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LETTER 153. TO THE REV. MR. BAGSHAW (1),
“ May 8. 1773. “Sir, - I return you my sincere thanks for your additions to my Dictionary ; but the new edition has been published some time, and therefore I cannot now make use of them. Whether I shall ever revise it more, I know not. If many readers had been as judicious, as diligent, and as communicative as yourself, my work had been better. The world must at present take it as it is. I am, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
“ SAM. JOHNSON.”
On Sunday, May 8., I dined with Johnson at Mr. Langton's, with Dr. Beattie and some other company. He descanted on the subject of literary property. “There seems,” said he, “ to be in authors a stronger right of property than that by occupancy; a metaphysical right, a right, as it were, of creation,
(1) The Rev. Thomas Bagshaw, M. A., who died on the 20th of November, 1787, in the seventy-seventh year of his age, chaplain of Bromley College, in Kent, and rector of Southfeet. He had resigned the cure of Bromley parish some time before his death. For this, and another letter from Dr. Johnson in 1784, to the same truly respectable man, I am indebted to Dr. John Loveday, of the Commons, a son of the late learned and pious John Loveday, Esq. of Caversham, in Berkshire, who obligingly transcribed them for me from the originals in his possession. The worthy gentleman, having retired from business, now lives in Warwickshire. The world has been lately obliged to him as the editor of the late Rev. Dr. Townson's excellent work, modestly entitled “A Discourse on the Evangelical History, from the Interment to the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;” to which is prefixed a truly interesting and pleasing account of the author, by the Rev. Mr. Ralph Churton. – Dr. John Loveday died March 4. 1809, in his sixty-sixth year. "Gent. Mag.]
which should from its nature be perpetual ; but the consent of nations is against it; and indeed reason and the interests of learning are against it; for were it to be perpetual, no book, however useful, could be universally diffused amongst mankind, should the proprietor take it into his head to restrain its circulation. No book could have the advantage of being edited with notes, however necessary to its elucidation, should the proprietor perversely oppose it. For the general good of the world, therefore, whatever valuable work has once been created by an author, and issued out by him, should be understood as no longer in his power, but as belonging to the public; at the same time the author is entitled to an adequate reward. This he should have by an exclusive right to his work for a considerable number of years."
He attacked Lord Monboddo's strange speculation on the primitive state of human nature; observing, “ Sir, it is all conjecture about a thing useless, even were it known to be true. Knowledge of all kinds is good. Conjecture, as to things useful, is good; but conjecture as to what it would be useless to know, such as whether men went upon all four, is very idle.”
On Monday, May 9., as I was to set out on my return to Scotland next morning, I was desirous to see as much of Dr. Johnson as I could. But I first called on Goldsmith to take leave of him. The jealousy and envy, which, though possessed of many most amiable qualities, he frankly avowed, broke out violently at this interview. (1) Upon another occasion, when Goldsmith confessed himself to be of an envious disposition, I contended with Johnson that we ought not to be angry with him, he was so candid in owning it. “ Nay, Sir,” said Johnson, “we must be angry that a man has such a superabundance of an odious quality, that he cannot keep it within his own breast, but it boils over.” In my opinion, however, Goldsmith had not more of it than other people have, but only talked of it freely.
He now seemed very angry that Johnson was going to be a traveller; said “ he would be a dead weight for me to carry, and that I should never be able to lug him along through the Highlands and Hebrides.” Nor would he patiently allow me to enlarge upon Johnson's wonderful abilities; but exclaimed, “ Is he like Burke, who winds into a subject like a serpent?” “ But,” said I, “ Johnson is the Hercules who strangled serpents in his cradle."
I dined with Dr. Johnson at General Paoli's. He was obliged, by indisposition, to leave the company early; he appointed me, however, to meet him in the evening at Mr. (now Sir Robert) Chambers's in the Temple, where he accordingly came, though he continued to be very ill. Chambers, as is common on such occasions, prescribed various remedies to him. JOHNSON (fretted by pain). “ Pr’ythee don't tease me. Stay till I am well, and then you shall tell me how to cure myself.” He grew better, and talked
(1) I wonder why Boswell so often displays a malevolent feeling towards Goldsmith ? Rivalry for Johnson's good graces, perhaps. — WALTER Scott.
with a noble enthusiasm of keeping up the representation of respectable families. His zeal on this subject was a circumstance in his character exceedingly remarkable, when it is considered that he himself had no pretensions to blood. I heard him once say, “I have great merit in being zealous for subordination and the honours of birth; for I can hardly tell who was my grandfather.” He maintained the dignity and propriety of male succession, in opposition to the opinion of one of our friends (), who had that day employed Mr. Chambers to draw his will, devising his estate to his three sisters, in preference to a remote heir male. Johnson called them “ three dowdies,” and said, with as high a spirit as the boldest baron in the most perfect days of the feudal system, “ An ancient estate should always go to males. It is mighty foolish to let a stranger have it because he marries your daughter, and takes your name. As for an estate newly acquired by trade, you may give it, if you will, to the dog Towser, and let him keep his own name.”
I have known him at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without any reason, that we could perceive, at our friend's making his will :
(1) It seems, from many circumstances, that this was Mr. Langton; and that there was something more in the matter than a mere sally of obstreperous mirth. It is certain that the friendship of “ twenty years' standing ” ( post, 22d August, 1773) between Johnson and Langton suffered, about this time, a serious interruption. Johnson chose to attribute it to the reproof he had lately given Langton at Mr. Dilly's table (antè, p. 297.); but it is more probable that it arose from this affair of the will. — C.
called him the testator, and added, “ I dare say he thinks he has done a mighty thing. He won't stay till he gets home to his seat in the country, to produce this wonderful deed : he'll call up the landlord of the first inn on the road; and, after a suitable preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him that he should not delay making his will; and here, Sir, will he say, is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom ; and he will read it to him (laughing all the time). He believes he has made this will ; but he did not make it; you, Chambers, made it for him. I trust you have had more conscience than to make him say, being of sound understanding !' ha, ha ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I'd have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.”
In this playful manner did he run on, exulting in his own pleasantry, which certainly was not such as might be expected from the author of “ The Rambler,” but which is here preserved, that my readers may be acquainted even with the slightest occasional characteristics of so eminent a man.
Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a matter of which pars magna fuit(), and seemed impatient till he got rid of us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it all the way till he got without the Temple Gate. He
(1) Mr. Chambers may have known more of the real state of the affair than Boswell, and been offended at the mode in which Johnson treated their common friend. It is absurd to think that he could have felt any displeasure on his own account.-C.