Page images

"how did your ancestor support his thirty men and thirty horses when he went at a distance from home, in an age when there was hardly any money in circulation ?” I suggested the same difficulty to a friend who mentioned Douglas's going to the Holy Land with a numerous train of followers. Douglas could, no doubt, maintain followers enough while living upon his own lands, the produce of which supplied them with food ; but he could not carry that food to the Holy Land ; and as there was no commerce by which he could be supplied with money, how could he maintain them in foreign countries ?

I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life ; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

To obviate his apprehension, that by settling in London I might desert the seat of my ancestors, I assured him that I old feudal principles to a degree of enthusiasm ; and that I felt all the dulcedo of the natale solum. I reminded him, that the Laird of Auchinleck had an elegant house, in front of which he could ride ten miles forward upon his own territories, upon which he had upwards of six hundred people attached to him; that the family-seat was rich in natural romantic beauties of rock, wood, and water; and that in my “morn of life” I had appropriated the finest descriptions in the ancient classics to certain scenes there, which were thus associated in my mind. That when all this was considered, I should certainly pass a part of the year at home, and enjoy it the more from variety, and from bringing with me a share of the intellectual stores of the metropolis. He listened to all this, and kindly “hoped it might be as I now supposed.”

He said, a country gentleman should bring his lady to visit London as soon as he can, that they may have agreeable topics for conversation when they are by themselves.

As I meditated trying my fortune in Westminster Hall, our conversation turned upon the profession of the law in England. JOHNSON : “You must not indulge too sanguine hopes, should you be called to our bar. I was told, by a very sensible lawyer, that there are a great many chances against any man's success in the profession of the law; the candidates are so numerous, and those who get large practice so few. He said it was by no means true that a man of good parts and application is sure of having business, though he indeed allowed that if such a man could but appear in a few causes, his merit would be known, and he would get forward ; but that the great risk was, that a man might pass half a lifetime in the Courts and never have an opportunity of showing his abilities.”

[ocr errors]

i Now, at the distance of fifteen years since this conversation passed, the observation which I have had an opportunity of making in Westminster Hall has convinced me that, however true the opinion of Dr. Johnson's legal friend may have been some time ago, the same certainty of success cannot now be promised to the same display of merit. The reasons, however, of the rapid rise of some, and the disappointment of others equally respectable, are such as it might seem invidious to mention, and would require a longer detail than would be proper for this work.-BOSWELL.

We talked of employment being absolutely necessary to preserve the mind from wearying and growing fretful, especially in those who have a tendency to melancholy ; and I mentioned to him a saying which somebody had related of an American savage, who, when a European was expatiating on all the advantages of money, put this question : “ Will it purchase occupation ?” JOHNSON : “ Depend upon it, Sir, this saying is too refined for a savage. And, Sir, money wil purchase occupation ; it will purchase all the conveniences of life ; it will purchase variety of company ; it will purchase all sorts of entertainment.”

I talked to him of “Forster's Voyage to the South Seas,” which pleased me; but I found he did not like it. “Sir,” said he,

“ there is a great affectation of fine writing in it.” BOSWELL : “But he carries you along with him.” JOHNSON : “No, Sir; he does not carry me along with him ; he leaves me behind him ; or, rather, indeed, he sets me before him, for he makes me turn over many leaves at a time!”

On Sunday, September 21, we went to the church of Ashbourne, which is one of the largest and most luminous that I have seen in any town of the same size. I felt great satisfaction in considering that I was supported in my fondness for solemn public worship by the general concurrence and munificence of mankind.

Johnson and Taylor were so different from each other, that I wondered at their preserving an intimacy. Their having been at school and college together, might, in some degree, account for this ; but Sir Joshua Reynolds has furnished me with a stronger reason ; for Johnson mentioned to him that he had been told by Taylor he was to be his heir. I shall not take upon me to animadvert upon this ; but certain it is that Johnson paid great attention to Taylor. He now, however, said to me, “Sir, I love him; but I do not love him more; my regard for him does not increase. As it is said in the Apocrypha, ' his talk is of bullocks." I do not suppose he is very fond of my company. His habits are by no means sufficiently clerical; this he knows that I see ; and no, man likes to live under the eye of perpetual disapprobation.”

I have no doubt that a good many sermons were composed for Taylor by Johnson. At this time I found, upon his table, a part of one which he had newly begun to write ; and Concio pro Tayloro appears in one of his diaries. When to these circumstances we add the internal evidence from the power of thinking and style in the collection which

1 Ecclesiasticus, chap. xxxviii. v. 25. The whole chapter may be read as an admirable illustration of the superiority of cultivated minds over the gross and illiterate.—BOSWELL.

the Reverend Mr. Hayes had published, with the significant title of “ Sermons left for publication by the Reverend John Taylor, LL.D." our conviction will be complete.

I, however, would not have it thought that Dr. Taylor, though he could not write like Johnson (as, indeed, who could ?) did not sometimes compose sermons as good as those which we generally have from very respectable divines. He showed me one with notes on the margin in Johnson's handwriting ; and I was present when he read another to Johnson, that he might have his opinion of it, and Johnson said it was “ very well.” These, we may be sure, were not Johnson's ; for he was above little arts or tricks of deception.

Johnson was by no means of opinion, that every man of a learned profession should consider it as incumbent upon him, or as necessary to his credit, to appear as an author. When, in the ardour of ambition for literary fame, I regretted to him one day that an eminent judge had nothing of it, and therefore would leave no perpetual monument of himself to posterity : “Alas, Sir,” said Johnson, “what a mass of confusion should we have, if every bishop, and every judge, every lawyer, physician, and divine, were to write books.”

I mentioned to Johnson a respectable person of a very strong mind, who had little of that tenderness which is common to human nature ; as an instance of which, when I suggested to him that he should invite his son, who had been settled ten years in foreign parts, to come home and pay him a visit, his answer was, “No, no; let him mind his business.” JOHNSON : “I do not agree with him, Sir, in this. Getting money is not all a man's business : to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.”

In the evening, Johnson, being in very good spirits, entertained us with several characteristical portraits ; I regret that any of them escaped my retention and diligence. I found from experience, that to collect my friend's conversation so as to exhibit it with any degree of its original flavour, it was necessary to write it down without delay. To record his sayings, after some distance of time, was like preserving or pickling long-kept and faded fruits, or other vegetables, which, when in that state, have little or nothing of their taste when fresh.

I shall present my readers with a series of what I gathered this evening from the Johnsonian garden.

“My friend, the late Earl of Cork, had a great desire to maintain the literary character of his family; he was a genteel man, but did not keep up the dignity of his rank. He was so generally civil, that nobody thanked him for it.”

“Did we not hear so much said of Jack Wilkes, we should think more highly of his conversation. Jack has a great variety of talk; Jack is a scholar, and Jack has the manners of a gentleman. But after hearing his name sounded from pole to pole, as the phoenix of convivial felicity, we are disappointed in his company. He has always been at me: but I would do Jack a kindness, rather than not. The contest is now over.”

“Garrick's gaiety of conversation has delicacy and elegance : Foote makes you laugh more; but Foote has the air of a buffoon paid for entertaining the company. He, indeed, well deserves his hire."

“Colley Cibber once consulted me as to one of his birth-day Odes, a long time before it was wanted. I objected very freely to several passages. Cibber lost patience, and would not read his ode to an end. When we had done with criticism, we walked over to Richardson's, the author of 'Clarissa,' and I wondered to find Richardson displeased that I did not treat Cibber with more respect. Now, Sir, to talk of respect for a player !” (smiling disdainfully.) BOSWELL: “There, Sir, you are always heretical ; you never will allow merit to a player.” JOHNSON : “Merit, Sir ; what merit ? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a ballad-singer ?” BOSWELL: “No, Sir; but we respect a great player, as a man who can conceive lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully.” JOHNSON : “What, Sir, a fellow who claps a hump on his back, and a lump on his leg, and cries, 'I am Richard the Third ?' Nay, Sir, a ballad-singer is a higher man, for he does two things : he repeats and he sings. There is both recitation and music in his performance; the player only recites.” BOSWELL: “My dear Sir, you may turn anything into ridicule. I allow that a player of farce is not entitled to respect; he does a little thing: but he who can represent exalted characters, and touch the noblest passions, has very respectable powers; and mankind have agreed in admiring great talents for the stage. We must consider, too, that a great player does what very few people are capable to do: his art is a very rare faculty. Who can repeat Hamlet's soliloquy, 'To be, or not to be,' as Garrick does it ?" JOHNSON: “Anybody may. Jemmy there (a boy about eight years old, who was in the room) will do it as well in a week.” BOSWELL : “No, no, Sir; and as a proof of the merit of great acting, and of the value which mankind set upon it, Garrick has got 100,0007.” JOHNSON : “Is getting 100,0001. a proof of excellence ? That has been done by a scoundrel commissary.”

* This was Samuel Richardson, the celebrated novelist; and, as he died in 1761, the incident above related must have taken place some years previously. Richardson was an extraordinary man. He was by trade a printer, and received his education at a common day-school in Derbyshire, where he was born, in 1689. He followed his business in a court in Fleet-street, and resided in Salisbury-square, adjoining. In 1740, he published his “ Pamela," the popularity of thich was so great, that it passed through five editions in one year. His “ Clarissa," his "History of Sir Charles Grandison,” and other productions, were also eminently successful. By the interest of Mr. Speaker Onslow, he was appointed printer of “The Journal of the House of Commons;" and in 1764 he was chosen Master of the Stationers' Company. He was an intimate friend of Johnson's; and at his house the latter was a frequent visitor. His“ Correspondence "with persons of eminence (with his Life, by Mrs. Barbauld), was published in 1804.-ED,

This was most fallacious reasoning. I was sure, for once, that I had the best side of the argument. I boldly maintained the just distinction between a tragedian and a mere theatrical droll; between those who rouse our terror and pity, and those who only make us laugh. “If,” said I, “Betterton and Foote were to walk into this room, you would respect Betterton much more than Foote.” JOHNSON : “If Betterton were to walk into this room with Foote, Foote would soon drive him out of it. Foote, Sir, quatenus Foote, has powers superior to them all.”

On Monday, September 22, when at breakfast, I unguardedly said to Dr. Johnson, “ I wish I saw you and Mrs. Macaulay together.” He grew very angry; and, after a pause, while a cloud gathered on his brow, he burst out, “No, Sir, you would not see us quarrel, to make you sport. Don't you

know that it is very uncivil to pit two people against one another ?”Then, checking himself, and wishing to be more gentle, he added, “I do not say you should be hanged or drowned for this : but it is very uncivil.” Dr. Taylor thought him

in the wrong, and spoke to him, privately of it; but I afterwards acknowledged to Johnson that I was to blame, for I candidly owned, that I meant to express a desire to see a contest between Mrs. Macaulay and him ; but then I knew how the contest would end ; so that I was to see him in triumph. JOHNSON : “Sir, you cannot be sure how a contest will end; and no man has a right to engage two people in a dispute by which their passions may be inflamed, and they may part with bitter resentment against each other. I would sooner keep company with a man from whom I must guard my pockets, than with a man who contrives to bring me into a dispute with somebody that he may hear it. This is the great fault of (naming one of our friends,) endeavouring to introduce a subject upon which he knows two people in the company differ.” BOSWELL: “But he told me, Sir, he does it for instruction.” JOHNSON : “Whatever the motive be, Sir, the man who does so, does very wrong. He has no more right to instruct himself at such risk, than he has to make two people fight a duel, that he may learn how to defend himself.”

He found great fault with a gentleman of our acquaintance for keeping a bad table. “Sir,” said he, “when a man is invited to dinner, he is disappointed if he does not get something good. I advised



« PreviousContinue »