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JOHNSON: “Molly Aston,"Sir, the sister of those ladies with whom you dined at Lichfield.- I shall be at home to-morrow.” BOSWELL: “Then let us dine by ourselves at the Mitre, to keep up the old custom 'the custom of the manor,' custom of the Mitre.” JOHNSON : “Sir, so it shall be.”
On Saturday, May 9, we fulfilled our purpose of dining by ourselves at the Mitre, according to old custom. There was, on these occasions, a little circumstance of kind attention to Mrs. Williams, which must not be omitted. Before coming out, and leaving her to dine alone, he gave her her choice of a chicken, a sweetbread, or any other little nice thing, which was carefully sent to her from the tavern, ready-drest.
Our conversation to-day, I know not how, turned, I think for the only time at any length during our long acquaintance, upon the sensual intercourse between the sexes, the delight of which he ascribed chiefly to imagination. “Were it not for imagination, Sir,” said he,
a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a duchess. But such is the adventitious charm of fancy, that we find men who have violated the best principles of society, and ruined their fame and their fortune, that they might possess a woman of rank.” It would not be proper to record the particulars of such a conversation in moments of unreserved frankness, when nobody was present on whom it could have any hurtful effect. That subject, when philosophically treated, may surely employ the mind in a curious discussion, and as innocently as anatomy; provided that those who do treat it keep clear of inflammatory incentives.
“From grave to gay, from lively to severe,” we were soon engaged in very different speculation, humbly and reverently considering and wondering at the universal mystery of all things, as our imperfect faculties can now judge of them. “There are,” said he, “innumerable questions to which the inquisitive mind can in this state receive no
Johnson had an extraordinary admiration of this lady, notwithstanding she was a violent Whig. In answer to her high-flown speeches for Liberty, he addressed to her the following Epigram, of which I presume to offer a translation :
“Liber ut esse velim, suasisti, pulcra Maria,
Ut manean liber, pulcra Maria, vale." (Adieu, Maria ! since you'd have me free;
For who beholds thy charms a slave must be.) A correspondent of “The Gentleman's Magazine,” who subscribes himself Sciolus, to whom I am indebted for several excellent remarks, observes, “ The turn of Dr. Johnson's lines to Miss Aston, whose Whig principles he had been combating, appears to me to be taken from an ingenious epigram in The Menagiana' (vol. iii. p. 367, edit. 1716), on a young lady who appeared at a masquerade, habillé en Jesuite, during the fierce contentions of the followers of Molinos and Jansenius concerning free-will :
“On s'étonne ici que Caliste
Puisque cette jeune beauté
Ote a chacun sa liberté,
answer: Why do you and I exist? Why was this world created ? Since it was to be created, why was it not created sooner ?"
On Sunday, May 10, I supped with him at Mr. Hoole's, with Sir Joshua Reynolds. I have neglected the memorial of this evening, so as to remember no more of it than two particulars ; one, that he strenuously opposed an argument by Sir Joshua, that virtue was preferable to vice, considering this life only; and that a man would be virtuous were it only to preserve his character; and that he expressed much wonder at the curious formation of the bat, a mouse with wings, saying, that it was almost as strange a thing in physiology, as if the fabulous dragon could be seen.
TAE EARL OF MARCHMONT—" TRANSPIRE,” AND “GET ABROAD”-PEERS THE JUDGES OF
LAW-POPE-DIVORCES-EXTRAVAGANCE-PARSON FORD's Ghost-HUMMUMS-VIRTUE AND VICE-LORD CHESTERFIELD'S SPEECHES WRITTEN BY Johnson-KAIMES'S SKETCHES -SIR GEORGE VILLIERS's GHOST-JOHNSON'S CONDEMNATION OF FRENCH MANNERSLORD CHARLEMONT-A COUNTRY LIFE-ON SUBORDINATION—Rev. MR. HORNE—DR. MEAD-GENERAL BURGOYNE'S ARMY — “RASSELAS' AND “ CANDIDE" - FRANCIS's " HORACE"-MR. FULLARTON-LORD CHATHAM-EDUCATION-BOSWELL'S DEPARTURE FOR SCOTLAND-CORRESPONDENCE-THOMPSON'S SISTER—VISIT TO WARLEY CAMP-MR.
LANGTON-DR. BURNEY-Rev. J. HUSSEY-SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS's “DISCOURSES." ON Tuesday, May 12, I waited
on the Earl of Marchmont, to know if his lordship would favour Dr. Johnson with information concerning Pope, whose Life he was about to write. Johnson had not flattered himself with the hopes of receiving any civility from this nobleman : for he said to me, when I mentioned Lord Marchmont as one who could tell him a great deal about Pope, “Sir, he will tell me nothing." I had the honour of being known to his lordship, and applied to him of myself, without being commissioned by Johnson. His lordship behaved in the most polite and obliging manner, promised to tell all he recollected about Pope, and was so very courteous as to say, “Tell Dr. Johnson I have a great respect for him, and am ready to show it in any way I can. I am to be in the City to-morrow, and will call at his gouse as I return." His lordship, however, asked, “Will he write 'the Lives of the Poets' impartially? He was the first that brought Whig and Tory into a dictionary. And what do you think of his definition of Excise ! Do you know the history of his aversion to the word transpire ?” Then taking down the folio dictionary, he showed it with this censure on its secondary sense : “ To escape from secresy to notice; a sense lately innovated from France, without necessity.” The truth was, Lord Bolingbroke, who left the Jacobites, first used it ; therefore it was to be condemned. He should have shown what word would do for it, if it was unnecessary. I afterwards put the question to Johnson. “Why, Sir," said he, “get abroad.” BOSWELL: “That, Sir, is using two words.” JOHNSON : “Sir, there is no end of this. You may as well insist to have a word for old age.” BOSWELL: “Well, Sir, Senectus.” JOHNSON : “Nay, Sir, to insist always that there should be one word to express a thing in English, because there is one in another language, is to change the language.”
I availed myself of this opportunity to hear from his lordship many particulars both of Pope and Lord Bolingbroke, which I have in writing.
I proposed to Lord Marchmont, that he should revise Johnson's “Life of Pope.” “So,” said his lordship, “you would put me in a dangerous situation. You know he knocked down Osborne, the bookseller."
Elated with the success of my spontaneous exertion to procure material and respectable aid to Johnson for his very favourite work, “The Lives of the Poets,” I hastened down to Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where he now was, that I might ensure his being at home next day; and after dinner, when I thought he would receive the good news in the best humour, I announced it eagerly : “I have been at work for you to-day, Sir. I have been with Lord Marchmont. He bade me tell you, he has a great respect for you, and will call on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and communicate all he knows about Pope." Here I paused, in full expectation that he would be pleased with this intelligence, would praise my active merit, and would be alert to embrace such an offer from a nobleman. But whether I had shown an over-exultation, which provoked his spleen, or whether he was seized with a suspicion that I had obtruded him on Lord Marchmont, and humbled him too much, or whether there was anything more than an unlucky fit of ill-humour, I know not; but to my surprise, the result was-JOHNSON :“I shall not be in town to-morrow. I don't care to know about Pope.” Mrs. THRALE (surprised as I was, and a little angry): “I suppose, Sir, Mr. Boswell thought that as you are to write
Pope's Life, you would wish to know about him." JOHNSON: “Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge, I'd hold out my hand ; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.” There was no arguing with him at the moment. Sometime afterwards he said, Lord Marchmont will call on me, and then I shall call on Lord Marchmont.” Mrs. Thrale was uneasy at his unaccountable caprice, and told me that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between Lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity. I sent a card to his lordship, to be left at Johnson's house, acquainting him that Dr. Johnson could not be in town next day, but would do himself the honour of waiting on him at another time. I give this account fairly, as a specimen of that unhappy temper with which this great and good man had occasionally to struggle, from something morbid in his constitution. Let the most censorious of my
readers suppose himself to have a violent fit of the toothache, or to have received a severe stroke on the shin-bone, and when in such a state to be asked a question, and if he has any candour he will not be surprised at the answers which Johnson sometimes gave in moments of irritation, which, let me assure them, is exquisitely painful. But it must not be erroneously supposed that he was, in the smallest degree, careless concerning any work which he undertook, or that he was generally thus peevish. It will be seen that in the following year he had a very agreeable interview with Lord Marchmont, at his lordship's house, and this very afternoon he soon forgot any fretfulness, and fell into conversation as usual.
I mentioned a reflection having been thrown out against four Peers for having presumed to rise in opposition to the opinion of the twelve judges, in a cause in the House of Lords, as if that were indecent. JOHNSON : “Sir, there is no ground for censure. The Peers are judges themselves, and supposing them really to be of a different opinion, they might from duty be in opposition to the judges, who were there only to be consulted.”
In this observation I fully concurred with him ; for, unquestionably, all the Peers are vested with the highest judicial powers, and when they are confident that they understand a cause, are not obliged—nay, ought not—to acquiesce in the opinion of the ordinary law judges, or even in that of those who, from their studies and experience, are called the law lords. I consider the Peers in general as I do a jury, who ought to listen with respectful attention to the sages of the law; but if, after hearing them, they have a firm opinion of their own, are bound as honest men to decide accordingly. Nor is it so difficult for them to understand even law questions, as is generally thought, provided they will bestow sufficient attention upon them. This observation was made by my honoured relation the late Lord Cathcart, who had spent his life in camps and courts ; yet he assured me that he could form