« AnteriorContinuar »
ever, gives us reason to hope for a future state of compensation, that there may be a perfect system. But of that we are not sure, till we had a positive revelation." I told him that his "Rasselas " had often made me unhappy; for it represented the misery of human life so well, and so convincingly to a thinking mind, that if at any time the impression wore off, and I felt myself easy, I began to suspect some delusion.
On Monday, April 20, I found him at home in the morning. We talked of a gentleman who we apprehended was gradually involving his circumstances by bad management. JOHNSON: "Wasting a fortune is evaporation by a thousand imperceptible means. If it were a stream, they'd stop it. You must speak to him. It is really miserable. Were he a gamester, it could be said he had hopes of winning. Were he a bankrupt in trade, he might have grown rich; but he has neither spirit to spend, nor resolution to spare. He does not spend fast enough to have pleasure from it. He has the crime of prodigality, and the wretchedness of parsimony. If a man is killed in a duel, he is killed as many a one has been killed; but it is a sad thing for a man to lie down and die; to bleed to death, because he has not fortitude enough to sear the wound, or even to stitch it up."—I cannot but pause a moment to admire the fecundity of fancy, and choice of language, which in this instance, and indeed on almost all occasions, he displayed. It was well observed by Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore, "The conversation of Johnson is strong and clear, and may be compared to an antique statue, where every vein and muscle is distinct and bold. Ordinary conversation resembles an inferior cast."
On Saturday, April 25, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with the learned Dr. Musgrave;1 Counsellor Leland of Ireland, son to the historian; Mrs. Cholmondeley, and some more ladies. "The Project," a new poem, was read to the company by Dr. Musgrave. JOHNSON: "Sir, it has no power. Were it not for the well-known names with which it is filled, it would be nothing: the names carry the poet, not the poet the names." MUSGRAVE: A temporary poem always entertains us." JOHNSON: "So does an account of the criminals hanged yesterday entertain us."
He proceeded :-"Demosthenes Taylor, as he was called (that is, the editor of Demosthenes), was the most silent man, the merest statue of a man that I had ever seen. I once dined in company with him, and all he said during the whole time was no more than Richard. How a man should say only Richard, it is not easy to imagine. But it was
1 Samuel Musgrave, M.D., editor of "Euripides," and author of "Dissertations on the Grecian Mythology," &c.; published in 1782, after his death, by Mr. Tyrwhitt.-MALONE.
2 This was Thomas Taylor, the learned Grecian, commonly termed "The Platonist." His translations from the Greek are very numerous; but the most important are the work of Aristotle, Plato, and Pausanias. He died in 1835.-ED.
thus: Dr. Douglas1 was talking of Dr. Zachary Grey, and was ascribing to him something that was written by Dr. Richard Grey. So, to correct him, Taylor said (imitating his affected sententious emphasis and nod), 'Richard.""
Mrs. Cholmondeley, in a high flow of spirits, exhibited some lively sallies of hyperbolical compliment to Johnson, with whom she had been long acquainted, and was very easy. He was quick in catching the manner at the moment, and answered her somewhat in the style of the hero of a romance, "Madam, you crown me with unfading laurels."
I happened, I know not how, to say that a pamphlet meant a prose piece. JOHNSON: "No, Sir. A few sheets of poetry unbound are a pamphlet, as much as a few sheets of prose." MUSGRAVE: "A pamphlet may be understood to mean a poetical piece in Westminster Hall, that is, in formal language; but in common language it is understood to mean prose." JOHNSON (and here was one of the many instances of his knowing clearly and telling exactly how a thing is): “A pamphlet is understood in common language to mean prose, only from this, that there is so much more prose written than poetry; as when we say a book, prose is understood for the same reason, though a book may as well be in poetry as in prose. We understand what is most general, and we name what is less frequent.”
We talked of a lady's verses on Ireland. MISS REYNOLDS: "Have you seen them, Sir?" JOHNSON: "No, Madam; I have seen a translation from Horace, by one of her daughters. She showed it me." MISS REYNOLDS: "And how was it, Sir?" JOHNSON: "Why, very well for a young Miss's verses; that is to say, compared with excellence, nothing; but very well for the person who wrote them. I am vexed at being shown verses in that manner." MISS REYNOLDS: "But if they should be good, why not give them hearty praise?" JOHNSON: 66 Why, Madam, because I have not then got the better of my bad humour from having been shown them. You must consider,
Dr. Douglas had been travelling tutor to Lord Pulteney, and afterwards obtained the Deanery of Windsor. In 1787 he was raised to the see of Carlisle, and in 1792 to that of Salisbury. He was the vindicator of Milton against the charges of plagiarism, and entered the lists against David Hume, by publishing "The Criterion; or, a Discourse on Miracles." He was born at Pittenweem, Fifeshire, in 1721, and died in 1807.-ED.
? They were contemporaries, and both Doctors of Divinity. Dr. Zachary Grey is well known for his edition of " Hudibras," his " Notes on Shakspeare," and his " Answer to Neale's History of the Puritans." He died in 1766, aged 79.-Dr. Richard Grey was the author of "Memoria Technica," "A System of Ecclesiastical Law," and "A New and Easy Method of Learning Hebrew without Points." He was born in 1693, and died in 1771. Thus it was easy to confound the name of the one with the other.-ED.
3 Dr. Johnson is here perfectly correct, and is supported by the usage of preceding writers. So in MUSARUM DELICIA, a collection of poems, 8vo. 1656 (the writer is speaking of Suckling's play entitled AGLAURA, printed in folio) :
"This great voluminous pamphlet may be said,
To be like one that hath more hair than head."-MALONE.
Madam, beforehand they may be bad, as well as good. Nobody has a right to put another under such a difficulty that he must either hurt the person by telling the truth, or hurt himself by telling what is not true." BOSWELL: "A man often shows his writings to people of eminence, to obtain from them, either from their good nature, or from their not being able to tell the truth firmly, a commendation, of which he may afterwards avail himself." JOHNSON: "Very true, Sir. Therefore the man who is asked by an author what he thinks of his work is put to the torture, and is not obliged to speak the truth; so that what he says is not considered as his opinion; yet he has said it, and cannot retract it; and this author, when mankind are hunting him with a canister at his tail, can say, 'I would not have published had not Johnson, or Reynolds, or Musgrave, or some other good judge, commended the work.' Yet I consider it as a very difficult question in conscience, whether one should advise a man not to publish a work, if profit be his object; for the man may say, 'Had it not been for you, I hould have had the money.' Now you cannot be sure; for you have only your own opinion, and the public may think very differently." SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS: "You must, upon such an occasion, have two judgments; one as to the real value of the work, the other as to what may please the general taste of the time." JOHNSON: "But you can be sure of neither; and therefore I should scruple much to give a suppressive vote. Both Goldsmith's comedies were once refused; his first by Garrick, his second by Colman, who was prevailed on at last, by much solicitation, nay, a kind of force, to bring it on. His 'Vicar of Wakefield,' I myself did not think would have had much success. It was written and sold to a bookseller, before his 'Traveller," but published after-so little expectation had the bookseller from it. Had it been sold after 'The Traveller,' he might have had twice as much money for it, though sixty guineas was no mean price. The bookseller had the advantage of Goldsmith's reputation from the 'Traveller' in the sale, though Goldsmith had it not in selling the copy." SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS: "The Beggars' Opera' affords a proof how strangely people will differ in opinion about a literary performance. Burke thinks it has no merit." JOHNSON: "It was refused by one of the houses; but I should have thought it would succeed, not from any great excellence in the writing, but from the novelty, and the general spirit and
gaiety of the piece, which keeps the audience always attentive, and dismisses them in good humour."
We went to the drawing-room, where was a considerable increase of company. Several of us got round Johnson, and complained that he would not give us an exact catalogue of his works, that there might be a complete edition. He smiled, and evaded our entreaties. That he intended to do it, I have no doubt, because I have heard him say so; and I have in my possession an imperfect list, fairly written out, which he entitles "Historia Studiorum." I once got from one of his friends a list, which there was pretty good reason to suppose was accurate, for it was written down in his presence by this friend, who enumerated each article aloud, and had some of them mentioned to him by Mr. Levett, in concert with whom it was made out; and Johnson, who heard all this, did not contradict it. But when I showed a copy of this list to him, and mentioned the evidence for its exactness, he laughed, and said, “ Í was willing to let them go on as they pleased, and never interfered.” Upon which I read to him, article by article, and got him positively to own or refuse; and then, having obtained certainty so far, I got some other articles confirmed by him directly, and afterwards, from time to time, made additions under his sanction.
His friend, Edward Cave, having been mentioned, he told us, “Cave used to sell ten thousand of 'The Gentleman's Magazine;' yet, such was then his minute attention and anxiety that the sale should not suffer the smallest decrease, that he would name a particular person who he heard had talked of leaving off the Magazine, and would say, 'Let us have something good next month.'"
It was observed, that avarice was inherent in some dispositions. JOHNSON: "No man was born a miser, because no man was born to possession. Every man is born cupidus-desirous of getting; but not avarus-desirous of keeping." BOSWELL: I have heard old Mr. Sheridan maintain, with much ingenuity, that a complete miser is a happy man; a miser who gives himself wholly to the one passion of saving." JOHNSON: "That is flying in the face of all the world, who have called an avaricious man a miser, because he is miserable. No, Sir, a mau who both spends and saves money is the happiest man, because he has both enjoyments."
The conversation having turned on Bon-mots, he quoted, from one of the Ana, an exquisite instance of flattery in a maid of honour in France, who being asked by the Queen what o'clock it was, answered, "What your Majesty pleases." He admitted that Mr. Burke's classical pun upon Mr. Wilkes's being carried on the shoulders of the mob numerisque fertur Lege solutus," 1
was admirable; and though he was strangely unwilling to allow to that
1 Horat. Carm. iv. od. ii. 11.
extraordinary man the talent of wit, he also laughed with approbation at another of his playful conceits; which was, that 'Horace has in one line given a description of a good desirable manor :3
'Est modus ir rebus, sunt certi denique fines; 4 that is to say, a modus as to the tithes. and certain fines."
He observed," A man cannot with propriety speak of rimseif, except he relates simple facts, as, 'I was at Richmond;' or what depends on mensuration, as, 'I am six feet high.' He is sure he has been at Richmond; he is sure he is six feet high; but he cannot be sure he is wise, or that he has any other excellence. Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to show how much he can spare. It has all the invidiousness of self-praise, and all the reproach of falsehood." BOSWELL: "Sometimes it may proceed from a man's strong consciousness of his faults being observed. He knows that others would throw him down, and therefore he had better lie down softly of his own accord."
2 See this question fully investigated in the Notes upon my "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," edit. 3, p. 21, et seq. And here, as a lawyer mindful of the maxim Suum cuique tribuito, I cannot forbear to mention, that the additional Note beginning with "I find since the former edition," is not mine, but was obligingly furnished by Mr. Malone, who was so kind as to superintend the press while I was in Scotland, and the first part of the second edition was printing. He would not allow me to ascribe it to its proper author; but, as it is exquisitely acute and elegant, I take this opportunity, without his knowledge, to do him justice.-BoswELL. 3 1 Sat. i. 106.
4 This, as both Mr. Bindley and Dr. Kearney have observed to me, is the motto to "An Enquiry into Customary Estates and Tenants' Rights, &c.-with some considerations for restraining excessive fines." By Everard Fleetwood, Esq., 8vo., 1731. But it is probably a mere coincidence. Mr. Burke perhaps never saw that pamphlet.-MALONE.