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LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
Good Friday-Bad Housewifery-Books of Travels-Fleet Street-Meeting with Mr. Oliver
Edwards-Lawyers—Tom Tyers—Choice of a Profession-Dignity of Literature-Lord Cam. den-George Psalmanazar-Daines Barrington-Punishment of the Pillory-Insolence of Wealth-Extravagance" Demosthenes · Taylor "-Pamphlets—Goldsmith's Comedies-“The Beggar's Opera "-Johnson's “Historia Studiorum"-Gentleman's MagazineAvarice--Bon-Mots—Burke's Classical Pun--Egotism.
APRIL 17, being Good Friday, I waited on Johnson, as usual. I observed at breakfast, that although it was a part of his abstemious discipline, on this most solemn fast, to take no milk in his tea, yet when Mrs. Desmoulins inadvertently poured it in, he did not reject it. I talked of the strange indecision of mind, and imbecility in the common occurrences of life, which we may observe in some people. JOANSON. “Why, Sir, I am in the habit of getting others to do things for me.” BOSWELL. “What, Sir I have you that weakness ?” JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir. But I always think afterwards I should have done better for myself.”
I told him that at a gentleman's house where there was thought to be such extravagance or bad management that he was living much beyond his income, his lady had objected to the cutting of a pickled mango, and that I had taken an opportunity to ask the price of it, and found it was only two shillings ; so here was a very poor
saving. Johnson. “Sir, that is the blundering economy of a narrow understanding. It is stopping one hole in a sieve."
I expressed some inclination to publish an account of my travels upon the continent of Europe, for which I had a variety of materials collected. JOANSON. “I do not say, Sir, you may not publish your travels; but I give you my opinion, that you would lessen yourself by it. What can you tell of countries so well known as those upon the continent of Europe, which you have visited ?” BOSWELL. But I can give an entertaining narrative; with many incidents, anecdotes, jeux d'esprit, and remarks, so as to make very pleasant reading." Johnson. "Why, Sir, most modern travellers in Europe who have published their travels have been laughed at : I would not have you added to the number. The world is now not contented to be merely entertained by a traveller's narrative; they want to learn something. Now some of my friends asked me, why I did not give some acconnt of my travels in France. The reason is plain ; intelligent readers had seen more of France than I had. You might have liked my travels in France, and The Club might have liked them ; but, upon the whole, there would have been more ridicule than good produced by them.” BOSWELL. “I cannot agree with you, Sir. People would like to read what you say of anything. Suppose a face has been painted by fifty painters before ; still we love to see it done by Sir Joshua.” JOHNSON. " True, Sir ; but Sir Joshua cannot paint a face when he has not time to look on it.” BOSWELL. “Sir, a sketch of any sort by him is valuable. And, Sir, to talk to you in your own style (raising my voice and shaking my head), you should have given us your travels in France. I am sure I am right, and there's an end on't."
I said to him that it was certainly true, as my friend Dempster had observed in his letter to me upon the subject, that a great part of what was in his “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” had been in his mind before he left London. JOHNSON. “Why, yes, Sir, the topics were ; and books of travels will be good in proportion to what a man has previously in his mind; his knowing
1 I believe, however, I shall follow my own opinion; for the world has shown a very flattering partiality to my writings, on many occasions.-B. Mr. Boswell mentions severa intended publications in this manner, none of which he lived to execute.-CHALMERS.
what to observe ; his power of contrasting one mode of life with another. As the Spanish proverb says, 'He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him. So it is in travelling ; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge." BOSWELL. “The proverb, I suppose, Sir, means, he must carry a large stock with him to trade with.” JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir."
It was a delightful day : as we walked to St. Clement's church, I again remarked that Fleet Street was the most cheerful scene in the world. "Fleet Street,” said I, "is in my mind more delightful than Tempé.” Johnson. “Ay, Sir, but let it be compared with Mull l”
There was a very numerous congregation today at St. Clement's church, which Dr. Johnson said he observed with pleasure.
And now I am to give a pretty full account of one of the most curious incidents in Johnson's life, of which he himself has made the following minute on this day :
“In my return from church I was accosted by Edwards,' an old fellow-collegian, who had not seen me since 1729. He knew me, and asked if I remembered one Edwards; I did not at first recollect the name, but gradually, as we walked along, recovered it, and told him a conversation that had passed at an ale-house between us. My purpose is to continue our acquaintance." (Pr. and Med. p. 164).
It was in Butcher-row that this meeting happened. Mr. Edwards, who was a decent-looking, elderly man, in gray clothes, and a wig of many curls, accosted Johnson with familiar confidence, knowing who he was, while Johnson returned his salutation with a courteous formality, as to a stranger. But as soon as Edwards had brought to his recollection their having been at Pembroke College together nine-and-forty years ago, he seemed much pleased, asked where he lived, and said he should be glad to see him in Bolt-court. EDWARDS. “Ah, Sir 1 we are old men now. Johnson (who never
. Oliver Edwards entered at Pembroke College only in June, 1729, so that he and Johnson could not have been long acquainted.—HALL.
* This deliberate assertion of Johnson, that he had not seen Edwards since 1729, is a confirmation of the opinion derived by Dr. Hall from the dates in the college books, that John. son did not return to Pembroke College after Christmas, 1729-an important fact in his early history.-C.
liked to think of being old). “Don't let us discourage one another.” EDWARDS. “Why, doctor, you look stout and hearty. I am happy to see you so ; for the newspapers told us you were very ill.” Johnson. “Ay, Sir, they are always telling lies of us old fellows."
Wishing to be present at more of so singular a conversation as that between two fellow-collegians, who had lived forty years in London without ever having chanced to meet, I whispered to Mr. Edwards that Dr. Johnson was going home, and that ḥe had better accompany him now. So Edwards walked along with us, I eagerly assisting to keep up the conversation. Mr. Edwards informed Dr. Johnson that he had practised long as a solicitor in Chancery, but that he now lived in the country upon a little farm, about sixty acres, just by Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, and that he came to London (to Barnard's Inn, No. 6) generally twice a week. Johnson appearing to be in a reverie, Mr. Edwards addressed hisself to me, and expatiated on the pleasure of living in the country. Bos
“I have no notion of this, Sir. What you have to entertain you is, I think, exhausted in half an hour.” Edwards. “What I don't you love to have hope realised ? I see my grass, and my corn, and my trees growing. Now, for instance, I am curious to see if this frost has not nipped my fruit trees." Johnson (who we did not imagine was attending). “You find, Sir, you have fears as well as hopes.” So well did he see the whole, when another saw but the half of a subject.
When we got to Dr. Johnson's house, and were seated in his library, the dialogue went on admirably. EDWARDS. “Sir, I remember you would not let us say prodigious at college. For even then,
, Sir (turning to me), he was delicate in language, and we all feared him." JOHNSON (to Edwards). “From your having practised the law long, Sir, I presume you must be rich.” EDWARDS. “No, Sir ; I got a good deal of money ; but I had a number of poor relations to whom I gave a great part of it.” Johnson. “Sir, you have been rich in the most valuable sense of the word.” EDWARDS. “But I shall not die rich.” JOHNSON. “Nay, sure, Sir, it is better to live rich, than to die rich.” EDWARDS. “I wish I had continued at col
1 Johnson said to me afterwards, “Sir, they respected me for my literature; and yet it was not great but by comparison. Sir, it is amazing how little literature there is in the world.”