« PreviousContinue »
turned to London; he was not well to-day, and said very little, employing himself chiefly in reading Euripides. He expressed some displeasure at me for not observing sufficiently the various objects upon the rvad. “If I had your eyes, sir,” said he, “ I should count the passengers.
It was wonderful how accurate his observation of visual objects was, notwithstanding his imperfect eyesight, owing to a habit of attention. That he was much satisfied with the re
spect paid to him at Dr. Adams's is thus attested by Letters, himself: “I returned last night from Oxford, after p. 372. a fortnight's abode with Dr. Adams, who treated me
as well as I could expect or wish; and he that contents a sick man, a man whom it is impossible to please, has surely done his part well.” [He adds, “I went in the common vehicle, with very little fatigue, and came back I think with less."]
After his return to London from this excursion, I saw him frequently, but have few memorandums; I shall therefore here insert some particulars which I collected at various times.
The Reverend Mr. Astle, of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, brother to the learned and ingenious Thomas Astle, Esq. was from his early years known to Dr. Johnson, who obligingly advised him as to his studies, and recommended to him the following books, of which a list which he has been pleased to communicate lies before me, in Johnson's own handwriting :-—“Universal History (ancient) — Rollin's Ancient History-Puffendorf's Introduction to History—Vertot's History of Knights of Malta—Vertot's Revolution of Portugal—Vertot's Revolution of Sweden-Carte's History of England - Present State of England - Geographical Grammar — Prideaux's Connexion — Nelson's Feasts and Fasts — Duty of Man—Gentleman's Religion-Clarendon's IlistoryWatts's Improvement of the Mind- Watts's Logick
Nature Displayed_Lowth's English Grammar, Blackwall on the Classicks -Sherlock's SermonsBurnet's Life of Hale-Dupin's History of the Church
Shuckford's Connexions--Law's Serious Call — Walton's Complete Angler — Sandys's Travels Sprat’s History of the Royal Society-England's Gazetteer — Goldsmith's Roman History - Some Commentaries on the Bible.”
It having been mentioned to Dr. Johnson that a gentleman who had a son whom he imagined to have an extreme degree of timidity, resolved to send him to a publick school, that he might acquire confidence: “Sir,” said Johnson, “this is a preposterous expedient for removing his infirmity; such a disposition should be cultivated in the shade. Placing him at a publick school is forcing an owl upon day.”
Speaking of a gentleman whose house was much frequented by low company: “Rags, sir,” said he, “will always make their appearance where they have a right to do it.”
Of the same gentleman's mode of living, he said, Sir, the servants, instead of doing what they are bid, stand round the table in idle clusters, gaping upon the guests; and seem as unfit to attend a company, as to steer a man of war.”
A dull country magistrate gave Johnson a long, tedious account of his exercising his criminal jurisdiction, the result of which was his having sentenced four convicts to transportation. Johnson, in an agony of impatience to get rid of such a companion, exclaimed, “ I heartily wish, sir, that I were a fifth."
Johnson was present when a tragedy was read, in which there occurred this line :
" Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free."
The company having admired it much, “I cannot
agree with you,” said Johnson : “it might as well be said,
“Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat!."
He was pleased with the kindness of Mr. Cator,
who was joined with him in Mr. Thrale's important Letters, trust, and thus describes him : “ There is much good p. 284. in his character, and much usefulness in his know
ledge.” He found a cordial solace at that gentleman's seat at Beckenham, in Kent, which is indeed one of the finest places at which I ever was a guest ; and where I find more and more a hospitable welcome.
Johnson seldom encouraged general censure of profession; but he was willing to allow a due share of merit to the various departments necessary in civilised life. In a splenetick, sarcastical, or jocular frame of mind, however, he would sometimes utter a pointed saying of that nature. One instance has been mentioned®, where he gave a sudden satirical stroke to the character of an attorney. The too indiscriminate admission to that employment, which requires both abilities and integrity, has given rise to injurious reflections, which are totally inapplicable to many very respectable men who exercise it with reputation and honour.
Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, “I don't understand you, sir;" upon which Johnson observed, “Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”
Talking to me of Horry Walpole (as Horace, now Earl of Orford, was often called), Johnson allowed that he got together a great many curious little things,
' [Ante, v. iv. p. 6.-Ed.]
and told them in an elegant manner. Mr. Walpole thought Johnson a more amiable character after reading his Letters to Mrs. Thrale: but never was one of the true admirers of that great man'. We may suppose a prejudice conceived, if he ever heard Johnson's account to Sir George Staunton, that when he made speeches in parliament for the Gentleman's Magazine, “ he always took care to put Sir Robert Walpole in the wrong, and to say every thing he could against the electorate of Hanover." The celebrated Heroick Epistle, in which Johnson is satirically introduced, has been ascribed both to Mr. Walpole and Mr. Mason. One day at Mr. Courtenay's, when a gentleman expressed his opinion that there was more energy in that poem than could be expected from Mr. Walpole; Mr. Warton, the late laureate, observed, “It may have been written by Walpole, and buckram’d by Mason."
'In his Posthumous Works he has spoken of Johnson in the most contemptuous manner!-MALONE. [Malone doubtless alludes to the edition of Walpole's Works, in 5 vols. 4to., published in 1798; but, with the exception of the Letters, almost the whole of Walpole's writings had been previously given to the world. The following passage occurs in one of the letters to General Conway, “ Have you got Boswell's most absurd, enormous book? The “ best thing in it is a bon mot of Lord Pembroke. The more one learns of
Johnson, the more preposterous assemblage he appears of strong sense, of the “ lowest bigotry and prejudices, of pride, brutality, fretfulness and vanity-and “ Boswell is the ape of most of his faults, without a grain of his sense. It is the
story of a mountebank and his zany.”_5th Oct. 1785. In a letter to Mr. Cole, published since Mr. Malone's death, Walpole says, “ I have no " thirst to know the rest of my cotemporaries, from the absurd bombast of Dr. " Johnson down to the Dr. Goldsmith. Though the latter changelir has “ had bright gleams of parts, and the former had sense till he changed it for - words and sold it for a pension.”—27 April, 1773. The expression is smart and epigrammatic, but has, as relates to Johnson, little meaning. Johnson's sense and verbosity were cotemporaneous. Indeed his later works have fewer hard words than his first publications; so that at least he did not change sense for words.” As to the pension, it has been shown that Johnson did not sell his principles for it: but, at all events, he did not “sell his sense" in the meaning of parting with it. And the Quarterly Review on Walpole's Memoirs (March, 1822), proves that though he talked and wrote in strains of high disinterested ness, he was the last man who ought to have charged another with any venal change either of principles or language. As to Goldsmith, Walpole had before happily characterised him as an “inspired idiot.”—ED.]
2 It is now (1804) known, that the Heroick Epistle” was written by Mason. -MALONE. [The editor is satisfied, from a variety of evidence, that Walpole was concerned in this lively satire, and that the distribution of the shares given in a former note (ante, vol. iv. p. 485) is substantially correct.-ED).
He disapproved of Lord Hailes, for having modernised the language of the ever memorable John Hales of Eton, in an edition which his lordship published of that writer's works. “ An authour's language, sir,” said he, “is a characteristical part of his composition, and is also characteristical of the age in which he writes. Besides, sir, when the langnage is changed, we are not sure that the sense is the same. No, sir: I am sorry Lord Hailes has done this.”
Here it may be observed, that his frequent use of the expression, No, sir, was not always to intimate contradiction : for he would say so when he was about to enforce an affirmative proposition which had not been denied, as in the instance last mentioned. I used to consider it as a kind of flag of defiance; as if he had said, “ Any argument you may offer against this is not just. No, sir, it is not." It was like Falstaff's “ I deny your major.'
Sir Joshua Reynolds having said that he took the altitude of a man's taste by his stories and his wit, and of his understanding by the remarks which he repeated; being always sure that he must be a weak man, who quotes common things with an emphasis as if they were oracles ;—Johnson agreed with him; and Sir Joshua having also observed that the real character of a man was found out by his amusements, Johnson added, “ Yes, sir; no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures."
I have mentioned Johnson's general aversion to a pun. He once, however, endured one of mine. When we were talking of a numerous company in which he had distinguished himself highly, I said, “Sir, you were a cop surrounded by smelts. Is not this enough
· [Sir James Mackintosh remembers that while spending the Christmas of 1797 at Beaconsfield, Mr. Burke said to him, “ Johnson showed more powers “ of mind in company than in his writings; but he argued only for victory; " and when he had neither a paradox to defend, nor an antagonist to crush, he " would preface his essent with, Why, no, sir.”—ED.)