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Hoole's, with sir Joshua Reynolds. I have neglected the memorial of this evening, so as to remember no more of it than two particulars : one, that he strenuously opposed an argument by sir Joshua, that virtue was preferable to vice, considering this life only; and that a man would be virtuous were it only to preserve his character: and that he expressed much wonder at the curious formation of the bat, a mouse with wings; saying, that it was almost as strange a thing in physiology as if the fabulous dragon could be seen P.
On Tuesday, May 12th, I waited on the earl of Marchmont, to know if his lordship would favour Dr. Johnson with information concerning Pope, whose life he was about to write. Johnson had not flattered himself with the hopes of receiving any civility from this nobleman; for he said to me, when I mentioned lord Marchmont as one who could tell him a great deal about Pope,—“Sir, he will tell me nothing." I had the honour of being known to his lordship, and applied to him of myself, without being commissioned by Johnson. His lordship behaved in the most polite and obliging manner, promised to tell all he recollected about Pope, and was so very courteous as to say, “ Tell Dr. Johnson I have a great respect for him, and am ready to show it in any way I can. I am to be in the city to-morrow, and will call at his house as I return.” His lordship however asked, “ Will he write the lives of the poets impartially? He was the first that brought whig and tory into a dictionary. And what do you think of his definition of excise? Do you know the history of his aversion to the word transpire?” Then taking down the folio dictionary, he showed it with this censure on its secondary sense : "To escape from secrecy to notice; a sense lately innovated from France, without necessity.' " The truth was, lord Bolingbroke, who left the jacobites, first used it; therefore it was to be condemned. He should have shown what word would do for it, if it was unnecessary." I after
p See a curious deception practised on some savans by a keeper of the botanical garden at Oxford, in Aubrey's Letters.-Ev.
wards put the question to Johnson: “Why, sir,” said he, get abroad.” Boswell. “That, sir, is using two words." JOHNSON. “Sir, there is no end of this. You may as well insist to have a word for old age.” Boswell. “Well, sir, senectus.' JOHNSON. Nay, sir, to insist always that there should be one word to express a thing in English, because there is one in another language, is to change the language."
I availed myself of this opportunity to hear from his lordship many particulars both of Pope and lord Bolingbroke, which I have in writing.
I proposed to lord Marchmont that he should revise Johnson's life of Pope. “So," said his lordship, "you would put me in a dangerous situation. You know he knocked down Osborne the bookseller."
Elated with the success of my spontaneous exertion to procure material and respectable aid to Johnson for his very favourite work, the Lives of the Poets, I hastened down to Mr. Thrale's at Streatham, where he now was, that I might ensure his being at home next day; and after dinner, when I thought he would receive the good news in the best humour, I announced it eagerly: “I have been at work for you to-day, sir. I have been with lord Marchmont. He bade me tell you, he has a great respect for you, and will call on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and communicate all he knows about Pope.”—Here I paused, in full expectation that he would be pleased with this intelligence, would praise my active merit, and would be alert to embrace such an offer from a nobleman. But whether I had shown an over-exultation, which provoked his spleen; or whether he was seized with a suspicion that I had obtruded him on lord Marchmont, and humbled him too much; or whether there was any thing more than an unlucky fit of ill humour, I know not; but, to my surprise, the result was,-Johnson. “I shall not be in town tomorrow. I don't care to know about Pope. MRS. THRALE, (surprised, as I was, and a little angry.) “I suppose, sir, Mr. Boswell thought, that as you are to write Pope's life, you would wish to know about him.” Johnson. “Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge, I'd hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it." There was no arguing with him at the moment. Some time afterwards he said, “ Lord Marchmont will call on me, and then I shall call on lord Marchmont.”
Mrs. Thrale was uneasy at his unaccountable caprice; and told me, that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity. I sent a card to his lordship, to be left at Johnson's house, acquainting him, that Dr. Johnson could not be in town next day, but would do himself the honour of waiting on him at another time. I give this account fairly, as a specimen of that unhappy temper with which this great and good man had occasionally to struggle, from something morbid in his constitution. Let the most censorious of my readers suppose himself to have a violent fit of the toothach, or to have received a severe stroke on the shinbone, and when in such a state to be asked a question ; and if he has any candour, he will not be surprised at the answers which Johnson sometimes gave in moments of irritation, which, let me assure them, is exquisitely painful. But it must not be erroneously supposed that he was in the smallest degree, careless concerning any work which he undertook, or that he was generally thus peevish. It will be seen, that in the following year be had a very agreeable interview with lord Marchmont, at his lordship’s house; and this very afternoon he soon forgot any fretfulness, and fell into conversation as usual.
I mentioned a reflection having been thrown out against four peers for having presumed to rise in opposition to the opinion of the twelve judges, in a cause in the house of lords, as if that were indecent. JOHNSON. “Sir, there is no ground for censure. The peers are judges themselves; and supposing them really to be of a different opinion, they might from duty be in opposition to the judges, who were there only to be consulted.”
In this observation I fully concurred with him ; for unquestionably all the peers are vested with the highest judicial powers; and when they are confident that they understand a cause, are not obliged, nay, ought not to acquiesce in the opinion of the ordinary law judges, or even in that of those who from their studies and experience are called the law lords.
I consider the peers in general as I do a jury, who ought to listen with respectful attention to the sages of the law; but, if after hearing them they have a firm opinion of their own, are bound, as honest men, to decide accordingly. Nor is it so difficult for them to understand even law questions as is generally thought, provided they will bestow sufficient attention upon them. This observation was made by my honoured relation, the late lord Cathcart, who had spent his life in camps and courts ; yet assured me, that he could form a clear opinion upon most of the causes that came before the house of lords," as they were so well enucleated in the cases.
Mrs. Thrale told us, that a curious clergyman of our acquaintance had discovered a licentious stanza, which Pope had originally in his Universal Prayer, before the stanza,
What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns us not to do, etc.
It was this:
Can sins of moment claim the rod
Of everlasting fires ?
Which nature's self inspires?
and that Dr. Johnson observed, “it had been borrowed from Guarini.” There are, indeed, in Pastor Fido many such flimsy superficial reasonings as that in the last two lines of this stanza.
BOSWELL. “ In that stanza of Pope's, 'rod of fires' is certainly a bad metaphor.” Mrs. THRALE. “Andsins of moment is a faulty expression ; for its true import is momentous, which cannot be intended.” JOHNSON. It must have been written of moments.' Of moment, is momentous ; of moments, momentary. I warrant you, however, Pope wrote this stanza, and some friend struck it out. Boileau wrote some such thing, and Arnaud struck it out, saying, 'Vous gagnerez deux ou trois impiés, et perdrez je ne scais combien des honnettes gens.' These fellows want to say a daring thing, and don't know how to go about it.
Mere poets know no more of fundamental principles than—.” Here he was interrupted somehow. Mrs. Thrale mentioned Dryden. JOHNSON. “He puzzled himself about predestination.—How foolish was it in Pope to give all his friendship to lords, who thought they honoured him by being with him ; and to choose such lords as Burlington, and Cobham, and Bolingbroke. Bathurst was negative, a pleasing man; and I have heard no ill of Marchmont;-and then always saying, "I do not value you for being a lord ;' which was a sure proof that he did. I never say, I do not value Boswell more for being born to an estate, because I do not care.” BOSWELL." Nor for being a Scotchman." JOHNSON. “ Nay, sir, I do value you more for being a Scotchman. You are Scotchman without the faults of Scotchmen. You would not have been so valuable as you are had you not been a Scotchman.”
Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine was not plausible:
He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen,
Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale joined against this. JOHN
Ask any man if he'd wish not to know of such an injury.” Boswell. “Would you tell your friend to make him unhappy ?” Johnson. " Perhaps, sir, I should not; but that would be from prudence on my own account. A man would tell his father.”
Boswell. “ Yes; because he would not have spurious children to get any share of the family inheritance." Mrs. Thrale. “ Or he would