« VorigeDoorgaan »
dinner at sir John Pringle's; and he was much pleased with the conscientious accuracy of that celebrated circumnavigator, who set me right as to many of the exaggerated accounts given by Dr. Hawkesworth of his voyages. I told him, that while I was with the captain I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next voyage. JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages." Boswell." But one is carried away with the general grand and indistinct notion of a voyage round the world." Johnson. “ Yes, sir; but a man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general.” I said, I was certain that a great part of what we are told by the travellers to the South Sea must be conjecture, because they had not enough of the language of those countries to understand so much as they have related. Objects falling under the observation of the senses might be clearly known; but every thing intellectual, every thing abstract,-politicks, morals, and religion, must be darkly guessed. Dr. Johnson was of the same opinion. He upon another occasion, when a friend mentioned to him several extraordinary facts, as communicated to him by the circumnavigators, slily observed, “ Sir, I never before knew how much I was respected by these gentlemen : they told me none of these things.”
He had been in company with Omai, a native of one of the South Sea islands, after he had been some time in this country. He was struck with the elegance of his behaviour, and accounted for it thus: “Sir, he had passed his time, while in England, only in the best company; so that all he had acquired of our manners was genteel. As a proof of this, sir, lord Mulgrave and he dined one day at Streatham; they sat with their backs to the light fronting me, so that I could not see distinctly; and there was so little of the savage in Omai, that I was afraid to speak to either, lest I should mistake one for the other.”
We agreed to dine to-day at the Mitre tavern, after the rising of the house of lords, where a braich of the litigation concerning the Douglas estate, in which I was one of the counsel, was to come on. I brought with me Mr. Murray, solicitor-general of Scotland, now one of the judges of the court of session, with the title of lord Henderland. I mentioned Mr. Solicitor's relation, lord Charles Hay, with whom I knew Dr. Johnson had been acquainted. JOHNSON. “ I wrote something for lord Charles ; and I thought he had nothing to fear from a court martial. I suffered a great loss when he died; he was a mighty pleasing man in conversation, and a reading man. The character of a soldier is high. They who stand forth the foremost in danger for the community, have the respect of mankind. An officer is much more respected than any other man who has as little money. In a commercial country, money will always purchase respect. But you find an officer, who has, properly speaking, no money, is everywhere very well received, and treated with attention. The character of a soldier always stands him in stead.” BosWELL. “ Yet, sir, I think that common soldiers are worse thought of than other men in the same rank of life; such as labourers.” JOHNSON. Why, sir, a common soldier is usually a very gross man; and any quality which procures respect, may be overwhelmed by grossness. A man of learning may be so vicious, or so ridiculous, that you cannot
A common soldier, too, generally eats more than he can pay for. But when a common soldier is civil in his quarters, his red coat procures him a degree of respect.” The peculiar respect paid to the military character in France was mentioned. BOSWELL. "I should think that where military men are so numerous, they would be less valued, as not being rare.” JOHNSON.“ Nay, sir; wherever a particular character or profession is high in the estimation of the people, those who are of it will be valued above other men. We value an Englishman high in this country, and yet Englishmen are not rare in it.”
Mr. Murray praised the ancient philosophers for the candour and good humour with which those of different sects disputed with each other. JOHNSON. “Sir, they disputed
with good humour, because they were not in earnest as to religion. Had the ancients been serious in their belief, we should not have had their gods exhibited in the manner we find them represented in the poets. The people would not have suffered it. They disputed with good humour upon their fanciful theories, because they were not interested in the truth of them: when a man has nothing to lose, he may be in good humour with his opponent. Accordingly you see Lucian, the epicurean, who argues only negatively, keeps his temper; the stoick, who has something positive to preserve, grows angry. Being angry with one who controverts an opinion which you value, is a necessary consequence of the uneasiness which you feel. Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy. Those only who believed in revelation have been angry at having their faith called in question ; because they only had something upon which they could rest as matter of fact.” MURRAY." It seems to me that we are not angry at a man for controverting an opinion which we believe and value; we rather pity him." JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, to be sure when you wish a man to have that belief which
think is of infinite advantage, you wish well to him; but your primary consideration is your own quiet. If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards. No, sir; every man will dispute with great good humour upon a subject in which he is not interested. I will dispute very calmly upon the probability of another man's son being hanged; but if a man zealously enforces the probability that my own son will be hanged, I shall certainly not be in a very good humour with him.” I added this illustration : “ If a man endeavours to convince me that my wife, whom I love very much, and in whom I place great confidence, is a disagreeable woman, and is even unfaithful to me, I shall be very angry, for he is putting me in fear of being unhappy.” MURRAY, “ But, sir, truth will always bear an examination.” Johnson. “Yes, sir; but it is painful to be forced to defend it. Consider, sir; how should you like, though conscious of your innocence, to be tried before a jury for a capital crime once a week?"
We talked of education at great schools; the advantages and disadvantages of which Johnson displayed in a luminous manner; but his arguments preponderated so much in favour of the benefit which a boy of good parts might receive at one of them, that I have reason to believe Mr. Murray was very much influenced by what he had heard to-day, in his determination to send his own son to Westminster school.-I have acted in the same manner with regard to my own two sons; having placed the eldest at Eton, and the second at Westminster. I cannot say which is best. But, in justice to both those noble seminaries, I with high satisfaction declare, that my boys have derived from them a great deal of good, and no evil: and I trust they will, like Horace, be grateful to their father for giving them so valuable an education.
I introduced the topick, which is often ignorantly urged, that the universities of England are too richo; 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. “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 grows 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 probably 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: they contrived to have no scholars; whereas, if they had been allowed to receive but sixpence a lecture from each scholar, they wo have been emulous to have had many scholars. Every body will agree, that it should be the interest of those who teach to have scholars; and this is the case in our universities. That they are too rich is certainly not true; for they have nothing good enough to keep a man of eminent learning with them for his life. In the foreign universities, a professorship is a high thing. It is as much almost as a man can make by his learning; and therefore we find the most learned men abroad are in the universities. It is not so with us. Our universities are impoverished of learning by the penury of their provisions. I wish there were many places of a thousand a year at Oxford, to keep first-rate men of learning from quitting the university.” Undoubtedly if this were the case, literature would have a still greater dignity and splendour at Oxford, and there would be grander living sources of instruction.
e Dr. Adam Smith, who was for some time a professor in the university of Glasgow, has uttered, in his Wealth of Nations, some reflections upon this subject, which are certainly not well founded, and seem to be invidious.-Boswell.
I mentioned Mr. Maclaurin's uneasiness on account of a degree of ridicule carelessly thrown on his deceased father, in Goldsmith's History of Animated Nature, in which that celebrated mathematician is represented as being subject to fits of yawning so violent as to render him incapable of proceeding in his lecture; a story altogether unfounded, but for the publication of which the