Page images
PDF
EPUB

for the lambs and the sheep. Yet it is also used to express any thing on which we have a present dependence, and is well applied to a man of distinguished influence,our support, our refuge, our præsidium, as Horace calls Mæcenas. So, Æneid xii. 1. 57, queen Amata addresses her son-in-law, Turnus : Spes tu nunc una:' and he was then no future hope, for she adds,

-decus imperiumque Latini

Te penes ;

which might have been said of my lord Bute some years ago. Now I consider the present earl of Bute to be · Excelsæ familiæ de Bute spes prima ;' and my lord Mountstuart, as his eldest son, to be 'spes altera.' So in Æneid xii. 1. 168, after having mentioned pater Æneas, who was the present spes, the reigning spes, as my German friends would say, the spes prima, the poet adds,

Et juxta Ascanius, magnæ spes altera Romæ. “ You think alteræ ungrammatical, and you tell me it should have been alteri. You must recollect, that in old times alter was declined regularly; and when the ancient fragments preserved in the Juris Civilis Fontes were written, it was certainly declined in the way that I use it. This, I should think, may protect a lawyer who writes alteræ in a dissertation upon part of his own science. But as I could hardly venture to quote fragments of old law to so classical a man as Mr. Johnson, I have not made an accurate search into these remains, to find examples of what I am able to produce in poetical composition. We find in Plaut. Rudens, act iii. scene 4,

Nam huic alteræ patria quæ sit profecto nescio. Plautus is, to be sure, an old comick writer; but in the days of Scipio and Lelius we find Terent. Heautontim. act ii. scene 3,

-hoc ipsa in itinere alteræ Dum narrat, forte audivi.

“ You doubt my having authority for using genus absolutely, for what we call family, that is, for illustrious extraction. Now I take genus in Latin to have much the same signification with birth in English; both in their primary meaning expressing simply descent, but both made to stand, Karl Eoxny, for noble descent. Genus is thus used in Hor. lib. ii. sat. v. 1. 8,

Et genus et virtus, nisi cum re, vilior alga est.

And in lib. i. epist. vi. 1. 37,

Et genus et formam regina pecunia donat.
And in the celebrated contest between Ajax and Ulysses,
Ovid's Metamorph. lib. xiii. 1. 140,

Nam genus et proavos, et quæ non fecimus ipsi,
Vix ea nostra voco.

66

Homines nullius originis, for nullis orti majoribus, or nullo loco nati, is, ' you are afraid, barbarous.'

Origo is used to signify extraction, as in Virg. Æneid i. 1. 286,

Nascetur pulchra Trojanus origine Cæsar : and in Æneid x. 1. 618,

Ille tamen nostra deducit origine nomen: and as nullus is used for obscure, is it not in the genius of the Latin language to write nullius originis, for obscure extraction? “I have defended myself as well as I could.

Might I venture to differ from you with regard to the utility of vows? I am sensible that it would be very dangerous to make vows rashly, and without a due consideration. But I cannot help thinking that they may often be of great advantage to one of a variable judgement and irregular inclinations. I always remember a passage in one of your letters to our Italian friend Baretti; where, talking of the monastic life, you say you do not wonder that serious men should put themselves under the protec

66

tion of a religious order, when they have found how unable they are to take care of themselves. For my own part, without affecting to be a Socrates, I am sure I have a more than ordinary struggle to maintain with the evil principle;' and all the methods I can devise are little enough to keep me tolerably steady in the paths of rectitude.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

I am ever, with the highest veneration,
“ Your affectionate humble servant,

JAMES BOSWELL.”

It appears from Johnson's diary, that he was this year at Mr. Thrale's, from before. Midsummer till after Michaelmas, and that he afterwards passed a month at Oxford. He had then contracted a great intimacy with Mr. Chambers of that university, afterwards sir Robert Chambers, one of the judges in India.

He published nothing this year in his own name; but the noble Dedication * to the King, of Gwyn's London and Westminster Improved, was written by him; and he furnished the Preface,+ and several of the pieces which compose a volume of Miscellanies by Mrs. Anna Williams, the blind lady who had an asylum in his house'. Of

• In a paper already mentioned, (see vol. i. p. 362, and near the end of the year 1763,) the following account of this publication is given by a lady well acquainted with Mrs. Williams :

“ As to her poems, she many years attempted to publish them : the halfcrowns she had got towards the publication, she confessed to me, went for necessaries, and that the greatest pain she ever felt was from the appearance of defrauding her subscribers : ! But what can I do? the Doctor (Johnson] always puts me off with Well, we'll think about it; and Goldsmith says, Leave it to me.' However, two of her friends, under her directions, made a new subscription at a crown, the whole price of the work, and in a very little time raised sixty pounds. Mrs. Carter was applied to by Mrs. Williams's desire, and she, with the utmost activity and kindness, procured a long list of

At length the work was published, in which is a fine-written but gloomy tale of Dr. Johnson. The money Mrs. Williams had various uses for, and a part of it was funded.”

Mrs. Williams is stated by the above lady and also by Malone, to have gained one hundred and fifty pounds by this publication.—Ed.

names.

on her

66

these, there are his Epitaph on Philips ;* Translation of a Latin Epitaph on sir Thomas Hanmer;+ Friendship, an ode;* and, The Ant, * a paraphrase from the Proverbs, of which I have a copy in his own handwriting; and, from internal evidence, I ascribe to him, To Miss giving the Author a gold and silver network Purse of her own weaving ;t and The Happy Life.t-Most of the pieces in this volume have evidently received additions from his superiour pen; particularly, Verses to Mr. Richardson, on his Sir Charles Grandison; The Excursion; Reflections on a Grave digging in Westminster Abbey. There is in this collection a poem, On the Death of Stephen Grey the Electrician ;* which, on reading it, appeared to me to be undoubtedly Johnson's. I asked Mrs. Williams whether it was not his.. Sir,” said she, with some warmth, “ I wrote that poem before I had the honour of Dr. Johnson's acquaintance.” I however was so much impressed with my first notion, that I mentioned it to Johnson, repeating at the same time what Mrs. Williams had said. His answer was, “ It is true, sir, that she wrote it before she was acquainted with me; but she has not told you that I wrote it all over again, except two lines.” The Fountains,ť a beautiful little fairy tale in prose, written with exquisite simplicity, is one of Johnson's productions ; and I cannot withhold from Mrs. Thrale the praise of being the author of that admirable poem, The Three Warnings.

He wrote this year a letter, not intended for publication, which has, perhaps, as strong marks of his sentiment and style as any of his compositions. The original is in my possession. It is addressed to the late Mr. William Drummond, bookseller in Edinburgh, a gentleman of good family, but small estate, who took arms for the house of Stuart in 1745; and during his concealment in London till the act of general pardon came out, obtained the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, who justly esteemed him as a very worthy man. It seems some of the members of the society in Scotland for propagating christian knowledge had opposed the scheme of translating the holy scriptures

into the Erse or Gaelic language, from political considerations of the disadvantage of keeping up the distinction between the highlanders and the other inhabitants of North Britain, Dr. Johnson being informed of this, I suppose by Mr. Drummond, wrote with a generous indignation as follows:

TO MR. WILLIAM DRUMMOND.

“SIR, I did not expect to hear that it could be, in an assembly convened for the propagation of christian knowledge, a question whether any nation uninstructed in religion should receive instruction; or whether that instruction should be imparted to them by a translation of the holy books into their own language. If obedience to the will of God be necessary to happiness, and knowledge of his will be necessary to obedience, I know not how he that withholds this knowledge, or delays it, can be said to love his neighbour as himself. He that voluntarily continues ignorance, is guilty of all the crimes which ignorance produces; as to him that should extinguish the tapers of a lighthouse might justly be imputed the calamities of shipwrecks. Christianity is the highest perfection of humanity; and as no man is good but as he wishes the good of others, no man can be good in the highest degree, who wishes not to others the largest measures of the greatest good. To omit for a year, or for a day, the most efficacious method of advancing christianity, in compliance with any purposes that terminate on this side of the grave, is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, a race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.

“ The papists have, indeed, denied to the laity the use of the Bible ; but this prohibition, in few places now very rigorously enforced, is defended by arguments which have for their foundation the care of souls. To obscure, upon motives merely political, the light of revelation, is a prac

« PreviousContinue »