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My next meeting with Johnson was on Friday the 1st of July, when he and I and Dr. Goldsmith supped at the Mitre. I was before this time pretty well acquainted with Goldsmith, who was one of the brightest ornaments of the Johnsonian school. (1) Goldsmith's respectful attachment to Johnson was then at its height; for his own literary reputation had not yet distinguished him so much as to excite a vain desire of competition with his great master. He had increased my admiration of the goodness of Johnson's heart, by incidental remarks in the course of conversation; such as, when I mentioned Mr. Levet, whom he entertained under his roof, " He is poor and honest, which is recommendation enough to Johnson;" and when I wondered that he was very kind to a man of whom I had heard a very bad character, "He is now become miserable, and that insures the protection of Johnson."
Goldsmith attempting this evening to maintain, I suppose from an affectation of paradox, "that knowledge was not desirable on its own account, for it often was a source of unhappiness." JOHNSON.
ance, and desiring some immediate relief; which, when he brought back to the writer, he called the woman of the house directly to partake of punch and pass their time in merriment." Anecdotes, p. 119. BOSWELL.
The greatest discrepancy between the two stories is the time of the day at which it happened; and, unluckily, the admitted fact of the bottle of Madeira seems to render Mrs. Piozzi's ver sion the more probable of the two. If, according to Mr. Bos well's account, Goldsmith had, in the morning, changed Johnson's charitable guinea for the purpose of getting a bottle of Madeira, we cannot complain that Mrs. Piozzi represents him as "drinking himself drunk with Madeira;" which Mr. Boswell thinks so viclently inaccurate, as to deserve being marked in italics.— CROKER.
(1) [See the note at the end of this chapter.]
"Why, Sir, that knowledge may in some cases produce unhappiness, I allow. But, upon the whole, knowledge, per se, is certainly an object which every man would wish to attain, although, perhaps, he may not take the trouble necessary for attaining it."
Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated political and biographical writer, being mentioned, Johnson said, Campbell is a man of much knowledge, and has a good share of imagination. His Hermippus Redivivus' is very entertaining, as an account of the Hermetic philosophy, and as furnishing a curious history of the extravagancies of the human mind. If it were merely imaginary, it would be nothing at all. Campbell is not always rigidly careful of truth in his conversation; but I do not believe there is any thing of this carelessness in his books. Campbell is a good man, a pious man. I am afraid he has not been in the inside of a church for many years (1); but he never passes a church without
(1) I am inclined to think that he was misinformed at to this circumstance. I own I am jealous for my worthy friend Dr. John Campbell. For though Milton could without remorse absent himself from public worship, I cannot. On the contrary, I have the same habitual impressions upon my mind, with those of a truly venerable judge, who said to Mr. Langton, "Friend Langton, if I have not been at church on Sunday, I do not feel myself easy." Dr. Campbell was a sincerely religious man. Lord Macartney, who is eminent for his variety of knowledge, and attention to men of talents, and knew him well, told me, that when he called on him in a morning, he found him reading a chapter in the Greek New Testament, which he informed his lordship was his constant practice. The quantity of Dr. Campbell's composition is almost incredible, and his labours brought him large profits. Dr. Joseph Warton told me that Johnson said of him, "He is the richest author that ever grazed the common of literature."- B.
pulling off his hat. This shews that he has good principles. I used to go pretty often to Campbell's on a Sunday evening, till I began to consider that the shoals of Scotchmen who flocked about him might probably say, when any thing of mine was well done, Ay, ay, he has learnt this of CAWMELL!""
He talked very contemptuously of Churchill's poetry, observing, that "it had a temporary currency, only from its audacity of abuse, and being filled with living names, and that it would sink into. oblivion." I ventured to hint that he was not quite a fair judge, as Churchill had attacked him violently. JOHNSON. "Nay, Sir, I am a very fair judge. He did not attack me violently till he found I did not like his poetry; and his attack on me shall not prevent me from continuing to say what I think of him, from an apprehension that it may be ascribed to resentment. No, Sir, I called the fellow a blockhead at first, and I will call him a blockhead still. However, I will acknowledge that I have a better opinion of him now than I once had; for he has shewn more fertility than I expected. To be sure, he is a tree that cannot produce good fruit: he only bears crabs. But, Sir, a tree that produces a great
Mr. Boswell quotes this dictum as if it was evidence only of Dr. Campbell's wealth; he probably did not see that it characterised his celebrated friend, by no very complimentary allusion, as grazing the common of literature. His "Lives of the Admirals" is the only one of his almost innumerable publications that is now called for. He was born in 1708, and died in 1775 C.
many crabs is better than a tree which produces only a few."
In this depreciation of Churchill's poetry I could not agree with him. It is very true that the greatest part of it is upon the topics of the day, on which account, as it brought him great fame and profit at the time, it must proportionably slide out of the public attention as other occasional objects suceeed. But Churchill had extraordinary vigour both of thought and expression. His portraits of the players will ever be valuable to the true lovers of the drama; and his strong caricatures of several eminent men of his age, will not be forgotten by the curious. Let me add, that there is in his works many passages which are of a general nature; and his "Prophecy of Famine" is a poem of no ordinary merit. It is, indeed, falsely injurious to Scotland; but therefore may be allowed a greater share of invention.
Bonnell Thornton had just published a burlesque "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," adapted to the ancient British music, viz. the salt-box, the Jew's harp, the marrow-bones and cleaver, the hum-strum or hurdygurdy, &c. Johnson praised its humour, and seemed much diverted with it. He repeated the following passage: :
"In strains more exalted the salt-box shall join,
And clattering and battering and clapping combine;
(1) In 1769 I set for Smart and Newbery, Thornton s burLesque Ode on St. Cecilia's day. It was performed at Ranelagh
I mentioned the periodical paper called “THE CONNOISSEUR." He said it wanted matter. No doubt it had not the deep thinking of Johnson's writings; but surely it has just views of the surface of life, and a very sprightly manner. His opinion of "THE WORLD" was not much higher than of the Connoisseur.
Let me here apologise for the imperfect manner in which I am obliged to exhibit Johnson's conversation at this period. In the early part of my acquaintance with him, I was so wrapt in admiration of his extraordinary colloquial talents, and so little accustomed to his peculiar mode of expression, that I found it extremely difficult to recollect and record his conversation with its genuine vigour and vivacity. In progress of time, when my mind was, as it were, strongly impregnated with the Johnsonian æther, I could, with much more facility and exactness, carry in my memory and commit to paper the exuberant variety of his wisdom and wit.
At this time Miss Williams, as she was then called, though she did not reside with him in the Temple under his roof, but had lodgings in Boltcourt, Fleet-street, had so much of his attention,
in masks, to a very crowded audience, as I was told; for I then resided in Norfolk. Beard sang the salt-box song, which was admirably accompanied on that instrument by Brent, the fencing-master and father of Miss Brent, the celebrated singer; Skeggs on the broomstick, as bassoon; and a remarkable performer on the Jew's harp. -"Buzzing twangs the iron lyre." Cleavers were cast in bell-metal for this entertainment. ́ All the performers of the old woman's Oratory, employed by Foote, were, I believe, employed at Ranelagh, on this occasion. BURNEY.