« VorigeDoorgaan »
Strand, “I encourage this house,” said he, “ for the mistress of it is a good civil woman, and has not much business.”
“ Sir, I love the acquaintance of young people ; because, in the first place, I don't like to think myself growing old. In the next place, young acquaintances must last longest, if they do last; and then, Sir, young men have more virtue than old men; they have more generous sentiments in every respect. I love the young dogs of this age, they have more wit and humour and knowledge of life than we had (); but then the dogs are not so good scholars. Sir, in my early years I read very hard. It is a sad reflection, but a true one, that I knew almost as much at eighteen as I do now. (?) My judgment, to be sure, was not so good ; but, I hai. all the facts. I remember very well, when I was at Oxford, an old gentleman said to me, · Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come unto you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task.'"
This account of his reading, given by himself in plain words, sufficiently confirms what I have al
(1) The justice of this assertion may be doubted. Johnson was comparing men of such a rank and station as he now met, with the narrow, provincial, and inferior society in which his own youth was spent. - C.
(2) His great period of study was from the age of twelve to that of eighteen; as he told Mr. Langton, who gave me this information. — M. - He went to Oxford in his nineteenth year, and seems to have translated the Messiah when he had been there not quite three months. — C.
ready advanced upon the disputed question as to his application. It reconciles any seeming inconsistency in his way of talking upon it at different times ; and shows that idleness and reading hard were with him relative terms, the import of which, as used by him, must be gathered from a comparison with what scholars of different degrees of ardour and assiduity have been known to do. And let it be remembered, that he was now talking spontaneously, and expressing his genuine sentiments; whereas at other times he might be induced from his spirit of contradiction, or more properly from his love of argumentative contest, to speak lightly of his own application to study. It is pleasing to consider that the old gentleman's gloomy prophecy as to the irksomeness of books to men of an advanced age, which is too often fulfilled, was so far from being verified in Johnson, that his ardour for literature never failed, and his last writings had more ease and vivacity than any of his earlier productions.
He mentioned it to me now, for the first time, that he had been distressed by melancholy, and for that reason had been obliged to fly from study and meditation, to the dissipating variety of life. Against melancholy he recommended constant occupation of mind, a great deal of exercise, moderation in eating anu drinking, and especially to shun drinking at night. (1) He said melancholy people were apt to fly to intemperance for relief, but that it sunk them much deeper in misery. He observed, that labour
(1) See antè, Vol. I.
ing men, who work hard, and live sparingly, are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.
He again insisted on the duty of maintaining subordination of rank. “ Sir, I would no more deprive a nobleman of his respect, than of his money. I consider myself as acting a part in the great system of society, and I do to others as I would have them to do to me. I would behave to a nobleman as I should expect he would behave to me, were I a nobleman and he Sam. Johnson. Sir, there is one Mrs. Macaulay (1), in this town, a great republican. One day when I was at her house, I put on a very grave countenance, and said to her, · Madam, I am now become a convert to your way of thinking. I am convinced that all mankind are upon an equal footing; and to give you an unquestionable proof, Madam, that I am in earnest, here is a very sensible, civil, well-behaved fellow citizen, your footman; I desire that he may be allowed to sit down and dine with us.' I thus, Sir, shewed her the absurdity of the levelling doctrine. She has never liked me since. Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves. They would all have some people under them; why not then have some people above them ?" I mentioned a certain author (2) who disgusted me by his forwardness, and by shewing no deference to
(1) This “one Mrs. Macaulay” was the same personage, who afterwards made herself so much known as “the celebrated female historian.” See antè, Vol. I. p. 289. — C.
(2) Something of this kind has been imputed to Goldsmith.
noblemen into whose company he was admitted. Johnson. "
Suppose a shoemaker should claim an equality with him, as he does with a lord : how he would stare. Why, Sir, do you stare ? (says the shoemaker,) I do great service to society. 'Tis true, I am paid for doing it; but so are you Sir: and I am sorry to say it, better paid than I am, for doing something not so necessary. For mankind could do better without your books, than without my shoes.' Thus, Sir, there would be a perpetual struggle for precedence, were there no fixed invariable rules for the distinction of rank, which creates no jealousy, as it is allowed to be accidental.”
He said, Dr. Joseph Warton was a very agreeable man, and his “
Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope," a very pleasing book. I wondered that he delayed so long to give us the continuation of it JOHNSON. Why, Sir, I suppose he finds himself a little disappointed, in not having been able to persuade the world to be of his opinion as to Pope.”
We have now been favoured with the concluding volume, in which, to use a parliamentary expression, he has explained, so as not to appear quite so adverse to the opinion of the world, concerning Pope, as was at first thought; and we must all
that his work is a most valuable accession to English literature.
A writer of deserved eminence (1) being men
(1) It is not easy to say who was here meant. Murphy, wno was born poor, was distinguished for elegance of manners and conversation ; and Fielding, who could not have been spoken
tioned, Johnson said, “ Why, Sir, he is a man of good parts, but being originally poor, he has got a love of mean company, and low jocularity; a very bad thing, Sir. To laugh is good, as to talk is good. But you ought no more to think it enough if you laugh, than you are to think it enough if you
talk. You may laugh in as many ways as you talk; and surely every way of talking that is practised cannot be esteemed.”
I spoke of a Sir James Macdonald (1) as a young man of most distinguished merit, who united the highest reputation at Eton and Oxford, with the patriarchal spirit of a great Highland chieftain. I mentioned that Sir James had said to me, that he had never seen Mr. Johnson, but he had a great respect for him, though at the same time it was mixed with some degree of terror. Johnson. « Sir, if he were to be acquainted with me, it might lessen both.”
The mention of this gentleman led us to talk of the Western Islands of Scotland, to visit which he expressed a wish that then appeared to me a very
of as alive in 1763, was born to better prospects, though he kept low company; and had it been Goldsmith, Boswell would probably have had no scruple in naming him.-C. 1830. The neighbouring mention of the name of Warton, and the allusion to “ a fondness for low company," with which he has been often reproached (though Dr. Mant says unjustly), inclines me to suspect that he is the person meant. — C. 1835. [Will the editor allow us to suggest the name of Smollett ; who had left London for Italy, the month before this conversation occurs, and might naturally be talked of. Quart. Rev. 1831.]
(1) See post, March 27. 1772, and September 5. 1773. - C. [See also Mrs. Carter's Letters to Mrs. Montague, for a notice of this gentleman's premature death, vol. i. 316. 320.]