rents were received in kind, so that there was a great abundance of provisions in possession of the owners of the lands, which since the plenty of money afforded by commerce is no longer the case.
Hospitality to strangers and foreigners in our country is now almost at an end, since from the increase of them that come to us, there have been a sufficient number of people that have found an interest in providing inns and proper accommodations, which is in general a more expedient method for the entertainment of travellers. Where the travellers and strangers are few, more of that hospitality subsists, as it has not been worth while to provide places of accommodation. In Ireland there is still hospitality to strangers, in some degree; in Hungary and Poland probably more.
Colman, in a note on his translation of Terence, talking of Shakspeare's learning, asks,
A clergyman, whom he characterised as one who loved to say little oddities, was affecting one day, at a Bishop's table, a sort of slyness and freedom not in character, and repeated, as if part of 'The Old Man's Wish,' a song by Dr. Walter Pope, a verse bordering on licentiousness. Johnson rebuked him in the finest manner, by first shewing him that he did not know the passage he was aiming at, and thus humbling him:
Being asked if Barnes knew a good deal of Greek, he answered,
He used frequently to observe, that men might be very eminent in a profession, without our perceiving any particular power of mind in them in conversation.
A gentleman, by no means deficient in literature, having discovered less acquaintance with one of the Classicks than Johnson expected, when the gentleman left the room he observed,
Of Dodsley's 'Publick Virtue: a Poem,' he said,
Mr. Langton, when a very young man, read Dodsley's 'Cleone: a Tragedy,' to him, not aware of his extreme impatience to be read to. As it went on he turned his face to the back of his chair, and put himself into various attitudes, which marked his uneasiness. At the end of an act, how∣ever, he said,
Snatches of reading (said he) will not make a Bentley or a Clarke. They are, however, in a certain degree advantageous. I would put a child into a library (where no unfit books are) and let him read at his choice. A child should not be discouraged from reading any thing that he takes a liking to, from a notion that it is above his reach. If that be the case, the child will soon find it out and desist; if not, he of course gains the instruction; which is so much the more likely to come, from the inclination with which he takes up the study.
Though he used to censure carelessness with great vehemence, he owned, that he once, to avoid the trouble of locking up five guineas, hid them, he forgot where, so that he could not find them.
A gentleman who introduced his brother to Dr. Johnson, was earnest to recommend him to the Doctor's notice, which he did by saying,
When the rumour was strong that we should have a war, because the French would assist the Americans; he rebuked a friend with some asperity for supposing it, saying,
In the latter part of his life, in order to satisfy himself whether his mental faculties were impaired, he resolved that he would try to learn a new language, and fixed upon the Low Dutch, for that purpose, and this he con∣tinued till he had read about one half of 'Thomas à Kempis;' and finding that there appeared no abatement of his power of acquisition, he then desisted, as thinking the experiment had been duely tried. Mr. Burke justly observed, that this was not the most vigorous trial, Low Dutch being a language so near to our own; had it been one of the languages entirely different, he might have been very soon satisfied.
Mr. Langton and he having gone to see a Freemason's funeral procession, when they were at Rochester, and some solemn musick being played on French-horns, he said,
Page 341 Goldsmith had long a visionary project, that some time or other when his circumstances should be easier, he would go to Aleppo, in order to acquire a knowledge as far as might be, of any arts peculiar to the East, and introduce them into Britain. When this was talked of in Dr. Johnson's company, he said, 'Of all men Goldsmith is the most unfit to go out upon such an inquiry, for he is utterly ignorant of such arts as we already possess, and consequently could not know what would be accessions to our present stock of mechanical knowledge. Sir, he would bring home a grinding-barrow, which you see in every street in London, and think that he had furnished a wonderful improvement.
Greek, Sir, (said he,) is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.
When Lord Charles Hay, after his return from America, was preparing his defence to be offered to the Court-Martial which he had demanded, having heard Mr. Langton as high in expressions of admiration of Johnson, as he usually was, he requested that Dr. Johnson might be introduced to him; and Mr. Langton having mentioned it to Johnson, he very kindly and readily agreed; and being presented to his Lordship, while under arrest, by Mr. Langton, he saw him several times; upon one of which occasions Lord Charles read to him what he had prepared, which Johnson signified his appro∣bation of, saying,
Johnson one day gave high praise to Dr. Bentley's verses 9 in Dodsley's Collection, which he recited with his usual energy. Dr. Adam Smith, who Page 342 was present, observed in his decisive professorial manner,
Drinking tea one day at Garrick's with Mr. Langton, he was questioned if he was not somewhat of a heretick as to Shakspeare, said Garrick,
It is well known that there was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to accost each other as they passed in the most abusive language they could invent, generally, however with as much satirical humour as they were capable of producing. Addison gives a specimen of this ribaldry, in Number 383 of 'The Spectator,' when Sir Roger de Coverley and he are going to Spring-garden. Johnson was once eminently successful in this species of contest; a fellow having attacked him with some coarse raillery, Johnson answered thus,
As Johnson always allowed the extraordinary talents of Mr. Burke, so Mr. Burke was fully sensible of the wonderful powers of Johnson. Mr. Langton recollects having passed an evening with both of them, when Mr. Burke repeatedly entered upon topicks which it was evident he would have illustrated with extensive knowledge and richness of expression; but Johnson always seised upon the conversation, in which, however, he acquitted himself in a most masterly manner. As Mr. Burke and Mr. Langton were walking home, Mr. Burke observed that Johnson had been very great that night; Mr. Langton joined in this, but added, he could have wished to hear more from another person; (plainly intimating that he meant Mr. Burke).
Page 344 Talking of Dr. Blagden's copiousness and precision of communication, Dr. Johnson said,
This year the Reverend Dr. Franklin having published a translation of
To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, the Demonax of the present age, this piece is inscribed by a sincere admirer of his respectable talents,
Though upon a particular comparison of Demonax and Johnson, there does not seem to be a great deal of similarity between them; this Dedication is a just compliment from the general character given by Lucian of the ancient Sage,