« PreviousContinue »
his doubts afterwards proved to be well-founded. He observed, indeed very 1776. justly, that “their loss was an additional reason for their going abroad; and Atat. 7.
67 if it had not been fixed that he should have been one of the party, he would force them out; but he would not advise them unless his advice was asked, left they might suspect that he recommended what he wished on his own account.” I was not pleased that his intimacy with Mr. Thrale's family, though it no doubt contributed much to his comfort and enjoyment, was not without some degree of restraint. Not, as has been grossly suggested, that it was required of him as a talk to talk for the entertainment of them and their company; but that he was not quite at his ease; which, however, might partly be owing to his own honest pridem--that dignity of mind which is always jealous of appearing too compliant.
On Sunday, March 31, I called on him, and shewed him as a curiosity which I had discovered, his “ TranNation of Lobo's Account of Abyssinia,” which Sir John Pringle had lent me, it being then little known as one of his works. He said, “ Take no notice of it, or don't talk of it.” He seemed to think it beneath him, though done at six-and-twenty. I said to him, “ Your style, Sir, is much improved since you transated this.”. He answered with a sort of triumphant smile, “Sir, I hope it is.”
On Wednesday, April 3, in the forenoon, I found him very busy putting his books in order, and as they were generally very old ones, clouds of dust were flying around him. He had on a pair of large gloves, such as hedgers use. His present appearance put me in mind of my uncle, Dr. Bofwell's description of him, “ A robust genius, born to grapple with whole libraries.” I
gave him an account of a conversation which had passed between me and Captain Cook, the day before at dinner at Sir John Pringle's, and he was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated circumnavigator, who fet me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts given by Dr. Hawkesworth of his Voyages. I told him that while I was with the Captain, I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next voyage. Johnson. “Why, Sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages. Boswell.“ But one is carried away with the general grand and indistinct notion of A VOYAGE ROUND THE World.” Johnson. “Yes, Sir, but a man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general.” I said I was certain that a great part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be conjecture, because they had not enough of the
language of those countries' to understand so much as they have related. Atat. 67. Objects falling under the observation of the senses might be clearly known;
but every thing intellectual, every thing abstract-politicks, morals, and religion, must be darkly guessed. Dr. Johnson was of the fame opinion. He upon another occasion, when a friend mentioned to him several extraordinary facts, as communicated to hiin by the circumnavigators, Nily observed, “ Sir, I never before knew how much I was respected by these gentlemen; they told me none of these things.”
He had been in company with Omai, a native of one of the South Sea isands, after he had been some time in this country. He was struck with the elegance of his behaviour, and accounted for it thus : “Sir, he had passed his time, while in England, only in the best company; so that all that he had acquired of our manners was genteel. As a proof of this, Sir, Lord Mulgrave and he dined one day at Streatham ; they fat with their backs to the light fronting me, so that I could not see distinctly; and there was so little of the savage in Omai, that I was afraid to speak to either, lest I should mistake one for the other.”
We agreed to dine to-day at the Mitre-tavern, after the rising of the House of Lords, where a branch of the litigation concerning the Douglas estate, in which I was one of the counsel, was to come on. I brought with me Mr. Murray, Solicitor-General of Scotland, now one of the Judges of the Court of Session, with the title of Lord Henderland. I mentioned Mr. Solicitor's relation, Lord Charles Hay, with whom I knew Dr. Johnson had been acquainted. Johnson. “I wrote fomething for Lord Charles; and I thought he had nothing to fear from a court-martial. I suffered a great loss when he died; he was a mighty pleasing man in conversation, and a reading man. The character of a soldier is high. They who stand forth the foremost in danger, for the community, have the respect of mankind. An officer is much more respected than any other man who has as little money. In a commercial country money will always purchase respect. But you find, an officer, who has properly speaking, no money, is every where well received and treated with attention. The character of a soldier always stands him in stead.” Boswell. “ Yet, Sir, I think that common soldiers are worse thought of than other men in the same rank of life ; such as labourers.” JOHNSON.
Why, Sir, a common foldier is usually a very gross man, and any quality which procures respect may be overwhelmed by grossness. A man of learning may be so vicious or so ridiculous that you cannot respect him. A common soldier too, generally eats more than he can pay for. But when a common soldier is civil in his quarters, his red coat procures him a degree of respect.”
The peculiar respect paid to the military character in France was mentioned. 1776. Boswell. “ I should think that where military men are so numerous, they Ætat. 6. would be less valued as not being rare.” JOHNSON. “ Nay, Sir, wherever a particular character or profession is high in the estimation of a people, those who are of it will be valued above other men. We value an Englishman highly in this country, and yet Englishmen are not rare in it.”
Mr. Murray praised the ancient philosophers for the candour and good humour with which those of different sects disputed with each other. Johnson. “ Sir, they disputed with good humour, because they were not in earnest as to religion. Had the ancients been serious in their belief, we should not have had their Gods exhibited in the manner we find them represented in the Poets. The people would not have suffered it. They disputed with good humour upon their fanciful theories, because they were not interested in
, the truth of them. When a man has
When a man has nothing to lofe, he may be in good humour with his opponent. Accordingly you see in Lucian, the Epicurean, who argues only negatively, keeps his temper; the Stoick, who has something positive to preserve, grows angry. Being angry with one who controverts an opinion which you value, is a necessary confequence of the uneasiness which you feel. Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy, and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy. Those only who believed in Revelation have been angry at having their faith called in question ; because they only had something upon which they could rest as matter of fact.” Murray. “ It seems to me that we are not angry at a man for controverting an opinion which we believe and value; we rather pity him.” Johnson. “ Why, Sir; to be sure when
you wish a man to have that belief which you think is of infinite advantage, you wish well to him; but your primary consideration is your own quiet. If a madman were to come into this room with a ftick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards. No, Sir; every man will dispute with great good humour upon a subject in which he is not interested. I will dispute very calmly upon the probability of another man's 'son being hanged, but if a man zealoudy enforces the probability that my own son will be hanged, I shall certainly not be in very good humour with him.” I added this illustration, “ If a man endeavours to convince me that my wife, whom I love very much, and in whom I have great confidence, is a disagreeable woman, and is even unfaithful to me, I shall be very angry, for he is putting me in fear of being unhappy.” MURRAY. “ But, Sir, truth will always bear anVol, II.
examination.” Johnson. “ Yes, Sir, but it is painful to be forced to defend
“ it. Consider, Sir, how should you like, though conscious of your innocence, to be tried before a jury for a capital crime, once a week.”
We talked of education at great schools, the advantages and disadvantages of which Johnson displayed in a luminous manner ; but his arguments preponderated so much in favour of the benefit which a boy of good parts might receive at one of them, that I have reason to believe Mr. Murray was very much influenced by what he had heard to-day, in his determination to send his own son to Westminster school.
I introduced the topick, which is often ignorantly urged, that the Universities of England are too rich, so that learning does not Aourish in them as it would do, if those who teach had smaller salaries, and depended on their assiduity for a great part of their income. Johnson. “Sir, the very reverse
, of this is the truth; the English Universities are not rich enough. Our fellowships are only sufficient to support a man during his studies to fit him for the world, and accordingly in general they are held no longer than till an opportunity offers of getting away. Now and then, perhaps, there is a fellow who grows old in his college; but this is against his will, unlefs he be a man very indolent indeed. A hundred a year is reckoned a good fellowship, and that is no more than is necessary to keep a man decently as a scholar.
We do not allow our fellows to marry, because we consider academical institutions as preparatory to a settlement in the world. It is only by being employed as a tutor, that a fellow can obtain any thing more than a livelihood. To be sure a man, who has enough without teaching, will probably not teach; for we would all be idle if we could. In the same manner, a man who is to get nothing by teaching, will not exert himself. . GreshamCollege was intended as a place of instruction for London; able Professors were to read lectures gratis, they contrived to have no scholars; whereas, if they had been allowed to receive but fix-pence a lecture from each scholar, they would have been emulous to have had many scholars. Every body will agree that it should be the interest of those who teach to have scholars; and this is the case in our Universities. That they are too rich is certainly not true; for they have nothing good enough to keep a man of eminent learning with them for his life. In the foreign Universities a professorship is a high thing. It is as much almost as a man can make by his learning; and therefore we find the most learned men abroad are in the Universities. It is not so with us. Our Uiversities are impoverished of learning, by the penury of their
rovisions. I wish there were many places of a thousand a-year at Oxford, to keep first rate men of learning from quitting the University.” Undoubtedly,
if this were the case, Literature would have a still greater dignity and splendour 1776. at Oxford, and there would be grander living sources of instruction.
I mentioned Mr. Maclaurin's uneasiness on account of a degree of ridicule carelessly thrown on his deceased father, in Goldsmith's “ History of Animated Nature,” in which that celebrated mathematician is reprefented as being subject to fits of yawning so violent as to render him incapable of proceeding in his lecture; a story altogether unfounded, but for the publication of which the law would give no reparation. This led us to agitate the question, whether legal redress could be obtained, even when a man's deceased relation was calumniated in a publication. Mr. Murray maintained there should be reparation, unless the authour could justify himself by proving the fact. Johnson. “Sir, it is of so much more consequence that truth should be told, than that individuals should not be made uneasy, that it is much better that the law does not restrain writing freely concerning the characters of the dead. Damages will be given to a man who is calumniated in his life-time, because he may be hurt in his worldly interest, or at least hurt in his mind: but the law does not regard that uneasiness which a man feels on having his ancestor calumniated. That is too nice. Let him deny what is said, and let the matter have a fair chance by discussion. But, if a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written ; for a great deal is known of men of which proof cannot be brought. A minister may be notoriously known to take bribes, and yet you may not be able to prove it." Mr. Murray
” suggested, that the authour Mould be obliged to shew some sort of evidence, though he would not require a strict legal proof: but Johnson firmly and resolutely opposed any restraint whatever, as adverse to a free investigation of the characters of mankind 7.
6 Dr. Goldsmith was dead before Mr. Maclaurin discovered the ludicrous errour. But Mr. Nourse, the bookseller, who was the proprietor of the work, upon being applied to by Sir John Pringle, agreed very handsomely to have the leaf on which it was contained cancelled, and re-printed without it, at his own expence.
7 What Dr. Johnson has here said, is undoubtedly good sense; yet I am afraid that law, though defined by Lord Coke “ the perfection of reason," is not altogether with him; for it is held in the books, that an attack on the reputation even of a dead man, may be punished as a libel, because :ending to a breach of the
peace. There is however, I believe, no modern decided case to that effect. In the King's Bench, Trinity Term, 1790, the question occurred on occasion of an indictment, The King v. Topham, who, as a proprietor of a newspaper entitled “The WORLD," was found guilty of a libel against Earl Cowper, deceased, because certain injurious charges against his Lordship were published in that paper. One of the counsel for Mr. Topham, my friend Mr, Conít, who is very able to maintain the argument with learning and ingenuity, informs me that it