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mobs will sometimes run into.
"Why, yes, Sir," says Johnson, they'll do any thing, no matter how odd, or desperate, to gain their point; they'll catch hold of the red-hot end of a poker, sooner than not get possession of it."
679. Rights of Hospitality.
Dr. Johnson, in his tour through North Wales, passed two days at the seat of Colonel Middleton of Gwynagag. While he remained there, the gardener caught a hare amidst some potatoe plants, and brought it to his master, then engaged in conversation with the Doctor. An order was given to carry it to the cook. As soon as Johnson heard this sentence, he begged to have the animal placed in his arms; which was no sooner done, than approaching the window then half open, he restored the hare to her liberty, shouting after her to accelerate her speed. "What have you done?" cried the Colonel ; 66 why, Doctor, you have robbed my table of a delicacy, perhaps deprived us of a dinner." "So much the better, Sir," replied the humane champion of a condemned hare; for if your table is to be supplied at the expense of the laws of hospitality, I envy not the appetite of him who eats it. This, Sir, is not a hare feræ naturæ, but one which had placed itself under your protection; and savage indeed must be that man who does not make his hearth an asylum for the confiding stranger."
680. Count de Holcke. (1)
In the year 1768, the king of Denmark visited England, and amongst the gentlemen of his suite was Count de Holcke, grand master of the wardrobe, a gentleman of considerable celebrity for polite learning and classical erudition; this gentleman had heard much of Dr. Johnson's literary fame, and was therefore anxious to see
(1) [This and the two following are from the Monthly Magazine.]
him. Through the interest of Dr. Brocklesby, he was enabled to pay Johnson a morning visit. They had a long conversation. Next day Count de Holcke dined with Lord Temple in Pall Mall, where he met Mr. William Gerard Hamilton (commonly called Singlespeech Hamilton), who, knowing of his visit to Johnson, asked him what he thought of the Doctor? Holcke replied, that of all the literary impostors and pedants he had ever met with he thought Johnson the greatest 66 so shallow a fellow," he said, " he had never seen!" 681. A German Traveller's Interview with Johnson in 1768. (1)
I am just returned from a visit to Samuel Johnson, the colossus of English literature, who combines profound knowledge with wit, and humour with serious wisdom, and whose exterior announces nothing of these qualities; for in the proportions of his form are exactly those of the sturdy drayman. To this he alludes in his delineation of the Idler: "The diligence of an Idler is rapid and impetuous; as ponderous bodies, forced into velocity, move with violence proportionate to their weight."
His manners are boorish; and his eye cold as his raillery; never is it animated with a glance that betrays archness or acuteness; he constantly seems to be, and not seldom he really is, absent and distracted. He had invited Colman and me by letter, and forgot it. We surprised him, in the strictest sense of the word, at the country seat of Mr. Thrale, whose lady, a genteel agreeable Welshwoman, by way of amusement reads and translates Greek authors. Here Johnson lives and reigns (for he is fond of acting the dominator) as if he were in the midst of his own family. He received us in a friendly manner, though a certain air of solemness and pomposity never left him, which is interwoven with
(1) [See ante, Vol. IX. p. 17.]
his manners as well as with his style. In conversation he rounds his periods, and speaks with a tone almost theatrical; but whatever he says becomes interesting by a certain peculiar character with which it is stamped. We spoke of the English language; and I remarked "that it passed through its different epochs quicker than other languages: there is a greater difference," said I, "between your present writers and the celebrated club of authors in the reign of Queen Ann than between the French of the present and the last century. They make incursions into foreign ground, and lavishly squander the easily acquired plunder; for they follow not the counsel of Swift, to adopt, indeed, new words, but never after to reject them." "We conquer," interrupted me one of the guests, new words in a fit of enthusiasm, and give them back again in cold blood, as we do our conquests on the making of peace." But are you not," asked I, "thus losers with regard to posterity? For your writings will be scarcely intelligible to the third succeeding generation." "New words," replied Johnson, are well-earned riches. When a nation enlarges its stock of knowledge and acquires new ideas, it must necessarily have a suitable vesture for them. Foreign idioms, on the contrary, have been decried as dangerous; and the critics daily object to me my Latinisms, which, they say, alter the character of our language: but it is seriously my opinion, that every language must be servilely formed after the model of some one of the ancient, if we wish to give durability to our works." Do you not think that there is some truth in this sophistry? A dead language, no longer subject to change, may well serve as a fit standard for a living one. It is an old sterling weight, according to which the value of the current coin is estimated." The greatest confusion in languages," continued I, addressing myself to Johnson, "is caused by a kind of original geniuses, who invent their own Sanscrit, that they may
clothe their ideas in holy obscurity; and yet we willingly listen to their oracular sayings, and at length are ourselves infected with the disease." "Singularity," exclaimed one of the guests, "is often a mark of genius." Then," answered Johnson, "there exist few greater geniuses than Wilton in Chelsea. (1) His manner of writing is the most singular in the world; for, since the last war, he writes with his feet."
Colman spoke of the "Rehearsal," which was formerly so much admired as a masterpiece; but which nobody had patience now to read through. "There was too little salt in it to keep it sweet," said Johnson. Hume was mentioned. Priestley,' ," said I, "objects to this historian the frequent use of Gallicisms." And I," said Johnson, "that his whole history is a Gallicism." Johnson eagerly seizes every opportunity of giving vent to his hatred against the Scots. Even in his Dictionary we find the following article: "OATS, a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."
Not recollecting his edition of Shakspeare, which was so far from answering the expectations of the critics, I unthinkingly and precipitately enough asked him, "which edition of that poet he most esteemed ?" "Eh!" replied he with a smile; "'t is what we call an unlucky question."
I inquired after Boswell. Johnson seems to love him much; he is sensible of, but forgives him, his enthusiasm. Boswell is a fiery young man, who firmly believes in heroic virtue; and who, in the intoxication of his heart, would have flown with equal ardour to Iceland as to Corsica, in pursuit of a demigod.
You are acquainted with Johnson's works. The Rambler, the Idler; London, a Satire; and the excellent Biography of Savage, are well known in Ger
(1) An old soldier, whose arms had been shot off.
many. But we hear less in our country of Prince Rasselas, a masterly, cold, political romance, as all of the kind are; for a teacher of the art of government, who, remote from, and unpractised in, affairs, writes for kings, can spin out of his brain a texture only of general principles. Irene, a tragedy by Johnson, full of the finest speeches, was hissed, and is forgotten.
This celebrated man had long to contend with poverty; for you must not imagine, that England always rewards her authors in proportion to the general admiration they excite. Often was he obliged to hide himself in a cellar near Moorfields, to avoid being lodged in a room with an iron grate. In those days of adversity he wrote speeches worthy of a Demosthenes, for and against the most important questions agitated in Parliament, which were published under the names of the real members. These speeches for a long time passed for genuine in the country; and it is not generally known, that among them is the celebrated speech of Pitt, which he is said to have pronounced, when his youth was objected to him, and which never so flowed from the mouth of Pitt. Johnson has now conducted the Pactolus into his garden. He enjoys a pension of three hundred pounds sterling, not to make speeches; but, as the Opposition asserts, to induce him to remain silent
I forgot to tell you, that Johnson denies the antiquity of Ossian. Macpherson is a native of Scotland; and Johnson would rather suffer him to pass for a great poet than allow him to be an honest man. I am convinced of their authenticity. Macpherson showed me, in the presence of Alexander Dow, at least twelve parcels of the manuscript of the Earse original. Some of these manuscripts seemed to be very old. Literati of my acquaintance, who understand the language, have compared them with the translation; and we must either believe the absurdity, that Macpherson had like