Page images

amanuenses. "The booksellers," said he, "gave Theophilus Cibber, who was then in prison, ten guineas to allow Mr. Cibber to be put upon the title-page, as the author. By this, a double imposition was intended; in the first place, that it was the work of a Cibber at all; and in the second place, that it was the work of old Cibber."


Mr. Murphy said, that "the Memoirs of Gray's Life set him much higher in his estimation than his poems did; for you there saw a man constantly at work in literature." Johnson acquiesced in this; but depreciated the book I thought very unreasonably. For he said, "I forced myself to read it, only because it was a common topic of conversation. I found it mighty dull; and, as to the style, it is fit for the second table." Why he thought so I was at a loss to conceive. He now gave it as his opinion, that "Akenside was a superior poet both to Gray and Mason."

Talking of the Reviews, Johnson said, "I think them very impartial: I do not know an instance of partiality." He mentioned what had passed upon the subject of the Monthly and Critical Reviews, in the conversation with which his Majesty had honoured him. He expatiated a little more on them this evening. "The Monthly Reviewers," said he," are not Deists; but they are Christians with as little Christianity as may be; and are for pulling down all establishments. The Critical Reviewers are for supporting the constitution, both in church and state. The Critical Reviewers, I believe, often review without reading the books through; but lay hold of a topic, and write chiefly from their own minds. The Monthly Reviewers are duller men, and are glad to read the books through."


regard to that sacred principle of truth to which Dr. Johnson so rigidly adhered, according to the best of his knowledge, and which, we believe, no consideration would have prevailed on him to violate. In regard to the matter, which we now dismiss, he had, no doubt, been misled by partial and wrong information. Shiels was the Doctor's amanuensis; he had quarrelled with Cibber: it is natural to suppose that he told his story in his own way, and it is certain that he was not a very sturdy moralist.'"

This explanation appears to me very satisfactory. It is, however, to be observed that the story told by Johnson does not rest solely upon my record of his conversation, for he himself has published it in his life of Hammond, where he says, "the manuscript of Shiels is now in my possession." Very probably he had trusted to Sheils' word, and never looked at it so as to compare it with the "Lives of the Poets," as published under Mr. Cibber's name. What became of that manuscript I know not. I should have liked much to examine it. I suppose it was thrown into the fire in that impetuous combustion of papers which Johnson, I think, rashly executed when moribundus.-BOSWELL

He talked of Lord Lyttelton's extreme anxiety as an author; observing, that "he was thirty years in preparing his history, and that he employed a man to point it for him; as if (laughing) another man could point his sense better than himself." Mr. Murphy said, he understood his history was kept back several years for fear of Smollett. JOHNSON : This seems strange to Murphy and me, who never felt that anxiety, but sent what we wrote to the press, and let it take its chance." MRS. THRALE: "The time has been, Sir, when you felt it." JOHNSON: "Why really, madam, I do not recollect a time when that was the case."


Talking of "The Spectator," he said, "It is wonderful that there is such a proportion of bad papers in the half of the work which was not written by Addison; for there was all the world to write that half, yet not a half of that half is good. One of the finest pieces in the English language is the paper on Novelty, yet we do not hear it talked of. It was written by Grove, a dissenting teacher." He would not, I perceived, call him a clergyman, though he was candid enough to allow very great merit to his composition. Mr. Murphy said, he remembered when there were several people alive in London, who enjoyed a considerable reputation merely from having written a paper in "The Spectator." He mentioned particularly Mr. Ince, who used to frequent Tom's coffee-house. "But," said Johnson, "you must consider how highly Steele speaks of Mr. Ince." He would not allow that the paper on carrying a boy to travel, signed Philip Homebred, which was reported to be written by the Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, had merit. He said, "It was quite vulgar, and had nothing luminous."


Johnson mentioned Dr. Barry's1 System of Physic. "He was a man," said he, "who had acquired a high reputation in Dublin, came over to England, and brought his reputation with him, but had not great His notion was, that pulsation occasions death by attrition; and that, therefore, the way to preserve life is to retard pulsation. But we know that pulsation is strongest in infants, and that we increase in growth while it operates in its regular course; so it cannot be the cause of destruction." Soon after this, he said something very flattering to Mrs. Thrale, which I do not recollect; but it concluded with wishing her long life. "Sir," said I, "if Dr. Barry's system be true, you have now shortened Mrs. Thrale's life, perhaps some minutes, by accelerating her pulsation."

On Thursday, April 11, I dined with him at General Paoli's, in whose house I now resided, and where I had ever afterwards the honour of being entertained with the kindest attention as his constant guest, while I was in London, till I had a house of my own there. I mentioned

1 Sir Edward Barry, Bart.-BOSWELL.

my having that morning introduced to Mr. Garrick, Count Neni, a Flemish nobleman of great rank and fortune, to whom Garrick talked of Abel Drugger as a small part; and related, with pleasant vanity, that a Frenchman who had seen him in one of his low characters, exclaimed, "Comment! je ne le crois pas. Ce n'est pas Monsieur Garrick, ce grand homme!" Garrick added, with an appearance of grave recollection, "If I were to begin life again, I think I should not play these low characters." Upon which I observed, "Sir, you would be in the wrong; for your great excellence is your variety of playing, your representing so well characters so very different." JOHNSON: Garrick, Sir, was not in earnest in what he said; for, to be sure, his peculiar excellence is his variety; and, perhaps, there is not any one character which has not been as well acted by somebody else, as he could do it." BOSWELL: "Why then, Sir, did he talk so?" JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, to make you answer as you did." BOSWELL: "I don't know, Sir; he seemed to dip deep into his mind for the reflection." JOHNSON: “He had not far to dip, Sir; he had said the same thing, probably, twenty times before."


Of a nobleman raised at a very early period to high office, he said, "His parts, Sir, are pretty well for a lord, but would not be distinguished in a man who had nothing else but his parts."

A journey to Italy was still in his thoughts. He said, "A man who had not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see. The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires of the world—the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. All our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean." The General observed, that · 66 THE MEDITERRANEAN would be a noble subject for a poem."

We talked of translation. I said, I could not define it, nor could I think of a similitude to illustrate it; but that it appeared to me the translation of poetry could be only imitation. JOHNSON: "You may translate books of science exactly. You may also translate history, in so far as it is not embellished with oratory, which is poetical. Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and therefore it is the poets that preserve the languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language."

A gentleman maintained that the art of printing had hurt real learning, by disseminating idle writings. JOHNSON: "Sir, if it had not been for the art of printing, we should now have no learning at all; for books would have perished faster than they could have been transcribed."

[ocr errors]

This observation seems not just, considering for how many ages books were preserved by writing alone.1

The same gentleman maintained that a general diffusion of knowledge among a people was a disadvantage, for it made the vulgar rise above their humble sphere. JOHNSON: "Sir, while knowledge is a distinction, those who are possessed of it will naturally rise above those who are not. Merely to read and write was a distinction at first; but we see, when reading and writing have become general, the common people keep their stations. And so, were higher attainments to become general, the effect would be the same."

"Goldsmith," he said, "referred every thing to vanity; his virtues and his vices too were from that motive. He was not a social man: he never exchanged mind with you."

We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole's. Mr. Mickle, the excellent translator of "The Lusiad," was there. I have preserved little of the conversation of this evening. Dr. Johnson said, "Thomson had a true poetical genius, the power of viewing everything in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels, who compiled 'Cibber's Lives of the Poets,' was one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked, 'Is not this fine?' Shiels having expressed the highest admiration, 'Well, Sir,' said I, 'I have omitted every other line."

I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day when they and I were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762. Goldsmith asserted that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley appealed to his own collection, and maintained that though you could not find a palace like Dryden's "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," you had villages composed of very pretty houses; and he mentioned particularly "The Spleen." JOHNSON: "I think Dodsley gave up the question. He a d Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a softer manner than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged that there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit and humour in verse, and yet no poetry. 'Hudibras' has a profusion of these; yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. 'The Spleen,' in Dodsley's collection, on which you say he chiefly rested, is not poetry." BosWELL: "Does not Gray's poetry, Sir, tower above the common mark?" JOHNSON: "Yes, Sir; but we must attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do

1 The author did not recollect that of the books preserved (and an infinite number was lost) all were confined to two languages. In modern times, and modern languages, France and Italy alone produce more books in a given time than Greece and Rome; put England, Spain, Germany, and the Northern kingdoms out of the question.-BURNEY.

2 Wm. Julius Mickle, the translator of Camoens' "Lusiad," was born in 1734, at Langholm in Dumfriesshire. He died in 1788.-ED.

if he would. Sixteen-string Jack' towered above the common mark.” BOSWELL: Then, Sir, what is poetry?" JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is, but it is not easy to tell what it is."

On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's, where we met Mr. Cradock,2 of Leicestershire, author of "Zobeide," a tragedy; a very pleasing gentleman, to whom my friend Dr. Farmer's very excellent "Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare" is addressed; and also Dr. Harwood, who has written and published various works, particularly a fantastical translation of the New Testament in modern phrase, and with a Socinian twist.



I introduced Aristotle's doctrine in his "Art of Poetry," of "the κálaρois τῶν παθημάτων, the purging of the passions," as the purpose of tragedy.3 "But how are the passions to be purged by terror and pity?" said I, with an assumed air of ignorance, to incite him to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address. JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, you are to consider what is the meaning of purging in the original sense. It is to expel impurities from the human body. The mind is subject to the same imperfection. The passions are the greatest movers of human actions; but they are mixed with such impurities, that it is necessary they should be purged or refined by means of terror and pity. For instance, ambition is a noble passion; but by seeing upon the stage, that a man who is so excessively ambitious as to raise himself by injustice is punished, we are terrified at the fatal consequences of such a passion. In the same manner a certain degree of resentment is necessary; but if we see that a man carries it too far, we

1 A noted highwayman, who, after having been several times tried and acquitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in his dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings at the knees of his breeches.-BOSWELL.

2 The hospitable proprietor of Gumley Hall, where he was accustomed to entertain a large circle of literary friends. Mr. Cradock was admitted to the first literary circles of his day, and was in habits of intimacy with Dr. Johnson, Boswell, Burke, Goldsmith, Doctors Parr, Farmer, and Askew, Geo. Steevens, Lords Thurlow and Sandwich, Bishops Hurd, Percy, and Hinchliff, &c. "Of Dr. Johnson's manners," says Mr. Cradock, in his Literary Memoirs, "Garrick was a great mimic, and by his imitations at times rendered Johnson abundantly ridiculous. Tom Davies monopolised his laugh, and his laugh was that of a rhinoceros!" He was the author of several works; and in 1826, just previous to his death, he published his "Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs." Mr. Cradock was senior fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He was born 1741-2, and died December 15, 1826.-ED.

3 See an ingenious Essay on this subject by the late Dr. Moor, Greek professor of Glasgow.-BOSWELL.

« PreviousContinue »