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On Sunday, March 23, I breakfasted with Dr.
Johnson, who seemed much relieved, having taken Ætat. 74.
opium the night before. . He however protested against it, as a remedy that should be given with the utmost reluctance, and only in extreme necessity. I mentioned how commonly it was used in Turkey, and that therefore it could not be so pernicious as he apprehended. He grew warm, and said, “ Turks take opium, and Christians take opium ; but Russel, in his account of Aleppo, tells us, that it is as disgraceful in Turkey to take too much opium, as it is with us to get drunk. Sir, it is amazing how things are exaggerated. A gentleman was lately telling in a company where I was present, that in France as soon as a man of fashion marries, he takes an opera girl into keeping; and this he mentioned as a general custom. • Pray, Sir, (said 1,) how many opera girls may there be?" He answered, “ About fourscore.' Well then, Sir, (said I,) you see there can be no more than fourscore men of fashion who can do this."
Mrs. Desmoulins made tea; and she and I talked before him upon a topick which he had once borne patiently from me when we were by ourselves,-his not complaining of the world, because he was not called to some great office, nor had attained to great wealth. He flew into a violent passion, I confess with some justice, and commanded us to have done,
Nobody, (said he) has a right to talk in this manner, to bring before a man his own character, and the events of his life, when he does not choose it should 1783. be done. I never have sought the world; the world
blasted the generous feelings of Loyalty. And now, when by the benignant effect of time the present Royal Family are established in our affections, how unwise is it to revive by celebrations the memory of a shock, which it would surely have been better that our constitution had not required.
Ætat. 74. was not to seek me. It is rather wonderful that so much has been done for me. All the complaints which are made of the world are unjust. I never knew a man of merit neglected: it was generally by his own fault that he failed of success. A man may hide his head in a hole: he may go into the country, and publish a book now and then, which nobody reads, and then complain he is neglected. There is no reason why any person should exert himself for a man who has written a good book: he has not written it for any
individua.. I may as well make a present to the postman who brings me a letter. When patronage was limited, an authour expected to find a Mæcenas, and complained if he did not find one. Why should he complain? This Mæcenas has others as good as he, or others who have got the start of him.” Boswell. “But surely, Sir, you will allow that there are men of merit at the bar, who never get practice." JOHNSON. “Sir, you are sure that practice is got from an opinion that the person employed deserves it best; so that if a man of merit at the bar does not get practice, it is from errour, not from injustice. He is not neglected. A horse that is brought to market may not be bought, though he is a very good horse: but that is from ignorance, not from intention."
There was in this discourse much novelty, ingenuity, and discrimination, such as is seldom to be found. Yet I cannot help thinking that men of merit, who have no success in life, may be forgiven for lamenting, 'if they are not allowed to complain. They may consider it as hard that their merit should not have its suitable distinction. Though there is
1783. no intentional injustice towards them on the part of
the world, their merit not having been perceived, Etat. 74.
they may yet repine against fortune, or fate, or by whatever name they choose to call the supposed mythological power of Destiny. It has, however, occurred to me, as a consolatory thought, that men of merit should consider thus:--How much harder would it be, if the same persons had both all the merit and all the prosperity. Would not this be a miserable distribution for the poor dunces? Would men of merit exchange their intellectual superiority, and the enjoyments arising from it, for external distinction .and the pleasures of wealth? If they would not, let them not envy others, who are poor where they are rich, a compensation which is made to them. Let them look inwards and be satisfied; recollecting with conscious pride what Virgil finely says of the Corycius Senex, and which I have, in another place," with truth and sincerity applied to Mr. Burke:
« Regum æquabat opes animis.”
On the subject of the right employment of wealth, Johnson observed, “A man cannot make a bad use of his money, so far as regards Society, if he do not hoard it; for if he either spends it or lends it out, Society has the benefit. It is in general better to spend money than to give it away; for industry is more promoted by spending money than by giving it away. A man who spends his money is sure he is doing good with it: he is not so sure when he gives it away. A man who spends ten thousand a year will do more good than a man who spends two thou- 1783. sand and gives away eight.”
7 Letter to the People of Scotland against the Attempt to diminish the Number of the Lords of Session, 1785.
Ætat. 74. In the evening I came to him again. He was somewhat fretful from his illness. A gentleman asked him whether he had been abroad to-day. “ Don't talk so childishly, (said he.) You may as well ask if I hanged myself to-day.” I mentioned politicks. Johnson. Sir, I'd as soon have a man to break my bones as talk to me of public affairs, internal or external. I have lived to see things all as bad as they can be.”
Having mentioned his friend, the second Lord Southwell, he said, “ Lord Southwell was the highest-bred man without insolence, that I ever was in company with; the most qualitied I ever saw. Lord Orrery was not dignified; Lord Chesterfield was, but he was insolent.
*** is a man of coarse manners, but a man of abilities and information. I don't say he is a man I would set at the head of a nation, though perhaps he may be as good as the next Prime Minister that comes; but he is a man to be at the head of a Club;--I don't say our CLUB ;--for there's no such Club.” BOSWELL, « But, Sir, was he not once a factious man?” Johnson. “O yes, Sir; as factious a fellow as could be found: one who was for sinking us all into the mob.” Boswell. “ How then, Sir, did he get into favour with the King?" JOHNSON.“ Because, Sir, I suppose he promised the King to do whatever the King pleased."
He said, “ Goldsmith's blundering speech to Lord Shelburne, which has been so often mentioned, and which he really did make to him, was only a blunder in emphasis:- I wonder they should cal
1783. your Lordship Malagrida, for Malagrida was a very Ætat. 74. good man ;'-meant, I wonder they should use
Malagrida as a term of reproach.
Soon after this time I had an opportunity of seeing, by means of one of his friends, a proof that his talents, as well as his obliging service to authours, were ready as ever. He had revised “ The Village,” an admirable poem, by the Reverend Mr. Crabbe. Its sentiments as to the false notions of rustick happiness and rustick virtue, were quite congenial with his own; and he had taken the trouble not only to suggest slight corrections and variations, but to furnish some lines, when he thought he could give the writer's meaning better than in the words of the manuscript.
8 I shall give an instance, marking the original by Roman, and Johnson's substitution in Italick characters :
“ In fairer scenes, where peaceful pleasures spring,
But charmed by him, or sinitten with his views,
Shall modern poets court the Mantuan muse? “ From Truth and Nature shall we widely stray, " Where Fancy leads, or Virgil led the way?"
" On Mincio's banks, in Cæsar's bounteous reign,
If Tityrus found the golden age again,
Here we find Johnson's poetical and critical powers undiminished. I must, however, observe, that the aids he gave to this poem, as to “ The 'Traveller" and " Deserted Village" of Gold: smith, were so small as by no means to impair the distinguishing merit of the authour.