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art of making candles, by which light is continued to us beyond the time that the sun gives us light, is a valuable art, and ought to be preserved." Boswell. “But, Sir, would it not be better to follow Nature; and go to bed and rise just as Nature gives us light or with-holds it?” Johnson. “No, Sir; for then we should have no kind of equality in the partition of our time between sleeping and waking. It would be very different in different seasons and in different places. In some of the northern parts of Scotland how little light is there in the depth of winter !"
We talked of Tacitus, and I hazarded an opinion, that with all his merit for penetration, shrewdness of judgement, and terseness of expression, he was too compact, too much broken into hints, as it were, and therefore too difficult to be understood. To my great satisfaction Dr. Johnson sanctioned this opinion. “Tacitus, Sir, seems to me rather to have made notes for an historical work, than to have written a history."
At this time it appears from his " Prayers and Meditations,” that he had been more than commonly diligent in religious duties, particularly in reading the holy scriptures. It was Passion Week, that solemn season which the Christian world has appropriated to the commemoration of the mysteries of our redemption, and during which, whatever embers of religion are in our breasts, will be kindled into pious warmth.
I paid him short visits both on Friday and Saturday, and seeing his large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a reverential awe, and would not intrude upon his time. While he was thus employed to such good purpose, and while his friends in their intercourse with him constantly found a vigorous intellect and a lively imagination, it is melancholy to read in his private register, “My mind is unsettled and my memory confused. I have of late turned my thoughts with a very useless earnestness upon past incidents. I have yet got no command over my thoughts; an unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my rest." What philosophick heroism was it in him to appear with such manly fortitude to the world, while he was inwardly so distressed! We may surely believe that the mysterious principle of being “made perfect through suffering," was to be strongly exemplified in him.
On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, General Paoli and I paid
• It is remarkable, that Lord Monboddo, whom on account of his resembling Dr. Johnson in some particulars, Foote called an Elzevir edition of him, has, by coin cidence, made the very same remark. Origin and Progress of Language, vol. iii. 2d. edit. p. 219.
• Prayers and Meditations, p. III.
him a visit before dinner. We talked of the notion that blind persons can distinguish colours by the touch. Johnson said, that Professor Sanderson mentions his having attempted to do it, but that he found he was aiming at an impossibility ; that to be sure a difference in the surface makes the difference of colours; but that difference is so fine, that it is not sensible to the touch. The General mentioned jugglers and fraudulent gamesters, who could know cards by the touch. Dr. Johnson said, “the cards used by such persons must be less polished than ours commonly are."
We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a simple sound but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I presumed to differ from this opinion, and mentioned the soft and sweet sound of a fine woman's voice. JOHNSON. No, Sir, if a serpent or a toad uttered it, you would think it ugly." BosWELL. “ So you would think, Sir, were a beautiful tune to be uttered by one of those animals.” JOHNSON. “ No, Sir, it would be admired. We have seen fine fidlers whom we liked as little as toads," (laughing).
Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he said, that difference of taste was, in truth, difference of skill. BOSWELL. “ But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking? For instance, we find people differ much as to what is the best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing." JOHNSON. “ Sir, you must first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you have mentioned don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style ; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour. In like manner, one loves a plain coat, another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind."
While I remained in London this spring, I was with him at several other times, both by himself and in company. I dined with him one day at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, with Lord Elibank, Mr. Langton, and Dr. Vansittart of Oxford. Without specifying each particular day, I have preserved the following memorable things.
I regretted the reflection in his Preface to Shakspeare against Garrick, to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: “I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities
very communicative.” I told him, that Garrick had complained to me of it, and had vindicated himself by assuring me, that Johnson was made welcome to the full use of his collection, and that he left the key of it with a servant, with orders to have a fire and every convenience for him. I found Johnson's notion was, that Garrick wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the contrary, Garrick should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his own accord. But, indeed, considering the slovenly and careless manner in which books were treated by Johnson, it could not be expected that scarce and valuable editions should have been lent to him.
A gentleman 1 having to some of the usual arguments for drinking added this : “You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us forget whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to drink for that reason?" JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir, if he sat next you."
I expressed a liking for Mr. Francis Osborn's works, and asked him what he thought of that writer. He answered, “A conceited fellow. Were a man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him.” He however did not alter my opinion of a favourite authour, to whom I was first directed by his being quoted in “The Spectator," and in whom I have found much shrewd and lively sense, expressed indeed in a style somewhat quaint, which, however, I do not dislike. His book has an air of originality. We figure to ourselves an ancient gentleman talking to us.
When one of his friends endeavoured to maintain that a country gentleman might contrive to pass his life very agreeably, “Sir, (said he,) you cannot give me an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours." This observation, however, is equally applicable to gentlemen who live in cities, and are of no profession.
He said, "there is no permanent national character; it varies according to circumstances. Alexander the Great swept India: now the Turks sweep Greece."
A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to inform us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose, seven or eight minutes in relating it circumstantially. He in a plenitude of phrase told us, that large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in the town-hall;—that by reason of this, Aleas nestled there in prodigious numbers ;—that the lodgings of the Counsel were near to the town-hall ;-and that those little animals moved from place to
1 The “gentleman was Boswell him. self, as we learn from Dr. Campbell's diary, and the story was often told at Streatham by Murphy. It properly belongs to the little discussion on wine, at the Crown and Anchor”-ante, p. 435),
when he was “pressing” his friend on the subject of " in vino veritas.” Mrs. Piozzi (Margin.) adds, that Johnson remarked on this occasion, « The man compels me to treat him so."
place with wonderful agility. Johnson sat in great impatience till the gentleman had finished his tedious narrative, and then burst out, “ It is a pity, Sir, that you have not seen a lion ; for a flea has taken you such a time, that a lion must have served you a twelvemonth."
He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield ; for he was educated in England. “Much (said he,) may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.”
Talking of a modern historian and a modern moralist, he said, “ There is more thought in the moralist than in the historian. There is but a shallow stream of thought in history.” Boswell. “But surely, Sir, an historian has reflection.” JOHNSON. “Why yes, Sir; and so has a cat when she catches a mouse for her kitten. But she cannot write like the moralist; neither can the historian."
He said, “I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours, and give them my opinion. If the authours who apply to me have money, I bid them boldly print without a name; if they have written in order to get money, I tell them to go to the book. sellers, and make the best bargain they can.” Boswell.“ But, Sir, if a bookseller should bring you a manuscript to look at.”JOHNSON. “Why, Sir, I would desire the bookseller to take it away."
I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain,
• Mrs. Piozzi, to whom I told this anecdote, has related it, as if the gentleman had given “ the natural history of the mouse." Anecdotes, p. 191.'
In Second Edition, line 14, altered to “She cannot write like neither can
1 Mr. Croker takes Mrs. Piozzi's side in this trifling matter. " The learned gentleman,” he says, “ was certainly Dr. Vansittart, as is proved by two passages in the correspondence between Mrs. Thrale and Dr. Johnson, July and August, 1773. She writes to the Doctor in Scotland, 'I have seen the man that saw the mouse,' &c. Johnson replies, • Poor V- &c., he is a good man, and when his mind is composed,' &c. This proves the identity of the person, and also that Johnson himself sanctioned Mrs. Piozzi's version of the story mouse versus flea.” Mr. Croker is quite astray in this inference, having confounded two distinct stories. Mrs. Piozzi herself wrote in her copy of “ Boswell's Johnson,” opposite this very note, “I saw old Mit. chell, of Brighthelmston,affront him (John. son) terribly once about fleas. Johnson, being tired of the subject, expressed his
impatience of it with coarseness. Why, sir,' said the old man, should not lea. bite-o'-me be treated as phlebotomy? It empties the capillary vessels.'"- Mar. ginalia.) It is gratifying to find Boswell's accuracy thus vindicated, in spite of the laborious investigation of commentators.
· The number of stars shows that Beattie and Robertson were intended.
• This “ friend,” thus obscurely alluded to, was his brother. “ David is a fine fellow," he wrote to Temple at this time, “ but I am afraid will become so much a foreigner, that we shall find it difficult to get him home." David was a partner in a house at Valencia with Dallid, a French. man, and Charles Herries, a Scot. It was originally proposed to set him up as a banker in London, but later a better opening was found in Spain. His brother gives the following sketch of him:“My brother Davy is a prodigious fine
and was unwilling to return to Britain. JOHNSON. “ Sir, he is attached to some woman." Boswell. “I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine climate which keeps him there." JOHNSON.“ Nay, Sir, how can you talk so? What is climate to happiness? Place me in the heart of Asia, should I not be exiled ? What proportion does climate bear to the complex system of human life. You may advise me to go and live at Bologna to eat sausages. The sausages there, are the best in the world ; they lose much by being carried.”
On Saturday, May 9, Mr. Dempster and I had agreed to dine by ourselves at the British coffee-house. Johnson, on whom I happened to call in the morning, said, he would join us, which he did, and we spent a very pleasant day, though I recollect but little of what passed.
He said, “Walpole was a minister given by the King to the people : Pitt was a minister given by the people to the King, -as an adjunct."
“ The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this : he goes on without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he is not rich; we may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself."
Before leaving London this year, I consulted him upon a question purely of Scotch law. It was held of old, and continued for a long period, to be an established principle in that law, that whoever intermeddled with the effects of a person deceased, without the interposition of legal authority to guard against embezzlement, should be subjected to pay all the debts of the deceased, as having been guilty of what was technically called vitious intromission. The Court of Session had gradually relaxed the strictness of this principle, where the interference proved had been inconsiderable. In a case which came before that Court the preceding winter, I had laboured to persuade the Judges to return to the ancient law. It was my own sincere opinion, that they ought to adhere to it; but I had exhausted all my powers of reasoning in vain. Johnson thought as I did ; and in order to assist me in my application to the Court for a revision and alteration of the judgement, he dictated to me the following argument : “ This, we are told, is a law which has its force only from the
• Wilson against Smith and Armour. fellow. He and I dined together tête-à- tion as a banker, and thinks those weak tête on Christmas-day in an elegant man. men whose minds waver. He is doing ner, and went to chapel, as you and I as well as I could wish. He is to settle did long ago. He is in constant occupa. in London."—Letters, p. 76.