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He revised some sheets of Lord Hailes's “ Annals 1775. of Scotland,” and wrote a few notes on the margin
Ætat. 60. with red ink, which he bade me tell his Lordship did not sink into the paper, and might be wiped off with a wet sponge, so that he did not spoil his manuscript. -I observed to him that there were very few of his friends so accurate as that I could venture to put down in writing what they told me as his sayings, JOHNSON. Why should you write down my sayings ?” Boswell. “ I write them when they are
JOHNSON. “ Nay, you may as well write down the sayings of any one else that are gocd." But where, I might with great propriety have added, can I find such ?
I visited him by appointment in the evening, and we drank tea with Mrs. Williams. He told me that he had been in the company of a gentleman whose extraordinary travels had been much the subject of conversation. But I found he had not listened to him with that full confidence, without which there is little satisfaction in the society of travellers. I was curious to hear what opinion so able a judge as Johnson had formed of his abilities, and I asked if he was not a man of sense. Johnson. “ Why, Sir, he is not a distinct relater ; and I should say, he is neither abounding nor deficient in sense. I did not perceive any superiority of understanding.” Bos66 But will
you not allow him a nobleness of resolution, in penetrating into distant regions ?” JOHNSON. “ That, Sir, is not to the present purpose : We are talking of sense. A fighting cock has a nobleness of resolution."
Next day, Sunday April 2, I dined with him at
1775. Mr. Hoole's. We talked of Pope. Johnson. “ He Sr wrote his · Dunciad' for fame. That was his priÆtat. 66.
mary motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might have railed against him till they were weary, without his troubling himself about them. He delighted to vex them, no doubt; but he had more delight in seeing how well he could vex them.”
The “ Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion,” in ridicule of “ cool Mason and warın Gray,” being mentioned, Johnson said “ They are Colman's best things.” Upon its being observed that it was believed these Odes were made by Colman and Lloyd jointly ;-Johnson. “ Nay, Sir, how can two people make an Ode ? Perhaps one made one of them, and one the other.” I observed that two people had inade a play, and quoted the anecdote of Beaumont and Fletcher, who were brought under suspicion of treason, because while concerting the plan of a tragedy when sitting together at a tavern, one of them was overheard saying to the other. " I'll kill the King." Johnson. “ The first of these Odes is the best; but they are both good. They exposed a very bad kind of writing.” Boswell.“ Surely, Sir, Mr. Mason's - Elfrida' is a fine Poem : at least
will allow there are some good passages in it.” JOHNSON. “ There are now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner.”
I often wondered at his low estiination of the writings of Gray and Mason. Of Gray's poetry I have in a former part of this work, expressed my high opinion; and for that of Mr. Mason I have ever entertained a warm admiration. His “ Elfrida" is exquisite, both in poetical description and moral sentiment; and his " Caractacus" is a noble drama. Nor can I omit paying my tribute of praise to some of his 1775. smaller poems, which I have read with pleasure, and
Ætat. 66. which no criticism shall persuade me not to like. If I wondered at Johnson's not tasting the works of Mason and Gray, still more have I wondered at their not tasting his works : that they should be insensible to his energy of diction, to his splendour of images, and comprehension of thought. Tastes may
differ as to the violin, the flute, the hautboy, in short all the lesser instruments : but who can be insensible to the powerful impressions of the majestick organ
? His “ Taxation no Tyranny” being mentioned, he said, “ I think I have not been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action; I never think I have hit hard, unless it re-bounds.” Boswell.." I don't know, Sir, what you would be at. Five or six shots of small arms in every newspaper, and repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I think, satisfy you. But, Sir, you'll never make out this match, of which we have talked, with a certain political lady, since you are so severe against her principles.” Johnson.
Nay, Sir, I have the better chance for that. She is like the Amazons of old ; she must be courted by the sword. But I have not been severe upon her.” Boswell. “Yes, Sir, you have made her ridiculous.” JOHNSON. “ That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make her ridiculous, is like blacking the chimney."
I put him in mind that the landlord at Ellon in Scotland said, that he heard he was the greatest man in England, -next to Lord Mansfield.
“ Ay, Sir, (said he,) the exception defined the idea. A Scotchman could go no farther :
· The force of Nature could no farther go."
1775. Lady Miller's collection of verses by fashionable
6 people, which were put into her Vase at Batheaston
villa, near Bath, in competition for honorary prizes, being mentioned, he held thein very cheap : Bouts rimés (said he,) is a mere conceit, and an old conceit now; I wonder how people were persuaded to write in that manner for this lady." I named a gentleman of his acquantance who wrote for the Vase. JOHNSON. “ He was a block head for his pains." BosWELL, " The Duchess of Northumberland wrote.” Johnson. “ Sir the Duchess of Northumberland may do what she pleases : nobody will say any thing to a lady of her high rank. But I should be apt to throw ******'s verses in his face.”
I talked of the cheerfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it. Johnson.“ Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance; but I think the full tide of human existence is at Charingcross.”
He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led a busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of their habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned as strong an instance of this as can well be imagined. « An eminent tallow-chandler in London, who had acquired a considerable fortune, gave the trade in favour of his foreman, and went to live at a country-house near town. He soon grew weary, and paid frequent visits to his old shop, where he desired they might let him know their melting-days, and he would come and assist them ; which he accordingly did. Here, Sir, was a man, to whom
the most disgusting circumstances in the business to 1775. which he had been used, was a relief from idlenes.”
On Wednesday, April 5, I dined with him at Messieurs Dilly's, with Mr. John Scott of Amwell, the Quaker, Mr. Langton, Mr. Miller, (now Sir John,) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, an Irish Clergyman, whom I took the liberty of inviting to Mr. Dilly's table, having seen him at Mr. Thrale's, and been told that he had come to England chiefly with a view to see Dr. Johnson, for whom he entertained the highest veneration. He has since published " A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland,” a very entertaining book, which has, however, one fault:that it assumes the fictitious character of an Englishman.
We talked of publick speaking.--Johnson. “We must not estimate a man's powers by his being able or not able to deliver his sentiments in publick. Isaac Hawkins Browne, one of the first wits of this country, got into Parliament, and never opened his mouth. For my own part, I think it is more disgraceful never to try to speak, than to try it, and fail ; as it is more disgraceful not to fight, than to fight and be beaten.“ This argument appeared to me fallacious; for if a man has not spoken, it may be said that he would have done very well if he had tried ; whereas, if he has tried and failed, there is nothing to be said for him. “ Why then, (I asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not to fight, and not disgraceful not to speak in publick?" Johnson. “ Because there may be other reasons for a man's not speaking in publick than want of resolution : he may have nothing to say, (laughing.) Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues ; be