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have been written.” I asked if Burnet had not given a good Life of Rochester. JOHNSON. “ We have a good Death: there is not much Life.” I asked whether Prior's poems were to be printed entire: Johnson said, they were.
I mentioned Lord Hailes's censure of Prior, in his Preface to a collection of “Sacred Poems,” by various hands, published by him at Edinburgh a great many years ago, where he mentions “ those impure tales which will be the eternal opprobrium of their ingenious authour.” John
“Sir, Lord Hailes has forgot. There is nothing in Prior that will excite to lewdness. If Lord Hailes thinks there is, he must be more combustible than other people.” I instanced the tale of “ Paulo Purganti and his Wife.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, there is nothing there, but that his wife wanted to be kissed, when poor Paulo was out of pocket. No, sir, Prior is a lady's book. No lady is ashamed to have it standing in her library.”
The hypochondriack disorder being mentioned, Dr. Johnson did not think it so common as I
supposed. “ Dr. Taylor (said he) is the same one day as another. Burke and Reynolds are the same.
Beauclerk, except when in pain, is the same. I am not so myself; but this I do not mention commonly."
I complained of a wretched changefulness, so that I could not preserve, for any long continuance, the same views of any thing. It was most comfortable to me to experience, in Dr. Johnson's company, a relief from this uneasiness. His steady vigorous mind held firm before me those objects which my own feeble and tremulous imagination frequently presented in such' a wavering state, that my reason could not judge well of them.
Dr. Johnson advised me to-day, to have as many books about me as I could ; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction
at the time. What
read then (said he), you will remember ; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you have again a desire to study it.” He added, “ If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination."
He repeated a good many lines of Horace's Odes, while we were in the chaise; I remember particularly the Ode “ Eheu fugaces.”
He said, the dispute as to the comparative excellence of Homer or Virgil' was inaccurate.
« We must consider (said he) whether Homer was not the greatest poet, though Virgil may have produced the finest poem.” Virgil was indebted to Homer for the whole invention of the structure of an epick poem, and for many of his beauties.”
He told me, that Bacon was a favourite authour with him ; but he had never read his works till he was compiling the English Dictionary, in which, he said, I might see Bacon very often quoted. Mr. Seward recollects his having mentioned, that a Dictionary of the English Language might be compiled from Bacon's writings alone, and that he once had an intention of giving an edition of Bacon, at least of his English works, and writing the Life of that great
Had he executed this intention, there can be no 1 I am informed by Mr. Langton, that a great many years ago he was present when this question was agitated between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Burke; and, to use Johnson's phrase, they “ talked their best ;" Johnson for Homer, Burke for Virgil. It may well be supposed to have been one of the ablest and most brilliant contests that ever was exhibited. How much must we regret that it has not been preserved.
2 [But where is the inaccuracy, if the admirers of Homer contend, that he was not only prior to Virgil in point of time, but superior in excellence ? J. B.-0.]
doubt that he would have done it in a most masterly
Mallets Life of Bacon has no inconsiderable merit as an acute and elegant dissertation relative to its subject; but Mallet's mind was not comprehensive enough to embrace the vast extent of Lord Verulam’s genius and research. Dr. Warburton therefore observed, with witty justness, “ that Mallet in his Life of Bacon had forgotten that he was a philosopher; and if he should write the Life of the Duke of Marlborough, which he had undertaken to do, he would probably forget that he was a General.”
Wishing to be satisfied what degree of truth there was in a story which a friend of Johnson's and mine had told me to his disadvantage, I mentioned it to him in direct terms; and it was to this effect: that a gentleman who had lived in great intimacy with him, shewn him much kindness, and even relieved him from a spunging-house, having afterwards fallen into bad circumstances, was one day, when Johnson was at dinner with him, seized for debt, and carried to prison; that Johnson sat still undisturbed, and went on eating and drinking; upon which the gentleman's sister, who was present, could not suppress her indignation : “ What, sir (said she), are you so unfeeling, as not even to offer to go to my brother in his distress; you who have been so much obliged to him?" And that Johnson answered, “ Madam, I owe him no obligation ; what he did for me he would have done for a dog."
Johnson assured me, that the story was absolutely false: but like a man conscious of being in the right, and desirous of completely vindicating himself from such a charge, he did not arrogantly rest on a mere denial, and on his general character, but proceeded thus :—“Sir, I was very intimate with that gentleman, and was once relieved by him from an arrest ; but I never was present when he was arrested, never
knew that he was arrested, and I believe he never was in difficulties after the time when he relieved me. I loved him much: yet, in talking of his general character, I may have said, though I do not remember that I ever did say so, that as his generosity proceeded from no principle, but was a part of his profusion, he would do for a dog what he would do for a friend : but I never applied this remark to any particular instance, and certainly not to his kindness to me. profuse man, who does not value his money, and gives a large sum to a whore, gives half as much, or an equally large sum to relieve a friend, it cannot be esteemed as virtue. This was all that I could
of that gentleman; and, if said at all, it must have been said after his death. Sir, I would have gone to the world's end to relieve him. The remark about the dog, if made by me, was such a lly as might escape one when painting a man highly.”
On Tuesday, September 23, Johnson was remarkably cordial to me. It being necessary for me to return to Scotland soon, I had fixed on the next day for my setting out, and I felt a tender concern at the thought of parting with him. He had, at this time, frankly communicated to me many particulars, which are inserted in this work in their proper places; and once, when I happened to mention that the expense of my jaunt would come to much more than I had computed, he said, “ Why, sir, if the expense were to be an inconvenience, you would have reason to regret it: but, if you have had the money to spend, I know not that you could have purchased as much pleasure with it in
other way. During this interview at Ashbourne, Johnson and I frequently talked with wonderful pleasure of mere trifles which had occurred in our tour to the Hebrides; for it had left a most agreeable and lasting impression upon his mind.
He found fault with me for using the phrase to make money
“ Don't you see (said he) the impropriety of it? To make money is to coin it: you should say get money." The phrase, however, is, I think, pretty current. But Johnson was at all times jealous of infractions upon the genuine English Language, and prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms; such as pledging myself, for undertaking; line, for department, or branch, as, the civil line, the banking line. He was particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word idea in the sense of notion or opinion, when it is clear that idea can only signify something of which an image can be formed in the mind. We may have an idea or image of a mountain, a tree, a building; but we cannot surely have an idea or image of an argument or proposition. Yet we hear the sages of the law " delivering their ideas upon the question under consideration;" and the first speakers in parliament " entirely coinciding in the idea which has been ably stated by an honourable member;"-or“ reprobating an idea unconstitutional, and fraught with the most dangerous consequences to a great and free country.” Johnson called this “ modern cant."
I perceived that he pronounced the word heard, as if spelt with a double e, heerd, instead of sounding it herd, as is most usually done.' He said, his reason was, that if it were pronounced herd, there would be a single exception from the English pronunciation of the syllable ear, and he thought it better not to have that exception.
He praised Grainger's “Ode on Solitude," in Dodsley's collection, and repeated, with great energy, the exordium :
1 [In the age of Queen Elizabeth this word was frequently written, as doubtless it was pronounced, hard. M.]