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Mrs. Thrale, who has no card-parties at her house, to give sweetmeats, and such good things, in an evening, as are not commonly given, and she would find company enough come to her : for everybody loves to have things which please the palate put in their way, without trouble or preparation.” Such was his attention to the minutice of life and
He thus characterised the Duke of Devonshire, grandfather of the present representative of that very respectable family: "He was not a man of superior abilities, but he was a man strictly faithful to his word. If, for instance, he had promised you an acorn, and none had grown that year in his woods, he would not have contented himself with that excuse : he would have sent to Denmark for it. So unconditional was he in keeping his word—so high as to the point of honour.” This was a liberal testimony from the Tory Johnson to the virtue of a great Whig nobleman.
Mr. Burke's “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the affairs of America,” being mentioned, Johnson censured the composition much, and he ridiculed the definition of a free government, viz.—“For any practical purpose, it is what the people think so.”l_“I will let the King of France govern me on those conditions,” said he, "for it is to be govemed just as I please.” And when Dr. Taylor talked of a girl being sent to a parish workhouse, and asked how much she could be obliged to work, “Why,” said Johnson, “as much as is reasonable : and what is that? as much as she thinks reasonable.”
Dr. Johnson obligingly proposed to carry me to see llam, a romantic scene, now belonging to a family of the name of Port, but formerly the seat of the Congreves. I suppose it is well described in some of the tours. Johnson described it distinctly and vividly, at which I could not but express to him my wonder ; because, though my eyes, as he observed, were better than his, I could not by any means equal him in representing visible objects. I said, the difference between us in this respect was as that between a man who has a bad instrument, but plays well on it, and a man who has a good instrument, on which he can play very imperfectly.
I recollect a very fine amphitheatre, surrounded with hills covered with woods, and walks neatly formed along the side of a rocky steep, on the quarter next the house, with recesses under projections of rock, overshadowed with trees; in one of which recesses, we are told, Congreve wrote his “ Old Bachelor.” We viewed a remarkable natural curiosity at Ilam ; two rivers bursting near each other from the rock, not from immediate springs, but after having run for many miles under ground. Plott, in his “ History of Staffordshire” (p. 69), gives an account of this curiosity ; but Johnson would not believe it, though we had the attestation of the gardener, who said, he had put in corks, where the river Manyfold sinks into the ground, and had caught them in a net, placed before one of the openings where the water bursts out. Indeed such subterraneous courses of water are found in various parts of our globe.
| Edit. 2, p. 53-BOSWELL.
Talking of Dr. Johnson's unwillingness to believe extraordinary things, I ventured to say, “Sir, you come near Hume's argument against miracles, 'That it is more probable witnesses should lie, or be mistaken, than that they should happen.'” JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, Hume, taking the proposition simply, is right. But the Christian revelation is not proved by the miracles alone, but as connected with prophecies, and with the doctrines in confirmation of which the miracles were wrought.'
He repeated his observation, that the differences among Christians are really of no consequence. “For instance,” said he, “if a Protestant objects to a Papist, ‘You worship images ;' the Papist can answer, ‘I do not insist on your doing it; you may be a very good Papist without it: I do it only as a help to my devotion,'' I said, the great article of Christianity is the revelation of immortality. Johnson admitted it was.
In the evening, a gentleman-farmer who was on a visit at Dr. Taylor's, attempted to dispute with Johnson in favour of Mungo Campbell, who shot Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune, upon his having fallen when retreating from his Lordship, who he believed was about to seize his gun, as he had threatened to do. He said he should have done just as Campbell did. JOHNSON: “Whoever would do as Campbell did deserves to be hanged ; not that I could, as a juryman, have found him legally guilty of murder ; but I am glad they found means to convict him." The gentleman-farmer said, “A poor man has as much honour as a rich man, and Campbell had that to defend.” Johnson exclaimed, “ A poor man has no honour.” The English yeoman, not dismayed, proceeded : “Lord Eglintoune was a damned fool to run on upon Campbell, after being warned that Campbell would shoot him if he did.” Johnson, who could not bear anything like swearing, angrily replied, “ He was not a damned fool : he only thought too well of Campbell. He did not believe Campbell would be such a damned scoundrel, as to do so damned a thing." His emphasis on damned, accompanied with frowning looks, reproved his opponent's want of decorum in his presence.
Talking of the danger of being mortified by rejection, when inaking approaches to the acquaintance of the great, I observed, “I am, however, generally for trying, 'Nothing venture, nothing have."" JOHNSON : “Very true, Sir; but I have always been more afraid of failing, than hopeful of success.” And, indeed, though he had all just respect for rank, no man ever less courted the favour of the great.
1 See Plott's “History of Staffordshire," p. 88, and the authorities referred to by him.BOSWELL.
During this interview at Ashbourne, Johnson seemed to be more uniformly social, cheerful, and alert, than I had almost ever seen him. He was prompt on great occasions and on small. Taylor, who praised everything of his own to excess ; in short, “whose geese were all swans," as the proverb says, expatiated on the excellence of his bull-dog, which he told us was perfectly well-shaped.” Johnson, after examining the animal attentively, thus repressed the vain-glory of our host :-“ No, Sir, he is not well-shaped; for there is not the quick transition from the thickness of the forepart to the tenuity—the thin part—behind, which a bull-dog ought to have.” This tenuity was the only hard word that I heard him use during this interview, and, it will be observed, he instantly put another expression in its place. Taylor said, a small bull-dog was as good as a large one. JOHNSON : No, Sir; for in proportion to his size he has strength; and your argument would prove that a good bull-dog may be as small as a mouse." It was amazing how he entered with perspicuity and keenness upon everything that occurred in conversation. Most men, whom I know, would no more think of discuscing a question about a bull-dog, than of attacking a bull.
I cannot allow any fragment whatever that floats in my memory concerning the great subject of this work to be lost. Though a small particular may appear trifling to some, it will be relished by others; while every little spark adds something to the general blaze; and to please the true, candid, warm admirers of Johnson, and in any degree increase the splendour of his reputation, I bid defiance to the shafts of ridicule, or even malignity. Showers of them have been discharged at my“ Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides ;" yet it still sails unhurt along the stream of time, and, as an attendant upon Johnson,
“Pursues the triumph, and partakes the gale."
One morning after breakfast, when the sun shone bright, we walked out together, and “pored” for some time with placid indolence upon an artificial water-fall, which Dr. Taylor had made by building a strong dyke of stone across the river behind the garden. It was now somewhat obstructed by branches of trees and other rubbish, which had come down the river, and settled close to it. Johnson, partly from a desire to see it play more freely, and partly from that inclination to activity which will animate, at times, the most inert and sluggish more tal, took a long pole which was lying on a bank, and pushed down several parcels of this wreck with painful assiduity, while I stood quietly by, wondering to behold the sage thus curiously employed, and smiling with a humourous satisfaction each time when he carried his point. He worked till he was quite out of breath ; and having found a large dead cat, so heavy that he could not move it after several efforts, “Come,” said he, throwing down the pole," you shall take it now;"
which I accordingly did, and being a fresh man, soon made the cat tumble over the cascade. This may be laughed at as too trifling to record; but it is a small characteristic trait in the Flemish picture
which I give of my friend, and in which, therefore, I mark the most minute particulars. And let it be remembered, that “ Æsop at play” is one of the instructive apologues of antiquity.
I mentioned an old gentleman of our acquaintance whose memory was beginning to fail. JOHNSON: “There must be a diseased mind, where there is a failure of memory at seventy. A man's head, Sir, must be morbid, if he fails so soon.” My friend, being now himselt sixty-eight, might think thus : but I imagine, that threescore and ten, the Psalmist's period of sound human life in later ages, may have a failure, though there be no discase in the constitution.
Talking of Rochester's Poems, he said, he had given them to Mr. Steevens to castrate for the edition of the Poets, to which he was to write prefaces. Dr. Taylor (the only time I ever heard him say any thing witty ) observed, that “if Rochester had been castrated himself. his exceptionable poems would not have been written.” I asked if Burnet had not given a good Life of Rochester. JOHNSON : “We have a good Death: there is not much Life.” I asked whether Prior's poems were to be printed entire; Johnson said they were. I mentioned Lord Hailes's censure of Prior, in his preface to a collection of “Sacred Poems,” by various hands, published by him at Edinburgh a great many years ago, where he mentions, “ those impure tales which will be the eternal opprobrium of their ingenious author.” JOHNSON : “Sir, Lord Hailes has forgot. There is nothing in Prior that will excite to lewdness. If Lord Hailes thinks there is, he must be more combustible than other people.” I instanced the tale of “Paulo Purganti and his Wife.” JOHNSON : “Sir, there is nothing there, but that his wife wanted to be kissed, when poor Paulo was out of pocket. No, Sir, Prior is a lady's book. No lady is ashamed to have it standing in her library."
1 This was unnecessary, for it had been done in the early part of the present century by Jacob Tonson.-MALONE
The hypochondriac disorder being mentioned, Dr. Johnson did not think it so common as I supposed. “Dr. Taylor,” said he, “is the same one day as another. Burke and Reynolds are the same. Beauclerk, except when in pain, is the same. I am not so myself; but this I do not mention commonly.”
I complained of a wretched changefulness, so that I could not preserve, for any long continuance, the same views of anything. It was most comfortable to me to experience, in Dr. Johnson's company, a relief from this uneasiness. His steady, vigorous mind held firm before me those objects which my own feeble and tremulous imagination frequently presented, in such a wavering state, that my reason could not judge well of them.
Dr. Johnson advised me to-day to have as many books about me as I could ; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time. “What you read then,” said he, "you will remember ; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you have again a desire to study it.” He added, “If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he shall prescribe a task for himself. But it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination."
He repeated a good many lines of Horace's Odes, while we were in the chaise ; I remember particularly the Ode “ Eheu, fugaces,” [1. ii. Od. xiv.]
He said, the dispute as to the comparative excellence of Homer or Virgilwas inaccurate. “We must consider,” said he," whether Homer
1 I am told, that Horace Earl of Oxford has a collection of Bon-mots by persons who never said but one.-BOSWELL.
? I am informed by Mr. Langton, that a great many years ago he was present when this