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• Upon a visit to me at a country lodging near Twickenham, he asked what sort of society I had there. I told him, but indifferent; as they chiefly Ærat. 61. consisted of opulent traders, retired from business. He said, he never much liked that class of people; · For, Sir, (said he,) they have lost the civility of tradesmen, without acquiring the manners of gentlemen.'
Johnson was much attached to London : he observed, that a man stored his mind better there, than any where else; and that in remote situations a man's body might be feasted, but his mind was starved, and his faculties apt to degenerate, from want of exercise and competition. No place, he said, cured a man's vanity or arrogance, so well as London ; for as no man was either great or good per se, but as compared with others not so good or great, he was sure to find in the metropolis many his equals, and some his luperiours. He obferved, that a man in London was in less danger of falling in love indiscreetly, than any where else; for there the difficulty of deciding between the conflicting pretensions of a vast variety of objects, kept hiin safe. He told me, that he had frequently been offered country preferment, if he would consent to take orders; but he could not leave the improved society of the capital, or consent to exchange the exhilarating joys and splendid decorations of publick life, for the obscurity, insipidity, and uniformity of remote situations.
Speaking of Mr. Harte, Canon of Windsor, and writer of · The History of Gustavus Adolphus,' he much commended him as a scholar, and a man of the most companionable talents he had ever known. He said, the defects in his history proceeded not from imbecillity, but from foppery.
“ He loved, he said, the old black letter books; they were rich in matter, though their style was inelegant; wonderfully so, considering how conversant the writers were with the best models of antiquity.
“ Burton's · Anatomy of Melancholy,' he said, was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.
“ He frequently exhorted me to fet about writing a History of Ireland, and archly remarked, there had been some good Irish writers, and that one Irishman might at least aspire to be equal to another. He had great compassion for the miseries and distresses of the Irish nation, particularly the Papists; and severely reprobated the barbarous debilitating policy of the British government, which he said was the most detestable mode of persecution. To a gentleman, who hinted such policy might be necessary to support the authority of the English government, he replied by saying, “Let the authority of the English government perish, rather than be maintained by iniquity. Better Xx 2
1770. would it be to restrain the turbulence of the natives by the authority of the Etat. 61. sword, and to make them amenable to law and justice by an effectual and
vigorous police, than to grind them to powder by all manner of disabilities and incapacities. Better (said he,) to hang or drown people at once, than by an unrelenting persecution to beggar and starve them. The moderation and humanity of the present times have, in some measure, justified the wisdom of his observations.
“ Dr. Johnson was often accused of prejudices, nay, antipathy, with regard to the natives of Scotland. Surely, so illiberal a prejudice never entered his mind: and it is well known, many natives of that respectable country possessed a large share in his esteem ; nor were any of them ever excluded from his good offices, as far as opportunity permitted. True it is, he considered the Scotch, nationally, as a crafty, designing people, eagerly attentive to their own interest, and too apt to overlook the claims and pretensions of other people. « While they confine their benevolence, in a manner, exclusively to those of their own country, they expect to share in the good offices of other people. Now (faid Johnson,) this principle is either right or wrong; if right, we should do well to imitate such conduct; if wrong, we cannot too much deteft it.'
Being solicited to compose a funeral sermon for the daughter of a tradesman, he naturally enquired into the character of the deceased; and being told she was remarkable for her humility and condescension to inferiours, he observed, that those were very laudable qualities, but it might not be so easy to discover who the lady's inferiours were.
« Of a certain player he remarked, that his conversation usually threatened and announced more than it performed; that he fed you with a continual renovation of hope, to end in a constant succession of disappointment.
« When exasperated by contradiction, he was apt to treat his opponents with too much acrimony; as, “Sir, you don't see your way through that question:'-'Sir, you talk the language of ignorance.' On my observing to him that a certain gentleman had remained silent the whole evening, in the midst of a very brilliant and learned society, “Sir, (laid he,) the conversation overflowed and drowned him.'
“ His philosophy, though austere and folemn, was by no means morose and cynical, and never blunted the laudable sensibilities of his character, or exempted him from the influence of the tender passions. Want of tenderness, he always alledged, was want of parts, and was no less a proof of stupidity than depravity
“ Speaking of Mr. Hanway, who published · A Six Weeks Tour through 1770. the South of England,' Jonas, (said he,) acquired some reputation by travel
Ætat. 61. ling abroad, but lost it all by travelling at home.'
“ Of the passion of love he remarked, that its violence and ill effects were much exaggerated ; for who has known any real sufferings on that head, more than from the exorbitancy of any
other passion ? “ He much commended · Law's Serious Call,' which he said was the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language. · Law (said he,) fell latterly into the reveries of Jacob Behmen, whom Law alledged to have been somewhat in the same state with St. Paul, and to have seen unutterable things. Were it even so, (said Johnson,) Jacob would have resembled St. Paul still more, by not attempting to utter them.'
“ He observed, that the established clergy in general did not preach plain enough; and that polished periods and glittering sentences few over the heads of the common people, without any impression upon their hearts. Something might be necessary, he observed, to excite the affections of the common people, who were sunk in languor and lethargy, and therefore he supposed that the new concomitants of methodism might probably produce so desirable an effect. The mind, like the body, he observed, delighted in change and novelty, and even in religion itself, courted new appearances and modifications. Whatever might be thought of some methodist teachers, he said, he could scarcely doubt the sincerity of that man, who travelled nine hundred miles in a month, and preached twelve times a week; for no adequate reward, merely temporal, could be given for such indefatigable labour.
« Of Dr. Priestly's theological works, -he remarked, that they tended to unsettle every thing, and yet settled nothing.
“ He was much affected by the death of his mother, and wrote to me to come and assist him to compose his mind, which indeed I found extremely agitated. He lamented that all ferious and religious conversation was banished from the society of men, and yet great advantages might be derived from it. All acknowledged, he said, what hardly any body practised, the obligation we were under of making the concerns of eternity the governing principles of our lives. Every man, he observed, at last wishes for retreat : he sees his expectations frustrated in the world, and begins to wean himself from it, and to prepare for everlasting separation.
“ He observed, that the influence of London now extended every where, and that from all manner of communication being opened, there shortly would be no remains of the ancient simplicity, or places of cheap retreat to be found.
1770. “ He was no admirer of blank-verse, and said it always failed, unless sufÆtat. 61. tained by the dignity of the subject. In blank-verse, he said, the language
suffered more distortion, to keep it out of prose, than any inconvenience or limitation to be apprehended from the shackles and circumscription of rhyme.
“ He reproved me once for saying grace without mention of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and hoped in future I would be more mindful of the apoftolical injunction.
“ He refused to go out of a room before me at Mr. Langton's house, saying, he hoped he knew his rank better than to presume to take place of a Doctor in Divinity. I mention such little anecdotes, merely to fhew the peculiar turn and habit of his mind.
“ He used frequently to observe, that there was more to be endured than enjoyed, in the general condition of human life ; and frequently quoted those lines of Dryden:
Strange cozenage ! none would live past years again,
· Yet all hope pleasure from what still remain.' For his part, he said, he never passed that week in his life which he would wish to repeat, were an angel to make the proposal to him.
“ He was of opinion, that the English nation cultivated both their soil and their reason better than any other people; but admitted that the French, though not the highest, perhaps, in any department of literature, yet in every department were very high. Intellectual pre-eminence, he observed, was the highest superiority; and that every nation derived their highest reputation from the splendour and dignity of their writers. Voltaire, he said, was a good narrator, and that his principal merit consisted in a happy selection and arrangement of circumstances.
“ Speaking of the French novels, compared with Richardson's, he said they might be pretty baubles, but a wren was not an eagle.
“ In a Latin conversation with the Pere Boscovitz, at the house of Mrs. Cholmondeley, I heard him maintain the superiority of Sir Isaac Newton over all foreign philosophers, with a dignity and eloquence that surprized that learned foreigner. It being observed to him, that a rage for every thing English prevailed much in France after Lord Chatham's glorious war, he said, he did not wonder at it, for that we had drubbed thofe fellows into a proper reverence for us, and that their national petulance required periodical chastisement.
“ Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues, he deemed a nugatory performance. That man (said he,) sat down to write a book, to tell the world what the world had all his life been telling him.'
Somebody observing that the Scotch Highlanders in the year 1745, had made furprizing efforts, considering their numerous wants and disadvantages : “Yes, Sir, (said he,) their wants were numerous, but you have not mentioned the greatest of them all,—the want of law.'
“ Speaking of the inward light, to which some methodists pretended, he said, it was a principle utterly incompatible with social or civil security.
(If a man (said he,) pretends to a principle of action of which I can know nothing, nay, not so much as that he has it, but only that he pretends to it; how can I tell wliat that person may be prompted to do? When a person profeffes to be governed by a written ascertained law, I can then know where to find him.'
« The poem of Fingal, he said, was a mere unconnected rhapsody, a tiresome repetition of the same images. “In vain shall we look for the lucidus ordo, where there is neither end or object, design or moral, nec certa recurrit imago.'
Being asked by a young nobleman, what was become of the gallantry and military spirit of the old English nobility, he replied, “Why, my Lord, I'll tell you what is become of it; it is gone into the city to look for a fortune.'
“ Speaking of a dull tiresome fellow, whom he chanced to meet, he said, · That fellow seems to me to postess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.'
“ Much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman who had quitted a company where Johnson was, and no information being obtained; at last Johnson observed, that he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.'
“ He spoke with much contempt of the notice taken of Woodhouse, the poetical shoemaker. He faid, it was all vanity and childishness; and that such objects were, to those who patronised them, mere mirrours of their own fuperiority. “They had better (said he,) furnish the man with good implements for his trade, than raise subscriptions for his poems.
make an excellent shoemaker, but can never make a good poet. A school-boy's exercise may be a pretty thing for a school-boy, but is no treat for a man.'
" Speaking of Boetius, who was the favourite writer of the middle ages, he said it was very surprizing, that upon such a subject, and in such a situation, he should be magis philofophus quàm Christianus.