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WHEN Mr. Beauclerk was ill, Johnson informed Boswell that, though he was in great pain, it was hoped he was not in danger; and that he now wished to consult Dr. Heberden, to try the effect of a understanding."
A physician being mentioned who had lost his practice, because his whimsically changing his religion had made people distrustful of him, Boswell maintained that this was unreasonable, as religion is unconnected with medical skill. JOHNSON.“ Sir, it is not unreasonable ; for when people see a man absurd in what they understand, they may conclude the same of him in what they do not understand. If a physician were to take to eating of horse-flesh, nobody would employ him; though one may eat horse-flesh, and be a very skilful physician. If a man were educated in an absurd religion, his continuing to profess it would not hurt him, though his changing to it would.”
Dr. Taylor commended a physician who was known to him and Dr. Johnson, and said, " I fight many battles for him, as many people in the country dislike him." JOHNSON. “But you should consider, sir, that by every one of your victories he is a loser; for every man of whom you get the better, will be very angry, and resolve not to employ him; whereas, if people get the better of you in argument about him, they'll think, 'We'll send for Dr. ***** never
This was an observation deep and sure in human nature.
Johnson mentioned Dr. Barry's System of Physic. “ He was a man,” said he, “ who had acquired a high reputation in Dublin, came over to England, and brought his reputation with him, but had not great success. His notion was, that pulsation occasions death by attrition; and that, therefore, the way to preserve life is to retard pulsation. But we know, that pulsation is strongest in infants, and that we increase in growth while it operates in its regular course; so it cannot be the cause of destruction.” Soon after this, he said something very flattering to Mrs. Thrale, which concluded with wishing her long life. “ Sir," said Boswell, “ if Dr. Barry's System be true, you have now shortened Mrs. Thrale's life, perhaps, some minutes, by accelerating her pulsation.”
We fell into a disquisition, whether there is any beauty independent of utility. General Paoli maintained there was not ; Dr. Johnson, that there was ; and he instanced a coffee-cup, which he held in his hand, the painting of which was of no real use, as the cup would hold the coffee equally well if plain; yet the painting was beautiful.
The following conversation passed between several eminent men who had been dining together.
F. “ I have been looking at this famous antique
marble dog of Mr. Jennings, valued at a thousand guineas, said to be Alcibiades's dog."
JOHNSON. “ His tail then must be docked. That was the mark of Alcibiades's dog."
E. “ A thousand guineas ! The representation of no animal whatever is worth so much. At this rate a dog would be better than a living lion."
JOHNSON. “ Sir, it is not the worth of the thing, but of the skill in forming it, which is so highly estimated. Every thing that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shows man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable. The first man who balanced a straw upon his pose ; Johnson, who rode upon three horses at a time; in-short, all such men, deserved the applause of mankind, not on account of the use of what they did, but of the dexterity they exhibited.” Boswell. "
Yet, a misapplication of time and assiduity is not to be encouraged. Addison, in one of his Spectators, commends the judgment of a king, who, as a suitable reward to a man that by long perseverance had attained to the art of throwing a barley-corn through the eye of a needle, gave him a bushel of barley.”
JOHNSON. “ He must have been a king of Scot. land, where barley is scarce.”
F. “ One of the most antique figures of an animal is the boar at Florence."
JOHNSON. “ The first boar that is well made in marble should be preserved as a wonder. When men arrive at a facility of making boars well, then the workmanship is not of such value; but they should however be preserved as examples, and as a greater
security for the restoration of the art, should it be lost."
Being in company with Gwyn the architect, Johnson expressed his disapprobation of ornamental architecture, such as magnificent columns supporting a portico, or expensive pilasters supporting merely their own capitals, “ because it consumes labour disproportionate to its utility.” For the same reason he satirised statuary. “ Painting," said he,
consumes labour not disproportionate to its effect; but a fellow will hack half a year at a block of marble to make something in stone that hardly resembles a man. The value of statuary is owing to its difficulty. You would not value the finest head cut upon a carrot.” The spirit of the artist rose against what he thought a Gothic attack, and he made a brisk defence. “ What, sir, you will allow no value to beauty in architecture or in statuary? Why should we allow it then in writing ? Why do you take the trouble to give us so many fine allusions, and bright images, and elegant phrases ? You might convey all your instruction without these ornaments." Johnson smiled with complacency, but said, “Why, sir, all these ornaments are useful, because they obtain an easier reception for truth; but a building is not at all more convenient for being decorated with superfluous carved work."
Talking of Mr. Barry's exhibition of his pictures. JOHNSON. “Whatever the hand may have done, the mind has done its part. There is a grasp of mind there, which you find no where else."
He thought portrait-painting an improper employment for a woman. “ Public practice of any
art,” he observed, “ and staring in men's faces, is very indelicate in a female.”
After having talked slightingly of music, he was observed to listen very attentively while Miss Thrale played on the harpsichord, and with eagerness he called to her, “ Why don't you dash away like Burney ?" Dr. Burney, upon this, said to him, “ I believe, sir, we shall make a musician of you at last.'
Johnson, with candid complacency, re
Sir, I shall be glad to have a new sense given to me."
Boswell spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man, and, in particular, an eminent Grecian. JOHNSON. “I am not sure of that. His friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his friends are able to judge of it." GOLDSMITH. “ He is what is much better : he is a worthy humane man.” Johnson. “ Nay, sir, that is not to the purpose of our argument : that will as much prove that he can play upon the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian.” GOLDSMITH. “ The greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above seven hundred a year.” JOHN
“ That is indeed but little for a man to get, who does best that which so many endeavour to do. There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much as in playing on the fiddle : in all other things we can do something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one ; but give him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing."