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DINNER AT BEAUCLERK'S-JOHNSON CRITICISES GOLDSMITH'S ABILITIES AS A WRITER
BOSWELL ELECTED A MEMBER OF "THE CLUB”-MONUMENTS TO EMINENT PERSONS-
ON Friday, April 30, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk’s, where
were Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some more members of the LITERARY CLUB, whom he had obligingly invited to meet me, as I was this evening to be balloted for as candidate for admission into that distinguished society. Johnson had done me the honour to propose me, and Beauclerk was very zealous for me.
Goldsmith being mentioned, JOHNSON : “It is amazing how little Goldsmith knows. He seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else.” SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS : “ Yet there is no man whose company is more liked.” JOHNSON “ To be sure, Sir. When people find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer, their
inferior while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself is very true—he always gets the better when he argues alone ; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his study, and can write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows confused, and unable to talk. Take him as a poet, his
Traveller' is a very fine performance ; aye, and so is his ' Deserted Village,' were it not sometimes too much the echo of his Traveller.' Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet, as a comic writer, or as an historian, he stands in the first class.” BOSWELL: “ An historian ? My dear Sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of this age ?” JOHNSON : “Why, who are before him ? ” BOSWELL: “ Hume, Robertson, Lord Lyttleton.” JOHNSON (his antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise) :
I have not read Hume ; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's history is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.” BOSWELL: “ Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose history we find such penetration-such painting ?” JOHNSON: “Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces in a history piece : he imagines an heroic countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, Sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his history. Now, Robertson might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed gold in wool ; the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, Sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight-would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils : 'Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' Goldsmith's abridgment is better than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius ; and I will venture to say, that if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot. Sir, he has the art of compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing
He is now writing a Natural History, and he will make it as entertaining as a Persian Tale.”
I cannot dismiss the present topic without observing, that it is probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often talked for victory," rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson's excellent nistorical works, in the ardour of contest, than expressed his real ard
decided opinion ; for it is not easy to suppose, that he should so widely differ from the rest of the literary world.
JOHNSON : “ I remember once being with Goldsmith in Westminster Abbey. While we surveyed the Poets’Corner, I said to him,
Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis, When we got to Temple-bar, he stopped me, pointed to the heads upon it, and slily whispered me,
Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur ISTIS.'”2 Johnson praised John Bunyan highly: “ His “Pilgrim's Progress" has great merit, both for invention, imagination, and the conduct of the story; and it has had the best evidence of its merit, the general and continued approbation of mankind. Few books, I believe, have had a more extensive sale. It is remarkable, that it begins very much like the poem of Dante ; yet there was no translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. There is reason to think that he had read Spenser."
A proposition which had been agitated, that monuments to eminent persons should, for the time to come, be erected in St. Paul's church as well as in Westminster Abbey, was mentioned ; and it was asked who should be honoured by having his monument first erected there. Somebody suggested Pope. JOHNSON : 6 Why, Sir, as Pope was a Roman Catholic, I would not have his to be first. I think Milton's rather should have the precedence. I think more highly of him now than I did at twenty. There is more thinking in him and in Butler, than in any of our poets."
Some of the company expressed a wonder why the author of so excellent a book as The Whole Duty of Man," should conceal himself.4 JOHNSON : “ There may be different reasons assigned for this, any one of which would be very sufficient. He may have been a clergyman, and may have thought that his religious counsels would have less weight when known to come from a man whose profession was theology. He may have been a man whose practice was not suitable to his principles, so that his character might injure the effect of his book, which he had written in a season of penitence. Or he may have been a man of rigid self-denial, so that he would have no reward for his pious labours while in this world, but refer it all to a future state."
The gentlemen went away to their club, and I was left at Beauclerk's till the fate of my election should be announced to me. I sat in a state of anxiety which even the charming conversation of Lady Di Beauclerk could not entirely dissipate. In a short time I received the agreeable invelligence that I was chosen. I hastened to the place of meeting, and was introduced to such a society as can seldom be found. Mr. Edmund Burke, whom I then saw for the first time, and whose splendid talents had long made me ardently wish for his acquaintance ; Dr. Nugent, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Jones, and the company with whom I had dined. Upon my entrance, Johnson placed himself behind a chair, on which he leaned as on a desk or pulpit, and with humourous formality gave me a Charge, pointing out the conduct expected from me as a good member of this club.
1 Our name, perhaps, may be mixed with theirs.---Ovid. de Art. Amand. i. iii. v. 13.
2 In allusion to Dr. Johnson's supposed political principles, and perhaps his own.BOSWELL.
3 Here is another instance of his high admiration of Milton as a Poet, notwithstanding his just abhorrence of that sour Republican's political principles. His candour and discrimination are equally conspicuous. Let us hear no more of his “injustice to Milton."-BOSWELL.
4 In a manuscript in the Bodleian Library several circumstances are stated which strongly incline me to believe that Dr. Accepted Frewen, Archbishop of York, was the author of this work-MAZONE
Goldsmith produced some very absurd verses which had been publicly recited to an audience for money. JOHNSON : “I can match this nonsense. There was a poem called 'Eugenio,' which came out some years ago, and concludes thus :
. And now, ye triling, self-assuming elves,
Then sink into yourselves, and be no more."
Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go,
And see the ocean leaning on the sky;
And on the lunar world securely pry.'”
i Dr. Johnson's memory here was not perfectly accurate : "Eugenio" does not conclude thus. There are eight more lines after the last of those quoted by him; and the passage which he meant to recite is as follows:
"Say now, ye fluttering, poor assuming elves,
Stark full of pride, of folly, of-yourselves;
Then sink into yourselves, and be no more." Mr. Reed informs me that the Author of Eugenio, Thomas Beech, a wine merchant at Wrexham, in Denbighshire, soon after its publication, viz. 17th May, 1737, cut his own throat; and that it appears by Swift's works, that the poem had been shown to him, and received some of his corrections. Johnson had read “Eugenio" on his first coming to town, for we see it menticned in one of his letters to Mr. Cave, which has been inserted in this work. BOSWELL.
2 I formerly thought that I had perhaps mistaken the word, and imagined it to be Corps, from its similarity of sond to the real one. For an accurate and shrewd unknown gentleman, to whom I am indebted for some remarks on my work, observes on this passage--"Q. if not on the word, Fort? A vociferous French preacher said of Bourdaloue, 'Il prêche fort bien, et moi bien fort."' Menagiana. See also" Anecdotes Littéraires,” Article Bourdaloue. But my ingenious and obliging correspondent, Mr. Abercrombie, of Philadelphia, has pointed out to me the following passage in “Menagiana ;" which renders the preceding conjecture unriecessary, and confirms my original statement:
Much pleasant conversation passed, which Johnson relished with great good humour. But his conversation alone, or what led to it, or was interwoven with it, is the business of this work.
On Saturday, May 1, we dined by ourselves at our old rendezvous, the Mitre tavern. He was placid, but not much disposed to talk. He observed, that“ The Irish mix better with the English than the Scotch do; their language is nearer to English ; as a proof of which, they succeed very well as players, which Scotchmen do not. Then, Sir, they have not that extreme nationality which we find in the Scotch. I will do you, Boswell, the justice to say, that you are the most unscotchified of your countrymen. You are almost the only instance of a Scotchman that I have known, who did not at every other sentence bring in some other Scotchman.”
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I introduced a question which has been much agitated in the Church of Scotland, whether the claim of lay-patrons to present ministers to parishes be well founded ; and supposing it to be well founded, whether it ought to be exercised without thre concurrence of the people ? That Church is composed of a series of judicatures ;-a Presbytery; a Synod; and finally, a General Assembly; before all of which, this matter may be contended : and in some cases the Presbytery having refused to induct or settie, as they call it, the person presented by the patron, it has been found necessary to appeal to the General Assembly. He said, I might see the subject well treated in “ The Defence of Pluralities ;” and although he thought that a patron should exercise his right with tenderness to the inclinations of the people of a parish, he was very clear as to his right. Then supposing the question to be pleaded before the General Assembly, he dictated to me what follows:
“ Against the right of patrons is commonly opposed, by the inferior judica. tures, the plea of conscience. Their conscience tells them, that the people ought to choose their pastor; their conscience tells them, that they ought not to impose upon a congregation a minister ungrateful and unacceptable to his auditors. Conscience is nothing more than a conviction felt by ourselves of something to be done, or something to be avoided ; and in questions of simple unperplexed morality, conscience is very often a guide that may be trusted. But before conscience can determine, the state of the question is supposed to be completely known. In questions of law, or of fact, conscience is very often confounded with opinion. No man's conscience can tell him the right of another
“ Madame de Bourdonne, Chanoinesse de Remiremont, venoit d'entendre un discours plein de feu et d'esprit, mais fort peu solide, et tres irregulier. Une de ses amies, qui y prenoit intêret pour l'orateur, lui dit en sortant, ' Eh bien, Madame, que vous semble-t-il de ce que vous venez d'entendre ? Qu'il y a d'esprit?'—'Il y a tant,' repondit Madame de Bourdonne,' que, je n'y ai pas vu de corps.” Menagiana, tome ii. p. 64. Amsterd. 1713.-Boswell.