« AnteriorContinuar »
buying and selling a pen-knife ; fo you don't call a man a whoremonger for getting one wench with child.”
I spoke of the inequality of the livings of the clergy in England, and the scanty provisions of some of the Curates. Johnson. “Why, yes, Sir; but it cannot be helped. You must consider, that the revenues of the clergy are not at the disposal of the state, like the pay of the army. Different men have founded different churches, and some are better endowed, some worse. The State cannot interfere and make an equal division of what has been particularly appropriated. Now when a clergyman has but a small living, or even two sinall livings, he can afford very little to a Curate.”
He said, he went more frequently to church when there were prayers only, than when there was also a sermon, as the people required more an example for the one than the other; it being much easier for them to hear a sermon, than to fix their minds on prayer.
On Monday, April 6, I dined with him at Sir Alexander Macdonald's, where was a young officer in the regimentals of the Scots Royal, who talked with a vivacity, fluency, and precision so uncommon, that he attracted particular attention. He proved to be the Honourable Thomas Erskine, youngest brother to the Earl of Buchan, who has since risen into such brilliant reputation at the bar in Westminster-hall.
Fielding being mentioned, Johnson exclaimed, “ he was a blockhead ;” and upon my expresling my astonishment at so strange an assertion, he said, “What I mean by his being a blockhead is, that he was a barren rascal.” Boswell. “ Will you not allow, Sir, that he draws very natural pictures of human life?” JOHNSON. Why, Sir, it is of very low life. Richardson used to say, that had he not known who Fielding was, he should have believed he was an oftler. Sir, there is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's, than in all • Tom Jones.' I, indeed, never read Joseph Andrews.” Erskine.
Surely, Sir, Richardson is very tedious.” JOHNSON. “ Why, Sir, if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted, that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment.”-I have already given my opinion of Fielding; but I cannot refrain from repeating here my wonder at Johnson's excessive and unaccountable depreciation of one of the best writers that England has produced. “ Tom Jones” has stood the test of publick opinion with such success, as to have established its great - merit, both for the story, the sentiments, and the manners, and also the varieties of diction, so as to leave no doubt of its having an animated truth of execution throughout. Bbb
A book of travels, lately published under the title of Coriat Junior, and written by Mr. Paterson, the auctioneer, was mentioned. Johnson faid, this book was an imitation of Sterne, and not of Coriat, whose name Paterson had chosen as a whimsical one. “ Tom Coriat, (faid he,) was a humourist about the court of James the First. He had a mixture of learning, of wit, and of bufionery. He first travelled through Europe, and published his travels. He afterwards travelled on foot through Asia, and had made many remarks; but he died at Mandoa, and his remarks were lost.”
We talked of gaming, and animadverted on it with severity. Johnson.
It is not roguery to play with a man who is ignorant of the game, while you are master of it, and fo win his money; for he thinks he can play better than you, as you think you can play better than he; and the superiour skill carries it.” Erskine. “ He is a fool, but you are not a rogue.” Johnson. “ That's much about the truth, Sir. It must be considered, that a man who only does what every one of the society to which he belongs would do, is not a difhonest man. In the republick of Sparta it was agreed, that stealing was not dishonourable, if not discovered. I do not commend a society where there is an agreement that what would not otherwise be fair, shall be fair; but I maintain, that an individual of any society, who practises what is allowed, is not a dishonest man.” Boswell. “ So then, Sir, you do not think ill of a man who wins perhaps forty thousand pounds in a winter ?” Johnson. “Sir, I do not call a gamefter a dishonest man; but I call him an unfocial man, an unprofitable man. Gaming is a mode of transferring property without producing any intermediate good. “Trade gives employment to numbers, and so produces intermediate good.”
Mr. Erskine told us, 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 paflage in scripture where we are told that the angel of the Lord smote in one night forty thousand Afiyrians. “Sir, (said Johnson,) 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.”
After Mr. Erskine was gone, a discussion took place, whether the prefent Earl of Buchan, when Lord Cardrofs, did right to refuse to go Secretary of the Embassy to Spain, when Sir James Gray, a man of inferiour rank, went Ambassadour. Dr. Johnson said, that perhaps in
perhaps in point of 3
interest he did wrong; but in point of dignity he did well. Sir Alexander insisted that he was wrong, and said that Mr. Pitt intended it as an advan- Ætat. 63. tageous thing for him.
Why, Sir, (said Johnson,) Mr. Pitt might think it an advantageous thing for him to make him a vintner, and get him all the Portugal trade; but he would have demeaned himself strangely had he accepted of such a situation. Sir, had he gone Secretary while his inferiour was Ambassadour, he would have been a traitor to his rank and family.”
I talked of the little attachment which subfifted between near relations in London. “Sir, (faid Johnson,) in a country so commercial as ours, where every man can do for himself, there is not so much occafion for that attachment. No man is thought the worse of here, whose brother was hanged. In uncommercial countries, many of the branches of a family must depend on the stock; so, in order to make the head of the family take care of them, they are represented as connected with his reputation, that, self-love being interested, he may exert himself to promote their interest. You have first large circles, or clans; as commerce increases, the connection is confined to families. By degrees, that too goes off, as having become unnecessary, and there being few opportunities of intercourse. One brother is a merchant in the city, and another is an officer in the guards. How little intercourse can these two have !"
I argued warmly for the old feudal system. Sir Alexander opposed it, and talked of the pleasure of seeing all men free and independent. Johnson. “ I agree with Mr. Boswell that there must be a high satisfaction in being a feudal Lord; but we are to consider, that we ought not to wish to have a number of men unhappy for the satisfaction of one."--I maintained that numbers, namely, the vassals or followers, were not unhappy, for that there was a reciprocal fatisfaction between the Lord and them: he being kind in his authority over them; they being respectful and faithful to him.
On Thursday, April 9, I called on him to beg he would go and dine with me at the Mitre tavern. He had resolved not to dine at all this day, I know not for what reason; and I was so unwilling to be deprived of his company, that I was content to submit to suffer a want, which was at first somewhat painful, but he foon made me forget it; and a man is always pleased with himself when he finds his intellectual inclinations predominate.
He observed, that to reason too philosophically on the nature of prayer, was very unprofitable.
Talking of ghosts, he said, he knew one friend, who was an honest man and a sensible man, who told him he had seen a ghost, old Mr. Edward
Cave, the printer at St. John's Gate. He said, Mr. Cave did not like to talk Ætat. 63. of it, but seemed to be in great horrour whenever it was mentioned. Boswell.
“ Pray, Sir, what did he say was the appearance ?” JOHNSON. “ Why, Sir, something of a shadowy being."
I mentioned witches, and asked him what they properly meant. Johnson.
Why, Sir, they properly mean those who make use of the aid of evil spirits.” Boswell. “ There is no doubt, Sir, a general report and belief of their having existed,” Johnson. “ Sir, you have not only the general report and belief, but you have many voluntary solemn confessions.”
voluntary folemn confessions.” He did not affirm any thing positively upon a subject which it is the fashion of the times to laugh at as a matter of absurd credulity. He only seemed willing, as a candid enquirer after truth, however strange and inexplicable, to shew that he understood what might be urged for it?.
On Friday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe’s, where we found Dr. Goldfinith.
Armorial bearings having been mentioned, Johnson said, they were as ancient as the siege of Thebes, which he proved by a passage in one of the tragedies of Euripides.
I started the question whether duelling was consistent with moral duty. The brave old General fired at this, and said, with a lofty air, “Undoubtedly a man has a right to defend his honour.” GOLDSMITH, (turning to me.) “I ask you first, Sir, what you would do if you were affronted?” I answered I should think it necessary to fight. Why then (replied Goldsmith,) that solves the question.” Johnson. “No, Sir, it does not solve the question. It does not follow that what a man would do is therefore right.” I said, I wished to have it settled, whether duelling was contrary to the laws of Christianity. Johnson immediately entered on the subject, and treated it in a masterly manner; and so far as I have been able to recollect, his thoughts were these : “Sir, as men become in a high degree refined, various causes of offence arise ; which are considered to be of such importance, that life must be staked to atone for them, though in reality they are not so. A body that has received a very fine polish may be easily hurt. Before men arrive at this artificial refinement, if one tells his neighbour he lies, his neighbour tells him he lies; if one gives his neighbour a blow, his neighbour gives him a blow: but in a state of highly polished society, an affront is held to be a serious injury. It must,
3 See this curious question treated by him with most acute ability, “ Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," 3d edit. p. 33.
therefore, be resented, or rather a duel must be fought upon it; as men have 1772. agreed to banish from their society one who puts up with an affront without Ætat. 03. fighting a duel. Now, Sir, it is never unlawful to fight in self-defence. He, then, who fights a duel, does not fight from passion against his antagonist, but out of self-defence; to avert the stigma of the world, and to prevent himself from being driven out of society. I could wish that there was not that super-Auity of refinement; but while such notions prevail, no doubt a man may lawfully fight a duel.”
Let it be remembered, that this justification is applicable only to the person who receives an affront. All mankind must condemn the aggressor.
The General told us, that when he was a very young man, I think only fifteen, ferving under Prince Eugene of Savoy, he was sitting in a company at table with a Prince of Wirtemberg. The Prince took up a glass of wine, and, by a fillip, made some of it fly in Oglethorpe's face. Here was a nice dilemnina. To have challenged him instantly, might have fixed a quarrelsome character upon the young foldier: to have taken no notice of it might have been considered as cowardice. Oglethorpe, therefore, keeping his eye upon the Prince, and smiling all the time, as if he took what his Highness had done in jest, faid, “ Mon Prince, —” (I forget the French words he used, the purport however was,) “ That's a good joke ; but we do it much better in England ;” and threw a whole glass of wine in the Prince's face. An old General who fat by, said, “ Il a bien fait, mon Prince, vous l'avez commencé ;”. and thus all ended in good humour.
Dr. Johnson said, “ Pray, General, give us an account of the siege of Bender.” Upon which the General, pouring a little wine upon the table, described every thing with a wet finger: “Here were we, here were the Turks,” &c. &c. Johnson listened with the closest attention.
A question was ftarted, how far people who disagree in any capital point can live in friendship together. Johnson said they might. Goldsmith said they could not, as they had not the idem velle atque idem nolle—the same likings and the same aversions. Johnson. “Why, Sir, you must fhun the subject as to which · you disagree. For instance, I can live very well with Burke: I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion, and aMuence of conversation ; but I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party." GOLDSMITH. “But, Sir, when people live together who have something as to which they disagree, and which they want to shun, they will be in the situation mentioned in the story of Bluebeard; "You may look into all the chambers but one. But we should have the greatest inclination to look into that chamber, to talk of that subject.” JOHNSON,