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fault with the simile of sweetening the edges of a cup for a child, being transferred from Lucretius into an epick poem. The General said he did not imagire Homer's poetry was so ancient as is supposed, because he ascribes to a Greek colony circumstances of refinement not found in Greece itself at a later period, when Thucydides wrote. Johnson. “I recollect but one passage quoted by Thucydides from Homer, which is not to be found in our copies of Homer's works; I am for the antiquity of Homer, and think that a Grecian colony by being nearer Persia might be more refined than the mother country.”
On Wednesday, April 29, I dined with him at Mr. Allan Ramsay's, where were Lord Binning, Dr. Robertson the historian, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen, widow of the Admiral, and mother of the present Viscount Falmouth; of whom, if it be not presumptuous in me to praise her, I would say, that her manners are the most agreeable, and her conversation the best, of any lady with whom I ever had the happiness to be acquainted. Before Johnson came we talked a good deal of him; Ramsay said, he had always found him a very polite man, and that he treated him with great respect, which he did very sincerely. I said, 1 worshipped him. Ro
“ But some of you spoil him; you should not worship him; you should worship no man.” Boswell. I cannot help worshipping him, he is so much superiour to other men.” Robertson. “ In criticism, and in wit and conversation, he is no doubt very excellent; but in other respects he is not above other men : he will believe any thing, and will strenuously defend the most minute circumstance connected with the Church of England.” BOSWELL. “ Believe me, Doctor, you are much mistaken as to this; for when you talk with him calmly in private, he is very liberal in his way of thinking.” ROBERTO
“ He and I have been always very gracious ; the first time I met him was one evening at Strahan's, when he had just had an unlucky altercation with Adam Smith, to whom he had been so rough, that Strahan, after Smith was gone, had remonstrated with him, and told him that I was coming soon, and that he was uneasy to think that he might behave in the same manner to me. "No, no, sir (said Johnson), I warrant you Robertson and I shall do very well. Accordingly he was gentle and good-humoured and courteous with me, the whole evening; and he has been so upon every occasion that we have met since. I have often said (laughing), that I have been in a great measure indebted to Smith for my good reception." Boswell. “ His power of reasoning is very strong, and he has a peculiar art of drawing characters, which is as rare as good portrait painting." SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. “ He is undoubtedly admirable in this; but, in order to mark the characters which he draws, he overcharges them, and gives people more than they really have, whether of good or bad.”
No sooner did he, of whom we had been thus talking so easily, arrive, than we were all as quiet as a school upon the entrance of the head-master; and were very soon sat down to a table covered with such variety of good things, as contributed not a little to dispose him to be pleased.
RAMSAY. “ I am old enough to have been a contemporary of Pope. His poetry was highly admired in his life-time, more a great deal than after his death.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, it has not been less admired since his death; no authours ever had so much fame in their own life-time as Pope and Voltaire ; and Pope's poetry has been as much admired since his death as during his life; it has only not been as much talked of, but that is owing to its being now
more distant, and people having other writings to talk of. Virgil is less talked of than Pope, and Homer is less talked of than Virgil; but they are not less admired. We must read what the world reads at the moment. It has been maintained that this superfetation, this teeming of the press in modern times, is prejudicial to good literature, because it obliges us to read so much of what is of inferiour value, in order to be in the fashion ; so that better works are neglected for want of time, because a man will have more gratification of his vanity in conversation, from having read modern books, than from having read the best works of antiquity. But it must be considered, that we have now more knowledge generally diffused; all our ladies read now, which is a great extension. Modern writers are the moons of literature; they shine with reflected light, with light borrowed from the ancients. Greece appears to me to be the fountain of knowledge; Rome of elegance." Ramsay. “ I suppose Homer's 'Iliad to be a collection of pieces which had been written before his time. I should like to see a translation of it in poetical prose, like the book of Ruth or Job.” ROBERTSON. – Would you, Dr. Johnson, who are master of the English language, but try your hand upon a part of it.” Johnson. “ Sir, you could not read it without the pleasure of verse.” 1
We talked of antiquarian researches. JOHNSON. “ All that is really known of the ancient state of Britain is contained in a few
can know no more than what the old writers have told us; yet what large books have we upon it, the whole of
1 This experiment, which Madame Dacier made in vain, has since been tried in our own language, by the editor of “Ossian,” and we must either think very meanly of his abilities, or allow that Dr. Johnson was in the right. And Mr. Cowper, a man of real genius, has miserably failed in his blank verse translation.
which, excepting such parts as are taken from those old writers, is all a dream, such as Whitaker's " “Manchester. I have heard Henry's History of Britain' well spoken of: I am told it is carried on in separate divisions, as the civil, the military, the religious history; I wish much to have one branch well done, and that is the history of manners, of common life.” ROBERTSON. “ Henry should have applied his attention to that alone, which is enough for any man ; and he might have found a great deal scattered in various books, had he read solely with that view. Henry erred in not selling his first volume at a moderate price to the booksellers, that they might have pushed him on till he had got reputation. I sold my · History of Scotland' at a moderate price, as a work by which the booksellers might either gain or not; and Cadell has told me, that Millar and he have got six thousand pounds by it. I afterwards received a much higher price for my writings. An authour should sell his first work for what the booksellers will give, till it shall appear whether he is an authour of merit, or, which is the same thing as to purchase-money, an authour who pleases the publick.”
Dr. Robertson expatiated on the character of a certain nobleman ; that he was one of the strongestminded men that ever lived ; that he would sit in company quite sluggish, while there was nothing to call forth his intellectual vigour; but the moment that any important subject was started, for instance, how this country is to be defended against a French invasion, he would rouse himself, and shew his extraordinary talents with the most powerful ability and animation. Johnson. “ Yet this man cut his own throat. The true strong and sound mind is the mind that can embrace equally great things and small. Now I am told the King of Prussia will say
to a servant, · Bring me a bottle of such a wine, which came in such a year; it lies in such a corner of the cellars. I would have a man great in great things, and elegant in little things.” He said to me afterwards, when we were by ourselves,
“ Robertson was in a mighty romantick humour, he talked of one whom he did not know ; but I downed him with the King of Prussia.”—“ Yes, sir (said I), you threw a bottle at his head.”
An ingenious gentleman was mentioned, concerning whom both Robertson and Ramsay agreed that hé had a constant firmness of mind; for after a laborious day, and amidst a multiplicity of cares and anxieties, he would sit down with his sisters and be quite cheerful and good-humoured. Such a disposition, it was observed, was a happy gift of nature. Johnson. “ I do not think so; a man has from nature a certain portion of mind; the use he makes of it depends upon his own free will. That a man has always the same firmness of mind, I do not say; because every man feels his mind less firm at one time than another; but I think, a man's being in a good or bad humour depends upon his will.”—I, however, could not help thinking that a man's humour is often uncontroulable by his will.
Johnson harangued against drinking wine. “A man (said he) may choose whether he will have abstemiousness and knowledge, or claret and ignorance.” Dr. Robertson (who is very companionable) was beginning to dissent as to the proscription of claret. Johnson, (with a placid smile). « Nay, sir, you shall not differ with me; as I have said that the man is most perfect who takes in the most things, I am for knowledge and claret." ROBERTSON, (holding a glass of generous claret in his hand).
“ Sir, I can only drink
health.” Johnson. Sir, I should sorry
should be ever in such a state as to