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Anne's reign, he observed, " I think Dr. Arbuthnot the first man among them. He was the most universal genius, being an excellent physician, a man of deep learning, and a man of much humour. Mr. Addison was, to be sure, a great man; his learning was not profound, but his morality, his humour, and his elegance of writing, set him very high.”
He enlarged very convincingly upon the excellence of rhyme over blank verse in English poetry. Mr. Boswell mentioned to him that Dr. Adam Smith, in his Lectures upon Composition, when he studied under him in the College of Glasgow, had maintained the same opinion strenuously, and Mr. B. repeated some of his arguments. Johnson said, “Sir, I was once in company with Smith, and we did not take to each other; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him.”
Mr. B. mentioned Dr. Adam Smith's book on " The Wealth of Nations," which was just published; and that Sir John Pringle had observed to him, that Dr. Smith, who had never been in trade, could not be expected to write well on that subject any more than a lawyer upon physic. Johnson said, “ He is mistaken, sir ; a man who has never been engaged in trade him. self, may undoubtedly write well upon trade, and there is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does. As to mere wealth, that is to say, money, it is clear that one nation, or one individual, cannot increase its store but by making another poorer; but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation
of the peculiar advantages of different countries, A merchant seldom thinks but of his own particular trade. To write a good book upon it, a man must have extensive views. It is not necessary to have practised, to write well upon a subject."
Law was mentioned as a subject on which no man could write well without practice. John
Why, sir, in England, where so much money is to be got by the practice of the law, most of our writers upon it have been in practice; though Blackstone had not been much in practice when he published his · Commentaries.' But upon the Continent, the great writers on law have not all been in practice: Grotius indeed was; but Puffendorf was not; Burlamaqui was not.”
Sir Thomas Robinson, sitting with Johnson one day, observed, that the King of Prussia valued himself upon three things: upon being a hero, a musician, and an author. " Pretty well, sir (said Johnson), for one man. As to his being an author, I have not looked at his poetry; but his prose
stuff. He writes just as you might suppose Voltaire's footboy to do, who has been his amanuertsis. He has such parts as the valet might have, and about as much of the colouring of the style as might be got by transcribing his work.”
The ballad of Hardyknute (he said) had no great merit if it were really ancient. People talk of nature; but mere obvious nature may be exhibited with
of mind." Johnson thought the poems published as translations from Ossian had so little merit, that he
said, “ Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it." Johnson had all along denied their authenticity; and, what was still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no merit. The subject having been introduced by Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr. Johnson whether he thought any mau of a modern age could have written such poems? Johnson replied, “ Yes, sir, many men, many women, and many children.” Johnson at this time did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a dissertation, not only defending their anthenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr. Fordyce's having suggested the topic, and said, “ I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains: sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book, when the author is concealed behind the door." The poem of Fingal, he said, was a mere unconnected rhapsody, a tiresome repetition of the same images. " In vain shall we look for the lucidus ordo, where there is neither end nor object, design nor moral, nec certa recurrit imago.
He much commended “ Law's Serious Call,” which he said was the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language. “ Law (said he) feil latterly into the reveries of Jacob Behmen, whom Law alleged to have been somewhat in the same state with St. Paul, and to have seen unutterable things. Were it even so (said Johnson), Jacob would have resembled St. Paul still more, by not attempting to utter them.”
Of Dr. Priestley's theological works, he remarked, that they tended to unsettle every thing, and yet settled nothing.
The conversation turning on critical subjects, Johnson said, “ Bayes, in. The Rehearsal,' is a
mighty silly character. If it was intended to be • like a particular man, it could only be diverting
while that man was remembered; but I question whether it was meant for Dryden, as has been reported; for we know some of the passages said to be ridiculed were written since the Rehearsal;' at least a passage mentioned in the Preface is of a later date,” Mr. B. maintained that it had merit as a general satire on the selfimportance of dramatic authors. But even in this light he held it very cheap.
He seemed to take a pleasure in speaking in his own style; for sometimes when he had carelessly missed it, he would repeat the thought translated into it. Talking of the comedy of the “ Rehearsal,” he said, “ it has not wit enough to keep it sweet. This was easy; he therefore caught himself, and pronounced a more rounded sentence: “ It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.”
Hawkesworth's compilation of the voyages to the South Sea being mentioned, Johnson said, “ Sir, if you talk of it as a subject of commerce, it will be gainful; if as a book that is to increase human knowledge, I believe there will not be much of that. Hawkesworth can tell only what the voyagers have told him; and they have found very little, only one new animal, I think,”-Boswell. " But many insects, sir." --Johnson. “Why, sir, as to insects, Ray reckons of British
insects twenty thousand species. They might have staid at home and discovered enough in that way."
The casual mention of biography led to the mention of Dr. John Campbell, who had written a considerable part of the “ Biographia Britannica." Johnson, though he valued him highly, was of opinion that there was not so much in his great work, “ A Political Survey of Great Britain,” as the world had been taught to expect; and had formerly said to Mr. Boswell, that he believed Campbell's disappointment, on account of the bad success of that work, had killed him. He now again observed of it, “ That work was his death.” Mr. Warton, who was present, not adverting to his meaning, answered, “ I believe so; from the great attention he bestowed on it." Johnson. Nay, sir, he died of want of attention, if he died at all by that book.”
Again recurring to biography, Johnson said, “ It is rarely well executed. They only who live with a man can write his life with any genuine exactness and discrimination; and few people who have lived with a man know what to remark about him. The chaplain of a late bishop, whom I
was to assist in writing some memoirs of his lordship, could tell me scarcely any thing."
A gentleman said, Mr. Robert Dodsley's life should be written, as he had been so much connected with the wits of his time, and by his literary merits had raised himself from the station of a footman. Mr. Warton observed, that he had published a little volume under the title of “ The Muse in Livery.". Johnson. “ I doubt whether Dodsley's brother would thank a man who should