페이지 이미지


Ætat. 54

men, many women, and many children.” Johnson, at this time, did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a Differtation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr. Fordyce’s having suggested the topick, and said, “ I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains. Sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book, when the authour is concealed behind the door."

He received me very courteously; but, it must be confessed, that his apartment, and furniture, and morning dress, were sufficiently uncouth. His brown suit of cloaths looked very rusty; he had on a little old shrivelled unpowdered wig, which was too small for his head; his shirt-neck and knees of his breeches were loose ; his black worsted stockings ill drawn up; and he had a pair of unbuckled shoes by way of Nippers. But all these Novenly particularities were forgotten the moment that he began to talk. Some gentlemen, whom I do not recollect, were sitting with him; and when they went away, I also rose ; but he said to me, “ Nay, don't go.”-“Sir, (faid I) I am afraid that I intrude upon you. It is benevolent to allow me to sit and hear you.” He seemed pleased with this compliment, which I sincerely paid him, and answered, Sir, I am obliged to any man who visits me.” I have preserved the following fort minute of what passed this day.

“ Madness frequently discovers itself merely by unnecessary deviation from the usual modes of the world. My poor friend Smart shewed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place. Now although, rationally speaking, it is greater madness not to pray at all, than to pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that their understanding is not called in question.”

Concerning this unfortunate poet, Christopher Smart, who was confined in a mad-house, he had, at another time, the following conversation with Dr. Burney. Johnson. " It seems as if his mind had ceased to struggle with the disease; for he grows fat upon it.” Burney. “Perhaps, Sir, that may be from want of exercise.” Johnson. “ No, Sir; he has partly as much exercise as he used to have, for he digs in the garden. Indeed, before his confinement, he used for exercise to walk to the alehouse; but he was carried back again. I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I'd as lief pray with Kit. Smart as any one else. Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen ; and I have no passion for it.”

« Mankind



[ocr errors]

« Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labour ; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.”

“ The morality of an action depends on the motive from which we act. If I Aling half a crown to a beggar with intention to break his head, and he picks it up and buys victuals with it, the physical effect is good; but, with respect to me, the action is very wrong. So, religious exercises, if not performed with an intention to please God, avail us nothing. As our Saviour says of those who perform them from other motives, Verily they have their reward.'

“ The Christian Religion has very strong evidences. It, indeed, appears. in some degree strange to reason; but in History we have undoubted facts, against which, in reasoning à priori, we have more arguments than we have for them ; but then, testimony has great weight, and casts the balance. I would recommend to every man whose faith is yet unsettled, Grotius,-Dr. Pearson,—and Dr. Clark.”

Talking of Garrick, he said, “He is the first man in the world for sprightly conversation."

When I rose a second time he again pressed me to stay, which I did.

He told me, that he generally went abroad at four in the afternoon, and seldom came home till two in the morning. I took the liberty to ask if he did not think it wrong to live thus, and not make more use of his great talents. He owned it was a bad habit. On reviewing, at the distance of many years, my journal of this period, I wonder how, at my first visit, I ventured to talk to him so freely, and that he bore it with so much indulgence.

Before we parted he was so good as to promise to favour me with his company one evening at my lodgings; and, as I took my leave, shook me cordially by the hand. It is almost needless to add, that I felt no little elation at having now so happily established an acquaintance of which I had been so long ambitious.

My readers will, I trust, excuse me for being thus minutely circumstantial, when it is considered that the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson was to me a most valuable acquisition, and laid the foundation of whatever instruction and entertainment they may receive from my collections concerning the great subject. of the work which they are now perusing.

I did not visit him again till Monday, June 13, at which time I recollect no part of his conversation, except that when I told him I had been to see Johnson ride upon three horses, he said, “ Such a man, Sir, should be : encouraged.; for his performances shew the extent of the human powers in.




Ætat. 54•

[ocr errors]

one instance, and thus tend to raise our opinion of the faculties of man. He shews what may be attained by persevering application; so that every man may hope, that by giving as much application, although perhaps he may never ride three horses at a time or dance upon a wire, yet he may be equally expert in whatever profession he has chosen to pursue.

He again fhook me by the hand at parting, and asked me why I did not come oftener to him. Trusting that I was now in his good graces, I answered, that he had not given me much encouragement, and reminded him of the check I had received from him at our first interview. “ Poh, poh! (said he, with a complacent smile,) never mind these things. Come to me as often as you can. I shall be glad to see you.”

I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre tavern in Fleetstreet, where he loved to fit up late, and I begged I might be allowed to pass an evening with him there foon, which he promised I should.

A few days afterwards I met him near Temple-bar, about one o'clock in the morning, and asked if he would then go to the Mitre. “ Sir, (said he) it is too late ; they won't let us in. But I'll go with you another night with all my heart.”

A revolution of some importance in my plan of life had just taken place; for instead of procuring a commission in the foot-guards, which was my own inclination, I had, in compliance with my father's wishes, agreed to study the law, and was soon to set out for Utrecht, to hear the lectures of an excellent Civilian in that University, and then to proceed on my travels. Though very desirous of obtaining Dr. Johnson's advice and instructions on the mode of pursuing my studies, I was at this time fo occupied, shall I call it? or fa dislipated, by the amusements of London, that our next meeting was not till Saturday, June 25, when happening to dine at Clifton's eating-house, in Butcher-row, I was surprized to perceive Johnson come in and take his feat at another table. The mode of dining, or rather being fed at such houses in London, is well known to many to be particularly unsocial, as there is no Ordinary, or united company, but each person has his own mess, and is under no obligation to hold any intercourse with any one. A liberal and full-minded man, however, who loves to talk, will break through this churlish and unsocial restraint. Johnson and an Irish gentleman got into a dispute concerning the cause of some part of mankind being black. Sir, (said Johnson,) it has been accounted for in three ways : either by supposing that they are the posterity of Ham, who was cursed; or that God at first created two kinds of men, one black and another white ; or that by the heat of the fun the skin is scorched, and so acquires a footy hue. This matter has


« Why,

been much canvassed among naturalists, but has never been brought to any 1763. certain issue.” What the Irishman said is totally obliterated from my mind; Ævar. 57. but I remember that he became very warm and intemperate in his exprefsions ; upon which Johnson rose, and quietly walked away. When he had retired, his antagonist took his revenge, as he thought, by saying “ He has a most ungainly figure, and an affectation of pomposity unworthy of a man of genius.”

Johnson had not observed that I was in the room. I followed him, however, and he agreed to meet me in the evening at the Mitre. I called on him, and we went thither at nine. We had a good supper, and port wine, of which he then sometimes drank a bottle. The orthodox high-church found of the Mitre, the figure and manner of the celebrated Samuel Johnson, the extraordinary power and precision of his conversation, and the pride arising from finding myself admitted as his companion, produced a variety of sensations, and a pleasing elevation of mind beyond what I had ever before experienced. I find in my journal the following minute of our conversation, which, though it will give but a very faint notion of what passed, is, in some degree, a valuable record; and it will be curious in this view, as shewing how habitual to his mind were some opinions which appear in his works.

“ Colley Cibber, Sir, was by no means a blockhead; but by arrogating to himself too much, he was in danger of losing that degree of estimation to which he was entitled. His friends gave out that he intended his birth-day Odes should be bad: but that was not the case, Sir; for he kept them many months by him, and a few years before he died he shewed me one of them, with great solicitude to render it as perfect as might be, and I made some corrections, to which he was not very willing to submit. I remember the following couplet in allusion to the King and himself:

· Perch'd on the eagle's soaring wing

The lowly linnet loves to sing.' Sir, he had heard something of the fabulous tale of the wren sitting upon the eagle's wing, and he had applied it to a linnet. Cibber's familiar style, however, was better than that which Whitehead has assumed. Grand nonsense is insupportable. Whitehead is but a little man to infcribe verses to players.”

I did not presume to controvert this censure, which was tinctured with his prejudice against players ; but I could not help thinking that a dramatick poet might with propriety pay a compliment to an eminent performer, as Whitehead has very happily done in his verses to Mr. Garrick.


« Sir,


Ætat. 54.



“ Sir, I do not think Gray a first-rate poet. He has not a bold imagination, nor much command of words. The obscurity in which he has involved him self will not persuade us that he is sublime. His Elegy in a church-yard has a happy selection of images, but I don't like what are called his great things. His Ode which begins

Ruin seize thee, ruthless King,

Confusion on thy banners wait,' has been celebrated for its abruptness, and plunging into the subject all at

But such arts as these have no merit, unless when they are original. We admire them only once; and this abruptness has nothing new in it. We have had it often before. Nay, we have it in the old song of Johnny Armstrong:

« Is there ever a man in all Scotland

• From the highest estate to the lowest degree, &c.' And then, Sir,

· Yes, there is a man in Westmoreland,

· And Johnny Armstrong they do him call." There, now, you plunge at once into the subject. You have no previous narration to lead you to it.-—The two next lines in that Ode are, I think, very good :

Though fann’d by conquest's crimson wing, They mock the air with idle state ?.”

Here let it be observed, that although his opinion of Gray's poetry was widely different from mine, and I believe from that of most men of taste, by whom it is with justice highly admired, there is certainly much absurdity in the clamour which has been raised, as if he had been culpably injurious to the merit of that bard, and had been actuated by envy. Alas! ye little shortsighted criticks, could Johnson be envious of the talents of any of his contemporaries ? That his opinion on this subject was what in private and in publick he uniformly expressed, regardless of what others might think, we may wonder, and perhaps regret; but it is shallow and unjust to charge him with expressing what he did not think.

· My friend Mr. Malone, in his valuable comments on Shakspeare, has traced in that great poet the disjecia membra of these lines.


« 이전계속 »