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Talking of a recent seditious delinquent, he said, “ They should set him in the pillory, that he may be punished in a way that would disgrace him." I observed, that the pillory does not always disgrace. And I mentioned an instance of a gentleman who, I thought, was not dishonoured by it. Johnson. “ Aye, but he was, sir. He could not mouth and strut as he used to do, after having been there. People are not willing to ask a man to their tables who has stood in the pillory.”
The gentleman who had dined with us at Dr. Percy's * came in. Johnson attacked the Americans with intemperate vehemence of abuse. I said something in their favour; and added, that I was always sorry when he talked on that subject. This, it seems, exasperated him ; though he said nothing at the time. The cloud was charged with sulphureous vapour, which was afterwards to burst in thunder.—We talked of a gentleman who was running out his fortune in London; and I said, “ We must get him out of it. All his friends must quarrel with him, and that will soon drive him away.” JOHNSON. “Nay, sir, we'll send you to him. If your company does not drive a man out of his house, nothing will.” This was a horrible shock, for which there was no visible cause. I afterwards asked him why he had said so harsh a thing. JOHNSON. “ Because, sir, you made me angry about the Americans.” BOSWELL. “ But why did you not take your revenge directly?” Johnson, (smiling.) “Because, sir, I had nothing ready. A man cannot strike till he has his weapons.” This was a candid and pleasant confession.
He showed me to-night his drawing-room, very genteelly fitted up; and said, “ Mrs. Thrale sneered when I talked of my having asked you and your lady to live at my house. I was obliged to tell her, that you would be in as respectable a situation in my house as in hers. Sir, the insolence of wealth will creep out.” Bos WELL. “ She has a little both of the insolence of wealth, and the conceit of parts." Johnson. “ The insolence of wealth is a
* See p. 245 of this volume.
reach, add two be long
wretched thing; but the conceit of parts has some foundation. To be sure, it should not be. But who is without it?" Boswell. “ Yourself, sir.” Johnson. “ Why, I play no tricks: I lay no traps.” Boswell. “ No, sir. You are six feet high, and you only do not stoop.”
We talked of the numbers of people that sometimes have composed the household of great families. I mentioned that there were a hundred in the family of the present earl of Eglintoune's father. Dr. Johnson seeming to doubt it, I began to enumerate. “Let us see: my lord and my lady two." Johnson. “ Nay, sir, if you are to count by twos, you may be long enough.” Boswell. “ Well, but now I add two sons and seven daughters, and a servant for each, that will make twenty; so we have the fifth part already." Johnson. “ Very true. You get at twenty pretty readily; but you will not so easily get further on. We grow to five feet pretty readily; but it is not so easy to grow to seven.”
On Sunday, April 19th, being Easter-day, after the solemnities of the festival in St. Paul's church, I visited him, but could not stay to dinner. I expressed a wish to have the arguments for christianity always in readiness, that my religious faith might be as firm and clear as any proposition whatever, so that I need not be under the least uneasiness when it should be attacked. Johnson. “ Sir, you cannot answer all objections. You have demonstration for a first cause : you see he must be good as well as powerful, because there is nothing to make him otherwise, and goodness of itself is preferable. Yet you have against this, what is very certain, the unhappiness of human life. This, however, gives us reason to hope for a future state of compensation, that there may be a perfect system. But of that we were not sure, till we had a positive revelation.” I told him, that his Rasselas had often made me unhappy; for it represented the misery of human life so well, and so convincingly to a thinking mind, that if at any time the impression wore off, and I felt myself easy, I began to suspect some delusion.
On Monday, April 20th, I found him at home in the morning. We talked of a gentleman who, we apprebended, was gradually involving his circumstances by bad management. Johnson. “ Wasting a fortune is evaporation by a thousand imperceptible means. If it were a stream, they'd stop it. You must speak to him. It is really miserable. Were he a gamester, it could be said he had hopes of winning. Were he a bankrupt in trade, he might have grown rich; but he has neither spirit to spend, nor resolution to spare. He does not spend fast enough to have pleasure from it. He has the crime of prodigality, and the wretchedness of parsimony. If a man is killed in a duel, he is killed as many a man has been killed; but it is a sad thing for a man to lie down and die; to bleed to death, because he has not fortitude enough to sear the wound, or even to stitch it up.” I cannot but pause a moment to admire the fecundity of fancy, and choice of language, which in this instance, and indeed on almost all occasions, he displayed. It was well observed by Dr. Percy, now bishop of Dromore, “ The conversation of Johnson is strong and clear, and may be compared to an antique statue, where every vein and muscle is distinct and bold. Ordinary conversation resembles an inferiour cast.”
On Saturday, April 25th, I dined with him at sir Joshua Reynolds's, with the learned Dr. Musgrave', counsellor Leland of Ireland, son to the historian, Mrs. Cholmondeley, and some other ladies. The Project, a new poem, was read to the company by Dr. Musgrave. Johnson. “ Sir, it has no power. Were it not for the well known names with which it is filled, it would be nothing: the names carry the poet, not the poet the names.” MusGRAVE. “A temporary poem always entertains us." Johnson. “So does an account of the criminals banged yesterday entertain us.”.
He proceeded :" Demosthenes Taylor, as he was called, (that is, the editor of Demosthenes,) was the most silent man, the merest statue of a man that I have ever seen. I once dined in company with him, and all he said during the whole time was no more than Richard. How a man should say only Richard, it is not easy to imagine. But it was thus : Dr. Douglas was talking of Dr. Zachary Grey, and ascribing to him something that was written by Dr. Richard Grey; so, to correct him, Taylor said, (imitating his affected sententious emphasis and nod,) · Richard.'”
y Samuel Musgrave, M. D. editor of the Euripides, and author of Dissertations on the Grecian Mythology, etc. published in 1782, after his death, by the learned Mr. Tyrwhitt.--MALONE.
Mrs. Cholmondeley, in a high flow of spirits, exhibited some lively sallies of hyperbolical compliment to Johnson, with whom she had been long acquainted, and was very easy. He was quick in catching the manner of the moment, and answered her somewhat in the style of the hero of a romance, “Madam, you crown me with unfading laurels."
I happened, I know not how, to say that a pamphlet meant a prose piece. Johnson. “ No, sir. A few sheets of poetry unbound are a pamphlet?, as much as a few sheets of prose.” MUSGRAVE. “A pamphlet may be understood to mean a poetical piece in Westminster-hall, that is, in formal language ; but in common language it is understood to mean prose.” JOHNSON, (and here was one of the many instances of his knowing clearly and telling exactly how a thing is.) “A pamphlet is understood in common language to mean prose, only from this, that there is so much more prose written than poetry; as when we say a book, prose is understood for the same reason, though a book may as well be in poetry as in prose. We understand what is most general, and we name what is less frequent."
We talked of a lady's verses on Ireland. Miss REYNOLDS. “ Have you seen them, sir ?" JOHNSON. “No,
2 Dr. Johnson is here perfectly correct, and is supported by the usage of preceding writers. So in Musarum Deliciæ, a collection of poems, 8vo. 1656, (the writer is speaking of Suckling's play, entitled Aglaura, printed in folio :)
This great voluminous pamphlet may be said
madam. I have seen a translation from Horace, by one of her daughters. She showed it me.” Miss REYNOLDS. “ And how was it, sir?” Johnson. “Why, very well for a young miss's verses ;-that is to say, compared with excellence, nothing; but very well for the person who wrote them. I am vexed at being shown verses in that manner.” Miss REYNOLDS. “But if they should be good, why not give them hearty praise ?” Johnson. “ Why, madam, because I have not then got the better of my bad humour from having been shown them. You must consider, madam ; beforehand they may be bad, as well as good. Nobody has a right to put another under such a difficulty, that he must either hurt the person by telling the truth, or hurt himself by telling what is not true.” Boswell. “A man often shows his writings to people of eminence, to obtain from them, either from their good nature, or from their not being able to tell the truth firmly, a commendation, of which he may afterwards avail himself.” Johnson. “ Very true, sir. Therefore the man who is asked by an author what he thinks of his work, is put to the torture, and is not obliged to speak the truth; so that what he says is not considered as his opinion; yet he has said it, and cannot retract it; and this author, when mankind are hunting him with a canister at his tail, can say, “I would not have published, had not Johnson, or Reynolds, or Musgrave, or some other good judge commended the work. Yet I consider it as a very difficult question in conscience, whether one should advise a man not to publish a work, if profit be his object; for the man may say, • Had it not been for you, I should have had the money.' Now you cannot be sure; for you have only your own opinion, and the publick may think very differently.” SIR Joshua REYNOLDS. “ You must upon such an occasion have two judgements; one as to the real value of the work, the other as to what may please the general taste at the time.” Johnson. “ But you can be sure of neither; and therefore I should scruple much to give a suppressive vote. Both Goldsmith's comedies were once refused; his