« PreviousContinue »
that, and would pick your pocket after you came out. Johnson. “ Nay, my 1775. dear lady, there is no wit in what our friend added; there is only abuse. You Ætat. 66. may as well say of any man that he will pick a pocket. Besides, the man who is stationed at the door does not pick people's pockets : that is done within, by the auctioneer.”
Mrs. Thrale told us, that Tom Davies repeated, in a very bald manner, the story of Dr. Johnson's first repartee to me, which I have related exactly”. He made me fay, “ I was born in Scotland,” instead of “ I come from Scotland;” so that Johnfon's saying, “ That, Sir, is what a great many of
your countrymen cannot help,” had no point, or even meaning: and that upon
this being mentioned to Mr. Fitzherbert, he observed, “It is not every man that . can carry a bon mor."
On Monday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe’s, with Mr. Langton and the Irish Dr. Campbell, whom the General had obligingly given me leave to bring with me. This learned gentleman was thus gratified with a very high intellectual feast, by not only being in company with Dr. Johnson, but with General Oglethorpe, who had been so long a celebrated name both at home and abroad.
I must, again and again, intreat of my readers not to suppose that my imperfect record of conversation contains the whole of what was said by Johnson, or other eminent persons who lived with him. What I have preserved, however, has the value of the most perfect authenticity. He this day enlarged upon Pope's melancholy remark,
“Man never is, but always to be blest."
Page 211. 3 Let me here be allowed to pay my tribute of most sincere gratitude to the memory of that excellent person, my intimacy with whom was the more valuable to me, because my first acquaintance with him was unexpected and unsolicited. Soon after the publication of my “ Account of Corsica,” he did me the honour to call on me, and approaching me with a frank courteous air, said, “ My name, Sir, is Oglethorpe, and I wish to be acquainted with you.” I was not a little flattered to be thus addressed by an eminent man, of whom I had read in Pope, from my early years,
“ Or, driven by strong benevolence of soul,
“ Will fly, like OGLETHORPE, from pole to pole." I was fortunate enough to be found worthy of his good opinion, insomuch, that I not only was invited to make one in the many respectable companies whom he entertained at his table, but had a cover at his hospitable board every day when I happened to be disengaged ; and in his society I never failed to enjoy learned and animated conversation, seasoned with genuine sentiments of virtue and religion,
1775. He asserted, that the present was never a happy state to any human being; Atat. 66. but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of
time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, “ Never, but when he is drunk.”
He urged General Oglethorpe to give the world his Life. He said, “I know no man whose Life would be more interesting. If I were furnished with materials, I should be very glad to write ito.”
Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the room. Dr. Johnson observed, “ They are very well; but such as twenty people might write." Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace’s maxim,
mediocribus esse poetis “ Non Di, non homines, non concessere columna.” for liere (I observed,) was a very middle-rate poet, who pleased many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle fort was entitled to some esteem ; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing elfe, have different gradations of excellence, and, consequently of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that “as there is no necessity for our having poetry at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of pleasure, it can have no value, unless when exquisite in its kind.” I declared myself not satisfied. " Why then, Sir, (faid he,) Horace and you must settle it.” He was not much in the humour of talking
No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journal, except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of laces for his lady. He said, “ Well, Sir, you have done a good thing, and a wise thing." have done a good thing, (said the gentleman,) but I do not know that I have done a wise thing." Johnson. “ Yes, Sir; no money is better spent than what is laid out for domestick satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is drest as well as other people; and a wife is pleased that she is drest.”
4 The General seemed unwilling to enter upon it at this time; but upon a subsequent occafion he communicated to me a number of particulars, which I have committed to writing ; but I was not sufficiently diligent in obtaining more from him, not apprehending that his friends were fo foon to lose him; for notwithstanding his great age, he was very healthy and vigorous, and was at last carried off by a violent fever, which is often fatal at any period of life.
On Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the morning, according to my usual custom on this day, and breakfasted with him. I observed that he fafted so very strictly, that he did not even taste bread, and took no milk with his tea, I suppose because it is a kind of animal food.
He entered upon the Itate of the nation, and thus discoursed: “Sir, the great misfortune now is, that government has too little power. All that it has to bestow, must of necessity be given to support itself; so that it cannot reward merit. No man, for instance, can now be made a Bishop for his learning and piety'; his only chance for promotion is his being connected with somebody who has parliamentary interest. Our several ministries in this reign have outbid each other in concessions to the people. Lord Bute,
Lord Bute, though a very honourable man,-a man who meant well,- a man who had his blood full of prerogative,—was a theoretical statelinan,-a book-minister,--and thought this country could be governed by the influence of the Crown alone. Then, Sir, he gave up a great deal. He advised the King to agree that the Judges should hold their places for life, instead of losing them at the accession of a new King. Lord Bute, I suppose, thought to make the King popular by this concession; but the people never minded it; and it was a most impolitick measure. There is no reason why a Judge should hold his office for life, more than any other person in publick trust. A Judge may be partial otherwise than to the Crown : we have seen Judges partial to the populace. A Judge may become corrupt, and yet there may not be legal evidence against him. A Judge may become froward from age. A Judge may grow unfit for his office in many ways. It was desirable that there should be a possibility of being delivered from him by a new King. That is now gone by an act of parliament ex gratiâ of the Crown. Lord Bute advised the King to give up a very large sum of money“, for which nobody thanked him. It was of consequence to the King, but nothing to the publick, among whom it was divided. When
3 From this too just observation there are some eminent exceptions.
• The money arising from the property of the prizes taken before the declaration of war, which were given to his Majesty by the peace of Paris, and amounted to upwards of 700,00ol. and from the lands in the ceded islands, which were estimated at 200,000l. more. Surely, there was a noble munificence in this gift from a Monarch to his people. And let it be remembered, that during the Earl of Bute's administration, the King was graciously pleased to give up the hereditary revenues of the Crown, and to accept, instead of them, of the limited sum of 800,oool. a year; upon which Blackstone observes, that “ The hereditary revenues, being put under the same management as the other branches of the publick patrimony, will produce more, and be better collected than heretofore; and the publick is a gainer of upwards of 100,000l. per annum, by this dis. interested bounty of his Majesty," Book I. Chap. 8. p. 330.
I say Lord Bute advised, I mean, that such acts were done when he was minister, and we are to suppose that he advised them.-Lord Bute shewed an undue partiality to Scotchmen. He turned out Dr. Nichols, a very eminent man, from being physician to the King, to make room for one of his countrymen, a man very low in his profeffion. He had
** and ****
to go on errands for him. He had occasion for people to go on errands for him; but he should not have had Scotchmen; and, certainly, he should not have suffered them to have access to him before the first people in England.”
I told him, that the admission of one of them before the first people in England, which had given the greatest offence, was no more than what happens at every minister's levee, where those who attend are admitted in the order that they have come, which is better than admitting them according to their rank; for if that were to be the rule, a man who has waited all the morning might have the mortification to see a peer, newly come, go in before him, and keep him waiting still. Johnson. “ True, Sir; but **** should not have come to the levee, to be in the way of people of consequence. He saw Lord Bute at all times; and could have said what he had to say at any time, as well as at the levee. There is now no Prime Minister : there is only an agent for government in the House of Commons. We are governed by the Cabinet; but there is no one head there, as in Sir Robert Walpole's time.” Boswell.“ What then, Sir, is the use of Parliament ?” Johnson. “ Why, Sir, Parliament is a larger council to the King; and the advantage of such a council is, having a great number of men of property concerned in the legislature, who, for their own interest, will not consent to bad laws. And you
must have observed, Sir, that administration is feeble and timid, and cannot act with that authority and resolution which is necessary. Were I in power, I would turn out every man who dared to oppose me. Government has the distribution of offices, that it may be enabled to maintain its authority.”
“ Lord Bute (he added,) took down too fast, without building up fomething new.” Boswell. “ Because, Sir, he found a rotten building. The political coach was drawn by a set of bad horses: it was necessary to change them.” Johnson. “ But he should have changed them one by one.”
I told him that I had been informed by Mr. Orme, that many parts of the East Indies were better mapped than the Highlands of Scotland. Johnson. “ That a country may be mapped, it must be travelled over.” “Nay, (said 1, meaning to laugh with him at one of his prejudices,) can't you say, it is not worth mapping ?”
As we walked to St. Clement's church, and saw several shops open upon this most solemn fast-day of the Christian world, I remarked, that one difadvantage arising from the immensity of London, was, that nobody was heeded by his neighbour; there was no fear of censure for not observing Good-Friday, as it ought to be kept, and as it is kept in country towns. He said, it was, upon the whole, very well obferved even in London. He, however, owned, that London was too large; but added, “It is nonsense to say the head is too big for the body. It would be as much too big, though the body were ever so large; that is to say, though the country were ever so extensive. It has no similarity to a head connected with a body."
Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College, Oxford, accompanied us home from church; and after he was gone, there came two other gentlemen, one of whom uttered the common-place complaints, that by the increase of taxes, labour would be dear, other nations would undersell us, and our commerce would be ruined. Johnson, (smiling). “ Never fear, Sir. Our commerce is in a very good state ; and suppose we had no commerce at all, we could live very well on the produce of our own country.” I cannot omit to mention, that I never knew any man who was less disposed to be querulous than Johnson. Whether the subject was his own situation, or the state of the publick, or the state of human nature in general, though he saw the evils, his mind was turned to resolution, and never to whining or complaint.
We went again to St. Clement's in the afternoon. He had found fault with the preacher in the morning for not choosing a text adapted to the day. The preacher in the afternoon had chosen one extremely proper: “It is finished."
After the evening service, he said, “ Come, you shall go home with me, and fit just an hour.” But he was better than his word; for after we had drunk tea with Mrs. Williams, he asked me to go up to his study with him, where we sat a long while together in a serene undisturbed frame of mind, sometimes in silence, and sometimes conversing, as we felt ourselves inclined, or more properly speaking, as he was inclined; for during all the course of my long intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated, and my wish to hear him was such, that I constantly watched every dawning of communication from that great and illuminated mind.
He observed, “All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not. In the same manner, all power, of whatever fort, is of itself desirable. A inan would not submit to learn to hem a ruffle, of his wife, or his wife's maid; but if a mere wish could attain it, he would rather wish to be able to hem a ruse." Q992