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Sir, is not to the present purpose: we are talking of his sense. A fighting cock has a nobleness of resolution."
Next day, Sunday, April 2, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's. We talked of Pope. JOHNSON. “ He wrote his · Dunciad' for fame. That was his primary motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might have railed against him till they were weary, without his troubling himself about them. He delighted to vex them, doubt; but he had more delight in seeing how well he could vex them."
The “Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion," in ridicule of “cool Mason and warm Gray," being mentioned, Johnson said, “They are Colman's best things." Upon it being observed that it was believed these Odes were made by Colman and Lloyd jointly ;--JOHNSON. • Nay, Sir, how can two people make an Ode? Perhaps one made one of them, and one the other.” I observed that two people had made a play, and quoted the anecdote of Beaumont and Fletcher, who were brought under suspicion of treason, because while concerting the plan of a tragedy when sitting together at a tavern, one of them was overheard saying to the other, “ I'll kill the King." JOHNSON, “The first of these Odes is the best : but they are both good. They exposed a very bad kind of writing." Boswell. “Surely, Sir, Mr. Mason's · Elfrida' is a fine poem: at least you will allow there are some good passages in it.” JOHNSON. “ There are now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner."
I often wondered at his low estimation of the writings of Gray and Mason. Of Gray's poetry I have, in a former part of this work, expressed my high opinion; and for that of Mr. Mason I have ever entertained a warm admiration. His “ Elfrida” is exquisite, both in poetical description and moral sentiment; and his “Caractacus” is a noble drama. Nor can I omit paying my tribute of praise to some of his smaller poems which I have read with pleasure, and which no criticism shall persuade me not to like. If I wondered at Johnson's not tasting the works of Mason and Gray, still more have I wondered at their not tasting his works; that they should be insensible to his energy of diction, to his splendour of images, and comprehension of thought. Tastes may differ as to the violin, the flute, the hautboy, in short, all the lesser instruments: but who can be insensible to the powerful impressions of the majestick organ?
His “Taxation no Tyranny" being mentioned, he said, “I think I have not been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action. I never think I have hit hard, unless it rebounds.” BOSWELL. “I don't know, Sir, what you would be at. Five or six shots of small
arms in every newspaper, and repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I think, satisfy you. But, Sir, you'll never make out this match, of which we have talked, with a certain political lady, since you are so severe against her principles." JOHNSON. “Nay, Sir, I have the better chance for that. She is like the Amazons of old ; she must be courted by the sword. But I have not been severe upon her.” BOSWELL. “Yes, Sir, you have made her ridiculous." JOHNSON. “ That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make her ridiculous, is like blacking the chimney."
I put him in mind that the landlord at Ellon in Scotland said, that he heard he was the greatest man in England,-next to Lord Mansfield. “Aye, Sir, (said he,) the exception defined the idea. A Scotchman could go no farther:
• The force of Nature could no farther go.'"
Lady Miller's collection of verses by fashionable people, which were put into her Vase at Batheaston villa, near Bath, in competition for honorary prizes, being mentioned, he held them very cheap: “ Bouts rimés, (said he,) is a mere conceit, and an old conceit now; I wonder how people were persuaded to write in that manner for this lady." I named a gentleman of his acquaintance, who wrote for the Vase. JOHNSON. “He was a blockhead for his pains." BOSWELL. “ The Duchess of Northumberland wrote." JOHNSON. “Sir, the Duchess of Northumberland may do what she pleases : nobody will say any thing to a lady of her high rank. But I should be apt to throw ******'s verses in his face."
I talked of the cheerfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it. JOHNSON. “Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance; but I think the full tide of human existence is at Charingcross."
He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led a busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of their habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned as strong an instance of this as can well be imagined.
1 Mrs. Macaulay.
On “a buttered muffin,” according to Walpole. Garrick seems to have been of Johnson's opinion, for he once slipped in three lines, when “Charity” bad been given for a subject :
“THE VASE SPEAKS.
A little wit, for that would be,
The Rev. Mr. Graves, according to
“ An eminent tallow-chandler in London, who had acquired a considerable fortune, gave up the trade in favour of his foreman, and went to live at a country-house near town. He soon grew weary, and paid frequent visits to his old shop, where he desired they might let him know their melting-days, and he would come and assist them : which he accordingly did.' Here, Sir, was a man, to whom the most disgusting circumstance in the business to which he had been used, was a relief from idleness.”
On Wednesday, April 5, I dined with him at Messieurs Dillys,' with Mr. John Scott of Amwell, the Quaker, Mr. Langton, Mr. Miller, (now Sir John,) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, an Irish clergyman, whom I took the liberty of inviting to Messieurs Dillys' table, having seen him at Mr. Thrale's, and been told that he had come to England chiefly with a view to see Dr. Johnson, for whom he entertained the highest veneration. He has since published “A philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland," a very entertaining book, which has, however, one fault;—that it assumes the fictitious character of an Englishman.
We talked of publick speaking.-JOHNSON. “We must not estimate a man's powers by his being able or not able to deliver his sentiments in publick. Isaac Hawkins Browne, one of the first wits of this country, got into parliament, and never opened his mouth. For my own part, I think it is more disgraceful never to try to speak, than to try it and fail; as it is more disgraceful not to fight, than to fight and be beaten.” This argument appeared to me fallacious; for if a man has not spoken, it may be said that he would have done very well if he had tried; whereas, if he has tried
| This was Murphy's story originally, who always told it of dripping-night, instead of melting-day. – Mrs. Piozzi, Marginalia.
* In a letter to Temple Boswell gives a little programme of their enjoyments. “To-day I dine at Sir John Pringle's; to-morrow at Dilly's, with Mr. Johnson and Langton, &c.; Thursday at Tom Davies's, with Mr. Johnson and some others ; Friday at the Turk's Head, Gerrard-street, with our club, Sir Joshua Reynolds, &c., who now dine once a month and sup every Friday. My forenoons are spent in visiting, and you know the distances in London makes that business enough.” A few days later-after all this dissipation - he writes to his friend,“ I have only to tell you, my divine, that I yesterday received the holy sacrament in St. Paul's, and was
exalted in piety.” He had prepared for this rite by a banquet with Wilkes on the Saturday evening.
Johnson was strictly accurate. Browne's name is not to be found in the list of Parliamentary speakers. “I had a friend," wrote Johnson to Mrs. Piozzi, “ of great eminence in the learned and the witty world, who had hung up some pots on his wall to furnish nests for sparrows. The poor sparrows, not knowing his character, were seduced by the convenience, and I never heard any man speak of any future enjoyment with such contortions of delight as he exhibited when he talked of eating the young ones. On the margin of her copy Mrs. Piozzi writes that this was Hawkins Browne. Sidney Smith's grotesque description of his dancing at the court of Naples will be familiar to the reader.
and failed, there is nothing to be said for him. “Why then, (I asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not to fight, and not disgraceful not to speak in publick ?" JOHNSON. “Because there may be other reasons for a man's not speaking in publick than want of resolution : he may have nothing to say, (laughing). Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other."
He observed, that “the statutes against bribery were intended to prevent upstarts with money from getting into parliament;" adding, that “if he were a gentleman of landed property, he would turn out all his tenants who did not vote for the candidate whom he supported.” LANGTON. “Would not that, Sir, be checking the freedom of election ?” JOHNSON. “ Sir, the law does not mean that the privilege of voting should be independent of old family interest; of the permanent property of the country.” 1
On Thursday, April 6, I dined with him at Mr. Thomas Davies's, with Mr. Hicky the painter, and my old acquaintance Mr. Moody the player.
Dr. Johnson, as usual, spoke contemptuously of Colley Cibber. “ It is wonderful that a man, who for forty years had lived with the great and the witty, should have acquired so ill the talents of conversation : and he had but half to furnish; for one half of what he said was oaths.” He, however, allowed considerable merit to some of his comedies, and said there was no reason to believe that “The
· Boswell's report is meagre, but Dr. King's assent to pass into a law: his Campbell jotted down some notes which answer had more of wit than of argument. show that the conversation was interest. Well, Sir,' says he, 'that only gives it ing and characteristic. This proves that more weight.' 'I thought I had gone too Boswell was fitful in his task of reporter, far, but dinner was then announced, and and sometimes allowed as much to escape Dilly, who paid all attention to him in him as he secured.
placing him next the fire, said, “Doctor, “ The Doctor when I came in had an perhaps you will be too warm.' . No, answer, titled Taxation and Tyranny, to Sir,' says the Doctor, 'I am neither hot his last pamphlet in his hand. He nor cold.' 'And yet,' said I, 'Doctor, laughed at it, and said he would read you are not a lukewarm man.' This no more of it, for that it paid him com. thought pleased him, and as I sat next pliments, but gave him no information. him, I had a fine opportunity of attend. He asked if there were any more of them. ing to his phiz, and I could clearly see
Then Boswell (who understood he was fond of having his quaint things his temper well) asked him somewhatlaughed at, and they (without any force) for I was not attending, relative to the gratified my propensity to affuse grinprovincial assemblies. The Doctor in ning. ::.: Mr. Dilly led him to give process of discourse with him, argued his opinion of men and things, of which with great vehemence that the assem he is very free. . . Talking of the blies were nothing more than our vestries. Scotch (after Boswell was gone) he said, I asked him was there not this difference, though they were not a learned nation, that an act of the assemblies required the yet they were very fas removed from igno
Careless Husband” was not written by himself. Davies said, he was the first dramatick writer who introduced genteel ladies upon the stage. Johnson refuted this observation by instancing several such characters in comedies before his time. DAVIES. (trying to defend himself from a charge of ignorance,) “I mean genteel moral characters." “I think, (said Hicky,) gentility and morality are inseparable." Boswell. “By no means, Sir. The genteelest characters are often the most immoral. Does not Lord Chesterfield give precepts for uniting wickedness and the graces? A man, indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very genteely : a man may debauch his friend's wife genteely : he may cheat at cards genteely." Hicky. “I do not think that is genteel.” Boswell.“ Sir, it may not be like a gentle. man, but it may be genteel.” JOHNSON. “You are meaning two different things. One means exteriour grace; the other honour. It is certain, that a man may be very immoral with exteriour grace. Lovelace, in Clarissa,' is a very genteel and a very wicked character. Tom Hervey, who died t'other day, though a vicious man, was one of the genteelest men that ever lived.” Tom Davies instanced Charles the Second. Johnson. (taking fire at any attack upon this Prince, for whom he had an extraordinary partiality,) “ Charles the Second was licentious in his practice ; but he always had a reverence for what was good. Charles the Second knew his people, and rewarded merit. The Church was at no time better filled than in his reign. He was the best King we have had from his time till the reign of his present Majesty, except James the Second, who was a very good King, but unhappily believed that it was necessary for the salvation of his subjects that they should be Roman Catholicks. He had the merit of endeavouring to do
rance. Learning was new among them, classical writers and scholars : I don't and he doubted not but they would in know,' he says, 'that any man is before time be a learned people, for they were Usher as a scholar, unless it may be a fine, bold, enterprising people. He Selden ; and you have a philosopher, compared England and Scotland to two Boyle, and you have Swift and Congreve, lions, the one saturated with his belly but the latter,' he says, denied you;' full, and the other prowling for prey. and he might have added, the former But the test he offered to prove, that too. He then added, “You certainly Scotland, though it had learning enough have a turn for the drama, for
have for common life, yet had not sufficient for Southerne and Farquahar, and Congreve, the dignity of literature, was that he de. and many living authors and players.' fied anyone to produce a classical book Encouraged by this, I went back to assert written in Scotland since Buchanan. the genius of England in old times, and Robertson, he said, used pretty words, ventured to say that the first professors but he liked Hume better, and neither of Oxford and Paris, &c., were Irish. of them would he allow to be more to “Sir,' says he, • I believe there is someClarendon than a rat to a cat . . . Turn. thing in what you say. I am content ing to me, he said, “You have produced with it, since they are not Scotch.""