« PreviousContinue »
such a collection must find the same passages; but, if vou find the same applications in another book, then Addison's learning in his ' Remarks' tumbles down. It is a tedious book; and, if it were not attached to Addison's previous reputation, one would not think much of it. Had he written nothing else, his name would not have lived. Addison does not seem to have gone deep in Italian literature: he shows nothing of it in his subsequent writings. He shows a great deal of French learning. There is, perhaps, more knowledge circulated in the French language than in any other. There is more original knowledge in English." '• But the French," said I, " have the art of accommodating literature." Johnson. "Yes, Sir; we have no such book as Moreri's 'Dictionary.'" Boswell. "Their 'Ana' are good." Johnson. "A few of them are good; but we have one book of that kind better than any of them, Selden's 'Table-talk.' As to original literature, the French have a couple of tragic poets who go round the world, Racine and Corneille, and one comic poet, Moliere." Boswell. "They have Fenelon." Johnson. "Why, Sir, Telemachus is pretty well." Boswell. "And Voltaire, Sir." Johnson. "He has not stood his trial yet. And what makes Voltaire chiefly circulate is collection, such as his 'Universal History.'" Boswell. "What do you say to the Bishop of Meaux r" Johnson. "Sir, nobody reads him."' He would not allow Massillon and Bourdaloue to go round the world. In general, however, he gave the French much praise for their industry.
He asked me whether he had mentioned, in any of the papers of the " Rambler," the description in Virgil2 of the entrance into Hell, with an application to the press; "for," said he, " I do not much remember them." I told him, "No." Upon which he repeated it:—
"Vestibulum ante ipsum, primisqne in faucibus Orel,
1 I take leave to enter my strongest protest against this judgment. Bossuet I hold to be one of the first luminaries of religion and literature. If there arc who do not read him, it is full time they should begin.
2 Mn., vi., p. -273-27'.
Et Metro, ct malesuada Fames, et turpis Egestns,
"Now," said he, "almost all these apply exactly to an author; all these are the concomitants of a printing-house." I proposed to him to dictate an essay on it, and offered to write it. He said he would not do it then, but perhaps would write one at some future period.
The Sunday evening that we sat by ourselves at Aberdeen, I asked him several particulars of his life, from his early years, which he readily told me; and I wrote them down before him. This day I proceeded in my inquiries, also writing them in his presence. I have them on detached sheets. I shall collect authentic materials for The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., and, if I survive him, I shall be one who will most faithfully do honour to his memory. I have now a vast treasure of his conversation, at different times, since the year 1762, when I first obtained his acquaintance; and, by assiduous inquiry. I can make up for not knowing him sooner.2
A Newcastle ship-master, who happened to be in the house, intruded himself upon us. He was much in liquor, and talked nonsense about his being a man for Wilkes and Liberty, and against the ministry. Dr. Johnson was angry, that "a fellow should come into our company, who was fit for no company." He left us soon.
Col returned from his aunt, and told us, she insisted that we should come to her house that night. He introduced to us Mr. Campbell, the Duke of Argyle's factor in Tyr-yi. He was a genteel, agreeable man. He was going to Inverary, and promised to put letters into the post-office for us. I now found that Dr. Johnson's desire to get on the main land arose from his anxiety to have an opportunity of conveying letters to his friends.
1 Just in the pate, ami in the jaws of Hell,
* It is no small satisfaction to me to reflect, that Dr. Johnson read this, and after being apprised of my intentions, communicated to me, at subsequent periods, many particulars of his life, which probably could not otherwise have been preserved.
After dinner, we proceeded to Dr. M'Lean's which was about a mile from our inn. He was not at home, but we were received by his lady and daughter, who entertained us so well, that Dr. Johnson seemed quite happy. When we had supped, he asked me to give him some paper to write letters. I begged he would write short ones, and not expatiate, as we ought to set off early. He was irritated by this, and said, "What must be done, must be done: the thing is past a joke."—" Nay, Sir," said I, "write as much as you please; but do not blame me, if we are kept six days before we get to the main land. You were very impatient in the morning: but no sooner do you find yourself in good quarters, than you forget that you are to move." I got him paper enough, and we parted in good humour.
Let me now recollect whatever particulars I have omitted. In the morning I said to him, before we landed at Tobermorie, " We shall see Dr. M'Lean, who has written the History of the M'Leans." Johnson. "I have no great patience to stay to hear the history of the M'Leans. I would rather hear the history of the Thrales." When on Mull, I said, " Well, Sir, this is the fourth of the Hebrides that we have been upon." Johnson. "Nay, we cannot boast of the number we have seen. We thought we should see many more. We thought of sailing about easily from island to island; and so we should, had we come at a better l season; but we, being wise men, thought it would be summer all the year where we were. However, Sir, we have seen enough to give us a pretty good notion of the system of insular life."
Let me not forget, that he sometimes amused himself with very slight reading; from which, however, his conversation showed that he contrived to extract some benefit. At Captain M'Lean's he read a good deal in " The Charmer," a collection of songs.
Friday, Oct. 15.—We this morning found that we could
1 This observation is very just. The time for the Hebrides was too late by a month or six weeks. I have heard those who remembered their tour express surprise they were not drowned. — Waller Scott.
not proceed, there being a violent storm of wind and rain, and the rivers being impassable. When I expressed my discontent at our confinement, Dr. Johnson said, "Now that I have had an opportunity of writing to the main land, I am in no such haste." I was amused with his being so easily satisfied; for the truth was, that the gentleman who was to convey our letters, as I was now informed, was not to set out for Inverary for some time; so that it was probable we should be there as soon as he: however, I did not undeceive my friend, but suffered him to enjoy his fancy.
Dr. Johnson asked in the evening, to see Dr. M'Lean's books. He took down " Willis de Anima Brutorum,"' and pored over it a good deal.
Miss M'Lean produced some Erse poems by John M'Lean, who was a famous bard in Mull, and had died only a few years ago. He could neither read nor write. She read and translated two of them; one, a kind of elegy on Sir John M'Lean's being obliged to fly his country in 1715; another, a dialogue between two Roman Catholic young ladies, sisters, whether it was better to be a nun or to marry. I could not perceive much poetical imagery in the translation. Yet all of our company who understood Erse seemed charmed with the original. There may, perhaps, be some choice of expression, and some excellence of arrangement, that cannot be shown in translation.
After we had exhausted the Erse poems, of which Dr. Johnson said nothing, Miss M'Leau gave us several tunes on a spinnet, which, though made so long ago as in 1667, was still very well toned. She sung along with it. Dr. Johnson seemed pleased with the music, though he owns he neither likes it, nor has hardly any perception of it. At Mr. M'Pherson's, in Slate, he told us, that " he knew a drum from a trumpet, and a bagpipe from a guitar, which was about the extent of his knowledge of music." To-night he said, that, "if he had learnt music, he should have been afraid he would have done nothing else but play. It was
1 Dr. Thomas Willis, an eminent physician, born 1622, died 1674. Lowndes mentions a translation of De Anima Brutcrnm, Exercitationes dime. Uxon., 1672. Two discourses concerning the soul of brutes, translated by D. Pordage. London, 1691.—Editor.
a method of employing the mind, without the labour of thinking at all, and with some applause from a man's self."
We had the music of the bagpipe every day, at Armidale, Dunvegan, and Col. Dr. Johnson appeared fond of it, and used often to stand for some time with his ear close to the great drone.
The penurious gentleman of our acquaintance,1 formerlv alluded to, afforded us a topic of conversation to-night. Dr. Johnson said, I ought to write down a collection of the instances of his narrowness, as they almost exceeded belief. GW.told us, that O'Kane, the famous Irish harper, was once at that gentleman's house. He could not find in his heart to give him any money, but gave him a key for a harp, which was finely ornamented with gold and silver, and with a precious stone, and was worth eighty or a hundred guineas. He did not know the value of it; and when he came to know it, he would fain have had it back; but O'Kane took care that he should not. Johnson. "They exaggerate the value; every body is so desirous that he should be fleeced. I am very willing it should be worth eighty or a hundred guineas; but I do not believe it." Boswell. "I do not think O'Kane was obliged to give it back." Johnson. "No, Sir. If a man with his eyes open, and without any means used to deceive him, gives me a thing, I am not to let him have it again when he grows wiser. I like to see how avarice defeats itself: how, when avoiding to part with money, the miser gives something more valuable." Col said, the gentleman's relations were angry at his giving away the harp key, for it had been long in the family. Johnson. "Sir, he values a new guinea more than an old friend."
Col also told us, that the same person having come up with a sergeant and twenty men, working on the high road, he entered into discourse with the sergeant, and then gave him sixpence for the men to drink. The sergeant asked, "Who is this fellow?" Upon being informed, he said, "If I had known who he was, I should have thrown it in his face." Johnson. "There is much want of sense in all
1 Sir Alexander Macdonald.— Croker.