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JOHNSON. most scholastick learning; Lowth is the more correct scholar. I do not know which of them calls names best.” The King was pleased to say he was of the same opinion; adding, “ You do not think then, Dr. Johnson, that there was much argument in the case.” Johnson said, he did not think there was. “ Why truly, (faid the King) when once it comes to calling names, argument is pretty well at an end.”
His Majesty then asked him what he thought of Lord Lyttelton's history, which was then just published. Johnson said, he thought his style pretty good, but that he had blamed Henry the Second rather too much. Why, (faid the King) they seldom do these things by halves.” “No, Sir, (answered Johnson,) not to Kings.” But fearing to be misunderstood, he proceeded to explain himself; and immediately subjoined, “ That for those who spoke worse of Kings than they deserved, he could find no excuse, but that he could more easily conceive how some might speak better of them than they deserved, without any ill intention ; for, as Kings had much in their power to give, those who were favoured by them would frequently, from gratitude, exaggerate their praises ; and as this proceeded from a good motive, it was certainly excuseable, as far as errour could be excuseable.”
The King then asked him what he thought of Dr. Hill. Johnson answered, that he was an ingenious man, but had no veracity; and immediately mentioned, as an instance of it, an assertion of that writer, that he had seen objects magnified to a much greater degree by using three or four microscopes at a time, than by using one. “ Now, (added Johnson,) every one acquainted with microscopes knows, that the more of them he looks through, the less the object will appear.” Why, (replied the King,) this is not only telling an untruth, but telling it clumsily; for, if that be the case, every one who can look through a microscope will be able to detect him.”
“ I now, (faid Johnson to his friends, when relating what had passed,) began to consider that I was depreciating this man in the estimation of his sovereign, and thought it was time for me to say something that might be more favourable.” He added, therefore, that Dr. Hill was, notwithstanding, a very curious observer; and if he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he knew, he might have been a very considerable man, and needed not to have recourse to such mean expedients to raise his reputation.
The King then talked of literary journals, mentioned particularly the Journal des Savans, and asked Johnson if it was well done. Johnson said, it was formerly very well done, and gave some account of the persons who
began it, and carried it on for some years ; enlarging at the same time, on the 1767. nature and use of such works. The King asked him if it was well done now. Ætat. 58. Johnson answered, he had no reason to think that it was. The King then asked him if there were any other literary journals published in this kingdom, except the Monthly and Critical Reviews; and on being answered there were no other, his Majesty asked which of them was the best: Johnson answered, that the Monthly Review was done with most care, the Critical upon the best principles ; adding, that the authours of the Monthly Review were enemies to the Church. This the King said he was sorry to hear.
The conversation next turned on the Philosophical Transactions, when Johnson obferved, that they had now a better method of arranging their materials than formerly. Aye, (said the King,) they are obliged to Dr. Johnson for that ;” for his Majesty had heard and remembered the circumstance, which Johnson himself had forgot.
His Majesty expressed a desire to have the literary biography of this country ably executed, and proposed to Dr. Johnson to undertake it. Johnson signified his readiness to comply with his Majesty's wishes.
During the whole of this interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty with profound respect, but still in his firm manly manner, with a fonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the levee and in the drawing-room. . After the King withdrew, Johnson shewed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's conversation and gracious behaviour. He said to Mr. Barnard, “ Sir, they may talk of the King as they will; but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen.” And he afterwards observed to Mr. Langton, “ Sir, his manners are those of as fine a gentleman as we may suppose Lewis the Fourteenth or Charles the Second.”
At Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where a circle of Johnson's friends was collected round him to hear his account of this memorable conversation, Dr. Joseph Warton, in his frank and lively manner, was very active in pressing him to mention the particulars. “Come now, Sir, this is an interesting matter ; do favour us with it.” Johnson, with great good humour, complied.
He told them, “ I found his Majesty wished I should talk, and I made it
my businets to talk. I find it does a man good to be talked to by his sovereign. In the first place, a man cannot be in a passion” Here some question interrupted him, which is to be regretted, as he certainly would have pointed out and illustrated many circumstances of advantage, from being in a situation, where the powers of the mind are at once excited to vigorous exertion, and tempered by reverential awe.
During all the time in which Dr. Johnson was employed in relating to the circle at Sir Joshua Reynolds's the particulars of what passed between the King and him, Dr. Goldsmith remained unmoved upon a fopha at some distance, affecting not to join in the least in the eager curiosity of the company. He asigned as a reason for his gloom and seeming inattention, that he apprehended Johnson had relinquished his purpose of furnishing him with a Prologue to his play, with the hopes of which he had been flattered; but it was strongly suspected that he was fretting with chagrin and envy at the singular honour Dr. Johnson had lately enjoyed. At length, the frankness and simplicity of his natural character prevailed. He sprung from the sopha, advanced to Johnson, and in a kind of flutter, from imagining himself in the situation which he had just been hearing described, exclaimed, “ Well, you acquitted yourself in this conversation better than I should have done ; for I should have bowed and stammered through the whole of it.” I received no letter from Johnson this year; nor have I discovered any
of the correspondence 8 he had, except the two letters to Mr. Drummond, which have been inserted, for the sake of connection with that to the same gentleman in 1766. His diary affords no light as to his employment at this time. He passed three months at Lichfield; and I cannot omit an affecting and solemn scene there, as related by himself:
“ Sunday, Oct. 18, 1767. Yesterday, Oct. 17, at about ten in the morning, I took my leave for ever of my dear old friend, Catherine Chambers, who came to live with my mother about 1724, and has been but little parted from us since. She buried my father, my brother, and my mother. She is now fifty-eight years old.
“ I desired all to withdraw, then told her that we were to part for ever; that as Christians, we fhould part with prayer ; and that I would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire to hear me; and held up her poor hands, as she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, nearly in the following words:
Almighty and most merciful Father, whose loving-kindness is over all thy works, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is grieved with sickness. Grant that the sense of her weakness may add strength to her faith, and seriousness to her repentance. And grant that by the help of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and labours of this short life, we may all obtain everlasting happiness,
* It is proper here to mention, that when I speak of his correspondence, I consider it independent of the voluminous collection of letters which, in the course of many years, he wrote to Mrs. Thrale, which forms a separate part of bis works; and as a proof of the high estimation set on any thing which came from his pen, was fold by that lady for the sum of five hundred pounds.
through Jesus Christ our Lord ; for whose fake hear our prayers. Amen. Our Father, &c.
“ I then kissed her. She told me, that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of tenderness, the same hopes. We kissed, and parted. I humbly hope to meet again, and to part no more !.”
By those who have been taught to look upon Johnson as a man of a harsh and stern character, let this tender and affectionate scene be candidly read; and let them then judge whether more warmth of heart, and grateful kindness, is often found in human nature. We have the following notice in his devotional record :
August 2, 1767. I have been disturbed and unsettled for a long time, and have been without resolution to apply to study or to business, being hindered by sudden snatches !.”
He, however, furnished Mr. Adams with a Dedication * to the King of that ingenious gentleman's “ Treatise on the Globes,” conceived and expressed in such a manner as could not fail to be very grateful to a monarch, distinguished for his love of the sciences.
This year was published a ridicule of his style, under the title of “ Lexiphanes.” Sir John Hawkins ascribes it to Dr. Kenrick; but its authour was one Campbell, a Scotch purser in the navy. The ridicule consisted in applying Johnson's “ words of large meaning,” to insignificant matters, as if one should put the armour of Goliath upon a dwarf. The contrast might be laughable ; but the dignity of the armour must remain the same in all considerate minds. This malicious drollery, therefore, it may easily be supposed, could do no harm to its illustrious object.
It appears from his notes of the state of his mind”, that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in 1768. Nothing of his writing was given to the publick this year, except the Prologue* to his friend Goldsmith's comedy of « The Good-natured Man.” The first lines of this Prologue are strongly characteristical of the dismal gloom of his mind; which in his case, as in the case of all who are distressed with the same malady of imagination, transfers to others its own feelings. Who could suppose that it was to introduce a comedy, when Mr. Bensley folemnly began,
« Press'd with the load of life, the weary mind
Surveys the general toil of human kind.” but this dark ground might make Goldsmith's humour shine the more.
, Prayers and Meditations, p. 77 and 78.
· Ibid. p. 81.
In the spring of this year, having published my “ Account of Corsica, with the Journal of a Tour to that Inand,” I returned to London, very desirous to fee Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject. I found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now Vinerian Profeffor, and lived in New Inn Hall. Having had no letter from him since that in which he criticised the Latinity of my Thesis, and having been told by somebody that he was offended at my having put into my book an extract of his letter to me at Paris, I was impatient to be with him, and therefore followed him to Oxford, where I was entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility which I shall ever gratefully remember. I found that Dr. Johnson had sent a letter to me to Scotland, and that I had nothing to complain of but his being more indifferent to my anxiety than I wished him to be. Instead of giving, with the circumstances of time and place, such fragments of his conversation as I preserved during this visit to Oxford, I shall throw them together in continuation.
I asked him whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty. Johnson. “Why no, Sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to a judge." Boswell. “ But what do you think of supporting a cause which you know to be bad ?” Johnson. “ Sir, you do not know it to be good or bad till the Judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing a cause to be bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak and inconclufive. But, Sir, that is not enough. An argument which does not convince yourself, may convince the Judge to whom you urge it: and if it does convince him, why then, Sir, you are wrong, and he is right. It is his business to judge ; and you are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad, but to say all you can for your client, and then hear the Judge's opinion.” Boswell. “ But, Sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion, does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the intercourse with his friends ?” Johnson. “ Why no, Sir. Every body knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your client; and it is, therefore, properly no disfimulation: the moment you come from the bar
usual behaviour. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he should walk on his feet.” 4