« PreviousContinue »
witness of his having said so. The conversation was indeed too remarkable to be forgotten. A few days after, meeting with you, who were then also at London, you will remember that I mentioned to you what had passed on this subject, as I was much struck with this anecdote. But what ascertains my recollection of it beyond doubt, is, that being accustomed to keep a journal of what passed when I was at London, which I wrote out every evening, I find the particulars of the above information, just as I have now given them, distinctly marked; and am thence enabled to fix this conversation to have passed on Friday, the 22d of April, 1763.
“ I remember also distinctly, (though I have not for this the authority of my journal,) that the conversation going on concerning Mr. Pope, I took notice of a report which had been sometimes propagated that he did not understand Greek. Lord Bathurst said to me, that he knew that to be false; for that part of the Iliad was translated by Mr. Pope in his house in the country, and that in the mornings, when they assembled at breakfast, Mr. Pope used frequently to repeat, with great rapture, the Greek lines which he had been translating, and then to give them his version of them, and to compare them together.
“ If these circumstances can be of any use to Dr. Johnson, you have my full liberty to give them to him. I beg you will, at the same time, present to him my most respectful compliments, with best wishes for his fuccess and fame in all his literary undertakings. I am, with great respect, my dearest Sir,
« Your most affectionate
“ And obliged humble servant, “ Broughton-Park,
HUGH BLAIR." Sept. 21, 1779
Johnson. “ Depend upon it, Sir, this is too strongly stated. Pope may have had from Bolingbroke the philosophick stamina of his Effay: and admitting this to be true, Lord Bathurst did not intentionally falfify. But the thing is not true in the latitude that Blair seems to imagine ; we are fure that the poetical imagery, which makes a great part of the poem, was Pope's own. It is amazing, Sir, what deviations there are from precise truth, in the account which is given of almost every thing. I told Mrs.
I Thrale, “You have so little anxiety about truth, that you never tax your memory with the exact thing.' Now what is the use of the memory to truth,
if one is careless of exactness ? Lord Hailes's "Annals of Scotland' are
Boswell. “Why, Sir, do people play this trick which I observe now,
BOSWELL.“ By associating with you, Sir, I am always getting an accession of wisdom. But perhaps a man, after knowing his own character--the limited strength of his own mind, should not be desirous of having too much wisdom, considering, quid valeant humeri, how little he can carry.” Johnson. “Sir, be as wise as you can ; let a man be aliis lætus, sapiens fibi:
Though pleas'd to see the dolphins play,
• I mind my compass and my way.'
He said, “ Dodsey first mentioned to me the scheme of an English
In his Life of Milton he observes, “ I cannot but remark a kind of respect,
1779. him to give me an exact list of his places of residence, since he entered the Arat. 7o. metropolis as an authour, which I subjoin in a note 7.
I mentioned to him a dispute between a friend of mine and his lady, concerning conjugal infidelity, which my friend had maintained was by no means so bad in the husband, as in the wife. Johnson. “ Your friend was in the right, Sir. Between a man and his Maker it is a different question ; but, between a man and his wife, a husband's infidelity is nothing. They are connected by children, by fortune, by serious considerations of community. Wise married women don't trouble themselves about infidelity in their hulbands.” BOSWELL.
Boswell. “To be sure there is a great difference between the offence of infidelity in a man and that of his wife.” Johnson. “ The
JOHNSON“ difference is boundless. The man imposes no bastards upon his wife.”
Here it may be questioned whether Johnson was entirely in the right. I suppose it will not be controverted that the difference in the degree of criminality is very great, on account of consequences: but still it may be maintained, that, independent of moral obligation, infidelity is by no means a light offence in a husband; because it must hurt a delicate attachment, in which a mutual constancy is implied, with such refined sentiments as Maffinger has exhibited in his play of “ The Picture.” Johnson probably at another-time would have admitted this opinion. And let it be kept in remembrance, that he was very careful not to give any encouragement to irregular conduct. A gentleman, not adverting to the distinction made by him upon this subject, supposed a case of singular perverseness in a wife, and heedlessly faid, “ That then he thought a husband might do as he pleased with a
safe conscience.” Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, this is wild indeed (smiling); you 1779. must consider that fornication is a crime in a single man; and you cannot Ætat. 70. have more liberty by being married.”
He this evening expressed himself strongly against the Roman Catholicks ; observing, “ In every thing in which they differ from us they are wrong.” He was even against the invocation of Saints; in short, he was in the humour of opposition.
Having regretted to him that I had learnt little Greek, as is too generally the case in Scotland, that I had for a long time hardly applied at all to the study of that noble language, and that I was desirous of being told by him what method to follow; he recommended to me as easy helps, Sylvanus's « First Book of the Iliad;" Dawson's « Lexicon to the Greek New Testament;” and “ Hefiod,” with Paforis Lexicon at the end of it.
On Tuesday, October 12, I dined with him at Mr. Ramsay's, with Lord Newhaven, and some other company, none of whom I recollect, but a beautiful Miss Graham, a relation of his LordMip's, who asked Dr. Johnson to hob or nob with her. He was flattered by such pleasing attention, and politely told her, he never drank wine; but if she would drink a glass of water, he was much at her service. She accepted. Oho, Sir! (faid Lord Newhaven) you are caught.” JOHNSON. “Nay, I do not see how I am caught; but if I am caught I don't want to get free again. If I am caught, I hope to be kept.” Then when the two glasses of water were brought, imiling placidly to the young lady, “ Madam, let us reciprocate.”
Lord Newhaven and Johnson carried on an argument for some time, concerning the Middlesex election. Johnson said, “ Parliament may be considered as bound by law, as a man is bound where there is nobody to tie the knot. As it is clear that the House of Commons may expel, and expel again and again, why not allow of the power to incapacitate for that parliament, rather than have a perpetual contest kept up between parliament and the people.” Lord Newhaven took the opposite side, but respectfully said, “ I speak with great deference to you, Dr. Johnson; I speak to be instructed.” . This had its full effect upon my friend. He bowed his head almost as low as the table, to a complimenting nobleman; and called out, “ My Lord, my Lord, I do not desire all this ceremony; let us tell our minds to one another quietly.” After the debate was over, he said, " I have got lights on the subject to-day, which I had not before.” This was a great deal from him, especially as he
, had written a pamphlet up it.
He observed, “ The House of Commons was originally not a privilege of the people, but a check for the Crown on the House of Lords. I remember Henry the Eighth, wanted them to do something; they hesitated in the morning, but did it in the afternoon. He told them, “It is well you did, or half your heads should have been upon Temple-bar.' But the House of Commons is now no longer under the power of the crown, and therefore must be bribed.” He added, “I have no delight in talking of publick affairs."
Of his fellow-collegian, the celebrated Mr. George Whitefield, he said, “ Whitefield never drew as much attention as a mountebank does; he did not draw attention by doing better than others, but by doing what was strange. Were Astley to preach a sermon standing upon his head on a horse's back, he would collect a multitude to hear him; but no wise man would say he had made a better sermon for that. I never treated Whitefield's ministry with contempt ; I believe he did good. He had devoted himself to the lower classes of mankind, and among them he was of use. But when familiarity and noise claim the praise due to knowledge, art, and elegance, we must beat down such pretensions."
What I have preserved of his conversation during the remainder of my stay in London at this time, is only what follows: I told him that when I objected to keeping company with a notorious infidel, a celebrated friend of our's faid to me, “ I do not think that men who live laxly in the world, as you and
, I do, can with propriety assume such an authority. Dr. Johnson may, who is uniformly exemplary in his conduct. But it is not very consistent to shun an infidel to-day, and get drunk to-morrow.” Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, this is fad
, reasoning. Because a man cannot be right in all things, is he to be right in nothing? Because a man sometimes gets drunk, is he therefore to steal ? This doctrine would very soon bring a man to the gallows.
“ After all, however, it is a difficult question how far. sincere Christians should associate with the avowed enemies of religion; for in the first place, almost every man's mind may be more or less corrupted by evil communications ;' secondly, the world may very naturally suppose that they are not really in earnest in religion, who can easily bear its opponents; and thirdly, if the profane find themselves quite well received by the pious, one of the checks upon an open declaration of their infidelity, and one of the probable chances of obliging them seriously to reflect, which their being shunned would do, is removed.”