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6. Has not
a great deal of wit, sir?” JOHNSON. “I do not think so, sir. He is, indeed, continually attempting wit, but he fails. And I have no more pleasure in hearing a man attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it."
He laughed heartily when I mentioned to him a saying of his concerning Mr. Thomas Sheridan, which Foote took a wicked pleasure to circulate.
Why, sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, sir, is not in nature.”—“So (said he), I allowed him all his own merit."
He now added, “Sheridan cannot bear me. I bring his declamation to a point”. I ask him a plain question, "What do you mean to teach ?' Besides, sir, what influence can Mr. Sheridan have upon the language of this great country, by his narrow exertions? Sir, it is burning a farthing candle at Dover, to show light at Calais."
Talking of a young man who was uneasy from thinking that he was very deficient in learning and knowledge, he said, “A man has no reason to complain who holds a middle place, and has many below him; and perhaps he has not six of his years above him ; perhaps not one. Though he may not know any thing perfectly, the general mass of knowledge that he has acquired is considerable. Time will do for him all that is wanting.”
The conversation then took a philosophical turn. JOHNSON. “Human experience, which is constantly
[There is no doubt that this blank must be filled with the name of Mr. Burke. See post, 15th Aug. and 15th Sept. 1773, and 25th April, 1778.-E1.1
? [He endeavours to assign a reason for Sheridan's dissatisfaction very dif. ferent from the true one; there is even reason to suppose, from Mr. Boswell's own account, that Johnson and Sheridan never met after Johnson's insult to Sheridan on the subject of the pension. See ante, p. 398.En.] VOL. I.
contradicting theory, is the great test of truth. A system built upon the discoveries of a great many minds is always of more strength, than what is prodúced by the mere workings of any one mind, which, of itself, can do little. There is not so poor a book in the world that would not be a prodigious effort were it wrought out entirely by a single mind, without the aid of prior investigators. The French writers are superficial, because they are not scholars, and so proceed upon the mere power of their own minds; and we see how very little power they have.”
“ As to the Christian religion, sir, besides the strong evidence which we have for it, there is a balance in its favour from the number of great men who have been convinced of its truth, after a serious consideration of the question. Grotius was an acute man, a lawyer, a man accustomed to examine evidence, and he was convinced. Grotius was not a recluse, but a man of the world, who certainly had no bias to the side of religion. Sir Isaac Newton' set out an infidel, and came to be a very firm believer.”
He this evening again recommended to me to perambulate Spain. I said it would amuse him to get a letter from me dated at Salamanca. JOHNSON. “ I love the university of Salamanca ; for when the Spaniards were in doubt as to the lawfulness of their conquering America, the university of Salamanca gave it as their opinion that it was not lawful.” He spoke this with great emotion, and with that generous warmth which dictated the lines in his “ London," against Spanish encroachment.
[Where, the Bishop of Ferns asks, did Johnson learn this ? It is true that Dr. Horsely declined publishing some papers on religious subjects which Newton left behind him some have suspected that they were tainted with Uni. tarianism ; others (probably from a consideration of his work on the Revelations) believed that they were in a strain of mysticism not in the opinion of his friends) worthy of so great a genius; and the recent publication of his two letters to Locke, in a style of infantine simplicity (see Lord King's Life of Loeke), give ad. ditional colour to this latter opinion: but for Johnson's assertion that he set out an infidel, there appears no authority, and all the inferences are the other way.-Ed.]
* I fully intended to have followed advice of such weight; but having staid much longer both in Germany and Italy than I proposed to do, and having also visited Corsica, I found that I had exceeded the time allowed me by my father, and hastened to France in my way homewards.--BOSWELL.
I expressed my opinion of my friend Derrick as but a poor writer'. JOHNSON. “To be sure, sir, he is : but you are to consider that his being a literary man has got for him all that he has. It has made him king of Bath. Sir, he has nothing to say for himself but that he is a writer. Had he not been a writer, he must have been sweeping the crossings in the streets, and asking halfpence from every body that passed.”
In justice, however, to the memory of Mr. Derrick, who was my first tutor in the ways of London, and showed me the town in all its variety of departments both literary and sportive, the particulars of which Dr. Johnson advised me to put in writing, it is proper to mention what Johnson, at a subsequent period, said of him both as a writer and an editor: “Sir, I have 27 Aug.
1773. often said, that if Derrick's letters had been written by one of a more established name, they would have been thought very pretty letters.” And,
22 Sept. Derrick to Dryden's relations to gather materials for 1773. his life; and I believe he got all that I myself should have got.”
Poor Derrick! I remember him with kindness. Yet I cannot withhold from my readers a pleasant humorous sally which could not have hurt him had he been alive, and now is perfectly harmless. In his collection of poems, there is one upon entering the harbour of Dublin, his native city, after a long ab
It begins thus :
" I sent
“ Eblana! much loved city, hail !
Where first I saw the light of day." And after a solemn reflection on his being “ num
" (Call ye that backing your friends ? -Ed.)
bered with forgotten dead,” there is the following stanza:
6 Unless my lines protract my fame,
And those, who chance to read them, cry,
In yonder tomb his ashes lie:" which was thus happily parodied by Mr. John Home, to whom we owe the beautiful and pathetick tragedy of Douglas:
“ Unless my decds protract my fame,
And he who passes sadly sings,
On yonder tree his carcass swings !" I doubt much whether the amiable and ingenious authour of these burlesque lines will recollect them ; for they were produced extempore one evening while he and I were walking together in the dining room at Eglingtoune Castle, in 1760, and I have never mentioned them to him since.
Johnson said once to me, “ Sir, I honour Derrick for his presence of mind. One night, when Floyd', another poor authour, was wandering about the streets in the night, he found Derrick fast asleep upon a bulk; upon being suddenly waked, Derrick started up: 'My dear Floyd, I am sorry to see you in this destitute state : will you go home with me to my lodgings ??!!
I again begged his advice as to my method of study at Utrecht. “Come," said he, “ let us make a day of it. Let us go down to Greenwich and dine, and talk of it there.” The following Saturday was fixed for this excursion.
As we walked along the Strand to-night, arm in arm, a woman of the town accosted us, in the usual enticing manner. “ No, no, my girl,” said Johnson;
1 He published a biographical work, containing an account of eminent writers, in three volumes, 8vo.
» [No great presence of mind; for Floyd would naturally have accepted the proposal, and then Derrick would have been doubly exposed. -Ed.]
“ it won't do.” He, however, did not treat her with harshness; and we talked of the wretched life of such women, and agreed, that much more misery than happiness, upon the whole, is produced by illicit commerce between the sexes.
On Saturday, July 30, Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education. Johnson. “Most certainly, sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with it.” " And yet,” said I, “ people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning." JOHNSON.“ Why, sir, that
may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors." He then called to the boy, “ What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts ?” Sir," said the boy, “ I would give what I have.” Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr. Johnson then turning to me, “Sir,” said he," a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.”
We landed at the Old Swan', and walked to Billingsgate, where we took oars, and moved smoothly along
[The erection of a new London bridge may render it useful to observe that with the ebb-tide it is dangerous to pass through, or shoot, as it is called, the arches of the old bridge: passengers, therefore, land above the bridge, and wal} to some wharf below it.-Ed.]