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SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
A JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES,
BY JAMES BOSWELL.
A REPRINT OF THE FIRST EDITION.
TO WHICH ARE ADDED
MR. BOSWELL'S CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS,
EDITED, WITH NEW NOTES,
PERCY FITZGERALD, M.A., F.S.A.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
BICKERS AND SON, LEICESTER SQUARE, W.C.
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
DR. JOHNSON revised some sheets of Lord Hailes's "Annals of Scotland," and wrote a few notes on the margin with red ink, which he bade me tell his Lordship did not sink into the paper, and might be wiped off with a wet sponge, so that he did not spoil his manuscript. I told him there were very few of his friends so accurate as that I could venture to put down in writing what they told me as his sayings. JOHNSON. "Why should you write down my sayings?" BOSWELL. "I write them when they are good." JOHNSON. "Nay, you may as well write down the sayings of any one else that are good." But where, I might with great propriety have added, can I find such?
I visited him by appointment in the evening, and we drank tea with Mrs. Williams. He told me that he had been in the company of a gentleman whose extraordinary travels had been much the subject of conversation. But I found that he had not listened to him with that full confidence, without which there is little satisfaction in the society of travellers. I was curious to hear what opinion so able a judge as Johnson had formed of his abilities, and I asked if he was not a man of sense. JOHNSON. "Why, Sir, he is not a distinct relater; and I should say, he is neither abounding nor deficient in sense. I did not perceive any superiority of understanding." BosWELL. "But will you not allow him a nobleness of resolution, in penetrating into distant regions ?" JOHNSON. "That,
Sir, is not to the present purpose: we are talking of his sense. fighting cock has a nobleness of resolution."
Next day, Sunday, April 2, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's. We talked of Pope. JOHNSON. "He wrote his Dunciad' for fame. That was his primary motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might have railed against him till they were weary, without his troubling himself about them. He delighted to vex them, no doubt; but he had more delight in seeing how well he could vex them."
The "Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion," in ridicule of "cool Mason and warm Gray," being mentioned, Johnson said, "They are Colman's best things." Upon it being observed that it was believed these Odes were made by Colman and Lloyd jointly;-JOHNSON. "Nay, Sir, how can two people make an Ode? Perhaps one made one of them, and one the other." I observed that two people had made a play, and quoted the anecdote of Beaumont and Fletcher, who were brought under suspicion of treason, because while concerting the plan of a tragedy when sitting together at a tavern, one of them was overheard saying to the other, "I'll kill the King." JOHNSON. "The first of these Odes is the best: but they are both good. They exposed a very bad kind of writing." Boswell. "Surely, Sir, Mr. Mason's Elfrida' is a fine poem: at least you will allow there are some good passages in it." JOHNSON. "There are now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner."
I often wondered at his low estimation of the writings of Gray and Mason. Of Gray's poetry I have, in a former part of this work, expressed my high opinion; and for that of Mr. Mason I have ever entertained a warm admiration. His "Elfrida" is exquisite, both in poetical description and moral sentiment; and his "Caractacus" is a noble drama. Nor can I omit paying my tribute of praise to some of his smaller poems which I have read with pleasure, and which no criticism shall persuade me not to like. If I wondered at Johnson's not tasting the works of Mason and Gray, still more have I wondered at their not tasting his works; that they should be insensible to his energy of diction, to his splendour of images, and comprehension of thought. Tastes may differ as to the violin, the flute, the hautboy, in short, all the lesser instruments: but who can be insensible to the powerful impressions of the majestick organ?
His "Taxation no Tyranny" being mentioned, he said, "I think I have not been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action. I never think I have hit hard, unless it rebounds." BOSWELL. "I don't know, Sir, what you would be at. Five or six shots of small
arms in every newspaper, and repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I think, satisfy you. But, Sir, you'll never make out this match, of which we have talked, with a certain political lady,1 since you are so severe against her principles." JOHNSON. "Nay, Sir, I have the better chance for that. She is like the Amazons of old; she must be courted by the sword. But I have not been severe upon her." BOSWELL. "Yes, Sir, you have made her ridiculous." JOHNSON. "That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make her ridiculous, is like blacking the chimney."
I put him in mind that the landlord at Ellon in Scotland said, that he heard he was the greatest man in England,-next to Lord Mansfield. "Aye, Sir, (said he,) the exception defined the idea. A Scotchman could go no farther:
· The force of Nature could no farther go.""
Lady Miller's collection of verses by fashionable people, which were put into her Vase at Batheaston villa, near Bath, in competition for honorary prizes, being mentioned, he held them very cheap : "Bouts rimés, (said he,) is a mere conceit, and an old conceit now; I wonder how people were persuaded to write in that manner for this lady." I named a gentleman of his acquaintance, who wrote for the Vase. JOHNSON. "He was a blockhead for his pains." BOSWELL. "The Duchess of Northumberland wrote." JOHNSON. "Sir, the Duchess of Northumberland may do what she pleases: nobody will say any thing to a lady of her high rank. But I should be apt to throw ******'s verses in his face."'
I talked of the cheerfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it. JOHNSON, "Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance; but I think the full tide of human existence is at Charingcross."
He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led a busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of their habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned as strong an instance of this as can well be imagined.
1 Mrs. Macaulay.
On "a buttered muffin," according to Walpole. Garrick seems to have been of Johnson's opinion, for he once slipped in three lines, when "Charity" had been given for a subject:
"THE VASE SPEAKS. "For Heaven's sake bestow on me, A little wit, for that would be, Indeed, an act of charity." The Rev. Mr. Graves, according to Croker.