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said I, "I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematics? Do I know law?" JOHNSON. "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." I mentioned, that a gay friend had advised me against being a lawyer, because I should be excelled by plodding blockheads. JOHNSON. "Why, Sir, in the formulary and statutory part of law, a plodding blockhead may excel; but in the ingenious and rational part of it, a plodding blockhead can never excel."
I talked of the mode adopted by some to rise in the world, by courting great men, and asked him whether he had ever submitted to it. JOHNSON.
Why, Sir, I never was near enough to great men, to court them. You may be prudently attached to great men, and yet independent. You are not to do what you think wrong; and, Sir, you are to calculate, and not pay too dear for what you get. You must not give a shilling's worth of court for sixpence worth of good. But if you can get a shilling's worth of good for sixpence worth of court, you are a fool if you do not pay court." He said, "If convents should be allowed at all, they should only be retreats for persons unable to serve the public, or who have served it. It is our first duty to serve society (1), and, after we have
(1) This observation has given offence, as if it seemed to sanction the postponement of the care of our salvation, until
done that, we may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged."
I introduced the subject of second sight, and other mysterious manifestations; the fulfilment of which, I suggested, might happen by chance. JOHNSON. "Yes, Sir, but they have happened so often (') that mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous."
I talked to him a great deal of what I had seen in Corsica, and of my intention to publish an account of it. He encouraged me by saying, "You cannot go to the bottom of the subject; but all that you tell us will be new to us. Give us as many anecdotes as you can."
we should have performed all our duties to society; which would be, in fact, an adjournment sine die. But Dr. Johnson was talking of monastic retirement, and from the context, as well as from his own practice, it is clear that he must have meant, that an entire abstraction from the world, and an exclusive dedication to recluse devotion, was not justifiable, as long as any of our duties to society were unperformed. Bishop Taylor, who will not be suspected of worldliness, has a sentiment not dissimilar: - "If our youth be chaste and temperate, moderate and industrious, proceeding, through a prudent and sober man hood, to a religious old age, then we have lived our whole duration, and shall never die."- Holy Dying, c. i. s. 3. Neither the Bishop nor Dr. Johnson could mean that youth and manhood should not be religious, but that they should not be religious to the exclusion of the social duties of industry, prudence, &c. See post, Aug. 19. 1773, where Johnson quotes from Hesiod, a line which Bishop Taylor had probably in his mind.-C.
(1) The fact seems rather to be, that they have happened so seldom that (however general superstition may be) there does not seem to be on record, in the profane history of the world, one single well-authenticated instance of such a manifestation -not one such instance as could command the full belief of rational men. Although Dr. Johnson generally leaned to the superstitious side of this question, it will be seen that he occasionally took a more rational view of it.-C.
Our next meeting at the Mitre was on Saturday the 15th of February, when I presented to him my old and most intimate friend, the Rev. Mr. Temple (1), then of Cambridge. I having mentioned that I had passed some time with Rousseau in his wild retreat, and having quoted some remark made by Mr. Wilkes, with whom I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy, Johnson said, sarcastically, "It seems, Sir, you have kept very good company abroad, Rousseau and Wilkes!" Thinking it enough to defend one at a time, I said nothing as to my gay friend, but answered with a smile, "My dear Sir, you don't call Rousseau bad company. Do you really think him a bad man?" JOHNSON. "Sir, if you are talking jestingly of this, I don't talk with you. If y f you mean to be serious, I think him one of the worst of men; a rascal, who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him and it is a shame that he is protected in this country." BOSWELL. "I don't deny, Sir, but that his novel (2) may, perhaps, do harm ; but I cannot think his intention was bad." JOHN"Sir, that will not do. We cannot prove any man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head, and say you intended to miss him;
(1) [Boswell had formed an intimacy with this gentleman at the University of Glasgow. Temple's sketch of Gray's character, adopted both by Mason and Johnson, has transmitted his name to posterity. For some particulars of his preferment and works, see Mitford's "Gray," p. liv. — MarkLAND.]
(2) "La Nouvelle Héloïse," published in 1761.-C.
but the judge will order you to be hanged. An alleged want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be allowed in a court of justice. Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a sen tence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in the plantations." Boswell. "Sir, do you think him as bad JOHNSON. 66
a man as Voltaire? Why, Sir, it is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them."
This violence seemed very strange to me, who had read many of Rousseau's animated writings with great pleasure, and even edification; had been much pleased with his society, and was just come from the continent, where he was very generally admired. Nor can I yet allow that he deserves the very severe censure which Johnson pronounced upon him. His absurd preference of savage to civilised life, and other singularities, are proofs rather of a defect in his understanding, than of any depravity in his heart. (1) And notwithstanding the unfavourable opinion which many worthy men have expressed of his Profession de Foi du Vicaire Savoyard," I cannot help admiring it as the performance of a man full of sincere reverential submission to Divine Mystery, though beset with perplexing doubts: a
(1) The "Confessions" of this miserable man had not been at this time published. If we are to admit Mr. Boswell's distinction between the understanding and the heart, it would seem that his judgment on this point should be reversed, for Rousseau's understanding was sound enough when the folly and turpitude of his heart did not disorder it.-C.
state of mind to be viewed with pity rather than with anger.
On his favourite subject of subordination, Johnson said, "So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.” (1)
I mentioned the advice given us by philosophers, to console ourselves, when distressed or embarrassed, by thinking of those who are in a worse situation than ourselves. This, I observed, could not apply to all, for there must be some who have nobody worse than they are. JOHNSON. "Why, to be sure, Sir, there are; but they don't know it. There is no being so poor and so contemptible, who does not think there is somebody still poorer, and still more contemptible."
As my stay in London at this time was very short, I had not many opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for him in no degree lessened, by my having seen multorum hominum mores et urbes. (2) On the contrary, by having it in my power to compare him with many of the most celebrated persons of other countries, my admir
(1) No mistake was ever greater, in terms or in substance, than that which affirms the natural equality of mankind. Men, on the contrary, are born so very unequal in capacities and powers, mental and corporeal, that it requires laws and the institutions of civil society to bring them to a state of moral equality. Social equality—that is, equality in property, power, rank, and respect- if it were miraculously established, could not maintain itself a week. - C.
(2) [See the opening lines of the Odyssey:
"Wandering from clime to clime, observant stray'd,
Their manners noted, and their states survey'd. POPE."}