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no man would choose lead over again the life which he had experienced. Johnson acceded to that opinion in the strongest terms.
This is an
his strong pencil delineated. This I am sure, the colouring is far too gloomy for what I have experienced, though, as far as I can remember, I have had more sickness (I do not say more severe, but only more in quantity), than falls to the lot of most people. But then daily debility and occasional sickness were far overbalanced by intervenient days, and, perhaps, weeks void of pain, and overflowing with comfort. So that, in short, tu return to the subject, human life, as far as I can perceive from experience or observation, is not that state of constant wretchedness which Johnson always insisted it was, which misrepresentation (for such it surely is) his biographer has not corrected, I suppose, because, unhappily, he has himself a large portion of melancholy in his constitution, and fancied the portrait a faithful copy of life.''
The learned writer then proceeds thus in his letter to me:
I have conversed with some sensible men on this subject, who all seem to entertain the same sentiments respecting life with those which are expressed or implied in the foregoing paragraph. It might be added, that as the representation here spoken of, appears not consistent with fact and experience, so neither does it seem to be countenanced by Scripture. There is, perhaps, no part of the sacred volume which at first sight promises so much to lend its sanction to these dark and desponding notions as the book of Ecclesiastes, which so often, and so emphatically, proclaims the vanity of things sublunary. But the design of this whole book (as it has been justly observed) is not to put us out of conceit with life, but to cure our vain expectations of a complete and perfect happiness in this world to convince us that there is no such thing to be found in mere external enjoyments, and to teach us to seek for happiness in the practice of virtue, in the knowledge and love of God, and in the hopes of a better life. For this is the application of all, Let us hear, &c., xii. 13. Not only his duty, but his happiness too, For God, &c., v.14.--See Sherlock on Providence,' p. 299.
“The New Testament tells us, indeed, and most truly, that`sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; and, therefore, wisely forbids us to increase our burden by forebodings of sorrows; but I think it nowhere says that even our ordinary afflictions are not consistent with a very considerable degree of positive comfort and satisfaction. And, accordingly, one whose sufferings as well as merits were conspicuous, assures us, that in proportion 'as the sufferings of Christ abounded in them, so their consolation also abounded by CHRIST.' 2 Cor. i. 5. It is needless to cite, as indeed it would be endless even to refer to, the multitude of passages, in both Testaments, holding out, in the strongest language, promises of blessings, even in this world, to the faithful servant of God. I will only refer to St. Luke xviii. 29, 30, and 1 Tim. iv. 8.
“Upon the whole, setting aside instances of great and lasting bodily pain, of minds peculiarly oppressed by melancholy, and of severe temporal calamities, from which extraordinary cases we surely should not form our estimate of the general tenor and complexion of life; excluding these from the account, I am convinced that as well the gracious .constitution of things which Providence has ordained, as the declarations of Scripture and the actual experience of individuals, authorize the sincere Christian to hope that his humble and constant endeavours to perform his duty, chequered as the best life is with anany failings, will be crowned with a greater degree of present peace, serenity, and comfort, than he could reasonably permit himself to cxpect, if he measured his views and judged of life from the opinion of Dr. Johnson, often and energetically expressed in the Memoirs of him, without any animadversion or censure by his ingenious biographer. If he himself, upon reviewing the subject, shall see the matter in this light, he will, in an octavo edition, which is eagerly expected, make such additional marks or corrections as he shall judge fit, lest the impressions which these discouraging passages may leave on the reader's mind, should in any degree hinder what otherwise the whole spirit and energy of the work tends, and, I hope, successfully, to promote,-pure morality and true religion."
Though I have, in some degree, obviated any reflections against my illustrious friend's dark views of life, when considering, in the course of this work, his Rambler" and bis “Rasselas," I am obliged to Mr. Churton for complying with my request of his permission to insert his remarks, being conscious of the weight of what be judiciously suggests
inquiry often made ; end its being a subject of disquisition is a proof that much misery presses upon human feelings; for those who are conscious of a felicity of existence, would never hesitate to accept of a repeti. tion of it. I have met with very few who would. I have heard Mr. Burke make use of a very ingenious and plausible argument on this subject: “Every man,” said he, “would lead his life over again : for every man is willing to go on and take an addition to his life, which, as he grows older, he has no reason to think will be better, or even so good, as what has preceded." I imagine, however, the truth is, that there is a deceitful hope that the next part of life will be free from the pains, and anxieties, and sorrows, which we have already felt. We are, for wise purposes,
“condemned to hope's delusive mine," as Johnson finely says; and I may also quote the celebrated lines of Dryden, equally philosophi cal and poetical :
“When I consider li e, 'tis all a cheat,
What the first sprightly running could not give.” It was observed to Dr. Johnson, that it seemed strange that he, who has so often delighted his company by his lively and brilliant conversation, should say he was miserable. JOHNSON : “ Alas! it is all outside ; I may be cracking my joke, and cursing the sun : Sun, how I hate thy beams !” I knew not well what to think of this declaration ; whether to as to the melancholy in my own constitution. His more pleasing views of life, I hope are just,—“Valeant, quantum valere possunt."
Mr. Churton concludes his letter to me in these words :-“Once, and only once, I had the satisfaction of seeing your illustrious friend; and as I feel a particular regard for all whom he distinguished with his esteem and friendship, so I derive much pleasure from reflecting that I once beheld, though but transiently, near our college gate, one whose works will for ever delight and improve the world, who was a sincere and zealous son of the Church of England, an honour to his country, and an ornament to human nature."
His letter was accompanied with a present from himself of his “Sermons at the Bampton Lecture," and from his friend, Dr. Townson, the venerable Rector of Malpas, in Cheshire, of his “Discourses on the Gospels,” together with the following extract of a letter from that excellent person, who is now gone to receive the reward of his labours :“Mr. Boswell is not only very entertaining in his works, but they are so replete with moral and religious sentiments, without an instance, as far as I know, of a contrary tendency, that I cannot help having a great esteem for him; and if you think such a trife as a copy of the Discourses, ex dono authoris, would be acceptable to him, I should be happy to give him this small testimony of my regard."
Such spontaneous testimonies of approbation from such men, without any personal acquaintance with me, are truly valuable and encouraging.–Boswell.
1“ Aurengzebe," Act iv. Sc. 1.-BOSWELL,
hold it as a genuine picture of his mind, or as the effect of his persuading himself contrary to the fact that the position which he had assumed as to human unhappiness was true. We may apply to him a sentence in Mr. Greville’s “Maxims, Characters, and Reflections ;” a book which is entitled to much more praise than it has received : ARISTARCHUS is charming ; how full of knowledge, of sense, of sentiment. You get him with difficulty to your supper; and after having delighted everybody and himself for a few hours, he is obliged to return home ;-he is finishing his treatise, to prove that unhappiness is the portion of man.”
On Sunday, June 13, our philosopher was calm at breakfast. There was something exceedingly pleasing in our leading a College life, without restraint, and with superior elegance, in consequence of our living in the Master's house, and having the company of ladies. Mrs. Kennicot related, in his presence, a lively saying of Dr. Johnson to Miss Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet, who had written “Paradise Lost,” should write such poor Sonnets :-“ Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a colossus from a rock, but could not carve heads upon cherry stones.
We talked of the casuistical question, whether it was allowable at any time to depart from Truth ? JOHNSON : “The general rule is, that truth should never be violated, because it is of the utmost importance to the comfort of life, that we should have a full security by mutual faith ; and occasional inconveniences should be willingly suffered, that we may preserve it. There must, however, be some exceptions. If, for instance, a murderer should ask you which way a man is gone, you may tell him what is not true, because you are under a previous obligation not to betray a man to a murderer.” BOSWELL: Supposing the person who wrote Junius were asked whether he was the author, might he deny it ?” JOHNSON : “I don't know what to say to this. If you were sure that he wrote Junius, would you, if he denied it, think as well of him afterwards? Yet it may be urged, that what a man has no right to ask, you may refuse to communicate ; and there is no other effectual mode of preserving a secret and an important secret, the discovery of which may be
very hurtful to you, but a flat denial; for if you are silent, or hesitate, or evade, it will be held equivalent to a confession.. But stay, Sir, here is another case. Supposing the author had told me confidentially that he had written Junius, and I were asked if he had, I should hold myselt at liberty to deny it, as being under a previous promise, express or ime plied, to conceal it. Now what I ought to do for the author, may I not do for myself? But I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man, for fear of alarming him. You have no business with consequences ; you are to tell the truth. Besides, you are not sure what effect your telling
1 Yet there is no doubt that a man may appear very gay in company who is sad at heart. His merriment is like the sound of drums and trumpets in a battle, to drown the groans of the wounded and dying.–BC8WET.L.
him that he is in danger may have. It may bring his distemper to a crisis, and that may cure him. Of all lying, I have the greatest abhorrence of this, because I believe it has been frequently practised on myself.”
I cannot help thinking that there is much weight in the opinion of those who have held, that truth, as an eternal and immutable principle, ought, upon no account whatever, to be violated, from supposed previous or superior obligations, of which every man being to judge for himself, there is great danger that we too often, from partial motives, persuade ourselves that they exist; and probably, whatever extraordinary instances may sometimes occur, where some evil may be prevented by violating this noble principle, it would be found that human happiness would, upon the whole, be more perfect, were truth universally preserved.
In the notes to “The Dunciad,” we find the following verses, addressed to Pope':
“While malice, Pope, denies thy page
Its own celestial fire ;
Admiring, wont admire :
And envious tongues decry;
These times bewail not I.
And spleen no more shall blame :
In one establish'd fame !
Devote a wreath to thee;
Shall I lament to sen."
Miss Seward, knowing Dr. Johnson's almost universal and minute literary information, signified a desire that I should ask him who was the author. He was prompt with his answer :-“Why, Sir, they were written by one Lewis, who was either under-master or an usher of Westminster school, and published a Miscellany, in which “Grongar Hill" first came out."? Johnson praised them highly, and repeated them with a noble animation. In the twelfth line, instead of “one establish'd fame, 'he repeated “one unclouded flame,” which he thought was the reading in former editions : but I believe was a flash of his own genius. It is much more poetical than the other.
1 The annotator cails them“ amiable verses "-Boswell.
2 Lewis's Verses addressed to Pope (as Mr. Bindley suggests to me), were first pubjished in a collection of pieces in verse and prose on occasion of “The Dunciad," 8vo. 1732. They are there called an Epigram. Grongar Hill," the same gentleinan observes, was first printed in Savage's Miscellanies, as an õde (it is singular that Johnson should not have recollected this), and was re-printed in the same year (1726), in Lewis's Miscel. lany, in the form it now bears.
In that Miscellany, as the Rev. Mr. Blakeway observes to me, “the beautiful poem, * Away, let nought to love displeasing' &c. (re-printed in Percy's Reliques,' vol. i. b. iii. No. 14), first appeared."
On Monday, June 14, and Tuesday, 15th, Dr. Johnson and I dined (on one of them, I forget which) with Mr. Mickle, translator of “The Lusiad,” at Wheatley,--a very pretty country place a few miles from Oxford ; and on the other with Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College. From Dr. Wetherell's he went to visit Mr. Sackville Parker, the bookseller ; and when he returned to us he gave the following account of his visit, saying, “I have been to see my old friend, Sack. Parker ; I find he has married his maid ; he has done right. She had lived with him many years in great confidence, and they had mingled minds; I do not think he could have found any wife that would have made him so happy. The woman was very attentive and civil to me ; she pressed me to fix a day for dining with them, and to say what I liked, and she would be sure to get it for me. Poor Sack! he is very ill indeed.1 We parted as never to meet again. It has quite broken me down." This pathetic narrative was strangely diversified with the grave and earnest defence of a man's having married his maid. I could not but feel it as in some degree ludicrous.
In the morning of Tuesday, June 15, while we sat at Dr. Adams's, we talked of a printed letter from the Rev. Herbert Croft, to a young gentleman who had been his pupil, in which he advised him to read to the end of whatever books he should begin to read. JOHNSON : “ This
Lewis was author of “ Philip of Macedon," a tragedy, published in 1727, and dedi. cated to Pope; and in 1730 he published a second volume of miscellaneous poems.
As Dr. Johnson settled in London not long after the verses addressed to Pope first appeared, he probably then obtained some information concerning their author, David Lewis, whom he has described as an usher of Westminster school; yet the Dean o. Westminster, who has been pleased at my request to make some inquiry on this subject, has not found any vestige of his having ever been employed in this situation. A late writer (“ Environs of London," iv. 171), supposed that the following inscription in the churchyard of the church of Low Leyton, in Essex, was intended to commemorate this poet:
“Sacred to the memory of David Lewis, Esq., who died the 8th day of April, 1760, aged 77 years; a great favourite of the Muses, as his many excellent pieces in poetry sufficiently testify.
Inspired verse may on this marble live,
But can no honour to thy ashes give.' Also Mary, the wife of the above-named David Lewis, fourth daughter of Newdigate Owsley, Esq., who departed this life the 10th of October, 1774, aged 90 years."
But it appears to me improbable that this monument was erected for the author of the Verses to Pope, and of the tragedy already mentioned; the language both of the dedication prefixed to that piece, and of the dedication addressed to the Earl of Shaftesbury, and prefixed to the Miscellanies, 1730, denoting a person who moved in a lower sphere than this Essex squire seems to have done.-MALONB.
1 He died at Oxford in his 89th year, Dec. 10, 1796.-Malone.