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On the 26th of April I went to Bath; and, on my arrival at the Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly during my stay. They were gone to the rooms; but there was a kind note from Dr. Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening. I went to him directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we had by ourselves some hours of teadrinking and talk.
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few days that I was at Bath.
Of a person who differed from him in politicks, he said, “In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in publick life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong : that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that
acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by their conviction.”
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even put on rouge ;-JOHNson. “She is better employed at her toilet, than using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people's characters.”
He told us that “ Addison wrote Budgell's papers in the Spectator, at least mended them so much, that he made them almost his own; and that Draper, Tonson's partner, assured Mrs. Johnson, that the much-admired epilogue to The Distressed Mother, which came out in Budgell's name, was in reality written by Addison.”
“ The mode of government by one may be ill adapted to a small society, but is best for a great nation. The characteristick of our own government at present is im
becility. The magistrates dare not call the guards, for fear of being banged. The guards will not come, for fear of being given up to the blind rage of popular juries.”
Of the father of one of our friends, he observed, “ He never clarified his notions by filtrating them through other minds. He had a canal upon his estate, where at one place the bank was too low. •I dug the canal deeper,” said he.
He told me that “ so long ago as 1748 he had read The Grave, a Poem, but did not like it much.” I differed from him: for though it is not equal throughout, and is seldom elegantly correct, it abounds in solemn thought, and poetical imagery beyond the common reach. The world has differed from him; for the poem has passed through many editions, and is still much read hy people of a serious cast of mind.
A literary lady of large fortune was mentioned, as one who did good to many, but by no means “ by stealth,” and instead of “ blushing to find it fame," acted evidently from vanity. JOHNSON. “ I have seen no beings who do as much good from benevolence, as she does from whatever motive. If there are such under the earth, or in the clouds, I wish they would come up, or come down. . What Soame Jenyns says upon this subject is not to be minded; he is a wit. No, sir; to act from pure benevolence is not possible for finite beings. Human benevolence is mingled with vanity, interest, or some other motive."
He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath ; observing, “ She does not gain upon me, sir ; I think her empty-headed.” He was indeed a stern critick upon characters and manners. Even Mrs. Thrale did not escape his friendly animadversion at times. When he and I were one day endeavouring to ascertain, article by article, how one of our friends could possibly spend as much money in his family as he told us he did, she interrupted us by a lively extravagant sally on the expense of clothing his children, describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful manner. Johnson looked a little angry, and said, “ Nay, madam, when you are declaiming, declaim ; and when you are calculating, calculate.” At another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, “ I don't like to fly.” JOHNSON. “With your wings, madam, you must fly: but have a care, there are clippers abroad.” How very well was this said, and how fully has experience proved the truth of it! But have they not clipped rather rudely, and gone a great deal closer than was necessary?
c I am sorry that there are no memoirs of the reverend Robert Blair, the author of this poem. He was the representative of the ancient family of Blair, of Blair, in Ayrshire, but the estate had descended to a female, and afterwards passed to the son of her husband by another marriage. He was minister of the parish of Athelstaneford, where Mr. John Home was his successour; so that it may truly be called classick ground. His son, who is of the same name, and a man eminent for talents and learning, is now, with universal approbation, solicitor-general of Scotland.-Boswell.
Some memoirs of Blair are prefixed to his poem, in the edition of the English Poets, twenty-one volumes octavo, 1810.-Ev.
A gentleman expressed a wish to go and live three years at Otaheité, or New Zealand, in order to obtain a full acquaintance with people so totally different from all that we have ever known, and be satisfied what pure nature can do for man. JoHNSON. “ What could you. learn, sir? What can savages tell, but what they themselves have seen? Of the past, or the invisible, they can tell nothing. The inhabitants of Otaheité and New Zealand are not in a state of pure nature; for it is plain they broke off from some other people. Had they grown out of the ground, you might have judged of a state of pure nature. Fanciful people may talk of a mythology being amongst them; but it must be invention. They have once had religion, which has been gradually debased. And what account of their religion can you suppose to be learnt from savages ? Only consider, sir, our own state : our religion is in a book ; we have an order of men whose duty it is to teach it; we have one day in the week set apart for it, and this is in general pretty well observed : yet ask the first ten gross men you meet, and hear what they can tell of their religion.” .
On Monday, April 29th, he and I made an excursion to Bristol, where I was entertained with seeing him enquire upon the spot into the authenticity of Rowley's poetry, as I had seen him enquire upon the spot into the authenticity of Ossian's poetry. George Catcot, the pewterer, who was as zealous for Rowley as Dr. Hugh Blair was for Ossian, (I trust my reverend friend will excuse the comparison,) attended us at our inn, and with a triumphant air of lively simplicity called out, “ I'll make Dr. Johnson a convert.” Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some of Chatterton's fabricated verses, while Catcot stood at the back of his chair, moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet, and now and then looking into Dr. Johnson's face, wondering that he was not yet convinced. We called on Mr. Barrett the surgeon, and saw some of the originals, as they were called, which were executed very artificially ; but from a careful inspection of them, and a consideration of the circumstances with which they were attended, we were quite satisfied of the imposture, which indeed has been clearly demonstrated, from internal evidence, by several able criticks d.
Honest Catcot seemed to pay no attention whatever to any objections, but insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we should go with him to the tower of the church of St. Mary Redcliff, and “ view with our own eyes” the ancient chest in which the manuscripts were found. To this Dr. Johnson good-naturedly agreed; and though troubled with a shortness of breathing, laboured up a long flight of steps, till we came to the place where the wondrous chest stood. “ There,” said Catcot, with a bouncing, confident credulity, “ there is the very chest itself.” After this ocular demonstration, there was no more to be said. He brought to my recollection a Scotch highlander, a man of learning too, and who had seen the world, attesting, and at the same time giving bis reasons for the authenticity of Fingal :-“I have heard all that
A Mr. Tyrwhitt, Mr. Warton, Mr. Malone.
poem when I was young.”—“ Have you, sir? Pray what have you heard ?”—“ I have heard Ossian, Oscar, and every one of them.”
Johnson said of Chatterton, “ This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things.”
We were by no means pleased with our inn at Bristol. “ Let us see now,” said I, “ how we should describe it.” Johnson was ready with his raillery: “ Describe it, sir? - Why, it was so bad that Boswell wished to be in Scotland !"
After Dr. Johnson's return to London, I was several times with him at his house, where I occasionally slept in the room that had been assigned to me. I dined with him at Dr. Taylor's, at general Oglethorpe's, and at general Paoli's. To avoid a tedious minuteness, I shall group together what I have preserved of his conversation during this period also, without specifying each scene where it passed, except one, which will be found so remarkable as certainly to deserve a very particular relation. Where the place or the persons do not contribute to the zest of the conversation, it is unnecessary to encumber my page with mentioning them. To know of what vintage our wine is, enables us to judge of its value, and to drink it with more relish; but to have the produce of each vine of one vineyard, in the same year, kept separate, would serve no purpose. To know that our wine, (to use an advertising phrase,) is “ of the stock of an ambassadour lately deceased,” heightens its flavour; but it signifies nothing to know the bin where each bottle was once deposited.
“ Garrick,” he observed, “ does not play the part of Archer in the Beaux Stratagem well. The gentleman should break out through the footman, which is not the case as he does it.”
“Where there is no education, as in savage countries, men will have the upper hand of women. Bodily strength, no doubt, contributes to this; but it would be so, exclusive