LIFE OF JOHNSON - VOL. 2
LIFE OF JOHNSON - VOL. 2
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LIFE OF JOHNSON
INCLUDING BOSWELL'S JOURNAL OF A TOUR TO THE HEBRIDES
AND JOHNSON'S DIARY OF A JOURNEY INTO NORTH WALES
GEORGE BIRKBECK HILL D.C.L.
PEMBROKE COLLEGE OXFORD
IN SIX VOLUMES
VOLUME II.--LIFE (1765-1776)
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON LL.D. (NOVEMBER 1765-MARCH 1776)
A. AUTOGRAPH RECORDS BY JOHNSON (1766) IN THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY
B. JOHNSON'S SENTIMENTS TOWARDS HIS FELLOW-SUBJECTS IN AMERICA
THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON LL.D.
In 1764 and 1765 it should seem that Dr. Johnson was so busily employed
with his edition of Shakspeare as to have had little leisure for any
other literary exertion or indeed even for private correspondence.
He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years for
which it will appear that he afterwards apologised.
He was however at all times ready to give assistance to his friends
and others in revising their works and in writing for them or greatly
improving their Dedications. In that courtly species of composition no
man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of his mind prevented him
from ever dedicating in his own person he wrote a very great number
of Dedications for others. Some of these the persons who were favoured
with them are unwilling should be mentioned from a too anxious
apprehension as I think that they might be suspected of having
received larger assistance; and some after all the diligence I have
bestowed have escaped my enquiries. He told me a great many years ago
'he believed he had dedicated to all the Royal Family round;' and it
was indifferent to him what was the subject of the work dedicated
provided it were innocent. He once dedicated some Musick for the German
Flute to Edward Duke of York. In writing Dedications for others he
considered himself as by no means speaking his own sentiments.
Notwithstanding his long silence I never omitted to write to him when I
had any thing worthy of communicating. I generally kept copies of my
letters to him that I might have a full view of our correspondence and
never be at a loss to understand any reference in his letters. He
kept the greater part of mine very carefully; and a short time before
his death was attentive enough to seal them up in bundles and order
them to be delivered to me which was accordingly done. Amongst them I
found one of which I had not made a copy and which I own I read with
pleasure at the distance of almost twenty years. It is dated November
1765 at the palace of Pascal Paoli in Corte the capital of Corsica
and is full of generous enthusiasm. After giving a sketch of what I
had seen and heard in that island it proceeded thus: 'I dare to call
this a spirited tour. I dare to challenge your approbation.'
This letter produced the following answer which I found on my arrival
A Mr. Mr. BOSWELL chez Mr. WATERS Banquier a Paris.
'Apologies are seldom of any use. We will delay till your arrival the
reasons good or bad which have made me such a sparing and ungrateful
correspondent. Be assured for the present that nothing has lessened
either the esteem or love with which I dismissed you at Harwich. Both
have been increased by all that I have been told of you by yourself or
others; and when you return you will return to an unaltered and I
hope unalterable friend.
'All that you have to fear from me is the vexation of disappointing me.
No man loves to frustrate expectations which have been formed in his
favour; and the pleasure which I promise myself from your journals and
remarks is so great that perhaps no degree of attention or discernment
will be sufficient to afford it.
'Come home however and take your chance. I long to see you and to
hear you; and hope that we shall not be so long separated again. Come
home and expect such a welcome as is due to him whom a wise and noble
curiosity has led where perhaps no native of this country ever was
'I have no news to tell you that can deserve your notice; nor would I
willingly lessen the pleasure that any novelty may give you at your
return. I am afraid we shall find it difficult to keep among us a mind
which has been so long feasted with variety. But let us try what esteem
and kindness can effect.
'As your father's liberality has indulged you with so long a ramble I
doubt not but you will think his sickness or even his desire to see
you a sufficient reason for hastening your return. The longer we live
and the more we think the higher value we learn to put on the
friendship and tenderness of parents and of friends. Parents we can have
but once; and he promises himself too much who enters life with the
expectation of finding many friends. Upon some motive I hope that you
will be here soon; and am willing to think that it will be an inducement
to your return that it is sincerely desired by dear Sir
'Your affectionate humble servant
'Johnson's Court Fleet-street
January 14 1766.'
I returned to London in February and found Dr. Johnson in a good house
in Johnson's Court Fleet-street in which he had accommodated Miss
Williams with an apartment on the ground floor while Mr. Levett
occupied his post in the garret: his faithful Francis was still
attending upon him. He received me with much kindness. The fragments of
our first conversation which I have preserved are these: I told him
that Voltaire in a conversation with me had distinguished Pope and
Dryden thus:--'Pope drives a handsome chariot with a couple of neat
trim nags; Dryden a coach and six stately horses.' JOHNSON. 'Why Sir
the truth is they both drive coaches and six; but Dryden's horses are
either galloping or stumbling: Pope's go at a steady even trot.' He
said of Goldsmith's _Traveller_ which had been published in my absence
'There has not been so fine a poem since Pope's time.'
And here it is proper to settle with authentick precision what has
long floated in publick report as to Johnson's being himself the
authour of a considerable part of that poem. Much no doubt both of the
sentiments and expression were derived from conversation with him; and
it was certainly submitted to his friendly revision: but in the year
1783 he at my request marked with a pencil the lines which he had
furnished which are only line 420th
'To stop too fearful and too faint to go;'
and the concluding ten lines except the last couplet but one which I
distinguish by the Italick character:
'How small of all that human hearts endure
That part which kings or laws can cause or cure.
Still to ourselves in every place consign'd
Our own felicity we make or find;
With secret course which no loud storms annoy
Glides the smooth current of domestick joy:
_The lifted axe the agonizing wheel
Luke's iron crown and Damien's bed of steel_
To men remote from power but rarely known
Leave reason faith and conscience all our own.'
He added 'These are all of which I can be sure.' They bear a small
proportion to the whole which consists of four hundred and thirty-eight
verses. Goldsmith in the couplet which he inserted mentions Luke as a
person well known and superficial readers have passed it over quite
smoothly; while those of more attention have been as much perplexed by
_Luke_ as by _Lydiat_ in _The Vanity of Human Wishes_. The truth
is that Goldsmith himself was in a mistake. In the _Respublica
Hungarian_ there is an account of a desperate rebellion in the year
1514 headed by two brothers of the name of _Zeck_ George and Luke.
When it was quelled _George_ not _Luke_ was punished by his head
being encircled with a red-hot iron crown: '_corona candescente ferrea
coronatur_.' The same severity of torture was exercised on the Earl
of Athol one of the murderers of King James I. of Scotland.
Dr. Johnson at the same time favoured me by marking the lines which he
furnished to Goldsmith's _Deserted Village_ which are only the last
'That trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay
As ocean sweeps the labour'd mole away:
While self-dependent power can time defy
As rocks resist the billows and the sky.'
Talking of education 'People have now a days (said he) got a strange
opinion that every thing should be taught by lectures. Now I cannot see
that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the
lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by
lectures except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach
chymistry by lectures.--You might teach making of shoes by lectures!'
At night I supped with him at the Mitre tavern that we might renew our
social intimacy at the original place of meeting. But there was now a
considerable difference in his way of living. Having had an illness in
which he was advised to leave off wine he had from that period
continued to abstain from it and drank only water or lemonade.
I told him that a foreign friend of his whom I had met with abroad
was so wretchedly perverted to infidelity that he treated the hopes of
immortality with brutal levity; and said 'As man dies like a dog let
him lie like a dog.' JOHNSON. '_If_ he dies like a dog _let_ him lie
like a dog.' I added that this man said to me 'I hate mankind for I
think myself one of the best of them and I know how bad I am.' JOHNSON.
'Sir he must be very singular in his opinion if he thinks himself one
of the best of men; for none of his friends think him so.'--He said 'no
honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair
examination of the proofs of Christianity.' I named Hume. JOHNSON.
'No Sir; Hume owned to a clergyman in the bishoprick of Durham that he
had never read the New Testament with attention.' I mentioned Hume's
notion that all who are happy are equally happy; a little miss with
a new gown at a dancing school ball a general at the head of a
victorious army and an orator after having made an eloquent speech in
a great assembly. JOHNSON. 'Sir that all who are happy are equally
happy is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally
_satisfied_ but not equally _happy_. Happiness consists in the
multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for
having equal happiness with a philosopher.' I remember this very
question very happily illustrated in opposition to Hume by the Reverend
Mr. Robert Brown at Utrecht. 'A small drinking-glass and a large
one (said he) may be equally full; but the large one holds more than
Dr. Johnson was very kind this evening and said to me 'You have now
lived five-and-twenty years and you have employed them well.' 'Alas
Sir (said I) I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematicks? Do
I know law?' JOHNSON. 'Why Sir though you may know no science so well
as to be able to teach it and no profession so well as to be able to
follow it your general mass of knowledge of books and men renders you
very capable to make yourself master of any science or fit yourself for
any profession.' I mentioned that a gay friend had advised me against
being a lawyer because I should be excelled by plodding block-heads.
JOHNSON. 'Why Sir in the formulary and statutory part of law a
plodding block-head may excel; but in the ingenious and rational part of
it a plodding block-head can never excel.'
I talked of the mode adopted by some to rise in the world by courting
great men and asked him whether he had ever submitted to it. JOHNSON.
'Why Sir I never was near enough to great men to court them. You may
be prudently attached to great men and yet independent. You are not to
do what you think wrong; and Sir you are to calculate and not pay too
dear for what you get. You must not give a shilling's worth of court for
six-pence worth of good. But if you can get a shilling's worth of good
for six-pence worth of court you are a fool if you do not pay
He said 'If convents should be allowed at all they should only be
retreats for persons unable to serve the publick or who have served it.
It is our first duty to serve society and after we have done that we
may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion
for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged.'
I introduced the subject of second sight and other mysterious
manifestations; the fulfilment of which I suggested might happen by
chance. JOHNSON. 'Yes Sir; but they have happened so often that
mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous.'
I talked to him a great deal of what I had seen in Corsica and of my
intention to publish an account of it. He encouraged me by saying 'You
cannot go to the bottom of the subject; but all that you tell us will be
new to us. Give us as many anecdotes as you can.'
Our next meeting at the Mitre was on Saturday the 15th of February when
I presented to him my old and most intimate friend the Reverend Mr.
Temple then of Cambridge. I having mentioned that I had passed some
time with Rousseau in his wild retreat and having quoted some remark
made by Mr. Wilkes with whom I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy
Johnson said (sarcastically) 'It seems Sir you have kept very good
company abroad Rousseau and Wilkes!' Thinking it enough to defend one
at a time I said nothing as to my gay friend but answered with a
smile 'My dear Sir you don't call Rousseau bad company. Do you really
think him a bad man?' JOHNSON. 'Sir if you are talking jestingly of
this I don't talk with you. If you mean to be serious I think him one
of the worst of men; a rascal who ought to be hunted out of society as
he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him; and it is a shame
that he is protected in this country.' BOSWELL. 'I don't deny Sir
but that his novel may perhaps do harm; but I cannot think his
intention was bad.' JOHNSON. 'Sir that will not do. We cannot prove any
man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head and say
you intended to miss him; but the Judge will order you to be hanged. An
alleged want of intention when evil is committed will not be allowed
in a court of justice. Rousseau Sir is a very bad man. I would sooner
sign a sentence for his transportation than that of any felon who has
gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes I should like to have
him work in the plantations.' BOSWELL. 'Sir do you think him as bad
a man as Voltaire?' JOHNSON. 'Why Sir it is difficult to settle the
proportion of iniquity between them.'
This violence seemed very strange to me who had read many of Rousseau's
animated writings with great pleasure and even edification had been
much pleased with his society and was just come from the Continent
where he was very generally admired. Nor can I yet allow that he
deserves the very severe censure which Johnson pronounced upon him. His
absurd preference of savage to civilised life and other
singularities are proofs rather of a defect in his understanding than
of any depravity in his heart. And notwithstanding the unfavourable
opinion which many worthy men have expressed of his '_Profession de Foi
du Vicaire Savoyard_' I cannot help admiring it as the performance of a
man full of sincere reverential submission to Divine Mystery though
beset with perplexing doubts; a state of mind to be viewed with pity
rather than with anger.
On his favourite subject of subordination Johnson said 'So far is it
from being true that men are naturally equal that no two people can
be half an hour together but one shall acquire an evident superiority
over the other.'
I mentioned the advice given us by philosophers to console ourselves
when distressed or embarrassed by thinking of those who are in a worse
situation than ourselves. This I observed could not apply to all for
there must be some who have nobody worse than they are. JOHNSON. 'Why
to be sure Sir there are; but they don't know it. There is no being so
poor and so contemptible who does not think there is somebody still
poorer and still more contemptible.'
As my stay in London at this time was very short I had not many
opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for
him in no degree lessened by my having seen _mullorum hominum mores et
urbes_. On the contrary by having it in my power to compare him with
many of the most celebrated persons of other countries my admiration
of his extraordinary mind was increased and confirmed.
The roughness indeed which sometimes appeared in his manners was more
striking to me now from my having been accustomed to the studied smooth
complying habits of the Continent; and I clearly recognised in him not
without respect for his honest conscientious zeal the same indignant
and sarcastical mode of treating every attempt to unhinge or weaken good
One evening when a young gentleman teized him with an account of the
infidelity of his servant who he said would not believe the
scriptures because he could not read them in the original tongues and
be sure that they were not invented. 'Why foolish fellow (said
Johnson) has he any better authority for almost every thing that he
believes?' BOSWELL. 'Then the vulgar Sir never can know they are
right but must submit themselves to the learned.' JOHNSON. 'To be sure
Sir. The vulgar are the children of the State and must be taught like
children.' BOSWELL. 'Then Sir a poor Turk must be a Mahometan just
as a poor Englishman must be a Christian?' JOHNSON. 'Why yes Sir;
and what then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother
when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to
have whipt me for it.'
Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him with the hope of
prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him indisposed
and resolved not to go abroad. 'Come then (said Goldsmith) we will not
go to the Mitre to-night since we cannot have the big man with us.'
Johnson then called for a bottle of port of which Goldsmith and I
partook while our friend now a water-drinker sat by us. GOLDSMITH. 'I
think Mr. Johnson you don't go near the theatres now. You give
yourself no more concern about a new play than if you had never had any
thing to do with the stage.' JOHNSON. 'Why Sir our tastes greatly
alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle and the old man
does not care for the young man's whore.' GOLDSMITH. 'Nay Sir but your
Muse was not a whore.' JOHNSON. 'Sir I do not think she was. But as we
advance in the journey of life we drop some of the things which have
pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued and don't choose to carry
so many things any farther or that we find other things which we like
better.' BOSWELL. 'But Sir why don't you give us something in some
other way?' GOLDSMITH. 'Ay Sir we have a claim upon you.' JOHNSON.
'No Sir I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to 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 have one
line t'other day; but I made no more.'
GOLDSMITH. 'Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it..
JOHNSON. '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.
'To BENNET LANGTON ESQ. AT LANGTON NEAR SPILSBY LINCOLNSHIRE.
'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
'I should have known nothing of you or of Langton from the time that
dear Miss Langton 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 company since he
has been engaged in publick business in which he has 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 publickly commended by Mr. Pitt and have filled the town
'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
newspapers these 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 hours 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 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 is printing his Saxon and Gothick Dictionary; all
THE CLUB subscribes.
'You will pay my respects to all my Lincolnshire friends. I am dear
'Most affectionately your's
'March 9 1766.
'To BENNET LANGTON ESQ. AT LANGTON NEAR SPILSBY LINCOLNSHIRE.
'In supposing that I should be more than commonly affected by the death
of Peregrine Langton 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 left us--his example of piety and oeconomy. I hope you