« PreviousContinue »
“Sir, we all do this in some degree: 'Veniam petimus damusque vicissim.' To be sure it may be done so much, that a man may deserve to be kicked.” BEAUCLERK : “He is very malignant." JOHNSON : “No, Sir; he is not malignant. He is mischievous, if you will. He would do no man an essential injury; he may, indeed, love to make sport of people by vexing their vanity. I, however, once knew an old gentleman who was absolutely malignant. He really wished evil to others, and rejoiced at it.” BOSWELL: “The gentleman, Mr. Beauclerk, against whom you are so violent, is, I know, a man of good principles." BEAUCLERK : “ Then he does not wear them out in practice."
Dr. Johnson (who, as I have observed before, delighted in discrimination of character, and having a masterly knowledge of human nature was willing to take men as they are, imperfect, and with a mixture of good and bad qualities,) I suppose thought he had said enough in defence of his friend, of whose merits, notwithstanding his exceptionable points, he had a just value ; and added no more on the subject.
On Tuesday, April 14, I dined with him at Ge ral Oglethorpe's, with General Paoli and Mr. Langton. General Oglethorpe declaimed against luxury. JOHNSON: “Depend upon it, Sir, every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get.” OGLETHORPE: “But the best depends much upon ourselves; and if we can be as well satisfied with plain things, we are in the wrong to accustom our palates to what is high-seasoned and expensive. What says Addison in his Cato,' speaking of the Numidian ?
Coarse are his meals, the fortune of the chace;
Blesses his stars, and thinks it luxury.' Let us have that kind of luxury, Sir, if you will.” JOHNSON : “But hold, Sir; to be merely satisfied is not enough. It is in refinement and elegance that the civilised man differs from the savage. A great part of our industry and all our ingenuity is exercised in procuring pleasure ; and, Sir, a hungry man has not the same pleasure in eating a plain dinner that a hungry man has in eating a luxurious dinner. You see I put the case fairly A hungry man may have as much, nay, more pleasure in eating a plain dinner, than a man grown fastidious has in eating a luxurious dinner. But I suppose the man who decides between the two dinners to be equally a hungry man.”
Talking of different governments, -JOHNSON : “The more contracted power is, the more easily it is destroyed. A country governed by a
despot is an inverted cone. Government there cannot be so firm, as when it rests upon a broad basis gradually contracted, as the government of Great Britain, which is founded on the Parliament, then is in the privy-council, then in the king.” BOSWELL: “Power, when contracted into the person of the despot, may be easily destroyed, as the prince may be cut off. So Caligula wished that the people of Rome had but one neck, that he might cut them off at a blow.” OGLETHORPE : “It was of the Senate he wished that. The Senate, by its usurpation, controlled both the emperor and the people. And don't you think that we see too much of that in our own Parliament ?"
Dr. Johnson endeavoured to trace the etymology of Maccaronic verses, which he thought were of Italian invention from maccaroni ; but on being informed that this would infer that they were the most common and easy verses, maccaroni being the most ordinary and simple food, he was at a loss : for he said, “He rather should have supposed it to import, in its primitive signification, a composition of several things ;' for maccaronic verses are verses made out of a mixture of different languages; that is, of one language with the termination of another.” I suppose we scarcely know of a language in any country where there is any learning, in which that motley ludicrous species of composition may not be found. It is particularly droll in Low Dutch. The “Polemo-middinia” of Drummond of Hawthornden, in which there is a jumble of many languages moulded, as if it were all in Latin, is well known. Mr. Langton made us laugh heartily at one in the Grecian mould, by Joshua Barnes, in which are to be found such comical Anglo-hellenisms as KAÚBBOLO LV έβανχθες: “They were banged with clubs.”
On Wednesday, April 15, I dined with Dr. Johnson at Mr. Dilly's, and was in high spirits, for I had been a good part of the morning with Mr. Orme, the able and eloquent historian of Hindostan, who expressed a great admiration of Johnson. “I do not care,” said he, “on what subject Johnson talks: but I love better to hear him talk than anybody. He either gives you new thoughts or a new colouring. It is a shame to the nation that he has not been more liberally rewarded. Had I been George the Third, and thought as he did about America, I would have given Johnson three hundred a-year for his "Taxation no Tyranny' alone." I repeated this, and Johnson was much pleased with such praise from such a man as Orme.
At Mr. Dilly's to-day were Mrs. Knowles, the ingenious Quaker lady,' Miss Seward, the poetess of Lichfield, the Reverend Dr. Mayo, and the Rev. Mr. Beresford, tutor to the Duke of Bedford. Before dinner Dr. Johnson seized upon Mr. Charles Sheridan's “ Account of the late Revolution in Sweden,” and seemed to read it ravenously, as if he devoured it, which was to all appearance his method of studying. “He knows how to read better than any one," said Mrs. Knowles ; "he gets at the substance of a book directly ; he tears out the heart of it." He kept it wrapped up in the table-cloth in his lap during the time of dinner, from an avidity to have one entertainment in readiness, when he should have finished another; resembling (if I may use so coarse a simile) a dog who holds a bone in his paws in reserve, while he eats something else which has been thrown to him.
1 Dr. Johnson was right in supposing that this kind of poetry derived its name from flaccherone. “Ars ista poetica" (says Merlin Coccaio, whose true name was Theophilo Folengo) “ nuncupatur ARS MACARONICA, a macaronibus derivata; qui macarones sunt quoddam pulmentum, farina, caseo, butyro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum. Ideo MACARONICA nil nisi grossedinem, ruditatem, et VOCABULAZZOS debet in se continere.” (Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poet, ii. 357.) Folengo's true name was taken up in consequence of his having been instructed in his youth by Virago Coccaio. He died in 1514.--MALONE.
The subject of cookery having been very naturally introduced at a table where Johnson, who boasted of the niceness of his palate, owned that “he always found a good dinner,” he said, “I could write a better book of cookery than has ever yet been written ; it should be a book upon philosophical principles. Pharmacy is now made much more simple. Cookery may be made so too. A prescription, which is now compounded of five ingredients, had formerly fifty in it. So in cookery, if the nature of the ingredients be well known, much fewer will do. Then, as you cannot make bad meat good, I would tell what is the best butcher's meat, the best beef, the best pieces : how to choose young fowls ; the proper seasons of different vegetables ; and then how to roast and boil, and compound.” DILLY: “Mrs. Glasse's 'Cookery,' which is the best, was written by Dr. Hill. Half the trade know this." JOHNSON: “Well, Sir, this shows how much better the subject of cookery may be treated by a philosopher. I doubt if the book be written by Dr. Hill; for, in Mrs. Glasse’s ‘Cookery,' which I have looked into, saltpetre and sal-prunella are spoken of as different substances, whereas sal-prunella is only saltpetre burnt on charcoal; and Hill could not be ignorant of this. However, as the greatest part of such a book is made by transcription, this mistake may have been carelessly adopted. But you shall see what a book of cookery I shall make ? I shall agree with Mr. Dilly for the copyright.” Miss SEWARD: “That would be Hercules with the distaff indeed.” JOHNSON : “No, Madam. Women can spin very well ; but they cannot make a good book of cookery."
JOHNSON :“Oh! Mr. Dilly—you must know that an English Benedictine Monk at Paris has translated 'The Duke of Berwick's Memoirs,' from the original French, and has sent them to me to sell. I offered
1 Dr. Johnson, describing her needle-work in one of his letters to Mr. Thrale, uses the learned word sutile; which Mrs. Thrale has mistaken, and made the phrase injurious by writing “futile pictures."-BOSWELL.
2 The elder brother of R. B. Sheridan, Esq. He died in 1806.—MALONE.
3 As Physicians are called the Faculty, the Counsellors at Law the Profession, the Booksellers of London dencminated the Trade. Johnson disapproved of these denominations.-BOSWELL.
them to Strahan, who sent them back with this answer :-'That the first book he had published was the Duke of Berwick’s Life, by which he had lost: and he hated the name.'-Now I honestly tell you that Strahan has refused them ; but I also honestly tell you, that he did it upon no principle, for he never looked into them.” DILLY: “Are they well translated, Sir ?" JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, very well—in a style very current and very clear. I have written to the Benedictine to give me an answer upon two points :—What evidence is there that the letters are authentic ? (for if they are not authentic they are nothing) ;~And how long will it be before the original French is published ? For if the French edition is not to appear for a considerable time, the translation will be almost as valuable as an original book. They will make two volumes in octavo; and I have undertaken to correct every sheet as it comes from the press.” Mr. Dilly desired to see them, and said he would send for them. He asked Dr. Johnson if he would write a preface for them. JOHNSON : “No, Sir. The Benedictines were very kind to me, and I'll do what I undertook to do; but I will not mingle my name with them. I am to gain nothing by them. I'll turn them loose upon the world, and let them take their chance.” DR. MAYO : "Pray, Sir, are Ganganelli's letters authentic ?" JOHNSON : “No Sir. Voltaire put the same question to the editor of them that I did to Macpherson-Where are the originals ?"
Mrs. Knowles affected to complain that men had much more liberty allowed them than women. JOHNSON : “Why, Madam, women have all the liberty they should wish to have. We have all the labour and the danger, and the women all the advantage. We go to sea, we build houses, we do every thing, in short, to pay our court to the women.” MRS. KNOWLES : “The Doctor reasons very wittily, but not convincingly. Now, take the instance of building; the mason's wife, if she is ever seen in liquor, is ruined ; the mason may get himself drunk as often as he pleases, with little loss of character ; nay, may let his wife and children starve." JOHNSON: “Madam, you must consider, it the mason does get himself drunk, and let his wife and children starve, the parish will oblige him to find security for their maintenance. We have different modes of restraining evil. Stocks for the men, a duckingstool for women, and a pound for beasts. If we require more perfection. from women than from ourselves, it is doing them honour. And women have not the same temptations that we have ; they may always live in virtuous company; men must mix in the world indiscriminately. If a woman has no inclination to do what is wrong, being secured from it is no restraint to her. am at liberty to walk into the Thames ; but if I were to try it, my friends would restrain me in Bedlam, and I should be obliged to them.” Mrs. KNOWLES : “Still, Doctor, I cannot help thinking it a hardship that more indulgence is allowed to men than to women. It gives a superiority to men, to which I do not see how they
are entitled.” JOHNSON : “It is plain, Madam, one or other must have the superiority. As Shakspeare says, “If two men ride on a horse, one must ride behind."" DILLY: “I suppose, Sir, Mrs. Knowles would have them ride in panniers, one on each side.” JOHNSON: “Then, Sir, the horse would throw them both.” MRS. KNOWLES : “Well, I hope that in another world the sexes will be equal." BOSWELL: That is being too ambitious, Madam. We might as well desire to be equal with the angels. We shall all, I hope, be happy in a future state, but we must not expect to be all happy in the same degree. It is enough, if we be happy according to our several capacities. A worthy carman will get to heaven as well as Sir Isaac Newton. Yet, though equally good, they will not have the same degree of happiness.” JOHNSON: “Probably not.”
Upon this subject I had once before sounded him, by mentioning the iate Rev. Mr. Brown of Utrecht's image ; that a great and small glass, though equally full, did not hold an equal quantity; which he threw out to refute David Hume's saying, that a little Miss, going to dance at a ball, in a fine new dress, was as happy as a great orator, after having made an eloquent and applauded speech. After some thought, Johnson said, “I come over to the parson."
."2 As an instance of coincidence of thinking, Mr. Dilly told me, that Dr. King, a late dissenting minister in London, said to him, upon the happiness in a future state of good men of different capacities, “ A pail does not hold so much as a tub; but if it be equally full, it has no reason to complain. Every saint in heaven will have as much happiness as he can hold.” Mr. Dilly thought this a clear though a familiar illustration of the phrase, “One star differeth from another in brightness."
Dr. Mayo having asked Johnson's opinion of Soame Jenyns' “ View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion;"-JOHNSON: “I think it a pretty book; not very theological indeed ; and there seems to be an affectation of ease and carelessness, as if it were not suitable to his character to be very serious about the matter.” BOSWELL: “He may have intended this to introduce his book the better among genteel people, who might be unwilling to read too grave a treatise. There is a general levity in the age. We have physicians now with bag-wigs , may we not have airy divines, at least somewhat less solemn in their appearance than they used to be?” JOHNSON: “Jenyns might mean as you say.” BOSWELL: “You should like his book, Mrs. Knowles, as it maintains, as your friends do, that courage is not a Christian virtue.” MRS. KNOWLES : “Yes, indeed, I like him there ; but I cannot agree with him, that friendship is not a Christian virtue.” JOHNSON: “Why, Madam, strictly speaking, he is right. All friendship is preferring the
See on this question Bishop Hall's Epistles, Dec. iii. Epist. 6, “Of the different degrees of heavenly glory, and of our mutual knowledge of each other above.”—MALONE.
3 See vol. ii. p. 13, where also this subject is discussed.-MALONE.