Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

one another?" Then. checking himself, and wishing to be more gentle, he added, "I do not say you should be hanged or drowned for this; but it is very uncivil.” Dr. Taylor thought him in the wrong, and spoke to him privately of it; but I afterwards acknowledged to Johnson that I was to blame, for I candidly owned, that I meant to express a desire to see a contest between Mrs. Macaulay and him; but then I knew how the contest would end; so that I was to see him triumph. JOHNSON. "Sir, you cannot be sure how a contest will end; and no man has a right to engage two people in a dispute by which their passions may be inflamed, and they may part with bitter resentment against each other. I would sooner keep company with a man from whom I must guard my pockets, than with a man who contrives to bring me into a dispute with somebody that he may hear it. This is the great fault of (1) (naming one of our friends), endeavouring to introduce a subject upon which he knows two people in the company differ." BOSWELL. "But he told me, Sir, he does it for instruction." JOHNSON. "Whatever the motive be, Sir, the man who does so, does very wrong. He has no more right to instruct himself at such risk, than he has to make two people fight a duel, that he may learn how to defend himself."

He found great fault with a gentleman of our

(1) Mr. Langton is, no doubt, meant here, and in the next paragraph. See the affair of the 7th May, 1773 (Vol. III. p. 305., and Vol. IV. p. 90.); where the reader will find the cause of Johnson's frequent and fretful recurrence to this com plaint. C.

[ocr errors]

acquaintance for keeping a bad table.

"Sir,” said

he, "when a man is invited to dinner, he is disappointed if he does not get something good. I advised Mrs. Thrale, who has no card-parties at her house, to give sweetmeats, and such good things, in an evening, as are not commonly given, and she would find company enough come to her; for every body loves to have things which please the palate put in their way, without trouble or preparation." Such was his attention to the minutia of life and manners.

He thus characterised the Duke of Devonshire (1), grandfather of the present representative of that very respectable family: "He was not a man of superior abilities, but he was a man strictly faithful to his word. If, for instance, he had promised you an acorn, and none had grown that year in his woods, he would not have contented himself with that excuse: he would have sent to Denmark for it. So unconditional was he in keeping his word; so high as to the point of honour." This was a liberal testimony from the Tory Johnson to the virtue of a great Whig nobleman.

[ocr errors]

Mr. Burke's "Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America," being mentioned, Johnson censured the composition much, and he ridiculed the definition of a free government; viz., " For any practical purpose, it is what the people thinks so.' “I will let the King of France govern me on those conditions," said he, "for it is to be governed just as I please." And when Dr. Taylor talked of a girl being sent to a parish workhouse, and asked how (1) William, third Duke of Devonshire, who died in 1758.-C.

much she could be obliged to work, "Why," said Johnson, 66 as much as is reasonable; and what is that? as much as she thinks reasonable."

Dr. Johnson obligingly proposed to carry me to see Ilam, a romantic scene, now belonging to a family of the name of Port, but formerly the seat of the Congreves. (1) I suppose it is well described in some of the tours. Johnson described it distinctly and vividly, at which I could not but express to him my wonder; because, though my eyes, as he observed, were better than his, I could not by any means equal him in representing visible objects. I said, the difference between us in this respect was as that between a man who has a bad instrument, but plays well on it, and a man who has a good instrument, on which he can play very imperfectly.

I recollect a very fine amphitheatre, surrounded with hills covered with woods, and walks neatly formed along the side of a rocky steep, on the quarter next the house, with recesses under projections of rock, overshadowed with trees; in one of which recesses, we were told, Congreve wrote his "Old Bachelor." We viewed a remarkable natural curiosity at Ilam; two rivers bursting near each other from the rock, not from immediate springs, but after having run for many miles under ground. Plott, in his "History of Staffordshire" (p. 69.),

(1) This is a mistake. The Ports had been seated at Ilam time out of mind. Congreve had visited that family at Ilam; and his seat, that is, the bench on which he sometimes sat, in the gardens, used to be shown: this, Mr. Bernard Port. -one of the ancient family, and now vicar of Ilam-thinks was the cause of Mr. Boswell's error.. C.

gives an account of this curiosity; but Johnson would not believe it, though we had the attestation of the gardener, who said he had put in corks (1) where the river Manyfold sinks into the ground, and had catched them in a net, placed before one of the openings where the water bursts out. I deed, such subterraneous courses of water are found in various parts of our globe. (2)

[ocr errors]

Talking of Dr. Johnson's unwillingness to believe extraordinary things, I ventured to say, "Sir, you come near Hume's argument against miracles, that It is more probable witnesses should lie, or be mistaken, than that they should happen.' JOHNSON. "Why, Sir, Hume, taking the proposition simply, is right. (3) But the Christian revelation is not proved by the miracles alone, but as connected with prophecies, and with the doctrines in confirmation of which the miracles were wrought."

He repeated his observation, that the differences among Christians are really of no consequence "For instance," said he, "if a Protestant objects to

(1) The gardener at Ilam told me that it was Johnson himself who had made this experiment; but there is not the least doubt of the fact. The river sinks suddenly into the earth behind a hill above the valley, and bursts out again in the same direction, and with the same body of water, about four miles below. - C.

(2) See Plott's "History of Staffordshire," p. 88.

(3) This is not quite true. It is, indeed, more probable that one or two interested witnesses should lie, than that a miracle should have happened; but that distant and unconnected witnesses and circumstances should undesignedly concur in evidencing a falsehood, and that falsehood one in itself unnatural, would be more miraculous than any miracle in Scripture; and thus by Hume's own argument the balance of Drobability is in favour of the miracles. .C.

[ocr errors]

[ocr errors]

a Papist, You worship images;' the Papist can answer, 'I do not insist on your doing it; you may be a very good Papist without it; I do it only as a help to my devotion. "" I said, the great article of Christianity is the revelation of immortality. (1) Johnson admitted it was.

In the evening, a gentleman farmer, who was on a visit at Dr. Taylor's, attempted to dispute with Johnson in favour of Mungo Campbell (2), who shot Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune, upon his having fallen, when retreating from his lordship, who he believed was about to seize his gun, as he had threatened to do. He said he should have done just as Campbell did. JOHNSON. "Whoever would do as Campbell did, deserves to be hanged; not that I could, as a juryman, have found him legally guilty of murder; but I am glad they found means to convict him." The gentleman farmer said, “ A poor man has as much honour as a rich man; and Camp

66

(1) This is loosely expressed. The ancients believed in immortality, and even a state of retribution. One sect, at least, of the Jews, as well as the Mahomedans, acknowledge a future state. On so vital a question it is not safe to rest on Mr. Boswell's colloquial phrases, which have some importance when they appear to be sanctioned by the admission of Dr. Johnson. Immortality is, indeed, assured, and a thousand social blessings and benefits are vouchsafed to us by the Christian revelation; but "the great article of Christianity" is surely the ATONEMENT! - C.

(2) Campbell terminated his own life in prison. It is hardly to be believed (though there was every such appearance), that the government could have permitted him to be executed; for Lord Eglintoune was grossly the aggressor, and Campbell fired (whether accidentally or designedly) when in the act of falling, as he retreated from Lord Eglintoune. Lord Eglintoune was a friend of Mr. Boswell's, and the son of the lady who treated Johnson with such flattering attention.. - See antè, Vol. V. p. 121.-C.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »