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slighting manner in which Johnson spoke of it: but let it be remembered, that he gave his honest opinion unbiassed by any prejudice, or any proud jealousy of a woman intruding herself into the chair of criticism; for Sir Joshua Reynolds has told me, that when the Essay first came out, and it was not known who had written it, Johnson wondered how Sir Joshua could like it. At this time Sir Joshua himself had received no information concerning the authour, except being assured by one of our most eminent literati, that it was clear its authour did not know the Greek tragedies in the original. One day at Sir Joshua's table, when it was related that Mrs. Montague, in an excess of compliment to the authour of a modern tragedy, had exclaimed, “I tremble for Shakspeare;" Johnson said, “ When Shakspeare
for his rival, and Mrs. Montague for his defender, he is in a poor state indeed.”
Johnson proceeded : “ The Scotchman has taken the right method in his · Elements of Criticism.'. I do not mean that he has taught us any thing; but he has told us old things in a new way.'
MURPHY: “ He seems to have read a great deal of French criticism, and wants to make it is own; as if he had been for years anatomizing the heart of man, and peeping into every cranny of it.” GOLDSMITH:
GOLDSMITH: “ It is easier to write that book, than to read it.” JOHNSON: “We have an example of true criticism in Burke's ' Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful ;' and, if I recollect, there is also Du Bos; and Bouhours, who shews all beauty to depend on truth. There is no great merit in telling how many plays have ghosts in them, and how this ghost is better than that. You must slew how terrour is impressed on the human heart.- In the description of observations, Mrs. Montague's Essay was of service to Shakspeare with a certain class of readers, and is, therefore, entitled to praise. Johnson, I am assured, allowed the merit which I have stated, saying (with reference to Voltaire);“ it is conclusive ad hominem."
night in Macbeth, the beetle, and the bat detract from the general idea of darkness,-inspissated gloom.”
Politicks being mentioned, he said, “ This petitioning is a new mode of distressing government, and a mighty easy one.
I will undertake to get petitions either against quarter guineas or half guineas, with the help of a little hot wine. There must be no yielding to encourage this. The object is not important enough. We are not to blow up half a dozen palaces, because one cottage is burning.”
The conversation then took another turn. JOHNSON: * It is amazing what ignorance of certain points one sometimes finds in men of eminence. A wit about town, who wrote Latin bawdy verses, asked me how it happened that England and Scotland, which were once two kingdoms, were now one:-and Sir Fletcher Norton did not seem to know that there were such publications as the Reviews.”
“ The ballad of Hardyknute has no great merit, if it be really ancient. People talk of nature. But mere obvious nature may be exhibited with very little power of mind.”
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house. He advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which I shewed him a specimen. “Sir (said he), Ray has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those of
your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language.” He bade me also go on with collections which I was making upon the antiquities of Scotland. “Make a large book; a folio.” BosWELL: “ But of what use will it be, Sir?” JohnSON: “Never mind the use ; do it.”
I complained that he had not mentioned Garrick in his Preface to Shakspeare; and asked him if he did not admire him. JOHNSON:“Yes, as
Johnson:“Yes, as a poor player, who frets and struts his hour upon the stage;'-as a
shadow.” BOSWELL: “But has he not brought Shakspeare into notice ?” JOHNSON : “Sir, to allow that, would be to lampoon the age. Many of Shakspeare's plays are the worse for being acted : Macbeth, for instance." BOSWELL: “What, Sir, is nothing gained by decoration and action ? Indeed, I do wish that you had mentioned Garrick." JOHNSON: “My dear Sir, had I mentioned him, I must have mentioned many more; Mrs. Pritchard, Mrs. Cibber,-nay, and Mr. Cibber too; he too altered Shakspeare." BOSWELL: “ You have read his apology, Sir?” JOHNSON : “Yes, it is very entertaining. But as for Cibber himself, taking from his conversation all that he ought not to haye said, he wioba poor creature. I remember when he brought me one of his Odes to have my opinion of it, I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him read it to the end ; so little respect had I for that great man! (laughing.) Yet I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat him with familiarity.”
I mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several convicts at Tyburn, two days before, and that none of them seemed to be under any concern. JohnSON: “ Most of them, Sir, have never thought at all." BOSWELL: “ But is not the fear of death natural to man ?" JOHNSON: “So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it.” He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the awful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that occasion: " I know not (said he) whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between God and myself.”
Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others; --Johnson: “Why, Sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated. No, Sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good; more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no purpose.” BOSWELL: “But suppose now, Sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which lie might be hanged.” JOHNSON : " I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.” BosWELL: “Would you eat your dinner that day, Sir?” Johnson: “ Yes, Sir; and eat it as if he were eating with me. Why, there's Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetick feeling goes a very littlasway in depressing the mind.”
I told him that I had dined lately at Foote's, who shewed me a letter which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he had not been able to sleep from the concern he felt on account of “ This sad affair of Baretti,” begging of him to try if he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a pickle-shop. Johnson: “Ay, Sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept Davies from sleep: nor does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping, Sir; Tom Davies is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and knows how to do those things: i have not been upon the stage, and cannot do those things.” BOSWELL: “I have often blamed myself, Sir, for not feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.” Johnson: “Sir, don't be duped by them any more. You will find these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.”
BOSWELL: “Foote has a great deal of humour." JOHNSON: “Yes, Sir.” BesWELL:“He has a singular talent of exhibiting character.” Johnson: “Sir, it is not a talent; it is a vice; it is what others abstain from. It is not comedy, which exhibits the character of a species, as that of a miser gathered from many misers : it is farce which exhibits individuals." BosWELL: “ Did not he think of exhibiting you, Sir?” Johnson: “Sir, fear restrained him; he knew I would have broken his bones. I would have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg; I would not have left him a leg to cut off." Boswell: “ Pray, Sir, is not Foote an infidel?” JOHNSON: “I do not know, Sir, that the fellow is an infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject.” BOSWELL: “I suppose, Sir, he has thought superficially, and seized the first notions which occurred to his mind.” JOHNSON: “Why then, Sir, still he is like a dog, that snatches the piece next him. Did you never observe that dogs have not the power of comparing? A dog will take a small bit of meat as readily as a large, when both are before him.”
“Buchanan (he observed) has fewer centos than any
y When Mr. Foote was at Edinburgh, he thought fit to entertain a numerous Scotch company with a great deal of coarse jocularity, at the expense of Dr. Johnson, imagining it would be acceptable. I felt this as not civil to me; but sat very patiently till he had.exhausted his merriment on that subject; and then observed that surely Johnson must be allowed to have some sterling wit, and that I had heard him say a very good thing of Mr. Foote himself. “Ah, my old friend Sam (cried Foote), no man says better things; do let us have it." Upon which I told the above story, which produced a very loud laugh from the company. But I never saw Foote so disconcerted. He looked grave and angry, and entered into a serious refutation of the justice of the remark. “ What, Sir (said he), talk thus of a man of liberal education :-a man who for years was at the University of Oxford : a man who has added sixteen new characters to the English drama of his country!!! VOL. II.