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degree of infidelity; but that I was come now to a better way of thinking, and was fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian reve. lation, though I was not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox. Being at all times a curious examiner of the human mind, and pleased with an undisguised display of what had passed in it, he called to me with warmth, “ Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.” He then began to descant upon the force of testimony, and the little we could know of final causes ; so that the objections of, why was it so? or why was it not so ? ought not to disturb us : adding, that he himself had at one period been guilty of a temporary neglect of religion, but that it was not the result of argument, but mere absence of thought.
After having given credit to reports of his bigotry, I was agreeably surprized when he expressed the following very liberal sentiment, which has the additional value of obviating an objection to our holy religion, founded upon the discordant tenets of Christians them. selves: "For my part, Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and rather political than religious.”
We talked of belief in ghosts. He said, “Sir, I make a distinction between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his imagination, and what imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose I should think that I saw a form, and heard a voice cry Johnson, you are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be punished;' my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that I might imagine I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not believe that an external communication had been made to me. But if a form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact with all its circumstances should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me."
Here it is proper, once for all, to give a true and fair statement of Johnson's way of thinking upon the question whether departed spirits are ever permitted to appear in this world, or in any way to operate upon human life. He has been ignorantly misrepresented as weakly credulous upon that subject; and therefore, though I feel an inclination to disdain and treat with silent contempt so absurd a notion concerning my illustrious friend, yet as I find it has gained ground, it is necessary to refute it. The real fact then is, that Johnson had a very philosophical mind, and such a rational respect for testimony, as to make him submit his understanding to what
was authentically proved, though he could not comprehend why it was so. Being thus disposed, he was willing to inquire into the truth of any relation of supernatural agency, a general belief of which has prevailed in all nations and ages. But so far was he from being the dupe of implicit faith, that he examined the matter with a jealous attention, and no man was more ready to refute its falsehood when he had discovered it. Churchill, in his poem entitled “ The Ghost,” availed himself of the absurd credulity imputed to Johnson, and drew a caricature of him under the name of “ PomPoso,” representing him as one of the believers of the story of a Ghost in Cock-lane, which in the year 1762 had gained very general credit in London. Many of my readers, I am convinced, are to this hour under an impression that Johnson was thus foolishly deceived. It will therefore surprize them a good deal when they are informed upon undoubted authority, that Johnson was one of those by whom the imposture was detected. The story had become so popular, that he thought it should be investigated ; and in this research he was assisted by the Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Carlisle, the great detecter of impostures, who informs me, that after the gentlemen who went and examined into the evidence were satisfied of its falsity,' Johnson wrote in their presence an account of it, which was published in the newspapers and Gentleman's Magazine, and undeceived the world."
The account was as follows : “On the night of the ist of February, many gentlemen, eminent for their rank and character, were, by the invitation of the Reverend Mr. Aldrich, of Clerkenwell, assembled at his house, for the examination of the noises supposed to be made by a departed spirit, for the detection of some enormous crime.
“ About ten at night the gentlemen met in the chamber in which the girl supposed to be disturbed by a spirit, kad, with proper caution, been put to bed by several ladies. They sat rather more than an hour, and hearing nothing, went down stairs, when they interrogated the father of the girl, who denied, in the strongest terms, any knowledge or belief of fraud.
“The supposed spirit had before publickly promised, by an affirmative knock, that it would attend one of the gentlemen into the vault under the church of St. John, Clerkenwell, where the body is deposited, and give a token of her presence there, by a knock upon her coffin; it was therefore determined to make this trial of the exist. ence or veracity of the supposed spirit.
“While they were enquiring and deliberating, they were summoned into the girl's chamber by some ladies who were near her bed, and who had heard knocks and scratches. When the gentlemen entered, the girl declared that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back, and was required to hold her hands out of bed. From that time, though the spirit was very solemnly required to manifest its existence by appearance, by impression on the hand or body of any present, by scratches, knocks, or any other agency, no evidence of any preter-natural power was exhibited.
“The spirit was then very seriously advertised that the person to whom the
It was in connection with this busi. ness that Foote proposed bringing him on the stage, but was deterred by
Johnson's announcement that he would
Our conversation proceeded. “Sir, (said he) I am a friend to subordination, as most conducive to the happiness of society. There is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed."
“ Dr. Goldsmith is one of the first men we now have as an authour, and he is a very worthy man too. He has been loose in his principles, but he is coming right.”
I mentioned Mallet's tragedy of ELVIRA, which had been acted the preceding winter at Drury-lane, and that the Honourable Andrew Erskine, Mr. Dempster, and myself, had joined in writing a pamphlet, entitled “Critical Strictures ” against it. That the mildness of Dempster's disposition had, however, relented; and he had candidly said, “ We have hardly a right to abuse this tragedy; for, bad as it is, how vain should either of us be to write one not near so good.” JOHNSON. “Why no, Sir; this is not just reasoning. You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.”
When I talked to him of the paternal estate to which I was heir, he said, “Sir, let me tell you, that to be a Scotch landlord, where you have a number of families dependent upon you, and attached to you, is, perhaps, as high a situation as humanity can arrive at. А promise was made of striking the coffin, was then about to visit the vault, and that the performance of the promise was then claimed. The company at one o'clock went into the church, and the gentleman to whom the promise was made, went with another into the vault. The spirit was solemnly required to perform its promise, but nothing more than silence ensued : the person supposed to be accused by the spirit, then went down with several others, but no effect was perceived. Upon their return they examined the girl, but could draw no confession from her. Between two and three she desired and was permitted to go home with her father.
“It is, therefore, the opinion of the whole assembly, that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause."
* The Critical Review, in which Mallet himself sometimes wrote, characterised this pamphlet as “the crude efforts of envy, petulance, and self-conceit.” There being thus three epithets, we the three authours had a humourous contention how each should be appropriated."
Member for the Fife boroughs, a who dives for handkerchiefs, not for gold, man of mark in the House, and intro- and contents himself with what he finds duced by Burns into one of his poems. in our great-coat pocket without attempt.
? The present editor possesses a copy ing our watch. He has introduced a of this very scarce pamphlet. Almost rebellion unparalleled in any history. every scene in the play, it said, was an The Prince enters an apartment of the interview. All the thoughts were poor, palace with a drawn sword. This forms and even these were stolen. “ Dryden à rebellion. The king enters the same said that Ben Jonson was everywhere to apartment without a drawn sword. This be traced in the snow of the ancients : quashes the rebellion. The good man we may say that Mallock everywhere lets his rebellious subjects out of prison to be traced in the puddle of the moderns. to chat with them.” From this speci. Instead of beauties he has picked out men it will be seen that the volume was what is despicable, like a pickpocket lively enough.
merchant upon the 'Change of London, with a hundred thousand pounds, is nothing: an English duke, with an immense fortune, is nothing: he has no tenants who consider themselves as under his patriarchal care, and who will follow him to the field upon any emergency."
His notion of the dignity of a Scotch landlord had been formed upon what he had heard of the Highland Chiefs; for it is long since a lowland landlord has been so curtailed in his feudal authority, that he has little more influence over his tenants than an English landlord; and of late years most of the Highland Chiefs have destroyed, by means too well known, the princely power which they once enjoyed.
He proceeded : “Your going abroad, Sir, and breaking off idle habits, may be of great importance to you. I would go where there are courts and learned men. There is a good deal of Spain that has not been perambulated. I would have you go thither. A man of inferiour talents to yours may furnish us with useful observations upon that country." His supposing me, at that period of life, capable of writing an account of my travels that would deserve to be read, elated me not a little.
I appeal to every impartial reader whether this faithful detail of his frankness, complacency, and kindness to a young man, a stranger and a Scotchman, does not refute the unjust opinion of the harshness of his general demeanour. His occasional reproofs of folly, impudence, or impiety, and even the sudden sallies of his constitutional irritability of temper, which have been preserved for the poignancy of their wit, have produced that opinion among those who have not considered that such instances, though collected by Mrs. Piozzi into a small volume, and read over in a few hours, were, in fact, scattered through a long series of years; years, in which his time was chiefly spent in instructing and delighting mankind by his writings and conversation, in acts of piety to God, and good will to men.
I complained to him that I had not yet acquired much knowledge, and asked his advice as to my studies. He said, “Don't talk of study now. I will give you a plan ; but it will require some time to consider of it.” “ It is very good in you, Mr. Johnson,* (I replied) to allow me to be with you thus. Had it been foretold to
* Second Edition.-"Mr. Johnson” omitted.'
Again it must be said that these little alterations are highly characteristic. Boswell, no doubt, when he found the success of his work assured, fancied that
this obsequious mode of address did not
me some years ago that I should pass an evening with the authour of the RAMBLER, how should I have exulted !” What I then expressed was sincerely from my heart. He was satisfied that it was, and cordially answered, “Sir, I am glad we have met. I hope we shall pass many evenings and mornings too, together.” We finished a couple of bottles of port, and sat till between one and two in the morning.'
He wrote this year in the Critical Review the account of “ Telemachus, a Mask,” by the Reverend George Graham, of Eton College. The subject of this beautiful poem was particularly interesting to Johnson, who had much experience of “the conflict of opposite principles," which he describes as, “ The contention between pleasure and virtue, a struggle which will always be continued while the present system of nature shall subsist : nor can history or poetry exhibit more than pleasure triumphing over virtue, and virtue subjugating pleasure.”
As Dr. Oliver Goldsmith will frequently appear in this narrative, I shall endeavour to make my readers in some degree acquainted with his singular character. He was a native of Ireland, and a contemporary with Mr. Burke, at Trinity College, Dublin, but did not then give much promise of future celebrity. He, however, observed to Mr. Malone, that “though he made no great figure in mathematicks, which was a study in much repute there, he could turn an Ode of Horace better than any of them.” He afterwards studied physick at Edinburgh, and upon the Continent; and I have been informed, was enabled to pursue his travels on foot, partly by demanding at Universities to enter the lists as a disputant, by which, according to the custom of many of them, he was entitled to the premium of a crown, when luckily for him his challenge was not accepted; so that, as I once observed to Dr. Johnson, he
Another report of this evening's con. versation will be interesting :-"I had the honor of supping tête-à-tête with Mr. Johnson last night; by-the-bye, I need not have used a French phrase. We sat till between two and three. He took me by the hand cordially and said, *My dear Boswell, I love you very much. Now, Temple, can I help indulging vanity ? Mr. Johnson was in vast good humour, and we had much conversation. I mentioned Fresnoy to him, but he advised me not to follow a plan, and he declared that he himself never followed one above two days. He advised me to read just as inclination prompted me, which alone he said would
do me any good, for I had better go into company than read a set task. Let us study ever so much we must still be ignorant of a good deal. Therefore, the question is, what parts of science do we want to know ? He said, too, that idleness was a distemper which I ought to combat against, and that I should prescribe to myself five hours a day, and in these hours gratify whatever literary desires may spring up. He is to give me his advice as to what books I should take with me from England. I told him that the Rambler' shall accompany me round Europe, and so be a Rambler indeed. He gave me a smile of complacency."---Boswell's Letters, p. 27.