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He had this evening, partly I suppose from the spirit of contradiction to his whig friend, a violent argument with Dr. Taylor, as to the inclinations of the people of England at this time towards the royal family of Stuart. He grew so outrageous as to say, “ that if England were fairly polled, the present king would be sent away to-night, and his adherents hanged to-morrow." Taylor, who was as violent a wbig as Johnson was a tory, was roused by this to a pitch of bellowing. He denied loudly what Johnson said ; and maintained that there was an abhorrence against the Stuart family, though he admitted that the people were not much attached to the present king b. Johnson. “Sir, the state of the country is this: the people, knowing it to be agreed on all hands that this king has not the hereditary right to the crown, and there being no hope that he who has it can be restored, have grown cold and indifferent upon the subject of loyalty, and have no warm attachment to any king. They would not, therefore, risk any thing to restore the exiled family. They would give twenty shillings a piece to bring it about. But if a mere vote could do it, there would be twenty to one; at least there would be a very great majority of voices
trious names to posterity, to take care lest their readers be misled by ambiguous examples. That writer may justly be condemned as an enemy to goodness, who suffers fondness to confound right with wrong, or to shelter the faults which even the wisest and best bave committed, from that ignominy which guilt ought always to suffer, and with which it should be more deeply stigmatized when dignified by its neighbourhood to uncommon worth : since we shall all be in danger of beholding it without abhorrence, unless its turpitude be laid open, and the eye secured from the deception of surrounding splendour.”— Rambler, No. 164. If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shown,” he once remarked to Malone, "we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing." See a letter of Malone's in vol. iv. of these memoirs. It was this conscientious freedom, we believe, that has, more than any other cause, subjected the Lives of the Poets to the severe censure they have encountered.—ED.
b Dr. Taylor was very ready to make this admission, because the party with which he was connected was not in power. There was then some truth in it, owing to the pertinacity of factious clamour. Had he lived till now, it would have been impossible for him to deny that his majesty possesses the warmest affection of his people.---BOSWELL.
for it. For, sir, you are to consider, that all those who think a king has a right to his crown, as a man has to his estate, which is the just opinion, would be for restoring the king who certainly bas the hereditary right, could he be trusted with it; in which there would be no danger now, when laws and every thing else are so much advanced ; and every king will govern by the laws. And you must also consider, sir, that there is nothing on the other side to oppose to this : for it is not alleged by any one that the present family has any inherent right; so that the whigs could not have a contest between two rights.”
Dr. Taylor admitted, that if the question as to hereditary right were to be tried by a poll of the people of England, to be sure the abstract doctrine would be given in favour of the family of Stuart; but he said, the conduct of that family, which occasioned their expulsion, was so fresh in the minds of the people, that they would not vote for a restoration. Dr. Johnson, I think, was contented with the admission as to the hereditary right, leaving the original point in dispute, viz. what the people upon the whole would do, taking in right and affection ; for he said, people were afraid of a change, even though they think it right. Dr. Taylor said something of the slight foundation of the hereditary right of the house of Stuart. “Sir,” said Johnson, “ the house of Stuart succeeded to the full right of both the houses of York and Lancaster, whose common source had the undisputed right. A right to a throne is like a right to any thing else. Possession is sufficient, where no better right can be shown. This was the case with the royal family of England, as it is now with the king of France ; for as to the first beginning of the right we are in the dark.”
Thursday, September 18th. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor's large room, should be lighted up some time or other. Dr. Taylor said it should be lighted up next night. “ That will do very well,” said I, " for it is Dr. Johnson's birth-day.” When we were in the isle of Sky, Johnson
had desired me not to mention his birth-day. He did not seem pleased at this time that I mentioned it, and said (somewhat sternly,) “ he would not have the lustre lighted the next day.”
Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his birth-day, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally by wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birth-day mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.
I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. Sir,” said Johnson, “this is only a disordered imagination taking a different turn."
We talked of a collection being made of all the English poets who had published a volume of poems. Johnson told me “that a Mr. Coxeter, whom he knew, had gone the greatest length towards this, having collected, I think, about five hundred volumes of poets whose works were little known; but that upon his death Tom Osborne bought them, and they were dispersed, which he thought a pity, as it was curious to see any series complete; and in every volume of poems something good may be found.”
He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into a bad style of poetry of late.
“ He puts," said he, "a very common thing in a strange dress, till he does not know it himself, and thinks other people do not know it.” Boswell. “ That is owing to his being so much versant in old English poetry.” Johnson. “What is that to the purpose, sir? If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, sir, has taken to an odd mode. For example, he'd write thus :
c Thomas Coxeter, esq. who had also made a large collection of old plays, and from whose manuscript notes the Lives of the English Poets, by Shiels and Cibber, were principally compiled, as should have been mentioned in a former page. See p. 24 of this volume. Mr. Coxeter was bred at Trinity college, Oxford, and died in London, April 17, 1747, in his fifty-ninth year. A
particular account of him may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1781, p. 173.-MALONE.
Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray.
Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he'd think fine. Stay ;-we'll make out the stanza :
Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray:
What is bliss ?' and which the way?
BOSWELL. “But why smite his bosom, sir?" JOHNSON.
Why to show he was in earnest,” (smiling.) He at an after period added the following stanza :
Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh’d;
Scarce repress'd the starting tear;
Come, my lad, and drink some beer d.
I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also the first three lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental enquirers. And perhaps the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited, dissatisfied being :—“Don't trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry."
d As some of my readers may be gratified by reading the progress of this little composition, I shall insert it from my notes. “ When Dr. Johnson and I were sitting tête-à-tête at the Mitre tavern, May 9, 1778, he said, “Where is bliss,' would be better. He then added a ludicrous stanza, but would not repeat it, lest I should take it down. It was somewhat as follows; the last line I am sure I remember : While I thus
seer, The hoary
reply'd, Come, my lad, and drink some beer. "In spring, 1779, when in better humour, he made the second stanza, as in the text. There was only one variation afterwards made on my suggestion, which was changing houry in the third line to smiling, both to avoid a sameness with the epithet in the first line, and to describe the hermit in his pleasantry. He was then very well pleased that I should preserve it.”—Boswell.
Friday, September 19th, after breakfast, Dr. Johnson and I set out in Dr. Taylor's chaise to go to Derby. The day was fine, and we resolved to go by Keddlestone, the seat of lord Scarsdale, that I might see his lordship's fine house. I was struck with the magnificence of the building; and the extensive park, with the finest verdure, covered with deer, and cattle, and sheep, delighted me. The number of old oaks, of an immense size, filled me with a sort of respectful admiration : for one of them sixty pounds was offered. The excellent smooth gravel roads ; the large piece of water formed by his lordship from some small brooks, with a handsome barge upon it; the venerable Gothick church, now the family chapel, just by the house; in short, the grand groupe of objects agitated and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner. should think,” said I, “ that the proprietor of all this must be happy.”—“Nay, sir,” said Johnson, "all this excludes but one evil-poverty." Our names
were sent up, and a well-drest elderly house-keeper, a most distinct articulator, showed us the house ; which I need not describe, as there is an account of it published in Adam's Works in Architecture. Dr. Johnson thought better of it to-day than when he saw it before ; for he had lately attacked it violently, saying, “ It would do excellently for a town-hall. The large room with the pillars,” said he, “would do for the judges to sit
e When I mentioned Dr. Johnson's remark to a lady of admirable good sense and quickness of understanding, she observed “It is true all this excludes only one evil; but how much good does it let in ?”—To this observation much praise has been justly given. Let me then now do myself the honour to mention that the lady who made it was the late Margaret Montgomerie, my very valuable
and the very affectionate mother of my children, who, if they inherit her good qualities, will have no reason to complain of their lot.
“ Dos magna parentum virtus."--Boswell.