페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

deviation from truth will end.” BOSWELL. “ It may come to the door ; and when once an account is at all varied in one circumstance, it may by degrees be varied so as to be totally different from what really happened." Their lively hostess, whose fancy was impatient of the rein, fidgeted at this, and ventured to say, “ Nay, this is too much. If Mr. Johnson should forbid me to drink tea, I would comply, as I should feel the restraint only twice a day; but little variations in narrative must happen a thousand times a day, if one is not perpetually watching.” JOHNSON. “ Well, madam, and you ought to be perpetually watching. It is more from carelessness about truth, than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.”

Boswell adds, “ In his review of Dr. Wartou's Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, Johnson has given the following salutary caution upon this subject : 'Nothing but experience could evince the frequency of false information, or enable any man to conceive, that so many groundless reports should be propagated, as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think, as what they know ; some men, of confused memories, and habitual inaccuracy, ascribe to oue man what belongs to another; and some talk on, without thought or care. A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods, which are afterwards innocently diffused by successive relaters.* Had he lived to read what sir John Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi have related concerning himself, how much would he have found bis observation illustrated !

• Literary Magazine, 1756, p. 37.

He was indeed so much impressed with the prevalence of falsehood, voluntary or unintentional, that I never knew any person, who, upon hearing an extraordinary circumstance told, discovered more of the incredulus odi. He would say, with a significant look and decisive tone, It is not so. Do not tell this again.' He inculcated upon all his friends the importance of perpetual vigilance against the slightest degrees of falsehood ; the effeet of which, as sir Joshua Reynolds observed to me, has been, that all who were of his school are distinguished for a love of truth and accuracy, which they would not have possessed in the same degree, if they had not been acquainted with Johnson.”

He said, “ I have beeu reading Lord Kames's Sketches of the History of Man, In treating of severity of pubishment, he mentions that of Madame Lapouchin, in Russia, but he does vot give it fairly; for I have looked at Chappe D'Auteroche, from whom he has taken it : he stops where it is said, that the spectators thought her innocent; and leaves out what follows—that she nevertheless was guilty. Now this is being as culpable as one can conceive-to misrepresent fact in a book ; and for what motive? It is like one of those lies, which people tell, one cannot see why. The woman's life was spared : and no punishment was too great for the favourite of an empress, who had conspired to dethrone her mistress.” Boswell “ He was only giving a picture of the lady in her sufferings.” Johnson. “Nay, don't endeavour to palliate this. Guilt is a principal feature in the picture."

He thus defined the difference between physical and inoral truth: “ Physical truth is, when you tell

[ocr errors]

a thing as it actually is : moral truth is, when you tell a thing sincerely and precisely as it appears to you. ' I say, such a one walked across the street; if he really did so, I told a physical truth. If I thought so, though I should have been mistaken, I told a moral truth."

Talking of an acquaintance, whose narratives, which abounded in curious and interesting topics, were unhappily found to be very fabulous ; Boswell mentioned lord Mansfield's having said to him,

Suppose we believe one half of what he tells." JOHNSON. “ Ay; but we dou’t koow which half to believe. By, his lying we lose, not only our reverence for him, but all comfort in his conversation." Boswell. “ May we not take it as an amusing fiction ?" JOHNSON. “ Sir, the misfortune is, that you will insensibly believe as much of it as you incline to believe.”

No. XV.

RELIGION.

On the religious observance of the sabbáth Johnson observed, “ Sunday was a heavy day to me when I was a boy. My mother confined me on that day, and made me read The Whole Duty of Man, from a great part of which I could derive no instruction. When, for instance, I had read the chapter on theft, which, from my infancy, I had been taught was wrong, I was no more convinced that theft was wrong than before; so there was no accession of kuowledge. A boy should be introduced to such

[ocr errors]

books, by having his attention directed to the arrangement, to the style, and other excellences of composition; that the mind, being thus engaged by an amusing variety of objects, may not grow weary.”

He communicated to Boswell the following particulars upon the subject of bis religious progress. I fell into an inattention to religion, or an indifference about it, in my ninth year. The church at Lichfield, in which we had a seat, wanted reparation ; so I was to go and find a seat in other churches; and, having bad eyes, and being awkward about this, I used to go and read in the fields on Sunday. This habit continued till my four. teenth year ; and still I find a great reluctance to go to church. I then became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not much think against it; and this lasted till I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call to a Holy Life, expecting to find it a dull book, (as such books generally are), and, perhaps, to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry.”

To Boswell's great surprise, he asked him to dine with him on Easter-day. He never supposed, that he had a dinner at his house ; for he had not then heard of any one of his friends having been entertained at his table. Johnson told him, “ I generally have a meat pie on Sunday: it is baked at a public oven, which is very properly allowed, because one man can attend it; and thus the advantage is obtained, of not keeping servants from church to dress dinners."

He said, he would not have Sunday kept with rigid severity and gloom, but with gravity and simplicity of behaviour.

He likewise said, he went more frequently to church when there were prayers only, than when there was also a sermon, as the people required more an example for the one than the other; it being much easier for them to hear a sermon, than to fix their minds on prayer.

Boswell talked of preaching, and of the great success which those called Methodists have. JOHNSON.

Sir, it is owing to their expressing themselves in a plain and familiar manner, which is the only way to do good to the common people, and which clergymen of genius and learning ought to do from a principle of duty, when it is suited to their congre gations; a practice for which they will be praised by men of sense. To insist against drunkenness as a crime, because it debases reason, the noblest faculty of man, would be of nc service to the com. mon people ; but to tell them, that they may die in a fit of drunkenness, and show them how dreadful that would be, cannot fail to make a deep impression. Sir, when your Scotch clergy give up their homely manner, religion will soon decay in that country.”

To Dr. Maxwell he once observed, that the established clergy did not preach plain enough ; and that polished periods and glittering sentences flew over the heads of the common people, without any impression upon their hearts. Something might be necessary, he conceived, to excite the affections of the common people, who were sunk in languor and lethargy; and, therefore, he supposed, that the

« 이전계속 »