Page images
PDF
EPUB

bad line in that poem; not one of Dryden's careless verses.” SIR JOSHUA. “I was glad to hear Charles Fox, say it was one of the finest poems in the English language." LANGTON. “Why were you glad? You surely had no doubt of this before.” JOHNSON. No; the merit of the Traveller is so well established, that Mr. Fox's praise cannot augment it, nor his censure diminish it.” Sir Joshua. “ But his friends may suspect they had too great a partiality for him.” JOHNSON. “ Nay, sir, the partiality of his friends was always against him. It was with difficulty we could give him a hearing. Goldsmith had no settled notions upon any subject; so he talked always at random. It seemed to be his intention to blurt out whatever was in his mind, and see what would become of it. He was angry too when catched in an absurdity; but it did not prevent him from falling into another the next minute. I remember Chamier, after talking with him some time, said, “Well, I do believe he wrote this poem himself: and, let me tell you, that is believing a great deal.' Chamier once asked him what he meant by slow, the last word in the first line of the Traveller,

Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow, Did he mean tardiness of locomotion? Goldsmith, who would say something without consideration, answered, • Yes.' I was sitting by, and said, “No, sir, you do not mean tardiness of locomotion; you mean that sluggishness of mind which comes upon a man in solitude.' Chamier believed then that I had written the line, as much as if he had seen me write it. Goldsmith, however, was a man who, whatever he wrote, did it better than

any

other man could do. He deserved a place in Westminster abbey; and every year

he lived, would have deserved it better. He had, indeed, been at no pains to fill his mind with knowledge. He transplanted it from one place to another; and it did Anthony Chamier, esq. a member of the Literary Club, and under-secretary

t

He died Oct. 12, 1730,-MALONE. VOL. III.

of state.

not settle in his mind; so he could not tell what was in his own books."

We talked of living in the country. JOHNSON. “No wise man will go to live in the country, unless he has something to do which can be better done in the country. For instance; if he is to shut himself up for a year to study a science, it is better to look out into the fields, than to an opposite wall. Then, if a man walks out in the country, there is nobody to keep him from walking in again; but if a man walks out in London, he is not sure when he shall walk in again. A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life; and · The proper study of mankind is man,' as Pope observes.” BOSWELL.

Boswell. “I fancy London is the best place for society; though I have heard that the very first society of Paris is still beyond any thing that we have here." JOHNSON. “Sir, I question if in Paris such a company as is sitting round this table could be got together in less than half a year. They talk in France of the felicity of men and women living together: the truth is, that there the men are not higher than the women; they know no more than the women do, and they are not held down in their conversation by the presence of women." RAMSAY. “Literature is upon the growth; it is in its spring in France: here it is rather passé." JOHNSON. “ Literature was in France long before we had it. Paris was the second city for the revival of letters: Italy had it first, to be sure. What have we done for literature, equal to what was done by the Stephani and others in France ? Our literature came to us through France. Caxton printed only two books, Chaucer and Gower, that were not translations from the French; and Chaucer, we know, took much from the Italians. No, sir; if literature be in its spring in France, it is a second spring; it is after a winter. We are now before the French in literature ; but we had it long after them. In England, any man who wears a sword and a powdered wig is ashamed to be illiterate. I believe it is not so in France. Yet there is, probably, a great deal of learning in France, because they have such a number of religious establishments; so many men who have nothing else to do but to study. I do not know this ; but I take it upon the common principles of chance. Where there are many shooters, some will hit.”

We talked of old age. Johnson, now in his seventieth year, said, “ It is a man's own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age u.” The bishop asked, if an old man does not lose faster than he gets. JohnSON. “I think not, my lord, if he exerts himself.” One of the company rashly observed, that he thought it was happy for an old man that insensibility comes upon him. JOHNSON, (with a noble elevation and disdain.) “No, sir, I should never be happy by being less rational.” Bishop OF ST. ASAPH. “Your wish then, sir, is, yngaGKELV OLOLOKO Mevos." JOHNSON. “Yes, my lord.” His lordship mentioned a charitable establishment in Wales, where

u Hobbes was of the same opinion with Johnson on this subject; and in his answer to D'Avenant's preface to Gondibert, with great spirit explodes the current opinion, that the mind in old age is subject to a necessary and irresistible debility.

“And now while I think on't,” says the philosopher, "give me leave, with a short discord, to sweeten the harmony of the approaching close. I have nothing to object to your poem, but dissent only from something in your preface, sounding to the prejudice of age. It is commonly said, that old age is a return to childhood; which, methinks, you insist on so long, as if you desired it should be believed. That's the note I mean to shake a little. That saying, meant only of the weakness of body, was wrested to the weakness of mind, by froward children, weary of the controlment of their parents, masters, and other admonitors.

Secondly, the dotage and childishness they ascribe to age, is never the effect of time, but sometimes of the excesses of youth ; and not a returning to, but a continual stay with childhood. For they that want the curiosity of furnishing their memories with the rarities of nature in their youth, and pass their time in making provision only for their ease and sensual delight, are children still, at what years soever ; as they that coming into a populous city, never going out of their inn, are strangers still, how long soever they have been there.

“Thirdly, there is no reason for any man to think himself wiser to-day than yesterday, which does not equally convince he shall be wiser to-morrow than to-day.

“Fourthly, you will be forced to change your opinion hereafter, when you are old; and in the mean time you discredit all I have said before in your commendation, because I am old already.—But no more of this.”

Hobbes, when he wrote these pleasing and sensible remarks, was sixty-two years old, and D'Avenant forty-five.-MALONE.

people were maintained, and supplied with every thing, upon the condition of their contributing the weekly produce of their labour; and he said, they grew quite torpid for want of property. JOHNSON. “ They have no object for hope. Their condition cannot be better. It is rowing without a port.”

One of the company asked him the meaning of the expression in Juvenal, unius lacertæ, Johnson. “I think it clear enough: as much ground as one may have a chance to find a lizard upon."

Commentators have differed as to the exact meaning of the expression by which the poet intended to enforce the sentiment contained in the passage where these words occur. It is enough that they mean to denote even a very small possession, provided it be a man's own:

Est aliquid, quocunque loco, quocunque recessu,

Unius sese dominum fecisse lacertæ. This season there was a whimsical fashion in the newspapers of applying Shakespeare's words to describe living persons well known in the world; which was done under the title of Modern Characters from Shakespeare; many of which were admirably adapted. The faucy took so much, that they were afterwards collected into a pamphlet. Somebody said to Johnson, across the table, that he had not been in those characters. “Yes,” said he, “I have. I should have been sorry to be left out.” He then repeated what had been applied to him,

You must borrow me Garagantua's mouth. Miss Reynolds not perceiving at once the meaning of this, he was obliged to explain it to her, which had something of an awkward and ludicrous effect. Why, madam, it has a reference to me, as using big words, which require the mouth of a giant to pronounce them. Garagantua is the name of a giant in Rabelais.” BosWELL. “ But, sir, there is another amongst them for you:

He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,
Or Jove for his power to thunder.

Johnson. “There is nothing marked in that. No, sir; Garagantua is the best.” Notwithstanding this ease and good humour, when I, a little while afterwards, repeated his sarcasm on Kenrick", which was received with applause, he asked, Who said that?" and on my suddenly answering.–Garagantua, he looked serious, which was a sufficient indication that he did not wish it to be kept up.

When we went to the drawing-room, there was a rich assemblage. Besides the company who had been at dinner, there were Mr. Garrick, Mr. Harris of Salisbury, Dr. Percy, Dr. Burney, the honourable Mrs. Cholmondeley, Miss Hannah More, etc. etc.

After wandering about in a kind of pleasing distraction for some time, I got into a corner, with Johnson, Garrick, and Harris. GARRICK, (to Harris.) “Pray, sir, have you read Potter's Æschylus ?” HARRIS. Yes; and think it pretty." GARRICK, (to Johnson.) “And what think you, sir, of it?” JOHNSON. “I thought what I read of it verbiage : but upon Mr. Harris's recommendation, I will read a play. (To Mr. Harris.) Don't prescribe two.” Mr. Harris suggested one; I do not remember which. JOHNSON. “We must try its effect as an English poem ; that is the way to judge of the merit of a translation. Translations are, in general, for people who cannot read the original." I mentioned the vulgar saying, that Pope's Homer was not a good representation of the original. JOHNSON. “Sir, it is the greatest work of the kind that has ever been produced.” Boswell. The truth it is impossible perfectly to translate poetry. In a different language it may be the same tune, but it has not the same tone. Homer plays it on a bassoon; Pope on a flagelet.” HARRIS. “I think heroick poetry is best in blank verse; yet it appears that rhyme is essential to English poetry, from our deficiency in metrical quantities. In my opinion, the chief excellence of our language is

* See vol. i. p. 392. The sarcasm alluded to was, “Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known.-En.

« PreviousContinue »