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lands, the solicitor on the other side, who obligingly al- 1772. lowed me to compare his note with my own, I have a Ætat. full copy : “ My Lords, severity is not the way to gov- 63. ern either boys or men.' Nay (said Johnson,) it is the way to govern them. I know not whether it be the way to mend them.”
I talked of the recent expulsion of six students from the University of Oxford, who were methodists, and would not desist from publickly praying and exhorting: Johnson. “Sir, that expulsion was extremely just and proper. What have they to do at an University, who are not willing to be taught, but will presume to teach? Where is religion to be learnt, but at an University ? Sir, they were examined, and found to be mighty ignorant fellows.” Boswell. “But, was it not hard, Sir, to expel them, for I am told they were good beings ?” Johnson. “ I believe they might be good beings; but they were not fit to be in the University of Oxford. A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden.”
Lord Elibank used to repeat this as an illustration uncommonly happy.
Desirous of calling Johnson forth to talk, and exercise his wit, though I should myself be the object of it, I resolutely ventured to undertake the defence of convivial indulgence in wine, though he was not to-night in the most genial humour. After urging the common plausible topicks, I at last had recourse to the maxim, in vino veritas, a man who is well warmed with wine
will speak truth. Johnson.“ Why, Sir, that may be • an argument for drinking, if you suppose men in gen
eral to be liars. But, Sir, I would not keep company with a fellow, who lyes as long he is sober, and whom you must make drunk before you can get a word of truth out of him.”
Mr. Langton told us, he was about to establish a school upon his estate, but it had been suggested to him, that it might have a tendency to make the people
* Mrs. Piozzi, in her “ Anecdotes,” p. 261, has given an erroneous account of this incident, as of many others. She pretends to relate it from recollection, as if she herself had been present : when the fact is that it was communicated to her by me. She has represented it as a personality, and the true point has escaped her.
1772. less industrious. Johnson. “ No, Sir. While learnÆtat. ing to read and write is a distinction, the few who have 63. that distinction may be the less inclined to work ; but
when every body learns to read and write, it is no longer a distinction. A man who has a laced waistcoat is too fine a man to work ; but if every body had laced waistcoats, we should have people working in laced waistcoats. There are no people whatever more industrious, none who work more than our manufacturers; yet they have all learnt to read and write. Sir, you must not neglect doing a thing immediately good, from fear of remote evil ;-from fear of its being abused. A man who has candles may sit up too late, which he would not do if he had not candles ; but nobody will deny that the art of making candles, by which light is continued to us beyond the time that the sun gives us light, is a valuable art, and ought to be preserved.” Boswell. “ But, Sir, would it not be better to follow Nature; and go to bed and rise just as nature gives us light or withholds it ?” Johnson. “No, Sir; for then we should have no kind of equality in the partition of our time between sleeping and waking. It would be very different in different seasons and in different places. In some of the northern parts of Scotland how little light is there in the depth of winter!”
We talked of Tacitus, and I hazarded an opinion, that with all his merit for penetration, shrewdness of judgement, and terseness of expression, he was too compact, too much broken into hints, as it were, and therefore too difficult to be understood. To my great satisfaction Dr. Johnson sanctioned this opinio
• Tacitus, Sir, seems to me rather to have made notes for an historical work, than to have written a history.”s
At this time it appears from his “ Prayers and Meditations,” that he had been more than commonly diligent in religious duties, particularly in reading the holy scriptures. It was Passion Week, that solemn season
5 It is remarkable that Lord Monboddo, whom, on account of his resembling Dr. Johnson in some particulars, Foote called an Elzevir edition of him, has, by coincidence, made the very same remark. Origin and Progress of Language, vol. iü. 2d edit. p. 219.
which the Christian world has appropriated to the com- 1772. memoration of the mysteries of our redemption, and
Ætat, during which, whatever embers of religion are in our 63. breasts, will be kindled into pious warmth.
I paid him short visits both on Friday and Saturday, and seeing his large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a reverential awe, and would not intrude upon his time.
his time. While he was thus employed to such good purpose, and while his friends in their intercourse with him constantly found a vigorous intellect and a lively imagination, it is melancholy to read in his private register, “ My mind is unsettled and my mem. ory confused. I have of late turned my thoughts with a very useless earnestness upon past incidents. I have yet got no command over my thoughts ; an unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my rest.”. What philosophick heroism was it in him to appear with such manly fortitude to the world, while he was inwardly so distressed! We may surely believe that the mysterious principle of being “made perfect through suffering,” was to be strongly exemplified in him.
On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, General Paoli and I paid him a visit before dinner. We talked of the notion that blind persons can distinguish colours by the touch. Johnson said, that Professor Sanderson mentions his having attempted to do it, but that he found he was aiming at an impossibility ; that to be sure a difference in the surface makes the difference of colours ; but that difference is so fine, that it is not sensible to the touch. The General mentioned jugglers and fraudulent gamesters, who could know cards by the touch. Dr. Johnson said, “the cards used by such persons must be less polished than ours commonly are.”
We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a simple sound, but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I presumed to differ from this' opinion, and mentioned the soft and sweet sound of a fine woman's voice. JOHNSON. “ No, Sir, if a serpent
• Prayers and Meditations, p. 111. VOL. II.
1772. or a toad uttered it, you would think it ugly.” BosÆtat. well.“ So you would think, Sir, were a beautiful tune 63. to be uttered by one of those animals.” Johnson.
“ No, Sir, it would be admired. We have seen fine fiddlers whom we liked as little as toads.” (laughing.)
Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he said, that difference of taste was in truth, difference of skill. Boswell.“ But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking : For
instance, we find people differ much as to what is the . best style of English composition. Some think Swift's
the best ; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing.” Johnson. “ Sir, you must first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad.
The two classes of persons whom you have mentioned, don't suffer as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style ; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour. In like manner, one loves a plain coat, another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind.”
While I remained in London this spring, I was with him at several other times, both by himself and in company. I dined with him one day at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, with Lord Elibank, Mr. Langton, and Dr. Vansittart of Oxford. Without specifying each particular day, I have preserved the following memorable things.
I regretted the reflection in his preface to Shakspeare against Garrick, to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: “I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very communicative." I told him, that Garrick had complained to me of it, and had vindicated himself by assuring me, that Johnson was made welcome to the full use of his collection, and that he left the key of it with a servant, with orders to have a fire and every convenience for him. I found Johnson's notion was, that Garrick wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the contrary, Garrick should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his own
accord. But, indeed, considering the slovenly and 1772. careless manner in which books were treated by John
tat. son, it could not be expected that scarce and valuable 63. editions should have been lent to him.
A gentleman having to some of the usual arguments for drinking added this : “You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us forget whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to drink for that reason ?" Johnson. “Yes, Sir, if he sat next you.”
I expressed a liking for Mr. Francis Osborne's works, and asked him what he thought of that writer. He answered, “ A conceited fellow. Were a man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him.” He, however, did not alter my opinion of a favourite authour, to whom I was first directed by his being quoted in “ The Spectator," and in whom I have found much shrewd and lively sense, expressed indeed in a style somewhat quaint, which, however, I do not dislike. His book has an air of originality. We figure to ourselves an ancient gentleman talking to us.
When one of his friends endeavoured to maintain that a country gentleman might contrive to pass his life very agreeably, “ Sir, (said he,) you cannot give me an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.” This observation, however, is equally applicable to gentlemen who live in cities, and are of no profession.
He said, “ there is no permanent national character ; it varies according to circumstances. Alexander the Great swept India : now the Turks sweep Greece."
A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to inform us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose seven or eight minutes in relating it circumstantially. He in a plenitude of phrase told us, that large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in the town-hall ;--that by reason of this, fleas nestled there in prodigious numbers ; that the lodgings of the counsel were near the town-hall ;--and that those little animals moved from place to place with wonderful agility. Johnson sat in great impatience till