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give of my friend, and in which, therefore, I mark the most minute particulars. And let it be remembered, that “Æsop at play" is one of the instructive apologues of antiquity.
I mentioned an old gentleman of our acquaintance whose memory was beginning to fail. JOHNSON.
There must be a diseased mind, where there is a failure of memory at seventy. A man's head, sir, must be morbid, if he fails so soon !.” My friend,
being now himself sixty-eight, might think thus : Ps. xc. but I imagine, that threescore and ten, the Psalmist's
period of sound human life in later ages, may have a failure, though there be no disease in the consti'tution.
Talking of Rochester's Poems, he said, he had given them to Mr. Steevens to castrate for the edition of the poets, to which he was to write prefaces. Dr. Taylor (the only time I ever heard him say any thing witty) 3 observed, that “if Rochester had been castrated himself, his exceptionable poems would not have been written.” I asked if Burnet had not given a good Life of Rochester. JOHNSON. “We have a good Death ; there is not much Life.” I asked whether Prior's poems were to be printed entire : Johnson said they were. I mentioned Lord Hailes's censure of Prior, in his 'preface to a collection of “Sacred Poems," by various hands, published by him at Edinburgh a great many years ago, where he mentions : "those impure tales which will be the eternal opprobrium of their ingenious "authour.* JOHNSON. “Sir, Lord Hailes has forgot. There is so often betrayed by his private feelings and prejudices : the Psalmist says,
in wala successive ages have proved, that the years of man are threescore years, and ten; yet, because Johnson was now near seventy, he ventures to assert that any decay of the intellect at that age must be morbid. -Ed.]
• This was unnecessary, for it had been done in the early part of the present century by Jacob Tonson.MALONE.
3 I am told that Horace, Earl of Orford, has a collection of Bon-Mots by persons who never said but one. --BOSWELL.
nothing in Prior that will excite to lewdness. " If Lord Hailes thinks there is, he must be more combustible than other people." I instanced the tale of “ Paulo Purganti and his wife.”. Johnson. “Sir, there is nothing there, but that his wife wanted to be kissed, when poor Paulo was out of pocket. No, sir, Prior is a lady's book. No lady is ashamed to have it standing in her library.
The hypochondriack disorder being mentioned, Dr. Johnson did not think it so common as I supposed. “Dr. Taylor,” said he, “is the same one day as another. Burke and Reynolds are the same. Beauclerk, except when in pain, is the same. not so myself; but this I do not mention commonly."
I complained of a wretched changefulness, so that I could not preserve, for any long continuance, the same views of any thing. It was most comfortable to me to experience in Dr. Johnson's company a relief from this uneasiness. His steady vigorous mind held firm before me those objects which my own feeble and tremulous imagination frequently presented in such a wavering state, that my reason could not judge well of them.
Dr. Johnson advised me to-day to have as many books about me as I could ; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time. “ What you read then,” said he, “ you will remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you have again a desire to study it." He added, “ if a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination.”
[What extraordinary “larity of talk !” It is surprising enough that Mr. Boswell should have recorded any thing so indecent as these expressions; but that Johnson should have maintained such sentiments is very astonishing and very lamentable.--ED.]
Hawk. [He used to say, that no man read long together Apoph. p. 197,8. with a folio on his table. “ Books," said he, “that
you may carry to the fire, and hold readily in your hand, are the most useful after all.” He would say, “ such books form the mass of general and easy reading.” He was a great friend to books like the French Esprits d'un tel; for example, Beauties of Watts, &c. &c.: “ at which,” said he," a man will often look and be tempted to go on, when he would have been frightened at books of a larger size, and of a more erudite appearance."]
He repeated a good many lines of Horace's Odes while we were in the chaise; I remember particularly the Ode “ Eheu fugaces."
He said, the dispute as to the comparative excellence of Homer or Virgil? was inaccurate. must consider,” said he," whether Homer was not the greatest poet, though Virgil may have produced the finest poem?. Virgil was indebted to Homer for the whole invention of the structure of an epick poem, and for many of his beauties."
He told me, that Bacon was a favourite authour with him ; but he had never read his works till he was compiling the English Dictionary, in which he said, I might see Bacon very often quoted. Mr. Seward recollects his having mentioned, that a dictionary of the English language imight be compiled from Bacon's writings alone, and that he had once an intention of giving an edition of Bacon, at least of his English works, and writing the life of that great man. Had he executed this intention, there
1 I am informed by Mr. Langton, that a great many years ago he was present when this question was agitated between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Burke, and, to use Johnson's phrase , they talked their best;" Johnson for Homer
, Burke for Virgil. " It may well be supposed to have been one of the ablest and most brilliant contests that ever was exhibited. How much must we regret that it has not been preserved !-BOSWELL.
2 But where is the inaccuracy, if the admirers of Homer contend, that he was not only prior to Virgil in point of time, but superiour in excellence ?--J. BOSWELL.
can be no doubt that he would have done it in a most masterly manner.
Mallet's Life of Bacon has no inconsiderable merit as an acute and elegant dissertation relative to its subject; but Mallet's mind was not comprehensive enough to embrace the vast extent of Lord Verulam's genius and research. Dr. Warburton therefore observed, with witty justness, " that Mallet in his Life of Bacon had forgotten that he was a philosopher; and if he should write the Life of the Duke of Marlborough, which he had undertaken to do, he would probably forget that he was a general.”
Wishing to be satisfied what degree of truth there was in a story which a friend of Johnson's and mine had told me to his disadvantage, I mentioned it to him in direct terms; and it was to this effect: that a gentleman' who had lived in great intimacy with him, shown him much kindness, and even relieved him from a spunging-house, having afterwards fallen into bad circumstances, was one day, when Johnson was at dinner with him, seized for debt, and carried to prison; that Johnson sat still undisturbed, and went on eating and drinking; upon which the gentleman's sister, who was present, could not suppress her indignation : 46.What, sir," said she," are you so unfeeling, as not even to offer to go to my brother in his distress; you who have been so much obliged to him?” And that Johnson answered, “Madam, I owe him no obligation; what he did for me he would have done for a dog.:!'
:11, • Johnson assured me, that the story was absolutely false ; but, like a man conscious of being in the right, and desirous of completely vindicating himself from such a charge, he did not arrogantly rest on a mere
· [There seems reason to believe that this gentleman was Mr. Dyer. -ED.]
denial, and on his general character, but proceeded thus: “Sir, I was very intimate with that gentleman, and was once relieved by him from an arrest; but I never was present when he was arrested, never knew that he was arrested, and I believe he never was in difficulties after the time when he relieved me.
I loved him much; yet, in talking of his general character, I may have said, though I do not remember that I ever did say so, that as his generosity proceeded from no principle, but was a part of his profusion, he would do for a dog what he would do for a friend : but I never applied this remark to any particular instance, and certainly not to his kindness to me.
If a profuse man, who does not value his money, and gives a large sum to a prostitute, gives half as much, or an equally large sum to relieve a friend, it cannot be esteemed as virtue. This was all that I could say of that gentleman; and, if said at all, it must have been said after his death. Sir, I would have gone to the world's end to relieve him. The remark about the dog, if made by me, was such a sally as might escape one when painting a man highly.”
On Tuesday, September 23, Johnson was remarkably cordial to me. It being necessary for me to return to Scotland soon, I had fixed on the next day for my setting out, and I felt a tender concern at the thought of parting with him. He had, at this time, frankly communicated to me many particulars, which are inserted in this work in their proper places; and once, when I happened to mention that the expense of my jaunt would come to much more than I had computed, he said, " Why, sir, if the expense were to be an inconvenience, you would have reason to regret it; but, if you have had the money to spend, I know not that you could have purchased as much pleasure with it in any other way.”