« PreviousContinue »
In the spring of this year, having published my Account of Corsica, with the Journal of a Tour to that Island, I returned to London, very desirous to see Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject. I found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now Vinerian Professor, and lived in New Inn hall. Having bad no letter from bim since that in which he criticised the Latinity of my Thesis, and having been told by somebody that he was offended at my having put into my book an extract of his letter to me at Paris, I was impatient to be with him, and therefore followed him to Oxford, where I was entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility which I shall ever gratefully remember. I found that Dr. Johnson had sent a letter to me to Scotland, and that I had nothing to complain of but his being more indifferent to my anxiety than I wished him to be. Instead of giving, with the circumstances of time and place, such fragments of his conversation as I preserved during this visit to Oxford, I shall throw them together in continuation.
I asked him whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty. JOHNSON. " Why no, sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to à judge.” BOSWELL. “But what do you think of supporting a cause which you know to be bad?” Johnson. “Sir, you do not know it to be good or bad till the judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing, a cause to be bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak and inconclusive. But, sir, that is not enough. An argument which does not convince yourself, may convince the judge to whom you urge it; and if it does convince him, why, then, sir, you are wrong, and he is right. It is his business to judge; and you are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad, but to say all you can for your client, and then hear the judge's opinion.” BOSWELL. “ But, sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion, does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the intercourse with his friends ?” JOHNSON.
ever, seem necessary, or at least improve the sense, might give offence; and therefore prevailed on Johnson to omit them. The epithet little, which perhaps the author thought might diminish his dignity, was also changed to anxious.--Ep.
Why no, sir. Every body knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your client; and it is, therefore, properly no dissimulation; the moment you come from the bar you resume your usual behaviour. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he should walk on his feet f.”
Talking of some of the modern plays, he said, False Delicacy was totally void of character. He praised Goldsmith's Good-natured Man; said it was the best comedy that had appeared since The Provoked Husband, and that there had not been of late any such character exhibited on the stage as that of Croaker. I observed it was the Suspirius of his Rambler. He said, Goldsmith had owned he had borrowed it from thence. “Sir," continued he, " there is all the difference in the world between characters of nature and characters of manners; and there is the difference between the characters of Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are to be understood by a more superficial observer than characters of nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart."
It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding. In comparing
See The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 4th edit. p. 14, where Johnson has supported the same argument.–J. BOSWELL.
those two writers, he used this expression : " that there was as great a difference between them, as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate.” This was a short and figurative state of his distinction between drawing characters of nature and characters only of manners. But I cannot help being of opinion, that the neat watches of Fielding are as well constructed as the large clocks of Richardson, and that his dial-plates are brighter. Fielding's characters, though they do not expand themselves so widely in dissertation, are as just pictures of human nature, and, I will venture to say, have more striking features and nicer touches of the pencil: and though Johnson used to quote with approbation a saying of Richardson's, “ that the virtues of Fielding's heroes were the vices of a truly good man;" I will venture to add, that the moral tendency of Fielding's writings, though it does not encourage a strained and rarely possible virtue, is 'ever favourable to honour and honesty, and cherishes the benevolent and generous affections. He who is as good as Fielding would make him, is an amiable member of society, and may be led on by more regulated instructors to a higher state of ethical perfection.
Johnson proceeded : “Even sir Francis Wronghead is a character of manners, though drawn with great humour." He then repeated, very happily, all sir Francis's credulous account to Manly of his being with “the great man,” and securing a place. I asked him if The Suspicious Husband did not furnish a well-drawn character, that of Ranger. JOHNSON. “No, sir; Ranger is just a rake, a mere rake, and a lively young fellow, but no character."
The great Douglas cause was at this time a very general subject of discussion. I found he had not studied it with much attention, but had only heard parts of it occasionally. He, however, talked of it; and said, “I am of opinion that positive proof of fraud should not be required of the plaintiff, but that the judges should decide according as probability shall appear to preponderate, granting to the defendant the presumption of filiation to be strong in his favour. And I think too, that a good deal of weight should be allowed to the dying declarations, because they were spontaneous. There is a great difference between what is said withuut our being urged to it, and what is said from a kind of compulsion. If I praise a man's book without being asked my opinion of it, that is honest praise, to which one may trust. But if an author asks me if I like his book, and I give him something like praise, it must not be taken as my real opinion.”
"I have not been troubled for a long time with authors desiring my opinion of their works. I used once to be sadly plagued with a man who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse, but that it consisted of ten syllables. Lay your knife and your fork across your plate, was to him a verse:
Lay your knife and your förk across your plāte. As he wrote a great number of verses, he sometimes by chance made good ones, though he did not know it.”
He renewed his promise of coming to Scotland, and going with me to the Hebrides; but said he would now content himself with seeing one or two of the most curious of them. He said, “ Macaulay, who writes the account of St. Kilda, set out with a prejudice against prejudices, and wanted to be a smart modern thinker; and yet he affirms for a truth, that when a ship arrives there, all the inhabitants are seized with a cold.”
Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated writer, took a great deal of pains to ascertain this fact, and attempted to account for it on physical principles, from the effect of effluvia from human bodies. Johnson, at another time, praised Macaulay for his “magpanimity” in asserting this wonderful story, because it was well attested. A lady of Norfolk, by a letter to my friend Dr. Burney, has favoured me with the following solution : "Now for the explication of this seeming mystery, which is so very obvious as, for that reason, to have escaped the penetration of Dr. Johnson and his friend, as well as that of the author. Reading the book with my ingenious friend, the late reverend Mr. Christian of Docking-after ruminating a little, 'The cause,' says he, 'is a natural one. The situation of St. Kilda renders a north-east wind indispensably necessary before a stranger can land. The wind, not the stranger, occasions an epidemick cold. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Macaulay is dead: if living, this solution might please him, as I hope it will Mr. Boswell, in return for the many agreeable hours his works have afforded us."
Johnson expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning. “There is here, sir," said he, " such a progressive emulation. The students are anxious to appear well to their tutors; the tutors are anxious to have their pupils appear well in the college; the colleges are anxious to have their students appear well in the university; and there are excellent rules of discipline in every college. That the rules are sometimes ill observed, may be true; but is nothing against the system. The members of an university may, for a season, be unmindful of their duty. I am arguing for the excellency of the institution.”
Of Guthrie, he said, “Sir, he is a man of parts. He has no great regular fund of knowledge; but by reading so long, and writing so long, he no doubt has picked up a good deal."
He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown very weary before he left it. BosWELL. “I wonder at that, sir; it is your native place.” JOHNSON. “Why so is Scotland your native place.
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time. When I talked of our advancement in literature, "Sir," said he, “ you have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men. Hume would never have written history had not Voltaire written it before him. He is an ecbo of Voltaire.” Bos
But, sir, we have lord Kames." JOHNson. “You have lord Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy you him. Do you ever see Dr. Robert