Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

pagated, as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think as what they know; some men of confused memories and habitual inaccuracy, ascribe to one man what belongs to another; and some talk on, with out thought or care. A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods which are afterwards inno. cently diffused by successive relaters.”_" Had he lived (observes Mr. Boswell) to read what Sir John Hawkins and Mrs. Piozzi have related concerning himself, how much would he have found his observation illustrated. He was indeed so much impressed with the prevalence of falsehood, voluntary or unintentional, that I never knew any

rson who upon hearing an extraordinary circumstance told discovered more of the incredulus odi. He would say, with a significant look and decisive tone, “ It is not so. Do not tell this again.' He inculcated upon all his friends the importance of perpetual vigilance against the slightest degrees of falsehood; the effect of which, as Sir Joshua Reynolds observed to me, has been that all who were of his school are dis-, tinguished for a love of truth and accuracy, which they would not have possessed in the same degree if they had not been known to Johnson."

Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentic information for biography, Johnson;

said, " When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the Life of Dryden,' and in order to get materials, I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old Swinney and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this, " That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter-chair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-chair.' Cibber could tell no more but " That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's.' You are to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden; had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other."

Mr. Boswell said, in writing a life a man's peculiarities should be mentioned, because they mark his character.-JOHNSON. “ Sir, there is no doubt as to peculiarities: the question is, whether a man's vices should be mentioned ;--for instance, whether it should be mentioned that Addison and Parnell drank too freely; for people will probably more easily indulge in drinking from knowing this; so that more ill may be done by the example, than good by telling the whole truth.” Here was an instance of his varying from himself in talk; for on a former occasion he had

maintained, that “ If a man is to write A Pane. gyric he may keep vices out of sight; but if he professes to write A Life he must represent it really as it was;" and when a person objected to the danger of telling that Parnell drank to excess, he said, that “it would produce an instructive caution to avoid drinking, when it was seen, that even the learning and genius of Parnell could be debased by it.” In the Hebrides he maintained, as appears from Mr. Boswell's Journal,' that a man's intimate friend should mention his faults, if he writes his life.

" The writer of an epitaph (he observed) should not be considered as saying nothing but what is strictly true. Allowance must be made for some degree of exaggerated praise. In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.” : At another time, when somebody endeavoured to argue in favour of the Epitaph for Goldsmith's tablet in Westminster Abbey being in English, Johnson said, “ The language of the country of which a learned man was a native is not the language fit for his epitaph, which should be in ancient and permanent language. Consider, Sir, how you should feel, were you to find at Rotterdam an epitaph upon Erasmus in Dutch!" Mr. Boswell thought it would be best to have epitaphs written both in a learned language, and in the language of the country; so that they might

have the advantage of being more universally understood, and at the same time be secured of classical stability.

A gentleman asking Johnson whether he would advise him to read the Bible with a commentary, and what commentaries he would recommend, Johnson said, “ To be sure, Sir, I would have you read the Bible with a commentary; and I would recommend Lowth and Patrick on the Old Testament, and Hammond on the New.”

Speaking one day of Arthur Murphy, whom he very much loved, “I don't know (said he) that Arthur can be classed with the very first dramatic writers; yet at present I doubt much whether we have any thing superior to Arthur.”

A lady's verses on Ireland being mentioned, Miss Reynolds said, “ Have you seen them, Sir?”—JOHNSON. “ No, Madam.

I have seen a translation from Horace by one of her daughters. She shewed it me.”-Miss REYNOLDS. “ And how was it, Sir?"-J.“ Why, very well for a young Miss's verse;--that is to say, compared with excellence, nothing; but very well for the person who wrote them. I am vexed at being shewn verses in that manner.”—Miss R. 6 But if they should be good, why not give them hearty praise?"-J. “ Why, Madam, because I have not then got the better of my bad humour from having been shewn them. You must consider,

Madam; before-band 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 shews 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."-J.“ 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, commend. ed 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 should 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

« AnteriorContinuar »