« AnteriorContinua »
convent for fear of being immoral, as for a man to cut off his hands for fear he should steal. There is, indeed, great resolution in the immediate act of dismembering himself; but when that is once done, he has no longer any merit: for though it is out of his power to steal, yet he may all his life be a thief in his heart. So when a man has once become a Carthusian, he is obliged to continue so, whether he chooses it or not. Their silence too, is absurd. We read in the Gospel of the apostles being sent to preach, but not to hold their tongues. All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle. I said to the Lady Abbess of a convent, • Madam, you are here, not for the love of virtue, but the fear of vice.' She said, She should remember this as long as she lived.'” I thought it hard to give her this view of her situation, when she could not help it; and, indeed, I wondered at the whole of what he now said ; because, both in his “ Rambler” and “ Idler," he treats religious austerities with much solemnity of respect.
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 (1), 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 heard him once give a very judicious practical advice upon the subject : “ A man who has been drinking wine at all freely should never go into a new company. With those who have partaken of wine with him, he may be pretty well in unison; but he will probably be offensive, or appear ridiculous, to other people."
He allowed very great influence to education. “I do not deny, Sir, but there is some original difference in minds; but it is nothing in comparison of what is formed by education. We
instance the science of numbers, which all minds are equally capable of attaining (4): yet we find a prodigious difference in
(1) Probably Mr. Boswell himself.-C.
(2) This appears to be an ill-chosen illustration. It seems, on the contrary, that there are few powers of mind so unequally given as those connected with numbers. The few who have them in any extraordinary degree, like Jedediah Buxton, and like the boys Bidder and Colborne, of our times, seem to have little other intellectual power.
See accounts of Buxton in Gent. Mag. vol. xxi. p. 61. and vol. xxiv. p. 251. – - C. VOL. VI.
the powers of different men, in that respect, after they are grown up, because their minds have been more or less exercised in it: and I think the same cause will explain the difference of excellence in other things, gradations admitting always some difference in the first principles."
This is a difficult subject; but it is best to hope that diligence may do a great deal. We are sure of what it can do, in increasing our mechanical force and dexterity.
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 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
Excursion to Oxford with Boswell. Ornamental Archia tecture. Statuary. Advice to Hypochondriacs,
Anatomy of Melancholy.' - Dr. Wetherell. Dr. Adams. Conversation. Bishop Horne. Walton's " Lives.” Biography. Dartineuf. Gibbon.- Steele. “ Tristram Shandy.” - Burke. - Blenheim.— Taverns and Inns. Dyer's " Fleece.” – Grainger's “ Sugar Cane." - Birmingham. Legitimation. - Marriage. — Quakers. - Holidays. Nelson's “ Festivals.” Mr. Boulton. — Lichfield and its Inhabitants.
On Tuesday, 19th March, 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 he 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 witnjut 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 satirised 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.” Here he seemed to me to be strangely deficient in taste (1); for surely
(1) Dr. Johnson does not seem to have objected to ornamental architecture or statuary per se, but to labour disproportionate to its utility or effect. In this view, his criticisms are just. The late style of building introduced into London, of colonnades and porticos, without any regard to aspect, climate, or utility, is so absurd to reason, so offensive to taste, and so adverse to domestic comfort, that it reconciles us to the shortlived materials of which these edifices are composed. It would have been well if we had, according to Johnson's sober advice, thought it necessary that the “ magnificence of porticos,” and the "expense of pilasters,” should have borne some degree of proportion to their utility. With regard to “statuary,” when it does “preserve the varieties of the human frame," it deserves all that Mr. Boswell says for it: but Johnson's objection was that it more frequently produced abortive failures, hardly resembling man." — C.