Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

write nothing else; they were to have, I think, a third of the profits of his six-penny pamphlet; and the contract was for ninety-nine years. I wish I had thought of giving this to Thurlow, in the cause about Literary Property. What au excellent instance would it have been of the oppression of booksellers towards poor authors! (smiling) Davies, zealous for the honour of the trade, said, Gardner was not properly a bookseller. Johnson. Nay, Sir; he certainly was a bookseller. He had served his time regularly, was a member of the Stationer's company, kept a shop in the face of mankind, purchased copy-right, and was a bibliopole, Sir, in every sense. I wrote for some months in The Universal Visitor,' for poor Smart, while he was mad, not then knowing the terms on which he was engaged to write, and thinking I was doing him good. I hoped his wits would soon return to him. Mine returned to me, and I wrote in the Universal Visitor' no longer,

Friday, April 7, I dined with him at a Tavern, with a numerous company. Johnson. I have been reading Twiss's Travels in Spain,' which are just come out. They are as good as the first book of travels They are as good as those of Keysler or Blainexcept the learning. They are not so better than Pococke's, I have not,

that you will take up. ville: nay, as Addison's, if you good as Brydone's, but they are indeed, cut the leaves yet; but I have read in them where the pages are open, and I do not suppose that what is in the pages which are closed is worse than what is in the open pages. It would seem (he added,) that Addison had not acquired much Italian learning, for we do not find it introduced into his writings. The only instance that I recollect, is his quoting Stavo bene; per star meglio, sto qui.'

I mentioned Addison's having borrowed many of his classical remarks from Leandro Alberti. M. Beauclerk said, It was alleged that he had borrowed also from another Italian author. Johnson. Why, Sir, all who go to look for what the Classics have said of Italy, must find the same passages; and I should think it would be one of the first things the Italians would do on the revival of learning, to collect all that the Roman authors have said of their country.

Ossian being mentioned ;-Johuson. Supposing the Irish and Erse languages to be the same, which I do not believe, yet as there is no reason to suppose that the inhabitants of the Highlands and Hebrides ever wrote their native language, it is not to be credited that a long poem was preserved among them. If we had no evidence of the art of writing being practised in one of the counties of England, we should not believe that a long poem was preserved there, though in the neighbouring countries, where the same language was spoken, the inhabitants could write. Beauclerk. The ballad of Lilliburlero was once in the mouths of all the people of this country, and is said to have had a great effect in bringing about the Revolution. Yet I question whether any body can repeat it now; which shewn.ow improbable it is that much poetry should be preserved by tradition.

[blocks in formation]

One of the company suggested an internal objection to the antiquity of the poetry said to be Ossian's, that we do not find the wolf in it, which must have been the case had it been of that age.

[ocr errors]

The mention of the wolf had led Johnson to think of other wild beasts; and while Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Langton were carrying on a dialogue about something which engaged them earnestly, he, in the midst of it, broke out, Pennant tells of Bears.'-[what he added, I have forgotten.] They went on, which he being dull of hearing, did not perceive, or, if he did, was not willing to break off his talk; so he continued to vociferate his remarks, and Bear (like a word in a catch as Beauclerk said), was repeatedly heard at intervals, which coming from him who, by those who did not know him, had been so often assimilated to that ferocious animal, while we who were sitting around could hardly stifle laughter, produced a very ludicrous effect. Silence having ensued, he proceeded: We are told, that the black bear is innocent; but I should not like to trust myself with him.' Mr. Gibbon inuttered, in a low tone of voice, I should not like to trust myself with you.' This piece of sarcastic pleasantry was a prudent resolution, if applied to a competition of abilities.

Patriotism having become one of our topics, Johnson suddenly uttered in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.' But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged, (not by Johnson) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired. Johnson. Sir, I do not say that he is not honest: but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest. Were he to accept a place from this ministry, he would lose that character of firmness which he has, and might be turned out of his place in a year. This ministry is neither stable, nor grateful to their friends, as Sir Robert Walpole was so that he may think it more for his interest to take his chance of his party coming in.

Mrs. Pritchard being mentioned, he said, Her playing was quite mechanical. It is wonderful how little mind she had. Sir, she had never read the tragedy of Macbeth all through. She no more thought of the play out of which her part was taken, than a shoemaker thinks of the skin, out of which the piece of leather, of which he is making a pair of shoes, is cut.

On Saturday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where we met the Irish Dr. Campbell. Johnson had supped the night before at Mrs, Abington's with some fashionable people whom he named; and he seemed much pleased with having made one in so elegant a circle. Nor did he omit to pique his mistress a little with jealousy of her house

wifery for, (said he with a smile,) Mrs. Abington's jelly, my dear lady, was better than yours.'

Mrs. Thrale, who frequently practised a coarse mode of flattery, by repeating his bon-mots in his hearing, told us that he had said, a certain celebrated actor was just fit to stand at the door of an auction-room with a long pole, and cry, Pray, gentlemen, walk in ; and that a certain author, upon hearing this, had said, that another still more celebrated actor was fit for nothing better than that, and would pick your pocket after you came out. Johnson. Nay, my dear lady, there is no wit in what our friend added; there is only abuse. You may as well say of any man that he will pick a pocket. Besides, the man who is stationed at the door does not pick people's pockets; that is done within, by the auctioneer,

Mrs. Thrale told us, that Tom Davies repeated, in a very bold manner, the story of Dr. Johnson's first repartee to me, which I have related exactly. He made me say, 'I was born in Scotland,' instead of 'come from Scotland;' so that Johnson's saying, That, Sir, is what a great many of your countrymen cannot help,' had no point, or even meaning: and that upon this being mentioned to Mr. Fitzherbert, he observed, 'It is not every man that can carry a bon mot.'

On Monday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with Mr. Langton and the Irish Dr. Campbell, whom the General had This learned gentleman obligingly given me leave to bring with me. was thus gratified with a very high intellectual feast, by not only being in company with Dr. Johnson, but with General Oglethorpe, who had been so long a celebrated name both at home and abroad.

1 must, again and again, intreat of my readers not to suppose that my imperfect record of conversation contains the whole of what was said by Johnson, or other eminent persons who lived with him. What I have preserved, however, has the value of the most perfect authenticity. He this day enlarged upon Pope's melancholy remark,

"Man never is, but always to be blest,"

He asserted that the present was never a happy state to any human being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion, that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he auswered, Never, but when he is drunk.'

He said,

If I were fur

He urged General Oglethorpe to give the world his Life. I know no man whose life would be more interesting. nished with materials, I should be very glad to write it.' Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the room. observed They are very well; but such as twenty people might write.' Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim,

Dr. Johnson

[blocks in formation]

for here, (I observed) was a very middle-rate poet, who pleased many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to some es➡ teem; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing else, have different gradations of excellence, and consequently of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that as there is no necessity for our haying poetry, at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of plea sure, it can have no value unless when exquisite in its kind.' I declared myself not satisfied. Why, then, Sir, (said he,) Horace and you must settle it. He was not much in the humour of talking.

No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journa), except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of lace for his lady, he said, Well, Sir, you have done a good thing and a wise thing. I have done a good thing, (said the gentleman,) but I do not know that I have done a wise, thing. Johnson. Yes, Sir; no money is better spent,than what, is laid out for domestic satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is drest as well as other people; and a wife is pleased that she is drest.

Ou Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the morning, according to my usual custom ou that day, and breakfasted. with him, I observed that he fasted so very strictly, that he did not eveu taste bread, and took no milk with his tea; I suppose because it is a kiud of animal food,

He entered upon the state of the nation, and thus discoursed: 'Sir, the great misfortune now is, that government has too little power. All that it has to bestow must, of, necessity be given to support itself; so that it cannot reward merit. No man, for instance, can now be made a Bishop for his learning and piety; his only chance for promotion is his being connected with, somebody, who has parliamentary interest. Our several ministers in this reign have out-bid each other in concessions to the people. Lord Bute, though a very honourable man,—a man who meant well, a man who had his blood full of prerogative,was a theoretical statesman,- -a book-minister,-and thought this country could be governed by the influence of the crown alone. Then, Sir, he gave up a great deal. He advised the King to agree that the Judges should hold their places for life, instead of losing them at the accession of a new King. Lord Bute, I suppose, thought to make the King popular by this concession; but the people never minded it ; and it was a most impolitic measure. There is no reason why a Judge should hold his office for life, more than any other persou in public trust. A Judge tnay be partial otherwise than to the Crown: we have seen Judges partial to the populace. A Judge may become corrupt, and yet there may not be legal evidence against him. A Judge may become froward from age. A Judge may grow unfit for his office in many ways. It was de

sirable that there should be a possibility of being delivered from him by a new King. That is now done by an act of Parliament ex gratia of the Crown. Lord Bute advised the King to give up a very large sum of money, for which nobody thanked him. It was of consequence to the King, but nothing to the public, among whom it was divided, When I say Lord Bute advised, I mean, that such acts were done when he was minister, and we are to suppose that he advised them.-Lord Bute shewed an undue partiality to Scotchmen. He turned out Dr. Nichols, a very eminent man, from being physician to the King, to make room for one of his countrymen, a man very low in his profession. He had and **** to go on errands for him. He had occasion for people to go on errands for him; but he should not have had Scotchmen; and, certainly, he should not have suffered them to have access to him before the first people in England."

****

I told him, that the admission of one of them before the first people in England, which had given the greatest offence, was no more than what happens at every minister's levee, where those who attend are admitted in the order that they have come, which is better than adinitting them according to their rank; for if that were to be the rule, a man who has waited all the morning might have the mortification to see a peer, newly come, go in before him, and keep him waiting still. Johnson. True, Sin; but **** should not have come to the levee, to be in the way of people of consequence. He saw Lord Bute at all times; and could have said what he had to say at any time, as well as at the levee. There is now no Prime Minister; there is only an agent for government-in the House of Commons. We are governed by the Cabinet: but there is no one head there since Sir Robert Walpole's time. Boswell. What then, Sir, is the use of Parliament? Johnson. Why, Sir, Parliament is a large council to the King; and the advantage of such a council is, having a great number of men of property concerned in the legislature, who, for their own interest, will not consent to bad laws. And you must have observed, Sir,, the administration is feeble and timid, and cannot act with that authority and resolution which is necessary. Were 1 in power, I would turn out every man who dared to oppose me. Government has the distribution of offices, that it may be enabled to maintain its authority.

Lord Bute (he added), took down too fast, without building up something new. Boswell. Because, Sir, he found a rotten building. The political coach was drawn by a set of bad horses; it was necessary to change them. Johnson. But he should have changed them one by one.

I told him that I had been informed by Mr. Orme, that many parts of the East-Indies were better mapped than the Highlands of Scotland. Johnson. That a country may be mapped, it must be travelled over. Nay, (said I, meaning to laugh with him at one of his prejudices), can't you say, it is not worth mapping?

As we walked to St. Clement's church, and saw several shops open upon this most solemn fast-day of the Christian world, I remarked, that

« EdellinenJatka »