« PreviousContinue »
Oglethorpe, the fretfulness of his disease unexpectedly showed itself; his anger suddenly kindled, and he said with vehemence, “Did not you tell him not to come? Am I to be hunted in this manner?” I satisfied him that I could not divine that the visit would not be convenient, and that I certainly could not take it upon me of my own accord to forbid the General.
I found Dr. Johnson in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room, at tea and coffee with her and Mrs. Desmoulins, who were also both ill; it was a sad scene, and he was not in a very good humour. He said of a performance that had lately come out, “Sir, if you should search all the madhouses in England, you would not find ten men who would write so, and think it sense.” 1
I was glad when General Oglethorpe's arrival was announced, and we left the ladies. Dr. Johnson attended him in the parlour, and was as courteous as ever. The General said he was busy reading the writers of the middle age. Johnson said they were very curious. OGLETHORPE. “ The House of Commons has usurped the power of the nation's money and used it tyrannically. Government is now carried on by corrupt influence, instead of the inherent right of the king.” JOHNSON. “Sir, the want of inherent right in the king occasions all this disturbance. What we did at the Revolution was necessary: but it broke our constitution."2 OGLETHORPE. “My father did not think it neces
On Sunday, 23rd March, I breakfasted with Dr. Johnson, who seemed much relieved, having taken opium the night before. He however protested against it, as a remedy that should be given with the utmost reluctance, and only in extreme necessity. I mentioned how commonly it was used
II suspect that Annus Mirabilis ; or, the Eventful Year 1782, an Historical Poem, by the Rev. W. Tasker, author of the Warlike Genius of Britain, is here meant.-Croker.
? I have in my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, fully expressed my sentiments upon this subject. The Revolution was necessary, but not a subject for glory; because it for a long time blasted the generous feelings of loyalty. And now, when by the benignant effect of time the present royal family are established in our affections, how unwise is it to revive by celebrations the memory of a shock, which it would surely have been better that our constitution had not required !
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
in Turkey, and that therefore it could not be so pernicious as he apprehended. He grew warm, and said, “ Turks take opium, and Christians take opium ; but Russel, in his account of Aleppo, tells us, that it is as disgraceful in Turkey to take too much opium, as it is with us to get drunk. Sir, it is amazing how things are exaggerated. A gentleman was lately telling in a company where I was present, that in France as soon as a man of fashion marries, he takes an opera girl into keeping; and this he mentioned as a general custom. “Pray, Sir,' said I, “how many opera girls may there be ?' He answered, “About fourscore.' • Well then, Sir,' said I, 'you see there can be no more than fourscore men of fashion who can do this.'”
Mrs. Desmoulins made tea; and she and I talked before him upon a topic which he had once borne patiently from me when we were by ourselves,—his not complaining of the world, because he was not called to some great office, nor had attained to great wealth. He flew into a violent passion, I confess with some justice, and commanded us to have done. “Nobody,” said he, “has a right to talk in this manner, to bring before a man his own character, and the events of his life, when he does not choose it should be done. I never have sought the world; the world was not to seek me. It is rather wonderful that so much has been done for me. All the complaints which are made of the world are unjust. I never knew a man of merit neglected ; it was generally by his own fault that he failed of success. A man may hide his head in a hole ; he may go into the country, and publish a book now and then, which nobody reads, and then complain he is neglected. There is no reason why any person should exert himself for a man who has written a good book; he has not written it for any individual. I may as well make a present to the postman who brings me a letter. When patronage was limited, an author expected to find a Mæcenas, and complained if he did not find one. Why should he complain ?. This Mæcenas has others as good as he, or others who have got the start of him.” BOSWELL. “But, surely, Sir, you will allow that there are men of merit at the bar who never get practice.” JOHNSON. “Sir, you are sure that practice is got from an opinion that the person employed deserves it best; so that
if a man of merit at the bar does not get practice, it is from error, not from injustice. He is not neglected. A horse that is brought to market may not be bought, though he is a very good horse; but that is from ignorance, not from inattention.”
There was in this discourse much novelty, ingenuity, and discrimination, such as is seldom to be found. Yet I cannot help thinking that men of merit, who have no success in life, may be forgiven for lamenting, if they are not allowed to complain. They may consider it as hard that their merit should not have its suitable distinction. Though there is no intentional injustice towards them on the part of the world, their merit not having been perceived, they may yet repine against fortune or fate, or by whatever name they choose to call the supposed mythological power of destiny. It has, however, occurred to me, as a consolatory thought, that men of merit should consider thus :How much harder would it be, if the same persons had both all the merit and all the prosperity ? Would not this be a miserable distribution for the poor dunces ? Would men of merit exchange their intellectual superiority, and the enjoyments arising from it, for external distinction and the pleasures of wealth? If they would not, let them not envy others, who are poor where they are rich, a compensation which is made to them. Let them look inwards and be satisfied ; recollecting with conscious pride what Virgil finely says of the Corycius Senex, and which I have, in another place, with truth and sincerity applied to Mr. Burke:
“Regum æquabat opes animis."
On the subject of the right employment of wealth, Johnson observed,-“ A man cannot make a bad use of his money, so far as regards society, if he does not hoard it; for if he either spends it or lends it out, society has the benefit. It is in general better to spend money than to give it away; for industry is more promoted by spending money than by giving it away. A man who spends his
I Letter to the People of Scotland against the Attempt to diminish the Number of Lords of Session, 1785.
money is sure he is doing good with it; he is not so sure when he gives it away. A man who spends ten thousand a year will do more good than a man who spends two thousand and gives away eight.”
In the evening I came to him again. He was somewhat fretful from his illness. A gentleman asked him whether he had been abroad to-day. “Don't talk so childishly," said he. “You may as well ask if I hanged myself to-day.” I mentioned politics. JohnSON. “Sir, I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of public affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as bad as they can be.”
Having mentioned his friend the second Lord Southwell, he said, “Lord Southwell was the highest-bred man without insolence that I ever was in company with; the most qualitied I ever saw. Lord Orrery was not dignified ; Lord Chesterfield was, but he was insolent. Lord ********* is a man of coarse manners, but a man of abilities and information. I don't say he is a man I would set at the head of a nation, though perhaps he may be as good as the next prime minister that comes ; but he is a man to be at the head of a club, I don't say our CLUB,—for there's no such club.” BOSWELL. “But, Sir, was he not a factious man?” JOHNSON. “O yes, Sir, as factious a fellow as could be found ; one who was for sinking us all into the mob.” BOSWELL. “How then, Sir, did he get into favour with the king ?” JOHNSON. “Because, Sir, I suppose he promised the king to do whatever the king pleased.”
He said, “ Goldsmith's blundering speech to Lord Shelburne, which had been so often mentioned, and which he really did make to him, was only a blunder in emphasis :'I wonder they should call your lordship Malagrida, for Malagrida was a very good man;'—meant, I wonder they should use Malagrida as a term of reproach.”
Soon after this time I had an opportunity of seeing, by means of one of his friends, a proof that his talents, as well as his obliging service to authors, were ready as ever.
Shelburne, the second Earl, afterwards first Marquis of Lansdowne. He was now the head of the short-lived ministry of 1782, of which Mr. Pitt was Charicellor of the Exchequer, and which was ousted by the coalition in 1783, soon after this conversation.- Croker.
He had revised “The Village," an admirable poem, by the Reverend Mr. Crabbe. Its sentiments as to the false notions of rustic happiness and virtue were quite congenial with his own; and he had taken the trouble not only to suggest slight corrections and variations, but to furnish some lines when he thought he could give the writer's meaning better than in the words of the manuscript.?
i I shall give an instance, marking the original by Roman, and Johnson's substitution in Italic characters :
“In fairer scenes, where peaceful pleasures spring,
Where Virgil, not where fancy, leads the way?” Here we find Johnson's poetical and critical powers undiminished. I must however observe, that the aids he gave to this poem, as to The Traveller and Deserted Village of Goldsmith, were so small as by no means to impair the distinguished merit of the author.
Crahbe sent the MS. of his poem, The Village, through Sir Joshua Reynolds to Johnson, who returned it to Sir Joshua with a letter, which, though often printed, may well be reproduced here. See also the Life of Crabbe (vol. i., p. 118-20), by his son, prefixed to the edition of his works in 8 vols. 12mo., Murray, 1853.
DR. JOHNSON TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
“March 4, 1783. “ I have sent you back Mr. Crabbe's poem, which I read with great delight. It is original, vigorous, and elegant.
“ The alterations which I have made I do not require him to adopt, for my lines are, perhaps, not often better than his own; but he may take mine and his own together, and perhaps between them produce something better than either. He is not to think his copy wantonly defaced. A wet sponge will wash all the red lines away, and leave the page clear. * * His dedication will be least liked. It were better to contract it into a short sprightly address. I do not doubt Mr. Crabbe's success. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
“SAM. Johnson.” -Editor.