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SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
Being disappointed in my hopes of meeting Jobnson this year, so that I could hear none of his admirable sayings, I shall compensate for this want by inserting a collection of them, for which I am indebted to my worthy friend Mr. Langton, whose kind communications have been separately interwoven in many parts of this work. Very few articles of this collection were committed to writing by himself, he not having that habit; which he regrets, and which those who know the numerous opportunities he had of gathering the rich fruits of Johnsonian wit and wisdom, must ever regret. I however found, in conversation with him, that a good store of Johnsoniana was treasured in his mind; and I compared it to Herculaneum, or some old Roman field, which, when dug, fully rewards the labour employed. The authenticity of every article is unquestionable. For the expression, I, who wrote them down in his presence, am partly answerable.
“ Theocritus is not deserving of very high respect as a writer: as to the pastoral part, Virgil is very evidently superiour. He wrote when there had been a larger influx of knowledge into the world than when Theocritus lived. Theocritus does not abound in description, though living in a beautiful country: the manners painted are coarse and gross. Virgil has much more description, more sentiment, more of nature, and more of art.
Some of the most excellent parts of Theocritus are, where Castor and
Pollux, going with the other Argonauts, land on the Bebrycian coast, and there fall into a dispute with Amycus, the king of that country; which is as well conducted as Euripides could have done it; and the battle is well related. Afterwards they carry off a woman, whose two brothers come to recover her, and expostulate with Castor and Pollux on their injustice; but they pay no regard to the brothers, and a battle ensues, where Castor and his brother are triumphant.—Theocritus seems not to have seen that the brothers have the advantage in their argument over his Argonaut heroes.—The Sicilian Gossips is a piece of merit.”
“ Callimachus is a writer of little excellence. The chief thing to be learned from him is his account of rites and mythology; which, though desirable to be known for the sake of understanding other parts of ancient authors, is the least pleasing or valuable part of their writings."
“ Mattaire's account of the Stephani is a heavy book. He seems to have been a puzzle-headed man, with a large share of scholarship, but with little geometry or logick in his head, without method, and possessed of little genius. He wrote Latin verses from time to time, and published a set in his old age, which he called Senilia ; in which he shows so little learning or taste in writing, as to make Carteret a dactyl.-In matters of genealogy it is necessary to give the bare names as they are; but in poetry, and in prose of any elegance in the writing, they require to have inflection given to them.--His book of the dialects is a sad heap of confusion: the only way to write on them is to tabulate them with notes, added at the bottom of the page, and references."
“ It may be questioned, whether there is not some mistake as to the methods of employing the poor, seemingly on a supposition that there is a certain portion of work left undone for want of persons to do it; but if that is otherwise, and all the materials we have are actually worked up, or all the manufactures we can use or dispose of are already executed, then what is given to the poor who are to be set at work, must be taken from some who now have it: as time must be taken for learning, (according to sir William Petty's observation) a certain part of those very materials that, as it is, are properly worked up, must be spoiled by the unskilfulness of novices. We may apply to well-meaning but misjudging persons in particulars of this nature, what Giannone said to a monk who wanted what he called to convert him: “Tu sei santo, ma tu non sei filosofo.'-It is an unhappy circumstance, that one might give away five hundred pounds in a year to those that importune in the streets, and not do any good.”
“There is nothing more likely to betray a man into absurdity, than condescension; when he seems to suppose his understanding too powerful for his company."
Having asked Mr. Langton if his father and mother had sat for their pictures, which he thought it right for each generation of a family to do, and being told they had opposed it, he said, 'Sir, among the anfractuosities of the human mind, I know not if it may not be one, that there is a superstitious reluctance to sit for a picture.''
“John Gilbert Cooper related, that soon after the publication of his dictionary, Garrick being asked by Johnson what people said of it, told him, that among other animadversions, it was objected that he cited authorities which were beneath the dignity of such a work, and mentioned Richardson. “Nay,' said Johnson, I have done worse than that: I have cited thee, David.'"
“ Talking of expense, he observed, with what munificence a great merchant will spend his money, both from his having it at command, and from his enlarged views by calculation of a good effect upon the whole. • Whereas, said he, you will hardly ever find a country gentleman who is not a good deal disconcerted at an unexpected occasion for his being obliged to lay out ten pounds.""
“When in good humour, he would talk of his own writings with a wonderful frankness and candour, and would even criticise them with the closest severity. One day, having read over one of his Ramblers, Mr. Langton asked
him how he liked that paper : he sbook his head, and answered, "Too wordy. At another time, when one was reading his tragedy of Irene to a company at a house in the country, he left the room; and somebody having asked him the reason of this, he replied, 'Sir, I thought it had been better."
“ Talking of a point of delicate scrupulosity of moral conduct, he said to Mr. Langton, Men of harder minds than ours will do many things from which you and I would shrink; yet, sir, they will perhaps do more good in life than we.
But let us try to help one another. If there be a wrong twist, it may be set right. It is not probable that two people can be wrong
the same way.”” “Of the preface to Capel's Shakespeare, he said, “If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purposes with words; for, as it is, he doth gabble monstrously.”
“ He related, that he had once in a dream a contest of wit with some other person, and that he was very much mortified by imagining that his opponent had the better of him. “Now,' said he, 'one may mark here the effect of sleep in weakening the power of reflection; for had not my judgement failed me; I should have seen, that the wit of this supposed antagonist, by whose superiority I felt myself depressed, was as much furnished by me, as that which I thought I had been uttering in my own character.'
“One evening in company, an ingenious and learned gentlemau read to him a letter of compliment, which he had received from one of the professors of a foreign university. Johnson, in an irritable fit, thinking there was too much ostentation, said, 'I never receive any of these tributes of applause from abroad. One instance I recollect of a foreign publication, in which mention is made of, l'illustre Lockmana.
“Of sir Joshua Reynolds, he said, “Sir, I know no man a Secretary to the British herring fishery, remarkable for an extraordinary number of occasional verses, not of eminent merit.-BOSWELL,