« AnteriorContinuar »
habitations which are crouded together, that the wonderful immensity of
of 1763. London consists."--I have often amused myself with thinking how different a place London is to different people. They, whose narrow minds are contracted to the consideration of some one particular pursuit, view it only through that medium. A politician thinks of it merely as the seat of government in its different departments; a grazier, as a vast market for cattle; a mercantile man, as a place where a prodigious deal of business is done upon 'Change ; a dramatick enthusiast, as the grand scene of theatrical entertainments; a man of pleasure, as an affemblage of taverns, and the great emporium for ladies of easy virtue. But the intellectual man is struck with it, as comprehending the whole of human life in all its variety, the contemplation of which is inexhaustible.
On Wednesday, July 6, he was engaged to sup with me at my lodgings in Downing-street, Westminster. But on the preceding night my landlord having behaved very rudely to me and some company who were with me, I had resolved not to remain another night in his house. I was exceedingly uneasy at the aukward appearance I supposed I should make to Johnson and the other gentlemen whom I had invited, not being able to receive them at home, and being obliged to order supper at the Mitre. I went to Johnson in the morning, and talked of it as of a serious distress. He laughed, and said, “ Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.”— Were this consideration to be applied to most of the little vexatious incidents of life, by which our quiet is too often disturbed, it would prevent many painful sensations. I have tried it frequently, with good effect. « There is nothing (continued he) in this mighty misfortune; nay, we shall be better at the Mitre.” I told him that I had been at Sir John Fielding's office, complaining of my landlord, and had been informed, that though I had taken my lodgings for a year, I might, upon proof of his bad behaviour, quit them when I pleased, without being under an obligation to pay rent for any longer time than while I possessed them. The fertility of Johnson's mind could shew itself even upon
so small a matter as this. “ Why, Sir, (faid he,) I suppose this must be the law, since you have been told fo in Bow-Itreet. But, if your landlord could hold you to your bargain, and the lodgings should be yours
for a year, you may certainly use them as you think fit.. So, Sir, you may quarter two life-guardmen upon him; or you may send the greatest scoundrel you can find into your apartments; or you may say that you want to make fome experiments in natural philosophy, and may burn a large quantity of aflafotida in his house."
I cannot allow any fragment whatever that floats in my memory concerning the great subject of this work to be lost. Though a finall particular may appear trilling to some, it will be relished by others, while every little spark adds something to the general blaze. And to please the true, candid, warm admirers of Johnson, and in any degree increase the splendour of his reputation, I bid defiance to the shafts of ridicule, or even of malignity ; thousands of them have been discharged at my “ Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, ” yet it still fails unhurt “ along the stream of time,” and as an attendant upon Johnson," Pursues the triumph, and partakes the gale.”
I had as my guests this evening at the Mitre tavern, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Thomas Davies, Mr. Eccles, an Irish gentleman, for whose agreeable company I was obliged to Mr. Davies, and the Reverend Mr. Ogilvie, a Scotch clergyman, authour of several
poems, who was very desirous of being in company with my illustrious friend, while I, in my turn, was proud to have the honour of shewing one of my countrymen upon what easy terms Johnson permitted me to live with him.
Goldsmith, as usual, endeavoured, with too much eagerness, to shine, and disputed very warmly with Johnson against the well-known maxim of the British constitution, “ the King can do no wrong;” affirming, that " what was morally false could not be politically true; and as the King might, in the exercise of his regal power, command and cause the doing of what was wrong, it certainly might be faid, in sense and in reason, that he could do wrong.' Johnson. “Sir, you are to consider, that in our constitution, according to its true principles, the King is the head; he is supreme; he is above every thing, and there is no power by which he can be tried. Therefore it is, Sir, that we hold the King can do no wrong, that whatever may happen to be wrong in government may not be above our reach, by being ascribed to Majesty. Redress is always to be had against oppression, by punishing the immediate agents. The King, though he should command, cannot force a Judge to condemn a man unjustly; therefore it is the Judge whom we prosecute and punish. Political institutions are formed upon the consideration of what will most frequently tend to the good of the whole, although now and then exceptions may occur. Thus it is better in general that a nation should have a supreme legislative power, although it may at times be abused. And then, Sir, there is this consideration, that if the abuse be enormous, Nature will rise up, and claiming her original rights, overturn a corrupt political system.” I mark this animated sentence with peculiar pleasure, as a noble instance of that truly nified spirit of freedom which ever glowed in his heårt, though he
charged with Navish tenets by superficial observers, because he was at all 1763.
This generous sentiment, which he uttered with great fervour, struck me exceedingly, and stirred my blood to that pitch of fancied resistance, the possibility of which I am glad to keep in mind, but to which I trust I never shall be forced.
“ Great abilities (faid he) are not requisite for an Historian ; for in historical composition, all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent. He has facts ready to his hand; so there is no exercise of invention. Imagination is not required in any high degree; only about as much as is used in the lower kinds of poetry. Some penetration, accuracy, and colouring will fit a man for the task, if he can give the application which is necessary.”
Bayle's Dictionary is a very useful work for those to consult who love the biographical part of literature, which is what I love most.”
Talking of the eminent writers in Queen Anne's reign, he observed, “I think Dr. Arbuthnot the first man among them. He was the most universal genius, being an excellent physician, a man of deep learning, and a man of much humour. Mr. Addison was, to be sure, a great man; his learning was not profound; but his morality, his humour, and his elegance of writing, set him very high.”
Mr. Ogilvie was unlucky enough-to choose for the topick of his conversation the praises of his native country. He began with saying, that there was very rich land round Edinburgh. Goldsmith, who had studied physick there, contradiEted this, very untruly, with a sneering laugh. Disconcerted a little by this, Mr. Ogilvie then took new ground, where, I suppose, he thought himfelf perfectly safe ; for he observed, that Scotland had a great many noble wild prospects. Johnson. “I believe, Sir, you have a great many. Norway, too, has noble wild prospects; and Lapland is remarkable for prodigious noble wild prospects. But, Sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England !” This unexpected and pointed fally produced a roar of applause. After all, however, those, who admire the rude grandeur of Nature, cannot deny it to Caledonia.
On Saturday, July 9, I found Johnson surrounded with a numerous levee, but have not preserved any part of his conversation. On the 14th we had another evening by ourselves at the Mitre. It happening to be a very rainy
night, I made some common-place observations on the relaxation of nerves and depression of spirits which such weather occasioned; adding, however, that it was good for the vegetable creation. Johnson, who, as we have already seen, denied that the temperature of the air had any influence on the human frame, answered, with a smile of ridicule, “Why yes, Sir, it is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals.” This observation of his aptly enough introduced a good supper; and I soon forgot, in Johnson's company, the influence of a moist atmosphere.
Feeling myself now quite at ease as his companion, though I had all possible reverence for him, I expressed a regret that I could not be so easy with my father, though he was not much older than him, and certainly had not more learning and greater abilities to depress me. I asked him the reason of this. Johnson. “Why, Sir, I am a man of the world. I live in the world, and I take, in some degree, the colour of the world as it moves along. Your father is a Judge in a remote part of the isand, and all his notions are taken from the old world. Besides, Sir, there must always be a struggle between a father and son, while one aims at power and the other at independence.” I said, I was afraid my father would force me to be a lawyer. Johnson. “ Sir, you need not be afraid of his forcing you to be a laborious practising lawyer; that is not in his power. For as the proverb says, 'One man may lead a horse to the water, but twenty cannot make him drink.' He may be displeased that you are not what he wishes you to be ; but that displeasure will
far. If he insists only on your having as much law as is necessary for a man of property, and then endeavours to get you into Parliament, he is quite in the right.”
He enlarged very convincingly upon the excellence of rhyme over blank verse in English poetry. I mentioned to him that Dr. Adam Smith, in his lectures upon composition, when I studied under him in the College of Glasgow, had maintained the same opinion strenuously, and I repeated some of his arguments. Johnson. “Sir, I was once in company with Smith, and we did not take to each other ; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him."
Talking of those who denied, the truth of Christianity, he said, “It is always easy to be on the negative side. If a man were now to deny that there is falt
upon the table, you could not reduce him to an absurdity. Come, let us try this
a little further. I deny that Canada is taken, and I can support my denial by pretty good arguments. The French are a much more numerous
people than we; and it is not likely that they would allow us to take it. But the ministry have assured us, in all the formality of the Gazette, that it is taken.'—Very true. But the ministry have put us to an enormous expence by the war in America, and it is their interest to persuade us that we have got something for our money.- But the fact is confirmed by thousands of men who were at the taking of it.'—Ay, but these men have still more interest in deceiving us. They don't want you should think the French have beat them, but that they have beat the French. Now suppose you should go over and find that it is really taken, that would only satisfy yourself; for when you come home we will not believe you. We will say you have been bribed.-Yet, Sir, notwithstanding all these plausible objections, we have no doubt that Canada is really ours. Such is the weight of common testimony. How much stronger are the evidences of the Christian religion ?"
« Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him ; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge.”
To a man of vigourous intellect and ardent curiosity like his own, reading without a regular plan may be beneficial ; though even such a man must submit to it, if he would attain a full understanding of any of the sciences.
To such a degree of unrestrained frarkness had he now accustomed me, that in the course of this evening I talked of the numerous reflections which had been thrown out against him on account of his having accepted a pension from his present Majesty. “Why, Sir, (said he, with a hearty laugh,) it is a mighty foolish noise that they make’. I have accepted of a pension as a reward which has been thought due to my literary merit; and now that I have this pension, I am the same man in every respect that I have ever been ; retain the same principles. It is true, that I cannot now curse (smiling) the house of Hanover ; nor would it be decent for me to drink King James's health in the wine that King George gives me money to pay for. But, Sir, I think that the pleasure of cursing the house of Hanover, and drinking King James's health, are amply overbalanced by three hundred pounds a year.”
2. When I mentioned the fame idle clamour to him several years afterwards, he said, with smile, " I wish my penfion were twice as large, that they might make twice as much noise." Hh