Page images
PDF
EPUB

looked pale, and was distressed with a difficulty of breathing; but after the common inquiries, he assumed his usual strong animated style of conversation. Seeing me now for the first time as a laird, or proprietor of land, he began thus: “Sir, the superiority of a country gentleman over the people upon his estate is very agreeable; and he who says he does not feel it to be agreeable, lies ; for it must be agreeable to have a casual superiority over those who are by nature equal with us.” BOSWELL. “ Yet, sir, we see great proprietors of land who prefer living in London.” JOHNSON. “Why, sir, the pleasure of living in London, the intellectual superiority that is enjoyed there, may counterbalance the other. Besides, sir, a man may prefer the state of the country gentleman upon the whole, and yet there may never be a moment when he is willing to make the change, to quit London for it.” He said, “ It is better to have five per cent. out of land, than out of money, because it is more secure; but the readiness of transfer and promptness of interest make many people rather choose the funds. Nay, there is another disadvantage belonging to land, compared with money: a man is not so much afraid of being a hard creditor, as of being a hard landlord.” BosWELL. “Because there is a sort of kindly connexion between a landlord and his tenants.” JOHNSON. “No, sir; many landlords with us never see their tenants. It is because, if a landlord drives away his tenants, he may not get others; whereas the demand for money is so great, it may always be lent.”

He talked with regret and indignation of the factious opposition to government at this time, and imputed it in a great measure to the revolution. “Sir," said he, in a low voice, having come nearer to me, while his old prejudices seemed to be fermenting in

his mind, “ this Hanoverian family is isolée here. They have no friends. Now the Stuarts had friends who stuck by them so late as 1745. When the right of the king is not reverenced, there will not be reverence for those appointed by the king ?."

His observation that the present royal family has no friends has been too much justified by the very ungrateful behaviour of many who were under great obligations to his majesty: at the same time there are honourable exceptions; and the very next year after this conversation, and ever since, the king has had as extensive and generous support as ever was given to any monarch, and has had the satisfaction of knowing that he was more and more endeared to his people.

He repeated to me his verses on Mr. Levett, with an emotion which gave them full effect; and then he was pleased to say, “ You must be as much with me as you can. You have done me good. You cannot think how much better I am since you came in."

He sent a message to acquaint Mrs. Thrale that I was arrived. I had not seen her since her husband's death. She soon appeared, and favoured me with an invitation to stay to dinner, which I accepted. There was no other company but herself and three of her daughters, Dr. Johnson, and I. She too said

[Even Johnson's mind was not superior to early prejudices. When he was young, no doubt there was a great body, perhaps the numerical majority of the nation, who were opposed to or, at least, not cordial to the Hanover succession ; but the events of 1745 showed how small in number and how weak in feeling the jacobites had become. The revolution, no doubt, and a great accession of strength to the democratic branch of the constitution the more general diffusion of knowledge, and the greater spread of political discussion, led to what Dr. Johnson called faction, to the American revolt, and to all the important consequences which, since his time, have resulted from that event; amongst which is, no doubt, the looking upon the king rather as the first magistrate than as the object of the personal reverence and feudal enthusiasm of former days: but that any jacobite tendency, or any doubt of the right of the reigning family, entered directly into the political difficulties of the period in question, Dr. Johnson could not have dispassionately believed. Er]

she was very glad I was come; for she was going to Bath, and should have been sorry to leave Dr. Johnson before I came. This seemed to be attentive and kind; and I, who had not been informed of any change ', imagined all to be as well as formerly. He was little inclined to talk at dinner, and went to sleep after it; but when he joined us in the drawingroom he seemed revived, and was again himself.

Talking of conversation, he said, “ There must, in the first place, be knowledge, there must be materials; in the second place, there must be a command of words; in the third place, there must be imagination, to place things in such views as they are not commonly seen in; and, in the fourth place, there must be presence of mind, and a resolution that is not to be overcome by failures: this last is an essential requisite; for want of it many people do not excel in conversation. Now I want it; I throw up the game upon losing a trick.” I wondered to hear him talk thus of himself, and said, “I don't know, sir, how this may be; but I am sure you

beat other people's cards out of their hands.” I doubt whether he heard this remark. While we went on talking triumphantly, I was fixed in admiration, and said to Mrs. Thrale, “ O for short-hand to take this down!” “You'll carry it all in your head,” said she: “a long head is as good as short-hand.”

It has been observed and wondered at, that Mr. Charles Fox never talked with any freedom in the presence of Dr. Johnson; though it is well known, and I myself can witness, that his conversation is various, fluent, and exceedingly agreeable. Johnson's own experience, however, of that gentleman's reserve,

* [Nor was there, hitherto, any visible change. There was, as yet, no sign of that unhappy insanity (for it seems nothing less) which produced Mrs. Thrale's second marriage: see p. 37, note. ED.]

66 ****

was a sufficient reason for his going on thus : “ Fox never talks in private company; not from any determination not to talk, but because he has not the first motion. A man who is used to the applause of the house of commons has no wish for that of a private company. A man accustomed to throw for a thousand pounds, if set down to throw for sixpence, would not be at the pains to count his dice. Burke's talk is the ebullition of his mind. He does not talk from a desire of distinction, but because his mind is full 1."

He thus curiously characterised one of our old acquaintance : *** 2 is a good man, sir; but he is a vain man and a liar. He, however, only tells lies of vanity; of victories, for instance, in conversation, which never happened.” This alluded to a story, which I had repeated from that gentleman, to entertain Johnson with its wild bravado. This Johnson, sir,” said he,“ whom you are all afraid of, will shrink, if you come close to him in argument, and roar as loud as he. He once maintained the paradox, that there is no beauty but in utility.

Sir,' said I, 'what say you to the peacock's tail, which is one of the most beautiful objects in nature, but would have as much utility if its feathers were all of one colour. He felt what I thus produced, and had recourse to his usual expedient, ridicule; exclaiming, “A peacock has a tail, and a fox has a tail;' and then he burst out into a laugh.

Well, sir,' said I, with a strong voice, looking him full in the face, you have unkennelled your fox;

66

6

6

[This may seem somewhat at variance with the supposition that, in a former passage, ante, vol. iv. p. 101, Mr. Burke was alluded to; but we have seen how often Johnson could, in such matters, advance contradictory opinions.—ED.]

· [This alludes to old Mr. Sheridan ; and recollecting that Boswell professes to have endeavoured to reconcile him with Dr. Johnson, we cannot but wonder at the mode in which he attempted to accomplish that object.-Ed.]

pursue him if you dare.' He had not a word to say, sir.” Johnson told me that this was fiction from beginning to end

After musing for some time, he said, “I wonder how I should have any enemies; for I do harm to nobody.” BOSWELL. “In the first place, sir, you will be pleased to recollect that you set out with attacking the Scotch; so you got a whole nation for your enemies.”. JOHNSON. “Why, I own that by my definition of oats I meant to vex them." BosWELL. “ Pray, sir, can you trace the cause of your antipathy to the Scotch ?” JOHNSON. “I cannot, sir 3.” BOSWELL. “Old Mr. Sheridan says it was because they sold Charles the First.” JOHNSON. “ Then, sir, old Mr. Sheridan has found out a very good reason.

Surely the most obstinate and sulky nationality, the most determined aversion to this great and good man, must be cured, when he is seen thus playing with one of his prejudices, of which he candidly ad

1 Were I to insert all the stories which have been told of contests boldly maintained with him, imaginary victories obtained over him, of reducing him to silence, and of making him own that his antagonist had the better of him in argument, my volumes would swell to an immoderate size. One instance, I find, has circulated both in conversation and in print ; that when he would not allow the Scotch writers to have merit, the late Dr. Rose, of Chiswick, asserted, that he could name one Scotch writer whom Dr. Johnson himself would allow to have written better than any man of the age; and upon Johnson's asking who it was, answered, “ Lord Bute, when he signed the warrant for your pension.' Upon which Johnson, struck with the repartee, acknowledged that this was true. "When I mentioned it to Johnson, “Sir," said he, “ if Rose said this, I never heard it.”—BOSWELL.

2 This reflection was very natural in a man of a good heart, who was not conscious of any ill-will to mankind, though the sharp sayings which were sometimes produced by his discrimination and vivacity, which he perhaps did not recollect, were, I am afraid, too often remembered with resentment.--BOSWELL.

3 [When Johnson asserted so distinctly that he could not trace the cause of his antipathy to the Scotch, it may seem unjust to attribute to him any secret personal motive: but it is the essence of prejudice to be unconscious of its cause; and the editor is convinced in his own mind that Johnson received in early life some serious injury or affront from the Scotch. If Johnson's personal history during the years 1745 and 1746 were known, something would probably be found to account for this (as it now seems) absurd national aversion. -ED.)

« PreviousContinue »