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On Sunday, April 20., being Easter-day, after attending solemn service at St. Paul's, I came to Dr. Johnson, and found Mr. Lowe, the painter, sitting with him. Mr. Lowe mentioned the great number of new buildings of late in London, yet that Dr. Johnson had observed, that the number of inhabitants was not increased. JOHNSON. 66 Why, Sir, the bills of mortality prove that no more people die now than formerly; so it is plain no more live. The register of births proves nothing, for not one-tenth of the people of London are born there." Boswell. “I believe, Sir, a great many of the children born in London die early." JOHNSON. "Why, yes, Sir." BOSWELL." But those who do live are as stout and strong people as any. Dr. Price says, they must be naturally strong to get through."
JOHNSON. "That is system, Sir. A great traveller observes, that it is said there are no weak or deformed people among the Indians; but he, with much sagacity, assigns the reason of this, which is, that the hardship of their life as hunters and fishers does not allow weak or diseased children to grow up. Now, had I been an Indian, I must have died early; my eyes would not have served me to get food. I, indeed, now could fish, give me English tackle; but had I been an Indian, I must have starved, or they would have knocked me on the head, when they saw I could do nothing." BosWELL. "Perhaps, they would have taken care of you; we are told they are fond of oratory, — you Iwould have talked to them." JOHNSON. " Nay, Sir, I should not have lived long enough to be fit to talk; I should have been dead before I was ten years old. Depend upon it, Sir, a savage, when he is hungry, will not carry about with him a looby of nine years old, who cannot help himself. They have no affection, Sir." BOSWELL. "I believe natural affection, of which we hear so much, is very small." JOHNSON. 66 Sir, natural affection is nothing; but affection from principle and established duty is sometimes wonderfully strong." Lowe. "A hen, Sir, will feed her chickens in preference to herself." JOHNSON." But we don't know that the hen is hungry; let the hen be fairly hungry, and I'll warrant she 'll peck the corn herself. A cock, I believe, will feed hens instead of himself: but we don't know that the cock is hungry." BosWELL. "And that, Sir, is not from affection, but
gallantry. But some of the Indians have affection." JOHNSON. "Sir, that they help some of their children is plain; for some of them live, which they could not do without being helped."
I dined with him; the company were Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Desmoulins, and Mr. Lowe. He seemed not to be well, talked little, grew drowsy soon after dinner, and retired; upon which I went away.
Having next day gone to Mr. Burke's seat in the country, from whence I was recalled by an express, that a near relation of mine had killed his antagonist in a duel, and was himself dangerously wounded, I saw little of Dr. Johnson till Monday, April 28, when I spent a considerable part of the day with him, and introduced the subject which then chiefly occupied my mind. JOHNSON. "I do not see, Sir, that fighting is absolutely forbidden in Scripture; I see revenge forbidden, but not self-defence." BosWELL. "The quakers say it is. Unto him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer him also the other.”” JOHNSON. "But stay, Sir; the text is meant only to have the effect of moderating passion; it is plain that we are not to take it in a literal sense. We see this from the context, where there are other recommendations; which, I warrant you, the quaker will not take literally; as, for instance, From him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.' Let a man whose credit is bad come to a quaker, and say, 'Well, Sir, lend me a hundred pounds;' he'll find him as unwilling as any other man. No, Sir; a man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into
his house. (1) So, in 1745, my friend, Tom Cumming, the quaker, said he would not fight, but he would drive an ammunition cart; and we know that the quakers have sent flannel waistcoats to our soldiers, to enable them to fight better." Boswell. "When a man is the aggressor, and by ill usage forces on a duel in which he is killed, have we not little ground to hope that he is gone to a state of happiness?" JOHNSON. "Sir, we are not to judge determinately of the state in which a man leaves this life. He may in a moment have repented effectually, and it is possible may have been accepted of God. There is in Camden's Remains' an epitaph upon a very wicked man, who was killed by a fall from his horse, in which he is supposed to say,
Between the stirrup and the ground,
(1) I think it necessary to caution my readers against concluding that, in this or any other conversation of Dr. Johnson, they have his serious and deliberate opinion on the subject of duelling. In my Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, third edit. p. 386., it appears that he made this frank confession : "Nobody, at times, talks more laxly than I do;" and ibid. p. 231., "He fairly owned he could not explain the rationality of duelling." We may, therefore, infer, that he could not think that justifiable, which seems so inconsistent with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, it must be confessed, that, from the prevalent notions of honour, a gentleman who receives a challenge is reduced to a dreadful alternative. A remarkable instance of this is furnished by a clause in the will of the late Colonel Thomas, of the Guards, written the night before he fell in a duel, September 3. 1783: "In the first place, I commit my soul to Almighty God, in hopes of his mercy and pardon for the irreligious step I now (in compliance with the unwarrantable customs of this wicked world) put myself under the necessity of taking."-B. - [Colonel Thomas was shot in a duel by Colonel Cosmo Gordon. See Gent. Mag. 1783, p. 801.]
(2) In repeating this epitaph, Johnson improved it. The original runs thus:
BOSWELL. "Is not the expression in the burialservice, in the sure and certain hope of a blessed resurrection' - too strong to be used indiscriminately, and, indeed, sometimes when those over whose bodies it is said have been notoriously profane?" JOHNSON. "It is sure and certain hope, Sir, not belief." I did not insist further; but cannot help thinking that less positive words would be more proper. (1)
Talking of a man who was grown very fat, so as to be incommoded with corpulency, he said, "He eats too much, Sir." Boswell. "I don't know, Sir; you will see one man fat, who eats moderately, and another lean, who eats a great deal." JOHNson.
Nay, Sir, whatever may be the quantity that a man eats, it is plain that if he is too fat, he has eaten more than he should have done. One man may have a digestion that consumes food better than common; but it is certain that solidity is increased by putting something to it." BOSWELL. "But may not solids swell and be distended? JOHNSON. "Yes, Sir, they may swell and be distended; but that is not fat."
(1) Upon this objection the Rev. Mr. Ralph Churton, fellow of Brazennose College, Oxford, has favoured me with the following satisfactory observation:
"The passage in the burial-service does not mean the resurrection of the person interred, but the general resurrection; it is in sure and certain hope of the resurrection; not his resurrection. Where the deceased is really spoken of, the expression is very different, as our hope is this our brother doth,' [rest in Christ]; a mode of speech consistent with every thing but absolute certainty that the person departed doth not rest in Christ, which no one can be assured of without immediate revelation from Heaven. In the first of these places also, 'eternal life' does not necessarily mean eternity of bliss, but merely the eternity of the state, whether in happiness or in misery, to ensue upon the resurrection; which is probably the sense of the life everlasting,' in the Apostles' Creed. See Wheatly and Bennet on the Common Prayer."