Life Of Johnson, Volume 4 (of 6)
by Boswell
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VOLUME IV.—LIFE (1780-1784)


LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. (1780-DEC. 13, 1784)





Being disappointed in my hopes of meeting Johnson this year, so that I could hear none of his admirable sayings, I shall compensate for this want[1] by inserting a collection of them, for which I am indebted to my worthy friend Mr. Langton, whose kind communications have been separately interwoven in many parts of this work. Very few articles of this collection were committed to writing by himself, he not having that habit; which he regrets, and which those who know the numerous opportunities he had of gathering the rich fruits of Johnsonian wit and wisdom, must ever regret. I however found, in conversations with him, that a good store of Johnsoniana treasured in his mind[2]; and I compared it to Herculaneum, or some old Roman field, which when dug, fully rewards the labour employed. The authenticity of every article is unquestionable. For the expression, I, who wrote them down in his presence, am partly answerable.

'Theocritus is not deserving of very high respect as a writer; as to the pastoral part, Virgil is very evidently superiour. He wrote when there had been a larger influx of knowledge into the world than when Theocritus lived. Theocritus does not abound in description, though living in a beautiful country: the manners painted are coarse and gross. Virgil has much more description, more sentiment, more of Nature, and more of art. Some of the most excellent parts of Theocritus are, where Castor and Pollux, going with the other Argonauts, land on the Bebrycian coast, and there fall into a dispute with Amycus, the King of that country; which is as well conducted as Euripides could have done it; and the battle is well related. Afterwards they carry off a woman, whose two brothers come to recover her, and expostulate with Castor and Pollux on their injustice; but they pay no regard to the brothers, and a battle ensues, where Castor and his brother are triumphant. Theocritus seems not to have seen that the brothers have the advantage in their argument over his Argonaut heroes. The Sicilian Gossips is a piece of merit.'

'Callimachus is a writer of little excellence. The chief thing to be learned from him is his account of Rites and Mythology; which, though desirable to be known for the sake of understanding other parts of ancient authours, is the least pleasing or valuable part of their writings.'

'Mattaire's account of the Stephani[3] is a heavy book. He seems to have been a puzzle-headed man, with a large share of scholarship, but with little geometry or logick in his head, without method, and possessed of little genius. He wrote Latin verses from time to time, and published a set in his old age, which he called 'Senilia;' in which he shews so little learning or taste in writing, as to make Carteret a dactyl[4]. In matters of genealogy it is necessary to give the bare names as they are; but in poetry, and in prose of any elegance in the writing, they require to have inflection given to them. His book of the Dialects[5] is a sad heap of confusion; the only way to write on them is to tabulate them with Notes, added at the bottom of the page, and references.'

'It may be questioned, whether there is not some mistake as to the methods of employing the poor, seemingly on a supposition that there is a certain portion of work left undone for want of persons to do it; but if that is otherwise, and all the materials we have are actually worked up, or all the manufactures we can use or dispose of are already executed, then what is given to the poor, who are to be set at work, must be taken from some who now have it; as time must be taken for learning, according to Sir William Petty's observation, a certain part of those very materials that, as it is, are properly worked up, must be spoiled by the unskilfulness of novices. We may apply to well-meaning, but misjudging persons in particulars of this nature, what Giannone[6] said to a monk, who wanted what he called to convert him: "Tu sei santo, ma tu non sei filosofo"—It is an unhappy circumstance that one might give away five hundred pounds in a year to those that importune in the streets, and not do any good[7].'

'There is nothing more likely to betray a man into absurdity than condescension; when he seems to suppose his understanding too powerful for his company[8].'

'Having asked Mr. Langton if his father and mother had sat for their pictures, which he thought it right for each generation of a family to do, and being told they had opposed it, he said, "Sir, among the anfractuosities[9] of the human mind, I know not if it may not be one, that there is a superstitious reluctance to sit for a picture."'

'John Gilbert Cooper[10] related, that soon after the publication of his Dictionary, Garrick being asked by Johnson what people said of it, told him, that among other animadversions, it was objected that he cited authorities which were beneath the dignity of such a work, and mentioned Richardson. "Nay, (said Johnson,) I have done worse than that: I have cited thee, David[11]."'

'Talking of expence, he observed, with what munificence a great merchant will spend his money, both from his having it at command, and from his enlarged views by calculation of a good effect upon the whole. "Whereas (said he) you will hardly ever find a country gentleman who is not a good deal disconcerted at an unexpected occasion for his being obliged to lay out ten pounds[12]."'

'When in good humour he would talk of his own writings with a wonderful frankness and candour, and would even criticise them with the closest severity. One day, having read over one of his Ramblers, Mr. Langton asked him, how he liked that paper; he shook his head, and answered, "too wordy." At another time, when one was reading his tragedy of Irene to a company at a house in the country, he left the room; and somebody having asked him the reason of this, he replied, Sir, I thought it had been better[13].'

'Talking of a point of delicate scrupulosity[14] of moral conduct, he said to Mr. Langton, "Men of harder minds than ours will do many things from which you and I would shrink; yet, Sir, they will perhaps do more good in life than we. But let us try to help one another. If there be a wrong twist it may be set right. It is not probable that two people can be wrong the same way."'

'Of the Preface to Capel's Shakspeare, he said, "If the man would have come to me, I would have endeavoured to endow his purposes with words; for as it is, he doth gabble monstrously[15]."'

'He related, that he had once in a dream a contest of wit with some other person, and that he was very much mortified by imagining that his opponent had the better of him. "Now, (said he,) one may mark here the effect of sleep in weakening the power of reflection; for had not my judgement failed me, I should have seen, that the wit of this supposed antagonist, by whose superiority I felt myself depressed, was as much furnished by me, as that which I thought I had been uttering in my own character."'

'One evening in company, an ingenious and learned gentleman read to him a letter of compliment which he had received from one of the Professors of a foreign University. Johnson, in an irritable fit, thinking there was too much ostentation, said, "I never receive any of these tributes of applause from abroad. One instance I recollect of a foreign publication, in which mention is made of l'illustre Lockman[16]."'

'Of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he said, "Sir, I know no man who has passed through life with more observation than Reynolds."'

'He repeated to Mr. Langton, with great energy, in the Greek, our SAVIOUR'S gracious expression concerning the forgiveness of Mary Magdalen, "[Greek: Ae pistis sou sesoke se poreuou eis eiraeuaeu.] Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace[17]." He said, "the manner of this dismission is exceedingly affecting."'

'He thus defined the difference between physical and moral truth; "Physical truth, is, when you tell a thing as it actually is. Moral truth, is, when you tell a thing sincerely and precisely as it appears to you. I say such a one walked across the street; if he really did so, I told a physical truth. If I thought so, though I should have been mistaken, I told a moral truth."'

'Huggins, the translator of Ariosto, and Mr. Thomas Warton, in the early part of his literary life, had a dispute concerning that poet, of whom Mr. Warton in his Observations on Spenser's Fairy Queen, gave some account, which Huggins attempted to answer with violence, and said, "I will militate no longer against his nescience." Huggins was master of the subject, but wanted expression. Mr. Warton's knowledge of it was then imperfect, but his manner lively and elegant[18]. Johnson said, "It appears to me, that Huggins has ball without powder, and Warton powder without ball."'

'Talking of the Farce of High Life below Stairs[19], he said, "Here is a Farce, which is really very diverting when you see it acted; and yet one may read it, and not know that one has been reading any thing at all."'

'He used at one time to go occasionally to the green room of Drury-lane Theatre[20], where he was much regarded by the players, and was very easy and facetious with them. He had a very high opinion of Mrs. Clive's comick powers, and conversed more with her than with any of them. He said, "Clive, Sir, is a good thing to sit by; she always understands what you say[21]." And she said of him, "I love to sit by Dr. Johnson; he always entertains me." One night, when The Recruiting Officer was acted, he said to Mr. Holland[22], who had been expressing an apprehension that Dr. Johnson would disdain the works of Farquhar; "No, Sir, I think Farquhar a man whose writings have considerable merit."'

'His friend Garrick was so busy in conducting the drama, that they could not have so much intercourse as Mr. Garrick used to profess an anxious wish that there should be[23]. There might, indeed, be something in the contemptuous severity as to the merit of acting, which his old preceptor nourished in himself, that would mortify Garrick after the great applause which he received from the audience. For though Johnson said of him, "Sir, a man who has a nation to admire him every night, may well be expected to be somewhat elated[24];" yet he would treat theatrical matters with a ludicrous slight. He mentioned one evening, "I met David coming off the stage, drest in a woman's riding-hood, when he acted in The Wonder[25]; I came full upon him, and I believe he was not pleased."'

'Once he asked Tom Davies, whom he saw drest in a fine suit of clothes, "And what art thou to-night?" Tom answered, "The Thane of Ross[26];" (which it will be recollected is a very inconsiderable character.) "O brave!" said Johnson.'

'Of Mr. Longley, at Rochester, a gentleman of very considerable learning, whom Dr. Johnson met there, he said, "My heart warms towards him. I was surprised to find in him such a nice acquaintance with the metre in the learned languages; though I was somewhat mortified that I had it not so much to myself, as I should have thought[27]."'

'Talking of the minuteness with which people will record the sayings of eminent persons, a story was told, that when Pope was on a visit to Spence[28] at Oxford, as they looked from the window they saw a Gentleman Commoner, who was just come in from riding, amusing himself with whipping at a post. Pope took occasion to say, "That young gentleman seems to have little to do." Mr. Beauclerk observed, "Then, to be sure, Spence turned round and wrote that down;" and went on to say to Dr. Johnson, "Pope, Sir, would have said the same of you, if he had seen you distilling[29]." JOHNSON. "Sir, if Pope had told me of my distilling, I would have told him of his grotto[30]."'

'He would allow no settled indulgence of idleness upon principle, and always repelled every attempt to urge excuses for it, A friend one day suggested, that it was not wholesome to study soon after dinner. JOHNSON. "Ah, Sir, don't give way to such a fancy. At one time of my life I had taken it into my head that it was not wholesome to study between breakfast and dinner[31]."'

'Mr. Beauclerk one day repeated to Dr. Johnson Pope's lines,

"Let modest Foster, if he will, excel Ten metropolitans in preaching well:" [32]

Then asked the Doctor, "Why did Pope say this?" JOHNSON. 'Sir, he hoped it would vex somebody.'

'Dr. Goldsmith, upon occasion of Mrs. Lennox's bringing out a play[33], said to Dr. Johnson at the CLUB, that a person had advised him to go and hiss it, because she had attacked Shakspeare in her book called Shakspeare Illustrated[34]. JOHNSON. "And did not you tell him he was a rascal[35]?" GOLDSMITH. "No, Sir, I did not. Perhaps he might not mean what he said." JOHNSON. "Nay, Sir, if he lied, it is a different thing." Colman slily said, (but it is believed Dr. Johnson did not hear him,) "Then the proper expression should have been,—Sir, if you don't lie, you're a rascal."'

'His affection for Topham Beauclerk was so great, that when Beauclerk was labouring under that severe illness which at last occasioned his death, Johnson said, (with a voice faultering with emotion,) "Sir, I would walk to the extent of the diameter of the earth to save Beauclerk[36]."'

'One night at the CLUB he produced a translation of an Epitaph which Lord Elibank had written in English, for his Lady, and requested of Johnson to turn into Latin for him. Having read Domina de North et Gray, he said to Dyer, "You see, Sir, what barbarisms we are compelled to make use of, when modern titles are to be specifically mentioned in Latin inscriptions." When he had read it once aloud, and there had been a general approbation expressed by the company, he addressed himself to Mr. Dyer in particular, and said, "Sir, I beg to have your judgement, for I know your nicety[37]." Dyer then very properly desired to read it over again; which having done, he pointed out an incongruity in one of the sentences. Johnson immediately assented to the observation, and said, "Sir, this is owing to an alteration of a part of the sentence, from the form in which I had first written it; and I believe, Sir, you may have remarked, that the making a partial change, without a due regard to the general structure of the sentence, is a very frequent cause of errour in composition."'

'Johnson was well acquainted with Mr. Dossie, authour of a treatise on Agriculture[38]; and said of him, "Sir, of the objects which the Society of Arts have chiefly in view, the chymical effects of bodies operating upon other bodies, he knows more than almost any man." Johnson, in order to give Mr. Dossie his vote to be a member of this Society, paid up an arrear which had run on for two years. On this occasion he mentioned a circumstance as characteristick of the Scotch. One of that nation, (said he,) who had been a candidate, against whom I had voted, came up to me with a civil salutation. Now, Sir, this is their way. An Englishman would have stomached it, and been sulky, and never have taken further notice of you; but a Scotchman, Sir, though you vote nineteen times against him, will accost you with equal complaisance after each time, and the twentieth time, Sir, he will get your vote.'

'Talking on the subject of toleration, one day when some friends were with him in his study, he made his usual remark, that the State has a right to regulate the religion of the people, who are the children of the State[39]. A clergyman having readily acquiesced in this, Johnson, who loved discussion, observed, "But, Sir, you must go round to other States than our own. You do not know what a Bramin has to say for himself[40]. In short, Sir, I have got no further than this: Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test[41]."'

'A man, he observed, should begin to write soon; for, if he waits till his judgement is matured, his inability, through want of practice to express his conceptions, will make the disproportion so great between what he sees, and what he can attain, that he will probably be discouraged from writing at all[42]. As a proof of the justness of this remark, we may instance what is related of the great Lord Granville[43]; that after he had written his letter, giving an account of the battle of Dettingen, he said, "Here is a letter, expressed in terms not good enough for a tallow-chandler to have used.'"

'Talking of a Court-martial that was sitting upon a very momentous publick occasion, he expressed much doubt of an enlightened decision; and said, that perhaps there was not a member of it, who in the whole course of his life, had ever spent an hour by himself in balancing probabilities[44].'

'Goldsmith one day brought to the CLUB a printed Ode, which he, with others, had been hearing read by its authour in a publick room at the rate of five shillings each for admission[45]. One of the company having read it aloud, Dr. Johnson said, "Bolder words and more timorous meaning, I think never were brought together."'

'Talking of Gray's Odes, he said, "They are forced plants raised in a hot-bed[46]; and they are poor plants; they are but cucumbers after all." A gentleman present, who had been running down Ode-writing in general, as a bad species of poetry, unluckily said, "Had they been literally cucumbers, they had been better things than Odes."—"Yes, Sir, (said Johnson,) for a hog."'

'His distinction of the different degrees of attainment of learning was thus marked upon two occasions. Of Queen Elizabeth he said, "She had learning enough to have given dignity to a bishop;" and of Mr. Thomas Davies he said, "Sir, Davies has learning enough to give credit to a clergyman[47]."'

'He used to quote, with great warmth, the saying of Aristotle recorded by Diogenes Laertius[48]; that there was the same difference between one learned and unlearned, as between the living and the dead.'

'It is very remarkable, that he retained in his memory very slight and trivial, as well as important things[49]. As an instance of this, it seems that an inferiour domestick of the Duke of Leeds had attempted to celebrate his Grace's marriage in such homely rhimes as he could make; and this curious composition having been sung to Dr. Johnson he got it by heart, and used to repeat it in a very pleasant manner. Two of the stanzas were these:—

"When the Duke of Leeds shall married be To a fine young lady of high quality, How happy will that gentlewoman be In his Grace of Leeds's good company.

She shall have all that's fine and fair, And the best of silk and sattin shall wear; And ride in a coach to take the air, And have a house in St. James's-square[50]."

To hear a man, of the weight and dignity of Johnson, repeating such humble attempts at poetry, had a very amusing effect. He, however, seriously observed of the last stanza repeated by him, that it nearly comprized all the advantages that wealth can give.'

'An eminent foreigner, when he was shewn the British Museum, was very troublesome with many absurd inquiries. "Now there, Sir, (said he,) is the difference between an Englishman and a Frenchman. A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows any thing of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say."'

'His unjust contempt for foreigners was, indeed, extreme. One evening, at old Slaughter's coffee-house[51], when a number of them were talking loud about little matters, he said, "Does not this confirm old Meynell's[52] observation—For any thing I see, foreigners are fools[53]."'

'He said, that once, when he had a violent tooth-ach, a Frenchman accosted him thus:—Ah, Monsieur vous etudiez trop[54].'

'Having spent an evening at Mr. Langton's with the Reverend Dr. Parr, he was much pleased with the conversation of that learned gentleman; and after he was gone, said to Mr. Langton, "Sir, I am obliged to you for having asked me this evening. Parr is a fair man. I do not know when I have had an occasion of such free controversy. It is remarkable how much of a man's life may pass without meeting with any instance of this kind of open discussion[55]."'

'We may fairly institute a criticism between Shakspeare and Corneille[56], as they both had, though in a different degree, the lights of a latter age. It is not so just between the Greek dramatick writers and Shakspeare. It may be replied to what is said by one of the remarkers on Shakspeare, that though Darius's shade[57] had prescience, it does not necessarily follow that he had all past particulars revealed to him.'

'Spanish plays, being wildly and improbably farcical, would please children here, as children are entertained with stories full of prodigies; their experience not being sufficient to cause them to be so readily startled at deviations from the natural course of life[58]. The machinery of the Pagans is uninteresting to us[59]: when a Goddess appears in Homer or Virgil, we grow weary; still more so in the Grecian tragedies, as in that kind of composition a nearer approach to Nature is intended. Yet there are good reasons for reading romances; as—the fertility of invention, the beauty of style and expression, the curiosity of seeing with what kind of performances the age and country in which they were written was delighted: for it is to be apprehended, that at the time when very wild improbable tales were well received, the people were in a barbarous state, and so on the footing of children, as has been explained.'

'It is evident enough that no one who writes now can use the Pagan deities and mythology; the only machinery, therefore, seems that of ministering spirits, the ghosts of the departed, witches[60], and fairies, though these latter, as the vulgar superstition concerning them (which, while in its force, infected at least the imagination of those that had more advantage in education, though their reason set them free from it,) is every day wearing out, seem likely to be of little further assistance in the machinery of poetry. As I recollect, Hammond introduces a hag or witch into one of his love elegies, where the effect is unmeaning and disgusting[61].'

'The man who uses his talent of ridicule in creating or grossly exaggerating the instances he gives, who imputes absurdities that did not happen, or when a man was a little ridiculous describes him as having been very much so, abuses his talents greatly. The great use of delineating absurdities is, that we may know how far human folly can go; the account, therefore, ought of absolute necessity to be faithful. A certain character (naming the person) as to the general cast of it, is well described by Garrick, but a great deal of the phraseology he uses in it, is quite his own, particularly in the proverbial comparisons, "obstinate as a pig," &c., but I don't know whether it might not be true of Lord ———[62], that from a too great eagerness of praise and popularity, and a politeness carried to a ridiculous excess, he was likely, after asserting a thing in general, to give it up again in parts. For instance, if he had said Reynolds was the first of painters, he was capable enough of giving up, as objections might happen to be severally made, first his outline,—then the grace in form,—then the colouring,—and lastly, to have owned that he was such a mannerist, that the disposition of his pictures was all alike.'

'For hospitality, as formerly practised, there is no longer the same reason; heretofore the poorer people were more numerous, and from want of commerce, their means of getting a livelihood more difficult; therefore the supporting them was an act of great benevolence; now that the poor can find maintenance for themselves, and their labour is wanted, a general undiscerning hospitality tends to ill, by withdrawing them from their work to idleness and drunkenness. Then, formerly rents were received in kind, so that there was a great abundance of provisions in possession of the owners of the lands, which, since the plenty of money afforded by commerce, is no longer the case.'

'Hospitality to strangers and foreigners in our country is now almost at an end, since, from the increase of them that come to us, there have been a sufficient number of people that have found an interest in providing inns and proper accommodations, which is in general a more expedient method for the entertainment of travellers. Where the travellers and strangers are few, more of that hospitality subsists, as it has not been worth while to provide places of accommodation. In Ireland there is still hospitality to strangers, in some degree; in Hungary and Poland probably more.'

'Colman, in a note on his translation of Terence, talking of Shakspeare's learning, asks, "What says Farmer to this? What says Johnson[63]?" Upon this he observed, "Sir, let Farmer answer for himself: I never engaged in this controversy. I always said, Shakspeare had Latin enough to grammaticise his English[64]."'

'A clergyman, whom he characterised as one who loved to say little oddities, was affecting one day, at a Bishop's table, a sort of slyness and freedom not in character, and repeated, as if part of The Old Mans Wish, a song by Dr. Walter Pope, a verse bordering on licentiousness. Johnson rebuked him in the finest manner, by first shewing him that he did not know the passage he was aiming at, and thus humbling him: "Sir, that is not the song: it is thus." And he gave it right. Then looking stedfastly on him, "Sir, there is a part of that song which I should wish to exemplify in my own life:—

"May I govern my passions with absolute sway[65]!"'

'Being asked if Barnes knew a good deal of Greek, he answered, "I doubt, Sir, he was unoculus inter caecos[66]."'

'He used frequently to observe, that men might be very eminent in a profession, without our perceiving any particular power of mind in them in conversation. "It seems strange (said he) that a man should see so far to the right, who sees so short a way to the left. Burke is the only man whose common conversation corresponds with the general fame which he has in the world. Take up whatever topick you please, he is ready to meet you[67]."'

'A gentleman, by no means deficient in literature, having discovered less acquaintance with one of the Classicks than Johnson expected, when the gentleman left the room, he observed, "You see, now, how little any body reads." Mr. Langton happening to mention his having read a good deal in Clenardus's Greek Grammar, "Why, Sir, (said he,) who is there in this town who knows any thing of Clenardus but you and I?" And upon Mr. Langton's mentioning that he had taken the pains to learn by heart the Epistle of St. Basil, which is given in that Grammar as a praxis, "Sir, (said he,) I never made such an effort to attain Greek[68]."'

'Of Dodsley's Publick Virtue, a Poem, he said, "It was fine blank (meaning to express his usual contempt for blank verse[69]); however, this miserable poem did not sell, and my poor friend Doddy said, Publick Virtue was not a subject to interest the age."'

'Mr. Langton, when a very young man, read Dodsley's Cleone a Tragedy[70], to him, not aware of his extreme impatience to be read to. As it went on he turned his face to the back of his chair, and put himself into various attitudes, which marked his uneasiness. At the end of an act, however, he said, "Come let's have some more, let's go into the slaughter-house again, Lanky. But I am afraid there is more blood than brains." Yet he afterwards said, "When I heard you read it, I thought higher of its power of language: when I read it myself, I was more sensible of its pathetick effect;" and then he paid it a compliment which many will think very extravagant. "Sir, (said he,) if Otway had written this play, no other of his pieces would have been remembered." Dodsley himself, upon this being repeated to him, said, "It was too much:" it must be remembered, that Johnson always appeared not to be sufficiently sensible of the merit of Otway[71].'

'Snatches of reading (said he) will not make a Bentley or a Clarke. They are, however, in a certain degree advantageous. I would put a child into a library (where no unfit books are) and let him read at his choice. A child should not be discouraged from reading any thing that he takes a liking to, from a notion that it is above his reach. If that be the case, the child will soon find it out and desist; if not, he of course gains the instruction; which is so much the more likely to come, from the inclination with which he takes up the study[72].'

'Though he used to censure carelessness with great vehemence, he owned, that he once, to avoid the trouble of locking up five guineas, hid them, he forgot where, so that he could not find them.'

'A gentleman who introduced his brother to Dr. Johnson was earnest to recommend him to the Doctor's notice, which he did by saying, "When we have sat together some time, you'll find my brother grow very entertaining."—"Sir, (said Johnson,) I can wait."'

'When the rumour was strong that we should have a war, because the French would assist the Americans, he rebuked a friend with some asperity for supposing it, saying, "No, Sir, national faith is not yet sunk so low."'

'In the latter part of his life, in order to satisfy himself whether his mental faculties were impaired, he resolved that he would try to learn a new language, and fixed upon the Low Dutch, for that purpose, and this he continued till he had read about one half of Thomas a Kempis; and finding that there appeared no abatement of his power of acquisition, he then desisted, as thinking the experiment had been duly tried[73]. Mr. Burke justly observed, that this was not the most vigorous trial, Low Dutch being a language so near to our own; had it been one of the languages entirely different, he might have been very soon satisfied.'

'Mr. Langton and he having gone to see a Freemason's funeral procession, when they were at Rochester[74], and some solemn musick being played on French horns, he said, "This is the first time that I have ever been affected by musical sounds;" adding, "that the impression made upon him was of a melancholy kind." Mr. Langton saying, that this effect was a fine one,—JOHNSON. "Yes, if it softens the mind, so as to prepare it for the reception of salutary feelings, it may be good: but inasmuch as it is melancholy per se, it is bad[75]."'

'Goldsmith had long a visionary project, that some time or other when his circumstances should be easier, he would go to Aleppo, in order to acquire a knowledge as far as might be of any arts peculiar to the East, and introduce them into Britain. When this was talked of in Dr. Johnson's company, he said, "Of all men Goldsmith is the most unfit to go out upon such an inquiry; for he is utterly ignorant of such arts as we already possess, and consequently could not know what would be accessions to our present stock of mechanical knowledge. Sir, he would bring home a grinding barrow, which you see in every street in London, and think that he had furnished a wonderful improvement[76]."'

'Greek, Sir, (said he,) is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can[77].'

'When Lord Charles Hay[78], after his return from America, was preparing his defence to be offered to the Court-Martial which he had demanded, having heard Mr. Langton as high in expressions of admiration of Johnson, as he usually was, he requested that Dr. Johnson might be introduced to him; and Mr. Langton having mentioned it to Johnson, he very kindly and readily agreed; and being presented by Mr. Langton to his Lordship, while under arrest, he saw him several times; upon one of which occasions Lord Charles read to him what he had prepared, which Johnson signified his approbation of, saying, "It is a very good soldierly defence." Johnson said, that he had advised his Lordship, that as it was in vain to contend with those who were in possession of power, if they would offer him the rank of Lieutenant-General, and a government, it would be better judged to desist from urging his complaints. It is well known that his Lordship died before the sentence was made known.'

'Johnson one day gave high praise to Dr. Bentley's verses[79] in Dodsley's Collection, which he recited with his usual energy. Dr. Adam Smith, who was present, observed in his decisive professorial manner, "Very well—Very well." Johnson however added, "Yes, they are very well, Sir; but you may observe in what manner they are well. They are the forcible verses of a man of a strong mind, but not accustomed to write verse[80]; for there is some uncouthness in the expression[81]."'

'Drinking tea one day at Garrick's with Mr. Langton, he was questioned if he was not somewhat of a heretick as to Shakspeare; said Garrick, "I doubt he is a little of an infidel[82]."—"Sir, (said Johnson) I will stand by the lines I have written on Shakspeare in my Prologue at the opening of your Theatre[83]." Mr. Langton suggested, that in the line

"And panting Time toil'd after him in vain,"

Johnson might have had in his eye the passage in The Tempest, where Prospero says of Miranda,

"———-She will outstrip all praise, And make it halt behind her[84]."

Johnson said nothing. Garrick then ventured to observe, "I do not think that the happiest line in the praise of Shakspeare." Johnson exclaimed (smiling,) "Prosaical rogues! next time I write, I'll make both time and space pant[85]."'

'It is well known that there was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to accost each other as they passed, in the most abusive language they could invent, generally, however, with as much satirical humour as they were capable of producing. Addison gives a specimen of this ribaldry, in Number 383 of The Spectator, when Sir Roger de Coverly and he are going to Spring-garden[86]. Johnson was once eminently successful in this species of contest; a fellow having attacked him with some coarse raillery, Johnson answered him thus, "Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods[87]." One evening when he and Mr. Burke and Mr. Langton were in company together, and the admirable scolding of Timon of Athens was mentioned, this instance of Johnson's was quoted, and thought to have at least equal excellence.'

'As Johnson always allowed the extraordinary talents of Mr. Burke, so Mr. Burke was fully sensible of the wonderful powers of Johnson. Mr. Langton recollects having passed an evening with both of them, when Mr. Burke repeatedly entered upon topicks which it was evident he would have illustrated with extensive knowledge and richness of expression; but Johnson always seized upon the conversation, in which, however, he acquitted himself in a most masterly manner. As Mr. Burke and Mr. Langton were walking home, Mr. Burke observed that Johnson had been very great that night; Mr. Langton joined in this, but added, he could have wished to hear more from another person; (plainly intimating that he meant Mr. Burke.) "O, no (said Mr. Burke) it is enough for me to have rung the bell to him[88]."'

'Beauclerk having observed to him of one of their friends, that he was aukward at counting money, "Why, Sir, said Johnson, I am likewise aukward at counting money. But then, Sir, the reason is plain; I have had very little money to count."'

'He had an abhorrence of affectation[89]. Talking of old Mr. Langton, of whom he said, "Sir, you will seldom see such a gentleman, such are his stores of literature, such his knowledge in divinity, and such his exemplary life;" he added, "and Sir, he has no grimace, no gesticulation, no bursts of admiration on trivial occasions; he never embraces you with an overacted cordiality[90]."'

'Being in company with a gentleman who thought fit to maintain Dr. Berkeley's ingenious philosophy, that nothing exists but as perceived by some mind[91]; when the gentleman was going away, Johnson said to him, "Pray, Sir, don't leave us; for we may perhaps forget to think of you, and then you will cease to exist[92]."'

'Goldsmith, upon being visited by Johnson one day in the Temple, said to him with a little jealousy of the appearance of his accommodation, "I shall soon be in better chambers than these." Johnson at the same time checked him and paid him a handsome compliment, implying that a man of his talents should be above attention to such distinctions,—'Nay, Sir, never mind that. Nil te quaesiveris extra[93].'

'At the time when his pension was granted to him, he said, with a noble literary ambition, "Had this happened twenty years years ago, I should have gone to Constantinople to learn Arabick, as Pococke did[94]."'

'As an instance of the niceness of his taste, though he praised West's translation of Pindar, he pointed out the following passage as faulty, by expressing a circumstance so minute as to detract from the general dignity which should prevail:

"Down then from thy glittering nail, Take, O Muse, thy Dorian lyre[95].'"

'When Mr. Vesey[96] was proposed as a member of the LITERARY CLUB, Mr. Burke began by saying that he was a man of gentle manners. "Sir, said Johnson, you need say no more. When you have said a man of gentle manners; you have said enough."'

'The late Mr. Fitzherbert[97] told Mr. Langton that Johnson said to him, "Sir, a man has no more right to say an uncivil thing, than to act one; no more right to say a rude thing to another than to knock him down."'

'My dear friend Dr. Bathurst[98], (said he with a warmth of approbation) declared he was glad that his father, who was a West-Indian planter, had left his affairs in total ruin, because having no estate, he was not under the temptation of having slaves.'

'Richardson had little conversation[99], except about his own works, of which Sir Joshua Reynolds said he was always willing to talk, and glad to have them introduced. Johnson when he carried Mr. Langton to see him, professed that he could bring him out into conversation, and used this allusive expression, "Sir, I can make him rear." But he failed; for in that interview Richardson said little else than that there lay in the room a translation of his Clarissa into German[100].'

'Once when somebody produced a newspaper in which there was a letter of stupid abuse of Sir Joshua Reynolds, of which Johnson himself came in for a share,—"Pray," said he, "let us have it read aloud from beginning to end;" which being done, he with a ludicrous earnestness, and not directing his look to any particular person, called out, "Are we alive after all this satire!"'

'He had a strong prejudice against the political character of Seeker[101], one instance of which appeared at Oxford, where he expressed great dissatisfaction at his varying the old established toast, "Church and King." "The Archbishop of Canterbury, said he (with an affected smooth smiling grimace) drinks,' Constitution in Church and State.'" Being asked what difference there was between the two toasts, he said, "Why, Sir, you may be sure he meant something." Yet when the life of that prelate, prefixed to his sermons by Dr. Porteus and Dr. Stinton his chaplains, first came out, he read it with the utmost avidity, and said, "It is a life well written, and that well deserves to be recorded."'

'Of a certain noble Lord, he said, "Respect him, you could not; for he had no mind of his own. Love him you could not; for that which you could do with him, every one else could[102]."'

'Of Dr. Goldsmith he said, "No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had[103]."'

'He told in his lively manner the following literary anecdote: "Green and Guthrie[104], an Irishman and a Scotchman, undertook a translation of Duhalde's History of China. Green said of Guthrie, that he knew no English, and Guthrie of Green, that he knew no French; and these two undertook to translate Duhalde's History of China. In this translation there was found 'the twenty-sixth day of the new moon.' Now as the whole age of the moon is but twenty-eight days, the moon instead of being new, was nearly as old as it could be. Their blunder arose from their mistaking the word neuvieme ninth, for nouvelle or neuve, new."'

'Talking of Dr. Blagden's copiousness and precision of communication, Dr. Johnson said, "Blagden, Sir, is a delightful fellow[105]."'

'On occasion of Dr. Johnson's publishing his pamphlet of The False Alarm[106], there came out a very angry answer (by many supposed to be by Mr. Wilkes). Dr. Johnson determined on not answering it; but, in conversation with Mr. Langton, mentioned a particular or two, which if he had replied to it, he might perhaps have inserted. In the answerer's pamphlet, it had been said with solemnity, "Do you consider, Sir, that a House of Commons is to the people as a Creature is to its Creator[107]?" To this question, said Dr. Johnson, I could have replied, that—in the first place—the idea of a CREATOR must be such as that he has a power to unmake or annihilate his creature.'

'Then it cannot be conceived that a creature can make laws for its CREATOR[108].'

'Depend upon it, said he, that if a man talks of his misfortunes, there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery, there never is any recourse to the mention of it[109].'

'A man must be a poor beast that should read no more in quantity than he could utter aloud.'

'Imlac in Rasselas, I spelt with a c at the end, because it is less like English, which should always have the Saxon k added to the c[110].'

'Many a man is mad in certain instances, and goes through life without having it perceived[111]: for example, a madness has seized a person of supposing himself obliged literally to pray continually[112]—had the madness turned the opposite way and the person thought it a crime ever to pray, it might not improbably have continued unobserved.'

'He apprehended that the delineation of characters in the end of the first Book of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand was the first instance of the kind that was known.'

'Supposing (said he) a wife to be of a studious or argumentative turn, it would be very troublesome[113]: for instance,—if a woman should continually dwell upon the subject of the Arian heresy.'

'No man speaks concerning another, even suppose it be in his praise, if he thinks he does not hear him, exactly as he would, if he thought he was within hearing.'

'The applause of a single human being is of great consequence[114]: This he said to me with great earnestness of manner, very near the time of his decease, on occasion of having desired me to read a letter addressed to him from some person in the North of England; which when I had done, and he asked me what the contents were, as I thought being particular upon it might fatigue him, it being of great length, I only told him in general that it was highly in his praise;—and then he expressed himself as above.'

'He mentioned with an air of satisfaction what Baretti had told him; that, meeting, in the course of his studying English, with an excellent paper in the Spectator, one of four[115] that were written by the respectable Dissenting Minister, Mr. Grove of Taunton, and observing the genius and energy of mind that it exhibits, it greatly quickened his curiosity to visit our country; as he thought if such were the lighter periodical essays of our authours, their productions on more weighty occasions must be wonderful indeed!'

'He observed once, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, that a beggar in the street will more readily ask alms from a man, though there should be no marks of wealth in his appearance, than from even a well-dressed woman[116]; which he accounted for from the greater degree of carefulness as to money that is to be found in women; saying farther upon it, that the opportunities in general that they possess of improving their condition are much fewer than men have; and adding, as he looked round the company, which consisted of men only,—there is not one of us who does not think he might be richer if he would use his endeavour.'

'He thus characterised an ingenious writer of his acquaintance: "Sir, he is an enthusiast by rule[117]."'

'He may hold up that SHIELD against all his enemies;'—was an observation on Homer, in reference to his description of the shield of Achilles, made by Mrs. Fitzherbert, wife to his friend Mr. Fitzherbert of Derbyshire, and respected by Dr. Johnson as a very fine one[118]. He had in general a very high opinion of that lady's understanding.'

'An observation of Bathurst's may be mentioned, which Johnson repeated, appearing to acknowledge it to be well founded, namely, it was somewhat remarkable how seldom, on occasion of coming into the company of any new person, one felt any wish or inclination to see him again[119].'

This year the Reverend Dr. Franklin[120] having published a translation of Lucian, inscribed to him the Demonax thus:—

'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON, the Demonax of the present age, this piece is inscribed by a sincere admirer of his respectable[121] talents,


Though upon a particular comparison of Demonax and Johnson, there does not seem to be a great deal of similarity between them, this Dedication is a just compliment from the general character given by Lucian of the ancient Sage, '[Greek: ariston on oida ego philosophon genomenon], the best philosopher whom I have ever seen or known.'

1781: AETAT. 72.—In 1781 Johnson at last completed his Lives of the Poets, of which he gives this account: 'Some time in March I finished the Lives of the Poets, which I wrote in my usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and working with vigour and haste[122].' In a memorandum previous to this, he says of them: 'Written, I hope, in such a manner as may tend to the promotion of piety[123].'

This is the work which of all Dr. Johnson's writings will perhaps be read most generally, and with most pleasure. Philology and biography[124] were his favourite pursuits, and those who lived most in intimacy with him, heard him upon all occasions, when there was a proper opportunity, take delight in expatiating upon the various merits of the English Poets: upon the niceties of their characters, and the events of their progress through the world which they contributed to illuminate. His mind was so full of that kind of information, and it was so well arranged in his memory, that in performing what he had undertaken in this way, he had little more to do than to put his thoughts upon paper, exhibiting first each Poet's life, and then subjoining a critical examination of his genius and works. But when he began to write, the subject swelled in such a manner, that instead of prefaces to each poet, of no more than a few pages, as he had originally intended[125], he produced an ample, rich, and most entertaining view of them in every respect. In this he resembled Quintilian, who tells us, that in the composition of his Institutions of Oratory[126], Latius se tamen aperiente materia, plus quam imponebatur oneris sponte suscepi. The booksellers, justly sensible of the great additional value of the copy-right, presented him with another hundred pounds, over and above two hundred, for which his agreement was to furnish such prefaces as he thought fit[127].

This was, however, but a small recompense for such a collection of biography, and such principles and illustrations of criticism, as, if digested and arranged in one system, by some modern Aristotle or Longinus, might form a code upon that subject, such as no other nation can shew. As he was so good as to make me a present of the greatest part of the original and indeed only[128] manuscript of this admirable work, I have an opportunity of observing with wonder, the correctness with which he rapidly struck off such glowing composition. He may be assimilated to the Lady in Waller, who could impress with 'Love at first sight:'

'Some other nymphs with colours faint, And pencil slow may Cupid paint, And a weak heart in time destroy; She has a stamp, and prints the boy[129].'

That he, however, had a good deal of trouble, and some anxiety in carrying on the work[130], we see from a series of letters to Mr. Nichols the printer[131], whose variety of literary inquiry and obliging disposition, rendered him useful to Johnson. Mr. Steevens appears, from the papers in my possession, to have supplied him with some anecdotes and quotations; and I observe the fair hand of Mrs. Thrale as one of his copyists of select passages. But he was principally indebted to my steady friend Mr. Isaac Reed, of Staple-inn, whose extensive and accurate knowledge of English literary history I do not express with exaggeration, when I say it is wonderful; indeed his labours[132] have proved it to the world; and all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance can bear testimony to the frankness of his communications in private society.

It is not my intention to dwell upon each of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, or attempt an analysis of their merits, which, were I able to do it, would take up too much room in this work; yet I shall make a few observations upon some of them, and insert a few various readings.

The Life of COWLEY he himself considered as the best of the whole, on account of the dissertation which it contains on the Metaphysical Poets. Dryden, whose critical abilities were equal to his poetical, had mentioned them in his excellent Dedication of his Juvenal, but had barely mentioned them[133]. Johnson has exhibited them at large, with such happy illustration from their writings, and in so luminous a manner, that indeed he may be allowed the full merit of novelty, and to have discovered to us, as it were, a new planet in the poetical hemisphere[134].

It is remarked by Johnson, in considering the works of a poet[135], that 'amendments are seldom made without some token of a rent;' but I do not find that this is applicable to prose[136]. We shall see that though his amendments in this work are for the better, there is nothing of the pannus assutus[137]; the texture is uniform: and indeed, what had been there at first, is very seldom unfit to have remained.

Various Readings[138] in the Life of COWLEY.

'All [future votaries of] that may hereafter pant for solitude.

'To conceive and execute the [agitation or perception] pains and the pleasures of other minds.

'The wide effulgence of [the blazing] a summer noon.'

In the Life of WALLER, Johnson gives a distinct and animated narrative of publick affairs in that variegated period, with strong yet nice touches of character; and having a fair opportunity to display his political principles, does it with an unqualified manly confidence, and satisfies his readers how nobly he might have executed a Tory History of his country.

So easy is his style in these Lives, that I do not recollect more than three uncommon or learned words[139]; one, when giving an account of the approach of Waller's mortal disease, he says, 'he found his legs grow tumid;' by using the expression his legs swelled, he would have avoided this; and there would have been no impropriety in its being followed by the interesting question to his physician, 'What that swelling meant?' Another, when he mentions that Pope had emitted proposals; when published or issued would have been more readily understood; and a third, when he calls Orrery and Dr. Delany[140], writers both undoubtedly veracious[141], when true, honest, or faithful, might have been used. Yet, it must be owned, that none of these are hard or too big words; that custom would make them seem as easy as any others; and that a language is richer and capable of more beauty of expression, by having a greater variety of synonimes.

His dissertation[142] upon the unfitness of poetry for the aweful subjects of our holy religion, though I do not entirely agree with with him, has all the merit of originality, with uncommon force and reasoning.

Various Readings in the Life of WALLER.

'Consented to [the insertion of their names] their own nomination.

'[After] paying a fine of ten thousand pounds.

'Congratulating Charles the Second on his [coronation] recovered right.

'He that has flattery ready for all whom the vicissitudes of the world happen to exalt, must be [confessed to degrade his powers] scorned as a prostituted mind.

'The characters by which Waller intended to distinguish his writings are [elegance] sprightliness and dignity.

'Blossoms to be valued only as they [fetch] foretell fruits.

'Images such as the superficies of nature [easily] readily supplies.

'[His] Some applications [are sometimes] may be thought too remote and unconsequential.

'His images are [sometimes confused] not always distinct?

Against his Life of MILTON, the hounds of Whiggism have opened in full cry[143]. But of Milton's great excellence as a poet, where shall we find such a blazon as by the hand of Johnson? I shall select only the following passage concerning Paradise Lost[144]:

'Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked his reputation stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current, through fear and silence. I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting without impatience the vicissitudes of opinion, and the impartiality of a future generation[145].'

Indeed even Dr. Towers, who may be considered as one of the warmest zealots of The Revolution Society[146] itself, allows, that 'Johnson has spoken in the highest terms of the abilities of that great poet, and has bestowed on his principal poetical compositions the most honourable encomiums[147].'

That a man, who venerated the Church and Monarchy as Johnson did, should speak with a just abhorrence of Milton as a politician, or rather as a daring foe to good polity, was surely to be expected; and to those who censure him, I would recommend his commentary on Milton's celebrated complaint of his situation, when by the lenity of Charles the Second, 'a lenity of which (as Johnson well observes) the world has had perhaps no other example, he, who had written in justification of the murder of his Sovereign, was safe under an Act of Oblivion[148].'

'No sooner is he safe than he finds himself in danger, fallen on evil days and evil tongues, [and] with darkness and with danger compassed round[149]. This darkness, had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion; but to add the mention of danger, was ungrateful and unjust. He was fallen, indeed, on evil days; the time was come in which regicides could no longer boast their wickedness. But of evil tongues for Milton to complain, required impudence at least equal to his other powers; Milton, whose warmest advocates must allow, that he never spared any asperity of reproach, or brutality of insolence[150].'

I have, indeed, often wondered how Milton, 'an acrimonious and surly Republican[151],'—'a man who in his domestick relations was so severe and arbitrary[152],' and whose head was filled with the hardest and most dismal tenets of Calvinism[153], should have been such a poet; should not only have written with sublimity, but with beauty, and even gaiety; should have exquisitely painted the sweetest sensations of which our nature is capable; imaged the delicate raptures of connubial love; nay, seemed to be animated with all the spirit of revelry. It is a proof that in the human mind the departments of judgement and imagination, perception and temper, may sometimes be divided by strong partitions; and that the light and shade in the same character may be kept so distinct as never to be blended[154].

In the Life of Milton, Johnson took occasion to maintain his own and the general opinion of the excellence of rhyme over blank verse, in English poetry[155]; and quotes this apposite illustration of it by 'an ingenious critick,' that it seems to be verse only to the eye[156]. The gentleman whom he thus characterises, is (as he told Mr. Seward) Mr. Lock[157], of Norbury Park, in Surrey, whose knowledge and taste in the fine arts is universally celebrated; with whose elegance of manners the writer of the present work has felt himself much impressed, and to whose virtues a common friend, who has known him long, and is not much addicted to flattery, gives the highest testimony.

Various Readings in the Life of MILTON.

'I cannot find any meaning but this which [his most bigotted advocates] even kindness and reverence can give.

'[Perhaps no] scarcely any man ever wrote so much, and praised so few.

'A certain [rescue] perservative from oblivion.

'Let me not be censured for this digression, as [contracted] pedantick or paradoxical.

'Socrates rather was of opinion, that what we had to learn was how to [obtain and communicate happiness] do good and avoid evil.

'Its elegance [who can exhibit?] is less attainable.'

I could, with pleasure, expatiate upon the masterly execution of the Life of DRYDEN, which we have seen[158] was one of Johnson's literary projects at an early period, and which it is remarkable, that after desisting from it, from a supposed scantiness of materials, he should, at an advanced age, have exhibited so amply.

His defence[159] of that great poet against the illiberal attacks upon him, as if his embracing the Roman Catholick communion had been a time-serving measure, is a piece of reasoning at once able and candid. Indeed, Dryden himself, in his Hind and Panther, has given such a picture of his mind, that they who know the anxiety for repose as to the aweful subject of our state beyond the grave, though they may think his opinion ill-founded, must think charitably of his sentiment:—

'But, gracious GOD, how well dost thou provide For erring judgements an unerring guide! Thy throne is darkness in the abyss of light, A blaze of glory that forbids the sight. O! teach me to believe thee thus conceal'd, And search no farther than thyself reveal'd; But Her alone for my director take, Whom thou hast promis'd never to forsake. My thoughtless youth was wing'd with vain desires; My manhood long misled by wand'ring fires, Follow'd false lights; and when their glimpse was gone, My pride struck out new sparkles of her own. Such was I, such by Nature still I am; Be thine the glory, and be mine the shame. Good life be now my task: my doubts are done; What more could shock[160] my faith than Three in One?'

In drawing Dryden's character, Johnson has given, though I suppose unintentionally, some touches of his own. Thus:—'The power that predominated in his intellectual operations was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented, he studied rather than felt; and produced sentiments not such as Nature enforces, but meditation supplies. With the simple and elemental passions as they spring separate in the mind, he seems not much acquainted. He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetick; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others[161].' It may indeed be observed, that in all the numerous writings of Johnson, whether in prose or verse, and even in his Tragedy, of which the subject is the distress of an unfortunate Princess, there is not a single passage that ever drew a tear[162].

Various Readings in the Life of DRYDEN.

'The reason of this general perusal, Addison has attempted to [find in] derive from the delight which the mind feels in the investigation of secrets.

'His best actions are but [convenient] inability of wickedness.

'When once he had engaged himself in disputation, [matter] thoughts flowed in on either side.

'The abyss of an un-ideal [emptiness] vacancy.

'These, like [many other harlots,] the harlots of other men, had his love though not his approbation.

'He [sometimes displays] descends to display his knowledge with pedantick ostentation.

'French words which [were then used in] had then crept into conversation.'

The Life of POPE[163] was written by Johnson con amore, both from the early possession which that writer had taken of his mind, and from the pleasure which he must have felt, in for ever silencing all attempts to lessen his poetical fame, by demonstrating his excellence, and pronouncing the following triumphant eulogium[164]:—'After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking in return, If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumscribe poetry by a definition, will only shew the narrowness of the definer; though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past; let us enquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed.'

I remember once to have heard Johnson say, 'Sir, a thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope.' That power must undoubtedly be allowed its due share in enhancing the value of his captivating composition.

Johnson, who had done liberal justice to Warburton in his edition of Shakspeare[165], which was published during the life of that powerful writer, with still greater liberality[166] took an opportunity, in the Life of Pope, of paying the tribute due to him when he was no longer in 'high place,' but numbered with the dead[167].

It seems strange, that two such men as Johnson and Warburton, who lived in the same age and country, should not only not have been in any degree of intimacy, but been almost personally unacquainted. But such instances, though we must wonder at them, are not rare. If I am rightly informed, after a careful enquiry, they never met but once, which was at the house of Mrs. French, in London, well known for her elegant assemblies, and bringing eminent characters together. The interview proved to be mutually agreeable[168].

I am well informed, that Warburton said of Johnson, 'I admire him, but I cannot bear his style:' and that Johnson being told of this, said, 'That is exactly my case as to him[169].' The manner in which he expressed his admiration of the fertility of Warburton's genius and of the variety of his materials was, 'The table is always full, Sir. He brings things from the north, and the south, and from every quarter. In his Divine Legation, you are always entertained. He carries you round and round, without carrying you forward to the point; but then you have no wish to be carried forward.' He said to the Reverend Mr. Strahan, 'Warburton is perhaps the last man who has written with a mind full of reading and reflection[170].'

It is remarkable, that in the Life of Broome[171], Johnson takes notice of Dr. Warburton using a mode of expression which he himself used, and that not seldom, to the great offence of those who did not know him. Having occasion to mention a note, stating the different parts which were executed by the associated translators of The Odyssey, he says, 'Dr. Warburton told me, in his warm language, that he thought the relation given in the note a lie. The language is warm indeed; and, I must own, cannot be justified in consistency with a decent regard to the established forms of speech. Johnson had accustomed himself to use the word lie[172], to express a mistake or an errour in relation; in short, when the thing was not so as told, though the relator did not mean to deceive. When he thought there was intentional falsehood in the relator, his expression was, 'He lies, and he knows he lies.'

Speaking of Pope's not having been known to excel in conversation, Johnson observes, that 'traditional memory retains no sallies of raillery, or[173] sentences of observation; nothing either pointed or solid, wise or merry[174]; and that one apophthegm only is recorded[175].' In this respect, Pope differed widely from Johnson, whose conversation was, perhaps, more admirable than even his writings, however excellent. Mr. Wilkes has, however, favoured me with one repartee of Pope, of which Johnson was not informed. Johnson, after justly censuring him for having 'nursed in his mind a foolish dis-esteem of Kings,' tells us, 'yet a little regard shewn him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say when he was asked by his Royal Highness, how he could love a Prince, while he disliked Kings[176]?' The answer which Pope made, was, 'The young lion is harmless, and even playful; but when his claws are full grown he becomes cruel, dreadful, and mischievous.'

But although we have no collection of Pope's sayings, it is not therefore to be concluded, that he was not agreeable in social intercourse; for Johnson has been heard to say, that 'the happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered but a general effect of pleasing impression.' The late Lord Somerville[177], who saw much both of great and brilliant life, told me, that he had dined in company with Pope, and that after dinner the little man, as he called him, drank his bottle of Burgundy, and was exceedingly gay and entertaining.

I cannot withhold from my great friend a censure of at least culpable inattention, to a nobleman, who, it has been shewn[178], behaved to him with uncommon politeness. He says, 'Except Lord Bathurst, none of Pope's noble friends were such as that a good man would wish to have his intimacy with them known to posterity[179].' This will not apply to Lord Mansfield, who was not ennobled in Pope's life-time; but Johnson should have recollected, that Lord Marchmont was one of those noble friends. He includes his Lordship along with Lord Bolingbroke, in a charge of neglect of the papers which Pope left by his will; when, in truth, as I myself pointed out to him, before he wrote that poet's life, the papers were 'committed to the sole care and judgement of Lord Bolingbroke, unless he (Lord Bolingbroke) shall not survive me;' so that Lord Marchmont had no concern whatever with them[180]. After the first edition of the Lives, Mr. Malone, whose love of justice is equal to his accuracy, made, in my hearing, the same remark to Johnson; yet he omitted to correct the erroneous statement[181]. These particulars I mention, in the belief that there was only forgetfulness in my friend; but I owe this much to the Earl of Marchmont's reputation, who, were there no other memorials, will be immortalised by that line of Pope, in the verses on his Grotto:

'And the bright flame was shot through Marchmont's soul.'

Various Readings in the Life of POPE.

'[Somewhat free] sufficiently bold in his criticism.

'All the gay [niceties] varieties of diction.

'Strikes the imagination with far [more] greater force.

'It is [probably] certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen.

'Every sheet enabled him to write the next with [less trouble] more facility.

'No man sympathizes with [vanity, depressed] the sorrows of vanity.

'It had been [criminal] less easily excused.

'When he [threatened to lay down] talked of laying down his pen.

'Society [is so named emphatically in opposition to] politically regulated, is a state contra-distinguished from a state of nature.

'A fictitious life of an [absurd] infatuated scholar.

'A foolish [contempt, disregard,] disesteem of Kings.

'His hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows [were like those of other mortals] acted strongly upon his mind.

'Eager to pursue knowledge and attentive to [accumulate] retain it.

'A mind [excursive] active, ambitious, and adventurous.

'In its [noblest] widest researches still longing to go forward.

'He wrote in such a manner as might expose him to few [neglects] hazards.

'The [reasonableness] justice of my determination.

'A [favourite] delicious employment of the poets.

'More terrifick and more powerful [beings] phantoms perform on the stormy ocean.

'The inventor of [those] this petty [beings] nation.

'The [mind] heart naturally loves truth.'

In the Life of ADDISON we find an unpleasing account of his having lent Steele a hundred pounds, and 'reclaimed his loan by an execution[182].' In the new edition of the Biographia Britannica, the authenticity of this anecdote is denied. But Mr. Malone has obliged me with the following note concerning it:—

'Many persons having doubts concerning this fact, I applied to Dr. Johnson to learn on what authority he asserted it. He told me, he had it from Savage, who lived in intimacy with Steele, and who mentioned, that Steele told him the story with tears in his eyes.—Ben Victor[183], Dr. Johnson said, likewise informed him of this remarkable transaction, from the relation of Mr. Wilkes[184] the comedian, who was also an intimate of Steele's.—Some in defence of Addison, have said, that "the act was done with the good natured view of rousing Steele, and correcting that profusion which always made him necessitous."—"If that were the case, (said Johnson,) and that he only wanted to alarm Steele, he would afterwards have returned the money to his friend, which it is not pretended he did."—"This too, (he added,) might be retorted by an advocate for Steele, who might alledge, that he did not repay the loan intentionally, merely to see whether Addison would be mean and ungenerous enough to make use of legal process to recover it. But of such speculations there is no end: we cannot dive into the hearts of men; but their actions are open to observation[185]."

'I then mentioned to him that some people thought that Mr. Addison's character was so pure, that the fact, though true, ought to have been suppressed[186]. He saw no reason for this[187]. "If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shewn, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing. The sacred writers (he observed) related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair, into which otherwise they would naturally fall, were they not supported by the recollection that others had offended like themselves, and by penitence and amendment of life had been restored to the favour of Heaven."


'March 15, 1782.'

The last paragraph of this note is of great importance; and I request that my readers may consider it with particular attention. It will be afterwards referred to in this work[188].

Various Readings in the Life of ADDISON.

'[But he was our first great example] He was, however, one of our earliest examples of correctness.

And [overlook] despise their masters.

His instructions were such as the [state] character of his [own time] readers made [necessary] proper.

His purpose was to [diffuse] infuse literary curiosity by gentle and unsuspected conveyance [among] into the gay, the idle, and the wealthy.

Framed rather for those that [wish] are learning to write.

Domestick [manners] scenes.'

In his Life of PARNELL, I wonder that Johnson omitted to insert an Epitaph which he had long before composed for that amiable man, without ever writing it down, but which he was so good as, at my request, to dictate to me, by which means it has been preserved.

'Hic requiescit THOMAS PARNELL, S.T.P. Qui sacerdos pariter et poeta, Utrasque partes ita implevit, Ut neque sacerdoti suavitas poetae, Neo poetae sacerdotis sanctitas[189], deesset.'

Various Readings in the Life of PARNELL.

'About three years [after] afterwards.

[Did not much want] was in no great need of improvement.

But his prosperity did not last long [was clouded by that which took away all his powers of enjoying either profit or pleasure, the death of his wife, whom he is said to have lamented with such sorrow, as hastened his end[190].] His end, whatever was the cause, was now approaching.

In the Hermit, the [composition] narrative, as it is less airy, is less pleasing.'

In the Life of BLACKMORE, we find that writer's reputation generously cleared by Johnson from the cloud of prejudice which the malignity of contemporary wits had raised around it[191]. In this spirited exertion of justice, he has been imitated by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his praise of the architecture of Vanburgh[192].

We trace Johnson's own character in his observations on Blackmore's 'magnanimity as an authour.' 'The incessant attacks of his enemies, whether serious or merry, are never discovered to have disturbed his quiet, or to have lessened his confidence in himself.' Johnson, I recollect, once told me, laughing heartily, that he understood it had been said of him, 'He appears not to feel; but when he is alone, depend upon it, he suffers sadly.' I am as certain as I can be of any man's real sentiments, that he enjoyed the perpetual shower of little hostile arrows as evidences of his fame.

Various Readings in the Life of BLACKMORE.

To [set] engage poetry [on the side] in the cause of virtue.

He likewise [established] enforced the truth of Revelation.

[Kindness] benevolence was ashamed to favour.

His practice, which was once [very extensive] invidiously great. There is scarcely any distemper of dreadful name [of] which he has not [shewn] taught his reader how [it is to be opposed] to oppose.

Of this [contemptuous] indecent arrogance.

[He wrote] but produced likewise a work of a different kind.

At least [written] compiled with integrity.

Faults which many tongues [were desirous] would have made haste to publish.

But though he [had not] could not boast of much critical knowledge.

He [used] waited for no felicities of fancy.

Or had ever elevated his [mind] views to that ideal perfection which every [mind] genius born to excel is condemned always to pursue and never overtake.

The [first great] fundamental principle of wisdom and of virtue.'

Various Readings in the Life of PHILIPS.

'His dreaded [rival] antagonist Pope.

They [have not often much] are not loaded with thought.

In his translations from Pindar, he [will not be denied to have reached] found the art of reaching all the obscurity of the Theban bard.'

Various Readings in the Life of CONGREVE.

'Congreve's conversation must surely have been at least equally pleasing with his writings.

It apparently [requires] pre-supposes a familiar knowledge of many characters.

Reciprocation of [similes] conceits.

The dialogue is quick and [various] sparkling.

Love for Love; a comedy [more drawn from life] of nearer alliance to life.

The general character of his miscellanies is, that they shew little wit and [no] little virtue.

[Perhaps] certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyrick poetry.'

Various Readings in the Life of TICKELL.

'[Longed] long wished to peruse it.

At the [accession] arrival of King George.

Fiction [unnaturally] unskilfully compounded of Grecian deities and Gothick fairies.'

Various Readings in the Life of AKENSIDE.

'For [another] a different purpose.

[A furious] an unnecessary and outrageous zeal.

[Something which] what he called and thought liberty.

A [favourer of innovation] lover of contradiction.

Warburton's [censure] objections.

His rage [for liberty] of patriotism.

Mr. Dyson with [a zeal] an ardour of friendship.'

In the Life of LYTTELTON, Johnson seems to have been not favourably disposed towards that nobleman[193]. Mrs. Thrale suggests that he was offended by Molly Aston's[194] preference of his Lordship to him[195]. I can by no means join in the censure bestowed by Johnson on his Lordship, whom he calls 'poor Lyttelton,' for returning thanks to the Critical Reviewers for having 'kindly commended' his Dialogues of the Dead. Such 'acknowledgements (says my friend) never can be proper, since they must be paid either for flattery or for justice.' In my opinion, the most upright man, who has been tried on a false accusation, may, when he is acquitted, make a bow to his jury. And when those who are so much the arbiters of literary merit, as in a considerable degree to influence the publick opinion, review an authour's work, placido lumine[196], when I am afraid mankind in general are better pleased with severity, he may surely express a grateful sense of their civility[197].

Various Readings in the Life of LYTTELTON.

'He solaced [himself] his grief by writing a long poem to her memory.

The production rather [of a mind that means well than thinks vigorously] as it seems of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions.

His last literary [work] production.

[Found the way] undertook to persuade.'

As the introduction to his critical examination of the genius and writings of YOUNG, he did Mr. Herbert Croft[198], then a Barrister of Lincoln's-inn, now a clergyman, the honour to adopt[199] a Life of Young written by that gentleman, who was the friend of Dr. Young's son, and wished to vindicate him from some very erroneous remarks to his prejudice. Mr. Croft's performance was subjected to the revision of Dr. Johnson, as appears from the following note to Mr. John Nichols[200]:—

'This Life of Dr. Young was written by a friend of his son. What is crossed with black is expunged by the authour, what is crossed with red is expunged by me. If you find any thing more that can be well omitted, I shall not be sorry to see it yet shorter[201]'

It has always appeared to me to have a considerable share of merit, and to display a pretty successful imitation of Johnson's style. When I mentioned this to a very eminent literary character[202], he opposed me vehemently, exclaiming, 'No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength.' This was an image so happy, that one might have thought he would have been satisfied with it; but he was not. And setting his mind again to work, he added, with exquisite felicity, 'It has all the contortions of the Sybil, without the inspiration.'

Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man[203]; and mentions, that 'his parish was indebted to the good-humour of the authour of the Night Thoughts for an Assembly and a Bowling-Green[204].' A letter from a noble foreigner is quoted, in which he is said to have been 'very pleasant in conversation[205].'

Mr. Langton, who frequently visited him, informs me, that there was an air of benevolence in his manner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what has been called the Augustan age of England; and that he shewed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then passing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.

An instance at once of his pensive turn of mind, and his cheerfulness of temper, appeared in a little story which he himself told to Mr. Langton, when they were walking in his garden: 'Here (said he) I had put a handsome sun-dial, with this inscription, Eheu fugaces![206] which (speaking with a smile) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off.'[207]

'It gives me much pleasure to observe, that however Johnson may have casually talked,[208] yet when he sits, as "an ardent judge zealous to his trust, giving sentence" [209] upon the excellent works of Young, he allows them the high praise to which they are justly entitled. "The Universal Passion (says he) is indeed a very great performance,—his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth."'[210]

But I was most anxious concerning Johnson's decision upon Night Thoughts, which I esteem as a mass of the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced; and was delighted to find this character of that work: 'In his Night Thoughts, he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflections and striking allusions; a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhime but with disadvantage.'[211] And afterwards, 'Particular lines are not to be regarded; the power is in the whole; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation[212], the magnificence of vast extent and endless diversity.'

But there is in this Poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the Pathetick beyond almost any example that I have seen. He who does not feel his nerves shaken, and his heart pierced by many passages in this extraordinary work, particularly by that most affecting one, which describes the gradual torment suffered by the contemplation of an object of affectionate attachment, visibly and certainly decaying into dissolution, must be of a hard and obstinate frame[213].

To all the other excellencies of Night Thoughts let me add the great and peculiar one, that they contain not only the noblest sentiments of virtue, and contemplations on immortality, but the Christian Sacrifice, the Divine Propitiation, with all its interesting circumstances, and consolations to 'a wounded spirit[214],' solemnly and poetically displayed in such imagery and language, as cannot fail to exalt, animate, and soothe the truly pious. No book whatever can be recommended to young persons, with better hopes of seasoning their minds with vital religion, than YOUNG'S Night Thoughts.

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