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a competent and increasing fortune? And had he not also a perpetual feast of fame? But as a learned friend has observed to me, "What trials did he undergo, to prove the perfection of his virtue? Did he ever experience any great instance of adversity?" When I read this sentence, delivered by my old professor of moral philosophy, I could not help exclaiming with the Psalmist, "Surely I have now more understanding than my teachers!"
While we were talking, there came a note to me from Dr. William Robertson.
"I have been expecting every day to hear from you of Dr. Johnson's arrival. Pray, what do you know about his motions? I long to take him by the hand. I write this from the college, where I have only this scrap of paper. Ever yours,
"W. R. "Sunday."
It pleased me to find Dr. Robertson thus eager to meet Dr. Johnson. I was glad I could answer that he was come; and I begged Dr. Robertson might be with us as soon as he could.
Sir William Forbes, Mr. Scott, Mr. Arbuthnot, and another gentleman dined with us. "Come, Dr. Johnson," said I, "it is commonly thought that our veal in Scotland is not good. But here is some which I believe you will like." There was no catching him. Johnson. "Why, Sir, what is commonly thought, I should take to be true. Your veal may be good; but that will only be an exception to the general opinion, not a proof against it."
Dr. Robertson, according to the custom of Edinburgh at that time, dined in the interval between the forenoon and afternoon service, which was then later than now; so we had not the pleasure of his company till dinner was over, when he caine and drank wine with us; and then began some animated dialogue, of which heie follows a pretty full note.
We talked of Mr. Burke. Dr. Johnson said, he had great variety of knowledge, store of imagery, copiousness of language. Robertson. "He has wit too." Johnson. "No, Sir; he never succeeds there. 'Tis low; 'tis conceit. I used to say, Burke never once made a good joke.1 What I most envy Burke for is, his being constantly the same.
1 This was one of the points upon which Dr. Johnson was strangely heterodox. For surely Mr. Burke, with his other remarkable qualities, is also distinguished for his wit, and for wit of nil kinds too; not merely that power of language which Pope chooses to denominate wit :—
"True wit is Nature to advantage dress'd;
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;"
but surprising allusions, brilliant sallies of vivacity, and pleasant conceits. His speeches in parliament are strewed with them. Take, for instance, the variety which he has given in his wide range, yet exact detail, when exhibiting his Reform Bill. And his conversation abounds in wit. Let me put down a specimen. I told him I had seen, at a bluestocking assembly, a number of ladies sitting round a worthy and tall friend of ours [Mr. Langton], listening to his literature. "Ay," said he, "like maids round a May-pole." I told him, I had found out a perfect definition of human nature, as distinguished from the animal. An ancient philosopher said, man was "a two-legged animal without feathers;" upon which his rival sage had a cock plucked bare, and set him down in the school before all the disciples, as a " philosophic man." Dr. Franklin said, man was "a tool-making animal," which is very well; for no animal but man makes a thing by means of which he can make another thing. But this applies to very few of the species. My definition of man is, "a cooking animal." The beasts have memory, judgment, and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook. The trick of the monkey using the cat's paw to roast a chestnut is only a piece of shrewd malice in that turpissima bestia, which humbles us so sadly by its similarity to us. Man alone can dress a good dish; and every man whatever is more or less a cook, in seasoning what he himself eats. "Your definition is good," said Mr. Burke, "and I now see the full force of the common proverb,'There is reason in roasting of eggs.'" When Mr. Wilkes, in his days of tumultuous opposition, was borne upon the shoulders of the mob, Sir. Burke (as Mr. Wilkes told me himself, with classical admiration) applied to him what Horace (Cur. iv. 2,11) says of Pindar,—
. mimerisque fertur
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who agrees with me entirely as to Mr. Burke's fertility of wit, said, that this was "dignifying a pun." He also observed, that he has often heard Burke say, in the course of an evening, ten good things, each of which would have served a noted wit (whom he named) to live upon for a twelvemonth.
[I find, since the former edition, that some persons have objected to the instances which I have given of Mr. Burke's wit, as not doing
He is never what we call hum-drum; never unwilling to begin to talk, nor in haste to leave off." Boswell. "Yet he can listen." Johnson. "No; I cannot say he is good at that. So desirous is he to talk, that if one is speaking at this end of the table, he'll speak to somebody at the other end. Burke, Sir, is such a man, that if you met him for the first time in the street, where you were stopped by a drove of oxen, and you and he stepped aside to take shelter but for five minutes, he'd talk to you in such a manner, that, when you parted, you would say, This is an extraordinary man. Now, you may be long enough with me, without finding anything extraordinary." He said, he believed Burke was intended for the law; but either had not money enough to follow it, or had not diligence enough. He said, he could not understand how a man could apply
justice to my very ingenious friend; the specimens produced having, it is alleged, more of conceit than real wit, and being merely sportive sallies of the moment, not justifying the encominm which they think, with me, he undoubtedly merits. I was well aware, how hazardous it was to exhibit particular instances of wit, which is of so airy and spiritual a nature as often to elude the hand that attempts to grasp it. The excellence and efficacy of a ban mot depend frequently so much on the occasion on which it is spoken, on the particular manner of the speaker, on the person to whom it is applied, the previous introduction, and a thousand minute particulars which cannot be easily enumerated, that it is always dangerous to detach a witty savin? from the group towhich it belongs, and to.set it before the eye of the spectator, divested of those concomitant circumstances, which gave it animation, mellowness, and relief. I ventured, however, at all hazards, to put down the first instances that occurred to me, as proofs of Mr. Burke's lively and brilliant fancy; but am very sensible that his numerous friends could' have suggested many of a superior quality. Indeed, the being in company with him, for a single day, is sufficient to show that what I have asserted is well founded; and it was only necessary to have appealed to all who know him intimately, for a complete refutation of the heterodox opinion entertained by Dr. Johnson on this subject. He allowed Mr. Burke, as the reader will find hereafter, to be a man of consummate and unrivalled abilities in every light except that now under consideration; and the variety of his allusions, and splendour of his imagery, have made such an impression on (dl the rest of the world, that superficial observers are apt to overlook his other merits, and to suppose that wit is his chief and most prominent excellence; when in fact it is only one of the many talents that he possesses, which are so various and extraordinary, that it is very difficult to ascertain precisely the rank and value of each. —Malone.]
As to this note see Life, vol. in., p. 324.—Editor.
to one thing and not to another. Robertson said, one man had more judgment, another more imagination. Johnson. "No, Sir; it is only, one man has more mind than another. He may direct it differently; he may, by accident, see the success of one kind of study, and take a desire to excel in it. I am persuaded that had Sir Isaac Newton applied to poetry, he would have made a very fine epic poem. I could as easily apply to law as to tragic poetry."' Boswell. "Yet, Sir, you did apply to tragic poetry, not to law." JohnSon. "Because, Sir, I had not money to study law. Sir, the man who has vigour may walk to the east, just as well as to the west, if he happens to turn his head that way." Boswell. "But, Sir, 'tis like walking up and down a hill; one man may naturally do the one better than the other. A hare will run up a hill best, from her fore-legs being short; a dog down." Johnson. "Nay, Sir; that is from mechanical powers. If you make mind mechanical, you may argue in that manner. One mind is a vice, and holds fast; there's a good memory. Another is a file; and he is a disputant, a controversialist. Another is a razor; and he is sarcastical." We talked of Whitfield. He said he was at the same college with him, and knew him before he began to be better than other people (smiling); that he believed he sincerely meant well, but had a mixture of politics and ostentation: whereas Wesley thought of religion only.8 Robertson said, Whitfield had strong natural eloquence, which, if cultivated would have done great things. Johnson. "Why, Sir, I take it he was at the height of what his abilities could do, and was sensible of it. He had the ordinary advantages of education; but he chose to pursue that oratory which is for the mob." Boswell. "He had great effect on the passions." JohnSon. "Why, Sir, I don't think so. He could not represent a succession of pathetic images. He vociferated, and made an impression. There, again, was a mind like a hammer." Dr. Johnson now said, a certain eminent political friend of ours was wrong in his maxim of sticking to a certain set of men on all occasions. "I can see that a man may do right to stick to a party," said he, "that is to say, he is a Whig, or he is a Tory, and he thinks one of those parties upon the whole the best, and that to make it prevail, it must be generally supported, though, in particulars, it may be wrong. He takes its faggot of principles, in which there are fewer rotten sticks than in the other, though some rotten sticks to be sure; and they cannot well be separated. But, to bind one's self to one man, or one set of men (who may be right to-day, and wrong to-morrow), without any general preference of system, I must disapprove." l
1 How much a man deceives himself! Of all Johnson's literary -efforts, his tragic poetry was the least successful.—Croker.
Dryden says, "The same parts and the same application which have made me a poet, might have raised me to any honours of the gown. which are often given to men of as little learning and less honesty than myself." Ded. of the Third Miscellany .—P. Cunningham.
2 That cannot be said now, after the flagrant part which Mr. John Wesley took against our American brethren, when, in his own name, he threw amongst his enthusiastic flock the very individual combustibles of Dr. Johnson's Taxation no Tyranny; and after the intolerant spirit which he mainfested against our fellow Christians of the Roman Catholic communion, for which that able champion, Father O'Leary, has given him so hearty a drubbing. Hut I should think myself very unworthy, if I did not at the same time acknowledge Mr. John Wesley's merit, as a veteran " soldier of Jesus Christ," who has, I do believe, turned many from darkness into light, and from the power of Satan to the living God.
1 If due attention were paid to this observation, there would be more virtue even in politics. What Dr. Johnson justly condemned has, I am sorry to say, greatly increased in the present reign. At the distance of four years from this conversation, 21st February, 1777, my Lord Archbishop of York, in his " Sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," thus indignantly describes the then state of parties :—"Parties once had a principle belonging to them, absurd, perhaps, and indefensible, but still carrying a notion of duty, by which honest minds might easily be caught.
"But they are now combinations of individuals, who, instead of being the sons and servants of the community, make a league for advancing their private interests. It is their business to hold high the notion of political honour. I believe and trust, it is not injurious to say, that such a bond is no better than that by which the lowest and wickedest combinations are held together; and that it denotes the last stage of political depravity."
To find a thought, which just showed itself to us from the mind of Johnson, thus appearing again at such a distance of time, and without any communication between them, enlarged to full growth in the mind of JIarkham, is a curious object of philosophical contemplation. That two such great and luminous minds should have been so dark in one corner; that they should have held it to be "wicked rebellion" in the British subjects established m America, to resist the abject condition of holding all their property at the mercy of British subjects remaining at.