Page images
PDF
EPUB

to keep an account of the expence of the family, as she thought it enough that she never exceeded the sum allowed her. Johnson. "Sir, it is fit she should keep an account, because her husband wishes it; but I do not see its use.” I maintained that keeping an account has this advantage, that it satisfies a man that his money has not been lost or stolen, which he might sometimes be apt to imagine, were there no written state of his expence; and besides, a calculation of deconomy so as not to exceed one's income, cannot be made without a view of the different articles in figures, that one may see how to retrench in some particulars less necessary than others. This he did not attempt to answer. Talking of an acquaintance of ours, whose narratives, which abounded in curious and interesting topicks, were unhappily found to be very fabulous; I mentioned Lord Mansfield having said to me, “Suppose we believe one half of what he tells.” Johnson. “Aye; but we don't know which half to believe. By his lying we lose not only our reverence for him, but all comfort in his conversation.” Boswell. “May we not take it as amusing fiction ?” Johnson. “Sir, the misfortune is, that you will insensibly believe as much of it as you incline.” It is remarkable, that notwithstanding their congeniality in politicks, he never was acquainted with a late eminent noble judge, whom I have heard speak of him as a writer, with great respect." Johnson, I know not upon what degree of investigation, entertained no exalted opinion of his Lordship's intellectual character. Talking of him to me one day, he said, “It is wonderful, Sir, with how little real superiority of mind men can make an eminent figure in publick life.” He expressed himself to the same purpose concerning another law Lord," who, it seems, once took a fancy to associate with the wits of London ; but with so little success, that Foote said, “What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only duil himself, but the cause of dullness in others.” Trying him by the test of his colloquial powers, Johnson had found him very defective. He once said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, “This man now has been ten years about town, and has made nothing of it; ” meaning as a companion." He said to me, “I never heard any thing from him in company that was at all striking ; and depend upon it, Sir, it is when you come close to a man in conversation, that you discover what his real abilities are ; to make a speech in a public assembly is a knack. Now I honour Thurlow, Sir ; Thurlow is a fine fellow; he fairly puts his mind to yours.”” After repeating to him some of his pointed lively sayings, I said, “It is a pity, Sir, you don't always remember your own good things, that you may have a laugh when you will.” JoHNSON. “Nay, Sir, it is better that I forget them, that I may be reminded of them and have a laugh brought to my recollection.” When I recalled his having said as we sailed upon Lochlomond, “That if he wore anything fine, it should be very fine;” I observed that all his thoughts were upon a great scale. Johnson. “Depend upon it, Sir, every man will have as fine a thing as he can get; as a large diamond for his ring.” Boswell. “Pardon me, Sir ; a man of a narrow mind will not think of it, a slight trinket will satisfy him.

Cor. et Ad.—Line 20 : After “incline " read “to believe.”

* I was at first inclined to believe that have been acquainted with him.’ It fits

Mr. Croker was mistaken when he said
Lord Mansfield was alluded to here,

as Lord Mansfield was alive when Mr.

Boswell wrote, and the word “late ’ did not apply. But I have received from Mr.

Elwin the following note on the point,

than which no more admirable illustration of legitimate Boswellian criticism could be found :-"My own opinion is, that Croker is right in supposing the ‘late eminent noble judge’ to be Lord Mansfield, and that the ‘late' applies not to his death, but to his office of ‘judge,’ he having retired from the bench in 1788. If the person had been dead, Boswell would probably not have scrupled to print the name; and I know no other contemporary judge who was ‘eminent, noble,” and of the same politics with Johnson. Northington was hardly of Johnson's school of politics, nor had he ever that general eminence and social position which would have made it ‘remarkable ' that Johnson should “never

in, too, with one phase of Lord Mansfield's mind that Johnson, notwithstanding his eminence, should have “entertained no exalted opinion of his intellectual character.” Malone relates the first interview that Reynolds had with Mansfield, and says “he was grievously disappointed in finding this great lawyer so little at the same time,’ (Prior's ‘Life of Malone," p. 382), and Malone himself says of him, ‘His own conversation was never very brilliant, and he was always very fond of bad jokes and dull stories' (Prior, p. 348). Cradock also says (“Literary Memoirs,’ vol. iv. p. 155), ‘I have heard it remarked by his friends, indeed by Lord Sandwich, as a strange circumstance, that in company, though he admitted his occasional bon-mots, yet he scarce ever knew him to get clear through any long tale of humour. “True, my lord,” said a gentleman present, “ that has often struck me too, but he is generally hunting about for fine select * Knowing as well as I do, what precision and elegance of oratory his Lordship can display, I cannot but suspect that his unfavourable appearance in a social circle, which drew such animadversions upon him, must be owing to a cold affectation of consequence, from being reserved and stiff. If it be so, and he might be an agreeable man if he would, we cannot be sorry that he misses his aim.

Cor. et Ad—Line 23 : Aster “laugh’’ read “on their being.”

phrases till he is sure to lose the material
joke.”’ ‘Depend upon it, sir,’ says John-
son, “it is when you come close to a
man in conversation, that you discover
what his real abilities are ; ' and the pre-
tentiousness and feebleness of Lord
Mansfield's conversation must have been
well-known to him by the reports of
Reynolds, Malone, and fifty people be-
sides.”
* The hero of this well-known story is
Wedderburne, Lord Loughborough.
* “Now that Dr. Johnson is gone to a
better world, I bow the intellectual knee
to Lord Thurlow, who, with inflexible

wisdom, stops the tide of fashionable
reform. It was Johnson who confirmed
me in my opinion of that mighty sage of
the law and the constitution. Before his
promotion to the high office for which he
seems to have been formed on purpose,
the doctor said of him, “I honour Thur-
low, sir. Thurlow is a fine fellow. He
fairly puts his mind to yours.' Long,
long may he put his mind against those
who would take even one stone out of
that venerable fabric which is the wonder
of the world.” Boswell had already pub-
lished this anecdote in his “Letter to the
People of Scotland, 1785.”

I – 2

‘A’ec sufferre queat majoris pondera gemma.’”

I told him I should send him some “Essays "1 which I had written, which I hoped he would be so good as to read, and pick out the good ones. Johnson. “Nay, Sir, send me only the good ones; don't make me pick them.”

On Thursday, April 1 o, I introduced to him, at his house in Boltcourt, the Honourable and Reverend William Stuart,” son of the Earl of Bute; a gentleman truly worthy of being known to John

Cor. et Ad.—After line 9, read—“I heard him once say, ‘Though the proverb “Mullum numen ačest, si sit prudentia, ’’ does not always prove true, we may be certain of the converse of it, Mullum numen adest, si sit imprudentia.’

“Once when Mr. Seward was going to Bath, and asked his commands, he said, “Tell Dr. Harrington that I wish he would publish another volume of the “Augie antiquar; ”* it is a very pretty book.” Mr. Seward seconded this wish, and recommended to Dr. Harrington to dedicate it to Johnson, and take for his motto, what Catallus says to Cornelius Nepos :

6 namgue tu solebas

Meas esse aliquid putare NUGAs.”

“As a small proof of his kindliness and delicacy of feeling, the following circumstance may be mentioned : One evening when we were in the street together, and I told him I was going to sup at Mr. Beauclerk's, he said, “I’ll go with you.’ After having walked part of the way, seeming to recollect something, he suddenly stopped and said, ‘I cannot go, but I do not love Beauclerk the less.’

“On the frame of his portrait, Mr. Beauclerk had inscribed,

——Ingenium ingens
Inculto latet hoc sub corpore.”

After Mr. Beauclerk's death, when it became Mr. Langton's property, he made the
inscription be defaced. Johnson said complacently, “It was kind in you to take it
off; ' and then after a short pause added, “and not unkind in him to put it on.’”
“He said, “How few of his friends' houses would a man choose to be at, when he
is sick ' ' He mentioned one or two. I recollect only Thrale's.
“He observed, “There is a wicked inclination in most people to suppose an old
man decayed in his intellects. If a young or middle-aged man, when leaving a com-
pany, does not recollect where he laid his hat, it is nothing; but if the same inatten-
tion is discovered in an old man, people will shrug up their shoulders, and say, “His
memory is going.”.”
“When I once talked to him of some of the sayings which every body repeats,
but nobody knows where to find, such as, Quos DEUs vult per dere, prius dementat ;
he told me that he was once offered ten guineas to point out from whence Seme!
insanizimus omnes was taken. He could not do it; but many years afterwards
met with it by chance in Johannes Baptista Mantuanus."

* “It has since appeared.”

1 Entitled “The Hypochondriac,” and charming touches of character recorded published in the London A/agazine. by Mr. Boswell.

* Later, Primate of Ireland. * Mr. Malone has the following note:

* This appears to be one of the most —“The words occur, (as Mr. Bindley

son, being, with all the advantages of high birth, learning, travel,

and elegant manners, an exemplary parish priest in every respect. After some compliments on both sides, the tour which Johnson

“I am very sorry that I did not take a note of an eloquent argument in which he maintained that the situation of Prince of Wales was the happiest of any person's in the kingdom, even beyond that of the Sovereign. I recollect only—the enjoyment of hope, the high superiority of rank, without the anxious cares of government, and a great degree of power, both from natural influence wisely used, and from the sanguine expectations of those who look forward to the chance of suture savour.

“Sir Joshua Reynolds communicated to me the following particulars:

“Johnson thought the poems published as translations from Ossian, had so little merit, that he said, ‘Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.”

“He said, “A man should pass a part of his time with the laughers, by which means any thing ridiculous or particular about him might be presented to his view, and corrected.’ I observed, he must have been a bold laugher who would have ventured to tell Dr. Johnson of any of his particularities.”

“Having observed the vain ostentatious importance of many people in quoting the authority of Dukes and Lords, as having been in their company, he said, he went to the other extreme, and did not mention his authority when he should have done it, had it not been that of a Duke or a Lord.

“Dr. Goldsmith said once to Dr. Johnson, that he wished for some additional members to the LITERARY CLUB, to give it an agreeable variety; for (said he) there can now be nothing new among us : we have travelled over one another's minds. Johnson seemed a little angry, and said, ‘Sir, you have not travelled over my mind, I promise you.' Sir Joshua, however, thought Goldsmith right; observing, that “when people have lived a great deal together, they know what each of them will say on every subject. A new understanding, therefore, is desirable ; because though it may only furnish the same sense upon a question which would have been surnished by those with whom we are accustomed to live, yet this sense will have a different

* “I am happy, however, to mention a pleasing instance of his enduring with great gentleness to hear one of his most striking particularities pointed out:—Miss Hunter, a niece of his friend Christopher Smart, when a very young girl, struck by his extraordinary motions, said to him, ‘Pray, Dr. Johnson, why do you make such strange gestures P’—“From bad habit, (he replied.) Do you, my dear, take care to guard against bad habits.” This I was told by the young lady's brother at Margate.”

observes to me,) in the First Eclogue of Mantuanus, DE HONESTO AMORE, &c.

Id commune malum; semel insanivinus onnnes.

“With the following elucidation of the other saying—Quos Deus (it should rather be—Quem Jupiter) vult perdere, prius demental,—Mr. Boswell was furnished by Mr. Richard How, of Aspley, in Bedfordshire, as communicated to that gentleman by his friend Mr. John Pitts, late Rector of Great Brickhill, in Buckinghamshire:

“‘Perhaps no scrap of Latin whatever has been more quoted than this. It occasionally falls even from those who are scrupulous even to pedantry in their latinity, and will not admit a word into

their compositions, which has not the sanction of the first age. The word demento is of no authority, either as a verb active or neuter.—After a long search for the purpose of deciding a bet, some gentlemen of Cambridge found it among the fragments of Euripides, in what edition I do not recollect, where it is given as a translation of a Greek iambick :

Ov 0eos beXet aroMegat, trpwr' amoppevat.

The above scrap was found in the handwriting of a suicide of fashion, Sir D. O. some years ago, lying on the table of the room where he had destroyed himself. The suicide was a man of classical acquirements : he left no other paper behind him.’”

and I had made to the Hebrides was mentioned.—Johnson. “I got an acquisition of more ideas by it than by any thing that I remember. I saw quite a different system of life.” Boswell. “You would not like to make the same journey again.” JoHNSON. “Why no, Sir;

colouring ; and colouring is of much effect in every thing else as well as in painting.’ “Johnson used to say that he made it a constant rule to talk as well as he could, both as to sentiment and expression ; by which means, what had been originally effort became familiar and easy. The consequence of this, Sir Joshua observed, was, that his common conversation in all companies was such as to secure him universal attention, as something above the usual colloquial style was expected. “Yet, though Johnson had this habit in company, when another mode was necessary, in order to investigate truth, he could descend to a language intelligible to the meanest capacity. An instance of this was witnessed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were present at an examination of a little blackguard boy, by Mr. Saunders Welch, the late Westminster Justice. Welch, who imagined that he was exalting himself in Dr. Johnson's eyes by using big words, spoke in a manner that was utterly unintelligible to the boy; Dr. Johnson perceiving it, addressed himself to the boy, and changed the pompous phraseology into colloquial language. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was much amused by this procedure, which seemed a kind of reversing of what might have been expected from the two men, took notice of it to Dr. Johnson, as they walked away by themselves. Johnson said, that it was continually the case; and that he was always obliged to translate the Justice's swelling diction, (smiling,) so as that his meaning might be understood by the vulgar, from whom information was to be obtained. “Sir Joshua once observed to him, that he had talked above the capacity of some people with whom they had been in company together. “No matter, Sir, (said Johnson); they consider it as a compliment to be talked to, as if they were wiser than they are. So true is this, Sir, that Baxter made it a rule in every sermon that he preached, to say something that was above the capacity of his audience.” “Johnson's dexterity in retort, when he seemed to be driven to an extremity by his adversary, was very remarkable. Of his power in this respect, our common friend, Mr. Windham, of Norfolk, has been pleased to furnish me with an eminent instance. However unfavourable to Scotland, he uniformly gave liberal praise to George Buchanan, as a writer. In a conversation concerning the literary merits of the two countries, in which Buchanan was introduced, a Scotchman, imagining that on this ground he should have an undoubted triumph over him, exclaimed, “Ah, Dr. Johnson, what would you have said of Buchanan, had he been an Englishman P’—“Why, Sir, (said Johnson, after a little pause,) I should not have said of Buchanan, had he been an Englishman, what I will now say of him as a Scotchman,—that he was the only man of genius his country ever produced.’ “And this brings to my recollection another instance of the same nature. I once reminded him that when Dr. Adam Smith was expatiating on the beauty of Glasgow, he had cut him short by saying, ‘Pray, Sir, have you ever seen Brentford?' and I took the liberty to add, ‘My dear Sir, surely that was shocking.”—“Why, then, Sir, (he replied,) You have never seen Brentsord.” “Though his usual phrase for conversation was task, yet he made a distinction; for when he once told me that he dined the day before at a friend's house, with “a very pretty company;’ and I asked him if there was good conversation, he answered, ‘No, Sir ; we had talk enough, but no conversation ; there was nothing discussed.’ “Talking of the success of the Scotch in London, he imputed it in a considerable degree to their spirit of nationality. “You know, Sir, (said he,) that no Scotchman publishes a book, or has a play brought upon the stage, but there are five hundred people ready to applaud him.'

* “The justice of this remark is confirmed by the following story, for which I am indebted to Lord Eliot : A country Parson, who was remarkable for quoting scraps of Latin in his sermons, having died, one of his parishioners was asked how he liked his successor; ‘He is a very good preacher, (was his answer,) but no latiner.’”

« PreviousContinue »