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upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir, he was irresistible.1 He upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small-beer brewer, and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small-beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote's small-beer no longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote's stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs he told them, 'This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small-beer.'"
Somebody observed, that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES: "Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now leaving the stage; but he will play Scrub all his life." I knew that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as Garrick said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so, to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, "I have heard Garrick is liberal." JOHNSON: "Yes, Sir, I know that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have money, he probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he could; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice, which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him. Garrick might have been much better attacked for living with more splendour than is suitable to a player: if they had had the wit to have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has rescued him from much obloquy and envy."
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentic information for biography, Johnson told us, "When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the 'Life of Dryden,' and in order to get materials I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old
1 Foote told me, that Johnson said to him, "For loud obstreperous broad-faced mirth, I know not his equal."-Boswell.
Swinney,1 and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this, 'That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter-chair; and it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-chair.' Cibber could tell no more but "That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's.' You are to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, had, perhaps, one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other." BOSWELL: "But Cibber was a man of observation?" JOHNSON: "I think not." BOSWELL: "You will allow his 'Apology' to be well done." JOHNSON: "Very well done, to be sure, Sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark :
'Each might his several province well command,
BOSWELL: "And his plays are good." JOHNSON: "Yes; but that was his trade; l'esprit du corps; he had been all his life among players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the He abused Pindar to me, and then showed me an ode of his own, with an absurd couplet making a linnet soar on an eagle's wing. I told him, that when the ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real."
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that "among all the bold flights of Shakspeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnam-wood march to Dunsinane, creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland! ha! ha! ha!" And he also observed, that "the clannish slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of 'The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty,' being worshipped in all hilly countries. When I was at Inverary," said he, " on a visit to my old friend, Archibald Duke of Argyle, his dependants congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, 'It is, then, gentlemen, truly lucky for me; for if I had displeased the Duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to him in a charger. It would have been only
'Off with his head! So much for Aylesbury.
I was then member for Aylesbury.”
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's Art of Poetry, "Difficile est propriè communia dicere." Mr.
1 Owen McSwinney, who died in 1754, and bequeathed his fortune to Mrs. Woffington, the actress. He had been a manager of Drury-lane Theatre, and afterwards of the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket. He was also a dramatic writer, having produced a comedy, entitled "The Quacks, or Love's the Physician," 1705, and two operas.-MALONE
Wilkes, according to my note, gave the interpretation thus: "It is difficult to speak with propriety of common things; as, if a poet had to speak of Queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the vulgarity of cups and saucers." But upon reading my note, he tells me that he meant to say, that "the word communia, being a Roman lawterm, signifies here things communis juris, that is to say, what have never yet been treated by any body; and this appears clearly from what followed,
You will easier make a tragedy out of the Iliad than on any subject not handled before." JOHNSON: "He means that it is difficult to appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all mankind, as Homer as done."
1 My very pleasant friend himself, as well as others who remember old stories, will no doubt be surprised, when I observe that John Wilkes here shows himself to be of the WARBURTONIAN SCHOOL. It is nevertheless true, as appears from Dr. Hurd the Bishop of Worcester's very elegant commentary and notes on the "Epistola ad Pisones."
It is necessary to a fair consideration of the question, that the whole passage in which the words occur should be kept in view :
"Si quid inexpertum scenæ committis, et audes
Non circa vilem patulumque moraberis orbem;
Interpres; nec desilies imitator in arctum,
Unde pedem proferre pudor vetat, aut operis lex."--v. 125.
The "Commentary" thus illustrates it: "But the formation of quite new characters is a work of great difficulty and hazard; for here there is no generally received and fixed archetype to work after, but every one judges of common right according to the extent and comprehension of his own idea; therefore he advises to labour and refit old characters and subjects, particularly those made known and authorised by the practice of Homer and the Epic writers."
The "Note" is, "Difficile EST PROPRIE COMMUNIA DICERE." Lambin's Comment is, "Communia hoc loco appellat Horatius argumenta fabularum à nullo adhuc tractata: et ita, quæ cuivis exposita sunt et in medio quodammodo posita, quasi vacua et à nemine occupata." And that this is the true meaning of communia is evidently fixed by the words ignota indictaque, which are explanatory of it; so that the sense given it in the commentary is unquestionably the right one. Yet, notwithstanding the clearness of the case, a late critic has this strange passage:-" Difficile quidem esse propriè communia dicere, hoc est, materiam vulgarem, notam et è medio petitam, ita immutare atque exornare, ut nova et scriptori propria videatur, ultro concedimus; et maximi procul dubio ponderis ista est observatio. Sed omnibus utrinque collatis, et tum difficilis tum venusti, tam judicii quam ingenii ratione habita, major videtur esse gloria fabulam formare penitus novam quàm veterem, utcunque mutatam, de novo exhibere." (Poet. Præl., v. ii. p. 164.) Where, having first put a wrong construction on the word communia, he employs it to introduce an impertinent criticism. For where does the poet prefer the glory of refitting old subjects to that of inventing new ones? The contrary is implied in what he urges about the superior difficulty of the latter, from
WILKES: "We have no City Poet now: that is an office which has gone into disuse. The last was Elkanah Settle. There is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now Elkanah Settle sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden, in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits." JOHNSON: I suppose, Sir, Settle did as well for Aldermen in his time, as John Home could do now.
Where did Beckford and Trecothick learn
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. JOHNSON : 66 Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.' BOSWELL: 66 Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there." JOHNSON: "Why
which he dissuades his countrymen, only in respect of their abilities and inexperience in these matters; and in order to cultivate in them, which is the main view of the Epistle, a spirit of correctness, by sending them to the old subjects, treated by the Greek writers.
For my own part, with all deference for Dr. Hurd, who thinks the case clear, I consider the passage, "Difficile est propriè communia dicere," to be a crux for the critics on Horace.
The explication which my Lord of Worcester treats with so much contempt, is nevertheless countenanced by authority, which I find quoted by the learned Baxter, in his edition of Horace, "Difficile est propriè communia dicere, h. e. res vulgares disertis verbis enarrare, vel humilè thema cum dignitate tractare. Difficile est communes res propriis explicare verbis. Vet. Schol." I was much disappointed to find that the great critic, Dr. Bentley, has no note on this very difficult passage, as from his vigorous and illuminate mind I should have expected to receive more satisfaction than I have yet had.
Sanadon thus treats of it: "Propriè communia dicere; c'est à dire, qu'il n'est pas aisé de former à ces personnages d'imagination, des caractères particuliers et cependant vraisemblables. Comme l'on a été le maître de les former tels qu'on a voulu, les fautes que l'on fait en cela sont moins pardonnables. C'est pourquoi Horace conseille de prendre toujours des sujets connus, tels que sont, par exemple, ceux que l'on peut tirer des poêmes d'Homère."
And Dacier observes upon it: "Après avoir marqué les deux qualités qu'il faut donner aux personnages qu'on invente, il conseille aux Poëtes tragiques, de n'user pas trop facilement de cette liberté qu'ils ont d'en inventer, car il est très difficile de reussir dans ces nouveaux caractères. Il est mal aisé, dit Horace, de traiter proprement, c'est à dire convenablement, des sujets communs ; c'est à dire, des sujets inventés, et qui n'ont aucun fondement ni dans l'Histoire ni dans la Fable; et il les appelle communs, parce qu'ils sont en disposition à tout le monde, et que tout le monde a le droit de les inventer, et qu'ils sont, comme on dit, au premier occupant." See his observations at large on this expression and the following.
After all, I cannot help entertaining some doubt whether the words, "Difficile est propriè communia dicere," may not have been thrown in by Horace to form a separate article in a "choice of difficulties" which a poet has to encounter, who chooses a new subject; in which case, it must be uncertain which of the various explanations is the true one, and every reader has a right to decide as it may strike his own fancy. And even should the words be understood, as they generally are, to be connected both with what goes before and what comes after, the exact sense cannot be absolutely ascertained; for instance, whether propriè is meant to signify in an appropriated manner, as Dr. Johnson here understands it, or, as it is often used by Cicero, with propriety, or elegantly. In short, it is a rare instance of a defect in perspicuity in an admirable writer, who, with almost every species of excellence, is peculiarly remarkable for that quality. The length of this note, perhaps, requires an apology. Many of my readers, I doubt not, will admit that a critical discussion of a passage in a favourite classic is verv engaging.-BOSWELL
yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home." All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topic, he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt, merely because another swears it against him; but there must first be the judgment of a court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgment is obtained, can take place only if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fuga: WILKES: "That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation." JOHNSON (to Mr. Wilkes): "You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell, and showed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London." WILKES: "Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people, like you and me." JOHNSON (smiling): "And we ashamed of him."
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, "You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced." Wilkes talked with all imaginable freedom of the ludicrous title given to the Attorney-General, Diabolus Regis ; adding, "I have reason to know something about that officer; for I was prosecuted for a libel." Johnson, who many people would have supposed must have been furiously angry at hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word. He was now, indeed, "a good humoured fellow."
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady, well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. Amidst some patriotic groans, somebody, I think the Alderman, said, “Poor old England is lost." JOHNSON: "Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it."1 WILKES: "Had Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I should not have taken the trouble to write his eulogy, and dedicate 'MORTIMER' to him."
Mr. Wilkes held a candle to show a fine print of a beautiful female
1 It would not become me to expatiate on this strong and pointed remark, in which a very great deal of meaning is condensed. -BOSWELL.