페이지 이미지

raised, as if he had been culpably injurious to the merit of that bard, and had been actuated by envy. Alas ! ye little short-sighted critics, could Johnson be envious of the talents of any of his contemporaries ? That his opinion on this subject was what in private and in public he uniformly expressed, regardless of what others might think, we may wonder, and perhaps regret; but it is shallow and unjust to charge him with expressing what he did not think.

Finding him in a placid humour, and wishing to avail myself of the opportunity which I fortunately had of consulting a sage, to hear whose wisdom, I conceived, in the ardour of youthful imagination, that men filled with a noble enthusiasm for intellectual improvement would gladly have resorted from distant lands ;-I opened my mind to him ingenuously, and gave him a little sketch of my life, to which he was pleased to listen with great attention.

I acknowledged, that though educated very strictly in the principles of religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain 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 revelation, 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 objec


tions 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 neg. lect 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 surprised 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 themselves :- “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


• 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 foolish 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 6. 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,

(1) (As I suppose you read the newspapers, you will see mention of the ghost; but, without you were here upon the spot, gou could never conceive that the most bungling performance of the silliest imposture could take up the attention and conI am convinced, are to this hour under an impression that Johnson was thus foolishly deceived. It will therefore surprise them a good deal when they are informed upon undoubted authority, that Johnson was one of those by whom the imposture was detected. (1) The story had become so popular, that he thought it should be investigated ; and in this research he was assisted by the Rev. Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury, 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. (2)

versation of all the fine world. And as the ways of the beaumonde are always in contradiction to the Gospel, they are determined to show that, though they do not believe in Moses and the prophets, they would believe if one were to come from the dead, though it was only to play tricks like a rat behind a wainscot! You must not, indeed, regret being absent, while this farce is going on. There will be an Elizabeth Canning, or a man in a bottle, or some other folly, for the amusement of this frivolous generation, at all times ! - Mrs. MONTAGUE TO Mrs. ROBINSON, Feb. 26. 1762.]

(1) No rational man doubted that inquiry would lead to detection; men only wondered that Dr. Johnson should so far give countenance to this flimsy imposition as to think a solemn in. quiry necessary.- C.

(2) The account was as follows:- “On the night of the 1st of February, many gentlemen, eminent for their rank and character, were, by the invitation of the Rev. 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 splrit, had, with proper caution, been put to bed by several

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.”

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 publicly 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 existence or veracity of the supposed spirit. While they were inquiring 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 preternatural power was exhibited.—“The spirit was then very seriously advertised, that the person to whom the 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. - BOSWELL.

Mr. Saunders Welch, Johnson's intimate friend, would have dissuaded him from his purpose of visiting the place, urging that it would expose him to ridicule; but all his arguments had no effect. What Mr. Welch foretold, was verified; he was censured for his credulity, his wisdom was arraigned, and his religious opinions resolved into superstition. — Nor was this all : that facetious gentleman, Foote, who had assumed the name of

« 이전계속 »