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ignorance, to incite him to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address. Johnson. " Why, sir, you are to consider what is the meaning of purging in the original sense. It is to expel impurities from the human body. The mind is subject to the same imperfection. The passions are the great movers of human actions ; but they are mixed with such impurities, tbat it is necessary they should be purged or refined by means of terrour and pity. For instance, ambition is a noble passion ; but by seeing upon the stage, that a man who is so excessively ambitious as to raise himself by injustice, is punished, we are terrified at the fatal consequences of such a passion. In the same manner a certain degree of resentment is, necessary; but if we see that a man carries it too far, we pity the object of it, and are taught to moderate that passion.” My record upon this occasion does great injustice to Johnson's expression, which was so forcible and brilliant,
written in a book !"
I observed, the great defect of the tragedy of Othello was, that it had not a moral; for that no man could resist the circumstances of suspicion which were artfully suggested to Othello's mind. JOHNSON. “In the first place, sir, we learn from Othello this very useful moral, not to make an unequal match; in the second place, we learn not to yield too readily to suspicion. The handkerchief is merely a trick, though a very pretty trick ; but there are no other circumstances of reasonable suspicion, except what is related by Iago of Cassio's warm expressions concerning Desdemona in his sleep; and that depended entirely upon the assertion of one man. No, sir, I think Othello has more moral than almost any play.”
Talking of a penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, Johnson said, “Sir, he is narrow, not so much from avarice, as from impotence to spend his money. He cannot find in his heart to pour out a bottle of wine ; but he would not much care if it should sour.”
He said, he wished to see John Dennis's critical works seemed to think otherwise.
Davies said of a well-known dramatick author, that "he lived upon potted stories, and that he made his way as Hannibal did, by vinegar; having begun by attacking people, particularly the players.”
He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him the highest compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story.
Johnson and I supped this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in company with sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one of the Scotch judges, with the title of lord Dunsinan, and my very worthy friend sir William Forbes of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question, whether drinking improved conversation and benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained it did. JOHNSON. “No, sir : before dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who are conscious of their inferiority, have the modesty not to talk. When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous : but he is not improved; he is only not sensible of his defects.” Sir Joshua said, the doctor was talking of the effects of excess in wine ; but that a moderate glass enlivened the mind, by giving a proper circulation to the blood. “I am,” said he,“ in very good spirits when I get up in the morning. By dinner time I am exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got up; and I am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.” JOHNSON. “No, sir; wine gives not light, gay, ideal hilarity; but tumultuous, noisy, clamorous merriment. I have heard none of those drunken,-nay, drunken is a coarse word,-none of those vinous flights.” SIR Joshua. “Because you have sat by, quite sober, and felt an envy of the happiness of those who were drinking.” JOHNSON. “ Perhaps, contempt.-And, sir, it is not necessary to be drunk one's self, to relish the wit of
drunkenness. Do we not judge of the drunken wit of the dialogue between Iago and Cassio, the most excellent in its kind, when we are quite sober? Wit is wit, by whatever means it is produced; and, if good, will appear so at all times. I admit that the spirits are raised by drinking, as by the common participation of any pleasure : cock-fighting or bear-baiting will raise the spirits of a company, as drinking does; though surely they will not improve conversation. I also admit, that there are some sluggish men who are improved by drinking; as there are fruits which are not good till they are rotten. There are such men, but they are medlars. I indeed allow that there have been a very few men of talents who were improved by drinking: but I maintain that I am right as to the effects of drinking in general: and let it be considered, that there is no position, however false in its universality, which is not true of some particular man.” Sir William Forbes said, “ Might not a man warmed with wine be like a bottle of beer, which is made brisker by being set before the fire ?"-" Nay,” said Johnson, laughing, “ I cannot answer that: that is too much for me."
I observed, that wine did some people harm, by inflaming, confusing, and irritating their minds; but that the experience of mankind had declared in favour of moderate drinking. JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say it is wrong to produce self-complacency by drinking; I only deny that it improves the mind. When I drank wine, I scorned to drink it when in company. I have drunk many a bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had need of it to raise my spirits ; in the second place, because I would have nobody to witness its effects upon me.”
He told us, “ almost all his Ramblers were written just as they were wanted for the press; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of an essay, and wrote the remainder while the former part of it was printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was sure it would be done.”
He said, that for general improvement, a man should
read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, “ What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impres·sion. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.” He told us, he read Fielding's Amelia through without stopping?. He said, “ If a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it to go to the beginning. He may, perhaps, not feel again the inclination.”
Sir Joshua mentioned Mr. Cumberland's odes, which were just published. JOHNSON. “Why, sir, they would have been thought as good as odes commonly are, if Cumberland had not put his name to them ; but a name immediately draws censure, unless it be a name that bears down every thing before it. Nay, Cumberland has made his odes subsidiary to the fame of another mana. They might have run well enough by themselves; but he has not only
2 We have here an involuntary testimony to the excellence of this admirable writer, to whom we have seen that Dr. Johnson directly allowed so little merit.BOSWELL.
“His attention to veracity," says Mrs. Piozzi, " was without equal or example ;” and when I mentioned Clarissa as a perfect character, “ On the contrary,” said he, “you may observe there is always something which she prefers to truth.” “ Fielding's Amelia was the most pleasing heroine of all the romances," he said; “ but that vile broken nose, never cured, ruined the sale of perhaps the only book, which being printed off [published] betimes one morning, a new edition was called for before night.”-See Mrs. Piozzi's Anec, dotes, p. 221.-ED.
a Mr. Romney the painter, who has now deservedly established a high reputation.--BOSWELL.
Romney's life has been published by Hayley: and in spite of that sin-veiling maxim,“De mortuis nil nisi bonum,” we must caution the readers of that work against expecting truth and candour from a biographer who would so gladly avail himself of poor Romney's fame to throw a softening shade over his own heartless and cold depravity. We have no pleasure in dwelling longer on the vices of so pitiful a being as Hayley, or in exposing further the particular passage in the painter's history to which we have alluded. Romney died at Kendal in Lancashire, of which county he was a native, in 1802.-Ed.
loaded them with a name, but has made them carry double.”
We talked of the reviews, and Dr. Johnson spoke of them as he did at Thrale’sb. Sir Joshua said, what I have often thought, that he wondered to find so much good writing employed in them, when the authors were to remain unknown, and so could not have the motive of fame. Johnson. “Nay, sir, those who write in them, write well, in order to be paid well.”
Soon after this day, he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I had never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the opportunity of visiting it while Johnson was there. Having written to him, I received the following answer.
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ DEAR SIR,-Why do you talk of neglect? When did I neglect you? If you will come to Bath, we shall all be glad to see you. Come, therefore, as soon as you can.
“ But I have a little business for you at London. Bid Francis look in the paper drawer of the chest of drawers in my bedchamber, for two cases; one for the attorneygeneral, and one for the solicitor-general. They lie, I think, at the top of my papers; otherwise they are somewhere else, and will give me more trouble.
“ Please to write to me immediately, if they can be found. Make my compliments to all our friends round the world, and to Mrs. Williams at home.
“I am, sir, your, etc.
“ Sam. JOHNSON.
“ Search for the papers as soon as you can, that, if it is necessary, I may write to you again before you come down.”
b Page 26 of this volume.