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W TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, Feb. 26, 1778. " Why I have delayed, for near a month, to thank you for your last affectionate letter, I cannot say; for my mind has been in better health these three weeks than for some years past. I believe I have evaded till I could send you a copy of Lord Hailes's opinion on the negro's cause, which he wishes you to read, and correct any errours that there may be in the language; for, (says he,) 'we live in a critical, though not a learned age; and I seek to screen myself under the shield of Ajax. I communicated to him your apology for keeping the sheets of his · Annals' so long. He says, 'I am sorry to see that Dr. Johnson is in a state of languor. Why should a sober Christian, neither an enthusiast nor a fanatick, be very merry or very sad?” I
I envy his Lordship’s comfortable constitution; but well do I know that languor and dejection will afflict the best, however excellent their principles. I am in possession of Lord Hailes's opinion in his own hand-writing, and have had it for some time. My excuse then for procrastination must be, that I wanted to have it copied; and I have now put that off so long, that it will be better to bring it with me than send it, as I shall probably get you to look at it sooner, when I solicit
person. “My wife, who is, I thank God, a good deal better, is much obliged to you for your very polite and courteous offer of your apartment: but, if she goes to London, it will be best for her to have lodgings in the more airy vicinity of Hyde-Park. I, however, doubt much if I shall be able to prevail with her to accompany me to the metropolis; for she is so different from you and me, that she dislikes travelling; and she is so anxious about her children, that she thinks she should be un
happy if at a distance from them. She therefore wishes rather to go to some country place in Scotland, where she can have them with her.
“ I purpose being in London about the 20th of next month, as I think it creditable to appear in the House of Lords as one of Douglas's Counsel, in the great and last competition between Duke Hamilton and him.
“I am sorry poor Mrs. Williams is so ill: though her temper is unpleasant, she has always been polite and obliging to me. I wish many happy years to good Mr. Levett, who I suppose holds his usual place at your breakfast-table.2
“I ever am, my dear Sir,
“ JAMES BOSWELL."
TO THE SAME.
MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, Feb. 28, 1778. “ You are at present busy amongst the English poets, preparing, for the public instruction and entertainment, Prefaces biographical and critical. It will not, therefore, be out of season to appeal to you for the decision of a controversy which has arisen between a lady and me concerning a passage in Parnell. That poet tells us, that his Hermit quitted his cell
to know the world by sight,
(For yet by swains alone the world he knew,
2 Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, humorously obseryed, that Levett used to breakfast on the crust of a roll, which Johnson, after tearing out the crumb for himself, threw to his humble friend.
[Perhaps the word threw is here too strong. Dr. Johnson never treated Levett with contempt; it is clear indeed from various circum
I maintain, that there is an inconsistency here; for as the Hermit's notions of the world were formed from the reports both of books and swains, he could not justly be said to know by swains alone. Be pleased to judge between us, and let us have your reasons.)
“ What do you say to · Taxation no Tyranny, now, after Lord North's declaration, or confession, or whatever else his conciliatory speech should be called ? I never differed from you in politicks but upon two points, -the Middlesex Election, and the Taxation of the Americans by the British Houses of Representatives. There is a charm in the word Parliament, so I avoid it. As I am a steady and a warm Tory, I regret that the King does not see it to be better for him to receive constitutional supplies from his American subjects by the voice of their own assemblies, where his Royal Person is represented, than through the medium of his British subjects. I am persuaded that the power of the Crown, which I wish to increase, would be greater when in contact with all its dominions, than if, “ the rays of regal bounty'4 were to shine' upon America, through that dense and troubled body, a modern British Parliament. But, enough of this subject; for your angry voice at Ashbourne upon it, still sounds aweful * in my mind's ears.'
“I ever am, my dear Sir,
“ JAMES BOSWELL."
stances, that he had great kindness for him. I have often seen Johnson at breakfast, accompanied, or rather attended, by Levett, who had always the management of the tea-kettle. MALONE.]
3 [See this subject discussed in a subsequent page, under May 3, 1779. Malone.]
* Alluding to a line in his “ Vanity of Human Wishes," describing Cardinal Wolsey in a state of elevation :
* Through him the rays of regal bounty shine."
TO THE SAME.
6 MY DEAR SIR,
“ Edinburgh, March 12, 1778. “ THE alarm of your late illness distressed me but a few hours; for on the evening of the day that it reached me, I found it contradicted in - The London Chronicle, which I could depend upon as authentick concerning you, Mr. Strahan being the printer of it. I did not see the paper in which the approaching extinction of a bright luminary' was announced. Sir William Forbes told me of it; and he says he saw me so uneasy, that he did not give me the report in such strong terms as he read it. He afterwards sent me a letter from Mr. Langton to him, which relieved me much. I am, however, not quite easy, as I have not heard from you; and now I shall not have that comfort before I see you, for I set out for London to-morrow before the post comes in. I hope to be with you on Wednesday morning: and I ever am, with the highest veneration.
“ My dear Sir, your most obliged,
" JAMES BOSWELL."
On Wednesday, March 18, I arrived in London, and was informed by good Mr. Francis, that his master was better, and was gone to Mr. Thrale’s at Streatham, to which place I wrote to him, begging to know when he would be in town. He was not expected for some time; but next day, having called on Dr. Taylor, in Dean'syard, Westminster, I found him there, and was told he had come to town for a few hours.
He met me with his usual kindness, but instantly returned to the writing of something on which he was employed when I came in, 'and on which he seemed much intent. Finding him thus engaged, I made my visit very short,
and had no more of his conversation, except his expressing a serious regret that a friend of ours was living at too much expence, considering how poor an appearance he made : “ If (said he) a man has splendour from his expence, if he spends his money in pride or in pleasure, he has value ; but if he lets others spend it for him, which is most commonly the case, he has no advantage from it.”
On Friday, March 20, I found him at his own house, sitting with Mrs. Williams, and was informed that the room formerly allotted to me was now appropriated to a charitable purpose ; Mrs. Desmoulins, and I think her daughter, and a Miss Carmichael, being all lodged in it. Such was his humanity, and such his generosity, that Mrs. Desmoulins herself told me, he allowed her halfa-guinea a week. Let it be remembered, that this was above a twelfth part of his pension.
His liberality, indeed, was at all periods of his life very remarkable. Mr. Howard, of Lichfield, at whose father's house Johnson had in his early years been kindly received, told me, that when he was a boy at the Charter-house, his father wrote to him to go and pay a visit to Mr. Samuel Johnson, which he accordingly did, and found him in an upper room, of poor appearance. Johnson received him with much courteousness, and talked a great deal to him, as to a schoolboy, of the course of his education, and other particulars. When he afterwards came to know and understand the high character of this great man, he recollected his condescension with wonder. He added, that when he was going away, Mr. Johnson presented him with half-aguinea ; and this, said Mr. Howard, was at a time when he probably had not another.
s Daughter of Dr. Swinfen, Johnson's godfather, and widow of Mr. Desmoulins, a writing-master.