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Lord Kames-Sir George Villiers's Ghost-Innate Virtue—Native Modesty-Foreign Travel
Lord Charlemont-Country Life-Manners of the Great-Horne's “Letter to Dunning
Next morning I stated to Mrs. Thrale at breakfast, before he came down, the dispute of last night as to the influence of character upon success in life. She said he was certainly wrong ; and told me that a baronet lost an election in Wales because he had debauched the sister of a gentleman in the county, whom he made one of his daughters invite as her companion at his seat in the country, when his lady and his other children were in London. But she would not encounter Johnson upon the subject.
I staid all this day with him at Streatham. He talked a great deal in very good humour.
Looking at Messrs. Dilly's splendid edition of Lord Chesterfield's miscellaneous works, he laughed, and said, “Here are now two speeches ascribed to him, both of which were written by me : and the best of it is, they have found out that one is like Demosthenes, and the other like Cicero."
He censured Lord Kames's “Sketches of the History of Man," for misrepresenting Clarendon's account of the appearance of Sir George Villiers's ghost, as if Clarendon were weakly credulons ; when the truth is, that Clarendon only says, that the story was upon a better foundation of credit than usually such discourses are founded upon ; nay, speaks thus of the person who was reported to have seen the vision, “the poor man, if he had been al all waking ;" which Lord Kames has omitted. He added, “In this book it is maintained that virtue is natural to man, and that if we would but
consult our own hearts we should be virtuous. Now, after consulting our own hearts all we can, and with all the helps we have, we find how few of us are virtuous. This is saying a thing which all mankind know not to be true.” BOSWELL. “Is not modesty natural ?" Johnson. “I cannot say, Sir, as we find no people quite in a state of nature ; but, I think, the more they are taught, the more modest they are. The French are a gross, ill-bred, untaught people : a lady there will spit on the floor and rub it with her foot. What I gained by being in France was, learning to be better satisfied with my own country. Time may be employed to more advantage from nineteen to twenty-four, almost in any way than in travelling. When you set travelling against mere negation, against doing nothing, it is better to be sure ; but how much more would a young man improve were he to study during those years. Indeed, if a young man is wild, and must run after women and bad company, it is better this should be done abroad, as, on his return, he can break off such connections, and begin at home a new man, with a character to form, and acquaintance to make. How little does travelling sapply to the conversation of any man who has travelled ! how little to Beauclerk !" BOSWELL. “What say you to Lord
Johnson. "I never but once heard him talk of what he had seen, and that was of a large serpent in one of the pyramids of Egypt." BOSWELL. “Well, I happened to hear him tell the same thing, which made me mention bim."
I talked of country life. Johnson.“ Were I to live in the country, I would not devote myself to the acquisition of popularity ; I would live in a much better way, much more happily ; I would have my time at my own command.” BOSWELL. “ But, Sir, is it not a sad thing to be at a distance from all our literary friends ?” JOHNSON. “Sir, you will by-and-by have enough of this conversation, which now delights you so much."
As he was a zealous friend of subordination, he was at all times watchful to repress the vulgar cant against the manners of the great. · High people, Sir," said he, “ are the best : take a hundred ladies of quality, you'll find them better wives, better mothers, moro
1 James, first earl of Charlemont. His lordship was, to the last, in the habit of telling the story alluded to rather too often.-C.
willing to sacrifice their own pleasure to their children, than a hundred other women. Tradeswomen (I mean the wives of tradesmen) in the city, who are worth from ten to fifteen thousand pounds, are the worst creatures upon the earth, grossly ignorant, and thinking viciousness fashionable. Farmers, I think, are often worthless fellows. Few lords will cheat ; and, if they do, they'll be ashamed of it : farmers cheat, and are not ashamed of it: they have all the sensual vices too of the nobility, with cheating into the bargain. There is as much fornication and adultery amongst farmers as amongst noblemen." BOSWELL. “The notion of the world, Sir, however, is, that the morals of women of quality are worse than those in lower stations." JOHNSON. “ Yes, Sir ; the licentiousness of one woman of quality makes more noise than that of a number of women in lower stations : then, Sir, you are to consider the malig. nity of women in the city against women of quality, which will make them believe anything of them, such as that they call their coachmen to bed. No, Sir; so far as I have observed, the higher in rank, the richer ladies are, they are the better instructed, and the more virtuous."
This year the Reverend Mr. Horne published his “ Letter to Mr. Dunning on the English Particle." Johnson read it; and though not treated in it with sufficient respect, he had candour enough to say to Mr. Seward, “ Were I to make a new edition of my Dictionary, I would adopt several' of Mr. Horne's etymologies. I hope they did not put the dog in the pillory for his libel; he has too much literature for that."
On Saturday, May 16, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk's with Mr. Langton, Mr. Steevens, Dr. Higgins, and some others. I regret very feelingly every instance of my remissness in recording his memorabilia ; I am afraid it is the condition of humanity (as Mr. Windham, of Norfolk, once observed to me, after having made an admirable speech in the House of Commons, which was highly applauded, but which he afterwards perceived might have been bet
1 In Mr. Horne Tooke's enlargement of that " Letter," which he has since published with the title of “Enea atspoevta, or the Diversions of Purley,” he mentions this compliment, as if Dr. Johnson, instead of several of his etymologies, had said all. His recollection having thus magnified it, shows how ambitious he was of the approbation of so great a man.
ter,) "that we are more uneasy from thinking of our wants, than happy in thinking of our acquisitions." This is an unreasonable mode of disturbing our tranquillity, and should be corrected : let me then comfort myself with the large treasure of Johnson's conversation which I have preserved for my own enjoyment and that of the world, and let me exhibit what I have upon each occasion, whether more or less, whether a bulse, or only a few sparks of a diamond.
He said, “Dr. Mead lived more in the broad sunshine of life than almost any man.
The disaster of General Burgoyne's army was then the common topic of conversation. It was asked why piling their arms was insisted upon as a matter of such consequence, when it seemed to be a circumstance so inconsiderable in itself. JOHNSON. “Why, Sir, a French author says, 'Il y a beaucoup de puerilités dans la guerre.' All distinctions are trifles, because great things can seldom occur, and those distinctions are settled by custom. A savage would as willingly have his meat sent to him in the kitchen, as eat it at the table here : as men become civilized, various modes of denoting honourable preference are invented."
He this day made the observations upon the similarity between “ Rasselas and “ Candide :" which I have inserted in its proper place, when considering his admirable philosophical romance. He said, “ Candide,” he thought, had more power in it than anything that Voltaire had written.
“The lyrical part of Horace never can be perfectly translated ; so much of the excellence is in the numbers and expression. Francis has done it the best; I'll take his, five out of six, against them all.”
On Sunday, May 17, I presented to him Mr. Fullarton, of Fullarton, who has since distinguished himself so much in India,' to whom he naturally talked of travels, as Mr. Brydone accompanied bim in his tour to Sicily and Malta. He said, “The information which we
1 Dr. Richard Mead was born in 1873, and died in 1754. His collection of books, pictures, and coins (which sold for upwards of £16,000', were, during his life, most liberally open to public curiosity. He was much visited by the literati and foreigners, and did certainly live in the "sun-shine of life."-C.
? Its surrender at Saratoga, October, 1777.-C.
have from modern travellers is much more authentic than what we had from ancient travellers : ancient travellers guessed ; modern travellers measure.
The Swiss admit that there is but one error in Stanyan.' If Brydone were more attentive to his Bible, he would be a good traveller.”
He said, “ Lord Chatham was a Dictator; be possessed the power of putting the state in motion ; now there is no power, all order is relaxed.” BOSWELL. “ Is there no hope of a change to the better ?” Johnson. “Why, yes, Sir, when we are weary of this relaxation. So the city of London will appoint its mayors again by seniority." BoswELL. “But is not that taking a mere chance for having a good or a bad mayor ?" Johnson. “Yes, Sir ; but the evil of competition is greater than that of the worst mayor that can come: besides, there is no more reason to suppose that the choice of a rabble will be right, than that chance will be right."
On Tuesday, May 19, I was to set out for Scotland in the eveuing. He was engaged to dine with me at Mr. Dilly's ; I waited upon him to remind him of his appointment and attend him thither; he gave me some salutary counsel, and recommended vigorous reso. lution against any deviation from moral duty. BoswELL.“ But you would not have me to bind myself by a solemn obligation ?” Johnson (much agitated). “What I a vow 1-0, no, Sir, a vow is a horrible thing ! it is a snare for sin. The man who cannot go to heaven without a ow, may go -- Here, standing erect in the middle of his library, and rolling grand, his pause was truly a curious compound of the solemn and the ludicrous : he half-whistled in his usual way when pleasant, and he paused as if checked by religious awe. Methought he would have added, to hell, but was restrained. I humoured the dilemma. “What, Sir !” said I, “'In cælum jusseris ibit ?'" alluding to his imitation of it,
“ And bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.”
I had mentioned to him a slight fault in his noble “ Imitation of
i Temple Stanyan, author of the “ Grecian History." His “ Account of Switzerland " wat published in 1714.