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Goldsmith, on which a lady (') on the other side of the table rose up and reached across to shake hands with her, expressing some desire of being better acquainted with her, it being the first time they had met; on which Dr. Johnson said, “ Thus the ancients, on the commencement of their friendships, used to sacrifice a beast betwixt them.”
Sir Joshua, I have often thought, never gave a more striking proof of his excellence in portrait-painting, than in giving dignity to Dr. Goldsmith's countenance, and yet preserving a strong likeness. But he drew after his mind, or rather his genius, if I may be allowed to make that distinction ; assimilating the one with his conversation, the other with his works.
Dr. Goldsmith's cast of countenance, and indeed his whole figure from head to foot, impressed every one at first sight with an idea of his being a low mechanic; particularly, I believe, a journeyman tailor. A little concurring instance of this I well remember. at Sir Joshua Reynolds', in company with some gentlemen and ladies, he was relating with great indignation an insult he had just received from some gentleman he had accidentally met (I think at a coffee-house). “The fellow,” he said, “ took me for a tailor !” on which all the party either laughed aloud or showed they suppressed a laugh.
Dr. Johnson seemed to have much more kindness for Goldsmith, than Goldsmith had for him. He always appeared to be overawed by Johnson, particularly when in company with people of any consequence, always as if impressed with some fear of disgrace; and, indeed, well he might. I have been witness to many mortifications he has suffered in Dr. Johnson's company : one day in particular, at Sir Joshua's table, a gentleman to whom he was talking his best stopped him, in the midst of his discourse, with “ Hush ! hush! Dr. Johnson is going to say something."
At another time, a gentleman who was sitting between
(1) Mrs. Cholmondeley, - Reynolds.
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Goldsmith, and with whom he had been disputing, remarked to another, loud enough for Goldsmith to hear him, “ That he had a fine time of it, between Ursa major and Ursa minor !” (')
330. Talking one's best. Mr. Baretti used to remark, with a smile, that Dr. Johnson always talked his best to the ladies. But, indeed, that was his general practice to all who would furnish him with a subject worthy of his discussion; for, what was very singular in him, he would rarely, if ever, begin any subject himself, but would sit silent () till something was particularly addressed to him, and if that happened to lead to any scientific or moral inquiry, his benevolence, I believe, more immediately incited him to expatiate on it for the edification of the ignorant than for any other motive whatever.
331. Punishment of Criminals. — Original Sin.
One day, on a lady's telling him that she had read Parnell's - Hermit” with dissatisfaction, for she could not help thinking that thieves and murderers, who were such immediate ministers from Heaven of good to man, did not deserve such punishments as our laws inflict, Dr. Johnson spoke such an eloquent oration, so deeply philosophical, as indeed afforded a most striking instance of the truth of Baretti's observation, but of which, to my great regret, I can give no corroborating proof, my memory furnishing me with nothing more than barely the general tendency of his arguments, which was to prove, that though it might be said that wicked men, as well as the
(1) [This is a striking instance of the easy fabrication of what are called anecdotes, and of how little even the best authorities can be relied on in such matters. The real anecdote was of Doctor Major and Doctor Minor, by no means so happy as the fabrication; and the title of Ursa Major was applied to Johnson by old Lord Auchinlech. From these two facts the pleasant fallacy quoted by Miss Reynolds was no doubt compounded. - C.]
(2) [“ Having taken the liberty to remark to Dr. Johnson, that he very often sat quite silent for a long time, even when in company with only a single frier he smiled and said, “It is very true, Sir : Tom Tyers described me the best. He once said to me, Sir, you are like a ghost : you never speak till you are spoken to.'” -- Boswell.]
good, were ministers of God, because in the moral sphere the good we enjoy and the evil we suffer are administered to us by man, yet, as Infinite Goodness could not inspire or influence man to act wickedly, but on the contrary, it was his divine property to produce good out of evil, and as man was endowed with free-will to act, or to refrain from acting wickedly, with knowledge of good and evil, with conscience to admonish and to direct him to choose the one and to reject the other, he was, therefore, as cri. minal in the sight of God and of man, and as deserving punishment for his evil deeds, as if no good had resulted from them.
And yet, though, to the best of my remembrance, this was the substance of Dr. Johnson's discourse in answer to the lady's observation, I am rather apprehensive that, in some respects, it may be thought inconsistent with his general assertations, that man was by nature much more inclined to evil than to good. But it would ill become me to expatiate on such a subject.
Yet, what can be said to reconcile his opinion of the natural tendency of the human heart to evil with his own zealous virtuous propensions ? Nothing, perhaps, at least by me, but that this opinion, I believe, was founded upon religious principles relating to original sin ; and I well remember that, when disputing with a person on this subject, who thought that nature, reason, and virtue were the constituent principles of humanity, he would say, “Nay, nay, if man is by nature prompted to act virtuously, all the divine precepts of the Gospel, all its denunciations, all the laws enacted by man to restrain man from evil, had been needless."
332. Sympathy. It is certain that he would scarcely allow any one to feel much for the distresses of others; or whatever he thought they might feel, he was very apt to impute to causes that did no honour to human nature. Indeed, I thought him rather too fond of Rochefoucault maxims.
333. Evil Propensions. The very strict watch he apparently kept over his mind seems to correspond with his thorough conviction of nature's evil propensions; but it might be as likely in consequence of his dread of those peculiar ones, whatever they were, which attended, or rather constituted, his mental malady, which I have observed, might probably have incited him so often to pray; and I impute it to the same cause, that he so frequently, with great earnestness, desired his intimate acquaintance to pray for him, apparently on very slight occasions of corporeal disorder.
334. Morbid Melancholy. An axiom of his was, that the pains and miseries incident to human life far outweighed its happiness and good. But much may be said in Dr. Johnson's justification, supposing this notion should not meet with universal approbation, he having, it is probable, imbibed it in the early part of his life when under the pressure of adverse fortune, and in every period of it under the still heavier pressure and more adverse influence of Nature herself ; for I have often heard him lament that he inherited from his father a morbid disposition both of body and of mind — an oppressive melancholy which robbed him of the common enjoyments of life. (')
Indeed, he seemed to struggle almost incessantly with some mental evil, and often, by the expression of his countenance and the motion of his lips, appeared to be offering up some ejaculation to Heaven to remove it. But in Lent, or near the approach of any great festival, he would generally retire from the company to a corner of the room, but most commonly behind a windowcurtain, to pray, and with such energy, and in so loud a whisper, that every word was heard distinctly, particularly the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed, with which he constantly concluded his devotions.
(1) [This last paragraph was originally written, “ terrifying melancholy, which he was sometimes apprehensive bordered on insanity.” This Miss Reynolds softened into the remark as it stands above. — C.]
times some words would emphatically escape him in his usual tone of voice.
Probably his studious attention to the secret workings of his peculiar mental infirmity, together with his experience of Divine assistance co-operating with his reasoning faculties, to repel its force, may have proved in the highest degree conducive to the exaltation of his piety, and the pre-eminence of his wisdom. And I think it equally probable, that all his natural defects were conducive to that end ; for being so peculiarly debarred from the enjoyment of those amusements which the eye and the ear afford, doubtless he sought more assiduously for those gratifications which scientific pursuits or philosophic meditation bestow.
335. Painting and Music. These defects sufficiently account for his insensibility of the charms of music and of painting, being utterly incapable of receiving any delight from the one or the other, particularly from painting, his sight being more deficient than his hearing.
Of the superficies of the fine arts, or visible objects of taste, he could have had but an imperfect idea ; but as to the invisible principles of a natural good taste, doubtless he was possessed of these in the most eminent degree, and I should have thought it a strange inconsistency indeed in his character, had he really wanted a taste for music; but as a proof that he did not, I think I had need only mention, that he was remarkably fond of Dr. Burney's “ History of Music ('),” and that he said it showed that the author understood the philosophy of music better than any man that ever wrote on that subject. It is certain that, when in the
of connoisseurs, whose conversation has turned chiefly upon the merits of the attractive charms of painting, perhaps of pictures that
(1) [Miss Reynolds will hardly convince any one that Dr. Johnson was fond of music by proving that he was fond of his friend Dr. Burney's History of Music.” The truth is, he held both painting and music in great contempt, because his organs afforded him no adequate perception of either.-C.]