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Talking of some of the modern plays, he said “False Delicacy” was
1768. totally void of character. He praised Goldsmith’s “Good-natured Man;" Etat. 59. said, it was the best comedy that had appeared since “ The Provoked Hufband,” and that there had not been of late any such character exhibited on the stage as that of Croaker. I observed it was the Suspirius of his Rambler. He said, Goldsmith had owned he had borrowed it from thence. “ Sir, (continued he,) there is all the difference in the world between characters of nature and characters of manners; and there is the difference between the characters of Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are to be understood, by a more superficial observer, than characters of nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart.”
It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding. In comparing those two writers, he used this expression; “ that there was as great a difference between them as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate.” This was a short and figurative state of his distinction between drawing characters of nature and characters only of manners. But I cannot help being of opinion, that the neat watches of Fielding are as well constructed as the large clocks of Richardson, and that his dial-plates are brighter. Fielding's characters, though they do not expand themselves so widely in differtation, are as just pictures of human nature, and I will venture to say, have more striking features, and nicer touches of the pencil; and though Johnson used to quote with approbation a saying of Richardson's, “ that the virtues of Fielding's heroes were the vices of a truly good man,” I will venture to add, that the moral tendency of Fielding's writings, though it does not encourage a strained and rarely possible virtue, is ever favourable to honour and honesty, and cherishes the benevolent and generous affections. He who is as good as Fielding would make him, is an amiable member of society, and may be led on by more regulated instructors, to a higher state of ethical perfection.
Johnson proceeded: “ Even Sir Francis Wronghead is a character of manners, though drawn with great humour.” He then repeated, very happily, all Sir Francis's credulous account to Manly of his being with “ the great man,' and securing a place. I asked him if the “ Suspicious Husband” did not furnish a well-drawn character, that of Ranger. Johnson. “ No, Sir; Ranger is just a rake, a mere rake, and a lively young fellow, but no charaéter.”
The great Douglas cause was at this time a very general subject of discusfion. ' I found he had not studied it with much attention, but had only heard Qq 2
1768. parts of it occasionally. He, however, talked of it, and said, “I am of Atat. 59. opinion that positive proof of fraud should not be required of the plaintiff,
but that the Judges should decide according as probability shall appear to preponderate, granting to the defendant the presumption of filiation to be strong in his favour. And I think too, that a good deal of weight should be allowed to the dying declarations, because they were fpontaneous. There is a great difference between what is said without our being urged to it, and what is said from a kind of compulsion. If I praise a man's book without being asked my opinion of it, that is honest praise, to which one may trust. But if an authour asks me if I like his book, and I give him something like praise, it must not be taken as my real opinion.
“ I have not been troubled for a long time with authours desiring my opinion of their works. I used once to be sadly plagued with a man who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse, but that it consisted of ten fyllables. Lay your knife and your fork across your plate, was to him a verse:
Lay your knife and your förk, across your plāte. As he wrote a great number of verses he sometimes by chance made good ones, though he did not know it.”
He renewed his promise of coming to Scotland, and going with me to the Hebrides, but said he would now content himself with seeing one or two of the most curious of them. He said “ Macaulay, who writes the account of St. Kilda, set out with a prejudice against prejudices, and wanted to be a smart modern thinker; and yet he affirms for a truth, that when a ship arrives there all the inhabitants are seized with a cold.”
He expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning. « There is here, Sir, (said he,) such a progressive emulation. The students are anxious to appear
well to their tutors; the tutors are anxious to have their pupils appear well in the college; the colleges are anxious to have their students appear well in the University; and there are excellent rules of discipline in every college, That the rules are sometimes ill observed, may be true; but is nothing against the system. The members of an University may, for a feason, be unmindful of their duty. I am arguing for the excellency of the institution.”
Of Guthrie he said, “ Sir, he is a man of parts. He has no great regular fund of knowledge; but by reading so long, and writing so long, he no doubt has picked up a good deal.”
He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown very weary before he left it. Boswell. “I wonder at that, Sir; it is your native place.” Johnson. “Why so is Scotland your native place.”
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time. 1768. When I talked of our advancement in literature, “Sir, (said he,) you
Sir, (said he,) you have Ætat. 59. learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men. Hume would never have written History, had not Voltaire written it before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.” BOSWELL. “But, Sir, we have Lord Kames.” Johnson. “ You have Lord Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy you him. Do you ever fee Dr. Robertson?” Boswell. “ Yes, Sir.” Johnson. “ Does the dog talk of me?” Boswell. “ Indeed, Sir, he does, and loves you.” Thinking that I now had him in a corner, and being solicitous for the literary fame of my country, I pressed him for his opinion on the merit of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. But, to my surprize, he escaped.—" Sir, I love Robertson, and I won't talk of his book.”
It is but justice both to him and Dr. Robertson to add, that though he indulged himself in this fally of wit, he had too good taste not to be fully sensible of the merits of that admirable work.
An essay, written by Mr. Deane, a divine of the Church of England, maintaining the future life of brutes, by an explication of certain parts of the scriptures, was mentioned, and the doctrine insisted on by a gentleman who seemed fond of curious fpeculation. Johnson, who did not like to hear of any thing concerning a future state which was not authorised by the regular canons of orthodoxy, discouraged this talk; and being offended at its continuation, he watched an opportunity to give the gentleman a blow of reprehension. So, when the poor speculatist, with a serious metaphysical pensive face, addressed him, “ But really, Sir, when we see a very sensible dog, we don't know what to think of him.” Johnson, rolling with joy at the thought, which beamed in his eye, turned quickly round, and replied, “ True, Sir: and when we see a very foolish fellow, we don't know what to think of him.” He then rose up, strided to the fire, and stood for some time laughing and exulting.
I told him that I had several times, when in Italy, seen the experiment of placing a scorpion within a circle of burning coals; that it ran round and round in extreme pain; and finding no way to escape, retired to the centre, and, like a true Stoick philofopher, darted its sting into its head, and thus at once freed itself from its woes. “ This must end 'em.” I said, this was a curious fact, as it shewed deliberate suicide in a reptile. Johnson would not admit the fact. He said, Maupertuis was of opinion that it does not kill itself, but dies of the heat; that it gets to the centre of the circle, as the coolest place ; that its turning its tail in upon its head is merely a convulsion, and that it does not sting itself. He said he would be satisfied if the great anatomist Morgagni,
after diffecting a scorpion upon whom the experiment had been tried, should Atat. 59. certify that its sting had penetrated into its head.
He seemed pleased to talk of natural philosophy. « That woodcocks, (said her) Ay over to the northern countries, is proved, because they have been observed at sea. Swallows certainly sleep all the winter. A number of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then all in a heap throw themselves under water, and lye in the bed of a river.” He told us, one of his first essays was a Latin poem upon the glow-worm., I am sorry I did not ask where it was to be found.
Talking of the Russians and the Chinese, he advised me to read Bell's travels. I asked him whether I should read Du Halde's account of China. “Why yes, (said he,) as one reads such a book; that is to say, consult it."
He talked of the heinousness of the crime of adultery, by which the peace of families was destroyed. He faid, “ Confusion of progeny constitutes the essence of the crime; and therefore a woman who breaks her marriage vows is much more criminal than a man who does it. A man, to be sure, is criminal in the sight of God: but he does not do his wife a very material injury, if he does not insult her; if, for instance, from mere wantonness of appetite, he steals privately to her chambermaid. Sir, a wife ought not greatly to resent this. I would not receive home a daughter who had run away from her husband on that account. A wife should study to reclaim her husband by more attention to please him. Sir, a man will not, once in a hundred instances, leave his wife and go to a harlot, if his wife has not been negligent of pleasing.”
I asked him if it was not hard that one deviation from chastity should so absolutely ruin a young woman. Johnson. “Why no, Sir; it is the great principle which she is taught. When she has given up that principle, she has given up every notion of female honour and virtue, which are all included in chastity.”
A gentleman talked to him of a lady whom he greatly admired and wished to marry, but was afraid of her superiority of talents. “ Sir, (said he,) you need not be afraid ; marry her. Before a year goes about, you'll find that reason much weaker, and that wit not so bright.” Yet the gentleman may be justified in his apprehension by one of Dr. Johnson's admirable sentences in his life of Waller: “He doubtless praised many whom he would have been afraid to marry; and, perhaps, married one whom he would have been ashamed to praise. Many qualities contribute to domestick happiness, upon which
poetry has no colours to bestow; and many airs and fallies may delight imagination, which he who flatters them never can approve.".
He praised Signor Baretti. “ His account of Italy is a very entertaining 1768. book; and, Sir, I know no man who carries his head higher in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his mind. He has not, indeed, many hooks; but with what hooks he has he grapples very forcibly.”
At this time I observed upon the dial-plate of his watch a short Greek inscription, taken from the New Testament, Nu& Epxetan, being the first words of our Saviour's solemn admonition to the improvement of that time which is allowed us to prepare for eternity; “ the night cometh when no man can work.” He some time afterwards laid aside this dial-plate ; and when I asked him the reason, he said, “ It might do very well upon a clock which a man keeps in his closet; but to have it upon his watch which he carries about with him, and which is often looked at by others, might be censured as oftentatious.” Mr. Steevens is now possessed of the dial-plate inscribed as above.
He remained at Oxford a considerable time; I was obliged to go to London, where I received his letter, which had been returned from Scotland.
TO JAMES BOSWELL, Esq. « MY DEAR BOSWELL,
“ I Have omitted a long time to write to you, without knowing very well why. I could now tell why I should not write, for who would write to men who publish the letters of their friends without their leave? Yet I write to you in spite of my caution, to tell you that I shall be glad to see you, and that I wish you would empty your head of Corsica, which I think has filled it rather too long. But, at all events, I shall be glad, very glad to see you. I am, Sir,
“ Yours affectionately, «« Oxford, March 23, 1768.
I answered thus :
To Mi. SAMUEL JOHNSON. « MY DEAR SIR,
London, 26th April, 1768. “I have received your last letter, which, though very short, and by no means complimentary, yet gave me real pleasure, because it contains these words, • I shall be glad, very glad to see you.'-Surely, you have no reason to complain of my publishing a single paragragh of one of your letters;