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law would give no reparation. This led us to agitate the question, whether legal redress could be obtained, even when a man's deceased relation was calumniated in a publication. Mr. Murray maintained there should be reparation, unless the author could justify himself by proving the fact. Johnson. “Sir, it is of so much more consequence that truth should be told, than that individuals should not be made uneasy, that it is much better that the law does not restrain writing freely concerning the characters of the dead. Damages will be given to a man who is calumniated in his lifetime, because he may be hurt in bis worldly interest, or at least hurt in his mind: but the law does not regard that uneasiness which a man feels on having his ancestor calumniated. That is too nice. Let him deny what is said, and let the matter have a fair chance by discussion. But if a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written; for a great deal is known of men of which proof cannot be brought. A minister may be notoriously known to take bribes, and yet you may not be able to prove it.” Mr. Murray suggested, that the author should be obliged to show some sort of evidence, though he would not require a strict legal proof: but Johnson firmly and resolutely opposed any restraint whatever, as adverse to a free investigation of the characters of mankinds.
i Dr. Goldsmith was dead before Mr. Maclaurin discovered the ludicrous errour. But Mr. Nourse, the bookseller who was the proprietor of the work, upon being applied to by sir John Pringle, agreed very handsomely to have the leaf on which it was contained cancelled, and reprinted without it, at his own expense.—Boswell.
g What Dr. Johnson has here said, is undoubtedly good sense ; yet I am afraid that law, though defined by lord Coke, “the perfection of reason," is not altogether with him ; for it is held in the books, that an attack on the reputation even of a dead man, may be punished as a libel, because tending to a breach of the peace. There is, however, I believe, no modern decided case to that effect. In the king's bench, Trinity term, 1790, the question occurred on occasion of an indictment, the King v. Topham, who, as a proprietor of a newspaper entitled The World, was found guilty of a libel against earl Cowper, deceased, because certain injurious charges against his lordship were published in that
On Thursday, April 4th, having called on Dr. Johnson, I said, it was a pity that truth was not so firm as to bid defiance to all attacks, so that it might be shot at as much as people chose to attempt, and yet remain unhurt. Johnson. “ Then, sir, it would not be shot at. Nobody attempts to dispute that two and two make four: but with contests concerning moral truth, human passions are gene
paper. An arrest of judgement having been moved for, the case was afterwards solemnly argued. My friend Mr. Const, whom I delight in having an opportunity to praise, not only for his abilities but his manners; a gentleman whose ancient German blood has been mellowed in England, and who may be truly said to unite the baron and the barrister ; was one of the counsel for Mr. Topham. He displayed much learning and ingenuity upon the general question ; which, however, was not decided, as the court granted an arrest chiefly on the informality of the indictment. No man has a higher reverence for the law of England than I have; but with all deference I cannot help thinking, that prosecution by indictment, if a defendant is never to be allowed to justify, must often be very oppressive, unless juries, whom I am more and more confirmed in holding to be judges of law as well as of fact, resolutely interpose. Of late, an act of parliament has passed declaratory of their full right to one as well as the other, in matter of libel; and the bill having been brought in by a popular gentlemana, many of his party have, in most extravagant terms, declaimed on the wonderful acquisition to the liberty of the press. For my own part I ever was clearly of opinion that this right was inherent in the very constitution of a jury, and indeed in sense and reason, inseparable from their important function. To establish it, therefore, by statute, is, I think, narrowing its foundation, which is the broad and deep basis of common law. Would it not rather weaken the right of primogeniture, or any other old and universally acknowledged right, should the legislature pass an act in favour of it? In my Letter to the people of Scotland, against diminishing the number of the Lords of Session, published in 1785, there is the following passage, which, as a concise, and I hope a fair and rational state of the matter, I presume to quote : “ The juries of England are judges of law as well as of fact in many civil and in all criminal trials. That my principles of resistance may not be misapprehended any more than my principles of submission, I protest that I should be the last man in the world to en. courage juries to contradict rashly, wantonly, or perversely, the opinion of the judges. On the contrary, I would have them listen respectfully to the advice they receive from the bench, by which they may often be well directed in forming their own opinion ; which,' and not another's,' is the opinion they are to return upon their oaths. But where, after due attention to all that the judge has said, they are decidedly of a different opinion from him, they have not only a power and a right, but they are bound in conscience to bring in a verdict accordingly.”- Boswell.
a The late lord Erskine.-Ep.
rally mixed, and therefore it must ever be liable to assault and misrepresentation.”
On Friday, April 5th, being Good Friday, after having attended the morning service at St. Clements church, I walked home with Johnson. We talked of the Roman catholick religion. Johnson. “In the barbarous ages, sir, priests and people were equally deceived; but afterwards there were gross corruptions introduced by the clergy, such as indulgences to priests to have concubines, and the worship of images, not, indeed, inculcated, but knowingly permitted.” He strongly censured the licensed stews at Rome. BosweLL. “ So then, sir, you would allow of no irregular intercourse whatever between the sexes.” JOHNSON. “ To be sure I would not, sir. I would punish it much more than it is done, and so restrain it. In all countries there has been fornication, as in all countries there has been theft; but there may be more or less of the one, as well as of the other, in proportion to the force of law. All men will naturally commit fornication, as all men will naturally steal. And, sir, it is very absurd to argue, as has been often done, that prostitutes are necessary to prevent the violent effects of appetite from violating the decent order of life; nay, should be permitted, in order to preserve the chastity of our wives and daughters. Depend upon it, sir, severe laws, steadily enforced, would be sufficient against those evils, and would promote marriage.”
I stated to him this case :—" Suppose a man has a daughter who he knows has been seduced, but her misfortune is concealed from the world; should he keep her in his house? Would be not, by doing so, be accessary to imposition? And, perhaps, a worthy, unsuspecting man might come and marry this woman, unless the father inform him of the truth.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, he is accessary to no imposition. His daughter is in his house; and if a man courts her, he takes his chance. If a friend, or, indeed, if any man asks his opinion whether he should marry her, he ought to advise him against it, without telling why, because his real opinion is then required. Or, if he has other daughters who know of her frailty, he ought not to keep her in his house. You are to consider the state of life is this; we are to judge of one another's characters as well as we can; and a man is not bound in honesty or honour, to tell us the faults of his daughter or of himself. A man who has debauched his friend's daughter is not obliged to say to every body—“Take care of me; don't let me into your house without suspicion. I once debauched a friend's daughter. I may debauch yours.'”
Mr. Thrale called upon him, and appeared to bear the loss of his son with a manly composure. There was no affectation about him; and he talked, as usual, upon indifferent subjects. He seemed to me to hesitate as to the intended Italian tour, on which, I flattered myself, he and Mrs. Thrale and Dr. Johnson were soon to set out; and therefore I pressed it as much as I could. I mentioned that Mr. Beauclerk had said, that Baretti, whom they were to carry with them, would keep them so long in the little towns of his own district, that they would not have time to see Rome. I mentioned this to put them on their guard. Johnson. “Sir, we do not thank Mr. Beauclerk for supposing that we are to be directed by Baretti. No, sir; Mr. Thrale is to go by my advice to Mr. Jackson the all-knowing, and get from him a plan for seeing the
We must, to be sure, see Rome, Naples, Florence, and Venice, and as much more as we can:" (speaking with a tone of animation.)
When I expressed an earnest wish for his remarks on Italy, he said, “ I do not see that I could make a book upon Italy; yet I should be glad to get two hundred pounds, or five hundred pounds, by such a work.” This showed both that a journal of his tour upon the continent was not wholly out of his contemplation, and that he uniformly adhered to that strange opinion which his indolent disposition made him utter, “ No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Numerous instances to refute this will occur to all who are versed in the history of literature.
h A gentleman who, from his extraordinary stores of knowledge, has been styled omniscient. Johnson, I think very properly, altered it to all-knowing, as it is a verbum solenne, appropriated to the Supreme Being.–Boswell.
This Mr. Jackson was a barrister, and sat some time in parliament. He died in 1787,-ED,
He gave us one of the many sketches of character which were treasured in his mind, and which he was wont to produce quite unexpectedly in a very entertaining manner. “I lately,” said he, “ received a letter from the East Indies, from a gentleman whom I formerly knew very well: he had returned from that country with a handsome fortune, as it was reckoned, before means were found to acquire those immense sums which have been brought from thence of late : "he was a scholar, and an agreeable man, and lived very prettily in London till his wife died. After her death, he took to dissipation and gaming, and lost all he had. One evening he lost a thousand pounds to a gentleman whose name I am sorry I have forgotten. Next morning he sent the gentleman five hundred pounds, with an apology that it was all he had in the world. The gentleman sent the money back to him, declaring he would not accept of it; and adding, that if Mr. — had occasion for five hundred pounds more, he would lend it to him. He resolved to go out again to the East Indies, and make his fortune anew. He got a considerable appointment; and I had some intention of accompanying him. Had I thought then as I do now, I should have gone: but at that time I had objections to quitting England.”
It was a very remarkable circumstance about Johnson, whom shallow observers have supposed to have been ignorant of the world, that very few men had seen greater variety of characters; and none could observe them better, as was evident from the strong, yet nice portraits which he often drew. I have frequently thought, that if he had made out what the French call une catalogue raisonnée of all the people who had passed under his observation, it