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wrote. JOHNSON: "I recollect but one passage quoted by Thucydides from Homer, which is not to be found in our copies of Homer's works; I am for the antiquity of Homer, and think that a Grecian colony by being nearer Persia might be more refined than the mother country."
On Wednesday, April 29, I dined with him at Mr. Allan Ramsay's, where were Lord Binning, Dr. Robertson the historian, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen, widow of the Admiral, and mother of the present Viscount Falmouth;1 of whom, if it be not presumptuous in me to praise her, I would say, that her manners are the most agreeable, and her conversation the best, of any lady with whom I ever had the happiness to be acquainted. Before Johnson came, we talked a good deal of him; Ramsay said, he had always found him a very polite man, and that he treated him with great respect, which he did very sincerely. I said, I worshiped him. ROBERTSON : "But some of you spoil him: you should not worship him; you should worship no man." BOSWELL: "I cannot help worshiping him, he is so much superior to other men." ROBERTSON: "In criticism, and in wit and conversation, he is no doubt very excellent; but in other respects he is not above other men; he will believe anything, and will strenuously defend the most minute circumstances connected with the Church of England." BOSWELL: "Believe me, Doctor, you are much mistaken as to this; for when you talk with him calmly in private, he is very liberal in his way of thinking." ROBERTSON: "He and I have been always very gracious; the first time I met him was one evening at Strahan's, when he had just had an unlucky altercation with Adam Smith; to whom he had been so rough, that Strahan, after Smith was gone, had remonstrated with him, and told him that I was coming soon, and that he was uneasy to think that he might behave in the same manner to me. 'No, no, Sir,' said Johnson, 'I warrant you Robertson and I shall do very well.' Accordingly he was gentle and goodhumoured and courteous with me the whole evening; and he has been so upon every occasion that we have met since. I have often said (laughing) that I have been in a great measure indebted to Smith for my good reception." BOSWELL: "His power of reasoning is very strong, and he has a peculiar art of drawing characters, which is as rare as good portrait painting." SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS: "He is undoubtedly admirable in this; but, in order to mark the characters which he draws, he overcharges them, and gives people more than they really have, whether of good or bad."
1 Mrs. Frances Boscawen was the daughter of William Evelyn Granville, Esq., of St. Clair, Kent, and was married, in 1742, to Admiral Boscawen, brother of the second Viscount Falmouth, on whose death, in 1782, the son of the Admiral and of Mrs. Boscawen succeeded to the peerage. Thus, if the above was penned in 1778, Boswell would be wrong in calling Mrs. Boscawen the "mother of the present Viscount Falmouth;" she was only his sister-inlaw. We must therefore infer that the above was written subsequently to 1782.-ED.
No sooner did he, of whom we had been thus talking so easily, arrive, than we were all as quiet as a school upon the entrance of the head-master; and were very soon sat down to a table covered with such variety of good things, as contributed not a little to dispose him to be pleased.
RAMSAY: "I am old enough, to have been a contemporary of Pope. His poetry was highly admired in his lifetime,-more a great deal than after his death." JOHNSON: "Sir, it has not been less admired since his death; no authors ever had so much fame in their own lifetime as Pope and Voltaire; and Pope's poetry has been as much admired since his death as during his life; it has only not been as much talked of; but that is owing to its being now more distant, and people having other writings to talk of. Virgil is less talked of than Pope, and Homer is less talked of than Virgil; but they are not less admired. We must read what the world reads at the moment. It has been maintained that this superfetation, this teeming of the press in modern times, is prejudicial to good literature, because it obliges us to read so much of what is of inferior value, in order to be in the fashion; so that better works are neglected for want of time, because a man will have more gratification of his vanity in conversation, from having read modern books, than from having read the best works of antiquity. But it must be considered, that we have now more knowledge generally diffused; all our ladies read now, which is a great extension. Modern writers are the moons of literature; they shine with reflected light, with light borrowed from the ancients. Greece appears to me to be the fountain of knowledge; Rome of elegance." RAMSAY: I suppose Homer's 'Iliad' to be a collection of pieces which had been written before his time. I should like to see a translation of it in poetical prose, like the book of Ruth or Job." ROBERTSON: "Would you, Dr. Johnson, who are master of the English language, but try your hand upon a part of it." JOHNSON: "Sir, you could not read it without the pleasure of verse.”1
We talked of antiquarian researches. JOHNSON: "All that is really known of the ancient state of Britain is contained in a few pages. We can know no more than what the old writers have told us; yet what large books have we upon it, the whole of which, excepting such parts as are taken from those old writers, is all a dream, such as Whittaker's 'Manchester.' I have heard Henry's 'History of Britain' well spoken of. I am told it is carried on in separate divisions, as the civil, the
1 This experiment, which Madame Dacier made in vain, has since been tried in our own language by the editor of "Ossian," and we must either think very meanly of his abilities, or allow that Dr. Johnson was in the right. And Mr. Cowper, a man of real genius, has miserably failed in his blank verse translation.-BoswELL.
2 Dr. Robert Henry was minister of one of the churches in Edinburgh, and his "History or Great Britain" was published in 6 vols. 4to. He was born at St. Ninians, near Stirling, in 1718, and died in 1790.-ED.
military, the religious history. I wish much to have one branch well done, and that is the history of manners of common life." ROBERTSON : "Henry should have applied his attention to that alone, which is enough for any man; and he might have found a great deal scattered in various books, had he read solely with that view. Henry erred in not selling his first volume at a moderate price to the bocksellers, that they might have pushed him on till he had got reputation. I sold my 'History of Scotland' at a moderate price, as a work by which the booksellers might either gain or not; and Cadell has told me that Millar and he have got six thousand pounds by it. I afterwards received a much higher price for my writings. An author should sell his first work for what the booksellers will give, till it shall appear whether he is an author of merit, or, which is the same thing as to purchase-money, an author who pleases the public."
Dr. Robertson expatiated on the character of a certain nobleman [Lord Clive]; that he was one of the strongest-minded men that ever lived; that he would sit in company quite sluggish, while there was nothing to call forth his intellectual vigour; but the moment that any important subject was started-for instance, how this country is to be defended against a French invasion—he would rouse himself, and show his extraordinary talents with the most powerful ability and animation, JOHNSON: "Yet this man cut his own throat. The true strong and sound mind is the mind that can embrace equally great things and small. Now, I am told the King of Prussia will say to a servant, 'Bring me a bottle of such a wine, which came in such a year; it lies in such a corner of the cellars.' I would have a man great in great things, and elegant in little things." He said to me afterwards, when we were by ourselves, "Robertson was in a mighty romantic humour ; he talked of one whom he did not know; but I downed him with the King of Prussia." "Yes, Sir," said I, "you threw a bottle at his head."
An ingenious gentleman was mentioned, concerning whom both Robertson and Ramsay agreed that he had a constant firmness of mind; for after a laborious day, and amidst a multiplicity of cares and anxieties, he would sit down with his sisters, and be quite cheerful and good-humoured. Such a disposition, it was observed, was a happy gift of nature. JOHNSON: "I do not think so; a man has from nature a certain portion of mind; the use he makes of it depends upon his own free will. That a man has always the same firmness of mind, I do not say; because every man feels his mind less firm at one time than another; but I think a man's being in good or bad humour depends upon his will." I, however, could not help thinking that a man's humour is often uncontrollable by his will.
Johnson harangued against drinking wine. "A man," said he, "may choose whether he will have abstemiousness and knowledge, or
claret and ignorance." Dr. Robertson (who is very companionable) was beginning to dissent as to the prescription of claret. JOHNSON (with a placid smile): "Nay, Sir, you shall not differ with me; as I have said that the man is most perfect who takes in the most things, I am for knowledge and claret." ROBERTSON (holding a glass of generous claret in his hand): "Sir, I can only drink your health." JOHNSON:
Sir, I should be sorry if you should be ever in such a state as to be able to do nothing more." ROBERTSON; "Dr. Johnson, allow me to say, that in one respect I have the advantage of you; when you were in Scotland you would not come to hear any of our preachers, whereas, when I am here, I attend your public worship without scruple, and, indeed, with great satisfaction." JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, that is not so extraordinary; the King of Siam sent ambassadors to Louis the Fourteenth; but Louis the Fourteenth sent none to the King of Siam." "9 1
Here my friend for once discovered a want of knowledge or forgetfulness, for Louis the Fourteenth did send an embassy to the King of Siam, and the Abbé Choisi, who was employed in it, published an account of it in two volumes.
Next day, Thursday, April 30, I found him at home by himself. JOHNSON: "Well, Sir, Ramsay gave us a splendid dinner. I love Ramsay. You will not find a man in whose conversation there is more instruction, more information, and more elegance, than in Ramsay's." BOSWELL: "What I admire in Ramsay, is his continuing to be so young." JOHNSON: "Why, yes, Sir, it is to be admired. I value myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my conversation. I am now sixty-eight, and I have no more of it than at twentyeight." BOSWELL: "But, Sir, would you not wish to know old age? He who is never an old man, does not know the whole of human life; for old age is one of the divisions of it." JOHNSON: "Nay, Sir, what talk is this?" BOSWELL: "I mean, Sir, the Sphinx's description of it -morning, noon, and night. I would know night, as well as morning and noon." JOHNSON: "What, Sir, would you know what it is to feel the evils of old age? Would you have the gout? Would you have decrepitude?" Seeing him heated, I would not argue farther; but I was confident that I was in the right. I would, in due time, be a Nestor, an elder of the people; and there should be some difference between the conversation of twenty-eight and sixty-eight." A grave
1 Mrs. Piozzi confidently mentions this as having passed in Scotland. "Anecdotes," p. 92. -BOSWELL.
2 The Abbé de Choisi was sent by Louis XIV. on an embassy to the King of Siam in 1683 with a view, it has been said, to convert the King of that country to Christianity.—MALONE.
3 Johnson clearly meant (what the author has often elsewhere mentioned), that he had none of the listlessness of old age, that he had the same activity and energy of mind as formerly not that a man of sixty-eight might dance in a public assembly with as much propriety as he could at twenty-eight. His conversation, being the product of much various knowledge, great
picture should not be gay. There is a serene, solemn, placid old age. JOHNSON: "Mrs. Thrale's mother said of me what flattered me much. A clergyman was complaining of want of society in the country where he lived, and said, 'They talk of runts;' that is, young cows.1 'Sir,' said Mrs. Salusbury, 'Mr. Johnson would learn to talk of runts,' meaning that I was a man who would make the most of my situation, whatever it was." He added, "I think myself a very polite man."
On Saturday, May 2, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where there was a very large company, and a great deal of conversation; but owing to some circumstances which I cannot now recollect, I have no record of any part of it, except that there were several people there by no means of the Johnsonian school; so that less attention was paid to him than usual, which put him out of humour; and upon some imaginary offence from me, he attacked me with such rudeness, that I was vexed and angry, because it gave those persons an opportunity of enlarging upon his supposed ferocity, and ill-treatment of his best friends. I was so much hurt, and had my pride so much roused, that I kept away from him for a week; and, perhaps, might have kept away much longer, nay, gone to Scotland without seeing him again, had not we fortunately met and been reconciled. To such unhappy chances are human friendships liable!
On Friday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Langton's. I was reserved and silent, which I supposed he perceived, and might recollect the cause. After dinner, when Mr. Langton was called out of the room, and we were by ourselves, he drew his chair near to mine, and said, in a tone of conciliating courtesy, "Well, how have you done?" BOSWELL: "Sir, you have made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me when we were last at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. You know, my dear Sir, no man has a greater respect and affection for you, or would sooner go to the end of the world to serve you. Now, to treat me so— -" He insisted that I had interrupted him, which I assured him was not the case; and proceeded, "But why treat me so before people who neither love you nor me?" JOHNSON: "Well, I am sorry for it. I'll make it up to you twenty different ways, as you please." BOSWELL: "I said to-day to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you tossed me sometimes, I don't care how often, or how high he tosses me, when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling on
acuteness and extraordinary wit, was equally well suited to every period of life; and as in his youth it probably did not exhibit any unbecoming levity, so certainly in his later years it was totally free from the garrulity and querulousness of old age.-MALONE.
1 Such is the signification of this word in Scotland, and it should seem in Wales. (See Skinner in v.) But the heifers of Scotland and Wales, when brought to England, being always smaller than those of this country, the word runt has acquired a secondary sense, and generally signifies a heifer diminutive in size, small beyond the ordinary growth of that animal; and in this sense alone the word is acknowledged by Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary. -MALONE