Page images
PDF
EPUB

mysterious manifestations; the fulfilment of which, I suggested, might happen by chance. Johnson.

Yes, sir, but they have happened so often", that mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous.”

I talked to him a great deal of what I had seen in Corsica, and of my intention to publish an account of it. He encouraged me by saying, “ You cannot go to the bottom of the subject; but all that you tell us will be new to us. Give us as many anecdotes as you can.”

Our next meeting at the Mitre was on Saturday the 15th of February, when I presented to him my old and most intimate friend, the Rev. Mr. Temple, then of Cambridge. I having mentioned that I had passed some time with Rousseau in his wild retreat, and having quoted some remark made by Mr. Wilkes, with whom I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy, Johnson said (sarcastically), “ It seems, sir, you have kept very good company abroad, Rousseau and Wilkes!", Thinking it enough to defend one at a time, I said nothing as to my gay friend, but answered with a smile, “My dear sir, you don't call Rousseau bad company. Do you really think him a bad man ?” Ꭰ

” JOHNSON. “Sir, if you are talking jestingly of this, I don't talk with you. If you mean to be serious, I think him one of the worst of men; a rascal, who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him: and it is a shame that he is protected in this country.” BOSWELL. “I don't deny, sir, but that his novelo may, perhaps, do harm; but I cannot think his intention was bad."

[The fact seems rather to be, that they have happened so seldom that (however general superstition may be) there does not seem to be on record in the profane history of the world, one single well authenticated instance of such a mani. festation-not one such instance as could command the full belief of rational men. Although Dr. Johnson generally leaned to the superstitious side of this question, it will be seen that he occasionally took a different and more rational view of it.Ed.]

? [La Nouvelle Heloise. ED.]

JOHNSON. “Sir, that will not do. We cannot prove any man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head, and say you intended to miss him; but the judge will order you to be hanged. An alleged want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be allowed in a court of justice. Rousseau, sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone

from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in the plantations.” BosWELL. “Sir, do you think him as bad a man as Voltaire ?” JOHNSON. Why, sir, it is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them.”

This violence seemed very strange to me, who had read many of Rousseau's animated writings with great pleasure, and even edification; had been much pleased with his society, and was just come from the Continent, where he was very generally admired. Nor can

Nor can I yet allow that he deserves the very severe censure which Johnson pronounced upon him. His absurd preference of savage to civilized life, and other singularities, are proofs rather of a defect in his understanding, than of any depravity in his heart'. And notwithstanding the unfavourable opinion which many worthy men have expressed of his Profession de Foi du Vicaire Savoyard,I cannot help admiring it as the performance of a man full of sincere reverential submission to Divine Mystery, though beset with perplexing doubts: a state of mind to be viewed with pity rather than with anger.

On his favourite subject of subordination, Johnson said,

“So far is it from being true that men are na

1

· [The Confessions of this miserable man had not been at this time published. If we are to admit Mr. Boswell's distinction between the understanding and the heart, it would seem that his judgment on this point should be reversed, for Rousseau's understanding was sound enough when the folly and turpitude of his heart did not disorder it. Ed.]

turally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.”

I mentioned the advice given us by philosophers, to console ourselves, when distressed or embarrassed, by thinking of those who are in a worse situation than ourselves. This, I observed, could not apply to all, for there must be some who have nobody worse than they are.

Johnson. “Why, to be sure, sir, there are; but they don't know it. There is no being so poor and so contemptible, who does not think there is somebody still poorer, and still more contemptible.”

As my stay in London at this time was very short, I had not many opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for him in no degree lessened, by my having seen multorum hominum mores et urbes. On the contrary, by having it in my power to compare him with many of the most celebrated persons of other countries, my admiration of his extraordinary mind was increased and confirmed.

The roughness, indeed, which sometimes appeared in his manners, was more striking to me now, from my having been accustomed to the studied smooth complying habits of the Continent; and I clearly recognized in him, not without respect for his honest conscientious zeal, the same indignant and sarcastical mode of treating every attempt to unhinge or weaken good principles.

One evening, when a young gentleman teased him with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues, and be

[No mistake was ever greater, in terms or in substance, than that which affirms the untural equality of mankind. Men, on the contrary, are born so very unequal in capacities and powers, mental and corporeal, that it requires laws and the institutions of civil society to bring them to a state of moral equality. Social equality—that is, equality in property, power, rank, and respect--if it were miraculously established, could not maintain itself a week.-Ed.]

.

1

[ocr errors]

sure that they were not invented : “Why, foolish fellow,” said Johnson, “ has he any better authority for almost every thing that he believes ?” BOSWELL. “ Then the vulgar, sir, never can know they are right, but must submit themselves to the learned.” JOHNson. “To be sure, sir. The vulgar are the children of the state, and must be taught like children.” BOSWELL. “Then, sir, a poor Turk must be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must be a Christian?” JOHNSON. “Why, yes, sir ; and what

' then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother, when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to have whipt me for it.”

Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him, with the hope of prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him indisposed, and resolved not to go abroad. “Come then," said Goldsmith, “ we will not go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot have the big man’ with us.” Johnson then called for a bottle of port, of which Goldsmith and I partook, while our friend, now a water drinker, sat by us. GOLDSMITH. “I think, Mr. Johnson, you don't go near the theatres now. You give yourself no more concern about a new play, than if you had never had any thing to do with the stage.” JOHNSON. “Why, sir, our tastes greatly alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does

a

+ [It may be suspected that Dr. Johnson called this, "childish stuff,somewhat hastily, and from a desire of evading the subject ; for, no doubt, the principle involved in Mr. Boswell's inquiries is one of very high importance, and of very great difficulty—difficulty so great, that Johnson himself, though, indeed (as we shall see, post, 7th May, 1773), sometimes led to talk seriously, and even warmly on the subject, seems unable to maintain the full extent of his principles by solid reason, and therefore ends the discussion either by ridicule or violence. -Ed.]

2 [These two little words may be observed as marks of Mr. Boswell's accuracy in reporting the expressions of his personages. It is a jocular Irish phrase, which, of all Johnson's acquaintances, no one, probably, but Goldsmith could have used.—ED.]

66

But as

[ocr errors]

not care for the young man's prostitute.” GOLDSMITH.

Nay, sir; but your Muse was not a prostitute.” JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not think she was. we advance in the journey of life we drop some of the things which have pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued and don't choose to carry so many things any farther, or that we find other things which we like better." BOSWELL. “But, sir, why don't you give us something in some other way?” GOLDSMITH.

Ay, sir, we have a claim upon you.” JOHNSON. “ No, sir, I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier has fought

а a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised long in a great city, may be excused, if he retires to a small town, and takes less practice. Now, sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice of a physician, retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great city.” BOSWELL. “But I wonder, sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not writing.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, you may wonder 1!”

He talked of making verses, and observed, “ The great difficulty is, to know when you have made good

When composing, I have generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my room, and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have written only half lines. I have written a hundred lines in a day. I remember I wrote a hundred lines of The Vanity of

.

ones.

1

[This is another amusing trait of Mr. Boswell's accuracy and bonne foi. Can any thing be more comic than Johnson's affectation of superiority, even to the degree of supposing that Boswell would not dare to wonder without his special sanction, and the deference with which Boswell receives and records such gracious condescension ?-Ed.]

« PreviousContinue »