« AnteriorContinuar »
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 epic poem, and for many of his beauties.”
He told me, that Bacon was a favourite author with him; but he had never read his works till he was compiling his 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 might be compiled from Bacon's works 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 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 : “ 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."
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 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 whore, 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."
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.
1 But where is the inaccuracy, if the adınirers of Homer contend that he was not only prior to Virgil in point of time, but superior in excellence ?–J. BOSWELL, JUN.
? David Mallet, whose real name was Malloch, was a poet, dramatist, and miscellaneous writer of some repute in his day. Pope and Bolingbroke were among his intimate friends, through whose influence he was appointed Under Secretary to the Prince of Wales. His writings are occasionally tinged with the scepticisin of the Bolingbroke school. He was born about 1700, at Crief, in Perthshire, and died in 1765.-ED.
Johnson's REMARKS ON PHILOLOGY-GRAINGER'S “ ODE ON SOLITUDE"-EFFECTS OF MUSIC
-Johnson's OPINIONS Ox HAPPINESS-CONFERENCE IN DR. TAYLOR'S GARDEN-SLAVE
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."
During this interview at Ashbourne, Johnson and I frequently talked with wonderful pleasure of mere trifles which had occurred in our tour to the Hebrides; for it had left a most agreeable and lasting impression upon his mind.
He found fault with me for using the phrase to make money. “Don't you see,” said he,“ the impropriety of it? To make money is to coin it : you should say get money.” The phrase, however, is, I think, pretty current. But Johnson was at all times jealous of infractions upon the genuine English Language, and prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms; such as pledging myself, for undertaking ; line, for department, or branch, as the civil line, the banking line. He was particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word idea in the sense of notion or opinion, when it is clear that idea can only signify something of which an image can be formed in the mind. We may have an idea or image of a mountain, a tree, a building; but we cannot surely have an idea or image of an argument or proposition. Yet we hear the sages of the law “ delivering their ideas upon the question under consideration;" and the first speakers in Parliament“ entirely coincided in the idea which has been ably stated by an honourable member;" — probating an idea unconstitutional, and fraught with the most dangerous consequences to a great and free country.” Johnson called this “modern cant.”
I perceived that he pronounced the word heard, as if spelt with a double e, heerd, instead of sounding it herd, as is most usually done. He said, his reason was, that if it were pronounced herd, there would be a single exception from the English pronunciation of the syllable ear, and he thought it better not to have that exception.
He praised Grainger's “Ode on Solitude,"? in Dodsley's collection, and repeated, with great energy, the exordium :
“O Solitude, romantic maid,
Tadmor's marble waste survey~" observing, “This, Sir, is very noble.”
1 In the age of Queen Elizabeth this word was frequently written, as doubtless it was pronounced, hard.—MALONE.
2 Grainger was a physician as well as a poet, who, after taking his medical degree, settled in London; but having little practice, he chiefly supported himself by writing for the press. He afterwards went to St. Christopher's, in the West Indies, where he married, and successfully established himself, but did not entirely lay aside his pen. He was born at Dunse, in Scotland, in 1723, and died in 1767
In the evening our gentleman-farmer, and two others, entertained themselves and the company with a great number of tunes on the fiddle. Johnson desired to have “Let ambition fire thy mind," played over again, and appeared to give a patient attention to it; though he owned to me that he was very insensible to the power of music. I told him that it affected me to such a degree, as often to agitate my nerves painfully, producing in my mind alternate sensations of pathetic dejection, so that I was ready to shed tears; and of daring resolution, so that I was inclined to rush into the thickest part of the battle. “Sir," said he, “I should never hear it, if it made me such a fool.”
Much of the effect of music, I am satisfied, is owing to the association of ideas. That air, which instantly and irresistibly excites in the Swiss,? when in a foreign land, the maladie du pays, has, I am told, no intrinsic power of sound. And I know, from my own experience, that Scotch reels, though brisk, make me melancholy, because I used to hear them in my early years, at a time when Mr. Pitt called for soldiers “from the mountains of the north,” and numbers of brave Highlanders were going abroad, never to return. Whereas the airs in “ The Beggar's Opera," many of which are very soft, never fail to render me gay, because they are associated with the warm sensations and high spirits of London.This evening, while some of the tunes of ordinary composition were played with no great skill, my frame was agitated, and I was conscious of a generous attachment to Dr. Johnson, as my preceptor and friend, mixed with an affectionate regret that he was an old man, whom I should probably lose in a short time. I thought I could defend him at the point of my sword. My reverence and affection for him were in full glow. I said to him, “My dear Sir, we must meet every year if you don't quarrel with me.” JOHNSON: “Nay, Sir, you are more likely to quarrel with me, than I with you. My regard for you is greater almost than I have words to express ; but I do not choose to be always repeating it; write it down in the first leaf of your pocket-book, and never doubt of it again.”
I talked to him of misery being the “ doom of man,” in this life, as displayed in his “Vanity of Human Wishes." Yet I observed that things were done upon the supposition of happiness ; grand houses were built, fine gardens were made, splendid places of public amusement were contrived, and crowded with company. JOHNSON : “Alas, Sir, these are all only struggles for happiness. When I first entered Ranelagh, it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as
1 The “Ranz des Vaches,” which so strongly affected the Swiss soldiers, when on foreign service, as to cause them to desert. Rousseau informs us that the air was forbidden under pain of death.