Page images

capable of uniting the weak against the encroach ments of power.

What concerns the public most properly admits of a public discussion. But, of late, the press has turned from defending public interest to making inroads upon private life; from combating the strong to overwhelming the feeble No condition is now too obscure for its abuse and the protector has become the tyrant of th people. In this manner the freedom of the press is beginning to sow the seeds of its own dissolution; the great must oppose it from principle, and the weak from fear ; till at last every rank of mankind shall be found to give up its benefits, content with security from insults.

“ How to put a stop to this licentiousness, by which all are indiscriminately abused, and by which vice consequently escapes in the general censure, I am unable to tell ; all I could wish is, that, as the law gives us no protection against the injury, so it should give calumniators no shelter after having provoked correction. The insults which we receive before the public, by being more open, are the more distressing ; by treating them with silent contempt we do not pay a sufficient deference to the opinion of the world. By recurring to legal redress we too often expose the weakness of the law, which only serves to increase our mortification by failing to relieve us. In short, every man should singly consider himself as the guardian of the liberty of the press, and, as far as his influence can extend, should endeavor to prevent its licentiousness becoming at last the grave of its freedom.





Boswell, who had just arrived in town, met with this article in a newspaper which he found at Dr. Johnson's. The Doctor was from home at the time, and Bozzy and Mrs. Williams, in a critical conference over the letter, determined from the style that it must have been written by the lexicographer himself. The latter on his return soon undeceived them. Sir,” said he to Boswell, “ Goldsmith would no more have asked me to have wrote such a thing as that for him than he would have asked me to feed him with a spoon, or do anything else that denoted his imbecility. Sir, had he shown it to any one friend, he would not have been allowed to publish it. He has, indeed, done it very well ; but it is a foolish thing well done. I suppose he has been so much elated with the success of his new comedy, that he has thought everything that concerned him must be of importance to the public.”


Boswell in Holy-Week. – Dinner at Oglethorpe's. – Dinner

at Paoli's. — The Policy of Truth. — Goldsmith affects Independence of Royalty.- Paoli's Compliment. — Johnson's Eulogium on the Fiddle. — Question about Suicide. Boswell's Subserviency.

HE return of Boswell to town to his task

of noting down the conversations of

Johnson, enables us to glean from his journal some scanty notices of Goldsmith. It was now Holy-Week, a time during which Johnson was particularly solemn in his manner and strict in his devotions. Boswell, who was the imitator of the great moralist in everything, assumed, of course, an extra devoutness on the present occasion.

“ He had an odd mock solemnity of tone and manner,” said Miss Burney, (afterwards Madame D'Arblay,) “which he had acquired from constantly thinking, and imitating Dr. Johnson." It would seem that he undertook to deal out some second-hand homilies, a la Johnson, for the edification of Goldsmith during HolyWeek. The poet, whatever might be his religious feeling, had no disposition to be schooled by so shallow an apostle. “ Sir,” said he in reply, “ as I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the priest."

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

Boswell treasured up the reply in his memory or his memorandum - book. A few days afterwards, the 9th of April, he kept Good Friday with Dr. Johnson, in orthodox style ; breakfasted with him on tea and cross-buns; went to church with him morning and evening; fasted in the interval, and read with him in the Greek Testament: then, in the piety of his heart, complained of the sore rebuff he had met with in the course of his religious exhortations to the poet, and lamented that the latter should indulge in “ this loose way of talking." “ Sir,” replied Johnson, “ Goldsmith knows nothing — he has made up his mind about nothing."

This reply seems to have gratified the lurking jealousy of Boswell, and he has recorded it in his journal. Johnson, however, with respect to Goldsmith, and indeed with respect to everybody else, blew hot as well as cold, according to the humor he was in. Boswell, who was astonished and piqued at the continually increasing celebrity of the poet, observed some time after to Johnson, in a tone of surprise, that Goldsmith had acquired more fame than all the officers of the last war who were not generals. Why, sir,” answered Johnson, his old feeling of good-will working uppermost, “ you will find ten thousand fit to do what they did, before you find one to do what Goldsmith has done. You must consider that a thing is valued according to its rarity. A pebble that paves the street is in itself more useful than the diamond upon a lady's finger."

On the 13th of April we find Goldsmith and



Johnson at the table of old General Oglethorpe, discussing the question of the degeneracy of the human race. Goldsmith asserts the fact, and attributes it to the influence of luxury. Johnson denies the fact, and observes, that, even admitting it, luxury could not be the cause. It reached but a small proportion of the human

Soldiers, on sixpence a day, could not indulge in luxuries; the poor and laboring classes, forming the great mass of mankind, were out of its sphere. Wherever it could reach them, it strengthened them and rendered them prolific. The conversation was not of particular force or point as reported by Boswell ; the dinner-party was a very small one, in which there was no provocation to intellectual display.

After dinner they took tea with the ladies, where we find poor Goldsmith happy and at home, singing Tony Lumpkin's song of the “ Three Jolly Pigeons,” and another, called the “ Humors of Ballamaguery," to a very pretty Irish tune. It was to have been introduced in “ She Stoops to Conquer," but was left out, as the actress who played the heroine could not sing.

It was in these genial moments that the sunshine of Goldsmith's nature would break out, and he would say and do a thousand whimsical and agreeable things that made him the life of the strictly social circle. Johnson, with whom conrersation was everything, used to judge Goldsmith too much by his own colloquial standard, and undervalue him for being less provided than himself with acquired facts, the ammunition of

« PreviousContinue »