Page images
PDF
EPUB

Pennant has much in his notions that I do not like; but still I think him a very intelligent traveller. If Percy is really offended, I am sorry; for he is a man whom I never knew to offend any one. He is a man very willing to learn, and very able to teach ; a man out of whose company I never go

without having learned something. It is sure that he vexes me sometimes, but I am afraid it is by making me feel my own ignorance. So much extension of mind, and so much minute accuracy of inquiry, if you survey your whole circle of acquaintance, you will find so scarce, if you find it at all, that you will value Percy by comparison. Lord Hailes is somewhat like him : but Lord Hailes does not, perhaps, go beyond him in research ; and I do not know that he equals him in elegance. Percy's attention to poetry has given grace and splendour to his studies of antiquity. A mere antiquarian is a rugged being.

“Upon the whole, you see that what I might say in sport or petulance to him, is very consistent with full conviction of his merit. I am, dear Sir,

“Your most, &c.,

“SAM. JOHNSON."

" TO THE REVEREND DR. PERCY, NORTHUMBERLAND HOUSE. “ DEAR SIR,

South Audley-street, April 25. “I wrote to Dr. Johnson on the subject of the Pennantian controversy; and have received from him an answer which will delight you. I read it yesterday to Dr. Robertson, at the exhibition; and at dinner to Lord Percy, General Oglethorpe, &c., who dined with us at General Paoli's; who was also a witness to the high testimony to your honour.

General Paoli desires the favour of your company next Tuesday to dinner, to meet Dr. Johnson. If I can, I will call on you to-day. I am, with sincere regard,

“ Your most obedient humble servant,

“JAMES BOSWELL.1

1 Though the Bishop of Dromore kindly answered the letters which I wrote to him relative to Dr. Johnson's early history: yet, in justice to him, I think it proper to add that the account of the foregoing conversation, and the subsequent transaction, as well as of some other conversations in which he is mentioned, has been given to the public without previous communication with his Lordship.-BOSWELL.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

DINNER AT LANGTON S CHAPTER CONCERNING SNAKES SOAME JENYNS-STYLES OF

DIFFERENT PAINTERS-MR. TOPHAM BEAUCLERK-LUXURY--ON GOVERNMENTS-MACCARONIC VERSES-MR. ORME'S ADMIRATION OF JOHNSON-COOKERY_" THE DUKE OF BERWICK'S MEMOIRS "-LIBERTY AND RESTRAINTS OF THE SEXES-DEGREES OF HAPPINESS-SOAXE JENYNS'S “INTERNAL EVIDENCE"-AMERICA-EDWARDS ON GRACE-FREE WILL-MANDEVILLE-VICE AND VIRTUE-HANNAH MORE-PROSECUTION OF MURRAY, THE BOOKSELLER-ON DEATH AND ANNIHILATION - WESLEY'S GHOST STORY-MRS. KNOWLES - JANE HARRY, AND HER CONVERSION TO QUAKERISM GOOD FRIDAYHOUSEHOLD MISMANAGEMENT-WORKS ON TRAVELS-FLEET-STREET.

ON Monday, April 13, I dined with Johnson at Mr. Langton's, where

were Dr. Porteus, then bishop of Chester, now of London, and Dr. Stinton. He was at first in a very silent mood. Before dinner he said nothing but “Pretty baby,” to one of the children. Langton said very well to me afterwards, that he could repeat Johnson's conversation before dinner, as Johnson had said that he could repeat a complete chapter of “The Natural History of Iceland," from the Danish of Horrebow, the whole of which was exactly thus :

CHAP. LXXII. Concerning Snakes. " There are no snakes to be met with throughout the whole island."

At dinner we talked of another mode in the newspapers of giving modern characters in sentences from the classics, and of the passage

“Parcus deorum cultor et infrequens,

Insanientis dum sapientiæ

Consultus erro, nunc retrorsum

Vela dare, atque iterare cursus

Cogor relictos—" 1 being well applied to Soame Jenyns ;? who, after having wandered in the wilds of infidelity, had returned to the Christian faith. Mr. Langton asked Johnson as to the propriety of sapientio consultus. JOHNSON : “Though consultus was primarily an adjective, like amicus it came to be used as a substantive. So we have juris consultus, a consult in law."

We talked of the styles of different painters, and how certainly a connoisseur could distinguish them. I asked if there was as clear a difference of styles in language as in painting, or even as in handwriting, so that the composition of every individual may be distinguished ? JOHNSON : “Yes. Those who have a style of eminent excellence, such as Dryden and Milton, can always be distinguished.” I had no doubt of this ; but what I wanted to know was, whether there was really a peculiar style to every man whatever, as there is certainly a peculiar hand-writing, a peculiar countenance, not widely different in many, yet always enough to be distinctive :

facies non omnibus una,

Nec diversa tamen.” 3 The Bishop thought not; and said, he supposed that many pieces in Dodsley's collection of poems, though all very pretty, had nothing appropriated in their style, and in that particular could not be at all distinguished. JOHNSON : Why, Sir, I think every man whatever has a peculiar style, which may be discovered by nice examination and comparison with others: but a man must write a great deal to make his style obviously discernible. As logicians say, this appropriation of style is infinite in potestate, limited in actu.”

Mr. Topham Beauclerk came in the evening, and he and Dr. Johnson and I stayed to supper. It was mentioned that Dr. Dodd had once wished to be a member of the LITERARY CLUB. JOHNSON : "I should be sorry if any of our club were hanged. I will not say but some of them deserve it." BEAUCLERK (supposing this to be aimed at persons for whom he had at that time a wonderful fancy, which, however, did not last long) was irritated, and eagerly said: “You, Sir, have a friend (naming him) who deserves to be hanged; for he speaks behind their backs against those with whom he lives on the best terms, and attacks them in the newspapers. He certainly ought to be kicked." JOHNSON :

1 Horat. Carm. 1. i. Od. 34. 3 Soame Jenyns was the only son of Sir Roger Jenyns, and M.P. for Cambridgeshire. His principal works are, “A Free Inquiry into the Origin of Evil,” and a “View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion." He was born in 1704, and died in 1787.

3 Ovid, Met. ii. 13.

“Sir, we all do this in some degree: 'Veniam petimus damusque vicissim.' To be sure it may be done so much, that a man may deserve to be kicked." BEAUCLERK : “He is very malignant.” JOHNSON: “No, Sir; he is not malignant. He is mischievous, if you will. He would do no man an essential injury; he may, indeed, love to make sport of people by vexing their vanity. I, however, once knew an old gentleman who was absolutely malignant. He really wished evil to others, and rejoiced at it.” BOSWELL: “The gentleman, Mr. Beauclerk, against whom you are 'so violent, is, I know, a man of good principles.” BEAUCLERK : “Then he does not wear them out in practice.”

Dr. Johnson (who, as I have observed before, delighted in discrimination of character, and having a masterly knowledge of human nature was willing to take men as they are, imperfect, and with a mixture of good and bad qualities,) I suppose thought he had said enough in defence of his friend, of whose merits, notwithstanding his exceptionable points, he had a just value ; and added no more on the subject.

On Tuesday, April 14, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with General Paoli and Mr. Langton. General Oglethorpe declaimed against luxury. JOHNSON : “Depend upon it, Sir, every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get.” OGLETHORPE: “But the best depends much upon ourselves; and if we can be as well satisfied with plain things, we are in the wrong to accustom our palates to what is high-seasoned and expensive. What says Addison in his ' Cato,' speaking of the Numidian ?

Coarse are his meals, the fortune of the chace;
Amid the running stream he slakes his thirst,
Toils all the day, and at the approach of night,
On the first friendly bank he throws him down;
Or rests his head upon a rock till morn;
And if the following day he chance to find
A new repast, or an untasted spring,

Blesses his stars, and thinks it luxury.' Let us have that kind of luxury, Sir, if you will.” JOHNSON : “But hold, Sir; to be merely satisfied is not enough. It is in refinement and elegance that the civilised man differs from the savage. A great part of our industry and all our ingenuity is exercised in procuring pleasure ; and, Sir, a hungry man has not the same pleasure in eating a plain dinner that a hungry man has in eating a luxurious dinner. You see I put the case fairly A hungry man may have as much, nay, more pleasure in eating a plain dinner, than a man grown fastidious has in eating a luxurious dinner. But I suppose the man who decides between the two dinners to be equally a hungry man.”

Talking of different governments,--JOHNSON : “The more contracted power is, the more easily it is destroyed. A country governed by a

[ocr errors]

despot is an inverted cone. Government there cannot be so firm, as when it rests upon a broad basis gradually contracted, as the government of Great Britain, which is founded on the Parliament, then is in the privy-council, then in the king.” BOSWELL: “Power, when contracted into the person of the despot, may be easily destroyed, as the prince may be cut off. So Caligula wished that the people of Rome had but one neck, that he might cut them off at a blow.” OGLETHORPE : “It was of the Senate he wished that. The Senate, by its usurpation, controlled both the emperor and the people. And don't

you

think that we see too much of that in our own Parliament ?

Dr. Johnson endeavoured to trace the etymology of Maccaronic verses, which he thought were of Italian invention from maccaroni ; but on being informed that this would infer that they were the most common and easy verses, maccaroni being the most ordinary and simple food, he was at a loss : for he said, “He rather should have supposed it to import, in its primitive signification, a composition of several things ;' for maccaronicverses are verses made out of a mixture of different languages; that is, of one language with the termination of another.” I suppose we scarcely know of a language in any country where there is any learning, in which that motley ludicrous species of composition may not be found. It is particularly droll in Low Dutch. The “ Polemo-middinia” of Drummond of Hawthornden, in which there is a jumble of many languages moulded, as if it were all in Latin, is well known. Mr. Langton made us laugh heartily at one in the Grecian mould, by Joshua Barnes, in which are to be found such comical Anglo-hellenisms as KaußBolow έβανχθες: “They were banged with clubs."

On Wednesday, April 15, I dined with Dr. Johnson at Mr. Dilly's, and was in high spirits, for I had been a good part of the morning with Mr. Orme, the able and eloquent historian of Hindostan, who expressed a great admiration of Johnson. “I do not care,” said he, on what subject Johnson talks : but I love better to hear him talk than anybody. He either gives you new thoughts or a new colouring. It is a shame to the nation that he has not been more liberally rewarded. Had I been George the Third, and thought as he did about America, I would have given Johnson three hundred a-year for his ‘Taxation no Tyranny' alone.” I repeated this, and Johnson was much pleased with such praise from such a man as Orme.

At Mr. Dilly's to-day were Mrs. Knowles, the ingenious Quaker

[ocr errors]

i Dr. Johnson was right in supposing that this kind of poetry derived its name from maccherone. “ Ars ista poetica” (says Merlin Coccaio, whose true name was Theophilo solengo) “nuncupatur ARS MACARONICA, a macaronibus derivata; qui macarones sunt quoddam pulmentum, farinâ, caseo, butyro compaginatum, grossum, rude, et rusticanum. Ideo MACARONICA nil nisi grossedinem, ruditatem, et VOCABULAZZOs debet in se continere." (Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poet. ii. 357.) Folengo's true name was taken up in consequence of his having been instructed in his youth by Virago Coccaio. He died in 1544.-MALONE,

« PreviousContinue »