Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

Earl of Bute; a gentleman truly worthy of being known to Johnson, being, with all the advantages of high birth, learning, travel, and elegant manners, an exemplary parish priest in every respect.

After some compliments on both sides, the tour which Johnson

66

“I am very sorry that I did not take a note of an eloquent argument in which he maintained that the situation of Prince of Wales was the happiest of any person's in the kingdom, even beyond that of the Sovereign. I recollect only—the enjoyment of hope,—the high superiority of rank, without the anxious cares of govern. ment,--and a great degree of power, both from natural influence wisely used, and from the sanguine expectations of those who look forward to the chance of future favour.

“Sir Joshua Reynolds communicated to me the following particulars :

"Johnson thought the poems published as translations from Ossian, had so little merit, that he said, “Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.'

“He said, “A man should pass a part of his time with the laughers, by which means any thing ridiculous or particular about him might be presented to his view, and corrected.' I observed, he must have been a bold laugher who would have ventured to tell Dr. Johnson of any of his particularities.a

Having observed the vain ostentatious importance of many people in quoting the authority of Dukes and Lords, as having been in their company, he said, he went to the other extreme, and did not mention his authority when he should have done it, had it not been that of a Duke or a Lord.

“Dr. Goldsmith said once to Dr. Johnson, that he wished for some additional members to the LITERARY CLUB, to give it an agreeable variety; for (said he) there can now be nothing new among us : we have travelled over one another's minds. Johnson seemed a little angry, and said, 'Sir, you have not travelled over my mind, I promise you.' Sir Joshua, however, thought Goldsmith right; observing, that when people have lived a great deal together, they know what each of them will say on every subject. A new understanding, therefore, is desirable ; because though it may only furnish the same sense upon a question which would have been furnished by those with whom we are accustomed to live, yet this sense will have a different

a “ I am happy, however, to mention a pleasing instance of his enduring with great gentleness to hear one of his most striking particularities pointed out :- Miss Hunter, a niece of his friend Christopher Smart, when a very young girl, struck by his extraordinary motions, said to him, 'Pray, Dr. Johnson, why do you make such strange gestures ?'-'From bad habit, (he replied.) Do you, my dear, take care to guard against bad habits.' This I was told by the young lady's brother at Margate.

>

observes to me,) in the First Eclogue of Mantuanus, DE HONESTO AMORE, &c. Id commune malum; semel insanivimus

omnes.

“ With the following elucidation of the other saying-Quos Deus (it should rather be-Quem Jupiter) vult perdere, prius dementat, -Mr. Boswell was furnished by Mr. Richard How, of Aspley, in Bed'fordshire, as communicated to that gentleman by.his friend Mr. John Pitts, late Rector of Great Brickhill, in Buckinghamshire :

"Perhaps no scrap of Latin whatever has been more quoted than this. It occasionally falls even from those who are scrupulous even to pedantry in their Latinity, and will not admit a word into

their compositions, which has not the
sanction of the first age. The word
demento is of no authority, either as a
verb active or neuter.–After a long
search for the purpose of deciding a bet,
some gentlemen of Cambridge found it
among the fragments of Euripides, in
what edition I do not recollect, where
it is given as a translation of a Greek
iambick:
Ον θεος θελει απολεσαι, πρωτ' αποφρεναι.
The above scrap was found in the hand-
writing of a suicide of fashion, Sir D. O.
some years ago, lying on the table of the
room where he had destroyed himself.
The suicide was a man of classical
acquirements: he left no other paper
behind him.'"

and I had made to the Hebrides was mentioned.—JOHNSON. “I got an acquisition of more ideas by it than by any thing that I remember. I saw quite a different system of life.” Boswell. “You would not like to make the same journey again.” Johnson. “Why no, Sir;

[ocr errors]

colouring; and colouring is of much effect in every thing else as well as in painting.'

Johnson used to say that he made it a constant rule to talk as well as he could, both as to sentiment and expression ; by which means, what had been originally effort became familiar and easy. The consequence of this, Sir Joshua observed, was, that his common conversation in all companies was such as to secure him universal attention, as something above the usual colloquial style was expected.

“Yet, though Johnson had this habit in company, when another mode was necessary, in order to investigate truth, he could descend to a language intelligible to the meanest capacity. An instance of this was witnessed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were present at an examination of a little blackguard boy, by Mr. Saunders Welch, the late Westminster Justice. Welch, who imagined that he was exalting himself in Dr. Johnson's eyes by using big words, spoke in a manner that was utterly unintelligible to the boy ; Dr. Johnson perceiving it, addressed himself to the boy, and changed the pompous phraseology into colloquial language. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was much amused by this procedure, which seemed a kind of reversing of what might have been expected from the two men, took notice of it to Dr. Johnson, as they walked away by themselves. Johnson said, that it was continually the case ; and that he was always obliged to translate the Justice's swelling diction, (smiling,) so as that his meaning might be understood by the vulgar, from whom information was to be obtained.

“ Sir Joshua once observed to him, that he had talked above the capacity of some people with whom they had been in company together. No matter, Sir, (said Johnson); they consider it as a compliment to be talked to, as if they were wiser than they are. So true is this, Sir, tħat Baxter made it a rule in every sermon that he preached, to say something that was above the capacity of his audience.' a

" Johnson's dexterity in retort, when he seemed to be driven to an extremity by his adversary, was very remarkable. Of his power in this respect, our common friend, Mr. Windham, of Norfolk, has been pleased to furnish me with an eminent instance. However unfavourable to Scotland, he uniformly gave liberal praise to George Buchanan, as a writer. In a conversation concerning the literary merits of the two countries, in which Buchanan was introduced, a Scotchman, imagining that on this ground he should have an undoubted triumph over him, exclaimed, 'Ah, Dr. Johnson, what would you have said of Buchanan, had he been an Englishman ?'- Why, Sir, (said Johnson, after a little pause,) I should not have said of Buchanan, had he been an Englishman, what I will now say of him as a Scotchman,—that he was the only man of genius his country ever produced.'.

“And this brings to my recollection another instance of the same nature. I once reminded him that when Dr. Adam Smith was expatiating on the beauty of Glasgow, he had cut him short by saying, Pray, Sir, have you ever seen Brentford ?' and I took the liberty to add, 'My dear Sir, surely that was shocking: '-— Why, then, Sir, (he replied,) you have never seen Brentford.'

• Though his usual phrase for conversation was talk, yet he made a distinction ; for when he once told me that he dined the day before at a friend's house, with a very pretty company;' and I asked him if there was good conversation, he answered, “No, Šir; 'we had talk enough, but no conversation; there was nothing discussed.'

* Talking of the success of the Scotch in London, he imputed it in a considerable degree to their spirit of nationality. You know, Sir, (said he,) that no Scotchman publishes a book, or has a play brought upon the stage, but there are five hundred people ready to applaud him.'

66

a “ The justice of this remark is confirmed by the following story, for which I am indebted to Lord Eliot : A country Parson, who was remarkable for quoting scraps of Latin in his sermons, having died, one of his parishioners was asked how he liked his successor ; 'He is a very good preacher, (was his answer,) but no latiner.'

not the same: it is a tale told. Gravina, an Italian critick, observes, that every man desires to see that of which he has read; but no man desires to read an account of what he has seen. So much does description fall short of reality. Description only excites

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ He gave much praise to his friend, Dr. Burney's elegant and entertaining travels, and told Mr. Seward that he had them in his eye, when writing his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.'

“Such was his sensibility, and so much was he affected by pathetick poetry, that, when he was reading Dr. Beattie's · Hermit,' in my presence, it brought tears into his eyes.

“He disapproved much of mingling real facts with fiction. On this account he censured a book entitled "Love and Madness.'

“Mr. Hoole told him, he was born in Moorfields, and had received part of his early instruction in Grub-street. Sir, (said Johnson, smiling) you have been regularly educated. Having asked who was his instructor, and Mr. Hoole having answered, ' My uncle, Sir, who was a taylor ; ' Johnson, recollecting himself, said, "Sir, I knew him ; we called him the metaphysical taylor. He was of a club in Oldstreet, with me and George Psalmanazar, and some others : but pray, Sir, was he a good taylor ?' Mr. Hoole having answered that he believed he was too mathematical, and used to draw squares and triangles on his shop-board, so that he did not excel in the cut of a coat ;-'I am sorry for it, (said Johnson,) for I would have every man to be master of his own business.'

“In pleasant reference to himself and Mr. Hoole, as brother authours, he often said, ' Let you and I, Sir, go together, and eat a beaf-steak in Grub-street.'

“Sir William Chambers, that great Architect, a whose works shew a sublimity of genius, and who is esteemed by all who knew him, for his social, hospitable, and generous qualities, submitted the manuscript of his Chinese Architecture,' to Dr. Johnson's perusal.' Johnson was much pleased with it, and said, “It wants no addition nor correction, but a few lines of introduction;' which he furnished, and Sir William adopted.b

“He said to Sir William Scott, 'The age is running mad after innovation; and all the business of the world is to be done in a new way; men are to be hanged in a new way; Tyburn itself is not safe from the fury of innovation.' It having been

& “ The Honourable Horace Walpole, now 3 Earl of Orford, thus bears testimony to this gentleman's merit as a writer : Mr. Chambers's “Treatise on Civil Architecture, is the most sensible book, and the most exempt from prejudices, that ever was written on that science.—Preface to · Anecdotes of Painting in England.""

b“ The introductory lines are these: It is difficult to avoid praising too little or too much. The boundless panegyricks which have been lavished upon the Chinese learning, policy, and arts, shew with what power novelty attracts regard, and how naturally esteem swells into admiration.

“I am far from desiring to be numbered among the exaggerators of Chinese excellence. I consider them as great, or wise, only in comparison with the nations that surround them; and have no intention to place them in competition either with the antients or with the moderns of this part of the world ; yet they must be allowed to claim our notice as a distinct and very singular race of men : as the inhabitants of a region divided by its situation from all civilized countries, who have formed their own manners, and invented their own arts, without the assistance of example.'”

1 «The particular passage,” says the younger Boswell, “which excited this strong emotion was, as I have heard from my father, the third stanza, ''Tis night,

By Sir Herbert Croft; a series of ima. ginary letters, supposed to be written by Hackman to Miss Ray.

3 This is a specimen of the unmeaning “settling" process to which Boswell's text has been submitted. In Mr. Malone's copy, in the British Museum, I find the word "

now » altered to “late," though Lord Orford was alive when Boswell wrote, and even survived him.

is &c.

2

curiosity: seeing satisfies it. Other people may go and see the Hebrides." Boswell. “ I should wish to go and see some country totally different from what I have been used to; such as Turkey, where religion and every thing else are different.” Johnson. “ Yes, argued that this was an improvement.— No, Sir, (said he, eagerly,) it is not an inprovement; they object, that the old method drew together a number of spectators. Sir, executions are intended to draw spectators. If they do not draw spectators, they don't answer their purpose.

The old method was most satisfactory to all parties; the publick was gratified by a procession ; the criminal was supported by it. Why is all this to be swept away ?' I perfectly agree with Dr. Johnson upon this head, and am persuaded that executions now, the solemn procession being discontinued, have not nearly the effect which they formerly had. Magistrates both in London, and elsewhere, have, I am afraid, in this, had too much regard to their own ease.

“Of Dr. Hurd, Bishop of Worcester, Johnson said to a friend,—Hurd, Sir, is one of a set of men who account for every thing systematically; for instance, it has been a fashion to wear scarlet breeches; these men would tell you, that according to causes and effects, no other wear could at that time have been chosen.' He, however, said of him at another time to the same gentleman, 'Hurd, Sir, is a man whose acquaintance is a valuable acquisition.'

“ That learned and ingenious Prelate it is well known published at one period of his life · Moral and Political Dialogues,' with a woefully whiggish cast. Afterwards, his Lordship having thought better, came to see his errour, and republished the work with a more constitutional spirit. Johnson, however, was unwilling to allow him full credit for his political conversion. I remember when his Lordship declined the honour of being Archbishop of Canterbury, Johnson said "I am glad he did not go to Lambeth ; for, after all, I fear he is a Whig in his heart.'

“Johnson's attention to precision and clearness in expression was very remarkable. He disapproved of a parenthesis; and I believe in all his voluminous writings, not half a dozen of them will be found. He never used the phrases the former and the latter, having observed, that they often occasioned obscurity; he therefore contrived to construct his sentences so as not to have occasion for them, and would even rather repeat the same words, in order to avoid them. Nothing is more common than to mistake surnames, when we hear them carelessly uttered for the first time. vent this, he used not only to pronounce them slowly and distinctly, but to take the trouble of spelling them; a practice which I have often followed, and which I wish were general.

“Such was the heat and irritability of his blood, that not only did he pare his nails to the quick, but scraped the joints of his fingers with a pen-knife, till they seemed quite red and raw.

The heterogeneous composition of human nature was remarkably exemplified in Johnson. His liberality in giving his money to persons in distress was extraordinary. Yet there lurked about him a propensity to paltry saving. One day I owned to him, that I was occasionally troubled with a fit of narrowness.' Why, Sir, (said he,) so am I. But I do not tell it.' He has now and then borrowed a shilling of me; and when I asked him for it again, seemed to be rather out of humour. A droll little circumstance once occurred: As if he meant to reprimand my minute exactness as a creditor, he thus addressed me;—Boswell, lend me sixpence-not to be repaid.'

“This great man's attention to small things was very remarkable. As an instance of it, he one day said to me, "Sir, when you get silver in change for a guinea, look carefully at it; you may find some curious piece of coin.'

“Though a stern true-born Englishman, and fully prejudiced against all other nations, he had discernment enough to see, and candour enough to censure, the cold reserve too common among Englishmen towards strangers : Sir, (said he,) two men of any other nation who are shewn into a room together, at a house where they are both visitors, will immediately find some conversation. But two Englishmen will probably

To pre

Second Edition. After line. 9. of note: This title, “ Additions to Dr. Johnson's Life, recollected after the Second Edition was printed.

Sir; there are two objects of curiosity—the Christian world and the Mahometan world. All the rest may be considered as barbarous." BOSWELL. “Pray, Sir, is the Turkish Spy' a genuine book ?” JOHNSON. “No, Sir. Mrs. Manley, in her Life, says, that her father

go each to a different window, and remain in obstinate silence. Sir, we as yet do not enough understand the common rights of humanity.'

Johnson was at a certain period of his life a good deal with the Earl of Shelburne, now Marquis of Lansdown, as he doubtless could not but have a due value for that nobleman's activity of mind, and uncommon acquisitions of important knowledge, however much he might disapprove of other parts of his Lordship’s character, which were widely different from his own.

“Maurice Morgann, Esq. authour of the very ingenious Essay on the character of Falstaff,' a being a particular friend of his Lordship, had once an opportunity of entertaining Johnson for a day or two at Wycombe, when its Lord was absent, and by him I have been favoured with two anecdotes.

"One is not a little to the credit of Johnson's candour. Mr. Morgann and he had a dispute pretty late at night, in which Johnson would not give up, though he had the wrong side; and in short, both kept the field. Next morning, when they met in the breakfasting-room, Dr. Johnson accosted Mr. Morgann thus : Sir, I have been thinking on our dispute last night ;-You were in the right.'

“The other was as follows: Johnson, for sport perhaps, or from the spirit of contradiction, eagerly maintained that Derrick had merit as a writer. Mr. Morgann argued with him directly, in vain. At length he had recourse to this device. Pray, Sir, (said he,) whether do you reckon Derrick or Smart the best poet ?' Johnson at once felt himself roused; and answered, “Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.'

Once, when checking my boasting too frequently of myself in company, he said to me, ‘Boswell, you often vaunt so much as to provoke ridicule. You put me in mind of a man who was standing in the kitchen of an inn with his back to the fire, and thus accosted the person next him, “Do you know, Sir, who I am ?” “No, Sir, (said the other,) I have not that advantage.” “Sir, (said he,) I am the great TWALMLEY, who invented the New Floodgate." ' b The Bishop of Killaloe, on my repeating the story to him, defended TWALMLEY, by observing that he was entitled to the epithet of great; for Virgil in his groupe of worthies in the Elysian fields

Hic manus ob patriam pugnando vulnera passi; &c. mentions

Inventas aut qui vitam excoluere per artes. “He was pleased to say to me one morning when we were left alone in his study, • Boswell, I think, I am easier with you than with almost any body.

“He would not allow Mr. David Hume any credit for his political principles, though similar to his own; saying of him, "Sir, he was a Tory by chance.'

“His acute observation of human life made him remark, Sir, there is nothing by

& “ Johnson being asked his opinion of this Essay, answered, 'Why, Sir, we shall have the man come forth again; and as he has proved Falstaff to be no coward, he may prove Iago to be a very good character.'

b«What the great TWALMLEY I was so proud of having invented, was neither more or less than a kind of box-iron for smoothing linen.” Third Edition.-Line 28 of note : To“New Floodgate," added “ Iron.”

Southey, in the “Doctor" (I vol. ed., and bolt." Twalmley's self-importance p. 310), explains the exact nature of the was probably owing to the success of his “great Twalmley's” contrivance, which invention, which has not been superseded is vaguely described by Boswell.

« His

to this hour. His flood-gate ironing box invention,” says Southey, “consisted in continues in general use for all the purapplying a sliding door, like a flood-gate, poses for which flat-irons are not conto an ironing-box, flat-irons having till venient. then been used, or box-irons with a door

1

« AnteriorContinua »