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directly, and before Mr, and Mrs. Thrale returned, we bad by ourselves some hours of tea-drinking and talk,
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few days that I was at Bath.
Of a person who differed from himn in politics he said, “In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in public life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong : that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced: but they have not come honestly their conviction.”
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even put on rouge: -Johnson. She is better employed at her toilet, than using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people's characters.,
He told us that “Addison wrote Bugdell's papers in the Spectator, at least mended them so much, that he made them almost his own; and that Draper, Tonson's partner, assured Mrs. Johnson, that the much admired Epilogue to · The Distressed Mother,' which came out in Bugdell's name, was in reality written by Addison.
“ The mode of government by one may be ill adapted to a small society, but is best for a great nation. The characteristic of our own goveromentat present is imbecility. The magistrates dare not call the guards for fear of being hanged. The guards will not come for fear of being given up to the blind rage of popular juries,”
Of the father of one of our friends, he observed, He never clarified his notions, by filtrating them through other minds. He had a canal upon his estate, where at one place the bank was too low.--I dug the canal deeper, said he.
He told me that so long ago as 1748 he had read •The Grave, a Poem,' but did not like it much. I differed from him: for though it is not equal throughout, and is seldom elegantly correct, it abounds in solemn thought, and poetical imagery beyond the common reach. The world has differed from him; for the poem has passed through many editions, and is still much read by people of a serious cast of mind.
A literary lady of large fortune was mentioned, as one who did good to many, but by no means by stealth, and instead of blushing to find it fame, acted evidently from vanity. Johnson, I have seen no beings who de as much good from benevolence, as she does from whatever motive. If there are such under the earth, or in the clouds, I wish I my would come up, or come down. What Soame Jenyus says upon this subject is not to be minded; he is a wit. No, Sir; to act from pure
is not possible for finite beings. Human benevolence is mingled with vanity, interest, or some other motive.
He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath ; observing, She does not gain upon me, Sir; I think her empty-headed. He was, indeed, a stern critic upon characters and manners. Even Mrs. Thrale did not escape his friendly animadversion at times. When he and I were one day endeavouring 10 ascertain article by article, how one of our friends could possibly spend as much money in his family as he told us he did, she interrupted us by a lively extravagant sally, on the expence of cloathing his children, describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful
Johnson looked a little angry, and said, Nay, Madam, when you are declaiming, declaim ; and when your are calculating, calculate. At another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, I don't like to fly. Johnson. With your wings, Madam, you must fly: but have a care, there are clippers abroad. How very well was this said, and how fully bas experience proved the truth of it! But have they not clipped rather rudely, and gone a great deal closer than was necessary ?
A gentleman expressed a wish to go and live three years at Otaheité, or New Zealand, in order to obtain a full acquaintance with people so totally different from all that we have ever known, and be satisfied what pure nature can do for man. Johnson. What could you learn, Sir ? What can savages tell, but what they themselves have seen? Of the past, or the invisible, they can tell nothing. The inhabitants of Otabeite and New Zealand are not in a state of pure nature; for it is plain they broke off from some other people. Had they grown out of the ground, you might have judged of a state of pure nature. Fanciful people may talk of a mythology being amongst them; but it must be invention. They have once had religion, which has been gradually debased. And what account of their religiou can you suppose to be learnt from savages ? Only consider, Sir, our own state : our religion is in a book; we have an order of men whose duty it is to teach it, we have one day in the week set apart for it, and this is in general pretty well observed : yet ask the first ten gross men you meet, and hear what they can tell of their religion.
On Monday, April 29, he and I made an excursion to Bristol, where I was entertained with seeing him enquire upon the spot, into the authenticity of “ Rowley's Poetry," as I had seen him enquire upon the spot into the authenticity of “Ossian's Poetry.” George Catcot, the pewterer, who was as zealous for Rowley, as Dr. Hugh Blair was for Ossian, (I trust my Reverend Friend will excuse the comparison,) attended us at our inn, and with a triumphant air of lively simplicity called out, “ I'll make Dr. Johnson a convert." Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some of Chatterton's fabricated verses, while Catcot stood at the back of his chair, moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet, and now and then looking into Dr. Johnson's face, wondering that he was not yet convinced. We called on Mr. Barret the surgeon, and
saw some of the originals as they were called, which were executed very artificially; but from a careful inspection of them, and a consideration of the circumstances with which they were attended, we were quite satisfied of the imposture, which, indeed, has been clearly demonstrated from internal evidence, by several able critics.
Honest Catcot seemed to pay no attention whatever to any objections, but insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we should go with him to the tower of the church of St. Mary, Redcliff, and view with our own eyes the ancient chest in which the manuscripts were found. To this, Dr. Johnson good paturedly agreed; and though troubled with a shortness of breathing, laboured up a long flight of steps, till we came to the place where the wonderous chest stood. There, (said Catcot, with a bouncing confident credulity,) there is the very chest itself. After this ocular demonstration, there was no more to be said. He brought to my recollection a Scotch Highlander, a man of learning too, and who had seen the world, attesting, and at the saine time giving his reasons for the authenticity of Fingal: I have heard all that poem when I was young.-Have you, Sir? Pray what have you heard ? --I have heard Ossian, Oscar, and every one of them.
Johnson said of Chatterton, This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things.
We were by no means pleased with our inn at Bristol. Let us see now, (said I,) how we should describe it. Johnson was ready with his raillery. Describe it, Sir?-Why, it was so bad, that Boswell wished to be in Scotland !
After Dr. Joboson's return to London, I was several times with him at his house, where I occasionally slept, in the room that had been assigned for me. I dined with him at Dr. Taylor's, at General Oglethorp's, and at General Paoli's. To avoid a tedious minuteness, I shall group together what I have preserved of his conversation during this period also, without specifying each scene where it passed, except one, which will be found so remarkable as certaivly to deserve a very particular relation. Where the place or the persons do not contribute to the zest of the conversation, it is unnecessary to encumber my page with mentioning them. To know of what vintage our wine is, enables us to judge of its value, and to driok it with more relish: but to have the produce of each vine of one vineyard, in the same year, kept separate, would serve no purpose, To know that our wive, (to use an advertising phrase,) is “of the stock of an Ambassador lately deceased," heightens its flavour: but it siguifies nothing to know the bin where each bottle was once deposited.
“Garrick (he observed) does not play the part of Archer in The Beaux Stratagem' well. The gentleman should break out through the footman, which is not the case as he does it."
“Where there is no education, as in savage countries, men will have the upper hand of women. Bodily strength, no doubt, contributes to this; but it would be so, exclusive of that; for it is mind that always gorerne. When it comes to dry understanding, man has the better."
“ The little volumes entitled Respublicæ,' which are very well done, were a bookseller's work."
“ There is much talk of the misery which we cause to the brute creation; but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to man, and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so numerous." This argument is to be found in the able and benignant Hutchinson's “Moral Philosophy.” But the question is, whether the animals who endure such sufferings of various kinds, for the service and entertainment of man, would accept of existence on the terms on which they have it. Madam Sevigoe, who, though she had many enjoyments, felt with delicate sensibility the prevalence of misery, complains of the task of existence having been imposed upon her withont her consent.
“ That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself a little wbile. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.”
“ Though many meu are nominally entrusted with the administration of hospitals and other public institutions, almost all the good is done by one man, by whoin the rest are driven on; owing to confidence iu him, and indolence in them."
“Lord Chesterfield's Letters to bis Son, I think, might be made a very pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put in the hands of every young gentleman. An elegant manner and easiness of behaviour are acquired gradually and imperceptibly. No man can say, • I'll be genteel.' There are ten genteel women for one genteel man, because they are more restrained. A man without some degree of restruint is insufferable; but we are all less restrained than women. Were a woman sitting in company to put out her legs before her as most men do, we should be tempted to kick them in," No man was a more attentive and nice observer of behaviour in those in whose company he happened to be, than Johnson; or, however strange it may seem to many, had a higher estination of its refinements. Lord Eliot informs me, that one day when Johnson and he were at dinner in a gentlerdan's house in London, upon Lord Chesterfield's Letters being mentioned, Jobuson surprised the company by this sentence: “ Every man of any education would rather be called a rascal, than accused of deficiency in the graces.” Mr. Gibbon, who was present, turned to a lady who knew Johnson well, and lived much with him, and in his quaint manner, tapping his box, addressed her thus: “Don't you think, Madam, (looking towards Johnson) that among all your acquaintance you could tiad one exception ?" The lady suniled, and seemed to acquiesce.
“ I read (said he,) Sharpe's Leiters on Italy over again, when I was at Bath. There is a great deal of matter in them."
“Mrs. Williams was angry that Thrale's family did not send regularly to her every time they heard from me while I was in the Hea brides. Little people are apt to be jealous : but they should not be jealous; for they ought to consider, that superior attention will necessarily be paid to superior fortune or rank. Two persons may have equal merit, and on that account, may have an equal claiid to attention; but one of them may have also fortune and rank, and so may have a double claim.'
Talking of his notes on Shakspeare, he said, “I despise those who do not see that I am right in the passage where as is repeated, and asses of great charge' introduced. That on To be, or not to be,' is disputable."
A gentleman, whom I found sitting with him one morning, said, that in bis opinion, the character of an infidel was more detestable than that of a man notoriously guilty of an atrocious crime. I differed from hin, because we are surer of the odiousness of the one, than of the error of the other. Johnson. Sir, I agree with him; for the infidel would be guilty of any crime if he were inclined to it.”
Many things which are false are transmitted from book to book, and gain credit in the world. One of these is the cry against the evil of luxury. Now the truth is, that luxury produces much good. Take the luxury of buildings in London. Does it not produce real advantage in the conveniency and elegance of accommodation, and this all from the exertion of industry? People will tell you, with a pelancholy fuce, how many builders are in gaol. It is plain they are in gaol, not for building; for rents are not fallen.- A man gives half a guinea for a dish of green peas. How much gardening does this occasion ? how many labourers inust the competition to have such things early in the market keep in employment! You will hear it said, very gravely, : Why was not the half guinea, thus spent in luxury, given to the poor? To how many might it have afforded a good meal. Alas ! has it not gone to the industrious poor, whom it is better to support than the idle poor? You are much surer that you are doing good when you pay money to those who work, as the recompense of their labour, than when you give money merely in charity. Suppose the ancient luxury of a dish of peacock's brains were to be revived, how many carcases would be left to the poor at a cheap rate: and as to the rout that is made about people who are ruined by extravagance, it is no malter to the nation that some individuals suffer. When so much general productive exertion is the consequence of luxury, the nation does not care though there are debtors in gaol: nay they would not care though their creditors were there too.
The uncommon vivacity of General Oglethorpe's mind, and variety of knowledge, having sometimes made his conversation seem too desultory, Johnson obserred, “Oglethorpe, Sir, never completes what he has to say."