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JOHNSON said : “ Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labour; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.”
Goldsmith attempting to maintain, from an affectation of paradox, “ that knowledge was not desirable on its own account, for it was often a source. of unhappiness.” JOHNSON.
Why, sir, that knowledge may, in some cases, produce unhappiness, I allow. But, upon the whole, knowledge, per se, is certainly an object which every man would wish to attain, although, perhaps, he way not take the trouble necessary for attaining it.”
Talking of a young man who was uneasy from thinking that he was very deficient in learning and knowledge, he said, “ A man has no reason to complain who holds a middle place, and has many below him; and perhaps he has not six of his years above him; perhaps not one. Though he, may not know any thing perfectly, the general mass of knowledge he has acquired is considerable. Time will do for him all that is wanting.”
Dr. Johnson said onc evening to Boswell : “ You have yow lived five-and-twenty years, and you have employed them well.” BOSWELL. Alas, sir," said he, “ I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematics ? Do I know law ?" JOHN
SON. Why, sir, though you may know no science so well as to be able to teach it, and no profession so well as to be able to follow it, your general mass of knowledge of books and men renders you very capable to make yourself master of any science, or fit yourself for any profession.”
He attacked lord Mouboddo's strange speculation on the primitive state of human nature; observing, “ Sir, it is all conjecture about a thing useless, even were it known to be true. Knowledge of all kinds is good. Conjecture, as to things useful, is good; but conjecture as to what it would be useless to know, such as whether men went upon all four, is very idle.”
He observed, “ All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not. In the same manner, all power, of whatever sort, is of itself desirable. A man would not submit to learn to hem a ruffle, of his wife, or his wife's maid: but if a mere wish could attain it, he would rather wish to be able to hem a ruffle."
He took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be acquired in conversation. “ The foundation," said he, must be laid by reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred people. The parts of a truth, which a man gets thus, are at such a di. stance from each other that he never attains to a full view."
Dr. Johnson advised Boswell to have as many books about him as he could ; that he might read upon any subject upon which he had a desire for instruction at the time. “ What you read then," said he, “ you will remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you have again a desire to study it. If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself: but it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination. Spatches of reading indeed will not make a Bentley or a Clarke: they are, however, in a certain degree, advantageous. I would put a child into a library (where no unfit books are) and let him read at his choice. A child should not be discouraged from reading any thing that he takes a liking to, from a notion that it is above his reach. If that be the case, the child will soon find it out and desist; if not, he of course gains the instruction; which is so much the more likely to come, from the inclination with which he takes up the study."
Boswell asked Johnson, whether a man's being forward to make himself known to eminent people, and seeing as much of life, and getting as much information as he could in every way, was not yet lessening himself by his forwardness. Johnson. “ No, sir ; a man always makes himself greater as he increases his knowledge."
On Boswell's expressing his wonder at his discovering so much of the knowledge peculiar to different professions, he told him, “ I learned what I know of law chiefly from Ballow, a very able man: I learned some too from Chambers; but was not
so teachable then. One is not willing to be taught by a young man.”
When Boswell expressed a wish to know more about Mr. Ballow, Johnson said, “ Sir, I have seen him but once these twenty years. The tide of life has driven us different ways." In fact, whoever quits the creeks of private eonnexions, and fairly gets into the great ocean of London, will, by imperceptible degrees, unavoidably experience such cessations of acquaintance. “ My knowledge of physic,” he added, “ I learned from Dr. James, whom I helped in writing the proposals for his Dictionary, and also a little in the Dictionary itself. I also learned from Dr. Lawrence; but was then grown more stubborn.”
A gentleman maintained, that a general diffusion of knowledge among a people was a disadvantage, for it made the vulgarrise above their humble sphere. Johnson. “ Sir, while knowledge is a distinction, those who are possessed of it will naturally rise above those who are not. Merely to read and write was a distinction at first; but we see, when reading and writing have become general, the com. mon people keep their stations. And so, were higher attainments to become general, the effect would be the same."
On deficiency of knowledge, Johnson observed, " 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 nations, were now one :-and sir Fletcher Norton did not seem to kuow that there were such publications as the Reviews."
JOHNSON and an Irish gentleman got into a dispute concerning the cause of some part of mankind being black. “ Why, sir," said Johnson," it has been accounted for in three ways : either by supposing that they are the posterity of Ham, who was cursed; or that God at first created two kinds of men, one black and another wbite; or that by the heat of the sun the skin is scorched, and so ac. quires a sooty hue. This matter has been much canvassed among naturalists, but has never been brought to any certain issue."
On a very rainy night Boswell made some com. mon-place observations on the relaxation of perves and depression of spirits which such weather occasioned ; * adding, however, that it was good for the vegetable creation. Johnson, who systematically denied that the temperature of the air had any influence on the human frame, answered, with a smile of ridicule, “ Why, yes, sir, it is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals."
At another time, on a very wet day, Boswell again complained of the disagreeable effects of such weather. JOHNSON. “ Sir, this is all imagination,
hnson would suffer none of his friends to fill up chasms in conversation with remarks on the weather. « Let us, not talk of the weather.” Burney.