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Lordship addressed me, "We have all been reading your travels, Mr. Boswell." I answered, "I was but the humble attendant of Dr. Johnson." The Chief-Justice replied, with that air and manner which none, who ever saw and heard him, can forget, "He speaks ill of nobody but Ossian."
Johnson was in high spirits this evening at the and talked with great animation and success. He attacked Swift, as he used to do upon all occasions. "The Tale of a Tub' is so much superior to his other writings, that one can hardly believe he was the author of it:1 there is in it such a vigour of mind, such a swarm of thoughts, so much of nature, and art, and life." I wondered to hear him say of " Gulliver's Travels," ," "When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest." I endeavoured to make a stand for Swift, and tried to rouse those who were much more able to defend him; but in vain. Johnson at last, of his own accord, allowed very great merit to the inventory of articles found in the pocket of "The Man Mountain," particularly the description of his watch, which it was conjectured was his God, as he consulted it upon all occasions. He observed, that "Swift put his name to but two things (after he had a name to put), 'The Plan for the Improvement of the English Language,' and the last 'Drapier's Letter.'
From Swift, there was an easy transition to Mr. Thomas Sheridan. JOHNSON: "Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of Douglas, and presented its author with a gold medal. Some years ago, at a coffee-house in Oxford, I called to him, 'Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Sheridan, how came you to give a gold medal to Home, for writing that foolish play?' This, you see, was wanton and insolent; but I meant to be wanton and insolent. A medal has no value but as a stamp of merit. And was Sheridan to assume to himself the right of giving that stamp? If Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow a gold medal as an honorary reward of dramatic excellence, he should have requested one of the Universities to choose the person on whom it should be conferred. Sheridan had no right to give a stamp of merit : it was counterfeiting Apollo's coin."
1 This doubt has been much agitated on both sides, I think without good reason. See Addison's "Freeholder," May 4, 1714; "An Apology for the Tale of a Tub;" Dr. Hawkesworth's "Preface to Swift's Works," and Swift's "Letter to Tooke the Printer," and Tooke's "Answer" in that collection; Sheridan's "Life of Swift;" Mr. Courtenay's note on p. 3 of his "Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of Dr. Johnson;" and Mr. Cooksey's "Essay on the Life and Character of John Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham."
Dr. Johnson here speaks only to the internal evidence. I take leave to differ from him, having a very high estimation of the powers of Dr. Swift. His "Sentiments of a Church-ofEngland man;" his "Sermon on the Trinity," and other serious pieces, prove his learning as well as his acuteness in logic and metaphysics; and his various compositions of a different cast exhibit not only wit, humour, and ridicule; but a knowledge "of nature, and art, and life;" a combination therefore of those powers, when (as the "Apology" says) “the author was young, his invention at the height, and his reading fresh in his head," might surely produce "The Tale of a Tub."-Boswell.
On Monday, March 27, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Strahan's. He told us, that he was engaged to go that evening to Mrs. Abington's benefit. "She was visiting some ladies whom I was visiting, and begged that I would come to her benefit. I told her I could not hear: but she insisted so much on my coming, that it would have been brutal to have refused her." This was a speech quite characteristical. He loved to bring forward his having been in the gay circles of life; and he
was, perhaps, a little vain of the solicitations of this elegant and fashionable actress. He told us, the play was to be "The Hypocrite," altered from Cibber's "Nonjuror," so as to satirise the Methodists. "I do not think," said he, "the character of the Hypocrite justly applicable to the Methodists, but it was very applicable to the Nonjurors. I once said to Dr. Madan, a clergyman of Ireland, who was a great Whig, that perhaps a Nonjuror would have been less criminal in taking the oaths imposed by the ruling power, than refusing them; because refusing them, necessarily laid him under almost an irresistible temptation to be more
criminal; for, a man must live, and if he precludes himself from the support furnished by the establishment, will probably be reduced to very wicked shifts to maintain himself." BOSWELL: "I should think, Sir, that a man who took the oaths contrary to his principles, was a
1 This was not merely a cursory remark; for in his "Life of Fenton" he observes, "With many other wise and virtuous men, who at that time of discord and debate [about the beginning of this century], consulted conscience well or ill informed, more than interest, he doubted the legality of the government; and refusing to qualify himself for public employment, by taking the oaths required, left the University without a degree." This conduct Johnson calls 66 perverseness of integrity."
The question concerning the morality of taking oaths, of whatever kind, imposed by the prevailing power at the time, rather than to be excluded from all consequence, or even any considerable usefulness in society, has been agitated with all the acuteness of casuistry. It is related, that he who devised the oath of abjuration, profligately boasted, that he had framed a test which should "damn one half of the nation, and starve the other." Upon minds not exalted to inflexible rectitude, or minds in which zeal for a party is predominant to excess, taking that oath against conviction, may have been palliated uuder the plea of necessity, or ventured upon in heat, as upon the whole producing more good than evil.
At a county election in Scotland, many years ago, when there was a warm contest between the friends of the Hanoverian succession, and those against it, the oath of abjuration having been demanded, the freeholders upon one side rose to go away. Upon which a very sanguine gentleman, one of their number, ran to the door to stop them, calling out with much earnestness," Stay, stay, my friends, and let us swear the rogues out of it."-BOSWELL.
determined wicked man, because he was sure he was committing perjury, whereas a Nonjuror might be insensibly led to do what was wrong, without being so directly conscious of it." JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, a man who goes to bed to his patron's wife, is pretty sure that he is committing wickedness." BoswELL: "Did the nonjuring clergymen do so, Sir?" JOHNSON: "I am afraid many of them did."
I was startled at this argument, and could by no means think it convincing. Had not his own father complied with the requisition of government (as to which he once observed to me, when I pressed him upon it, "That, Sir, he was to settle with himself,") he would probably have thought more unfavourably of a Jacobite who took the oaths :
had he not resembled My father as he swore."
Mr. Strahan talked of launching into the great ocean of London, in order to have a chance for rising into eminence; and, observing that many men were kept back from trying their fortunes there, because they were born to a competency, said, "Small certainties are the bane of men of talents; " which Johnson confirmed. Mr. Strahan put Johnson in mind of a remark which he had made to him; "There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money." "The more one thinks of this," said Strahan, "the juster it will appear."
Mr. Strahan had taken a poor boy from the country as an apprentice, upon Johnson's recommendation. Johnson having inquired after him, said, "Mr. Strahan, let me have five guineas on account, and I'll give this boy one. Nay, if a man recommends a boy, and does nothing for him, it is sad work. Call him down."
I followed him into the court-yard, behind Mr. Strahan's house; and there I had a proof of what I had heard him profess, that he talked alike to all. "Some people tell you that they let themselves down to the capacity of their hearers. I never do that. I speak uniformly, in as intelligible a manner as I can."
“Well, my boy, how do you go on?" "Pretty well, Sir; but they are afraid I an't strong enough for some parts of the business." JOHNSON: "Why, I shall be sorry for it; for when you consider with how little mental power and corporeal labour a printer can get a guinea a week, it is a very desirable occupation for you. Do you hear-take all the pains you can; and if this does not do, we must think of some other way of life for you. There's a guinea."
Here was one of the many, many instances of his active benevolence. At the same time, the slow and sonorous solemnity with which, while he bent himself down, he addressed a little thick short-legged boy, contrasted with the boy's awkwardness and awe could not but excite some ludicrous emotions.
I met him at Drury-lane playhouse in the evening. Sir Joshua Reynolds, at Mrs. Abington's request, had promised to bring a body of wits to her benefit; and having secured forty places in the front
boxes, had done me the honour to put me in the group. Johnson sat on the seat directly behind me; and as he could neither see nor hear at such a distance from the stage, he was wrapped up in grave abstraction, and seemed quite a cloud amidst all the sunshine of glitter and gaiety. I wondered at his patience in sitting out a play of five acts, and a farce of two. He said very little; but after the prologue to "Bon Ton " had been spoken, which he could hear pretty well from the more slow and distinct utterance, he talked on prologue writing, and observed, "Dryden has written prologues superior to any that David Garrick has written; but David Garrick has written more good prologues than Dryden has done. It is wonderful that he has been able to write such variety of them."
At Mr. Beauclerk's, where I supped, was Mr. Garrick, whom I made happy with Johnson's praise of his prologues; and I suppose, in gratitude to him, he took up one of his favourite topics-the nationality of the Scotch-which he maintained in a pleasant manner, with the
aid of a little poetical fiction. Come, come, don't deny it: they are really national. Why, now, the Adams 1 are as liberal-minded men as any in the world: but, I don't know how it is, all their workmen are Scotch. You are, to be sure, wonderfully free from that nationality; but so it happens, that you employ the only Scotch shoe-black in London." He imitated the manner of his old master with ludicrous exaggeration; repeating, with pauses and half-whistlings interjected,
"Os homini sublime dedit,-cœlumque tueri
looking downwards all the time, and, while pronouncing the four last words, absolutely touching the ground with a kind of contorted gesticulation.
Garrick, however, when he pleased, could imitate Johnson very 1 Architects of the Adelphi buildings.-ED.