« PreviousContinue »
BOSWELL RE-VISITS LONDON-JOHNSON PUBLISHES HIS PAMPHLET "TAXATION NO TYRANNY”
-DR. TOWERS'S REPLY-JOHNSON AND BOSWELL Visit MR. STRAHAN-GARRICK'S IMITATIONS-GRAY'S ODES-JOHNSON RECEIVES AS DIPLOMA OF LL.D.-BRUCE, THE ABYSSINIAN TRAVELLER-JOHNSON'S OPINION OF PUBLIC SPEAKERS-HIS CONTEMPT FOR COLLEY CIBBER-CONVIVIAL DINNERS—"LILLIBURLERO"-PATRIOTISM-ADVISES GENERAL OGLETHORPE TO PUBLISH HIS LIFE.
ON Tuesday, March 21, I arrived in London ; and on repairing to
Dr. Johnson's before dinner, found him in his study, sitting with Mr. Peter Garrick, the elder brother of David, strongly resembling him in countenance and voice, but of more sedate and placid manners. Johnson informed me, that though Mr. Beauclerk was in great pain it was hoped he was not in danger, and that he now wished to consult Dr. Heberden, to try the effect of a new understanding." Both at this interview, and in the evening at Mr. Thrale’s, where he and Mr. Peter Garrick and I met again, he was vehement on the subject of the Ossian controversy ; observing, “ We do not know that there are any ancient Erse manuscripts : and we have no other reason to disbelieve that there are men with three heads, but that we do not know that there are any such men.” He also was outrageous upon his supposition that my countrymen “loved Scotland better than truth,” saying “All of them -nay, not all, but droves of them-would come up, and attest any thing for the honour of Scotland.” He also persevered in his wild allegation, that he questioned if there was a tree between Edinburgh and the English border older than himself. I assured him he was mistaken, and suggested that the proper punishment would be, that he should receive a stripe at every tree above a hundred years old, that was found within that space. He laughed, and said, “I believe I might submit to it for a baubee !"
The doubts which, in my correspondence with him, I had ventured to state as to the justice and wisdom of the conduct of Great Britain towards the American colonies, while I at the same time requested that he would enable me to inform myself upon that momentous subject, he had altogether disregarded ; and had recently published a pamphlet, entitled, “ Taxation no Tyranny: an answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress.” *
He had long before indulged most unfavourable sentiments of our fellow-subjects in America. For, as early as 1769, I was told by Dr. John Campbell, that he had said of them, “Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging."
Of this performance I avoided to talk with him; for I had now formed a clear and settled opinion, that the people of America were well warranted to resist a claim that their fellow-subjects in the mothercountry should have the entire command of their fortunes, by taxing them without their own consent; and the extreme violence which it breathed, appeared to me so unsuitable to the mildness of a Christian philosopher, and so directly opposite to the principles of peace, which he had so beautifully recommended in his pamphlet respecting Falkland's Islands, that I was sorry to see him appear in so unfavourable a light. Besides, I could not perceive in it that ability of argument, or that felicity of expression, for which he was, upon other occasions, so eminent. Positive assertion, sarcastical severity, and extravagant ridicule, which he himself reprobated as a test of truth, were united in this rhapsody
That this pamphlet was written at the desire of those who were then in power, I have no doubt; and, indeed, he owned to me, that it had been revised and curtailed by some of them. He told me, that they had struck out one passage, which was to this effect:
“That the colonists could with no solidity argue from their not having been taxed while in their infancy, that they should not now be taxed. We do not put a calf into the plough; we wait till he is an ox.” He said, “They struck it out either critically as too ludicrous, or politically as too exasperating. I care not which. It was their business. If an architect says, I will build five stories, and the man who employs him says, I will have only three, the employer is to decide.” “Yes, Sir," said I, “in ordinary cases. But should it be so when the architect gives his skill and labour gratis ?” Unfavourable as
rained to say my opinion of this pamphlet was, yet, since it was congenial with the sentiments of numbers at that time, and as everything relating to the writings of Dr. Johnson is of importance in literary history, I shall therefore insert some passages which were struck out, it does not appear why, either by himself or those who revised it. They appear printed in a few proof leaves of it in my possession, marked with corrections in his own handwriting, I shall distinguish them by italics.
In the paragraph where he says, the Americans were incited to resistance by European intelligence from s'men whom they thought their friends, but who were friends only to themselves," there followed, " and made by their selfishness, the enemies of their country.”
And the next paragraph ran thus :
« On the original contrivers of mischief, rather than on those whom they have deluded, let an insulted nation pour out its vengeance." The paragraph which came next was in these words :
Unhappy is that country in which men can hope for advancement by favouring its enemies. The tranquillity of stable government is not always easily preserved against the machinations of single innovators; but what can be the hope of quiet, when factions hostile to the legislature can be openly formed and openly avowed ?"
After the paragraph which now concludes the pamphlet, there followed this, in which he certainly means the great Earl of Chatham, and glances at a certain popular Lord Chancellor :
If, by the fortune of war, they drive us utterly away, what they will do next can only be conjectured. If a new monarchy is erected, they will want a KING. He who first takes into his hand the sceptre of America, should have a name of good omen. WILLIAM has been known both a conqueror and deliverer ; and, perhaps England, however contemned, might yet supply them with ANOTHER WILLIAM. Whigs, indeed, are not willing to be governed ; and it is possible that KING WILLIAM may be strongly inclined to guide their measures : but Whigs have been cheated like other mortals, and suffered their leader to become their tyrant, under the name of their PROTECTOR. What more they will receive from England, no man can tell. In their rudiments of empire they may want a CHANCELLOR."
Then came this paragraph:
“ Their numbers are, at present, not quite sufficient for the greatness which, in some form of government or other, is to rival the ancient monarchies ; but by .Dr. Franklin's rule of progression, they will, in a century and a quarter, be more than equal to the inhabitants of Europe. When the Whigs of America are thus
multiplied, let the Princes of the earth tremble in their palaces. If they should continue to double and to double, their own hemisphere would not contain them. But let not our boldest oppugners of authority look forward with delight to this futurity of Whiggism."
How it ended I know not, as it is cut off abruptly at the foot of the last of these proof pages.
His pamphlets in support of the measures of administration were published on his own account, and he afterwards collected them into a volume, with the title of “Political Tracts, by the Author of the Rambler," with this motto:
“ Fallitur egregio quisquis sub Principe credit
Quam sub Rege pio.”—CLAUDIANUS. These pamphlets drew upon him numerous attacks. Against the common weapons of literary warfare he was hardened; but there were two instances of animadversion which I communicated to him, and from what I could judge, both from his silence and his looks, appeared to me to impress him much.
One was, “ A Letter to Dr. Samuel Johnson, occasioned by his late political Publications.” It appeared previous to his “ Taxation no Tyranny,” and was written by Dr. Joseph Towers. In that performance, Dr. Johnson was treated with the respect due to so eminent a man, whilst his conduct as a political writer was boldly and pointedly arraigned, as inconsistent with the character of one, who, if he did employ his pen upon politics, “it might reasonably be expected should distinguish himself, not by party violence and rancour, but by moderation and by wisdom.”
It concluded thus :
“ I would, however, wish you to remember, should you again address the public under the character of a political writer, that luxuriance of imagination or energy of language, will ill compensate for the want of candour, of justice, and of truth. And I shall only add, that should I hereafter be disposed to read, as I heretofore have done, the most excellent of all your performances,
The Rambler,' the pleasure which I have been accustomed to find in it will be much diminished by the reflection that the writer of so moral, so elegant, and so valuable a work, was capable of prostituting his talents in such productions as “The False Alarm,' the 'Thoughts on the Transactions respecting Falkland's Islands,' and 'The Patriot.''
I am willing to do justice to the merit of Dr. Towers, of whom I will
say, that although I abhor his Whiggish democratical notions and propensities (for I will not call them principles), I esteem him as an ingenious, knowing, and very convivial man. The other instance was a paragraph of a letter to me,
old and most intimate friend the Reverend Mr. Temple, who wrote the character of Gray, which has had the honour to be adopted both by Mr. Mason and Dr. Johnson in their accounts of that poet. The words
“How can your great, I will not say your pious, but your moral friend, support the barbarous measures of administration, which they have not the face to ask even their infidel pensioner Hume to defend ?”
However confident of the rectitude of his own mind, Johnson may have felt sincere uneasiness that his conduct should be erroneously imputed to unworthy motives, by good men ; and that the influence of his valuable writings should on that account be in any degree obstructed or lessened.
He complained to a right honourable friend of distinguished talents and very elegant manners, with whom he maintained a long intimacy, and whose generosity towards him will afterwards appear, that his pension having been given to him as a literary character, he had been applied to by the administration to write political pamphlets ; and he was even so much irritated, that he declared his resolution to resign his pension. His friend showed him the impropriety of such a measure, and he afterwards expressed his gratitude, and said he had received good advice. To that friend he once signified a wish to have his pension secured to him for life; but he neither asked nor received from government any reward whatsoever for his political labours.
On Friday, March 24, I met him at the LITERARY CLUB, where were Mr. Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Mr. Colman, Dr. Percy, Mr. Vesey, Sir Charles Bunbury, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Charles Fox. Before he came in, we talked of his “ Journey to the Western Islands,” and of his coming away, “willing to believe the second sight,” which seemed to excite some ridicule. I was then so impressed with the truth of many of the stories of which I had been told, that I avowed my conviction, saying, “He is only willing to believe: I do believe. The evidence
is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not fill a quart bottle, will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief." Are
?” said Colman; "then cork it up.” I found his “ Journey” the common topic of conversation in London at this time, wherever I happened to be. At one of Lord Mansfield's formal Sunday evening conversations, strangely called Levées, his