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« I shall not be in town to-morrow. I don't care to know about Pope.” MRS. THRALE (surprised as I was, and a little angry). “I suppose, Sir, Mr. Boswell thought, that as you are to write Pope's Life, you would wish to know about him." John
“ Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge, I'd hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.” There was no arguing with him at the moment. Some time afterwards he said, “ Lord Marchmont will call on me, and then I shall call on Lord Marchmont.” Mrs. Thrale was uneasy at this unaccountable (1) caprice; and told me, that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between Lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity. I sent a card to his lordship, to be left at Johnson's house, acquainting him, that Dr. Johnson could not be in town next day, but would do himself the honour of waiting on him at another time. I give this account fairly, as a specimen of that unhappy temper with which this great and good man had occasionally to struggle, from something morbid in his constitution. Let the most censorious of my readers suppose himself to have a violent fit of the toothache or to have received a severe stroke on the shin-bone, and when in such a state to be asked a question ; and if he has any candour, he will not be surprised at the answers
(1) Not quite so unaccountable as Mr. Boswell seems to think. His intervention in this affair, unsolicited and unauthoresed, exhibits the bustling vanity of his own character, and Johnson was unwilling to be dragged before Lord Marchmont by su bes.dlong a master of the ceremonies, C.
which Johnson sometimes gave in moments of irritation, which, let me assure them, is exquisitely painful. But it must not be errroneously supposed that he was, in the smallest degree, careless concerning any work which he undertook, or that he was generally thus peevish. It will be seen that in the following year he had a very agreeable interview with Lord Marchmont at his lordship's house; and this very afternoon he soon forgot any fretfulness, and fell into conversation as usual.
I mentioned a reflection having been thrown out against four peers for having presumed to rise in opposition to the opinion of the twelve judges, in a cause in the House of Lords (1), as if that were indecent. Johnson. “ Sir, there is no ground for censure, The peers are judges themselves : and supposing them really to be of a different opinion, they might from duty be in opposition to the judges, who were there only to be consulted.”
In this observation I fully concurred with him ; for, unquestionably, all the peers are vested with the highest judicial powers; and when they are confident that they understand a cause, are not obliged, nay, ought not to acquiesce in the opinion of the ordinary law judges, or even in that of those who from their studies and experience are called the law lords. I consider the peers in general as I do a jury, who ought to listen with respectful attention to the sages of the law; but if, after hearing them, they have a firm opinion of their own, are
(1) The occasion was Mr. Horne's writ of error. See anta p. 164. — C.
bound, as honest men, to decide accordingly. Nor is it so difficult for them to understand even law questions as is generally thought, provided they will bestow sufficient attention upon them. This observation was made by my honoured relation the late Lord Cathcart, who had spent his life in camps and courts ; yet assured me, that he could form a clear opinion upon most of the causes that came before the House of Lords, “ as they were so well enucleated in the Cases."
Mrs. Thrale told us, that a curious clergyman of our acquaintance had discovered a licentious stanza, which Pope had originally in his “ Universal Prayer," before the stanza,
“ What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns us not to do,” &c. It was this :
« Can sins of moment claim the rod
Of everlasting fires ?
Which Nature's self inspires ?” and that Dr. Johnson observed, “ it had been borrowed from Guarini." There are, indeed, in Pastor Fido, many such flimsy superficial reasonings as that in the last two lines of this stanza.
Boswell. “In that stanza of Pope's, rod of fires' is certainly a bad metaphor.” Mrs. THRALE. “ And • sins of moment is a faulty expression; for its true import is momentous, which cannot be intended.” Johnson. « It must have been written
of moments.' Of moment, is momentous ; of moments, momentary. I warrant you, however, Pope
wrote this stanza, and some friend struck it out. Boileau wrote some such thing, and Arnaud struck it out, saying • Vous gagnerez deux ou trois impies, et perdrez je ne sçais combien d'honnêtes gens.' These fellows want to say a daring thing, and don't know how to go about it. Mere poets know no more of fundamental principles than —." Here he was interrupted somehow. Mrs. Thrale mentioned Dryden. Johnson. “ He puzzled himself about predestination. How foolish was it in Pope to give all his friendship to lords, who thought they honoured him by being with him; and to choose such lords as Burlington, and Cobham, and Bolingbroke! Bathurst was negative, a pleasing man; and I have heard no ill of Marchmont. And then always saying, 'I do not value you for being a lord; which was a sure proof that he did. I never say I do not value Boswell more for being born to an estate, because I do not care." Boswell. « Nor for being a Scotchman ? " Nay, Sir, I do value you more for being a Scotchman. You are a Scotchman without the faults of Scotchmen. You would not have been so valuable as you are had you not been a Scotchman."
Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine was not plausible:
“ He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen,
Let him not know 't, and he's not robb’d at all."
Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale joined against this. Johnson. “ Ask any man if he'd wish not to know of such an injury.” BOSWELL. “ Would you tell
your friend to make him unhappy ?” Johnson. “ Perhaps, Sir, I should not; but that would be from prudence on my own account. A man would tell his father.” BOSWELL. “ Yes; because he would not have spurious children to get any share of the family inheritance.” Mrs. THRALE. “ Or he would tell his brother.” BoswELL. 66
Boswell. “Certainly his elder brother. Johnson. “ You would tell your friend of a woman's infamy, to prevent his marrying a prostitute: there is the same reason to tell him of his wife's infidelity when he is married, to prevent che consequences of imposition. It is a breach of confidence not to tell a friend.” BOSWELL. “ Would you tell Mr. - ?" (naming a gentleman (1) who assuredly was not in the least danger of such a miserable disgrace, though married to a fine woman.) Johnson. “ No, Sir; because it would do no good: he is so sluggish, he'd never go to parliament and get through a divorce.”
He said of one (2) of our friends, “ He is ruining himself without pleasure. A man who loses at play, or who runs out his fortune at court, makes his estate less, in hopes of making it bigger (I am sure of this word, which was often used by him): but it is a sad thing to pass through the quagmire of parsimony to the gulf of ruin. To pass over the flowery path of extravagance is very well."
Amongst the numerous prints pasted on the
(1) I fear it will be but too evident at whose expense Mr. Boswell chose to make so offensive an hypothesis. - C. (2) No doubt Mr. Langton. — C.