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such books, by having his attention directed to the arrangement, to the style, and other excellencies of composition; that the mind, being thus engaged by an amusing variety of objects, may not grow weary."
He communicated to me the following particulars upon the subject of his religious progress. “I fell into an inattention to religion, or an indifference about it, in my ninth year. The church at Lichfield, in which we had a seat, wanted reparation, so I was to go and find a seat in other churches; and having bad eyes, and being awkward about this, I used to go and read in the fields on Sunday. This habit continued till my fourteenth year; and still I find a great reluctance to go to church. I then became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not much think against it; and this lasted till I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call to a Holy Life, expecting to find it a dull book, as such books generally are, and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiryo.” From this
• Mrs. Piozzi has given a strange fantastical account of the original of Dr. Johnson's belief in our most holy religion. “At the age of ten years his mind was disturbed by scruples of infidelity, which preyed upon his spirits, and made him very uneasy; the more so, as he revealed his uneasiness to none, being naturally, as he said, of a sullen temper, and reserved disposition. He searched, however, diligently, but fruitlessly, for evidences of the truth of revelation and, at length, recollecting a book he had once seen (I suppose at five years old] in his father's shop, entitled De Veritate Religionis, etc. he began to think himself highly culpable for neglecting such a means of information, and took himself severely to task for this sin, adding many acts of voluntary, and, to others, unknown penance. The first opportunity which offered, of course, he seized the book with avidity; but, on examination, not finding himself scholar enough to peruse its contents, set his heart at rest; and not thinking to inquire whether there were any English books written on the subject, followed his usual amusements and considered his conscience as lightened of a crime. He redoubled his diligence to learn the language that contained the information he most wished; but from the pain which guilt (namely, having omitted to read what he did not understand] had given him, he now began to deduce the soul's immortality; [a sensation pain in this world being an unquestionable proof of existence in another;] which was the point that belief first stopped at; and from that moment
time forward, religion was the predominant object of his thoughts; though, with the just sentiments of a conscientious christian, he lamented that his practice of its duties fell far short of what it ought to be.
This instance of a mind such as that of Johnson being first disposed, by an unexpected incident, to think with anxiety of the momentous concerns of eternity, and of “ what he should do to be saved,” may for ever be produced in opposition to the superficial and sometimes profane contempt that has been thrown upon those occasional impressions which it is certain many christians have experienced; though it must be acknowledged that weak minds, from an erroneous supposition that no man is in a state of grace who has not felt a particular conversion, have, in some cases, brought a degree of ridicule upon them; a ridicule, of which it is inconsiderate or unfair to make a general application.
How seriously Johnson was impressed with a sense of religion, even in the vigour of his youth, appears from the following passage in his minutes kept by way of diary:
resolving to be a christian, became one of the most zealous and pious ones our nation ever produced.” Anecdotes, p. 17.
This is one of the numerous misrepresentations of this lively lady, which it is worth while to correct; for if credit should be given to such a childish, irrational, and ridiculous statement of the foundation of Dr. Johnson's faith in christianity, how little credit would be due to it. Mrs. Piozzi seems to wish, that the world should think Dr. Johnson also under the influence of that easy logick, 'Stet pro ratione voluntas.'-Boswell.
At a later period of his life, in 1755, Johnson exhibited his admiration of the pious Law's writings by addressing the following earnest questions to his esteemed friend Miss Hill Boothby. “ Have you read Mr. Law? not cursorily, but with attention? I wish you would consider him: His appeal to all that doubt, etc. I think the most clear of all his later writings; and in recommending it to you, I shall say no more or less than what you will see he says in his Advertisement to the Reader.” In a letter addressed to the above excellent lady, some few days before her death, in 1756, he again says, “I have returned your Law: which, however, I earnestly entreat you to give me.” It must be confessed, however, that Law's almost mystick effusions imparted some tinge of their own dreary and darkened gloom to the piety of Johnson, who himself allowed that Law“ fell latterly into the reveries of Jacob Behmen.” See these memoirs under the year 1770.-Ed.
Sept. 7, 1736. I have this day entered upon my 28th year. Mayest thou, O God, enable me, for Jesus Christ's sake, to spend this in such a manner, that I may receive comfort from it at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment! Amen."
The particular course of his reading while at Oxford, and during the time of vacation which he passed at home, cannot be traced. Enough has been said of his irregular mode of study. He told me, that from his earliest years he loved to read poetry, but hardly ever read any poem to an end ; that he read Shakspeare at a period so early, that the speech of the ghost in Hamlet terrified him when he was alone; that Horace's odes were the compositions in which he took most delight, and it was long before he liked his epistles and satires. He told me what he read solidly at Oxford was Greek; not the Grecian historians, but Homer and Euripides, and now and then a little epigram; that the study of which he was most fond was metaphysicks, but he had not read much, even in that way. always thought that he did himself injustice in his account of what he had read, and that he must have been speaking with reference to the vast portion of study which is possible, and to which a few scholars in the whole history of literature have attained ; for when I once asked him whether a person whose name I have now forgotten, studied hard, he answered “ No, sir.
No, sir. I do not believe he studied hard. I never knew a man who studied hard. I conclude, indeed, from the effects, that some men have studied hard, as Bentley and Clarke." Trying him by that criterion upon which he formed his judgment of others, we may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject, once observed to me, that Johnson knew more books than any man alive. He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an im
patience and hurry when he either read or wrote. tain apprehension arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at college twice over ; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion P.
Yet he appears, from his early notes or memorandums in my possession, to have at various times attempted, or at least planned, a methodical course of study, according to computation, of which he was all his life fond, as it fixed his attention steadily upon something without, and prevented his mind from preying upon itself. Thus I find in his handwriting the number of lines in each of two of Euripides' tragedies, of the Georgicks of Virgil, of the first six books of the Æneid, of Horace's Art of Poetry, of three of the books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, of some parts of Theocritus, and of the tenth satire of Juvenal; and a table showing at the rate of various numbers a day, I suppose verses to be read, what would be, in each case, the total amount in a week, month, and year.
No man had a more ardent love of literature, or a higher respect for it, than Johnson. His apartment in Pembroke
p He told Dr. Burney, that he never wrote any of his works that were printed, twice over.
Dr. Burney's wonder at seeing several pages of his Lives of the Poets, in manuscript, with scarce a blot or erasure, drew this observation from him.-MALONE.
Johnson's physical infirmities, as well as the prodigious powers of his mind, led him to his particular manner of composition, which Boswell has not altogether explained. His extreme shortness of sight, by obliging him to hold his paper quite close to his face, rendered the making what is called a foul copy much more painful to him, than revolving a subject in his mind, and turning his periods, until he had brought them to the most complete arrangement. His memory then enabled him to retain a whole essay, thus elaborated in his mind, ready for instant production. Bishop Percy has often heard him, he states, humming and forming periods, in low whispers to himself, when shallow observers thought he was muttering prayers. His own practice was, perhaps, alluded to by Johnson, in the following passage of his life of Pope. position there are different methods. Some employ at once memory and invention; and with little intermediate use of the pen, form and polish large masses by continued meditation, and write their productions only when, in their own opinion, they have completed them.”—Ed.
66 Of com
college was that upon the second floor over the gateway. The enthusiast of learning will ever contemplate it with veneration. One day, while he was sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting, then master of the college, whom he called a fine jacobite fellow, overheard him uttering this soliloquy in his strong emphatick voice: “Well, I have a mind to see what is done in other places of learning. I'll go and visit the universities abroad. I'll go to France and Italy. I'll go to Padua.-And I'll mind my business. For an Athenian block head is the worst of all blockheadsq.”
Dr. Adams told me that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke college, was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life. But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by poverty, and irritated by disease. When I mentioned to him this account as given me by Dr. Adams, he said, “Ah, sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for frolick. I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit ; so I disregarded all power and all authority.”
The bishop of Dromore observes in a letter to me: “ The pleasure he took in vexing the tutors and fellows has been often mentioned. But I have heard him say, what ought to be recorded to the honour of the present venerable master of that college, the reverend William Adams, D.D. who was then very young, and one of the junior fellows; that the mild but judicious expostulations of this worthy man, whose virtue awed him, and whose
9 I had this' anecdote from Dr. Adams, and Dr. Johnson confirmed it. Bramston, in his Man of Taste, has the same thought:
Sure, of all blockheads, scholars are the worst.—Boswell. Johnson's meaning, however, is, that a scholar who is a blockhead, must be the worst of all blockheads, because he is without excuse. But Bramsion, iv the assumed character of an ignorant coxcomb, maintains, that all scholars are bluckheads, on account of their scholarship.-J. Boswell.