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“ Dear knight of Plympton (1), teach me how
And smile serene as thine,
And calmly drink my wine.
“ Thou say'st not only skill is gain'd,
By studious invitation ;
By constant meditation.
Thy art of pleasing teach me, Garrick,
A second time read o'er ;
And charm us thirty more.
In terms select and terse;
And Beauclerk to converse.
« Let Johnson teach me how to place
From him I'll learn to write ;
Grow, like himself, polite."
313. Scepticism. Talking on the subject of scepticism, he said,
" The eyes of the mind are like the eyes of the body ; they can see only at such a distance : but because we cannot see beyond this point, is there nothing beyond it?"
344. Want of Memory. Talking of the want of memory, he said, “ No, Sir, it
(1) [Sir Joshua Reynolds was born at Plympton in Devon.]
(2) (A humorous attempt of Garrick's to read one of Cumberland's odes backwards. See Boswell, vol. iii. p. 408. — C.]
is not true: in general every person has an equal capacity for reminiscence, and for one thing as well as another, otherwise it would be like a person complaining that he could hold silver in his hand, but could not hold copper.”
345. Genius. “ No, Sir,” he once said, “ people are not born with a particular genius for particular employments or studies, for it would be like saying that a man could see a great way east, but could not west. It is good sense applied with diligence to what was at first a mere accident, and which, by great application, grew to be called, by the generality of mankind, a particular genius.”
346. Imagination. Some person advanced, that a lively imagination disqualified the mind from fixing steadily upon objects which required serious and minute investigation. JOHNSON. “ It is true, Sir, a vivacious quick imagination does sometimes give a confused idea of things, and which do not fix deep, though, at the same time, he has a capacity to fix them in his memory, if he would endeavour at it. It being like a man that, when he is running, does not make observations on what he meets with, and consequently is not impressed by them; but he has, nevertheless, the power of stopping and informing himself.”
347. Conscience and Shame. A gentleman was mentioning it as a remark of an acquaintance of his, “ that he never knew but one person that was completely wicked.” Johnson. “ Sir, I don't know what you mean by a person completely wicked.” GENTLEMAN. Why, any one that has entirely got rid of all shame.” Johnson. “ How is he, then, completely wicked ? He must get rid, too, of all conscience.” GENTLEMAN. « I think conscience and shame the same thing.” Johnson. “I am surprised to hear you say so; they spring from two different sources,
and are distinct perceptions : one respects this world, the other the next." A Lady. “I think, however, that a person who has got rid of shame is in a fair way to get rid of conscience.” Johnson. “ Yes, 'tis a part of the way, I grant; but there are degrees at which men stop, some for the fear of men, some for the fear of God : shame arises from the fear of men, conscience from the fear of God.”
348. Bennet Langton. Dr. Johnson seemed to delight in drawing characters; and when he did so con amore, delighted every one that heard him. Indeed, I cannot say I ever heard him draw any con odio, though he professed himself to be, or at least to love, a good hater. But I have remarked that his dislike of any one seldom prompted him to say much more than that the fellow is a blockhead, a poor creature, or some such epithet. I shall never forget the exalted character he drew of his friend Mr. Langton, nor with what energy, what fond delight, he expatiated in his praise, giving him every excellence that nature could bestow, and every perfection that humanity could acquire. (') A literary lady was present, Miss Hannah More, who perhaps inspired him with an unusual ardour to shine, which indeed he did with redoubled lustre, deserving himself the praises he bestowed : not but I have often heard him speak in terms equally high of Mr. Langton, though more concisely expressed.
319. Mrs. Thrale. On the praises of Mrs. Thrale he used to dwell with a peculiar delight, a paternal fondness, expressive of conscious exultation in being so intimately acquainted with her. One day, in speaking of her to Mr. Harris, author of “ Hermes,” and expatiating on her various perfections,the solidity of her virtues, the brilliancy of her wit, and the strength of her understanding, &c. — he quoted some
(1) [See Boswell, vol. viii. p. 279. — C.]
lines (a stanza, I believe, but from what author I know not), with which he concluded his most eloquent eulogium, and of these I retained but the two last lines ():
« Virtues — of such a generous kind,
Good in the last recesses of the mind."
350. Johnson's Benevolence. It will doubtless appear highly paradoxical to the generality of the world to say, that few men, in his ordinary disposition, or common frame of mind, could be more inoffensive than Dr. Johnson ; yet surely those who knew his uniform benevolence, and its actuating principles steady virtue, and true holiness — will readily agree with me, that peace and good-will towards man were the natural emanations of his heart.
I shall never forgot the impression I felt in Dr. Johnson's favour, the first time I was in his company, on his saying, that as he returned to his lodgings, at one or two o'clock in the morning, he often saw poor children asleep on thresholds and stalls, and that he used to put pennies into their hands to buy them a breakfast. (*)
351. Sunday. He always carried a religious treatise in his pocket on a Sunday, and he used to encourage me to relate to him the particular parts of Scripture I did not understand, and to write them down as they occurred to me in reading the Bible.
352. Johnson's Recitation. When repeating to me one day Grainger's “ Ode on Solitude,” I shall never forget the concordance of the sound of his voice with the grandeur of those images; nor, indeed, the gothic dignity of his aspect, his look
(1) Being so particularly engaged as not to be able to attend to them sufficie ently. – Miss REYNOLDS. (2) [And this at a time when he himself was living on pennies. — C.]
and manner, when repeating sublime passages. But what was very remarkable, though his cadence in reading poetry was so judiciously emphatical as to give additional force to the words uttered, yet in reading prose, particularly
or familiar subjects, narrations, essays, letters, &c., nothing could be more injudicious than his manner, beginning every period with a pompous accent, and reading it with a whine, or with a kind of spasmodic struggle for utterance; and this, not from any natural infirmity, but from a strange singularity, in reading on, in one breath, as if he had made a resolution not to respire till he had closed the sentence.
353. Johnson's Gesticulations. I believe no one has described his extraordinary gestures or antics (') with his hands and feet, particularly when passing over the threshold of a door, or rather before he would venture to pass through any doorway. On entering Sir Joshua's house with poor Mrs. Williams, a blind lady who lived with him, he would quit her hand, or else whirl her about on the steps as he whirled and twisted about to perform his gesticulations; and as soon as he had finished, he would give a sudden spring, and make such an extensive stride over the threshold, as if he was trying for a wager how far he could stride, Mrs. Williams standing groping about outside the door, unless the servant took hold of her hand to conduct her in, leaving Dr. Johnson to perform at the parlour door much the same exercise over again.
But it was not only at the entrance of a door that he exhibited such strange manæuvres, but across a room or in the street with company, he has stopped on a sudden, as if he had recollected his task, and began to perform it there, gathering a mob round him; and when he had finished would basten to his companion (who probably had walked
(1) (Mr. Boswell, frequently, and Mr. Whyte, have described his gestures very strikingly, though not quite in so inuch detail as Miss Reynolds. Mr. Boswell's descriptions she must have seen, — C.]