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MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
Edinburgh, Feb. 2, 1779. “MY DEAR SIR,—Garrick's death is a striking event ; not that we should be surprised with the death of any man who has lived sixty-two years&; but because there was a vivacity in our late celebrated friend, which drove away the thoughts of death from any association with him. I am sure you will be tenderly affected with his departure; and I would wish to hear from you upon the subject. I was obliged to him in my days of effervescence in London, when poor Derrick was my governour; and since that time I received many civilities from him. Do you remember how pleasing it was when I received a letter from him at Inverary, upon our first return to civilized living after our Hebridean journey? I shall always remember him with affection as well as admiration.
“ On Saturday last, being the 30th of January, I drank coffee and old port, and had solemn conversation with the reverend Mr. Falconer, a nonjuring bishop, a very learned and worthy man.
gave two toasts, which you will believe I drank with cordiality—Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Flora Macdonald. I sat about four hours with him, and it was really as if I had been living in the last century. The episcopal church of Scotland, though faithful to the royal house of Stuart, has never accepted of any congé d'élire since the revolution; it is the only true episcopal church in Scotland, as it has its own succession of bishops. For as to the episcopal clergy who take the oaths to the present government, they indeed follow the rites of the church of England, but, as bishop Falconer observed, they are not episcopals; for they are under no bishop, as a bishop cannot have authority beyond his diocese.' This venerable
& On Mr. Garrick's monument in Lichfield cathedral, he is said to have died “ aged 64 years.” But it is a mistake; and Mr. Boswell is perfectly
Garrick was baptized at Hereford, Feb. 28, 1716-17, and died at his house in London, Jan. 20, 1779. The inaccuracy of lapidary inscriptions is well known.-MALONE.
gentleman did me the honour to dine with me yesterday, and he laid his hands upon the heads of my
little ones. We had a good deal of curious literary conversation, particularly about Mr. Thomas Ruddiman, with whom he lived in great friendship.
“ Any fresh instance of the uncertainty of life makes one embrace more closely a valuable friend. My dear and much respected sir, may God preserve you long in this world while I am in it. I am ever,
“ Your much obliged,
“ JAMES BOSWELL,"
On the 23rd of February I wrote to him again, complaining of his silence, as I had heard he was ill, and had written to Mr. Thrale for information concerning him; and I announced my intention of soon being again in London.
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
“ Dear Sir,—Why should you take such delight to make a bustle, to write to Mr. Thrale that I am negligent, and to Francis to do what is so very unnecessary? Thrale, you may be sure, cared not about it; and I shall spare Francis the trouble, by ordering a set both of the Lives and Poets to dear Mrs. Boswell", in acknowledgement of her marmalade. Persuade her to accept them, and accept them kindly. If I thought she would receive them scornfully, I would send them to Miss Boswell, who, I hope, has yet none of her mamma's ill will to me.
I would send sets of Lives, four volumes, to some other friends, to lord Hailes first. His second volume lies by my bedside; a book surely of great labour, and, to every just thinker, of great delight. Write me word to
" He sent a set elegantly bound and gilt, which was received as a very handsome present.-- BOSWELL.
whom I shall send besides : would it please lord Auchinleck ? Mrs. Thrale waits in the coach.
“ I am, dear sir, etc.
· SAM. JOHNSON. “ March 13, 1779.”
This letter crossed me on the road to London, where I arrived on Monday, March 15th, and next morning, at a late hour, found Dr. Johnson sitting over his tea, attended by Mrs. Desmoulins, Mr. Levet, and a clergyman, who had come to submit some poetical pieces to his revision. It is wonderful what a number and variety of writers, some of them even unknown to him, prevailed on his good nature to look over their works, and suggest corrections and improvements. My arrival interrupted, for a little while, the important business of this true representative of Bayes: upon its being resumed, I found that the subject under immediate consideration was a translation, yet in manuscript, of the Carmen Seculare of Horace, which had this year been set to musick, and performed as a publick entertainment in London, for the joint benefit of monsieur Philidor and signor Baretti. When Johnson had done reading, the author asked him bluntly, “ if upon the whole it was a good translation.” Johnson, whose regard for truth was uncommonly strict, seemed to be puzzled for a moment what answer to make; as he certainly could not honestly commend the performance : with exquisite address he evaded the question thus : “Sir, I do not say that it may not be made a very good translation.” Here nothing whatever in favour of the performance was affirmed, and yet the writer was not shocked. A printed Ode to the Warlike Genius of Britain came next in review: the bard was a lank bony figure, with short black hair; he was writhing himself in agitation while Johnson read; and, showing his teeth in a grin of earnestness, exclaimed in broken sentences, and in a keen sharp tone, " Is that poetry, sir ?--Is it Pindar ?" Johnson.“ Why, sir, there is here a great deal of what is
called poetry.” Then, turning to me, the poet cried,
My muse has not been long upon the town, and (pointing to the ode) it trembles under the hand of the great critick." Johnson, in a tone of displeasure, asked him, “Why do you praise Anson?” I did not trouble him by asking his reason for this question. He proceeded, “ Here is an errour, sir; you have made genius feminine.” “Palpable, sir,” cried the enthusiast; “ I know it. But, (in a lower tone,) it was to pay a compliment to the duchess of Devonshire, with which her grace was pleased. She is walking across Coxheath in the military uniform, and I suppose her to be the Genius of Britain.” Johnson, “Sir, you are giving a reason for it; but that will not make it right. You may have a reason why two and two should make five; but they will still make but four.”
Although I was several times with him in the course of the following days, such it seems were my occupations, or such my negligence, that I have preserved no memorial of his conversation till Friday, March 26th, when I visited him. He said he expected to be attacked on account of his Lives of the Poets. However,” said he, “I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works. An assault upon a town is a bad thing; but starving it is still worse: an assault may be unsuccessful; you may have more men killed than you kill; but if you starve the town, you are sure of victory.”
Talking of a friend of ours associating with persons of very discordant principles and characters, I said he was a very universal man, quite a man of the world. JOHNSON.
Yes, sir ; but one may be so much a man of the world, as to be nothing in the world. I remember a passage in Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, which he was afterwards fool enough to expunge: 'I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing."" Boswell. “ That was passage.” Johnson. “ Yes, sir: there was another fine passage too which he struck out: •
When I was a young man, being anxious to distinguish myself, I was perpe
tually starting new propositions. But I soon gave this over; for I found that generally what was new was false i.? I said, I did not like to sit with people of whom I had not a good opinion. JOHNSON.“ But you must not indulge your delicacy too much; or you will be a tête-à-tête man all your life.”
During my stay in London this spring, I find I was unaccountably negligent in preserving Johnson's sayings, more so than at any time when I was happy enough to have an opportunity of hearing his wisdom and wit. There is no help for it now. I must content myself with presenting such scraps as I have. But I am nevertheless ashamed and vexed to think how much has been lost. It is not that there was a bad crop this year, but that I was not sufficiently careful in gathering it in. I therefore, in some instances, can only exhibit a few detached fragments.
Talking of the wonderful concealment of the author of the celebrated letters signed Junius, he said, “I should have believed Burke to be Junius, because I know no man but Burke who is capable of writing these letters; but Burke spontaneously denied it to me. The case would have been different had I asked him if he was the author: a man so questioned as to an anonymous publication, may think he has a right to deny itk."
He observed, that his old friend Mr. Sheridan had been honoured with extraordinary attention in his own country,
i Dr. Burney, in a note introduced in a former page, has mentioned this circumstance concerning Goldsmith, as communicated to him by Dr. Johnson, not recollecting that it occurred here. His remark, however, is not wholly superfluous, as it ascertains that the words which Goldsmith had put into the mouth of a fictitious character in the Vicar of Wakefield, and which, as we learn from Dr. Johnson, he afterwards expunged, related, like many other passages in his novel, to himself.—MALONE. In fact, the adventures of the vicar's eldest son were Goldsmith's own.
-Ed. k The degrees of moral obligation imposed on an author to answer interrogatories of this kind, can hardly be discussed in the present age without something more than a mere reference to the Waverley novels. The unbroken silence of their author invests them with the highest interest to those who are fond of curious and minute enquiries.—Were poor Boswell now alive he would be a very bloodhound to the retired magician.-Ed.