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do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised long in a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town, and takes less practice. Now, Sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice of a physician, retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great city.” Boswell. “ But I wonder, Sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not writing.” Johnson. “Sir, you may wonder." ()
He talked of making verses, and observed, “ The great difficulty is, to know when you have made good ones. When composing, I have generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my room ; and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have written only half lines. I have written a hundred lines in a day. I remember I wrote a hundred lines of “The Vanity of Human Wishes' in a day. Doctor," turning to Goldsmith, “I am not quite idle; I made one line t'other day ; but I made no more.” GOLDSMITH.
(1) This is another amusing trait of Mr. Boswell's accuracy and bonne foi. Can any thing be more comic than Johnson's affectation of superiority, even to the degree of supposing that Boswell would not dare to wonder without his special sanction, and the deference with which Boswell receives and records such gracious condescension ?- C.
[After all, Johnson was at this time the great established author of fifty-seven, and Boswell the enthusiastic but humble aspirant of twenty-five. ]
Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it.” John
“No, Sir; I have forgot it.” Such specimens of the easy and playful conversation of the great Dr. Samuel Johnson are, I think, to be prized; as exhibiting the little varieties of a mind so enlarged and so powerful when objects of consequence required its exertions, and as giving us a minute knowledge of his character and modes of thinking
LETTER 98. TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
At Langton. “ Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, March 9., 1766. “ DEAR SIR, — What your friends have done, that from your departure till now nothing has been heard of you, none of us are able to inform the rest; but as we are all neglected alike, no one thinks himself entitled to the privilege of complaint.
« I should have known nothing of you or of Langton, from the time that dear Miss Langton (1) left us had not I met Mr. Simpson, of Lincoln, one day in the street, by whom I was informed that Mr. Langton, your mamma, and yourself, had been all ill, but that you were all recovered.
“ That sickness should suspend your correspondence, I did not wonder ; but hoped that it would be renewed at your recovery.
“ Since you will not inform us where you are, or how you live, I know not whether you desire to know any thing of us. However, I will tell you that the CLUB subsists; but we have the loss of Burke's
since he has been engaged in public business (2), in which he has
(1) Mr. Langton's eldest sister.
(2) Mr. Burke came into Parliament under the auspices of the Marquess of Rockingham, in the year 1765.
gained more reputation than perhaps any man at his [first] appearance ever gained before. He made two speeches in the House for repealing the Stamp Act, which were publicly commended by Mr. Pitt, and have filled the town with wonder.
“Burke is a great man by nature, and is expected soon to attain civil greatness. I am grown greater too, for I have maintained the
many weeks (-); and what is greater still, I have risen every morning since New-year's day, at about eight: when I was up, I have, indeed, done but little ; yet it is no slight advancement to obtain, for so many
more, the consciousness of being.
“I wish you were in my new study; I am now writing the first letter in it.
I think it looks very pretty about me.
“ Dyer (4) is constant at THE CLUB ; Hawkins is remiss; I am not over diligent; Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Reynolds are very constant. Mr. Lye (3) is printing his Saxon and Gothic Dictionary : all the CLUB subscribes.
“ You will pay my respects to all my Lincolnshire friends. I am, dear Sir, most affectionately yours,
“SAM. JOHNSON.” (1) Probably with criticisms on his Shakspeare. — C.
(2) Samuel Dyer, Esq., a most learned and ingenious member of the “ Literary Club,” for whose understanding and attainments Dr. Johnson had great respect. He died Sept. 14. 1772. A more particular account of this gentleman may be found in a Note on the Life of Dryden, p. 186., prefixed to the edition of that great writer's Prose Works, in four volumes, 8vo. 1800: in which his character is vindicated, and the very unfavourable representation of it, given by Sir John Hawkins in his Life of Johnson, pp. 222. 232., is minutely examined.
M. (3) Edward Lye was born in 1704. He published the Etymologicum Anglicanum of Junius. His great work is that referred to above, which he was printing; but he did not live to see the publication. He died in 1767, and the Dictionary was published, in 1772, by the Rev. Owen Manning, author of the History and Antiquities of Surrey. — C.
LETTER 99. TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
At Langton. “ Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, May 10. 1766. “ DEAR SIR, — In supposing that I should be more than commonly affected by the death of Peregrine Langton (1), you were not mistaken ; he was one of those whom I loved at once by instinct and by reason. I have seldom indulged more hope of any thing than of being able to improve our acquaintance to friendship. Many a time have I placed myself again at Langton, and imagined the pleasure with which I should walk to Partney () in a summer morning ; but this is no longer possible. We must now endeavour to preserve what is
- his example of piety and economy. I hope you make what inquiries you can, and write down what
The little things which distinguish domestic characters are soon forgotten : if you delay to inquire, you will have no information ; if you neglect to write, information will be vain. (3)
“ His art of life certainly deserves to be known and studied. He lived in plenty and elegance upon an income which, to many, would appear indigent, and to most, scanty. How he lived, therefore, every man has an interest in knowing. His death, I hope, was peaceful ; it was surely happy.
"I wish I had written sooner, lest, writing now, J should renew your grief ; but I would not forbear saying what I have now said.
“ This loss is, I hope, the only misfortune of a family to whom no misfortune at all should happen, if my wishes could avert it. Let me know how you all go
Has Mr. Langton got him the little horse that I
is told you.
(1) Mr. Langton's uncle.
recommended ? It would do him good to ride about his estate in fine weather.
“ Be pleased to make my compliments to Mrs. Langton, and to dear Miss Langton, and Miss Di, and Miss Juliet, and to every body else.
“The Club holds very well together. Monday is my night. (1) I continue to rise tolerably well, and read more than I did. I hope something will yet come on it. I am, Sir, your most affectionate servant,
(1) Of his being in the chair of the Literary Club, which at this time met once a week in the evening.