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We talked of the education of children; and I asked him what he thought was best to teach them first. Johnson. “ Sir, it is no matter what you teach them first, any more than what leg you shall put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the mean time
breech is bare. Sir, while you are considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt them both.”
On Thursday, July 28., we again supped in private at the Turk's Head coffee-house. JOHNSON. “ Swift has a higher reputation than he deserves. cellence is strong sense ; for, his humour though very well, is not remarkably good. I doubt whether the Tale of a Tub'be his ; for he never owned it, and it is much above his usual manner.(1)
“ Thomson, I think, had as much of the poet about him as most writers. Every thing appeared to him through the medium of his favourite pursuit. He could not have viewed those two candles burning but with a poetical eye.” “ Has not
(?) a great deal of wit, Sir?”. Johnson. “ I do not think so, Sir. He is, indeed, continually attempting wit, but he fails. And I
(1) This opinion was given by him more at large at a subsequent period. See post, Aug. 16. 1773. — B. How could Johnson doubt that Swift was the author of the Tale of a Tub, when, as he himself relates in his Life of Swift, “No other claimants can be produced ; and when Archbishop Sharpe and the Duchess of Somerset, by showing it to Queen Anne, debarred Swift of a bishoprick, he did not deny it?" We have, moreover, Swift's own acknowledgment of it, in his letter to Ben. Tooke the printer, June 29. 1710. — C.
(2) There is no doubt that this blank must be filled with the name of Mr. Burke. See post, Aug. 15. and Sept. 15. 1773, and April 25. 1778. - C.
have no more pleasure in hearing a man attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it.”
He laughed heartily when I mentioned to him a saying of his concerning Mr. Thomas Sheridan, which Foote took a wicked pleasure to circulate. “ Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an access of stupidity, Sir, is not in Nature.”. “ So," said be, " I allowed him all his own merit."
He now added, “ Sheridan cannot bear me. I bring his declamation to a point. I ask him a plain question, . What do you mean to teach ?' Besides, Sir, what influence can Mr. Sheridan have upon the language of this great country, by his narrow exertions ? Sir, it is burning a farthing candle at Dover, to show light at Calais.”
Talking of a young man (1) 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 know any thing perfectly, the general mass of knowledge that he has acquired is considerable. Time will do for him all that is wanting."
The conversation then took a philosophical turn. Johnson. “Human experience, which is constantly contradicting theory, is the great test of truth. A
(1) (No doubt Boswell hiinself.]
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
system, built upon the discoveries of a great many minds, is always of more strength, than what is produced by the mere workings of any one mind, which, of itself, can do little. There is not so poor a book in the world that would not be a prodigious effort were it wrought out entirely by a single mind, without the aid of prior investigators. The French writers are superficial, because they are not scholars, and so proceed upon the mere power of their own minds; and we see how very little
power they have.” “ As to the Christian religion, Sir, besides the strong evidence which we have for it, there is a balance in its favour from the number of great men who have been convinced of its truth, after a serious consideration of the question. Grotius was an acute man, a lawyer, a man accustomed to examine evidence, and he was convinced. Grotius was not a recluse, but a man of the world, who certainly had no bias to the side of religion. Sir Isaac Newton set out an infidel, and came to be a very firm believer.” (1)
He this evening again recommended to me to
(1) Where, the Bishop of Ferns asks, did Johnson learn this? It is true that Dr. Horsley declined publishing some papers on religious subjects which Newton left behind him some have suspected that they were tainted with Unitarianism; others (probably from a consideration of his work on the Revelations) believed that they were in a strain of mysticism not (in the opinion of his friends) worthy of so great a genius; and the recent publication of his two letters to Locke, in a style of infantine simplicity (see Lord King's Life of Locke), gives additional colour to this latter opinion : but for Johnson's assertion that he set out an infidel, there appears no authority, and all the inferences are the other way. — C.
perambulate Spain. (1) I said it would amuse him to get a letter from me dated at Salamanca. Joan
“ I love the university of Salamanca; for when the Spaniards were in doubt as to the lawfulness of their conquering America, the university of Salamanca gave it as their opinion that it was not lawful.” He spoke this with great emotion, and with that generous warmth which dictated the lines in his “ London,” against Spanish encroachment. (2)
I expressed my opinion of my friend Derrick as but a poor
writer. JOHNSON. 66 To be sure, Sir, he is : but you are to consider that his being a literary man has got for him all that he has. It has made him King of Bath. (3) Sir, he has nothing to say for himself but that he is a writer. Had he not been a writer, he must have been sweeping the crossings in the streets, and asking halfpence from every body that passed.”
In justice, however, to the memory of Mr. Derrick, who was my first tutor in the ways of London, and shewed me the town in all its variety of departments, both literary and sportive, the particulars of which Dr. Johnson advised me to put in writing, it is proper to mention what Johnson, at a subsequent
(1) I fully intended to have followed advice of such weight; but having staid much longer both in Germany and Italy than I proposed to do, and having also visited Corsica, I found that I had exceeded the time allowed me by my father, and hastened to France in my way homewards. — B. (2) [“ Has Heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore ?
No peaceful desert yet unclaim'd by Spaiu ?" (3) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 136.]
period, said of him both as a writer and an editor : " Sir, I have often said, that if Derrick's letters had been written by one of a more established name, they would have been thought very pretty letters.” And, “I sent Derrick to Dryden's relations to gather materials for his life ; and I believe he got all that I myself should have got." (1)
Poor Derrick ! I remember him with kindness. Yet I cannot withhold from my readers a pleasant humorous sally which could not have hurt him had he been alive, and now is perfectly harmless. In his collection of poems, there is one upon entering the harbour of Dublin, his native city, after a long absence. It begins thus :
“ Eblana! much loved city, hail!
Where first I saw the light of day.” And after a solemn reflection on his being bered with forgotten dead,” there is the following stanza :
“ Unless my lines protract my fame,
And those, who chance to read them, cry,
In yonder tomb his ashes lie: which was thus happily parodied by Mr. John Home, to whom we owe the beautiful and pathetic tragedy of “ Douglas :"
“ Unless my deeds protract my fame
And he who passes sadly sings,
On yonder tree his carcase swings !”
(1) [See post, Aug. 27. and Sept. 22. 1773.]