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THE CLUB'S CLARET
JOHNSON: "I am willing to offer my services as secretary on this occasion.' P.: * As many as are for Dr. Johnson being secretary hold up your hands.—Carried unanimously.” BOSWELL : “He will be our dictator." JOHNSON : “No, the company is to dictate to me. I am only to write for wine ; and I am quite disinterested, as I drink none : I shall not be suspected of having forged the application. I am no more than humble scribe.” E. : “ Then you shall prescribe. ” BOSWELL: “Very well. The first play of words to-day.” J.: “No, no; the bulls in Ireland.” JOHNSON : “Were I your dictator you should have no wine. It would be my business cavere ne quid detrimenti Respublica caperet, and wine is dangerous. Rome was ruined by luxury” (smiling). E. : “ If you allow no wine as Dictator, you shall not have me for your Master of Horse.”
On Saturday, April 4, I drank tea with Johnson at Dr. Taylor's, where he had dined. He entertained us with an account of a tragedy written by a Dr. Kennedy (not the Lisbon physician). The catastrophe of it (said he) was that a king, who was jealous of his Queen with his prime-minister, castrated himself.* This tragedy was actually shown about in manuscript to several people, and amongst others, to Mr. Fitzherbert, who repeated to me two lines of the Prologue :
“Our hero's fate we have but gently touch'd ;
The fair might blame us, if it were less couched." It is hardly to be believed what absurd and indecent images men will introduce into their writings, without being sensible of the absurdity and indecency. I remember Lord Orrery told me that there was a pamphlet written against Sir Robert Walpole, the whole of which was an allegory on the PHALLICK OBSCENITY. The Duchess of Buckingham asked Lord Orrery who this person was ? He answered he did not know. She said she would send to Mr. Pulteney, who, she supposed, could inform her. So then, to prevent her from making herself ridiculous, Lord Orrery sent her Grace a note, in which he gave her to understand what was meant."
He was very silent this evening; and read in a variety of books : suddenly throwing down one, and taking up another.
He talked of going to Streatham that night.
TAYLOR: “You'll be robbed, if you do: or you must shoot a highwayman. Now I would rather be
• The reverse of the story of Combabus, on which Mr. David Hume told Lord Macartney that a friend of his had written a tragedy. It B, however, possible that I may have been inaccurate in my perception of what Dr. Johnson related, and that he may have been talking of the same ludicrous tragical subject that Mr. Hume had mentioned. [The story of Combabus, which was originally
From an engraving by S. Freeman after a picture by M. Chamberlin told by Lucian, may be found in Bayle's Dictionary. M.]
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (6. 1706, d. 1790)
robbed than do that ; I would not shoot a highwayman.” JOHNSON : “But I would rather shoot him in the instant when he is attempting to rob me, than afterwards swear against him at the Old Bailey, to take away his life, after he has robbed me. I am surer I am right in the one case, than in the other. I may be mistaken as to the man when I swear : I cannot be mistaken if I shoot him in the act. Besides, we feel less reluctance to take away a man's life, when we are heated by the injury, than to do it at a distance of time by an oath, after we have cooled.” BoswELL: So, Sir, you would rather act from the motive of private passion than that of public advantage.” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, when I shoot the highwayman, I act from both." BOSWELL : “Very well, very well.—There is no catching him.” JOHNSON : “At the same time, one does not know what to say. For perhaps one may, a year after, hang himself from uneasiness for having shot a highwayman.* Few minds are fit to be trusted with so great a thing.”
Boswell : “ Then, Sir, you would not shoot him.” JOHNSON : “But I might be vexed afterwards for that too."
Thrale's carriage not having come for him as he expected, I accompanied him some part of the way home to his own house. I told him that I had talked of him to Mr. Dunning a few days before, and had said that in his company we did not so much interchange conversation, as listen to him ; and that Dunning observed, upon this, “ One is always willing to listen to Dr. Johnson ; ” to which I answered, “ That is a great deal from you, Sir.”—“ Yes, Sir (said Johnson), a great deal indeed. Here is a man willing to listen, to whom the world is listening all the rest of the year. BOSWELL : “I think, Sir, it is right to tell one man of such a handsome thing, whicl: has been said of him by another. It tends to increase benevolence." JOHNSON “Undoubtedly it is right, Sir."
On Tuesday, April 7, I breakfasted with him at his house. He said, “ nobody was content." I mentioned to him a respectable persont in Scotland whom he knew and I asserted that I really believed he was always content. JOHNSON :
No, Sir he is not content with the present; he has always some new scheme, some new plantation, something which is future. You know he was not content as a widower for he married again.” BOSWELL : “But he is not restless.” JOHNSON : “Sir he is only locally at rest. chemist is locally at rest ; but his mind is hard at work This gentleman has done with external exertions. It is too late for him to engage is distant projects.” BOSWELL : “ He seems to amuse himself quite well ; to hav his attention fixed, and his tranquillity preserved by very small matters. I hav tried this, but it would not do with me." JOHNSON (laughing): “No, Sir ; i must be born with a man to be contented to take up with little things. Wome have a great advantage that they may take up with little things, without disgracin themselves; a man cannot, except with fiddling. Had I learnt to fiddle, I shoul have done nothing else.” BOSWELL : “ Pray, Sir, did you ever play on any musica instrument ? ” JOHNSON : “No, Sir. I once bought me a flageolet ; but I neve
* The late Duke of Montrose was generally said to have been uneasy on that account; but I c contradict the report from his Grace's own authority. As he used to admit me to very easy conversati with him, I took the liberty to introduce the subject. His Grace told me that, when riding one nigh near London, he was attacked by two highwaymen on horseback, and that he instantly shot one of the upon which the other galloped off ; that his servant, who was very well mounted, proposed to purs him and take him, but that his Grace said, No, we have had blood enough: I hope the man mi live to repent.” His Grace, upon my presuming to put the question, assured me that his mind w not at all clouded by what he had thus done in self-defence.
† [Lord Auchinleck, Mr. Boswell's father.-Croker.]
HOW TO DEAL WITH ROBBERS
made out a tune.” BOSWELL : “A flageolet, Sir !—so small an instrument ? * I should have liked to hear you play on the violoncello. That should have been your instrument.” JOHNSON : “Sir, I might as well have played on the violoncello as another; but I should have done nothing else. No, Sir; a man would never undertake great things, could he be amused with small. I once tried knotting. Dempster's sister undertook to teach me; but I could not learn it.” BOSWELL: 'So, Sir; it will be related in pompous narrative, 'Once for his amusement he tried knotting ; nor did this Hercules disdain the distaff.'” JOHNSON: “ Knitting of stockings is a good amusement. As a freeman of Aberdeen I should be a knitter of stockings.' He asked me to go down with him and dine at Mr. Thrale's at Streatham, to which I agreed. I had lent him “ An Account of Scotland in 1702," written by a man of various inquiry, an English Chaplain to a regiment stationed there. JOHNSON : “It is sad stuff, Sir, miserably written, as books in general then were. There is now an elegance of style universally diffused. No man now writes so
From an engraving ill as Martin's 'Account of the Hebrides' is written. A man could not write so ill, SAMUEL CLARKE, D.D. (b. 1675, d. 1729) if he should try. Set a merchant's clerk whose sermons Dr. Johnson highly commended. now to write, and he'll do better."
He talked to me with serious concern of a certain female friend's “laxity of narration, and inattention to truth.”_"I am as much vexed (said he) at the ease with which she hears it mentioned to her, as at the thing itself. I told her, “Madam, you are contented to hear every day said to you what the highest of mankind have died for, rather than bear.'—You know, Sir, the highest of mankind have died rather than bear to be told they had uttered a falsehood. Do talk to her of it: I am weary.” BOSWELL : “Was not Dr. John Campbell a very inaccurate man in his narrative,
He once told me that he drank thirteen bottles of port at a sitting.” † JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, I do not know that Campbell ever lied with pen and ink;
When I told this to Miss Seward, she smiled, and repeated with admirable readiness, from“ Acis and Galatea,"
“ Bring me a hundred reeds of ample growth,
To make a pipe for my CAPACIOUS MOUTH." Lord Macartney observes upon this passage, “I have heard him tell many things, which, though embellished by their mode of narrative, had their foundation in truth; but I never remember any thing approaching to this. If he had written it, I should have supposed some wag had put the figure of one telore the three."-I am, however, absolutely certain that Dr. Campbell told me it, and I gave particular attention to it, being myself a lover of wine, and therefore curious to hear whatever is remarkable concerning drinking. There can be no doubt that some men can drink, without suffering any injury, such a quantity as to others appears incredible. It is but fair to add that Dr. Campbell told me he took a very long time to this great potation; and I have heard Dr. Johnson say, “Sir, if a man drinks very slowly, and lets one glass evaporate before he takes another, I know not how long he may drink.” Dr. Campbell mentioned a Colonel of Militia who sat with him all the time, and drank equally.
but you could not entirely depend on any thing that he told you in conversation, if there was fact mixed with it. However, I loved Campbell : he was a solid orthodox man : he had a reverence for religion. Though defective in practice, he was religious in principle ; and he did nothing grossly wrong that I have heard.” *
I told him that I had been present the day before when Mrs. Montagu, the literary lady, sat to Miss Reynolds for her picture ; and that she said, “she had bound up Mr. Gibbon's ‘History' without the last two offensive chapters ; for that she thought the book so far good, as it gave, in an elegant manner, the substance of the bad writers medii avi, which the late Lord Lyttelton advised her to read." JOHNSON : “Sir, she has not read them : she shows none of this impetuosity to me: she does not know Greek, and, I fancy, knows little Latin. She is willing you should think she knows them ; but she does not say she does.” BOSWELL: “Mr. Harris, who was present, agreed with her.” JOHNSON : “ Harris was laughing at her, Sir. Harris is a sound sullen scholar ; he does not like interlopers. Harris, however, is a prig, and a bad prig.† I looked into his book, and thought he did not understand his own system." BOSWELL : “He says plain things in a formal and abstract way, to be sure ; but his method is good : for to have clear notions upon any subject, we must have recourse to analytic arrangement.” JOHNSON : "Sir, it is what everybody does, whether they will or no. But sometimes things may be made darker by definition. I. see a cow. I define her, Animal quadrupes ruminans cornutum. But a goat ruminates, and a cow may have no horns. Cow is plainer. BOSWELL: “ I think Dr. Franklin's definition of Man a good one-'A tool-making animal.' JOHNSON : “ But many a man never made a tool : and suppose a man without arms, he could not make a tool.”
Talking of drinking wine, he said, "I did not leave off wine, because I could not bear it! I have drunk three bottles of port without being the worse for it. University College has witnessed this.” BOSWELL: “Why then, Sir, did you leave it off ? " JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, because it is so much better for a man to be sure that he is never to be intoxicated, never to lose the power over himself. I shall not begin to drink wine till I grow old and want it.” BOSWELL : “I think, Sir, you once said to me that not to drink wine was a great deduction from life.” JOHNSON : “ It is a diminution of pleasure, to be sure : but I do not say a diminution of happiness. There is more happiness in being rational.” BOSWELL : “But if we could have pleasure always, should not we be happy? The greatest part of men would compound for pleasure.” JOHNSON : “Supposing we could have pleasure always, an intellectual man would not compound for it. The greatest part of men would compound, because the greatest part of men are gross.” BOSWELL: “I allow there may be greater pleasure than from wine. I have had more pleasure from your conversation. I have indeed ; I assure you I have.” Johnson: “When we talk of pleasure, we mean sensual pleasure. When a man says he had pleasure with a woman, he does not mean conversation, but something of a very different nature. Philosophers tell you that pleasure is contrary to happiness. Gross men prefer animal pleasure. So there are men who have preferred living among savages. Now what a wretch must he be, who is content with such conversation as can be had
* [Dr. John Campbell died about two years before this conversation took place ; Dec. 10, 1776. 11]
+ What my friend meant by these words concerning the amiable philosopher of Salisbury, I am at a loss to understand. A friend suggests that Johnson thought his manner as a writer affected, while at the same time the matter did not compensate for that fault. In short, that he meant to make a remark quite different from that which a celebrated gentleman made on a very eminent physician : is a coxcomb, but a satisfactory coxcomb."
[The celebrated gentleman here alluded to was the late Right Honourable William Gerard Hamilton, M.]
among savages! You may remember an officer at Fort Augustus, who had served in America, told us of a woman whom they were obliged to bind, in order to get her back from savage life.” BOSWELL: “She must have been an animal, a beast.” JOHNSON : “She was a speaking cat."
I mentioned to him that I had become very weary in a company where I heard not a single intellectual sentence, except that “a man who had been settled ten years in Minorca was become a much inferior man to what he was in London, because a man's mind grows narrow in a narrow place.” JOHNSON : “A man's mind grows narrow in a narrow place, whose mind is enlarged only because he has lived in a large place : but what is got by books and thinking is preserved in a narrow place as well as in a large place. A man cannot know modes of life as well in Minorca as in London ; but he may study mathematics as well in Minorca.” BOSWELL: “I don't know, Sir : if you had remained ten years in the Isle of Col, you would not have been the man you now are.' JOHNSON : “ Yes, Sir, if I had been there from fifteen to twenty-five ; but if not from twenty-five to thirty-five.” BOSWELL: “I own, Sir, the spirits which I have in London make me do everything with more Teadiness and vigour. I can talk twice as much in London as anywhere else.”
Of Goldsmith, he said, “ He was not an agreeable companion, for he talked always for fame. A man who does so, never can be pleasing. The man who talks to unburthen his mind is the man to delight you. An eminent friend* of ours is not so agreeable as the variety of his knowledge would otherwise make him, because he talks partly from ostentation.”
Soon after our arrival at Thrale's, I heard one of the maids calling eagerly on another to go to Dr. Johnson. I wondered what this could mean. I afterwards learnt that it was to give her a Bible, which he had brought from London as a present to her.
He was for a considerable time occupied in reading, “ Mémoires de Fontenelle,' leaning and swinging upon the low gate into the court, without his hat.
I looked into Lord Kaimes's “Sketches of the History of Man;" and mentioned to Dr. Johnson his censure of Charles the Fifth, for celebrating his funeral obsequies in his lifetime, which, I told him, I had been used to think a solemn and affecting act. Johnsox : “Why, Sir, a man may dispose his mind to think so of that act of Charles ; but it is so liable to ridicule, that if one man out of ten thousand laughs at it, he'll make the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine laugh too.” I could not agree with him in this.
Sir John Pringle had expressed a wish that I would ask Dr. Johnson's opinion what were the best English sermons for style. I took an opportunity to-day of mentioning several to him. Atterbury?"
Atterbury ? ” JOHNSON: “ Yes, Sir, one of the best.” BOSWELL: “Tillotson?” JOHNSON: “Why, not now. I should not advise a preacher at this day to imitate Tillotson's style ; though I don't know; I should be cautious of objecting to what has been applauded by so many suffrages.—South is one of the best, if you except his peculiarities, and his violence, and sometimes coarseness of language.-Seed has a very fine style ; but he is not very theological. jortin's sermons are very elegant.—Sherlock's style too is very elegant, though he has not made it his principal study.-And you may add Smallridge. All the latter preachers have a good style. Indeed, nobody now talks much of style : everybody composes pretty well. There are no such inharmonious periods as there were a hundred years ago. I should recommend Dr. Clarke's sermons, were he orthodox.