Page images
PDF
EPUB

He said, he would not have Sunday kept with rigid severity and gloom, but with a gravity and simplicity of behaviour.

I told him that David Hume bad made a short collection of Scotticisms. “I wonder,” said Johnson, “ that he should find them P."

He would not admit the importance of the question concerning the legality of general warrants.

“ Such a power,” he observed, “must be vested in every government, to answer particular cases of necessity; and there can be no just complaint but when it is abused, for which those who administer government must be answerable. It is a matter of such indifference, a matter about which the people care so very little, that were a man to be sent over Britain to offer them an exemption from it at a halfpenny a piece, very few would purchase it.” This was a specimen of that laxity of talking which I have heard him fairly acknowledge; for surely, while the power of granting general warrants was supposed to be legal, and the apprehension of them hung over our heads, we did not possess that security of freedom congenial to our happy constitution, and which, by the intrepid exertions of Mr. Wilkes, has been happily established.

He said, “ The duration of parliament, whether for seven years or the life of the king, appears to me so immaterial, that I would not give half a crown to turn the scale one way or the other. The habeas corpus' is the single advantage which our government has over that of other countries.”

On the thirtieth of September we dined together at the Mitre. I attempted to argue for the superiour happiness of the savage life, upon the usual fanciful topicks. JohnSON. “Sir, there can be nothing more false. The savages have no bodily advantages beyond those of civilized men. They have not better health ; and as to care or mental

p The first edition of Hume's History of England was full of Scotticisms, many of which he corrected in subsequent editions.---Malone.

uneasiness, they are not above it, but below it, like bears. No, sir ; you are not to talk such paradox : let me have no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less can it instruct. Lord Monboddo, one of your Scotch judges, talked a great deal of such nonsense. I suffered him ; but I will not suffer you." Boswell. “But, sir, does not Rousseau talk such nonsense ?" JOHNSON.True, sir; but Rousseau knows he is talking nonsense, and laughs at the world for staring at him.” BOSWELL. “How so, sir ?" JOHNSON. " Why, sir, a man who talks nonsense so well, must know that he is talking nonsense. But I am afraid,chuckling and laughing, “Monboddo does not know that he is talking nonsense?” BOSWELL. “Is it wrong then, sir, to affect singularity, in order to make people stare ?" JOHNSON. “Yes, if you do it by propagating error: and, indeed, it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a general inclination to make people stare ; and every wise man has himself to cure of it, and does cure himself. If you wish to make people stare by doing better than others, why, make them stare till they stare their eyes out. But consider how easy it is to make people stare, by being absurd. I may do it by going into a drawing-room without my shoes. You remember the gentleman in the Spectator, who had a commission of lunacy taken out against him for his extreme singularity, such as never wearing a wig, but a nightcap. Now, sir, abstractedly, the nightcap was best; but, relatively, the advantage was overbalanced by bis making the boys run after him."

Talking of a London life, he said, “ The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have

9 His lordship having frequently spoken in an abusive manner of Dr. Johnson in my company, I on one occasion during the lifetime of my illustrious friend could not refrain from retaliation, and repeated to him this saying. He has since published I don't know how many pages in one of his curious books, attempting, in much anger, but with pitiful effect, to persuade mankind that my illustrious friend was not the great and good man which they esteemed and ever will csteem him to be.-BOSWELL.,

[ocr errors]

Yes,

been in it. I will venture to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom." Boswell. “ The only disadvantage is, the great distance at which people live from one another.” JOHNSON. sir ; but that is occasioned by the largeness of it, which is the cause of all the other advantages." Boswell. “Sometimes I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a desert.” JOHNSON. “Sir, you have desert enough in Scotland.”

Although I had promised myself a great deal of instructive conversation with him on the conduct of the married state, of which I had then a near prospect, he did not say much upon that topick. Mr. Seward heard him once say, that “a man has a very bad chance for happiness in that state, unless he marries a woman of very strong and fixed principles of religion." He maintained to me, contrary to the common notion, that a woman would not be the worse wife for being learned ; in which, from all that I have observed of Artemisias, I humbly differed from him. That a woman should be sensible and well informed, I allow to be a great advantage ; and think that sir Thomas Overbury', in bis rude versification, has very judiciously pointed out that degree of intelligence which is to be desired in a female companion :

ܪ

Give me, next good, an understanding wife,

By nature wise, not learned by much art;
Some knowledge on her side will all my life

More scope of conversation impart;
Besides, her inborne virtue fortifie;

They are most firmly good, who best know why. When I censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a second time, as it showed a disregard of his first wife, he said, “Not at all, sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it might be concluded that his first

" A Wife, a poem, 1614.

wife had given him a disgust to marriage; but by taking a second wife, he pays the highest compliment to the first, by showing that she made him so happy as a married man, that he wishes to be so a second time.” So ingenious a turn did he give to this delicate question. And yet, on another occasion, he owned that he once bad almost asked a promise of Mrs. Johnson that she would not marry again, but had checked himself. Indeed I cannot help thinking, that in his case the request would have been unreasonable ; for if Mrs. Johnson forgot, or thought it no injury to the memory of her first love,-the husband of her youth and the father of her children,--to make a second marriage, why should she be precluded from a third, should she be so inclined? In Johnson's persevering fond appropriation of his Tetty, even after her decease, he seems totally to have overlooked the prior claim of the honest Birmingham trader. I presume that her having been married before, had at times given him some uneasiness ; for I remember his observing upon the marriage of one of our common friends, “ He has done a very foolish thing, sir; he has married a widow, when he might have had a maid.” We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I had last

year

the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson's one morning, and bad conversation enough with her to admire her talents, and to show her that I was as Johnsonian as herself. Dr. Johnson had probably been kind enough to speak well of me; for this evening he delivered me a very polite card from Mr. Thrale and her, inviting me to Streatham.

On the sixth of October I complied with this obliging invitation, and found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance that can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was yet looked up to with an awe tempered by affection, and seemed to be equally the care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing him so happy.

He played off his wit against Scotland with a goodhumoured pleasantry, which gave me, though no bigot to national prejudices, an opportunity for a little contest with him. I having said that England was obliged to us for gardeners, almost all their good gardeners being Scotchmen ;-JOHNSON.

Why, sir, that is because gardening is much more necessary amongst you than with us, which makes so many of your people learn it. It is all gardening with you. Things which grow wild here, must be cultivated with great care in Scotland. Pray now," throwing himself back in his chair, and laughing, “ are you ever able to bring the sloe to perfection?”

I boasted that we had the honour of being the first to abolish the inhospitable, troublesome, and ungracious custom of giving vails to servants. JOHNSON. “Sir, you abolished vails, because you were too poor to be able to give them.”

Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked him powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt it: his love verses were college verses; and he repeated the song, “ Alexis shunn'd his fellow swains," etc. in so ludicrous a manner, as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical stuff. Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by saying, “My dear lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.”

Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talents for light gay poetry; and, as a specimen, repeated his song in Florizel and Perdita, and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line:

I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor. Johnson. “Nay, my dear lady, this will never do. Poor David! Smile with the simple! what folly is that? And who would feed with the poor that can help it? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich.” I repeated this sally to Garrick, and wondered to find bis sensibility as a writer not a little irritated by it. To sooth

« PreviousContinue »