Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

life, had ever spent an hour by himself in balancing probabilities."

“ Goldsmith one day brought to the club a printed ode, which he with others had been hearing read by its author in a publick room, at the rate of five shillings each for admission. One of the company having read it aloud, Dr. Johnson said, · Bolder words and more timorous meaning, I think never were brought together.'”

Talking of Gray's odes, he said, “They are forced plants, raised in a hotbed ; and they are poor plants : they are but cucumbers after all.' A gentleman present, who had been running down ode-writing in general, as a bad species of poetry, unluckily said, · Had they been literally cucumbers, they had been better things than odes.? - Yes, sir,' said Johnson, 'for a hog.'

“ His distinction of the different degrees of attainment of learning was thus marked upon two occasions. Of queen Elizabeth he said, She had learning enough to have given dignity to a bishop;' and of Mr. Thomas Davies he said, “Sir, Davies has learning enough to give credit to a clergyman.'

He used to quote, with great warmth, the saying of Aristotle recorded by Diogenes Laertius ; that there was the same difference between one learned and unlearned, as between the living and the dead."

“ It is very remarkable, that he retained in his memory very slight and trivial, as well as important things. As an instance of this, it seems that an inferiour domestick of the duke of Leeds had attempted to celebrate his grace's marriage in such homely rhymes as he could make; and this curious composition having been sung to Dr. Johnson, he got it by heart, and used to repeat it in a very pleasant manner. Two of the stanzas were these :


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


When the duke of Leeds shall married be
To a fine young lady of high quality,
How happy will that gentlewoman be
In his grace of Leeds's good company.

She shall have all that's fine and fair,
And the best of silk and satin shall wear;
And ride in a coach to take the air,

And have a house in St. James's-square k. To hear a man of the weight and dignity of Johnson repeating such humble attempts at poetry, had a very amusing effect. He, however, seriously observed of the last stanza repeated by him, that it nearly comprised all the advantages that wealth can give.”

“An eminent foreigner, when he was shown the British museum, was very troublesome with many absurd enquiries. • Now there, sir,' said he, is the difference between an Englishman and a Frenchman. A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows any thing of the matter or not: an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say.”

His unjust contempt for foreigners was, indeed, extreme. One evening, at old Slaughter's coffee-house, when a number of them were talking aloud about little matters, he said, “Does not this confirm old Meynell's observation For any thing I see, foreigners are fools ??

“ He said, that once, when he had a violent toothach, a Frenchman accosted him thus : • Ah, monsieur, vous étudiez trop.''

* The correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine who subscribes himself Sciolus, furnishes the following supplement :

A lady of my acquaintance remembers to have heard her uncle sing those homely stanzas more than forty-five years ago. He repeated the second thus;

She shall breed young lords and ladies fair,
And ride abroad in a coach and three pair,
And the best, etc.

And have a house, etc. And remembered a third, which seems to have been the introductory one, and is believed to have been the only remaining one :

When the duke of Leeds shall have made his choice
Of a charming young lady that's beautiful and wise,
She'll be the happiest young gentlewoman under the skies,
As long as the sun and moon shall rise,

And how happy shall, etc.” It is with pleasure I add, that this stanza could never be more truly applied than at this present time [1792.]-BOSWELL.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


“ Having spent an evening at Mr. Langton's with the reverend Dr. Parr, he was much pleased with the conversation of that learned gentleman; and, after he was gone, said to Mr. Langton, “Sir, I am obliged to you for having asked me this evening. Parr is a fair man! I do not

. know when I have had an occasion of such free controversy. It is remarkable how much of a man's life may pass without meeting with any instance of this kind of open discussion.'»

. “ We may fairly institute a criticism between Shakespeare and Corneille, as they both had, though in a different degree, the lights of a latter age. It is not so just between the Greek dramatick writers and Shakespeare. It may be replied to what is said by one of the remarkers on Shakespeare, that though Darius's shade had prescience, it does not necessarily follow that he had all past particulars revealed to him."

Spanish plays, being wildly and improbably farcical, would please children here, as children are entertained with stories full of prodigies; their experience not being sufficient to cause them to be so readily startled at deviations from the natural course of life. The machinery of the pagans is uninteresting to us: when a goddess appears in Homer or Virgil, we grow weary; still more so in the Grecian tragedies, as in that kind of composition a nearer approach to nature is intended. Yet there are good reasons for reading romances; as—the fertility of invention, the beauty of style and expression, the curiosity of seeing with what kind of performances the age and country in which they were written was delighted : for it is to be apprehended, that at the time when very wild improbable tales were well received, the people were in a barbarous state, and so on the footing of children, as has been explained.”

“ It is evident enough that no one who writes now can

| When the corporation of Norwich applied to Johnson to point out to them a proper master for their grammar-school, he recommended Dr. Parr, on his ceasing to be usher to Sumner at Harrow.--BURNEY.

use the pagan deities and mythology: the only machinery, therefore, seems that of ministering spirits, the ghosts of the departed, witches, and fairies; though these latter, as the vulgar superstition concerning them (which, while in its force, infected at least the imagination of those that had more advantage in education, though their reason set them free from it,) is every day wearing out, seem likely to be of little further assistance in the machinery of poetry. As I recollect, Hammond introduces a hag or witch into one of his love elegies, where the effect is unmeaning and disgusting.”

The man who uses his talent of ridicule in creating or grossly exaggerating the instances he gives, who imputes absurdities that did not happen, or when a man was a little ridiculous, describes him as having been very much so, abuses his talents greatly. The great use of delineating absurdities is, that we may know how far human folly can go: the account therefore ought, of absolute necessity, to be faithful. A certain character, (naming the person,) as to the general cast of it, is well described by Garrick; but a great deal of the phraseology he uses in it, is quite bis own, particularly in the proverbial.comparisons, obstinate as a pig, etc.: but I don't know whether it might not be true of lord

that from a too great eagerness of praise and popularity, and a politeness carried to a ridiculous excess, he was likely, after asserting a thing in general, to give it up again in parts. For instance, if he had said Reynolds was the first of painters, he was capable enough of giving up, as objections might happen to be severally made, first, his outline,--then the grace in form, —then the colouring,—and lastly, to have owned that he was such a mannerist, that the disposition of his pictures was all alike."

“ For hospitality, as formerly practised, there is no longer the same reason : heretofore the poorer people were more numerous, and, from want of commerce, their means of getting a livelihood more difficult; therefore the supporting them was an act of great benevolence: now

[ocr errors]


that the poor can find maintenance for themselves, and their labour is wanted, a general undiscerning hospitality tends to ill, by withdrawing them from their work to idleness and drunkenness. Then, formerly rents were received in kind, so that there was a great abundance of provisions in possession of the owners of the lands, which, since the plenty of money afforded by commerce, is no longer the case."

Hospitality to strangers and foreigners in our country is now almost at an end; sincé, from the increase of them that come to us, there have been a sufficient number of people that have found an interest in providing inns and proper accommodations, which is in general a more expedient method for the entertainment of travellers. Where the travellers and strangers are few, more of that hospitality subsists, as it has not been worth while to provide places of accommodation. In Ireland there is still hospitality to strangers, in some degree : in Hungary and Poland probably more."

Colman, in a note on his translation of Terence, talking of Shakespeare's learning, asks, · What says Farmer to this? What says Johnson ? Upon this he observed, “Sir, let Farmer answer for himself: I never engaged in this controversy. I always said Shakespeare had Latin enough to grammaticise his English.'

“ A clergyman, whom he characterised as one who loved to say little oddities, was affecting one day, at a bishop's table, a sort of slyness and freedom not in character, and repeated, as if part of the Old Man's Wish, a song by Dr. Walter Pope, a verse bordering on licentiousness. Johnson rebuked him in the finest manner, by first showing him that he did not know the passage he was aiming at, and thus humbling him: “Sir, that is not the song: it is thus.' And he gave it right. Then, looking steadfastly on him, 'Sir, there is a part of that song which I should wish to exemplify in my own life :

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



May I govern my passions with absolute sway!

« PreviousContinue »