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Knowledge always desires increase; it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself. When they once desire to learn, they will naturally have recourse to the nearest language by which that desire can be gratified; and one will tell another that if he would attain knowledge, he must learn English.
“ This speculation may, perhaps, be thought more subtle than the grossness of real life will easily' adınit. Let it however be remembered, that the efficacy of ignorance has been long tried, and has not produced the consequence expected. Let knowledge, therefore, take its turn; and let the patrons of privation stand awhile aside, and admit the operation of positive principles."
General Paoli once talked of languages being formed on the particular notions and manners of a people, without knowing which we cannot know the language. We may by allusion to other ideas, “ Sir (said Johnson), you talk of language, as if you had never done any thing else but study it, instead of governing a nation.”. The General said, “ Questo e un troppo gran complimento," this is too great a compliment. Johnson answered, “I should have thought so, Sir, if I had not heard you talk." .
Mr: Erskine one day told Johnson that when he was in the island of Minorca, he not only read prayers, but preached two sermons to the regiment. He seemed to object to the passage in scriptura where we are told that the angel of the Lord smote in one night forty thousand Assyrians. “ Sir (said the Doctor), you should recollect that there was a supernatural interposition; they were destroyed by pestilence. You are not to suppose that the angel of the Lord went about and stabbed each of them with a dagger, or knocked them on the head, man by man.”
Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he observed, that difference of taste was, in truth, difference of skill. Mr. Boswell said, “ But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking? For instance, we find people differ much as to what is the best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing.”-JOHNSON. “Sir, you must first define what you mean by style, before 'you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you have mentioned don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour. In like man
ner, one loves & plain coat, another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind.”
Speaking of reading, “ Snatches of reading (he said) will not make a Bentley or a Clarke. They are, however, in a certain degree advantageous. I would put a child into a library (where no unfit books are), and let him read at his choice. A child should not be discouraged from reading any thing that he takes a liking to, from a notion that it is above his reach. If that be the case the child will soon find it out, and desist; if not, he of course gains the instruction; which is so much the more likely to come, from the inclination with which he takes up the study.”
Mr. Andrew Stuart's plausible Letters to Lord Mansfield, a copy of which had been sent by the author to Dr. Johnson, becoming the subject of conversation, Johnson said, “ They have not answered the end. They have not been talked of; I have never heard of them. This is owing to their not being sold. People seldom read a book which is given to them; and few are given. The way to spread a work is to sell it at a low price. No man will send to buy a thing that costs even sixpence, without an intention to read it.”-Boswell. “May it not be doubted, Şir, whether it be proper to publish letters, arraigning
the ultimate decision of an important cause by the supreme judicature of the nation?"-J.
No, Sir, I do not think it was wrong to publish these letters. If they were thought to do harm, why not answer them? But they will do no harm.”
Somebody found fault with writing verses in a dead language, maintaining that they were merely arrangements of so many words; and laughed at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for sending forth collections of them not only in Greek and Latin, but even in Syriac, Arabick, and other more unknown tongues. Johnson observed, “I would have as many of these as possible; I would have verses in every language that there are the means of acquiring. Nobody imagines that an University is to have at once two hundred poets; but it should be able to show two hundred scholars. Peiresc's death was lamented, I think, in forty languages; and I would have had at every coronation, and every death of a king, every Gaudium, and every Luctus, University verses in as many languages as can be acquired. I would have the world to be thus told, " Here is a school where every thing
may be learnt:' »
The topick was once introduced, which is often ignorantly urged, that the Universities of England are too rich; so that learning does not flourish in them, as it would do if those who
teach had smaller salaries, and depended on their assiduity for a great part of their income.Johnson said, “ Sir, the very reverse of this is the truth; the English Universities are not rich enough. Our fellowships are only sufficient to support a man during his studies to fit him for the world, and accordingly in general they are held no longer than till an opportunity offers of getting away. Now and then, perhaps, there is a fellow who'grow's old in his college; but this is against his will, unless he be a man very indolent indeed. A hundred a year is reckoned a good fellowship, and that is no more than is necessary to keep a man decently as a scholar. We do not allow our fellows to marry, because we consider academical institutions as preparatory to a settlement in the world. It is only by being employed as a tutor that a fellow can obtain any thing more than a livelihood. To be sure a man who has enough without teaching will not teach; for we would all be idle if we could. In the same manner, a man who is to get nothing by teaching will not exert himself. Gresham College was intended as a place of instruction for London; able professors were to read lectures gratis, and they contrived to have no scholars; whereas if they had been allowed to receive but sixpence a lecture from each scholar, they would have been emulous to have had many scholars.