« PreviousContinue »
1775. He again advised me to keep a journal fully and minutely, but not to menÆtat. 66. tion such trifles as, that meat was too much or too little done, or that the
weather was fair or rainy. He had, till very near his death, a contempt for the notion that the weather affects the human frame.
I told him that our friend Goldsmith had said to me, that he had come too late into the world, for that Pope and other poets had taken up the places in the Temple of Fame; so that as but a few at any period can possess poetical reputation, a man of genius can now hardly acquire it. Johnson. “ That is one of the most sensible things I have ever heard of Goldsmith. It is difficult to get literary fame, and it is every day growing more difficult. Ah, Sir, that should make a man think of securing happiness in another world, which all who try sincerely for it may attain. In comparison of that, how little are all other things! The belief of immortality is impressed upon all men, and all men act under an impression of it, however they may talk, and though, perhaps, they may be scarcely sensible of it.” I faid, it appeared to me that some people had not the least notion of immortality; and I mentioned a distinguished gentleman of our acquaintance. Johnson. “Sir, if it were not for the notion of immortality, he would cut a throat to fill his pockets.” When I quoted this to Beauclerk, who knew much more of the gentleman than we did, he said, in his acid manner, “ He would cut a throat to fill his pockets, if it were not for fear of being hanged."
Dr. Johnfon proceeded : “Sir, there is a great cry about infidelity; but there are, in reality, very few infidels. I have heard a person, originally a Quaker, but now, I am afraid, a Deist, say, that he did not believe there were, in all England, above two hundred infidels.”
He was pleased to say, “ If you come to settle here, we will have one day in the week on which we will meet by ourselves. That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, 'no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments.” In his private register this evening is thus marked, “ Boswell fat with me till night ; we had some serious talks.” It also appears from the same record, that after I left him he was occupied in religious duties, in “ giving Francis, his servant, some directions for preparation to communicate; in reviewing his life, and resolving on better conduct.” The humility and piety which he discovers on such occasions, is truly edifying. No faint, however, in the course of his religious warfare, was more sensible of the unhappy failure of pious resolves, than Johnson. He said one day, talking to an acquaintance on this subject, “Sir, Hell is paved with good intentions."
s Prayers and Meditations, p. 138.
On Sunday, April 16, being Easter-day, after having attended the folemn 1775. service at St. Paul's, I dined with Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Williams. I main- Ætat. 66. tained that Horace was wrong in placing happiness in Nil admirari, for that I thought admiration one of the most agreeable of all our feelings; and I regretted that I had lost much of my disposition to admire, which people generally do as they advance in life. JOHNSON. “ Sir, as a man advances in life, he gets what is better than admiration,-judgement, to estimate things at their true value.” I still insisted that admiration was more pleasing than judgement, as love is more pleasing than friendship. The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast-beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne. Johnson. “ No, Sir; admiration and love are like being intoxicated with champagne ; judgement and friendship like being enlivened. Waller has hit upon the same thought with you': but I don't believe you have borrowed from Waller. I wish you would enable yourself to borrow more."
He then took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be acquired in conversation. “ The foundation (said he,) must be laid by reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred people. The parts of a truth, which a man gets thus, are at fuch a distance from each other, that he never attains to a full view."
On Tuesday, April 18, he and I were engaged to go with Sir Joshua Reynolds to dine with Mr. Cambridge, at his beautiful villa on the banks of the Thames, near Twickenham. Dr. Johnson's tardiness was such, that Sir Joshua, who had an appointment at Richmond early in the day, was obliged to go by himself on horseback, leaving his coach to Johnson and me. Johnson was in such good spirits, that every thing seemed to pleafe him as we drove along.
Our conversation turned on a variety of subjects. He thoughe portraitpainting an improper employment for a woman.
« Publick practice of any art, (he observed,) and staring in men's faces, is very indelicate in a female."
6 " Amoret's as sweet and good
" As the moft delicious food;
“ Sacharissa's beauty's wine,
I happened to start a question of propriety, whether when a man knows that
As a curious instance how little a man knows, or wishes to know, his own
I had brought with me a great bundle of Scotch magazines and newspapers, in which his “ Journey to the Western Inands” was attacked in every mode; and I read a great part of them to him, knowing they would afford him entertainment. I wish the writers of them had been present: they would have been sufficiently vexed. One ludicrous imitation of his style, by Mr. Maclaurin, now one of the Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dreghorn, was distinguished by him from the rude mass. “This (said he,) is the best. But I could caricaturę my own style much better myself.” He defended his remark
upon the general insufficiency of education in Scotland; and confirmed to me the authenticity of his witty saying on the learning of the Scotch; « Their learning is like bread in a besieged town: every man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal.” “ There is (said he,) in Scotland a diffusion of learning, a certain portion of it widely and thinly spread. A merchant there has as much learning as one of their clergy.”
He talked of Isaac Walton's Lives, which was one of his most favourite 1775. books. Dr. Donne's Life, he said, was the most perfect of them. He Ætat. 66. observed, that “ it was wonderful that Walton, who was in a very low situation in life, should have been familiarly received by so many great men, and that at a time when the ranks of society were kept more separate than they are now.” He supposed that Walton had then given up his business as a linen-draper and sempfter, and was only an authour ; and added, “ that he was a great panegyrift.” Boswell. “No quality will get a man more friends than a difposition to admire the qualities of others. I do not mean flattery, but a sincere admiration.” Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, Aattery pleases very generally. In the first place, the flatterer may think what he says to be true: but, in the second place, whether he thinks so or not, he certainly thinks those whom he Aatters of consequence enough to be Aattered.”
No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library, than
Johnson was here solaced with an elegant entertainment, a very accom-
The common remark as to the utility of reading history being made ;-
1775. of history is conjecture.” Boswell.“
“ Then, Sir, you would reduce all Art. 66. history to no better than an almanack, a mere chronological series of remark
able events." Mr. Gibbon, who must at that time have been employed upon his history, of which he published the first volume in the following year, was present, but did not step forth in defence of that species of writing. He probably did not like to trust himself with Johnson?.
Johnson observed, that the force of our early habits was so great, that though reason approved, nay, though our senses relished a different course, almost every man returned to them. I do not believe there is
observation upon human nature better founded than this; and, in many cases, it is a very painful truth ; for where early habits have been mean and wretched, the joy and elevation resulting from better modes of life, must be damped by the gloomy consciousness of being under an almost inevitable doom to sink back into a situation which we recollect with disgust. It surely may be prevented, by constant attention and unremitting exertion to establish contrary habits of superiour efficacy.
“ The Beggars Opera,” and the common question, whether it was pernicious in its effects, having been introduced ;-JOHNSON. “As to this matter, which has been very much contested, I myself am of opinion, that more influence has been ascribed to 'The Beggars Opera,' than it in reality ever had; for I do not believe that any man was ever made a rogue by being present at its representation. At the same time I do not deny that it may have some influence, by making the character of a rogue familiar, and in some degree pleasing Then collecting himself, as it were, to give a heavy stroke: « There is in it such a labefaétation of all principles, as may be injurious to morality.”
While he pronounced this response, we sat in a comical sort of restraint, smothering a laugh, which we were afraid might burst out. In his Life of Gay, he has been still more decisive as to the inefficiency of “ The Beggars Opera,” in corrupting society. But I have ever thought somewhat differently,
7 See page 478.
* A very eminent physician, whose discernment is as acute and penetrating in judging of the human character as it is in his own profeffion, remarked once at a club where I was, that a lively young man, fond of pleasure and without money, would hardly resist a solicitation from his mistress to go upon the highway, immediately after being present at the representation of “ The Beggars Opera.” I have been told of an ingenious observation by Mr. Gibbon, that “ The Beggars Opera may, perhaps, have fometimes increased the number of highwaymen; but that it has had a beneficial effect in refining that class of men, making them less ferocious, more polite, in short, more like gentlemen." Upon this Mr. Courtenay said, that “ Gay was the Orpheus of highwaymen.”