« PreviousContinue »
be bound as hard by chains when covered by leather, as when the iron appears. The argument for the moral necessity of human actions is always, I observe, fortified by supposing universal prescience to be one of the attributes of the Deity.” JOHNSON. “You are surer that you are free, than you are of prescience; you are surer that you can lift up your finger or not as you please, than you are of any conclusion from a deduction of reasoning. But let us consider a little the objection from prescience. It is certain I am either to go home to-night or not; that does not prevent my freedom.” Boswell, “ That it is certain you are either to go home or not, does not prevent your freedom ; because the liberty of choice between the two is compatible with that certainty. But if one of these events be certain now, you have no future power of volition. If it be certain you are to go home tonight, you must go home." JOHNSON. “If I am well acquainted with a man, I can judge with great probability how he will act in any case, without his being restrained by my judging. God may have this probability increased to certainty.” BOSWELL. " When it is increased to certainty, freedom ceases, because that cannot be certainly foreknown which is not certain at the time; but if it be certain at the time, it is a contradiction in terms to maintain that there can be afterwards any contingency dependent upon the exercise of will or any thing else.” JOHNSON. “All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it."--I did not push the subject any farther. I was glad to find him so mild in discussing a question of the most abstract nature, involved with theological tenets, which he generally would not suffer to be in any degree opposed
He, as usual, defended luxury: “ You cannot spend money in luxury without doing good to the poor. Nay, you
d If any of my readers are disturbed by this thorny question, I beg leave to recommend to them Letter 69 of Montesquieu's Lettres Persannes; and the late Mr. John Palmer of Islington's Answer to Dr. Priestley's mechanical arguments for what he absurdly calls" philosophical necessity."-Boswell.
do more good to them by spending it in luxury than by giving it; for by spending it in luxury you make them exert industry; whereas by giving it, you keep them idle. I own, indeed, there may be more virtue in giving it immediately in charity, than in spending it in luxury; though there may be pride in that too.” Miss Seward asked, if this was not Mandeville's doctrine of “private vices publick benefits.” JohnSON. “The fallacy of that book is, that Mandeville defines neither vices por benefits. He reckons among vices every thing that gives pleasure. He takes the narrowest system of morality, monastick morality, which holds pleasure itself to be a vice, such as eating salt with our fish, because it makes it eat better; and he reckons wealth as a publick benefit, which is by no means always true. Pleasure of itself is not a vice. Having a garden, which we all know to be perfectly innocent, is a great pleasure. At the same time, in this state of being there are many pleasures vices, which however are so immediately agreeable that we can hardly abstain from them. The happiness of heaven will be, that pleasure and virtue will be perfectly consistent. Mandeville puts the case of a man who gets drunk at an alehouse; and says it is a publick benefit, because so much money is got by it to the publick. But it must be considered, that all the good gained by this, through the gradation of alebouse-keeper, brewer, maltster, and farmer, is overbalanced by the evil caused to the man and his family by bis getting drunk. This is the way to try what is vicious,
e The late Dr. Parr, whose prejudices were as violent as Johnson's, but whose political principles were directly opposite, thus writes on Mandeville. “In Mandeville there is but little room to praise : he has a shrewdness, and he has vivacity; but his shrewdness degenerates into sophistry, and his vivacity into petulance. His eye is fixedly bent on the darker part of human character; he seems to take a malignant pleasure in dragging to light what prudence and candour would induce us to conceal; and by the horrid features of exaggeration in which he paints the vices of his species, he produces a sickness of temper, a secret and restless spirit of incredulity, when for a moment he twists our attention to the contemplation of their virtues.” See Aphorisms, Opinions, and Reflections of the late Dr. Parr, with a Sketch of his Life, 12mo. London, 1826. And for Johnson's opinion of Parr's conversational talents, see vol. iv. of these memoirs, under the year 1780.-ED.
by ascertaining whether more evil than good is produced by it upon the whole, which is the case in all vice. It may happen that good is produced by vice; but not as vice: for instance, a robber may take money from its owner, and give it to one who will make a better use of it. Here is good produced; but not by the robbery as robbery, but as translation of property. I read Mandeville forty, or, I believe, fifty years ago. He did not puzzle me; he opened my views into real life very much. No, it is clear that the happiness of society depends on virtue. In Sparta, theft was allowed by general consent; theft, therefore, was there not a crime, but then there was no security; and what a life must they have had when there was no security. Without truth there must be a dissolution of society. As it is, there is so little truth, that we are almost afraid to trust our ears ; but how should we be, if falsehood were multiplied ten times! Society is held together by communication and information; and I remember this remark of sir Thomas Brown's, · Do the devils lie? No; for then hell could not subsist.”
Talking of Miss -, a literary lady, he said, “I was obliged to speak to Miss Reynolds, to let her know that I desired she would not flatter me so much.” Somebody now observed, "She flatters Garrick." Johnson. “She is in the right to flatter Garrick. She is in the right for two reasons ; first, because she has the world with her, who have been praising Garrick these thirty years; and secondly, because she is rewarded for it by Garrick. Why should she flatter me? I can do nothing for her. Let her carry her praise to a better market.” Then turning to Mrs. Knowles. “You, madam, have been flattering me all the evening ; I wish you would give Boswell a little now. If you
knew his merit as well as I do, you would say a great deal: he is the best travelling companion in the world." Somebody mentioned the reverend Mr. Mason's
prosecution of Mr. Murray, the bookseller, for having inserted in a collection of Gray's Poems only fifty lines, of which
Mr. Mason had still the exclusive property under the statute of queen Anne; and that Mr. Mason had persevered, notwithstanding his being requested to name his own terms of compensation'. Johnson signified his displeasure at Mr. Mason's conduct very strongly; but added, by way of showing that he was not surprised at it, “ Mason's a whig." MRS. KNOWLES, (not hearing distinctly.) “ What! a prig, sir?" JOHNSON. “ Worse, madam; a whig. But he is both."
I expressed a horrour at the thought of death. Mrs. KNOWLES. “ Nay, thou shouldst not have a horrour for what is the gate of life.” JOHNSON, (standing upon the hearth rolling about, with a serious, solemn, and somewhat gloomy air.) “ No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension.” Mrs. KNOWLES. “ The scripture tells us, · The righteous shall have hope in his death.”” JOHNSON. “ Yes, madam; that is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised that the mediation of our Saviour shall be applied to us,-namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his obedience has been such as he would approve of in another, or even in himself upon close examination; or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation.” Mrs. KNOWLES. " But divine intimation of acceptance may be made to the soul.” JOHNMadam, it
but I should not think the better of a man who should tell me on his death-bed, he was sure of salvation. A man cannot be sure himself that he has divine intimation of acceptance; much less can he make others sure that he has it.” BOSWELL. “ Then, sir, we must be contented to acknowledge that death is a terrible thing." JOHNSON.
Johnson. “ Yes, sir. I have made no approaches to a state which can look on it as not terrible."
i See a Letter to W. Mason, A. M. from J, Murray, Bookseller in London, 2nd edition, p. 20.-Boswell.
MRS. KNOWLES, (seeming to enjoy a pleasing serenity in the persuasion of benignant divine light.) “ Does not St. Paul say, I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished my course; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life?'” JOHNSON. “Yes, madam ; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been converted by supernatural interposition.” BOSWELL.“ In prospect death is dreadful ; but in fact we find that people die easy." JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, most people have not thought much of the matter, so cannot say much, and it is supposed they die easy. Few believe it certain they are then to die; and those who do, set themselves to behave with resolution, as a man does who is going to be hanged :-he is not the less unwilling to be hanged." Miss SEWARD. “ There is one mode of the fear of death which is certainly absurd; and that is the dread of annihilation, which is only a pleasing sleep without a dream." JOHNSON. “ It is neither pleasing, nor sleep; it is nothing. Now mere existence is so much better than nothing, that one would rather exist even in pain, than not exist.” Boswell. “If annihilation be nothing, then existing in pain is not a comparative state, but is a positive evil, which I cannot think we should choose. I must be allowed to differ here; and it would lessen the hope of a future state founded on the argument, that the Supreme Being, who is good as he is great, will hereafter compensate for our present sufferings in this life. For if existence, such as we have it here, be comparatively a good, we have no reason to complain, though no more of it should be given to us. only state of existence were in this world, then we might with some reason complain that we are so dissatisfied with our enjoyments compared with our desires." JOHNSON, “ The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horrour of annihilation consists."
Of John Wesley, he said, “ He can talk well on any subject." BOSWELL, “ Pray, sir, what has he made of his story of a ghost ?” JOHNSON, “Why, sir, he believes
But if our