Life of Johnson
Part 7 out of 12
We sat together till it was too late for the afternoon service.
Thrale said he had come with intention to go to church with us. We
went at seven to evening prayers at St. Clement's church, after
having drank coffee; an indulgence, which I understood Johnson
yielded to on this occasion, in compliment to Thrale.
On Sunday, April 7, Easter-day, after having been at St. Paul's
Cathedral, I came to Dr. Johnson, according to my usual custom. It
seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and
placid in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of
the most joyful event in the history of our world, the resurrection
of our LORD and SAVIOUR, who, having triumphed over death and the
grave, proclaimed immortality to mankind.
I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who
maintained, that her husband's having been guilty of numberless
infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they
were reciprocal. JOHNSON. 'This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the
contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third
party--Society; and if it be considered as a vow--GOD: and,
therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are
not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may
be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him
without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A
man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is
not to seize upon another's property with his own hand.' BOSWELL.
'But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be
dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in
gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she
takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You
know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia.' JOHNSON. 'This
lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.'
Mr. Macbean, authour of the Dictionary of ancient Geography, came
in. He mentioned that he had been forty years absent from
Scotland. 'Ah, Boswell! (said Johnson, smiling,) what would you
give to be forty years from Scotland?' I said, 'I should not like
to be so long absent from the seat of my ancestors.' This
gentleman, Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Levet, dined with us.
Mrs. Williams was very peevish; and I wondered at Johnson's
patience with her now, as I had often done on similar occasions.
The truth is, that his humane consideration of the forlorn and
indigent state in which this lady was left by her father, induced
him to treat her with the utmost tenderness, and even to be
desirous of procuring her amusement, so as sometimes to incommode
many of his friends, by carrying her with him to their houses,
where, from her manner of eating, in consequence of her blindness,
she could not but offend the delicacy of persons of nice
After coffee, we went to afternoon service in St. Clement's church.
Observing some beggars in the street as we walked along, I said to
him I supposed there was no civilized country in the world, where
the misery of want in the lowest classes of the people was
prevented. JOHNSON. 'I believe, Sir, there is not; but it is
better that some should be unhappy, than that none should be happy,
which would be the case in a general state of equality.'
When the service was ended, I went home with him, and we sat
quietly by ourselves.
Upon the question whether a man who had been guilty of vicious
actions would do well to force himself into solitude and sadness;
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, unless it prevent him from being vicious again.
With some people, gloomy penitence is only madness turned upside
down. A man may be gloomy, till, in order to be relieved from
gloom, he has recourse again to criminal indulgencies.'
On Wednesday, April 10, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where
were Mr. Murphy and some other company. Before dinner, Dr. Johnson
and I passed some time by ourselves. I was sorry to find it was
now resolved that the proposed journey to Italy should not take
place this year. He said, 'I am disappointed, to be sure; but it
is not a great disappointment.' I wondered to see him bear, with a
philosophical calmness, what would have made most people peevish
and fretful. I perceived, however, that he had so warmly cherished
the hope of enjoying classical scenes, that he could not easily
part with the scheme; for he said: 'I shall probably contrive to
get to Italy some other way. But I won't mention it to Mr. and
Mrs. Thrale, as it might vex them.' I suggested, that going to
Italy might have done Mr. and Mrs. Thrale good. JOHNSON. 'I
rather believe not, Sir. While grief is fresh, every attempt to
divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be DIGESTED, and
then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.'
I said, I disliked the custom which some people had of bringing
their children into company, because it in a manner forced us to
pay foolish compliments to please their parents. JOHNSON. 'You
are right, Sir. We may be excused for not caring much about other
people's children, for there are many who care very little about
their own children. It may be observed, that men, who from being
engaged in business, or from their course of life in whatever way,
seldom see their children, do not care much about them. I myself
should not have had much fondness for a child of my own.' MRS.
THRALE. 'Nay, Sir, how can you talk so?' JOHNSON. 'At least, I
never wished to have a child.'
He talked of Lord Lyttelton's extreme anxiety as an authour;
observing, that 'he was thirty years in preparing his History, and
that he employed a man to point it for him; as if (laughing)
another man could point his sense better than himself.' Mr. Murphy
said, he understood his history was kept back several years for
fear of Smollet. JOHNSON. 'This seems strange to Murphy and me,
who never felt that anxiety, but sent what we wrote to the press,
and let it take its chance.' MRS. THRALE. 'The time has been,
Sir, when you felt it.' JOHNSON. 'Why, really, Madam, I do not
recollect a time when that was the case.'
On Thursday, April 11, I dined with him at General Paoli's, in
whose house I now resided, and where I had ever afterwards the
honour of being entertained with the kindest attention as his
constant guest, while I was in London, till I had a house of my own
there. I mentioned my having that morning introduced to Mr.
Garrick, Count Neni, a Flemish Nobleman of great rank and fortune,
to whom Garrick talked of Abel Drugger as A SMALL PART; and
related, with pleasant vanity, that a Frenchman who had seen him in
one of his low characters, exclaimed, 'Comment! je ne le crois pas.
Ce n'est pas Monsieur Garrick, ce Grand Homme!' Garrick added,
with an appearance of grave recollection, 'If I were to begin life
again, I think I should not play those low characters.' Upon which
I observed, 'Sir, you would be in the wrong; for your great
excellence is your variety of playing, your representing so well,
characters so very different.' JOHNSON. 'Garrick, Sir, was not in
earnest in what he said; for, to be sure, his peculiar excellence
is his variety; and, perhaps, there is not any one character which
has not been as well acted by somebody else, as he could do it.'
BOSWELL. 'Why then, Sir, did he talk so?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, to
make you answer as you did.' BOSWELL. 'I don't know, Sir; he
seemed to dip deep into his mind for the reflection.' JOHNSON.
'He had not far to dip, Sir: he said the same thing, probably,
twenty times before.'
Of a nobleman raised at a very early period to high office, he
said, 'His parts, Sir, are pretty well for a Lord; but would not be
distinguished in a man who had nothing else but his parts.'
A journey to Italy was still in his thoughts. He said, 'A man who
has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from
his not having seen what it is expected a man should see. The
grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the
Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires of the
world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman.--All
our religion, almost all our law, almost all our arts, almost all
that sets us above savages, has come to us from the shores of the
Mediterranean.' The General observed, that 'THE MEDITERRANEAN
would be a noble subject for a poem.'
We talked of translation. I said, I could not define it, nor could
I think of a similitude to illustrate it; but that it appeared to
me the translation of poetry could be only imitation. JOHNSON.
'You may translate books of science exactly. You may also
translate history, in so far as it is not embellished with oratory,
which is poetical. Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and,
therefore, it is the poets that preserve languages; for we would
not be at the trouble to learn a language, if we could have all
that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the
beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that
in which it was originally written, we learn the language.'
'Goldsmith (he said,) referred every thing to vanity; his virtues,
and his vices too, were from that motive. He was not a social man.
He never exchanged mind with you.'
We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole's. Mr. Mickle, the excellent
translator of The Lusiad, was there. I have preserved little of
the conversation of this evening. Dr. Johnson said, 'Thomson had a
true poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a
poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that
the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels, who compiled Cibber's
Lives of the Poets, was one day sitting with me. I took down
Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked,--Is
not this fine? Shiels having expressed the highest admiration.
Well, Sir, (said I,) I have omitted every other line.'
I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one
day when they and I were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762.
Goldsmith asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age.
Dodsley appealed to his own Collection, and maintained, that though
you could not find a palace like Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's
Day, you had villages composed of very pretty houses; and he
mentioned particularly The Spleen. JOHNSON. 'I think Dodsley gave
up the question. He and Goldsmith said the same thing; only he
said it in a softer manner than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged
that there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common
mark. You may find wit and humour in verse, and yet no poetry.
Hudibras has a profusion of these; yet it is not to be reckoned a
poem. The Spleen, in Dodsley's Collection, on which you say he
chiefly rested, is not poetry.' BOSWELL. 'Does not Gray's poetry,
Sir, tower above the common mark?' JOHNSON. Yes, Sir; but we must
attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if
they would, and what every man may do if he would. Sixteen-string
Jack* towered above the common mark.' BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, what
is poetry?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it
is not. We all KNOW what light is; but it is not easy to TELL what
* A noted highwayman, who after having been several times tried and
acquitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in
his dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings
at the knees of his breeches.--BOSWELL.
On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's.
He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him the highest
compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for
repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story.
Johnson and I supt this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in
company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one
of the Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dunsinan, and my very
worthy friend, Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question whether drinking improved conversation
and benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained it did. JOHNSON. 'No,
Sir: before dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding;
and those who are conscious of their inferiority, have the modesty
not to talk. When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself
happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous:
but he is not improved; he is only not sensible of his defects.'
Sir Joshua said the Doctor was talking of the effects of excess in
wine; but that a moderate glass enlivened the mind, by giving a
proper circulation to the blood. 'I am (said he,) in very good
spirits, when I get up in the morning. By dinner-time I am
exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got up; and I
am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.' JOHNSON.
'No, Sir; wine gives not light, gay, ideal hilarity; but
tumultuous, noisy, clamorous merriment. I have heard none of those
drunken,--nay, drunken is a coarse word,--none of those VINOUS
flights.' SIR JOSHUA. 'Because you have sat by, quite sober, and
felt an envy of the happiness of those who were drinking.'
JOHNSON. 'Perhaps, contempt.--And, Sir, it is not necessary to be
drunk one's self, to relish the wit of drunkenness. Do we not
judge of the drunken wit, of the dialogue between Iago and Cassio,
the most excellent in its kind, when we are quite sober? Wit is
wit, by whatever means it is produced; and, if good, will appear so
at all times. I admit that the spirits are raised by drinking, as
by the common participation of any pleasure: cock-fighting, or
bear-baiting, will raise the spirits of a company, as drinking
does, though surely they will not improve conversation. I also
admit, that there are some sluggish men who are improved by
drinking; as there are fruits which are not good till they are
rotten. There are such men, but they are medlars. I indeed allow
that there have been a very few men of talents who were improved by
drinking; but I maintain that I am right as to the effects of
drinking in general: and let it be considered, that there is no
position, however false in its universality, which is not true of
some particular man.' Sir William Forbes said, 'Might not a man
warmed with wine be like a bottle of beer, which is made brisker by
being set before the fire?'--'Nay, (said Johnson, laughing,) I
cannot answer that: that is too much for me.'
I observed, that wine did some people harm, by inflaming,
confusing, and irritating their minds; but that the experience of
mankind had declared in favour of moderate drinking. JOHNSON.
'Sir, I do not say it is wrong to produce self complacency by
drinking; I only deny that it improves the mind. When I drank
wine, I scorned to drink it when in company. I have drunk many a
bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had need of it to
raise my spirits; in the second place, because I would have nobody
to witness its effects upon me.'
He told us, 'almost all his Ramblers were written just as they were
wanted for the press; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of
an essay, and wrote the remainder, while the former part of it was
printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he
was sure it would be done.'
He said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever
his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a
man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely
advance. He added, 'what we read with inclination makes a much
stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind
is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be
employed on what we read.' He told us, he read Fielding's Amelia
through without stopping. He said, 'if a man begins to read in the
middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not
quit it, to go to the beginning. He may perhaps not feel again the
Soon after this day, he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I
had never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the
opportunity of visiting it, while Johnson was there.
On the 26th of April, I went to Bath; and on my arrival at the
Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and
Mrs. Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly
during my stay. They were gone to the rooms; but there was a kind
note from Dr. Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening.
I went to him directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we
had by ourselves some hours of tea-drinking and talk.
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during
the few days that I was at Bath.
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a
certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had
of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her
toilet, and even put on rouge:--JohnsoN. 'She is better employed
at her toilet, than using her pen. It is better she should be
reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people's
He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath; observing,
'She does not gain upon me, Sir; I think her empty-headed.' He
was, indeed, a stern critick upon characters and manners. Even
Mrs. Thrale did not escape his friendly animadversion at times.
When he and I were one day endeavouring to ascertain, article by
article, how one of our friends could possibly spend as much money
in his family as he told us he did, she interrupted us by a lively
extravagant sally, on the expence of clothing his children,
describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful manner. Johnson
looked a little angry, and said, 'Nay, Madam, when you are
declaiming, declaim; and when you are calculating, calculate.' At
another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, 'I don't like to
fly.' JOHNSON. 'With YOUR wings, Madam, you MUST fly: but have a
care, there are CLIPPERS abroad.'
On Monday, April 29, he and I made an excursion to Bristol, where I
was entertained with seeing him enquire upon the spot, into the
authenticity of 'Rowley's Poetry,' as I had seen him enquire upon
the spot into the authenticity of 'Ossian's Poetry.' George
Catcot, the pewterer, who was as zealous for Rowley, as Dr. Hugh
Blair was for Ossian, (I trust my Reverend friend will excuse the
comparison,) attended us at our inn, and with a triumphant air of
lively simplicity called out, 'I'll make Dr. Johnson a convert.'
Dr. Johnson, at his desire, read aloud some of Chatterton's
fabricated verses, while Catcot stood at the back of his chair, ,
moving himself like a pendulum, and beating time with his feet, and
now and then looking into Dr. Johnson's face, wondering that he was
not yet convinced. We called on Mr. Barret, the surgeon, and saw
some of the ORIGINALS as they were called, which were executed very
artificially; but from a careful inspection of them, and a
consideration of the circumstances with which they were attended,
we were quite satisfied of the imposture, which, indeed, has been
clearly demonstrated from internal evidence, by several able
Honest Catcot seemed to pay no attention whatever to any
objections, but insisted, as an end of all controversy, that we
should go with him to the tower of the church of St. Mary,
Redcliff, and VIEW WITH OUR OWN EYES the ancient chest in which the
manuscripts were found. To this, Dr. Johnson good-naturedly
agreed; and though troubled with a shortness of breathing, laboured
up a long flight of steps, till we came to the place where the
wonderous chest stood. 'THERE, (said Cateot, with a bouncing
confident credulity,) THERE is the very chest itself.' After this
OCULAR DEMONSTRATION, there was no more to be said. He brought to
my recollection a Scotch Highlander, a man of learning too, and who
had seen the world, attesting, and at the same time giving his
reasons for the authenticity of Fingal:--'I have heard all that
poem when I was young.'--'Have you, Sir? Pray what have you
heard?'--'I have heard Ossian, Oscar, and EVERY ONE OF THEM.'
Johnson said of Chatterton, 'This is the most extraordinary young
man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the
whelp has written such things.'
We were by no means pleased with our inn at Bristol. 'Let us see
now, (said I,) how we should describe it.' Johnson was ready with
his raillery. 'Describe it, Sir?--Why, it was so bad that Boswell
wished to be in Scotland!'
After Dr. Johnson's return to London, I was several times with him
at his house, where I occasionally slept, in the room that had been
assigned to me. I dined with him at Dr. Taylor's, at General
Oglethorpe's, and at General Paoli's. To avoid a tedious
minuteness, I shall group together what I have preserved of his
conversation during this period also, without specifying each scene
where it passed, except one, which will be found so remarkable as
certainly to deserve a very particular relation.
'Garrick (he observed,) does not play the part of Archer in The
Beaux Stratagem well. The gentleman should break out through the
footman, which is not the case as he does it.'
'That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his
relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little
while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to
'Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, I think, might be made a
very pretty book. Take out the immorality, and it should be put
into the hands of every young gentleman. An elegant manner and
easiness of behaviour are acquired gradually and imperceptibly. No
man can say "I'll be genteel." There are ten genteel women for one
genteel man, because they are more restrained. A man without some
degree of restraint is insufferable; but we are all less restrained
than women. Were a woman sitting in company to put out her legs
before her as most men do, we should be tempted to kick them in.'
No man was a more attentive and nice observer of behaviour in those
in whose company he happened to be, than Johnson; or, however
strange it may seem to many, had a higher estimation of its
refinements. Lord Eliot informs me, that one day when Johnson and
he were at dinner at a gentleman's house in London, upon Lord
Chesterfield's Letters being mentioned, Johnson surprized the
company by this sentence: 'Every man of any education would rather
be called a rascal, than accused of deficiency in THE GRACES.' Mr.
Gibbon, who was present, turned to a lady who knew Johnson well,
and lived much with him, and in his quaint manner, tapping his box,
addressed her thus: 'Don't you think, Madam, (looking towards
Johnson,) that among ALL your acquaintance, you could find ONE
exception?' The lady smiled, and seemed to acquiesce.
The uncommon vivacity of General Oglethorpe's mind, and variety of
knowledge, having sometimes made his conversation seem too
desultory, Johnson observed, 'Oglethorpe, Sir, never COMPLETES what
he has to say.'
He on the same account made a similar remark on Patrick Lord
Elibank: 'Sir, there is nothing CONCLUSIVE in his talk.'
When I complained of having dined at a splendid table without
hearing one sentence of conversation worthy of being remembered, he
said, 'Sir, there seldom is any such conversation.' BOSWELL. 'Why
then meet at table?' JOHNSON. 'Why, to eat and drink together,
and to promote kindness; and, Sir, this is better done when there
is no solid conversation; for when there is, people differ in
opinion, and get into bad humour, or some of the company who are
not capable of such conversation, are left out, and feel themselves
uneasy. It was for this reason, Sir Robert Walpole said, he always
talked bawdy at his table, because in that all could join.'
Being irritated by hearing a gentleman* ask Mr. Levett a variety of
questions concerning him, when he was sitting by, he broke out,
'Sir, you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of
both.' 'A man, (said he,) should not talk of himself, nor much of
any particular person. He should take care not to be made a
proverb; and, therefore, should avoid having any one topick of
which people can say, "We shall hear him upon it." There was a Dr.
Oldfield, who was always talking of the Duke of Marlborough. He
came into a coffee-house one day, and told that his Grace had
spoken in the House of Lords for half an hour. "Did he indeed
speak for half an hour?" (said Belehier, the surgeon,)--"Yes."--
"And what did he say of Dr. Oldfield?"--"Nothing"--"Why then, Sir,
he was very ungrateful; for Dr. Oldfield could not have spoken for
a quarter of an hour, without saying something of him."'
* Most likely Boswell himself.--HILL.
I am now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson's Life,
which fell under my own observation; of which pars magna fui, and
which I am persuaded will, with the liberal-minded, be much to his
My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every
description, had made me, much about the same time, obtain an
introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two
men more different could perhaps not be selected out of all
mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in
their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I
could fully relish the excellence of each; for I have ever
delighted in that intellectual chymistry, which can separate good
qualities from evil in the same person.
Sir John Pringle, 'mine own friend and my Father's friend,' between
whom and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance,
as I respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to
me once, very ingeniously, 'It is not in friendship as in
mathematicks, where two things, each equal to a third, are equal
between themselves. You agree with Johnson as a middle quality,
and you agree with me as a middle quality; but Johnson and I should
not agree.' Sir John was not sufficiently flexible; so I desisted;
knowing, indeed, that the repulsion was equally strong on the part
of Johnson; who, I know not from what cause, unless his being a
Scotchman, had formed a very erroneous opinion of Sir John. But I
conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson
and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and
My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry,
at whose hospitable and well-covered table I have seen a greater
number of literary men, than at any other, except that of Sir
Joshua Reynolds, had invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more
gentlemen on Wednesday, May 15. 'Pray (said I,) let us have Dr.
Johnson.'--'What with Mr. Wilkes? not for the world, (said Mr.
Edward Dilly:) Dr. Johnson would never forgive me.'--'Come, (said
I,) if you'll let me negotiate for you, I will be answerable that
all shall go well.' DILLY. 'Nay, if you will take it upon you, I
am sure I shall be very happy to see them both here.'
Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr.
Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by
the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should
gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a
direct proposal, 'Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?'
he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have
answered, 'Dine with Jack Wilkes, Sir! I'd as soon dine with Jack
Ketch.' I therefore, while we were sitting quietly by ourselves at
his house in an evening, took occasion to open my plan thus:--'Mr.
Dilly, Sir, sends his respectful compliments to you, and would be
happy if you would do him the honour to dine with him on Wednesday
next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.' JOHNSON.
'Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him--' BOSWELL.
'Provided, Sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have, is
agreeable to you.' JOHNSON. 'What do you mean, Sir? What do you
take me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world as to
imagine that I am to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to
have at his table?' BOSWELL. 'I beg your pardon, Sir, for wishing
to prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like.
Perhaps he may have some of what he calls his patriotick friends
with him.' Johnson. 'Well, Sir, and what then? What care I for
his PATRIOTICK FRIENDS? Poh!' BOSWELL. 'I should not be
surprized to find Jack Wilkes there.' Johnson. 'And if Jack
Wilkes SHOULD be there, what is that to ME, Sir? My dear friend,
let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you; but
really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not
meet any company whatever, occasionally.' BOSWELL. 'Pray forgive
me, Sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me.'
Thus I secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well
pleased to be one of his guests on the day appointed.
Upon the much-expected Wednesday, I called on him about half an
hour before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out
together, to see that he was ready in time, and to accompany him.
I found him buffeting his books, as upon a former occasion, covered
with dust, and making no preparation for going abroad. 'How is
this, Sir? (said I.) Don't you recollect that you are to dine at
Mr. Dilly's?' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I did not think of going to Dilly's:
it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner at home with Mrs.
Williams.' BOSWELL. 'But, my dear Sir, you know you were engaged
to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so. He will expect you, and will be
much disappointed if you don't come.' JOHNSON. 'You must talk to
Mrs. Williams about this.'
Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I
had secured would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to
shew Mrs. Williams such a degree of humane attention, as frequently
imposed some restraint upon him; and I knew that if she should be
obstinate, he would not stir. I hastened down stairs to the blind
lady's room, and told her I was in great uneasiness, for Dr.
Johnson had engaged to me to dine this day at Mr. Dilly's, but that
he had told me he had forgotten his engagement, and had ordered
dinner at home. 'Yes, Sir, (said she, pretty peevishly,) Dr.
Johnson is to dine at home.'--'Madam, (said I,) his respect for you
is such, that I know he will not leave you unless you absolutely
desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you will
be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very
worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for
Dr. Johnson, and will be vexed if the Doctor neglects him to-day.
And then, Madam, be pleased to consider my situation; I carried the
message, and I assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come, and
no doubt he has made a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted
of the honour he expected to have. I shall be quite disgraced if
the Doctor is not there.' She gradually softened to my
solicitations, which were certainly as earnest as most entreaties
to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously pleased to empower
me to tell Dr. Johnson, 'That all things considered, she thought he
should certainly go.' I flew back to him, still in dust, and
careless of what should be the event, 'indifferent in his choice to
go or stay;' but as soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams'
consent, he roared, 'Frank, a clean shirt,' and was very soon
drest. When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I
exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a
post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna-Green.
When we entered Mr. Dilly's drawing room, he found himself in the
midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent,
watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering
to Mr. Dilly, 'Who is that gentleman, Sir?'--'Mr. Arthur Lee.'--
JOHNSON. 'Too, too, too,' (under his breath,) which was one of his
habitual mutterings. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very
obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a PATRIOT but an
AMERICAN. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the
court of Madrid. 'And who is the gentleman in lace?'--'Mr. Wilkes,
Sir.' This information confounded him still more; he had some
difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book, sat down upon
a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently
for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say,
were aukward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated
me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any
company, and he, therefore, resolutely set himself to behave quite
as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the
disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.
The cheering sound of 'Dinner is upon the table,' dissolved his
reverie, and we ALL sat down without any symptom of ill humour.
There were present, beside Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was
an old companion of mine when he studied physick at Edinburgh, Mr.
(now Sir John) Miller, Dr. Lettsom, and Mr. Slater the druggist.
Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him
with so much attention and politeness, that he gained upon him
insensibly. No man eat more heartily than Johnson, or loved better
what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes was very assiduous in
helping him to some fine veal. 'Pray give me leave, Sir:--It is
better here--A little of the brown--Some fat, Sir--A little of the
stuffing--Some gravy--Let me have the pleasure of giving you some
butter--Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange;--or the
lemon, perhaps, may have more zest.'--'Sir, Sir, I am obliged to
you, Sir,' cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his head to him with
a look for some time of 'surly virtue,' but, in a short while, of
Foote being mentioned, Johnson said, 'He is not a good mimick.'
One of the company added, 'A merry Andrew, a buffoon.' JOHNSON.
'But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility
and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge
enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an
eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with
both hands; but he's gone, Sir, when you think you have got him--
like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great
range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and a jest,
and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is under many
restraints from which Foote is free.' WILKES. 'Garrick's wit is
more like Lord Chesterfield's.' JOHNSON. 'The first time I was in
company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of
the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very
difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my
dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was
so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork,
throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir,
he was irresistible. He upon one occasion experienced, in an
extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining.
Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money,
he became a partner with a small-beer brewer, and he was to have a
share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous
acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small-beer; but it
was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were
at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of
offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a
companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was
rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their
remonstrance; and having invested him with the whole authority of
the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names,
upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote's small-beer no
longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and
this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote's stories,
and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs, he told
them, "This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver
your message. I will drink his small-beer."'
Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES.
'Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now
leaving the stage; but he will play Scrub all his life.' I knew
that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as
Garrick once said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality;
so to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said,
loudly, 'I have heard Garrick is liberal.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, I
know that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England
that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views.
Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have
money, he probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved
when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he
could; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice which he has
had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many
enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him.
Garrick might have been much better attacked for living with more
splendour than is suitable to a player: if they had had the wit to
have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him
more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has
rescued him from much obloquy and envy.'
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information
for biography, Johnson told us, 'When I was a young fellow I wanted
to write the Life of Dryden, and in order to get materials, I
applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these
were old Swinney, and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no
more than this, "That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a
particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter,
and was then called his winter-chair; and that it was carried out
for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-
chair." Cibber could tell no more but "That he remembered him a
decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's." You are
to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden,
had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the
other.' BOSWELL. 'Yet Cibber was a man of observation?' JOHNSON.
'I think not.' BOSWELL. 'You will allow his Apology to be well
done.' JOHNSON. 'Very well done, to be sure, Sir. That book is a
striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:
"Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand."'
BOSWELL. 'And his plays are good.' JOHNSON. 'Yes; but that was
his trade; l'esprit du corps: he had been all his life among
players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say
in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all
that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then
shewed me an Ode of his own, with an absurd couplet, making a
linnet soar on an eagle's wing. I told him that when the ancients
made a simile, they always made it like something real.'
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that 'among all the bold flights of
Shakspeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnamwood march
to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood
in Scotland! ha! ha! ha!' And he also observed, that 'the clannish
slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to
Milton's remark of "The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty," being
worshipped in all hilly countries.'--'When I was at Inverary (said
he,) on a visit to my old friend, Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his
dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace.
I said, "It is then, gentlemen, truely lucky for me; for if I had
displeased the Duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell
among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to
him in a charger. It would have been only
"Off with his head! So much for Aylesbury."
I was then member for Aylesbury.'
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a
barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The SCOTCH
would not know it to be barren.' BOSWELL. 'Come, come, he is
flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and
say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.' JOHNSON.
'Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the enhabitants
sufficient strength to run away from home.' All these quick and
lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a
smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he
and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union
between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited
Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow
ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But
they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I
claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect,
that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another
swears it against him; but there must first be the judgement of a
court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the
person, before judgement is obtained, can take place only, if his
creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or,
as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fugoe: WILKES.
'That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch
nation.' JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes,) 'You must know, Sir, I lately
took my friend Boswell and shewed him genuine civilised life in an
English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my
native city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know
he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.'
WILKES. 'Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like
you and me.' JOHNSON. (smiling,) 'And we ashamed of him.'
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his
asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to
prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of
mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction,
'You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced.' Wilkes talked with all imaginable
freedom of the ludicrous title given to the Attorney-General,
Diabolus Regis; adding, 'I have reason to know something about that
officer; for I was prosecuted for a libel.' Johnson, who many
people would have supposed must have been furiously angry at
hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word. He was now,
INDEED, 'a good-humoured fellow.'
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady,
well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee.
Amidst some patriotick groans, somebody (I think the Alderman)
said, 'Poor old England is lost.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not so
much to be lamented that Old England is lost, as that the Scotch
have found it.' WILKES. 'Had Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I
should not have taken the trouble to write his eulogy, and dedicate
Mortimer to him.'
Mr. Wilkes held a candle to shew a fine print of a beautiful female
figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour
of the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He
afterwards, in a conversation with me, waggishly insisted, that all
the time Johnson shewed visible signs of a fervent admiration of
the corresponding charms of the fair Quaker.
This record, though by no means so perfect as I could wish, will
serve to give a notion of a very curious interview, which was not
only pleasing at the time, but had the agreeable and benignant
effect of reconciling any animosity, and sweetening any acidity,
which in the various bustle of political contest, had been produced
in the minds of two men, who though widely different, had so many
things in common--classical learning, modern literature, wit, and
humour, and ready repartee--that it would have been much to be
regretted if they had been for ever at a distance from each other.
Mr. Burke gave me much credit for this successful NEGOCIATION; and
pleasantly said, that 'there was nothing to equal it in the whole
history of the Corps Diplomatique.'
I attended Dr. Johnson home, and had the satisfaction to hear him
tell Mrs. Williams how much he had been pleased with Mr. Wilkes's
company, and what an agreeable day he had passed.
I talked a good deal to him of the celebrated Margaret Caroline
Rudd, whom I had visited, induced by the fame of her talents,
address, and irresistible power of fascination. To a lady who
disapproved of my visiting her, he said on a former occasion, 'Nay,
Madam, Boswell is in the right; I should have visited her myself,
were it not that they have now a trick of putting every thing into
the news-papers.' This evening he exclaimed, 'I envy him his
acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd.'
On the evening of the next day I took leave of him, being to set
out for Scotland. I thanked him with great warmth for all his
kindness. 'Sir, (said he,) you are very welcome. Nobody repays it
The following letters concerning an Epitaph which he wrote for the
monument of Dr. Goldsmith, in Westminster-Abbey, afford at once a
proof of his unaffected modesty, his carelessness as to his own
writings, and of the great respect which he entertained for the
taste and judgement of the excellent and eminent person to whom
they are addressed:
TO SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
DEAR SIR,--I have been kept away from you, I know not well how, and
of these vexatious hindrances I know not when there will be an end.
I therefore send you the poor dear Doctor's epitaph. Read it first
yourself; and if you then think it right, shew it to the Club. I
am, you know, willing to be corrected. If you think any thing much
amiss, keep it to yourself, till we come together. I have sent two
copies, but prefer the card. The dates must be settled by Dr.
Percy. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
'May 16, 1776.'
It was, I think, after I had left London this year, that this
Epitaph gave occasion to a Remonstrance to the MONARCH OF
LITERATURE, for an account of which I am indebted to Sir William
Forbes, of Pitsligo.
That my readers may have the subject more fully and clearly before
them, I shall first insert the Epitaph.
Poetae, Physici, Historici,
Qui nullum fere scribendi genus
Nullum quod tetiqit non ornavit:
Sive risus essent movendi,
Affectuum potens at lenis dominator:
Ingenio sublimis, vividus, versatilis,
Oratione grandis, nitidus, venustus:
Hoc monumento memoriam coluit
Natus in Hibernia Forniae Longfordiensis,
In loco cui nomen Pallas,
Nov. XXIX. MDCCXXXI;
Eblanae literis institutus;
April IV, MDCCLXXIV.'
Sir William Forbes writes to me thus:--
'I enclose the Round Robin. This jeu d'esprit took its rise one
day at dinner at our friend Sir Joshua Reynolds's. All the company
present, except myself, were friends and acquaintance of Dr.
Goldsmith. The Epitaph, written for him by Dr. Johnson, became the
subject of conversation, and various emendations were suggested,
which it was agreed should be submitted to the Doctor's
consideration. But the question was, who should have the courage
to propose them to him? At last it was hinted, that there could be
no way so good as that of a Round Robin, as the sailors call it,
which they make use of when they enter into a conspiracy, so as not
to let it be known who puts his name first or last to the paper.
This proposition was instantly assented to; and Dr. Barnard, Dean
of Derry, now Bishop of Killaloe, drew up an address to Dr. Johnson
on the occasion, replete with wit and humour, but which it was
feared the Doctor might think treated the subject with too much
levity. Mr. Burke then proposed the address as it stands in the
paper in writing, to which I had the honour to officiate as clerk.
'Sir Joshua agreed to carry it to Dr. Johnson, who received it with
much good humour,* and desired Sir Joshua to tell the gentlemen,
that he would alter the Epitaph in any manner they pleased, as to
the sense of it; but he would never consent to disgrace the walls
of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription.
* He however, upon seeing Dr. Warton's name to the suggestion, that
the Epitaph should be in English, observed to Sir Joshua, 'I wonder
that Joe Warton, a scholar by profession, should be such a fool.'
He said too, 'I should have thought Mund Burke would have had more
sense.' Mr. Langton, who was one of the company at Sir Joshua's,
like a sturdy scholar, resolutely refused to sign the Round Robin.
The Epitaph is engraved upon Dr. Goldsmith's monument without any
alteration. At another time, when somebody endeavoured to argue in
favour of its being in English, Johnson said, 'The language of the
country of which a learned man was a native, is not the language
fit for his epitaph, which should be in ancient and permanent
language. Consider, Sir; how you should feel, were you to find at
Rotterdam an epitaph upon Erasmus IN DUTCH!'--BOSWELL.
'I consider this Round Robin as a species of literary curiosity
worth preserving, as it marks, in a certain degree, Dr. Johnson's
Sir William Forbes's observation is very just. The anecdote now
related proves, in the strongest manner, the reverence and awe with
which Johnson was regarded, by some of the most eminent men of his
time, in various departments, and even by such of them as lived
most with him; while it also confirms what I have again and again
inculcated, that he was by no means of that ferocious and irascible
character which has been ignorantly imagined.
This hasty composition is also to be remarked as one of a thousand
instances which evince the extraordinary promptitude of Mr. Burke;
who while he is equal to the greatest things, can adorn the least;
can, with equal facility, embrace the vast and complicated
speculations of politicks, or the ingenious topicks of literary
'DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. BOSWELL.
'MADAM,--You must not think me uncivil in omitting to answer the
letter with which you favoured me some time ago. I imagined it to
have been written without Mr. Boswell's knowledge, and therefore
supposed the answer to require, what I could not find, a private
'The difference with Lord Auchinleck is now over; and since young
Alexander has appeared, I hope no more difficulties will arise
among you; for I sincerely wish you all happy. Do not teach the
young ones to dislike me, as you dislike me yourself; but let me at
least have Veronica's kindness, because she is my acquaintance.
'You will now have Mr. Boswell home; it is well that you have him;
he has led a wild life. I have taken him to Lichfield, and he has
followed Mr. Thrale to Bath. Pray take care of him, and tame him.
The only thing in which I have the honour to agree with you is, in
loving him; and while we are so much of a mind in a matter of so
much importance, our other quarrels will, I hope, produce no great
bitterness. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
'May 16, 1776.'
I select from his private register the following passage:
'July 25, 1776. O God, who hast ordained that whatever is to be
desired should be sought by labour, and who, by thy blessing,
bringest honest labour to good effect, look with mercy upon my
studies and endeavours. Grant me, O LORD, to design only what is
lawful and right; and afford me calmness of mind, and steadiness of
purpose, that I may so do thy will in this short life, as to obtain
happiness in the world to come, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST our
It appears from a note subjoined, that this was composed when he
'purposed to apply vigorously to study, particularly of the Greek
and Italian tongues.'
Such a purpose, so expressed, at the age of sixty-seven, is
admirable and encouraging; and it must impress all the thinking
part of my readers with a consolatory confidence in habitual
devotion, when they see a man of such enlarged intellectual powers
as Johnson, thus in the genuine earnestness of secrecy, imploring
the aid of that Supreme Being, 'from whom cometh down every good
and every perfect gift.'
1777: AETAT. 68.]--In 1777, it appears from his Prayers and
Meditations, that Johnson suffered much from a state of mind
'unsettled and perplexed,' and from that constitutional gloom,
which, together with his extreme humility and anxiety with regard
to his religious state, made him contemplate himself through too
dark and unfavourable a medium. It may be said of him, that he
'saw GOD in clouds.' Certain we may be of his injustice to himself
in the following lamentable paragraph, which it is painful to think
came from the contrite heart of this great man, to whose labours
the world is so much indebted: 'When I survey my past life, I
discover nothing but a barren waste of time with some disorders of
body, and disturbances of the mind, very near to madness, which I
hope He that made me will suffer to extenuate many faults, and
excuse many deficiencies.' But we find his devotions in this year
eminently fervent; and we are comforted by observing intervals of
quiet, composure, and gladness.
On Easter-day we find the following emphatick prayer:
'Almighty and most merciful Father, who seest all our miseries, and
knowest all our necessities, look down upon me, and pity me.
Defend me from the violent incursion [incursions] of evil thoughts,
and enable me to form and keep such resolutions as may conduce to
the discharge of the duties which thy providence shall appoint me;
and so help me, by thy Holy Spirit, that my heart may surely there
be fixed, where true joys are to be found, and that I may serve
thee with pure affection and a cheerful mind. Have mercy upon me,
O GOD, have mercy upon me; years and infirmities oppress me,
terrour and anxiety beset me. Have mercy upon me, my Creator and
my Judge. [In all dangers protect me.] In all perplexities
relieve and free me; and so help me by thy Holy Spirit, that I may
now so commemorate the death of thy Son our Saviour JESUS CHRIST,
as that when this short and painful life shall have an end, I may,
for his sake, be received to everlasting happiness. Amen.'
'SIR ALEXANDER DICK TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Prestonfield, Feb. 17, 1777.
'SIR, I had yesterday the honour of receiving your book of your
Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, which you was so good
as to send me, by the hands of our mutual friend, Mr. Boswell, of
Auchinleck; for which I return you my most hearty thanks; and after
carefully reading it over again, shall deposit in my little
collection of choice books, next our worthy friend's Journey to
Corsica. As there are many things to admire in both performances,
I have often wished that no Travels or Journeys should be published
but those undertaken by persons of integrity and capacity to judge
well, and describe faithfully, and in good language, the situation,
condition, and manners of the countries past through. Indeed our
country of Scotland, in spite of the union of the crowns, is still
in most places so devoid of clothing, or cover from hedges and
plantations, that it was well you gave your readers a sound
Monitoire with respect to that circumstance. The truths you have
told, and the purity of the language in which they are expressed,
as your Journey is universally read, may, and already appear to
have a very good effect. For a man of my acquaintance, who has the
largest nursery for trees and hedges in this country, tells me,
that of late the demand upon him for these articles is doubled, and
sometimes tripled. I have, therefore, listed Dr. Samuel Johnson in
some of my memorandums of the principal planters and favourers of
the enclosures, under a name which I took the liberty to invent
from the Greek, Papadendrion. Lord Auchinleck and some few more
are of the list. I am told that one gentleman in the shire of
Aberdeen, viz. Sir Archibald Grant, has planted above fifty
millions of trees on a piece of very wild ground at Monimusk: I
must enquire if he has fenced them well, before he enters my list;
for, that is the soul of enclosing. I began myself to plant a
little, our ground being too valuable for much, and that is now
fifty years ago; and the trees, now in my seventy-fourth year, I
look up to with reverence, and shew them to my eldest son now in
his fifteenth year, and they are full the height of my country-
house here, where I had the pleasure of receiving you, and hope
again to have that satisfaction with our mutual friend, Mr.
Boswell. I shall always continue, with the truest esteem, dear
Doctor, your much obliged, and obedient humble servant,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--It is so long since I heard any thing from you, that I
am not easy about it; write something to me next post. When you
sent your last letter, every thing seemed to be mending; I hope
nothing has lately grown worse. I suppose young Alexander
continues to thrive, and Veronica is now very pretty company. I do
not suppose the lady is yet reconciled to me, yet let her know that
I love her very well, and value her very much. . . .
'Poor Beauclerk still continues very ill. Langton lives on as he
used to do. His children are very pretty, and, I think, his lady
loses her Scotch. Paoli I never see.
'I have been so distressed by difficulty of breathing, that I lost,
as was computed, six-and-thirty ounces of blood in a few days. I
am better, but not well. . . .
'Mrs. Williams sends her compliments, and promises that when you
come hither, she will accommodate you as well as ever she can in
the old room. She wishes to know whether you sent her book to Sir
'My dear Boswell, do not neglect to write to me; for your kindness
is one of the pleasures of my life, which I should be sorry to
lose. I am, Sir, your humble servant,
'February 18, 1777.'
'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Glasgow, April 24, 1777.
'MY DEAR SIR, . . . My wife has made marmalade of oranges for you.
I left her and my daughters and Alexander all well yesterday. I
have taught Veronica to speak of you thus;--Dr. JohnSON, not
JohnSTON. I remain, my dear Sir, your most affectionate, and
obliged humble servant,
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR, . . . Tell Mrs. Boswell that I shall taste her
marmalade cautiously at first. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
Beware, says the Italian proverb, of a reconciled enemy. But when
I find it does me no harm, I shall then receive it and be thankful
for it, as a pledge of firm, and, I hope, of unalterable kindness.
She is, after all, a dear, dear lady. . . .
'I am, dear Sir, your most affectionate humble servant,
'May 3, 1777.'
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Southill, Sept. 26, 1777.
'DEAR SIR, You will find by this letter, that I am still in the
same calm retreat, from the noise and bustle of London, as when I
wrote to you last. I am happy to find you had such an agreeable
meeting with your old friend Dr. Johnson; I have no doubt your
stock is much increased by the interview; few men, nay I may say,
scarcely any man, has got that fund of knowledge and entertainment
as Dr. Johnson in conversation. When he opens freely, every one is
attentive to what he says, and cannot fail of improvement as well
'The edition of The Poets, now printing, will do honour to the
English press; and a concise account of the life of each authour,
by Dr. Johnson, will be a very valuable addition, and stamp the
reputation of this edition superiour to any thing that is gone
before. The first cause that gave rise to this undertaking, I
believe, was owing to the little trifling edition of The Poets,
printing by the Martins, at Edinburgh, and to be sold by Bell, in
London. Upon examining the volumes which were printed, the type
was found so extremely small, that many persons could not read
them; not only this inconvenience attended it, but the inaccuracy
of the press was very conspicuous. These reasons, as well as the
idea of an invasion of what we call our Literary Property, induced
the London Booksellers to print an elegant and accurate edition of
all the English Poets of reputation, from Chaucer to the present
'Accordingly a select number of the most respectable booksellers
met on the occasion; and, on consulting together, agreed, that all
the proprietors of copy-right in the various Poets should be
summoned together; and when their opinions were given, to proceed
immediately on the business. Accordingly a meeting was held,
consisting of about forty of the most respectable booksellers of
London, when it was agreed that an elegant and uniform edition of
The English Poets should be immediately printed, with a concise
account of the life of each authour, by Dr. Samuel Johnson; and
that three persons should be deputed to wait upon Dr. Johnson, to
solicit him to undertake the Lives, viz., T. Davies, Strahan, and
Cadell. The Doctor very politely undertook it, and seemed
exceedingly pleased with the proposal. As to the terms, it was
left entirely to the Doctor to name his own: he mentioned two
hundred guineas:* it was immediately agreed to; and a farther
compliment, I believe, will be made him. A committee was likewise
appointed to engage the best engravers, viz., Bartolozzi, Sherwin,
Hall, etc. Likewise another committee for giving directions about
the paper, printing, etc., so that the whole will be conducted with
spirit, and in the best manner, with respect to authourship,
editorship, engravings, etc., etc. My brother will give you a list
of the Poets we mean to give, many of which are within the time of
the Act of Queen Anne, which Martin and Bell cannot give, as they
have no property in them; the proprietors are almost all the
booksellers in London, of consequence. I am, dear Sir, ever
* Johnson's moderation in demanding so small a sum is
extraordinary. Had he asked one thousand, or even fifteen hundred
guineas, the booksellers, who knew the value of his name, would
doubtless have readily given it. They have probably got five
thousand guineas by this work in the course of twenty-five years.--
A circumstance which could not fail to be very pleasing to Johnson
occurred this year. The Tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, written by
his early companion in London, Richard Savage, was brought out with
alterations at Drury-lane theatre. The Prologue to it was written
by Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan; in which, after describing very
pathetically the wretchedness of
'Ill-fated Savage, at whose birth was giv'n
No parent but the Muse, no friend but Heav'n:'
he introduced an elegant compliment to Johnson on his Dictionary,
that wonderful performance which cannot be too often or too highly
praised; of which Mr. Harris, in his Philological Inquiries, justly
and liberally observes: 'Such is its merit, that our language does
not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work.' The
concluding lines of this Prologue were these:--
'So pleads the tale that gives to future times
The son's misfortunes and the parent's crimes;
There shall his fame (if own'd to-night) survive,
Fix'd by THE HAND THAT BIDS OUR LANGUAGE LIVE.'
Mr. Sheridan here at once did honour to his taste and to his
liberality of sentiment, by shewing that he was not prejudiced from
the unlucky difference which had taken place between his worthy
father and Dr. Johnson. I have already mentioned, that Johnson was
very desirous of reconciliation with old Mr. Sheridan. It will,
therefore, not seem at all surprizing that he was zealous in
acknowledging the brilliant merit of his son. While it had as yet
been displayed only in the drama, Johnson proposed him as a member
of THE LITERARY CLUB, observing, that 'He who has written the two
best comedies of his age, is surely a considerable man.' And he
had, accordingly, the honour to be elected; for an honour it
undoubtedly must be allowed to be, when it is considered of whom
that society consists, and that a single black ball excludes a
On the 23rd of June, I again wrote to Dr. Johnson, enclosing a
ship-master's receipt for a jar of orange-marmalade, and a large
packet of Lord Hailes's Annals of Scotland.
'DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. BOSWELL.
'MADAM,--Though I am well enough pleased with the taste of
sweetmeats, very little of the pleasure which I received at the
arrival of your jar of marmalade arose from eating it. I received
it as a token of friendship, as a proof of reconciliation, things
much sweeter than sweetmeats, and upon this consideration I return
you, dear Madam, my sincerest thanks. By having your kindness I
think I have a double security for the continuance of Mr.
Boswell's, which it is not to be expected that any man can long
keep, when the influence of a lady so highly and so justly valued
operates against him. Mr. Boswell will tell you that I was always
faithful to your interest, and always endeavoured to exalt you in
his estimation. You must now do the same for me. We must all help
one another, and you must now consider me, as, dear Madam, your
most obliged, and most humble servant,
'July 22, 1777.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--I am this day come to Ashbourne, and have only to tell
you, that Dr. Taylor says you shall be welcome to him, and you know
how welcome you will be to me. Make haste to let me know when you
may be expected.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, and tell her, I hope we shall
be at variance no more. I am, dear Sir, your most humble servant,
'August 30, 1777.'
On Sunday evening, Sept. 14, I arrived at Ashbourne, and drove
directly up to Dr. Taylor's door. Dr. Johnson and he appeared
before I had got out of the post-chaise, and welcomed me cordially.
I told them that I had travelled all the preceding night, and gone
to bed at Leek in Staffordshire; and that when I rose to go to
church in the afternoon, I was informed there had been an
earthquake, of which, it seems, the shock had been felt in some
degree at Ashbourne. JOHNSON. 'Sir it will be much exaggerated in
popular talk: for, in the first place, the common people do not
accurately adapt their thoughts to the objects; nor, secondly, do
they accurately adapt their words to their thoughts: they do not
mean to lie; but, taking no pains to be exact, they give you very
false accounts. A great part of their language is proverbial. If
anything rocks at all, they say it rocks like a cradle; and in this
way they go on.
The subject of grief for the loss of relations and friends being
introduced, I observed that it was strange to consider how soon it
in general wears away. Dr. Taylor mentioned a gentleman of the
neighbourhood as the only instance he had ever known of a person
who had endeavoured to RETAIN grief. He told Dr. Taylor, that
after his Lady's death, which affected him deeply, he RESOLVED that
the grief, which he cherished with a kind of sacred fondness,
should be lasting; but that he found he could not keep it long.
JOHNSON. 'All grief for what cannot in the course of nature be
helped, soon wears away; in some sooner, indeed, in some later; but
it never continues very long, unless where there is madness, such
as will make a man have pride so fixed in his mind, as to imagine
himself a King; or any other passion in an unreasonable way: for
all unnecessary grief is unwise, and therefore will not be long
retained by a sound mind. If, indeed, the cause of our grief is
occasioned by our own misconduct, if grief is mingled with remorse
of conscience, it should be lasting.' BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, we do
not approve of a man who very soon forgets the loss of a wife or a
friend.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, we disapprove of him, not because he soon
forgets his grief, for the sooner it is forgotten the better, but
because we suppose, that if he forgets his wife or his friend soon,
he has not had much affection for them.'
I was somewhat disappointed in finding that the edition of The
English Poets, for which he was to write Prefaces and Lives, was
not an undertaking directed by him: but that he was to furnish a
Preface and Life to any poet the booksellers pleased. I asked him
if he would do this to any dunce's works, if they should ask him.
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and SAY he was a dunce.' My friend seemed now
not much to relish talking of this edition.
After breakfast,* Johnson carried me to see the garden belonging to
the school of Ashbourne, which is very prettily formed upon a bank,
rising gradually behind the house. The Reverend Mr. Langley, the
head-master, accompanied us.
* Next morning.--ED.
We had with us at dinner several of Dr. Taylor's neighbours, good
civil gentlemen, who seemed to understand Dr. Johnson very well,
and not to consider him in the light that a certain person did, who
being struck, or rather stunned by his voice and manner, when he
was afterwards asked what he thought of him, answered. 'He's a
Johnson told me, that 'Taylor was a very sensible acute man, and
had a strong mind; that he had great activity in some respects, and
yet such a sort of indolence, that if you should put a pebble upon
his chimney-piece, you would find it there, in the same state, a
And here is the proper place to give an account of Johnson's humane
and zealous interference in behalf of the Reverend Dr. William
Dodd, formerly Prebendary of Brecon, and chaplain in ordinary to
his Majesty; celebrated as a very popular preacher, an encourager
of charitable institutions, and authour of a variety of works,
chiefly theological. Having unhappily contracted expensive habits
of living, partly occasioned by licentiousness of manners, he in an
evil hour, when pressed by want of money, and dreading an exposure
of his circumstances, forged a bond of which he attempted to avail
himself to support his credit, flattering himself with hopes that
he might be able to repay its amount without being detected. The
person, whose name he thus rashly and criminally presumed to
falsify, was the Earl of Chesterfield, to whom he had been tutor,
and who, he perhaps, in the warmth of his feelings, flattered
himself would have generously paid the money in case of an alarm
being taken, rather than suffer him to fall a victim to the
dreadful consequences of violating the law against forgery, the
most dangerous crime in a commercial country; but the unfortunate
divine had the mortification to find that he was mistaken. His
noble pupil appeared against him, and he was capitally convicted.
Johnson told me that Dr. Dodd was very little acquainted with him,
having been but once in his company, many years previous to this
period (which was precisely the state of my own acquaintance with
Dodd); but in his distress he bethought himself of Johnson's
persuasive power of writing, if haply it might avail to obtain for
him the Royal Mercy. He did not apply to him directly, but,
extraordinary as it may seem, through the late Countess of
Harrington, who wrote a letter to Johnson, asking him to employ his
pen in favour of Dodd. Mr. Allen, the printer, who was Johnson's
landlord and next neighbour in Bolt-court, and for whom he had much
kindness, was one of Dodd's friends, of whom to the credit of
humanity be it recorded, that he had many who did not desert him,
even after his infringement of the law had reduced him to the state
of a man under sentence of death. Mr. Allen told me that he
carried Lady Harrington's letter to Johnson, that Johnson read it
walking up and down his chamber, and seemed much agitated, after
which he said, 'I will do what I can;'--and certainly he did make
He this evening, as he had obligingly promised in one of his
letters, put into my hands the whole series of his writings upon
this melancholy occasion.
Dr. Johnson wrote in the first place, Dr. Dodd's Speech to the
Recorder of London, at the Old-Bailey, when sentence of death was
about to be pronounced upon him.
He wrote also The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren, a
sermon delivered by Dr. Dodd, in the chapel of Newgate.
The other pieces mentioned by Johnson in the above-mentioned
collection, are two letters, one to the Lord Chancellor Bathurst,
(not Lord North, as is erroneously supposed,) and one to Lord
Mansfield;--A Petition from Dr. Dodd to the King;--A Petition from
Mrs. Dodd to the Queen;--Observations of some length inserted in
the news-papers, on occasion of Earl Percy's having presented to
his Majesty a petition for mercy to Dodd, signed by twenty thousand
people, but all in vain. He told me that he had also written a
petition from the city of London; 'but (said he, with a significant
smile) they MENDED it.'
The last of these articles which Johnson wrote is Dr. Dodd's last
solemn Declaration, which he left with the sheriff at the place of
I found a letter to Dr. Johnson from Dr. Dodd, May 23, 1777, in
which The Convict's Address seems clearly to be meant.
'I am so penetrated, my ever dear Sir, with a sense of your extreme
benevolence towards me, that I cannot find words equal to the
sentiments of my heart. . . .'
On Sunday, June 22, he writes, begging Dr. Johnson's assistance in
framing a supplicatory letter to his Majesty.
This letter was brought to Dr. Johnson when in church. He stooped
down and read it, and wrote, when he went home, the following
letter for Dr. Dodd to the King:
'SIR,--May it not offend your Majesty, that the most miserable of
men applies himself to your clemency, as his last hope and his last
refuge; that your mercy is most earnestly and humbly implored by a
clergyman, whom your Laws and Judges have condemned to the horrour
and ignominy of a publick execution. . . .'
Subjoined to it was written as follows:--
'TO DR. DODD.
'SIR,--I most seriously enjoin you not to let it be at all known
that I have written this letter, and to return the copy to Mr.
Allen in a cover to me. I hope I need not tell you, that I wish it
success.--But do not indulge hope.--Tell nobody.'
It happened luckily that Mr. Allen was pitched on to assist in this
melancholy office, for he was a great friend of Mr. Akerman, the
keeper of Newgate. Dr. Johnson never went to see Dr. Dodd. He
said to me, 'it would have done HIM more harm, than good to Dodd,
who once expressed a desire to see him, but not earnestly.'
All applications for the Royal Mercy having failed, Dr. Dodd
prepared himself for death; and, with a warmth of gratitude, wrote
to Dr. Johnson as follows:--
'June 25, Midnight.
'Accept, thou GREAT and GOOD heart, my earnest and fervent thanks
and prayers for all thy benevolent and kind efforts in my behalf--
Oh! Dr. Johnson! as I sought your knowledge at an early hour in
life, would to heaven I had cultivated the love and acquaintance of
so excellent a man!--I pray GOD most sincerely to bless you with
the highest transports--the infelt satisfaction of HUMANE and
benevolent exertions!--And admitted, as I trust I shall be, to the
realms of bliss before you, I shall hail YOUR arrival there with
transports, and rejoice to acknowledge that you was my Comforter,
my Advocate and my FRIEND! GOD BE EVER WITH YOU!'
Dr. Johnson lastly wrote to Dr. Dodd this solemn and soothing
'TO THE REVEREND DR. DODD.
'DEAR SIR,--That which is appointed to all men is now coming upon
you. Outward circumstances, the eyes and the thoughts of men, are
below the notice of an immortal being about to stand the trial for
eternity, before the Supreme Judge of heaven and earth. Be
comforted: your crime, morally or religiously considered, has no
very deep dye of turpitude. It corrupted no man's principles; it
attacked no man's life. It involved only a temporary and reparable
injury. Of this, and of all other sins, you are earnestly to
repent; and may GOD, who knoweth our frailty, and desireth not our
death, accept your repentance, for the sake of his SON JESUS CHRIST
'In requital of those well-intended offices which you are pleased
so emphatically to acknowledge, let me beg that you make in your
devotions one petition for my eternal welfare. I am, dear Sir,
your affectionate servant,
'June 26, 1777.'
Under the copy of this letter I found written, in Johnson's own
hand, 'Next day, June 27, he was executed.'
Tuesday, September 16, Dr. Johnson having mentioned to me the
extraordinary size and price of some cattle reared by Dr. Taylor, I
rode out with our host, surveyed his farm, and was shown one cow
which he had sold for a hundred and twenty guineas, and another for
which he had been offered a hundred and thirty. Taylor thus
described to me his old schoolfellow and friend, Johnson: 'He is a
man of a very clear head, great power of words, and a very gay
imagination; but there is no disputing with him. He will not hear
you, and having a louder voice than you, must roar you down.'
In the evening, the Reverend Mr. Seward, of Lichfield, who was
passing through Ashbourne in his way home, drank tea with us.
Johnson described him thus:--'Sir, his ambition is to be a fine
talker; so he goes to Buxton, and such places, where he may find
companies to listen to him. And, Sir, he is a valetudinarian, one
of those who are always mending themselves. I do not know a more
disagreeable character than a valetudinarian, who thinks he may do
any thing that is for his ease, and indulges himself in the
grossest freedoms: Sir, he brings himself to the state of a hog in
Dr. Taylor's nose happening to bleed, he said, it was because he
had omitted to have himself blooded four days after a quarter of a
year's interval. Dr. Johnson, who was a great dabbler in physick,
disapproved much of periodical bleeding. 'For (said he,) you
accustom yourself to an evacuation which Nature cannot perform of
herself, and therefore she cannot help you, should you, from
forgetfulness or any other cause, omit it; so you may be suddenly
suffocated. You may accustom yourself to other periodical
evacuations, because should you omit them, Nature can supply the
omission; but Nature cannot open a vein to blood you.'--'I do not
like to take an emetick, (said Taylor,) for fear of breaking some
small vessels.'--'Poh! (said Johnson,) if you have so many things
that will break, you had better break your neck at once, and
there's an end on't. You will break no small vessels:' (blowing
with high derision.)
The horrour of death which I had always observed in Dr. Johnson,
appeared strong to-night. I ventured to tell him, that I had been,
for moments in my life, not afraid of death; therefore I could
suppose another man in that state of mind for a considerable space
of time. He said, 'he never had a moment in which death was not
terrible to him.' He added, that it had been observed, that scarce
any man dies in publick, but with apparent resolution; from that
desire of praise which never quits us. I said, Dr. Dodd seemed to
be willing to die, and full of hopes of happiness. 'Sir, (said
he,) Dr. Dodd would have given both his hands and both his legs to
have lived. The better a man is, the more afraid he is of death,
having a clearer view of infinite purity.' He owned, that our
being in an unhappy uncertainty as to our salvation, was
mysterious; and said, 'Ah! we must wait till we are in another
state of being, to have many things explained to us.' Even the
powerful mind of Johnson seemed foiled by futurity.
On Wednesday, September 17, Dr. Butter, physician at Derby, drank
tea with us; and it was settled that Dr. Johnson and I should go on
Friday and dine with him. Johnson said, 'I'm glad of this.' He
seemed weary of the uniformity of life at Dr. Taylor's.
Talking of biography, I said, in writing a life, a man's
peculiarities should be mentioned, because they mark his character.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no doubt as to peculiarities: the question
is, whether a man's vices should be mentioned; for instance,
whether it should be mentioned that Addison and Parnell drank too
freely: for people will probably more easily indulge in drinking
from knowing this; so that more ill may be done by the example,
than good by telling the whole truth.' Here was an instance of his
varying from himself in talk; for when Lord Hailes and he sat one
morning calmly conversing in my house at Edinburgh, I well remember
that Dr. Johnson maintained, that 'If a man is to write A
Panegyrick, he may keep vices out of sight; but if he professes to
write A Life, he must represent it really as it was:' and when I
objected to the danger of telling that Parnell drank to excess, he
said, that 'it would produce an instructive caution to avoid
drinking, when it was seen, that even the learning and genius of
Parnell could be debased by it.' And in the Hebrides he
maintained, as appears from my Journal, that a man's intimate
friend should mention his faults, if he writes his life.
Thursday, September 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that
the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor's large room,
should be lighted up some time or other. Taylor said, it should be
lighted up next night. 'That will do very well, (said I,) for it
is Dr. Johnson's birth-day.' When we were in the Isle of Sky,
Johnson had desired me not to mention his birth-day. He did not
seem pleased at this time that I mentioned it, and said (somewhat
sternly,) 'he would not have the lustre lighted the next day.'
Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his
birth-day, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally,
by wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birth-
day mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his
approaching nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.
I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from
low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now
uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any
perturbation. 'Sir, (said Johnson,) this is only a disordered
imagination taking a different turn.'
He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got
into a bad style of poetry of late. 'He puts (said he,) a very
common thing in a strange dress till he does not know it himself,
and thinks other people do not know it.' BOSWELL. 'That is owing
to his being so much versant in old English poetry.' JOHNSON.
'What is that to the purpose, Sir? If I say a man is drunk, and
you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not
mended. No, Sir, ------ has taken to an odd mode. For example,
he'd write thus:
"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray."
Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he'd think fine.--
Stay;--we'll make out the stanza:
"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray;
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
What is bliss? and which the way?"'
BOSWELL. 'But why smite his bosom, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'Why, to shew
he was in earnest,' (smiling.)--He at an after period added the
'Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh'd;
--Scarce repress'd the starting tear;--
When the smiling sage reply'd--
--Come, my lad, and drink some beer.'
I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as
also the three first lines of the second. Its last line is an
excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental enquirers. And,
perhaps, the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited
dissatisfied being:--'Don't trouble your head with sickly thinking:
take a cup, and be merry.'
Friday, September 19, after breakfast Dr. Johnson and I set out in
Dr. Taylor's chaise to go to Derby. The day was fine, and we
resolved to go by Keddlestone, the seat of Lord Scarsdale, that I
might see his Lordship's fine house. I was struck with the
magnificence of the building; and the extensive park, with the
finest verdure, covered with deer, and cattle, and sheep, delighted
me. The number of old oaks, of an immense size, filled me with a
sort of respectful admiration: for one of them sixty pounds was
offered. The excellent smooth gravel roads; the large piece of
water formed by his Lordship from some small brooks, with a
handsome barge upon it; the venerable Gothick church, now the
family chapel, just by the house; in short, the grand group of
objects agitated and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner.
'One should think (said I,) that the proprietor of all this MUST be
happy.'--'Nay, Sir, (said Johnson,) all this excludes but one evil--
Our names were sent up, and a well-drest elderly housekeeper, a
most distinct articulator, shewed us the house; which I need not
describe, as there is an account of it published in Adam's Works in
Architecture. Dr. Johnson thought better of it to-day than when he
saw it before; for he had lately attacked it violently, saying, 'It
would do excellently for a town-hall. The large room with the
pillars (said he,) would do for the Judges to sit in at the
assizes; the circular room for a jury-chamber; and the room above
for prisoners.' Still he thought the large room ill lighted, and
of no use but for dancing in; and the bed-chambers but indifferent
rooms; and that the immense sum which it cost was injudiciously
laid out. Dr. Taylor had put him in mind of his APPEARING pleased
with the house. 'But (said he,) that was when Lord Scarsdale was
present. Politeness obliges us to appear pleased with a man's
works when he is present. No man will be so ill bred as to
question you. You may therefore pay compliments without saying
what is not true. I should say to Lord Scarsdale of his large
room, "My Lord, this is the most COSTLY room that I ever saw;"
which is true.'
Dr. Manningham, physician in London, who was visiting at Lord
Scarsdale's, accompanyed us through many of the rooms, and soon
afterwards my Lord himself, to whom Dr. Johnson was known,
appeared, and did the honours of the house. We talked of Mr.
Langton. Johnson, with a warm vehemence of affectionate regard,
exclaimed, 'The earth does not bear a worthier man than Bennet
Langton.' We saw a good many fine pictures, which I think are
described in one of Young's Tours. There is a printed catalogue of
them which the housekeeper put into my hand; I should like to view
them at leisure. I was much struck with Daniel interpreting
Nebuchadnezzar's dream by Rembrandt. We were shown a pretty large
library. In his Lordship's dressing-room lay Johnson's small
Dictionary: he shewed it to me, with some eagerness, saying,
'Look'ye! Quae terra nostri non plena laboris.' He observed,
also, Goldsmith's Animated Nature; and said, 'Here's our friend!
The poor Doctor would have been happy to hear of this.'
In our way, Johnson strongly expressed his love of driving fast in
a post-chaise. 'If (said he,) I had no duties, and no reference to
futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise
with a pretty woman; but she should be one who could understand me,
and would add something to the conversation.' I observed, that we
were this day to stop just where the Highland army did in 1745.
JOHNSON. 'It was a noble attempt.' BOSWELL. 'I wish we could
have an authentick history of it.' JOHNSON. 'If you were not an
idle dog you might write it, by collecting from every body what
they can tell, and putting down your authorities.' BOSWELL. 'But
I could not have the advantage of it in my life-time.' JOHNSON.
'You might have the satisfaction of its fame, by printing it in
Holland; and as to profit, consider how long it was before writing
came to be considered in a pecuniary view. Baretti says, he is the
first man that ever received copy-money in Italy.' I said that I
would endeavour to do what Dr. Johnson suggested and I thought that
I might write so as to venture to publish my History of the Civil
War in Great-Britain in 1745 and 1746, without being obliged to go
to a foreign press.
When we arrived at Derby, Dr. Butter accompanied us to see the
manufactory of china there. I admired the ingenuity and delicate
art with which a man fashioned clay into a cup, a saucer, or a tea-
pot, while a boy turned round a wheel to give the mass rotundity.
I thought this as excellent in its species of power, as making good
verses in ITS species. Yet I had no respect for this potter.
Neither, indeed, has a man of any extent of thinking for a mere
verse-maker, in whose numbers, however perfect, there is no poetry,
no mind. The china was beautiful, but Dr. Johnson justly observed
it was too dear; for that he could have vessels of silver, of the
same size, as cheap as what were here made of porcelain.
I felt a pleasure in walking about Derby such as I always have in
walking about any town to which I am not accustomed. There is an
immediate sensation of novelty; and one speculates on the way in
which life is passed in it, which, although there is a sameness
every where upon the whole, is yet minutely diversified. The
minute diversities in every thing are wonderful. Talking of
shaving the other night at Dr. Taylor's, Dr. Johnson said, 'Sir, of
a thousand shavers, two do not shave so much alike as not to be
distinguished.' I thought this not possible, till he specified so
many of the varieties in shaving;--holding the razor more or less
perpendicular;--drawing long or short strokes;--beginning at the
upper part of the face, or the under;--at the right side or the
left side. Indeed, when one considers what variety of sounds can
be uttered by the windpipe, in the compass of a very small
aperture, we may he convinced how many degrees of difference there
may be in the application of a razor.
We dined with Dr. Butter, whose lady is daughter of my cousin Sir
John Douglas, whose grandson is now presumptive heir of the noble
family of Queensberry. Johnson and he had a good deal of medical
conversation. Johnson said, he had somewhere or other given an
account of Dr. Nichols's discourse De Animia Medica. He told us
'that whatever a man's distemper was, Dr. Nichols would not attend
him as a physician, if his mind was not at ease; for he believed
that no medicines would have any influence. He once attended a man
in trade, upon whom he found none of the medicines he prescribed
had any effect: he asked the man's wife privately whether his
affairs were not in a bad way? She said no. He continued his
attendance some time, still without success. At length the man's
wife told him, she had discovered that her husband's affairs WERE
in a bad way. When Goldsmith was dying, Dr. Turton said to him,
"Your pulse is in greater disorder than it should be, from the
degree of fever which you have: is your mind at ease?" Goldsmith
answered it was not.'
Dr. Johnson told us at tea, that when some of Dr. Dodd's pious
friends were trying to console him by saying that he was going to
leave 'a wretched world,' he had honesty enough not to join in the
cant:--'No, no, (said he,) it has been a very agreeable world to
me.' Johnson added, 'I respect Dodd for thus speaking the truth;
for, to be sure, he had for several years enjoyed a life of great
He told us, that Dodd's city friends stood by him so, that a
thousand pounds were ready to be given to the gaoler, if he would
let him escape. He added, that he knew a friend of Dodd's, who
walked about Newgate for some time on the evening before the day of
his execution, with five hundred pounds in his pocket, ready to be
paid to any of the turnkeys who could get him out: but it was too
late; for he was watched with much circumspection. He said, Dodd's
friends had an image of him made of wax, which was to have been
left in his place; and he believed it was carried into the prison.
Johnson disapproved of Dr. Dodd's leaving the world persuaded that
The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren was of his own
writing. 'But, Sir, (said I,) you contributed to the deception;
for when Mr. Seward expressed a doubt to you that it was not Dodd's
own, because it had a great deal more force of mind in it than any
thing known to be his, you answered,--"Why should you think so?
Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a
fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."' JOHNSON. Sir,
as Dodd got it from me to pass as his own, while that could do him
any good, there was an IMPLIED PROMISE that I should not own it.
To own it, therefore, would have been telling a lie, with the
addition of breach of promise, which was worse than simply telling
a lie to make it be believed it was Dodd's. Besides, Sir, I did
not DIRECTLY tell a lie: I left the matter uncertain. Perhaps I
thought that Seward would not believe it the less to be mine for
what I said; but I would not put it in his power to say I had owned
He said, 'Goldsmith was a plant that flowered late. There appeared
nothing remarkable about him when he was young; though when he had
got high in fame, one of his friends began to recollect something
of his being distinguished at College. Goldsmith in the same
manner recollected more of that friend's early years, as he grew a
I mentioned that Lord Monboddo told me, he awaked every morning at
four, and then for his health got up and walked in his room naked,
with the window open, which he called taking an air bath; after
which he went to bed again, and slept two hours more. Johnson, who
was always ready to beat down any thing that seemed to be exhibited
with disproportionate importance, thus observed: 'I suppose, Sir,
there is no more in it than this, he awakes at four, and cannot
sleep till he chills himself, and makes the warmth of the bed a
I talked of the difficulty of rising in the morning. Dr. Johnson
told me, 'that the learned Mrs. Carter, at that period when she was
eager in study, did not awake as early as she wished, and she
therefore had a contrivance, that, at a certain hour, her chamber-
light should burn a string to which a heavy weight was suspended,
which then fell with a strong sudden noise: this roused her from
sleep, and then she had no difficulty in getting up.' But I said
THAT was my difficulty; and wished there could be some medicine
invented which would make one rise without pain, which I never did,
unless after lying in bed a very long time.
Johnson advised me to-night not to REFINE in the education of my
children. 'Life (said he,) will not bear refinement: you must do
as other people do.'
As we drove back to Ashbourne, Dr. Johnson recommended to me, as he
had often done, to drink water only: 'For (said he,) you are then
sure not to get drunk; whereas if you drink wine you are never
sure.' I said, drinking wine was a pleasure which I was unwilling
to give up, 'Why, Sir, (said he,) there is no doubt that not to
drink wine is a great deduction from life; but it may be
necessary.' He however owned, that in his opinion a free use of
wine did not shorten life; and said, he would not give less for the
life of a certain Scotch Lord (whom he named) celebrated for hard
drinking, than for that of a sober man. 'But stay, (said he, with
his usual intelligence, and accuracy of enquiry,) does it take much
wine to make him drunk?' I answered, 'a great deal either of wine
or strong punch.'--'Then (said he,) that is the worse.' I presume
to illustrate my friend's observation thus: 'A fortress which soon
surrenders has its walls less shattered than when a long and
obstinate resistance is made.'
I ventured to mention a person who was as violent a Scotsman as he
was an Englishman; and literally had the same contempt for an
Englishman compared with a Scotsman, that he had for a Scotsman
compared with an Englishman; and that he would say of Dr. Johnson,
'Damned rascal! to talk as he does of the Scotch.' This seemed,
for a moment, 'to give him pause.' It, perhaps, presented his
extreme prejudice against the Scotch in a point of view somewhat
new to him, by the effect of CONTRAST.
By the time when we returned to Ashbourne, Dr. Taylor was gone to
bed. Johnson and I sat up a long time by ourselves.
On Saturday, September 20, after breakfast, when Taylor was gone
out to his farm, Dr. Johnson and I had a serious conversation by
ourselves on melancholy and madness.
We entered seriously upon a question of much importance to me,
which Johnson was pleased to consider with friendly attention. I
had long complained to him that I felt myself discontented in
Scotland, as too narrow a sphere, and that I wished to make my
chief residence in London, the great scene of ambition,
instruction, and amusement: a scene, which was to me, comparatively
speaking, a heaven upon earth. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I never knew
any one who had such a GUST for London as you have: and I cannot
blame you for your wish to live there: yet, Sir, were I in your
father's place, I should not consent to your settling there; for I
have the old feudal notions, and I should be afraid that Auchinleck
would be deserted, as you would soon find it more desirable to have
a country-seat in a better climate.'
I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the
exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might
go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you
find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.
No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for
there is in London all that life can afford.'
He said, 'A country gentleman should bring his lady to visit London
as soon as he can, that they may have agreeable topicks for
conversation when they are by themselves.'
We talked of employment being absolutely necessary to preserve the
mind from wearying and growing fretful, especially in those who
have a tendency to melancholy; and I mentioned to him a saying
which somebody had related of an American savage, who, when an
European was expatiating on all the advantages of money, put this
question: 'Will it purchase OCCUPATION?' JOHNSON. 'Depend upon
it, Sir, this saying is too refined for a savage. And, Sir, money
WILL purchase occupation; it will purchase all the conveniences of
life; it will purchase variety of company; it will purchase all
sorts of entertainment.'
I talked to him of Forster's Voyage to the South Seas, which
pleased me; but I found he did not like it. 'Sir, (said he,) there
is a great affectation of fine writing in it.' BOSWELL. 'But he
carries you along with him.' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he does not carry
ME along with him: he leaves me behind him: or rather, indeed, he
sets me before him; for he makes me turn over many leaves at a
On Sunday, September 21, we went to the church of Ashbourne, which
is one of the largest and most luminous that I have seen in any
town of the same size. I felt great satisfaction in considering
that I was supported in my fondness for solemn publick worship by
the general concurrence and munificence of mankind.
Johnson and Taylor were so different from each other, that I
wondered at their preserving an intimacy. Their having been at
school and college together, might, in some degree, account for
this; but Sir Joshua Reynolds has furnished me with a stronger
reason; for Johnson mentioned to him, that he had been told by
Taylor he was to be his heir. I shall not take upon me to
animadvert upon this; but certain it is, that Johnson paid great
attention to Taylor. He now, however, said to me, 'Sir, I love
him; but I do not love him more; my regard for him does not
increase. As it is said in the Apocrypha, "his talk is of
bullocks:" I do not suppose he is very fond of my company. His
habits are by no means sufficiently clerical: this he knows that I
see; and no man likes to live under the eye of perpetual
I have no doubt that a good many sermons were composed for Taylor
by Johnson. At this time I found, upon his table, a part of one
which he had newly begun to write: and Concio pro Tayloro appears
in one of his diaries. When to these circumstances we add the
internal evidence from the power of thinking and style, in the
collection which the Reverend Mr. Hayes has published, with the
SIGNIFICANT title of 'Sermons LEFT FOR PUBLICATION by the Reverend
John Taylor, LL.D.,' our conviction will be complete.
I, however, would not have it thought, that Dr. Taylor, though he
could not write like Johnson, (as, indeed, who could?) did not
sometimes compose sermons as good as those which we generally have
from very respectable divines. He shewed me one with notes on the
margin in Johnson's handwriting; and I was present when he read
another to Johnson, that he might have his opinion of it, and
Johnson said it was 'very well.' These, we may be sure, were not
Johnson's; for he was above little arts, or tricks of deception.
I mentioned to Johnson a respectable person of a very strong mind,
who had little of that tenderness which is common to human nature;
as an instance of which, when I suggested to him that he should
invite his son, who had been settled ten years in foreign parts, to
come home and pay him a visit, his answer was, 'No, no, let him
mind his business. JOHNSON. 'I do not agree with him, Sir, in
this. Getting money is not all a man's business: to cultivate
kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.'
In the evening, Johnson, being in very good spirits, entertained us
with several characteristical portraits. I regret that any of them
escaped my retention and diligence. I found, from experience, that
to collect my friend's conversation so as to exhibit it with any
degree of its original flavour, it was necessary to write it down
without delay. To record his sayings, after some distance of time,
was like preserving or pickling long-kept and faded fruits, or
other vegetables, which, when in that state, have little or nothing
of their taste when fresh.
I shall present my readers with a series of what I gathered this
evening from the Johnsonian garden.
'Did we not hear so much said of Jack Wilkes, we should think more
highly of his conversation. Jack has great variety of talk, Jack
is a scholar, and Jack has the manners of a gentleman. But after
hearing his name sounded from pole to pole, as the phoenix of
convivial felicity, we are disappointed in his company. He has
always been AT ME: but I would do Jack a kindness, rather than not.
The contest is now over.'
'Colley Cibber once consulted me as to one of his birthday Odes, a
long time before it was wanted. I objected very freely to several
passages. Cibber lost patience, and would not read his Ode to an
end. When we had done with criticism, we walked over to
Richardson's, the authour of Clarissa and I wondered to find
Richardson displeased that I "did not treat Cibber with more
RESPECT." Now, Sir, to talk of RESPECT for a PLAYER!' (smiling
disdainfully.) BOSWELL. 'There, Sir, you are always heretical:
you never will allow merit to a player.' JOHNSON. 'Merit, Sir!
what merit? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a ballad-singer?'
BOSWELL. 'No, Sir: but we respect a great player, as a man who can
conceive lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully.'
JOHNSON. 'What, Sir, a fellow who claps a hump on his back, and a
lump on his leg, and cries "I am Richard the Third"? Nay, Sir, a
ballad-singer is a higher man, for he does two things; he repeats
and he sings: there is both recitation and musick in his
performance: the player only recites.' BOSWELL. 'My dear Sir! you
may turn anything into ridicule. I allow, that a player of farce
is not entitled to respect; he does a little thing: but he who can
represent exalted characters, and touch the noblest passions, has
very respectable powers; and mankind have agreed in admiring great
talents for the stage. We must consider, too, that a great player
does what very few are capable to do: his art is a very rare
faculty. WHO can repeat Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be, or not to be,"
as Garrick does it?' JOHNSON. 'Any body may. Jemmy, there (a boy
about eight years old, who was in the room,) will do it as well in
a week.' BOSWELL. 'No, no, Sir: and as a proof of the merit of
great acting, and of the value which mankind set upon it, Garrick
has got a hundred thousand pounds.' JOHNSON. 'Is getting a
hundred thousand pounds a proof of excellence? That has been done
by a scoundrel commissary.'
This was most fallacious reasoning. I was SURE, for once, that I
had the best side of the argument. I boldly maintained the just
distinction between a tragedian and a mere theatrical droll;
between those who rouse our terrour and pity, and those who only
make us laugh. 'If (said I,) Betterton and Foote were to walk into
this room, you would respect Betterton much more than Foote.'
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