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subject:—“ Nothing but experience could evince the frequency of false information, or enable any man to conceive that so many groundless reports should be propagated, as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think, as what they know; some men of confused memories and habitual inaccuracy, ascribe to one man what belongs to another; and some talk on, without thought or care. A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods, which are afterwards innocently diffused by successive relaters." Had he lived to read what Sir John Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi have related concerning himself, how much would he have found his observation illustrated. He was indeed so much impressed with the prevalence of falsehood, voluntary or unintentional, that I never knew any person who, upon hearing an extraordinary circumstance told, discovered more of the incredulus odi. He would say, with a significant look and decisive tone, “It is not so. Do not tell this again." He inculcated upon all his friends the importance of perpetual vigilance against the slightest degrees of falsehood; the effect of which, as Sir Joshua Reynolds observed to me, has been, that all who were of his school are distinguished for a love of truth and accuracy, which they would not have possessed in the same degree, if they had not been acquainted with Johnson.
Talking of ghosts, he said, "It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it."
He said, “John Wesley's conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have out his talk, as I do."
On Friday, April 3, I dined with him in London, in a company where were present several eminent men,3 whom I shall not name, but distinguish their parts in the conversation by different letters.
F. "I have been looking at this famous antique marble dog of Mr. Jennings, valued at a thousand guineas, said to be Alcibiades' dog." JOHNSON: "His tail then must be docked. That was the mark of Alcibiades' dog."
1 Literary Magazine, 1756, p. 37.-BOSWELL.
2 The following plausible but over-prudent counsel on this subject is given by an Italian writer [Dante], quoted by Redi, "De Generatione Insectorum," with the epithet of “divini poetæ.” "Sempre à quel ver che a faccia di menzogna
Dei l'nom chiuder le labbra quanto ei puote
3 Presumed to be members of the Literary Club, whose names Boswell here conceals.-ED. 4 Mr. Henry Constantine Jennings was a distinguished antiquary and virtuoso, who spent a large fortune in the collecting of statues and antiques, with which he decorated his magnificent residence at Shiplake, in Oxfordshire. After experiencing many vicissitudes he died in 1819, as a prisoner in the rules of the King's Bench, aged 88.-ED
E.: "A thousand guineas! The representation of no animal whatever is worth so much. At this rate a dead dog would indeed be better than a living lion." JOHNSON: "Sir, it is not the worth of the thing, but of the skill in forming it, which is so highly estimated. Every thing that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shows man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable. The first man who balanced a straw upon his nose; Johnson, who rode upon three horses at a time; in short, all such men deserved the applause of mankind, not on account of the use of what they did, but of the dexterity which they exhibited." BOSWELL: "Yet a misapplication of time and assiduity is not to be encouraged. Addison, in one of his 'Spectators' commends the judgment of a King, who, as a suitable reward to a man that by long perseverance had attained to the art of throwing a barley-corn
through the eye of a needle, gave him a bushel of barley." JOHNSON: "He must have been a King of Scotland, where barley is scarce. F.: "One of the most remarkable antique figures of an animal is the boar at Florence." JOHNSON: "The first boar that is well made in marble should be preserved as a wonder. When men arrive at a facility of making boars well, then the workmanship is not of such value, but they should however be preserved as examples, and as a greater security for the restoration of the art, should it be lost."
E.: "We hear prodigious complaints at present of emigration. I am convinced that emigration makes a country more populous." J.: "That sounds very much like a paradox." E.: "Exportation of men, like exportation of all other commodities, makes more be produced." JOHNSON: "But there would be more people were there not emigration. provided there were food for more." E.: "No; leave a few breeders, and you'll have more people than if there were no emigration." JOHNSON: "Nay, Sir, it is plain there will be more people, if there are more breeders. Thirty cows in good pasture will produce more calves than ten cows, provided they have good bulls." E.: "There are bulls enough in Ireland." JOHNSON (smiling): "So, Sir, I should think from
your argument." BOSWELL: "You said, exportation of men, like exportation of other commodities, makes more be produced. But a bounty is given to encourage the exportation of corn, and no bounty is given for the exportation of men; though, indeed, those who go, gain by it." R.: "But the bounty on the exportation of corn is paid at home." E. "That's the same thing." JOHNSON: "No, Sir." R.: "A man who stays at home, gains nothing by his neighbour's emigrating." BOSWELL: "I can understand that emigration may be the cause that more people may be produced in a country; but the country will not therefore be the more populous; for the people issue from it. It can only be said that there is a flow of people. It is an encouragement to have children, to know that they can get a living by emigration." R.: "Yes, if there were an emigration of children under six years of age. But they don't emigrate till they could earn their livelihood in some way at home." C.: "It is remarkable that the most unhealthy countries, where there are the most destructive diseases, such as Egypt and Bengal, are the most populous." JOHNSON: "Countries which are the most populous have the most destructive diseases. That is the true state of the proposition." C.: "Holland is very unhealthy, yet it is exceedingly populous." JOHNSON: "I know not that Holland is unhealthy. But its populousness is owing to an influx of people from all other countries. Disease cannot be the cause of populousness, for it not only carries off a great proportion of the people; but those who are left are weakened, and unfit for the purposes of increase."
Though an act
R.: "Mr. E. I don't mean to flatter, but when posterity reads one of your speeches in Parliament, it will be difficult to believe that you took so much pains, knowing with certainty that it could produce no effect, that not one vote would be gained by it." E.: "Waving your compliment to me, I shall say in general, that it is very well worth while for a man to take pains to speak well in Parliament. A man, who has vanity, speaks to display his talents; and if a man speaks well, he gradually establishes a certain reputation and consequence in the general opinion, which sooner or later will have its political reward. Besides, though not one vote is gained, a good speech has its effect. which has been ably opposed passes into a law, yet in its progress it is modelled, it is softened in such a manner, that we see plainly the minister has been told that the members attached to him are so sensible of its injustice or absurdity from what they have heard, that it must be altered." JOHNSON : "And, Sir, there is a gratification of pride. Though we cannot out-vote them we will out-argue them. They shall not do wrong without its being shown both to themselves and to the world." E.: "The House of Commons is a mixed body (I except the minority, which I hold to be pure [smiling], but I take the whole house). It is a mass by no means pure; but neither is it wholly corrupt, though there is a large proportion of corruption in it. There are many
members who generally go with the minister, who will not go all lengths. There are many honest well-meaning country gentlemen who are in Parliament only to keep up the consequence of their families. Upon most of these a good speech will have influence." JOHNSON: "We are all more or less governed by interest. But interest will not make us do everything. In a case which admits of doubt, we try to think on the side which is for our interest, and generally bring ourselves to act accordingly. But the subject must admit of diversity of colouring; it must receive a colour on that side. In the House of Commons there are members enough who will not vote what is grossly unjust or absurd. No, Sir, there must always be right enough, or appearance of right, to keep wrong in countenance." BOSWELL: "There is surely always a majority in Parliament who have places, or who want to have them, and who therefore will be generally ready to support government without requiring any pretext." E.: "True, Sir; that majority will always follow.
'Quò clamor vocat et turba faventium.""
BOSWELL: "Well now, let us take the common phrase, Place-hunters. I thought they had hunted without regard to anything, just as their huntsman, the minister, leads, looking only to the prey.' J.: "But taking your metaphor, you know that in hunting there are few so desperately keen as to follow without reserve. Some do not choose to leap ditches and hedges, and risk their necks, or gallop over steeps, or even to dirty themselves in bogs and mire." BOSWELL: "I am glad there are some good, quiet, moderate political hunters." E.: "I believe in any body of men in England I should have been in the minority: I have always been in the minority." P.: "The House of Commons resembles a private company. How seldom is any man convinced by another's argument; passion and pride rise against it." R.: "What would be the consequence, if a minister, sure of a majority in the House of Commons, should resolve that there should be no speaking at al. upon his side." E.: "He must soon go out. That has been tried; but it was found it would not do."
E.: "The Irish language is not primitive; it is Teutonic, a mixture of the northern tongues; it has much English in it." JOHNSON: "It may have been radically Teutonic; but the English and High Dutch have no similarity to the eye, though radically the same. Once, when looking into Low Dutch, I found, in a whole page, only one word similar to English; stroem, like stream, and it signified tide.” E.: "I remember having seen a Dutch Sonnet, in which I found this word.
1 Lord Bolingbroke, who, however detestable as a metaphysician, must be allowed to have had admirable talents as a political writer, thus describes the House of Commons, in his Letter to Sir William Wyndham :-"You know the nature of that assembly; they grow, like hounds, fond of the man who shows them game, and by whose halloo they are used to be encouraged."-BOSWELL.
roesnopies. Nobody would at first think that this could be English; but, when we inquire, we find roes, rose, and nopie, knob; so we have rosebuds."
JOHNSON: I have been reading Thicknesse's Travels, which I think are entertaining." BOSWELL: "What, Sir, a good book?" JOHNSON: 66 Yes, Sir, to read once; I do not say you are to make a study of it, and digest it; and I believe it to be a true book in his intention. All travellers generally mean to tell truth; though Thicknesse observes, upon Smollett's account of his alarming a whole town in France by firing a blunderbuss, and frightening a French nobleman till he made him tie on his portmanteau, that he would be loth to say Smollett had told two lies in one page; but he had found the only town in France where these things could have happened. Travellers must often be mistaken. In everything, except where mensuration can be applied, they may honestly differ. There has been, of late, a strange turn in travellers to be displeased."
E.: "From the experience which I have had—and I have had a great deal-I have learnt to think better of mankind." JOHNSON: "From my experience I have found them worse in commercial dealings, more disposed to cheat, than I had any notion of; but more disposed to do one another good than I had conceived." J.: "Less just and more beneficent." JOHNSON: "And really it is wonderful, considering how much attention is necessary for men to take care of themselves, and ward off immediate evils which press upon them, it is wonderful how much they do for others. As it is said of the greatest liar, that he tells more truth than falsehood; so it may be said of the worst man, that he does more good than evil." BoSWELL: "Perhaps from experience men may be found happier than we suppose." JOHNSON: "No, Sir; the more we inquire we shall find men less happy." P.: "As to thinking better or worse of mankind from experience, some cunning people will not be satisfied unless they have put men to the test, as they think. There is a very good story told of Sir Godfrey Kneller,' in his character of a justice of the peace. A gentleman brought his servant before him, upon an accusation of having stolen some money from him; but it having come out that he had laid it purposely in the servant's way, in order to try his honesty, Sir Godfrey sent the master to prison." JOHNSON: "To resist temptation once is not a sufficient proof of honesty.
1 Sir Godfrey Kneller was an eminent portrait painter, who was munificently patronised by Charles II., James II., and William III.; for the latter of whom he painted the "Beauties at Hampton-court." He was born at Lubeck about 1648, and continued to practise his art till after he was 70 years of age. He died in 1723, after amassing a large fortune.-ED. 2 Pope thus introduces this story :
"Faith! in such case if you should prosecute,
And punish'd him that put it in his way."
Imit. of Horace," book ii. epist. 2.-BOSWELL.