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BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
the merit of which he spoke highly, but had been prevented by & number of other engagements.”
Mr. Mickle reminds me in this letter of a conversation at dinner one day at Mr. Hoole's with Dr. Johnson, when Mr. Nicol, the king's bookseller, and I, attempted to controvert the maxim, “Better that ten guilty should escape, than one innocent person suffer," and were answered by Dr. Johnson with great power of reasoning and eloquence. I am very sorry that I have no record of that day : but I well recollect my illustrious friends having ably shown, that unless civil institutions ensure protection to the innocent, all the confidence which mankind should have in them would be lost. • I shall here mention what, in strict chronological arrangement, should have appeared in my account of last year ; but may more properly be introduced here, the controversy having not been closed till this. The Reverend Mr. Shaw, a native of one of the Hebrides, having entertained doubts of the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian, divested himself of national bigotry; and having travelled in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and also in Ireland, in order to furnish himself with materials for a Gaelic Dictionary, which he afterwards compiled, was so fully satisfied that Dr. Johnson was in the right upon the question, that he candidly published a pamphlet, stating his conviction, and the proofs and reasons on which it was founded. A person at Edinburgh, of the name of Clark,* answered this pamphlet with much zeal, and much abuse of its author. Johnson took Mr. Shaw under his protection, and gave him his assistance in writing a reply, which has been admired by the best judges, and by many been considered as conclusive. A few paragraphs, which sufficiently mark their great author, shall be selected :
“My assertions are, for the most part, purely negative: I deny the existence of Fingal, because in a long and curious peregrina
1 See vol. iii., p. 140.
3 An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems ascribed to Ossian. Lond., 1781, 8v0.-Editor.
* An Answer to Mr. Shaw's Enouiry, &c. By John Clark. Lond., 1781, 8vo.—Editor.
tion through the Gaelic regions I have never been able to find it. What I could not see myself, I suspect to be equally invisible to others; and I suspect with the more reason, as among all those who have seen it no man can show it.
“Mr. Clark compares the obstinacy of those who disbelieve the genuineness of Ossian to a blind man who should dispute the reality of colours, aud deny that the British troops are clothed in red. The blind man's doubt would be rational, if he did not know by experience that others have a power which he himself wants : but what perspicacity has Mr. Clark which Nature has withheld from me or the rest of mankind ?
“ The true state of the parallel must be this:-Suppose a man, with eyes like his neighbours, was told by a boasting corporal, that the troops, indeed, wore red clothes for their ordinary dress, but that every soldier had likewise a suit of black velvet, which he puts on when the king reviews them. This he thinks strange, and desires to see the fine clothes, but finds nobody in forty thousand men that can produce either coat or waistcoat. One, indeed, has left them in his chest at Port Mahon; another has always heard that he ought to have velvet clothes somewhere; and a third has heard somebody say that soldiers ought to wear velvet. Can the inquirer be blamed if he goes away believing that a soldier's red coat is all that he has ?
“But the most obdurate incredulity may be shamed or silenced by facts. To overpower contradictions, let the soldier show his velvet coat, and the Fingalist the original of Ossian.
“ The difference between us and the blind man is this : the blind man is unconvinced, because he cannot see : and we because, though we can see, we find nothing that can be shown."
Notwithstanding the complication of disorders under which Johnson now laboured, he did not resign himself to despondency and discontent, but with wisdom and spirit endeavoured to console and amuse his mind with as many innocent enjoyments as he could procure. Sir John Hawkins has mentioned the cordiality with which he insisted that such of the members of the old club in Ivy Lane as survived should meet again and dine together, which they did, twice at a tavern, and once at his house, and in order to
1 “ With this invitation,” says Hawkins, " I cheerfully complied, and met, at the time and place appointed, all who could be mustered of our
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
ensure himself society in the evening for three days in the week, he instituted a club at the Essex Head, in Essex Street, then kept by Samuel Greaves, an old servant of Mr. Thrale's.
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
“ Dec. 4, 1783. “ DEAR SIR,
“ It is inconvenient to me to come out; I should else have waited on you with an account of a little evening club which we are establishing in Essex Street, in the Strand, and of which you are desired to be one. It will be held at the Essex Head, now kept by an old servant of Thrale's. The company is numerous, and, as you will see by the list, miscellaneous. The terms are lax, and the expenses light. Mr. Barry was adopted by Dr. Brocklesby, who joined with me in forming the plan. We meet thrice a week, and he who misses forfeits twopence. If you are willing to become a member, draw a line under your name. Return the list. We meet for the first time on Monday, at eight. I am, &c.,
“SAM. Johnson.” It did not suit Sir Joshua to be one of this club. But when I mention only Mr. Daines Barrington, Dr. Brock
society, namely, Johnson, Mr. Ryland, and Mr. Payne of the Bank. When we were collected, the thought that we were so few occasioned some melancholy reflections, and I could not but compare our meeting, at such an advanced period of life as it was to us all, to that of the four old men in the Senile Colloquium' of Erasmus. We dined, and in the evening regaled with coffee. At ten we broke up, much to the regret of Johnson, who proposed staying ; but finding us inclined to separate, he left us, with a sigh that seemed to come from his heart, lamenting that he was retiring to solitude and cheerless meditation.
“ Johnson had proposed a meeting like this once a month, and we had one more ; but, the time approaching for a third, he began to feel a return of some of his complaints, and signified a wish that we would dine with him at his own house; and accordingly we met there, and were very cheerfully entertained by him.” Life, p. 562.
- London, 13th December, 1783.-—I dined about a fortnight ago with three old friends. We had not met together for thirty years, and one of us thought the others grown very old. In the thirty years two of vur set lave died. Our meeting may be supposed to be somewhat tender.”— Letters. Vol. ii., p. 339.-Croker.
lesby, Mr. Murphy, Mr. John Nichols, Mr. Cooke, Mr. Jod. drell, Mr. Paradise, Dr. Horsley, Mr. Windham, I shall sufficiently obviate the misrepresentation of it by Sir John Hawkins," as if it had been a low alehouse association, by which Johnson was degraded. Johnson himself, like his namesake Old Ben, composed the rules of his club.
i I was in Scotland when this club was founded, and during all the winter. Johnson, however, declared I should be a member, and invented a word upon the occasion : “ Boswell," said he," is a very clubable man." When I came to town I was proposed by Mr. Barrington, and chosen. I beliere there are few societies where there is better conversatior. or more decorum. Several of us resolved to continue it after our great founder was removed by death. Other members were added ; and now, about eight years since that loss, we go on happily. ? Life of Johnson, p. 566.-Editor.
In mirth, which after no repenting draws.”—Milton. “ The club shall consist of four and twenty.
“ The meetings shall be on the Monday, Thursday, and Saturday of every wcek; but in the week before Easter there shall be no meeting.
“Every member is at liberty to introduce a friend once a week, but not oftener.
“ Two niembers shall oblige themselves to attend in their turn every night from eight to ten, or procure two to attend in their room.
“ Every member present at the club shall spend at least sixpence; and every member who stays away shall forfeit threepence. (sic.)
“ The master of the house shall keep an account of the absent members; and deliver to the president of the night a list of the forfeits incurred.
“ When any member returns after absence, he shall immediately lay down his forfeits; which if he omits to do, the president shall require.
- There shall be no general reckoning, but every man shall adjust his own expenses.
“The night of indispensable attendance will come to every member once a month. Whoever shall for three months together omit to attend himself, or by substitution, nor shall make any apology in the fourth month, shall be considered as having abdicated the club.
“ When a vacancy is to be filled, the name of the candidate, and of the member recommending him, shall stand in the club-room three nights. On the fourth he may be chosen by ballot; six members at least being present, and two-thirds of the ballot being in his favour; or the majority, should the numbers not be divisible by three.
“ The master of the house shall give notice, six days before, to each of those members whose turn of necessary attendance is come.
“ The notice may be in these words :- Sir, On the of In the end of this year he was seized with a spasmodic asthma of such violence, that he was confined to the house in great pain, being sometimes obliged to sit all night in his chair, a recumbent posture being so hurtful to his respiration, that he could not endure lying in bed; and there came upon him at the same time that oppressive and fatal disease, a dropsy. It was a very severe winter, which probably aggravated his complaints; and the solitude in which Mr. Levett and Mrs. Williams had left him rendered his life very gloomy. Mrs. Desmoulins, who still lived, was herself so very ill, that she could contribute very little to his relief. He, however, had none of that unsocial shyness which we commonly see in people afflicted with sickness. He did not hide his head from the world, in soli. tary abstraction; he did not deny himself to the visits of his friends and acquaintances; but at all times when he was not overcome by sleep, was as ready for conversation as in his best days.
TO MRS. LUCY PORTER, IN LICHFIELD.
“ London, Nov. 29, 1783. “ Dear MADAM,
“ You may perhaps think me negligent that I have not written to you again upon the loss of your brother; but condolences and consolations are such common and such useless things, that the omission of them is no great crime; and my own diseases occupy my mind and engage my care. My nights are miserably restless, and my days, therefore, are heavy. I try, however, to hold up my head as high as I can.
“ I am sorry that your health is impaired : perhaps the spring and the summer may, in some degree, restore it; but if not, we must submit to the inconveniences of time, as to the other dispensations of Eternal Goodness. Pray for me, and write to me, or iet Mr. Pearson write for you. I am, &c.,
“Sam. Johnson.” --, will be your turn of presiding at the Essex Head. Your company is therefore earnestly requested.'
“One penny shall be left by each member for the waiter.”
Johnson's definition of a club, in this sense, in his Dictionary, is, “ An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions."