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TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ. AT MR. ROTHWELL'S, 1767. * PERFUMER, IN NEW BOND-STREET, LONDON.
Ætat, 58. DEAR SIR,
" That you have been all summer in London is one more reason for which I regret my long stay in the country. I hope that you will not leave the town before my return. We have here
We have here only the chance of vacancies, in the passing carriages, and I have bespoken one that may, if it happens, bring me to town on the fourteenth of this month : but this is not certain
“ It will be a favour if you communicate this to Mrs. Williams : I long to see all my
friends. “ I am, dear Sir,
6 Your most humble servant, “ Litchfield, Oct. 10, 1767.
" SAM. JOHNSON.”'
from his notes of the state of his mind, 1768. that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in Etat. 59. 1768. Nothing of his writing was given to the publick this year, except the Prologue* to his friend, Goldsmith's comedy of “ The Good-natured Man.” The first lines of this Prologue are strongly characteristical of the dismal gloom of his mind; which in his case, as in the case of all who are distressed with the same malady of imagination, transfers to others its own feelings. Who could suppose it was to introduce a comedy, when Mr. Bensley solemnly began,
mind “ Surveys the general toil of human kind.”
66 Press'd with the load of life, the
9 Prayers and Meditations, p. 81,
1768. In the spring of this year, having published my
“ Account of Corsica, with the Journal of a Tour to Etat. 59.
that Island," I returned to London, very desirous to see Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject. I found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now Vinerian Professor, and lived in New Inn Hall. Having had no letter from him since that in which he criticised the Latinity of my Thesis, and having been told by somebody that he was offended at my having put into my book an extract of his letter to me at Paris, I was impatient to be with him, and therefore followed him to Oxford, where I was entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility which I shall ever gratefully remember. I found that Dr. Johnson had sent a letter to me to Scotland, and that I had nothing to complain of but his being more indifferent to my anxiety than I wished him to be. Instead of giving, with the circumstances of time and place, such fragments of his conversation as I preserved during this visit to Oxford, I shall throw them together in continuation.
I asked him whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty. Johnson. “Why no, Sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to a judge.” BOSWELL. “ But what do you think of supporting a cause which you know to be bad ?” Johnson. “ Sir, you do not know it to be good or bad till the judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing, a cause to be bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak and inconclu
but to say
sive. But, Sir, that is not enough. An argument 1768. which does not convince yourself, may convince the road
Atat. 59. Judge to whom you urge it: and if it does convince him, why, then, Sir, you are wrong, and he is right. It is his business to judge; and you are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad,
you can for your client, and then hear the Judge's opinion.” Boswell. “ But; Sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion, does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the intercourse with his friends ?" Johnson, “ Why no, Sir. Every body knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your clients and it is, therefore, properly no dissiinulation: the moment you come from the bar you resume your usual be haviour. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he should walk on his feet.”
Talking of some of the modern plays, he said, “ False Delicacy” was totally void of character. He praised Goldsmith's “Good-natured Man;" said, it was the best comedy, that had appeared since “The Provoked Husband,” and that there had not been of late any such character exhibited on the stage as that of Croaker. I observed it was the Suspirius of his Rambler. He said, Goldsmith had owned he had borrowed it from thence. “Sir, (continued he) there is all the difference in the world between characters of nature and characters of manners; and VOL. II.
1768. there is the difference between the characters of Ætat. 59. Fielding and those of Richardson. Characters of
manners are very entertaining ; but they are to be understood, by a more superficial observer, than characters of nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human heart."
It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding. In comparing those two writers, he used this expression; “ that there was as great a difference between them as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate.” This was a short and figurative state of his distinction between drawing characters of nature and characters only of manners. But I cannot help being of opinion, that the neat watches of Fielding are as well constructed as the large clocks of Richardson, and that his dial-plates are brighter. Fielding's characters, though they do not expand themselves so widely in dissertation, are as just pictures of human nature, and I will venture to say, have more striking features, and nicer touches of the pencil ; and though Johnson used to quote with approbation a saying of Richardson's, “ that the virtues of Fielding's heroes were the vices of a truly good man," I will venture to add, that the moral tendency of Fielding's writings, though it does not encourage a strained and rarely possible virtue, is ever favourable to honour and honesty, and cherishes the benevolent and generous affections. He who is as good as Fielding would make him, is an amiable member of society, and may be led on by more regulated instructors, to a higher state of ethical perfection.
Johnson proceeded; “ Even Sir Francis Wrong-, 1768. head is a character of manners, though drawn with
Ætat. 59 great humour.” He then repeated, very happily, all Sir Francis's credulous account to Manly of his being with “ the great man,” and securing a place. I asked him, if “ The Suspicious Husband" did not furnish a well-drawn character, that of Ranger. JOHNSON : “ No, Sir ; Ranger is a jus: rake, a mere rake, and a lively young fellow, but no character."
The great Douglas Cause was at this time a very general subject of discussion. I found he had not studied it with much attention, but had only heard parts of it occasionally. He, however, talked of it, and said, “I am of opinion that positive proof of fraud should not be required of the plaintiff, but that the Judges should decide according as probability shall appear to preponderate, granting to the defendant the presumption of filiation to be strong in his fa
And I think too, that a good deal of weight should be allowed to the dying declarations, because they were spontaneous. There is a great difference between what is said without our being urged to it, and what is said from a kind of compulsion. If I praise a man's book without being asked my opinion of it, that is honest praise, to which one may trust. But if an authour asks me if I like his book, and I give him something like praise, it must not be taken as my real opinion.”
“ I have not been troubled for a long time with authours desiring my opinion of their works. 1 used once to be sadly plagued with a man who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse, but that it consisted of ten syllables. Lay