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interest of a friend, to the neglect, or, perhaps, against the interest of others; so that an old Greek said, 'He that has friends has no friend. I. Now Christianity recommends universal benevolence,-to consider all men as our brethren; which is contrary to the virtue of friendship, as described by the ancient philosophers. Surely, Madam, your sect must approve of this ; for you call all men friends.” MRS. KNOWLES : “We are commanded to do good to all men, “but especially to them who are of the household of Faith."" JOHNSON: “Well, Madam, the household of Faith is wide enough.” Mrs. KNOWLES : “But, Doctor, our Saviour had twelve Apostles, yet there was one whom he loved. John was called 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'” JOHNSON (with eyes sparkling benignantly): “Very well, indeed, Madam. You have said very well.” BOSWELL: “A fine application. Pray, Sir, had you ever thought of it?" JOHNSON : “I had not, Sir.”
From this pleasing subject, he, I know not how or why, made a sudden transition to one upon which he was a violent aggressor ; for he said, “I am willing to love all mankind, except an American;" and his inflammable corruption bursting into horrid fire, he, breathed out threatenings and slaughter;" calling them, “ Rascals --robberspirates;" and exclaiming, he'd“ burn and destroy them.” Miss Seward, looking to him with mild but steady astonishment, said, “Sir, this is an instance that we are always most violent against those whom we have injured." —He was irritated still more by this delicate and keen reproach ; and roared out another tremendous volley, which one might fancy could be heard across the Atlantic. During this tempest I sat in great uneasiness, lamenting his heat of temper; till, by degrees, I diverted his attention to other topics.
DR. MAYO (to Dr. Johnson): “Pray, Sir, have you read Edwards, of New England, on Grace ?" JOHNSON: “No, Sir.” BOSWELL: “It puzzled me so much as to the freedom of the human will, by stating, with wonderful acute ingenuity, our being actuated by a series of motives which we cannot resist, that the only relief I had was to forget it.” Mayo: “But he makes the proper distinction between moral and physical necessity.” BOSWELL: “ Alas, Sir, they come both to the same thing. You may be bound as hard by chains when covered by leather as when the iron appears. The argument for the moral necessity of human actions is always, I observe, fortified by supposing universal prescience to be one of the attributes of the Deity.” JOHNSON : “You are surer that you are free, than you are of prescience; you are surer that you can lift up your finger or not as you please, than you are of any conclusion from a deduction of reasoning. But let us consider a little the objection from prescience. It is certain I am either to go
home to-night or not; that does not prevent my freedom.” BOSWELL: “That it is certain you are either to go home or not, does not prevent your freedom : because the liberty of choice between the two is compatible
with that certainty. But if one of these events be certain now, you have no future power of volition. If it be certain you are to go home to-night, you must go home.” JOHNSON : “If I am well acquainted with a man, I can judge with great probability how he will act in any case, without his being restrained by my judging. God may have this probability increased to certainty.” BOSWELL: “When it is increased to certainty, freedom ceases, because that cannot be certainly foreknown, which is not certain at the time; but if it be certain at the time, it is a contradiction in terms to maintain that there can be afterwards any contingency dependant upon the exercise of will or anything else.” JOHNSON : “All theory is against the freedom of the will: all experience for it.”—I did not push the subject any farther. I was glad to find him so mild in discussing a question of the most abstract nature, involved with theological tenets, which he generally would not suffer to be in any degree opposed.
He, as usual, defended luxury: “You cannot spend money in luxury without doing good to the poor. Nay, you do more good to them by spending it in luxury—you make them exert industry; whereas, by giving it, you keep them idle. I own, indeed, there may be more virtue in giving it immediately in charity, than in spending it in luxury ; though there may be pride in that too.” Miss Seward asked, if this was not Mandeville's doctrine of "private vices public benefits.” JOHNSON : “The fallacy of that book is, that Mandeville defines neither vices nor benefits. He reckons among vices everything that gives pleasure. He takes the narrowest system of morality, monastic morality, which holds pleasure itself to be a vice, such as eating salt with our fish, because it makes it eat better; and he reckons wealth as a public benefit, which is by no means always true. P are of itself is not a vice. Having a garden, which we all know to be perfectly innocent, is a great pleasure. At the same time, in this state of being there are many pleasures vices, which, however, are so immediately agreeable that we can hardly abstain from them. The happiness of heaven will be, that pleasure and virtue will be perfectly consistent. Mandeville puts the case of a man who gets drunk at an ale-house; and says it is a public benefit, because so much money is got by it to the public. But
it must be considered, that all the good gained by this, through the | gradation of alehouse-keeper, brewer, maltster, and farmer, is over
balanced by the evil caused to the man and his family by his getting drunk. This is the way to try what is vicious, by ascertaining whether
1 If any of my readers are disturbed by this thorny question, I beg leave to recommend to them Letter 69, of Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes; and the late Mr. John Palmer of Islington's Answer to Dr. Priestley's mechanical arguments for what he absurdly calls Philosophical necessity.”—BOSWELL.
2 Bernard Mandeville was a Dutch physician, born at Dort, about 1670; but he eventually settled in London, and published a variety of works, the principal of which is " The Fable of the Rees, or Private Vices made Public Benefits." He died in 1733.-ED.
more evil than good is produced by it upon the whole, which is the case in all vice. It may happen that good is produced by vice, but not as vice; for instance, a robber may take money from its owner, and give it to one who will make a better use of it. Here is good produced ; but not by the robbery as robbery, but as translation of property. I read Mandeville forty, or, I believe, fifty years ago. He did not puzzle me; he opened my views into real life very much. No; it is clear that the happiness of society depends on virtue. In Sparta, theft was allowed by general consent: theft, therefore, was there not a crime, but then there was no security ; and what a life must they have had, when there was no security. Without truth there must be a dissolution of society. As it is, there is so little truth, that we are almost afraid to trust our ears; but how should we be, if falsehood were multiplied ten times ! Society is held together by communication and information ; and I remember this remark of Sir Thomas Brown's, 'Do the devils lie ? No; for then hell could not subsist.''
Talking of Miss Hannah More, a literary lady, he said, “I was obliged to speak to Miss Reynolds, to let her know that I desired she would not flatter me so much.” Somebody now observed, “She flatters Garrick.” JOHNSON : "She is in the right to flatter Garrick. She is in the right for two reasons ; first, because she has the world with her, who have been praising Garrick these thirty years ; and secondly, because she is rewarded for it by Garrick. Why should she flatter me? I can do nothing for her. Let her carry her praise to a better market. (Then turning to Mrs. Knowles) : You, Madam, have been flattering me all the evening ; I wish you would give Boswell a little now. If you knew his merit as well as I do, you would say a great deal ; he is the best travelling companion in the world.” Somebody mentioned
the Rev. Mr. Mason's prosecution of Mr. Murray, the bookseller, for having inserted in a collection of“ Gray's Poems,” only, fifty lines, of which Mr. Mason had still the exclusive property, under the statute of Queen Anne; and that Mr. Mason had persevered, notwithstanding his being requested to name his own terms of compensation. Johnson signified his displeasure at Mr. Mason's conduct very strongly; but added, by way of showing that he was not surprised at it, “Mason 's a Whig.” Mrs. KNOWLES (not hearing distinctly) : “What ! a prig, Sir ? “JOHNSON: “Worse, Madam ; a Whig! But he is both.”
I expressed a horror at the thought of death. MRS. KNOWLES : “ Nay, thou shouldst not have a horror for what is the gate of life.” JOHNSON (standing upon the hearth rolling about, with a serious, solemn, and somewhat gloomy air): “No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension." MRS. KNOWLES: “The Scriptures tell us, “The righteous shall have hope in his death.'” JOHNSON: “Yes, Madam; that is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised that the mediation of our SAVIOUR shall be applied to us, — namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his obedience has been such as he would approve of in another, or even in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation.” Mrs. KNOWLES : “But divine intimation of acceptance may be made to the soul.” JOHNSON : “Madam, it may ; but I should not think the better of a man who should tell me, on his death-bed, he was sure of salvation. A man cannot be sure himself that he has divine intimation of acceptance ; much less can he make others sure that he has it.” BOSWELL: “Then, Sir, we must be contented to acknowledge that death is a terrible thing." JOHNSON : “Yes, Sir. I have made no approaches to a state which can look on it as not terrible.” MRS. KNOWLES (seeming to enjoy a pleasing serenity in the persuasion of benignant divine light): “Does not St. Paul say, 'I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished my course ; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life ?!" JOHNSON : “Yes, Madam; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been converted by supernatural interposition." BOSWELL: “In prospect death is dreadful ; but in fact we find that people die easy." JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, most people have not thought much of the matter, so cannot say much, and it is supposed they die easy. Few believe it certain they are then to die; and those who do, set themselves to behave with resolution, as a man does who is going to be hanged :-he is not the less unwilling to be hanged.” Miss SEWARD: “There is one mode of the fear of death, which is certainly absurd : and that is the dread of annihilation, which is only a pleasing sleep without a dream.” JOHNSON : “It is neither pleasing nor sleep; it is nothing. Now mere existence is so much better than nothing, that one would rather exist even in pain, than not exist.” BOSWELL: “If annihilation be nothing, then existing in pain is not a comparative state, but is a positive evil, which I cannot think we should choose. I must be allowed to differ here; and it would lessen the hope of a future state founded on the argument, that the Supreme Being, who is good as he is great, will hereafter compensate for our present sufferings in this life. For if existence, such as we have it here, be comparatively a good, we have no reason to complain, though no more of it should be given to us. But if our only state of existence were in this world, then we might with some reason complain that we are so dissatisfied with our enjoyments compared with our desires." JOHNSON: “The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horror of annihilation consists."
1 See “A Letter to W. Mason, A.M., from J. Murray, bookseller, in London;" 20. edit. p. 20.--BOSWELL
Of John Wesley, he said, “He can talk well on any subject.” BOSWELL: “Pray, Sir, what has he made of his story of the ghost ? " JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, he believes it; but not on sufficient authority. He did not take time enough to examine the girl. It was at Newcastle, where the ghost was said to have appeared to a young woman several times, mentioning something about the right to an old house, advising application to be made to an attorney, which was done ; and, at the same time, saying the attorney would do nothing, which proved to be the fact. 'This,' says John, 'is a proof that a ghost knows our thoughts.' Now (laughing) it is not necessary to know our thoughts, to tell that an attorney will sometimes do nothing. Charles Wesley, who is a more stationary man, does not believe the story. I am sorry that John did not take more pains to inquire into the evidence for it.” Miss SEWARD (with an incredulous smile) : “What, Sir, about a ghost ?” JOHNSON (with solemn vehemence) : “Yes, Madam ; this is a question which, after five thousand years, is yet undecided : a question, whether in theology or philosophy, one of the most important that can come before the human understanding.” Mrs. Knowles mentioned, as a proselyte to Quakerism, Miss [
z]a young lady well known to Dr. Johnson, for whom he had shown much affection ; while she ever had, and still retained, a great respect for him. Mrs. Knowles at the same time took an opportunity of letting him know that the amiable young creature was sorry at finding that he was offended at her leaving the Church of England and embracing a simpler faith ;” and, in the gentlest and most persuasive manner, solicited his kind indulgence for what was sincerely a matter of conscience. JOHNSON (frowning very angrily): “Madam, she is an odious wench. She could not have any proper conviction that it was her duty to change her religion, which is the most important of all subjects, and should be studied with all care, and with all the helps we can get. She knew no more of the Church which she left, and that which she embraced, than she did of the difference between the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems.” Mrs. KNOWLES : "She had the New Testament before her.” JOHNSON : “Madam, she could not understand the New Testament, the most difficult book in the world, for which the study of a life is required.” Mrs. KNOWLES : "It is clear as to essentials." JOHNSON: “But not as to controversial points. The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up; but we ought not, without very strong conviction indeed, to desert the religion in which we have been educated. That is the religion given you, the religion in which it may be said Providence has placed you. If you live conscientiously in that religion, you may be safe. But error is dangerous indeed, if you err when you choose a religion for yourself.”