« VorigeDoorgaan »
I had now made good my title to be a privileged man, and was carried by him in the evening to drink tea with Miss Williams, whom, though under the misfortune of having lost her sight, I found to be agreeable in conversation ; for she had a variety of literature, and expressed herself well; but her peculiar value was the intimacy in which she had long lived with Johnson, by which she was well acquainted with his habits, and knew how to lead him on to talk.
After tea he carried me to what he called his walk, which was a long narrow paved court in the neighbourhood, overshadowed by some trees. There we sauntered a considerable time, and I complained to him that my love of London and of his company was such, that I shrunk almost from the thought of going away even to travel, which is generally so much desired by young men. He roused me by manly and spirited conversation. He advised me, when settled in any place abroad, to study with an eagerness after knowledge, and to apply to Greek an hour every day; and when I was moving about, to read diligently the great book of mankind.
On Wednesday, August 3, we had our last social evening at the Turk’s-head coffee-house, before my setting out for foreign parts. I had the misfortune, before we parted, to irritate him unintentionally. I mentioned to him how common it was in the world to tell absurd stories of him, and to ascribe to him very strange sayings. Johnson. “What do they make me say, sir?” BOSWELL. “Why, sir, as an instance very strange indeed (laughing heartily as I spoke), David Hume told me, you said that you would stand before a battery of cannon to restore the convocation to its full powers.” Little did I apprehend that he had actually said this : but I was soon convinced of my errour; for, with a determined look, he thundered out, “ And would I not, sir ? Shall the presbyterian kirk of Scotland have its general assembly, and the church of England be denied its convocation "?" He was walking up and down the room while I told him the anecdote; but when he uttered this explosion of high-church zeal, he had come close to my chair, and his eyes flashed with indignation. I bowed to the storm, and diverted the force of it, by leading him to expatiate on the influence which religion derived from maintaining the church with great external respectability.
work published in 1756, in a happy imitation of Lord Bolingbroke's style, and in an ironical adoption of his principles : the whole was so well done that it at first passed as a genuine work of Lord Bolingbroke's, and subsequently as the serious and (as in style and imagery it certainly is) splendid exposition of the principles of one of his disciples. Lord Chesterfield and Bishop Warburton are stated to have been so deceived ; and it would seem from the passage in the text, that Johnson and Boswell were in the same error. In 1765, Mr. Burke reprinted this piece, with a preface, in which he throws off altogether the mask of irony. Mr. Boswell calls him a friend of Johnson's, for he himself had not yet met Mr. Burke.-Ed.]
I must not omit to mention that he this year wrote the Life of Ascham t, and the dedication to the Earl of Shaftesburyt, prefixed to the edition of that writer's English works, published by Mr. Bennet.
[Johnson was in fact the editor of this work, as. appears from the following letter: “MR. T. DAVIES TO THE REV. EDM. BETTESWORTH.
“ Russel-street, 3d Feb. 1763 3. “ REVEREND SIR,“I take the liberty to send you Roger Ascham's works in English ; he is generally esteemed one of the most eminent writers of the days of Queen Elizabeth. Though Mr. Bennet's name is in the title, the editor was in reality Dr.
! [It must be confessed, that the existing practice relative to convocations is an absurd anomaly; the convocation is summoned to meet when parliament does, but its meeting is a mere form, and it neither does nor dare do any business. It is a solemn farce. The historical inquirer sees, in the tradition of the con. vocation, the analogy between the British parliament and convocation and the old états générau.r of France. -Ed.]
? [Such is the date, as Dr. Harwood originally read it, and it agrees with that of the publication of the book, but is inconsistent with the mention of Johnson by the title of Doctor, who had not even the Dublin degree till 1765. Dr. Harwood, on rc-exainining the MS., observes that the last figure is almost illegible, and may have been a 3, 7, or 9.-Ev.]
Johnson, the author of the Rambler, who wrote the life of the author, and added several notes, besides those of Mr. Upton. Dr. Johnson gave it to Mr. Bennet, for his advantage. I charge you no more than bookseller's price, 10s. 6d. ; it will be advertised at 12s. If not agreeable will take it again. I am, reverend sir, your most obedient humble servant,
“ Thomas Davies.”] On Friday, August 5, we set out early in the morning in the Harwich stage-coach. A fat elderly gentlewoman, and a young Dutchman, seemed the most inclined among us to conversation. At the inn where we dined, the gentlewoman said that she had done her best to educate her children; and particularly that she had never suffered them to be a moment idle. Johnson. “I wish, madam, you would educate me too; for I have been an idle fellow all my life.” “I am sure, sir (said she), you have not been idle.” JOHNSON. “ Nay, madam, it is very true: and that gentleman there (pointing to me) has been idle. He was idle at Edinburgh. His father sent him to Glasgow, where he continued to be idle. He then came to London, where he has been very idle; and now he is going to Utrecht, where he will be as idle as ever.” I asked him privately how he could expose me so. Johnson. “ Poh, poh! (said he) they know nothing about you, and will think of it no more.” In the afternoon the gentlewoman talked violently against the Roman Catholicks, and of the horrours of the inquisition. To the utter astonishment of all the passengers but myself, who knew that he could talk upon any side of a question, he defended the inquisition, and maintained, that “ false doctrine should be checked on its first appearance; that the civil power should unite with the church in punishing those who dare to attack the established religion, and that such only were punished by the inquisition.” He had in his pocket“ Pomponius Mela de Situ Orbis,” in
which he read occasionally, and seemed very intent upon ancient geography. Though by no means niggardly, his attention to what was generally right was so minute, that having observed at one of the stages that I ostentatiously gave a shilling to the coachman, when the custom was for each passenger to give only sixpence, he took me aside and scolded me, saying that what I had done would make the coachman dissatisfied with all the rest of the passengers, who gave him no more than his due. This was a just reprimand; for in whatever way a man may indulge his generosity or his vanity in spending his money, for the sake of others he ought not to raise the price of any article for which there is a constant demand.
He talked of Mr. Blacklock's' poetry, so far as it was descriptive of visible objects: and observed that “as its authour had the misfortune to be blind, we may be absolutely sure that such passages are combinations of what he has remembered of the works of other writers who could see. That foolish fellow Spence has laboured to explain philosophically how Blacklock may have done, by means of his own faculties, what it is impossible he should do. The solution, as I have given it, is plain. Suppose I know a man to be so lame that he is absolutely incapable to move himself, and I find him in a different room from that in which I left him; shall I puzzle myself with idle conjectures, that, perhaps, his nerves have by some unknown change all at once become
[Dr. Thomas Blacklock was born in 1721; he totally lost his sight by the small-pox at the age of six years, but was nevertheless a descriptive poet. He died in 1791. “We may conclude," says his biographer, “ with Denina, on his Discorso della Litteratura, that Blacklock will appear to posterity a fable, as to us he is a prodigy. It will be thought a fiction, that a man blind from his infancy, besides having made himself master of various foreign languages, should be a great poet in his own, and without having hardly seen the light, should be so remarkably happy in description.” Johnson, no doubt, gives the true solution of Blacklock's power, which was memory and not miracle ; and, mark the result ! who now quotes, nay, who reads a line of Blacklock ?-Ed.]
effective ? No, sir, it is clear how he got into a different room; he was carried."
Having stopped a night at Colchester, Johnson talked of that town with veneration, for having stood a siege for Charles the First. The Dutchman alone now remained with us. He spoke English tolerably well; and thinking to recommend himself to us by expatiating on the superiority of the criminal jurisprudence of this country over that of Holland, he inveighed against the barbarity of putting an accused person to the torture, in order to force a confession. But Johnson was as ready for this, as for the inquisition. Why, sir, you do not, I find, understand the law of your own country. To torture in Holland is considered as a favour to an accused person; for no man is put to the torture there, unless there is as much evidence against him as would amount to conviction in England. An accused person among you, therefore, has one chance more to escape punishment, than those who are tried among us."
At supper this night he talked of good eating with uncommon satisfaction. “ Some people,” said he, “ have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind any thing else.” He now appeared to me Jean Bull philosophe, and he was for the moment, not only serious, but vehement. Yet I have heard him, upon other occasions, talk with great contempt of people who were anxious to gratify their palates; and the 206th number of his Rambler is a masterly essay against gulosity. His practice,
+ [Is it possible that Johnson can be right ? If the guilt be proved, can the law of any civilized country ask more than proof, and ask it under the extreme yet most doubtful sanction of torture? If the Editor has not forgotten all he has ever read of the law of Holland, Johnson must have been mistaken...Ed.]