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pity the object of it, and are taught to moderate that passion.” My record upon this occasion does great injustice to Johnson's expression, which was so forcible and brilliant, that Mr. Cradock whispered me, “O that his words were written in a book !"
I observed the great defect of the tragedy of “ Othello” was, that it had not a moral ; for that no man could resist the circumstances of suspicion which were artfully suggested to Othello's mind. JOHNSON : “ In the first place, Sir, we learn from Othello this very useful moral, not to make an unequal match ; in the second place, we learn not to yield too readily to suspicion. The handkerchief is merely a trick, though a very pretty trick ; but there are no other circumstances of reasonable suspicion, except what is related by Iago of Cassio's warm expressions concerning Desdemona in his sleep, and that depended entirely upon the assertion of one man. No, Sir, I think Othello has more moral than almost any play.”
Talking of a periurious gentleman of our acquaintance, Johnson said, Sir, he is narrow, not so much from avarice, as from impotence to spend his money. He cannot find in his heart to pour out a bottle of wine : but he would not much care if it should sour.”
He said he wished to see John Dennis's critical works collected. Davies said they would not sell. Dr. Johnson seemed to think otherwise.
Davies said of a well-known dramatic author, that" he lived upon potted stories, and that he made his way as Hannibal did, by vinegar ; having begun by attacking people; particularly the players."
He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him the highest compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story.
Johnson and I supped this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one of the Scotch judges, with the title of Lord Dunsinan, and my very worthy friend, Sir William Forbes,' of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question whether drinking improved conversation and benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained it did. JOHNSON : “No, Sir, before dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who are conscious of their inferiority have the modesty not to talk. When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous : but he is not improved : he is only not sensible of his defects.” Sir Joshua said the Doctor was talking of the effects of excess in wine ; but that a moderate glass enlivened the mind, by giving a proper circulation to the blood. “I am,” said he, “in very good spirits, when I get up in the morning. By dinner-time I am exhausted; wine puts me in the same state as when I got up; and I am sure that moderate drinking makes people talk better.” JOHNSON : “No, Sir, wine gives not light, gay, ideal hilarity ; but tumultuous, noisy, clamorous merriment. I have heard none of those drunken-nay, drunken is a coarse word-none of those vinous flights." Sir JOSHUA: “Because you have sat by, quite sober, and felt an envy of the happiness of those who were drinking.” JOHNSON : “Perhaps contempt. And, Sir, it is not necessary to be drunk one's self to relish the wit of drunkenness. Do we not judge of the drunken wit, and of the dialogue between Iago and Cassio, the most excellent in its kind, when we are quite sober ? Wit is wit, by whatever means it is produced ; and, if good, will appear so at all times. I admit that the spirits are raised by drinking, as by the common participation of any pleasure : cock-fighting or bear-baiting will raise the spirits of a company as drinking does, though surely they will not improve conversation. I also admit, that there are some sluggish men who are improved by drinking ; as there are fruits which are not good till they are rotten. There are such men, but they are medlars. I indeed allow that there have been a very few men of talents who were improved by drinking ; but I maintain that I am right as to the effects of drinking in general: and let it be considered, that there is no position, however false in its universality, which is not true of some particular man." Sir William Forbes said, “Might not a man warmed with wine be like a bottle of beer, which is made brisker by being set before the fire ?” “Nay,” said Johnson laughing, “I cannot answer that: that is too much for me.”
1 Sir W. Forbes was the founder, in conjunction with Sir J. H. Blair, of the first banking establishment in Edinburgh. He was an early member of the celebrated Literary Club, of which Dr. Jolinson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Garrick, and Burke, were distinguished associates. He was born at Pitsligo in 1739, and died in 1806.-ED.
I observed that wine did some people harm, by inflaming, confusing, and irritating their minds ; but that the experience of mankind had declared in favour of moderate drinking. JOHNSON: "Sir, I do not say it is wrong to produce self-complacency by drinking; I only deny that it improves the mind. When I drank wine I scorned to drink it when in company. I have drunk many a bottle by myself; in the first place, because I had need of it to raise my spirits ; in the second place, because I would have nobody to witness its effects upon me.”
He told us, “almost all his Ramblers were written just as they were wanted for the press ; that he sent a certain portion of the copy of an essay, and wrote the remainder, while the former part of it was printing. When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was sure it would be done."
He said, that for general improvement a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention ; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.” He told us he read Fielding's “ Amelia” through without stopping.' He said, “If a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He may perhaps not feel again the inclination."
Sir Joshua mentioned Mr. Cumberland's Odes, which were just published. JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, they would have been thought as good as odes commonly are, if Cumberland had not put his name to them; but a name immediately draws censure, unless it be a name that bears down everything before it. Nay, Cumberland has made his odes subsidiary to the fame of another man.” They might have run well enough by themselves; but he has not only loaded them with a name, but has made them carry double.”
We talked of the Reviews, and Dr. Johnson spoke of them as he did at Thrale’s. Sir Joshua said, what I have often thought, that he wondered to find so much good writing employed in them, when the authors were to remain unknown, and so could not have the motive of fame. JOHNSON : “Nay, Sir, those who write in them write well in order to be paid well.”
Soon after this day he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I had never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the opportunity of visiting it, while Johnson was there. Having written to him, I received the following answer :
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ “DEAR SIR,
Why do you talk of neglect? When did I neglect you? If you will come to Bath we shall all be glad to see you. Come, therefore, as soon as you can.
“But I have a little business for you at London. Bid Francis look in the paper drawer of the chest of drawers in my bed-chamber, for two cases; one for the Attorney-General, and one for the Solicitor-General. They lie, I think, at the top of my papers; otherwise they are somewhere else, and will give me more trouble.
“Please to write to me immediately, if they can be found. Make my compliments to all our friends round the world, and to Mrs. Williams at home.
“I am, Sir, yours, &c.,
“SAM. JOHNSON.” “Search for the papers as soon as you can, that, if it is necessary, I may write to you again before you come down.”
1 We have here an involuntary testimony to the excellence of this admirable writer, to whom we have seen that Dr. Johnson directly allowed so little merit.-BOSWELL.
2 Mr. Romney, the painter, who has now deservedly established a high reputation, BOSWELL.
BOSWELL VISITS BATI-ADDISON AND EUSTACE BUDGELL-DR. BLAIR-JOHNSON'S CON
VERSATION AND OPINIONS ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS-EXCURSION TO BRISTOL-CHATTERTON'S FORGERY-RETURN TO LONDON - MADAME SEVIGNE — SHARPE'S LETTERS ON ITALY THE INFIDEL-JOHNSON'S OPINIONS ON LUXURY-ON CONVERSATION-ON THE BIBLE -ON THE LIBERTY OF THE PULPIT—MEETING BETWEEN JOHNSON AND THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES-THEIR AFTER-DINNER CONVERSATION-GARRICK OWEN McSWINNEYCOLLEY CIBBER-HORACE's “ DIFFICILE EST PROPRIE COMMUNIA DICERE" - ELKANAH SETTLE, THE. “CITY POET"-JOHNSON'S IDEAS OF SCOTLAND-MR. WILKES AND THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL - MRS. KNOWLES, THE QUAKER LADY - JOHNSON EXPRESSES ITIS DELIGHT WITH MR. WILKES' COMPANY—THE FASCINATING BUT INFAMOUS MARGARET CAROLINE RUDD.
On the 26th of April I went to Bath; and, on my arrival at the
Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly during my stay. They were gone to the rooms ; but there was a kind note from Dr. Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening. I went to him directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we had by ourselves some hours of tea-drinking and talk.
I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few days that I was at Bath.
Of a person who differed from him in politics, he said, “In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in public life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong: that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that [-] acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced : but they have not come honestly by their conviction.”
It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even put on rouge :-JOHNSON :“She is better employed at her toilet than using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people's characters.”
He told us that“ Addison wrote Budgell's' papers in 'The Spectator;' at least mended them so much, that he made them almost his own; and that Draper, Tonson's partner, assured Mrs. Johnson, that the much admired Epilogue to “The Distressed Mother, which came out in Budgell's name, was in reality written by Addison.”
“The mode of government by one may be ill adapted to a small society, but is best for a great nation. The characteristic of our own government at present is imbecility. The magistrates dare not call the guards for fear of being hanged. The guards will not come for fear of being given up to the blind rage of popular juries."
Of the father of one of our friends, he observed, “He never clarified his notions, by filtrating them through other minds. He had a canal upon his estate, where at one place the bank was too low.—'I dug the canal deeper,' said he.”
He told me that “so long ago as 1748 he had read 'The Grave, a Poem,"? but did not like it much.” I differed from him ; for though it is not equal throughout, and is seldom elegantly correct, it abounds in solemn thought and poetical imagery beyond the common reach. The world has differed from him ; for the poem has passed through many editions, and is still much read by people of a serious cast of mind.
A literary lady of large fortune was mentioned, as one who did good · to many, but by no means “ by stealth ;” and instead of "blushing to
1 Eustace Budgell was born at Exeter in 1685, and was honoured with the friendship of Addison and other literary characters of his day. He wrote numerous papers in “ The Guardian," and other periodicals. One of his principal works was his “Memoirs of the Boyles.” He committed suicide in 1737.-ED.
2 I am sorry that there are no memoirs of the Reverend Robert Blair, the author of this poem. He was the representative of the ancient family of Blair, of Blair, in Ayrshire, but the estate had descended to a female, and afterwards passed to the son of her husband by another marriage. He was minister of the parish of Athelstaneford, where Mr. John Home was his successor; so that it may truly be called classic ground. His son, who is of the same name, and a man eminent for talents and learning, is now, with universal approbation, Solicitor-General of Scotland.-BOSWELL.
Since Boswell wrote, several memoirs of Mr. Blair have appeared. One will be found in the Popular Scottish Biography, by William Anderson, 1842.