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Johnson and Boswell at Ashbourne Church-Dr. Taylor's Talk - Johnson's Sermons-Characters of
the Earl of Cork, John Wilkes, Garrick, Colley Cibber, Foote- Johnson on Mrs. Macaulay-The Duke of Devonshire--Visits Ilam-Hume-Protestants and Papists-Campbell and Lord EglintonSwearing-Bulldogs-Dr. Johnson and the Dead Cat-Rochester-Prior—Francis Bacon Johnson's Cordiality-Colloquial Barbarisms-Grainger-Vanity of Human Existence-Beckford
and Trecothick—The Slave Trade-Boswell Quits Ashbourne-Boswell's Negro Cause. On Sunday, September 21, we went to the church of Ashbourne, which is one of the largest and most luminous that I have seen in any town of the same size. I felt great satisfaction in considering that I was supported in my fondness for solemn public worship by the general concurrence and munificence of mankind.
Johnson and Taylor were so different from each other, that I wondered at their preserving an intimacy. Their having been at school and college together, might, in some degree, account for this ; but Sir Joshua Reynolds has furnished me with a stronger reason; for Johnson mentioned to him that he had been told by Taylor he was to be his heir. I shall not take upon me to animadvert upon this ; but certain it is that Johnson paid great attention to Taylor. He now, however, said to me,
Sir, I love him ; but I do not love him more; my regard for him does not increase. As it is said in the Apocrypha, “his talk is of bullocks.' * I do not suppose he is very fond of my company. His habits are by no means sufficiently clerical : this he knows that I see; and no man likes to live under the eye of perpetual disapprobation.”
I have no doubt that a good many sermons were composed for Taylor by Johnson, At this time I found, upon his table, a part of one which he had newly begun to write : and Concio pro Tayloro appears in one of his diaries. When to these circumstances we add the internal evidence from the power of thinking and style in the collection which the Reverend Mr. Hayes had published, with the significant title of “Sermons left for publication by the Reverend John Taylor, LL.D.,” our conviction will be complete.
I, however, would not have it thought that Dr. Taylor, though he could not write like Johnson (as, indeed, who could ?) did not sometimes compose sermons as good as those which we generally have from very respectable divines. He showed me one with notes on the margin in Johnson's handwriting ; and I was present when he read another to Johnson, that he might have his opinion of it, and Johnson said it was “ very well.” These, we may be sure, were not Johnson's ; for he was above little arts, or tricks of deception.
Johnson was by no means of opinion that every man of a learned profession should consider it as incumbent upon him, or as necessary to his credit, to appear
* Ecclesiasticus, chap. xxxviii, v. 25. The whole chapter may be read as an admirable illustration of the superiority of cultivated minds over the gross and illiterate.
DR. TAYLOR'S SERMONS
as an author. When, in the ardour of ambition for literary fame, I regretted to him one day that an eminent judge had nothing of it, and therefore would leave no perpetual monument of himself to posterity ; “ Alas, Sir (said Johnson), what a mass of confusion should we have, if every bishop, and every judge, every lawyer, physician, and divine, were to write books."
I mentioned to Johnson a respectable person, of a very strong mind, who had little of that tenderness which is common to human nature ; as an instance of which, when I suggested to him that he should invite his son, who had been settled ten years in foreign parts, to come home and pay him a visit, his answer was, No, no, let him mind his business.” JOHNSON : “I do not agree with him, Sir, in this. Getting money is not all a man's business : to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.”
In the evening, Johnson, being in very good spirits, entertained us with several
Frons an engraving by J. P. Malcolm
ASHBOURNE CHURCH, DERBYSHIRE Boswell, who visited this church with Johnson on Sunday, Sept. 21st, described it as one of the largest
and most luminous that I have seen in any town of the same size." characteristical portraits ; I regret that any of them escaped my retention and diligence. I found from experience that to collect my friend's conversation, so as to exhibit it with any degree of its original flavour, it was necessary to write it down without delay. To record his sayings, after some distance of time, was like preserving or pickling long-kept and faded fruits, or other vegetables, which, when in that state, have little or nothing of their taste when fresh.
I shall present my readers with a series of what I gathered this evening from the Johnsonian garden.
My friend, the late Earl of Cork, had a great desire to maintain the literary character of his family ; he was a genteel man, but did not keep up the dignity of his rank. He was so generally civil, that nobody thanked him for it.
Did we not hear so much said of Jack Wilkes, we should think more highly his conversation. Jack has a great variety of talk, Jack is a scholar, and Jack ho the manners of a gentleman. But after hearing his name sounded from pole to pole as the phenix of convivial felicity, we are disappointed in his company. He hu always been at me : but I would do Jack a kindness, rather than not. The contes is now over.'
Garrick's gaiety of conversation has delicacy and elegance ; Foote makes yo laugh more; but Foote has the air of a buffoon paid for entertaining the company He, indeed, well deserves his hire.”
Colley Cibber once consulted me as to one of his birthday Odes, a long tin before it was wanted. I objected very freely to several passages. Cibber lo: patience, and would not read his Ode to an end. When we had done with criticis we walked over to Richardson's, the author of 'Clarissa,' and I wondered to fin Richardson displeased that I did not treat Cibber with more respect. Now, si to talk of respect for a player ! ” (smiling disdainfully). BOSWELL : “ There, S you are always heretical : you never will allow merit to a player.” JOHNSON “Merit, Sir, what merit? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a ballad-singer? BOSWELL : “No, Sir ; but we respect a great player, as a man who can conceiy lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully.” JOHNSON : "What, Sir, fellow who claps a hump on his back, and a lump on his leg, and cries, “I am Richa the Third ? ” Nay, Sir, a ballad-singer is a higher man, for he does two things; repeats and he sings : there is both recitation and music in his performance; t player only recites." BOSWELL : “My dear Sir! you may turn any thing in ridicule. I allow that a player of farce is not entitled to respect : he does a litt thing : but he who can represent exalted characters, and touch the noblest passion has very respectable powers : and mankind have agreed in admiring great taler for the stage. We must consider, too, that a great player does what very few peo are capable to do : his art is a very rare faculty. Who can repeat Hamlet's soliloqu 'To be, or not to be,' as Garrick does it ? ” JOHNSON :
JOHNSON : “Anybody may. Jemn there (a boy about eight years old, who was in the room), will do it as well in a week BOSWELL : “No, no, Sir : and as a proof of the merit of great acting, and oft value which mankind set upon it, Garrick has got £100,000.” JOHNSON : “ Is getti £100,000 a proof of excellence ? That has been done by a scoundrel commissary
This was most fallacious reasoning. I was sure, for once, that I had the bo side of the argument. I boldly maintained the just distinction between a tragedi and a mere theatrical droll; between those who rouse our terror and pity, and thu who only make us laugh. “ If (said I) Betterton and Foote were to walk into t room, you would respect Betterton much more than Foote.' JOHNSON : Betterton were to walk into this room with Foote, Foote would soon drive him of it. Foote, Sir, quatenus Foote, has powers superior to them all.”
On Monday, September 22, when at breakfast, I unguardedly said to Dr. Johns “ I wish I saw you and Mrs. Macaulay together.” He grew very angry; and, ai a pause, while a cloud gathered on his brow, he burst out, “No, Sir; you would see us quarrel, to make you sport. Don't you know that it is very uncivil to pitt people against one another ? Then, checking himself, and wishing to be m gentle, he added, “I do not say you should be hanged or drowned for this ; it is very uncivil.” Dr. Taylor thought him in the wrong, and spoke to him privat of it; but I afterwards acknowledged to Johnson that I was to blame, for I candi owned that I meant to express a desire to see a contest between Mrs. Macau and him; but then I knew how the contest would end ; so that I was to see i
725 triumph. JOHNSON : “Sir, you cannot be sure how a contest will end; and no man has a right to engage two people in a dispute by which their passions may be inflamed, and they may part with bitter resentment against each other. I would sooner keep company with a man from whom I must guard my pockets, than with a man who contrives to bring me into a dispute with somebody that he may hear it. This is the great fault of * (naming one of our friends), endeavouring to introduce a subject upon which he knows two people in the company differ.” BOSWELL : “But he told me, Sir, he does it for instruction.” JOHNSON : “Whatever the motive be, Sir, the man who does so, does very wrong. He has no more right to instruct himself at such risk than he has to make two people fight a duel, that he may learn how to defend himself.”
He found great fault with a gentleman of our acquaintance for keeping a bad table. "Sir (said he), when a man is invited to dinner, he is disappointed if he does not get something good. I advised Mrs. Thrale, who has no card - parties at her house, to give sweetmeats, and such good things, in an evening, as are not commonly given, and she would find company enough come to her: for everybody loves to have things which please the palate put in their way, without trouble or preparation.” Such was his attention to the minutie of life and manners.
He thus characterized the Duke of Devonshire, grandfather of the present representative of that very respectable family : " He was not a man of superior abilities, but he was a man strictly faithful to his word. If, for instance, he had promised you an acorn, and none had grown that year in his woods, he would not have contented himself
From an engraving and drawing by William Hogarth
[Langton is no doubt meant here, and in the next paragraph.-
JOHN WILKES (6. 1727, d. 1797)
political quarrel with Wilkes.
with that excuse : he would have sent to Denmark for it. So unconditional was he in keeping his word; so high as to the point of honour.' This was a liberal testimony from the Tory Johnson to the virtue of a great Whig nobleman.
Mr. Burke's “ Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, on the Affairs of America," being mentioned, Johnson censured the composition much, and he ridiculed the definition of a free government, viz., “ For any practical purpose, it is what the people think
.”*_“ I will let the King of France govern me on those conditions (said he), for it is to be governed just as I please.” And when Dr. Taylor talked of a girl being sent to a parish workhouse, and asked how much she could be obliged to work, “Why (said Johnson), as much as is reasonable : and what is that? as much as she thinks reasonable."
Dr. Johnson obligingly proposed to carry me to see Ilam, a romantic scene, now belonging to a family of the name of Port, but formerly the seat of the Congreves. I suppose it is well described in some of the Tours. Johnson described it distinctly and vividly, at which I could not but express to him my wonder ; because, though my eyes, as he observed, were better than his, I could not by any means equal him in representing visible objects. I said the difference between us in this respect was as that between a man who has a bad instrument, but plays well on it, and a man who has a good instrument, on which he can play very imperfectly.
I recollect a very fine amphitheatre, surrounded with hills covered with woods, and walks neatly formed along the side of a rocky steep, on the quarter next the house, with recesses under projections of rock, overshadowed with trees; in one of which recesses, we were told, Congreve wrote his “Old Bachelor.” We viewed a remarkable natural curiosity at Ilam ; two rivers bursting near each other from the rock, not from immediate springs, but after having run for many miles under ground. Plott, in his “History of Staffordshire,” I gives an account of this curiosity; but Johnson would not believe it, though we had the attestation of the gardener, who said he had put in corks, where the river Manyfold sinks into the ground, and had catched them in a net, placed before one of the openings where the water bursts out. Indeed, such subterraneous courses of water are found in various parts of our globe.” Talking of Dr. Johnson's unwillingness to believe extraordinary things, I ventured
Sir, you come near Hume's argument against miracles ; “That it is more probable witnesses should lie, or be mistaken, than that they should happen.'" JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, Hume, taking the proposition simply, is right. But the Christian revelation is not proved by the miracles alone, but as connected with prophecies, and with the doctrines in confirmation of which the miracles were wrought.”
He repeated his observation that the differences among Christians are really of no consequence. “For instance (said he), if a Protestant objects to a Papist, ' You worship images ; ' the Papist can answer, 'I do not insist on your doing it; you may be a very good Papist without it: I do it only as a help to my devotions.”
* Edit. 2, p. 53.
† [This is a mistake. The Ports had been settled at Ilam time out of mind; and perhaps derive their name from the narrow pass into Dovedale. Congreve had visited that family at Ilam; and his seat, that is, the bench on which he sometimes sat, in the gardens, used to be shown : this Mr. Bernard Port--one of the ancient family, and now vicar of Ilam-thinks was the cause of Mr. Boswell's error. Ilam has since passed into the hands of Mr. Watts Russell, who has replaced the old residence of the Ports by a stately Gothic mansion.-Croker, 1831.)
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