« PreviousContinue »
tible, who does not think there is somebody still poorer, and still more contemptible."
As my stay in London at this time was very short, I had not many opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for him in no degree lessened by my having seen "multorum hominum mores et urbes." On the contrary, by having it in my power to compare him with many of the most celebrated persons of other countries, my admiration of his extraordinary mind was increased and confirmed.
The roughness, indeed, which sometimes appeared in his manners, was more striking to me now, from my having been accustomed to the studied smooth complying habits of the continent; and I clearly recognised in him, not without respect for his honest conscientious zeal, the same indignant and sarcastical mode of treating every attempt to unhinge or weaken good principles.
One evening, when a young gentleman teased him with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues, and be sure that they were not invented. "Why, foolish fellow," said Johnson, "has he any better authority for almost every thing that he believes?" BOSWELL. "Then the vulgar, sir, never can know they are right, but must submit themselves to the learned." JOHNSON. "To be sure, sir. The vulgar are the children of the state, and must be taught like children." BosWELL. "Then, sir, a poor Turk must be a mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must be a christian." JOHNSON." Why, yes, sir; and what then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother, when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to have whipt me for it."
Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him, with the hope of prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him indisposed, and resolved not to go abroad. "Come, then," said Goldsmith, "we will not go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot have the big man
with us." Johnson then called for a bottle of port, of which Goldsmith and I partook, while our friend, now a water-drinker, sat by us. GOLDSMITH. "I think, Mr. Johnson, you don't go near the theatres now. You give yourself no more concern about a new play, than if you had never had any thing to do with the stage." JOHNSON. "Why, sir, our tastes greatly alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does not care for the young man's whore." GOLDSMITH. "Nay, sir; but your muse was not a whore." JOHNSON. "Sir, I do not think she was. But as we advance in the journey of life, we drop some of the things which have pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued, and don't choose to carry so many things any farther, or that we find other things which we like better." BOSWELL. "But, sir, why don't you give us something in some other way?" GOLDSMITH."Aye, sir, we have a claim upon you." JOHNSON. "No, sir, I am not obliged to do any more. obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician who has practised long in a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town, and takes less practice. Now, sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice of a physician retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great city." BOSWELL. "But I wonder, sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not writing." JOHNSON. " Sir, you may wonder."
No man is
He talked of making verses, and observed, "The great difficulty is, to know when you have made good ones. When composing, I have generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my room; and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have written only half lines. I have written a hundred lines in a day. I remember I wrote a hundred lines of The Vanity of Human Wishes in a day. Doctor,
(turning to Goldsmith,) I am not quite idle: I made one line t'other day; but I made no more." GOLDSMITH. "Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it." JOHNSON. No, sir; I have forgot it."
Such specimens of the easy and playful conversation of the great Dr. Samuel Johnson are, I think, to be prized; as exhibiting the little varieties of a mind so enlarged and so powerful when objects of consequence required its ex- · ertions, and as giving us a minute knowledge of his character and modes of thinking.
TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ. AT LANGTON, NEAR
"DEAR SIR,-What your friends have done, that from your departure till now nothing has been heard of you, none of us are able to inform the rest; but as we are all neglected alike, no one thinks himself entitled to the privilege of complaint.
I should have known nothing of you or of Langton, from the time that dear Miss Langton left us, had not I met Mr. Simpson of Lincoln one day in the street, by whom I was informed that Mr. Langton, your mamma, and yourself had been all ill, but that you were all recovered.
"That sickness should suspend your correspondence, I did not wonder; but hoped that it would be renewed at your recovery.
"Since you will not inform us where you are, or how you live, I know not whether you desire to know any thing of us. However, I will tell you that THE CLUB subsists; but we have the loss of Burke's company since he has been engaged in publick business, in which he has gained more reputation than perhaps any man at his [first] appearance ever gained before. He made two speeches in the house for repealing the stamp act, which were publickly commended by Mr. Pitt, and have filled the town with wonder.
"Burke is a great man by nature, and is expected soon to attain civil greatness. I am grown greater too, for I have maintained the newspapers these many weeks; and what is greater still, I have risen every morning since Newyear's day, at about eight: when I was up, I have indeed done but little; yet it is no slight advancement to obtain, for so many hours more, the consciousness of being.
'I wish you were in my new study; I am now writing the first letter in it. I think it looks very pretty about me. Dyer is constant at THE CLUB; Hawkins is remiss; I am not over diligent. Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Reynolds are very constant. M. Lye is printing his Saxon and Gothic Dictionary: all THE CLUB subscribes. "You will pay my respects to all my Lincolnshire friends. I am, dear sir,
TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ. AT LANGTON, NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
"DEAR SIR,-In supposing that I should be more than commonly affected by the death of Peregrine Langtonf, you were not mistaken; he was one of those whom I loved at once by instinct and by reason. I have seldom indulged more hope of any thing than of being able to improve our acquaintance to friendship. Many a time have I placed myself again at Langton, and imagined the pleasure with which I should walk to Partney in a summer morning; but this is no longer possible. We must now
e Samuel Dyer, esq. a most learned and ingenious member of the Literary Club, for whose understanding and attainments Dr. Johnson had great respect. He died Sept. 14th, 1772. A more particular account of this gentleman may be found in a note on the Life of Dryden, p. 186, prefixed to the edition of that writer's prose works, in four volumes, 8vo. 1800: where sir John Hawkins's representations are proved to have been most unjust. See his Life of Dr. Johnson, p. 222. 232; see also Prior's Life of Burke.-ED.
endeavour to preserve what is left us,-his example of piety and economy. I hope you make what enquiries you can, and write down what is told you. The little things which distinguish domestick characters are soon forgotten: if you delay to enquire, you will have no information; if you neglect to write, information will be vain".
h Mr. Langton did not disregard this counsel, but wrote the following account, which he has been pleased to communicate to me.
"The circumstances of Mr. Peregrine Langton were these. He had an annuity for life of two hundred pounds per annum. He resided in a village in Lincolnshire the rent of his house, with two or three small fields, was twentyeight pounds; the county he lived in was not more than moderately cheap: his family consisted of a sister, who paid him eighteen pounds annually for her board, and a niece. The servants were two maids, and two men in livery. His common way of living, at his table, was three or four dishes; the appurtenances to his table were neat and handsome; he frequently entertained company at dinner, and then his table was well served, with as many dishes as were usual at the tables of the other gentlemen in the neighbourhood. His own appearance, as to clothes, was genteelly neat and plain. He had always a postchaise, and kept three horses.
"Such, with the resources I have mentioned, was his way of living, which he did not suffer to employ his whole income: for he had always a sum of money lying by him for any extraordinary expenses that might arise. Some money he put into the stocks; at his death, the sum he had there amounted to one hundred and fifty pounds. He purchased out of his income his household furniture and linen, of which latter he had a very ample store; and, as I am assured by those that had very good means of knowing, not less than the tenth part of his income was set apart for charity: at the time of his death, the sum of twenty-five pounds was found, with a direction to be employed in such uses. "He had laid down a plan of living proportioned to his income, and did not practise any extraordinary degree of parsimony, but endeavoured that in his family there should be plenty without waste. As an instance that this was his endeavour, it may be worth while to mention a method he took in regulating a proper allowance of malt liquor to be drunk in his family, that there might not be a deficiency, or any intemperate profusion. On a complaint made, that his allowance of a hogshead in a month was not enough for his own family, he ordered the quantity of a hogshead to be put into bottles, had it locked up from the servants, and distributed out, every day, eight quarts, which is the quantity each day at one hogshead in a month; and told his servants, that if that did not suffice, he would allow them more; but, by this method, it appeared at once that the allowance was much more than sufficient for his small family; and this proved a clear conviction, that could not be answered, and saved all future dispute. He was, in general, very diligently and punctually attended and obeyed by his servants; he was very considerate as to the injunctions he gave, and explained them distinctly: and, at their first coming to his service, steadily