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He seemed very happy in the near prospect of going to Italy with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. But, (said he) before leaving England I am to take a jaunt to Oxford, Birmingham, my native city Lichfield, and my old friend, Dr. Taylor's, at Ashbourne, in Derbyshire. I shall go in a few days, and you, Boswell, shall go with me. I was ready to accompany him; being willing even to leave London, to have the pleasure of his conversation.
I mentioned, with much regret, the extravagance of the representative of a great family in Scotland, by which there was danger of its being ruined: and as Johnson respected it for its antiquity, he joined with me in thinking it would be happy if this person should die. Mrs. Thrale seemed shocked at this, as feudal barbarity; and said, I do not undere stand this preference of the estate to its owner ; of the land to the man who walks upon that land. Johnson. Nay, Madam, it is not a preserence of the land to its owner; it is the preference of a family 10 an individual. Here is an establishment in a country, which is of importance for ages, not only to the chief but to his people; an establishment which extends upwards and downwards; that this should be destroyed by one idle fellow is a sad thing.
He said, Entails are good, because it is good to preserve in a country series of men, to whom the people are accustomed to look up as to their leaders. But I am for leaving a quantity of land in commerce, to excite industry, and keep money in the country; for if no land were to be bought in the country, there would be no encouragement to acquire wealth, because a family could not be founded there; or if it were acquired, it must be carried away to another country where land may be bought. And although the land in every country will remain the same, and be as fertile where there is no money, as where there is, yet all that portion of the happiness of civil life, which is produced by money ciro culating in a country, would be lost. Boswell. Theo, Sir, would it be for the advantage of a country that all its lands were sold at once ? Johnson. So far, Sir, as money produces good, it would be an advantaze; for then that country would have as much money circulating in it as it is worth. But to be sure this would be counterbalanced by disadvantages attending a total change of proprietors.
I expressed my opinion that the power of entailing should be liunited thus: That there should be one third, or perhaps one half of the land of a country kept free for commerce ; that the proportion allowed to be entailed, should be parcelled out, so that no family could entail abore a certain quantity. Let a family, according to the abilities of its representatives, be richer or poorer in different generations, or always rich if its representatives be always wise : but let its absolute permanency be moderate. In this way we should be certain of there being always a number of established roots; and as in the course of nature, there is in every age an extinction of some families, there would be continual opeve ings for men ambitious of perpetuity, to plant a stock in the entail ground. Johnson. Why, Sir, mankind will be better able to regulate the system of entails, when the evil of too much land being locked up by them is felt, than we can do at present when it is not feli.
I mentioned Dr. Adam Smith's book on “ The Wealth of Nations,” which was just published, and that Sir John Pringle had observed to me, that Dr. Smith, who had never been in trade, could not be expected to write well on that subject any inore than a lawyer upon physic. Johnson. He is mistaken, Sir; a man who has never been engaged in trade bimself, may undoubtedly write well upon trade, and there is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does. As to mere wealth, that is to say, money, it is clear that one nation, or one individual, cannot increase his store but by making another poorer; but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation of the peculiar advantages of different countries. A merchant seldom thinks but of his own particular trade. To write a good book upon it, a man must have extensive views. It is not necessary to have practised, to write well upon a subject. I mentioned law as a subject ou which no man could write well without practice. Johnson. Why, Sir, in England, where so much money is to be got by the practice of the law, most of our writers upon it have been in practice; though Blackstone had not been much in practice when he published his Commentaries.' But upon the continent, the great writers ou law have not all been in practice : Grotius, indeed, was; but Puffendorf was not; Burlamaqui was not,
When we had talked of the great consequence which a man acquired by being employed in his profession, I suggested a doubt of the justice of the general opinion, that it is improper in a lawyer to solicit employment; for why, I urged, should it not be equally allowable to solicit that as the means of consequence, as it is to solicit votes to be elected a member of Parliament ? Mr. Strahan had told me, that a countryman of his and mine, who had risen to eminence in the law, had, when first making his way, solicited him to get him employed in city causes. Johnson, Sir, it is wrong to stir up law-suits ; but when once it is certain that a law-suit is to go on, there is nothing wrong in a lawyer's ende:vouring that he shall have the benefit, rather than another. Boswell. You would not solicit employinent, Sir, if you were a lawyer. Johnson. No, Sir; but not because I should think it wrong, but because I should disdain it. This was a good distinction, which will be felt by men of just pride. He proceeded : However, I would not have a lawyer to be wanting to himself in useing fair means. I would have hiin to inject'a little hint now and then, to prevent his being overlooked.
Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch Militia, in supporting which his Lordship had made an able speech in the Gouse of Commons, was now a pretty general topic of conversation. Johnson. As Scotland contributes so little land-tax towards the general support of the nation, it ought not to have a inilitia paid out of the general fund, uuless it should be thought for the general interest, that Scotland should be protected from No, 6.
an invasion, which no man can think will happen; for what enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got? No, Sir; now that the Scotch have not the pay of English soldiers spent among them, as so many troops are sent abroad, they are trying to get money another way, by having a militia paid. If they are afraid, and seriously desire to have an armed force to defend them, they should pay for it. Your scheme is to retain a part of your land-tax, by making us pay and clothe your militia. Boswell. You should not talk of we and you, Sir; there is now an Union, Joboson. There must be a distinction of interest, while the proportions of land-tax are so unequal. If Yorkshire should say, "Iustead of paying our land-tax, we will keep a greater number of militia,' it would be unreasonable. In this argument my friend was certainly in the wrong. The land tax is as unequally proportioned between different parts of Englaud, as between Euglaud and Scotlaud : nay, it is considerably unequal in Scotland itself. But the land tax is but a small part of the numerous branches of public revenue, all of which Scotland pays precisely as England does. A French invasion made in Scotland would soon penetrate into England.
He thus discoursed upon supposed obligation in settling estates :Where a man gets the unlimited property of an estate, there is no obliga: tion upon him in justice to leave it to one person rather than to another. There is a motive of preference from kindness, and this kindness is generally entertained for the nearest relation. If I owe a particular mun a sum of money, I am obliged to let that man have the next money I get, and cannot in justice let another have it; but if I owe money to no man, I may dispose of what I get as I please. There is not a debitum justitiæ to a man's nest heir; there is only a debitum caritatis. It is plain, then, that I have morally a choice according to iny liking. If I have a brother in want, he has a claim from affection to my assistance : but if I have also a brother in want, whom I like better, he has a preferable claim. The right of an heir at law is only this, that he is to have the succession to ani estale, io case no other person is appointed to it by the owner. Flis right is merely preferable to that of the King.
We got into a boat to cross over to Blackfriars : and as we moved along the Thaines, I talked to him of a little volume, which, altogether unknown to hin, was advertised to be published in a few days, under the title of “ Johnsoniana, or Bon Mots of Dr. Johnsod.” Johnson. Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing. Boswell. Pray, Sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher for bringing out, under your name, what you never said, and ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear profanely, as many ignoraut relaters of your bon mots do: Johnson. No, Sir; there will always be some truth mixed with the falsehood, and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how much is fulse? Besides, Sir, what damages would a jury give me for basing been represented as swearing? Boswell. I think, Sir, you should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and posterity might with much plausible foundation say, · Here is a volume which was publicly advertised and came out in Dr. Johnson's own time, and, by his silence, was adınitted by him to be genuine.' Johnson, I shall give myself no trouble about the matter,
He was, perhups, above suffering from such spurious publications; bat I could not help thinking, that many men would he much injured in their reputation, by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.
He said, The value of every story depends on its being true. A story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in general: if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance : suppose a man should tell that Johnson, before setting out for Italy; as he had to cross the Alps, sat down to make himself wings. This many people would believe: but it would be a picture of nothing. ******* (naming a worthy friend of our-,) used to think a story, a story, till I shewed him that truth was essential to it. I observed, that Foote entertained us with stories which were not true; but that, indeed, it was properly not as narratives, that Foote's stories pleased us, but as collections of ludicrous images. Johnson. Foote is quite impartial, for he tells lies of every body.
The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance was mentioved with exact precision. The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit, made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may mention an odd incident which he related, as having happened to him one night in Fleet-street. “A gentlewoman (said he) begged I would give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I accordingly did : upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor.” This, if told hy most people, would have been thought an invention; when told by Johnson, it was believed by bis friends as much as if they had seen what passed.
We landed at Temple-stairs, where we parted.
I found him in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room. We talked of religious orders. He said, It is as unreasonable for a man to go into a Carthusian convent for fear of being immoral, as for a man to cut off his hands for fear he should steal. There is, indeed, great resolution in the immedia'e act of dismembering himself; but when that is once done, he has no longer any merit: for though it is out of his power to steal, yet he may all his life be a thief in his heart. So when a man has once become a Carthusian, he is obliged to continue so, whether he chooses it or not. Their silence, too, is absurd. We read in the Gospel of the apostles being sent to preach, but not to hold their tongues. All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle. I said to the Lady Abbess of a convent, Madam, you are here, not for the love of
virtue, but the fear of vice. She said She should remember this as long as she lived.' I thought it hard to give her this view of her situation, when she could not help it; and, indeed, I wondered at the whole of what he now said; because, both in his “ Rambler” and “ Idler,” he treuts religious austerities with much solemnity of respect.
Finding him still persevering in his abstinence from wine, I ventured to speak to him of it.-Johnson. Sir, I have no objection to a man's drinkiog wine, if he can do it in moderation. I found myself apt to go to excess in it, and therefore, after having been for some time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to return to it. Every man is to judge for bimsell, according to the effects which he experiences. One of the fathers tells us, he found fasting made him so peevish, that he did not practice it.
Though he often enlarged upon the evil of intoxication, he was by no meaus barsh and unforgiving to those who indulged in occasional excess in wine. One of his friends, I well remember, came to sup at a tavern, with him and some other gentlemen, and too plainly discovered that he had drank too much at diuner. When one who loved mischief, thinking to produce a severe censure, asked Johnson a few days afterwards, Well Sir, what did your friend say to you, as an apology for being in such a situation? Johnson answered, Sir, he said all that a man should say: he said he was sorry for it.”
I heard him once give a very judicious practical advice upon this subject : “A man who has been drinking wine at all freely, should never go into a new company. With those who have partaken of wine with him, he may be pretty well in unison; but he will probably be offensive, or appear ridiculous to other people."
He allowed very great influence to education. I do not deny, Sir, but there is some original difference in minds; but it is nothing in comparison of what is formed by education. We may instance the science of numbers, which all miods are equally capable of attaining: yet we find a prodigious difference in the powers of different men, in that respect, after they are grown up, because their minds have been more or less exercised in it: and I think the same couse will explain the difference of excellence in other things, gradations admitting always some difference in the first principles.
This is a difficult subject; but it is best to hope that diligence may do a great deal. We are sure of what it can do, in increasing our mechanical force and dexterity.
I again visited him on Monday. He took occasion to enlarge, as he oftto did, upon the wretchedness of a sea-life. A ship is worse than it gol. There is, in a gaol, better air, better company, better conveniency of every hind; and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger. When men come to like a sea-life, they are pot fit to live on land. --Then (suid I) it would be cruel in a father to breed his son to to the sea, Johoson. It would be cruel in a father who thinks as I do.