Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

I remember when I was with the army, after the battle of Lafeldt, the officers seriously grumbled that no general was killed.” CAMBRIDGE : “We may believe Horace more, when he says,

*Romæ Tibur amem ventosus, Tibure Romam;'

than when he boasts of his consistency :

«Me constare mihi scis, et discedere tristem,
Quandocunque trahunt invisa negotia Romam."

BOSWELL : “How hard is it that man can never be at rest.” RAMSAY :

“It is not in his nature to be at
rest. When he is at rest, he is in
the worst state that he can be in ;
for he has nothing to agitate him.
He is then like the man in the Irish
song-
*There lived a young man in Ballina-

crazy,
Who wanted a wife for to make him

unaisy.' Goldsmith being mentioned, Johnson observed that it was long before his merit came to be acknowledged: that he once complained to him, in ludicrous terms of distress, “ Whenever I write anything, the public make a point to know nothing

about it:" but that his “ Travelveller," brought him into high reputation. LANGTON: “There is not one bad line in that poem-no one of Dryden's careless verses.” SIR JOSHUA: “I was glad to hear Charles Fox say, it was one of the finest poems in the English language.” LANGTON : Why were you glad ? You surely had no doubt of this before.” JOHNSON : “No; the merit of "The Traveller' is so well established, that Mr. Fox's praise cannot augment it, nor his censure diminish it.” SIR JOSHUA : “But his friends may suspect they had too great a partiality for him." JOHNSON : “Nay, Sir, the partiality of his friends was always against him. It was with difficulty we could give him a hearing. Goldsmith had no settled notions upon any subject ; so he talked always at random. It seemed to be his intention to blurt out whatever was in his mind, and see what would become of it. He was angry too, when caught in an absurdity;

[graphic]

MR. CAMBRIDGE.

[ocr errors]

1 First published in 1765.—MALONE.

but it did not prevent him from falling into another the next minute. I remember Chamier, after talking with him some time, said, 'Well, I do believe he wrote this poem himself : and, let me tell you, that is believing a great deal.' Chamier once asked him, what he meant by slow, the last word in the first line of 'The Traveller,'

'Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow.' Did he mean tardiness of locomotion ? Goldsmith, who would say something without consideration, answered, 'Yes. I was sitting by, and said, “No, Sir; you do not mean tardiness of locomotion ; you mean that sluggishness of mind which comes upon a man in solitude.' Chamier believed then that I had written the line, as much as if he had seen me write it. Goldsmith, however, was a man, who, whatever he wrote, did it better than any other man could do. He deserved a place in Westminster Abbey; and every year he lived, would have deserved it better. He had indeed been at no pains to fill his mind with knowledge. He transplanted it from one place to another; and it did not settle in his mind; so he could not tell what was in his own books."

We talked of living in the country. JOHNSON : “No wise man will go to live in the country, unless he has something to do which can be better done in the country. For instance : if he is to shut himself up for a year to study a science, it is better to look out to the fields, than to an opposite wall. Then if a man walks out in the country, there is nobody to keep him from walking in again ; but if a man walks out in London, he is not sure when he shall walk in again. A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life; and 'the proper study of mankind is man,' as Pope observes.” BOSWELL: “I fancy London is the best place for society : though I have heard that the very first society of Paris is still beyond anything that we have here.” JOHNSON : “Sir, I question if in Paris such a company as is sitting round this table could be got together in less than half a-year. They talk in France of the felicity of men and women living together : the truth is, that there the men are not higher than the women, they know no more than the women do, and they are not held down in their conversation by the presence of women.” RAMSAY : “Literature is upon the growth ; it is in its spring in France ; here it is rather passée.” JOHNSON : “ Literature was in France long before we had it. Paris was the second city for the revival of letters: Italy had it first, to be sure. What have we done for literature, equal to what was done by the Stephani and others in France ? Our literature came to us through France. Caxton printed only two books, Chaucer and Gower, that were not translations from the French ; and Chaucer, we know, took much from the Italians. No, Sir, if literature be in its spring in France, it is a second spring ; it is after a winter. We are now before the French in literature ; but we had it long after them in England ; any man who wears a sword and a powdered wig, is ashamed to be illiterate. I believe it is not so in France. Yet there is, probably, a great deal of learning in France, because they have such a number of religious establishments ; so many men who have nothing else to do but to study. I do not know this ; but I take it upon the common principles of chance. Where there are many shooters, some will hit.”

1 Anthony Chamier, Esq., a member of the LITERARY CLUB, and Under-Secretary of State. He died Oct. 12 1780.-MALONB.

We talked of old age. Johnson (now in his seventieth year), said “It is a man's own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age.” The bishop asked, if an old man does not lose faster than he gets. JOHNSON : “I think not, my Lord, if he exerts himself.” One of the company rashly observed, that he thought it was happy for an old man that insensibility comes upon him. JOANSON (with a noble elevation and disdain): “No, Sir, I should never be happy by being less rational.” BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH : “Your wish then, Sir, is γηράσκειν διδασκόμενος.JOHNSON: “Yes, my Lord.” His Lordship mentioned a charitable establishment in Wales, where people were maintained, and supplied with everything, upon the condition of their contributing the weekly produce of their labour ; and he said they grew quite torpid for the want of property. JOHNSON : “They have no object for hope. Their condition cannot be better. It is rowing without a port.”

One of the company asked him the meaning of the expression in Juvenal, unius lacerte. JOHNSON : “I think it clear enough ; as much ground as one may have a chance to find a lizard upon.”

Commentators have differed as to the exact meaning of the expression by which the poet intended to enforce the sentiment contained in the passage where these words occur. It is enough that they mean to denote even a very small possession, provided it be a man's own

"1

“Est aliquid, quocunque loco, quocunque recessu,

Unius sese dominum fecisse lacerto.?

This season there was a whimsical fashion in the newspapers of applying Shakspeare's words to describe living persons well known in the world ; which was done under the title of “Modern Characters from Shakspeare;" many of which were admirably adapted. The fancy took so much, that they were afterwards collected into a pamphlet.

1 To grow old in learning.
% Juvenal, Sat. iii. 230.-Thus translated by Gifford :-

"And sure-in any corner we can get-
To call one lizard ours, is something yet.”

1

Somebody said to Johnson, across the table, that he had not been in those characters. “Yes,” said he, “I have. I should have been sorry to be left out.” He then repeated what had been applied to him,

“ You must borrow me GARAGANTUA's mouth." Miss Reynolds not perceiving at once the meaning of this, he was obliged to explain it to her, which had something of an awkward and ludicrous effect. “Why, Madam, it has a reference to me, as using big words, which require the mouth of a giant to pronounce them. Garagantua is the name of a giant in Rabelais.” BOSWELL : “ But, Sir, there is another amongst them for you :

He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,

Or Jove for his power to thunder.'” JOHNSON : “There is nothing marked in that. No, Sir, Garagantua is the best.” Notwithstanding this ease and good humour, when I, a little while afterwards, repeated his sarcasm on Kenrick, which was received with applause, he asked, “Who said that ?" and on my suddenly answering Garagantua, he looked serious, which was a sufficient indication that he did not wish it to be kept up.

When we went to the drawing-room, there was a rich assemblage. Besides the company who had been at dinner, there were Mr. Garrick, Mr. Harris of Salisbury, Dr. Percy, Dr. Burney,' the Honourable Mrs. Cholmondeley, Miss Hannah More, &c. &c.

After wandering about in a kind of pleasing distraction for some time, I got into a corner with Johnson, Garrick, and Harris. GARRICK (to Harris) : “Pray, Sir, have you read Potter's Æschylus ?” HARRIS: “Yes : and think it pretty.” GARRICK (to Johnson): “And what think you, Sir, of it ?” JOHNSON: “I thought what I read of it verbiage; but upon Mr. Harris's recommendation I will read a play. (To Mr. Harris.) Don't prescribe two." Mr. Harris suggested one, I do not remember which. Johnson : “We must try its effect as an English poem ; that is

[graphic]

DAVID GARRICK,

· This was Dr. Charles Burney, the musical composer, who was father of the great critic and scholar, and author of a "General History of Music.” He was born at Shrewsbury in 1726, and died in 1811.-ED.

the way to judge of the merit of a translation. Translations are, in general, for people who cannot read the original.” I mentioned the vuigar saying, that Pope's Homer was not a good representation of the original. JOHNSON : “Sir, it is the greatest work of the kind that has ever been produced.” BOSWELL : “The truth is, it is impossible perfectly to translate poetry. In a different language it may be the same tune, but it has not the same tone. Homer plays it on a bassoon; Pope on a flageolet.” HARRIS : "I think heroic poetry is best in blank verse ; yet it appears that rhyme is essential to English poetry, from our deficiency in metrical quantities. In my opinion, the chief excellence of our language is numerous prose.” JOHNSON : “ Sir William Temple? was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose.? Before this time they were careless of arrangement, and did not mind whether a sentence ended with an important word, or an insignificant word, or with what part of speech it was concluded.” Mr. Langton, who now had joined us, commended Clarendon. JOHNSON “ He is objected to for his parentheses, his involved clauses, and his want of harmony. But. he is supported by his matter. It is, indeed, owing to a plethory of matter that his style is so faulty : every substance (smiling to Mr. Harris), has so many accidents. To be distinct, we must talk analytically. If we analyse language, we must speak of it grammatically ; if we analyse argument, we must speak of it logically.” GARRICK : “Of all the translations that ever were attempted, I think Elphinston's Martial the most extraordinary. He consulted me upon it, who am a little of an epigrammatist myself, you know. I told him freely, “You don't seem to have that turn.' I asked him if he was serious; and finding

[ocr errors]

i This eminent statesman and scholar was born in 1628. In 1674 he was appointed Ambassador to the States-general, and in 1679 became Secretary of State. When he resigned that position he was often visited in his retirement by Charles II., James II., and William III. He has published “ Observations on the United Provinces," and other miscellaneous writings. He died in 1700.-ED.

2 The author, in vol. i., p. 151, says, that Johnson once told him," that he had formed his style upon that of Sir William Temple, and upon Chambers's Proposal for his Dictionary. He certainly was mistaken; or, if he imagined at first that he was imitating Temple, he was very unsuccessful, for nothing can be more unlike than the simplicity of Temple and the richness of Johnson,"

This observation, on the first view, seems perfectly just; but on a closer examination it will, I think, appear to have been founded on a misapprehension. Mr. Boswell understood Johnson too literally. He did not, I conceive, mean that he endeavoured to imitate Temple's style in all its parts; but that he formed his style on him and Chambers (perhaps the paper published in 1737, relative to his second edition, entitled “Considerations," &c.) taking from each what was most worthy of imitation. The passage before ns, I think, shows, that he learned from Temple to modulate his periods, and, in that respect only, made him his pattern. In this view of the subject, there is no difficulty. He might learn from Chambers, compactness, strength, and precision (in opposition to the laxity of style which had long prevailed); from Sir Thomas Browne (who was also certainly one of his archetypes), pondera verborum, vigour and energy of expression; and from Temple, harmonious arrangement, the due collocation of words, and the other arts and graces of composition here enumerated: and yet, after all, his style might bear no striking resemblance to that of any of these writers, though it had profited by each.-MALONE.

« VorigeDoorgaan »