"As the soft plume gives swiftness to the dart,
Good breeding sends the satire to the heart." 1

On Saturday, June 12, there drank tea with us at Dr. Adams's, Mr. John Henderson, student of Pembroke College, celebrated for his wonderful acquirements in alchýmy, judicial astrology, and other abstruse and curious learning--and the Reverend Herbert Croft, who, I am afraid, was somewhat mortified by Dr. Johnson's not being highly pleased with some "Family Discourses" which he had printed; they were in too familiar a style to be approved of by so manly a mind. I have no note of this evening's conversation, except a single fragment. When I mentioned Thomas Lord Lyttelton's vision, the prediction of the time of his death, and its exact fulfilment :-JOHNSON. "It is the most extraordinary thing that has happened in my day. I heard it with my own ears, from his uncle, Lord Westcote. I am so glad to have every evidence of the spiritual world, that I am willing to believe it." Dr. ADAMS. "You have evidence enongh; good evidence, which needs not such support." JOHNSON. "I like to have more."

Mr. Henderson, with whom I had sauntered in the venerable walks of Merton College, and found him a very learned and pious man, supped with us. Dr. Johnson surprised him not a little, by acknowledging with a look of horror, that he was much oppressed by the fear of death. The amiable Dr. Adams suggested that GOD was infinitely good:-JOHNSON. "That he is infinitely good, as far as the perfection of his own nature will allow, I certainly believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole, that individuals should be punished. As to an individual, therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall

1 The feather does not give swiftness, but only serves to guide the arrow; so that Young's allusion is incorrect as well as Mr. Boswell's.-C.

2 See an account of him, in a sermon by the Rev. Mr. Agutter.-B. He was a young man of very extraordinary abilities, but of strange habits and manners. He was supposed to be well read in books which no one else reads. He took his bachelor's degree, but never got out into the world, having died in college in 1788.-HALL. See Hannah More's Life, vol. 1. p. 194, by which it appears that Henderson was sent to college by Dean Tucker, aided by a subscription -0.

A correct account of Lord Lyttelton's supposed Vision may be found in Nask's "History of Worcestershire."-M.

be damned." (Looking dismally). Dr. ADAMS. "What do you mean by damned?" JOHNSON (passionately and loudly). "Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly." Dr. ADAMS. "I don't believe that doctrine." JOHNSON. "Hold, Sir, do you believe that some will be punished at all ?" Dr. ADAMS. "Being excluded from Heaven will be a punishment; yet there may be no great positive suffering." JOHNSON. "Well, Sir; but, if you admit any degree of punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness simply considered; for infinite goodness would inflict no punishment whatever. There is not infinite goodness physically considered: morally there is." BOSWELL. "But may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of death ?" JOHNSON. "A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair." Mrs. ADAMS. "You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer." JOHNSON. "Madam, I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some on his right hand and some on his left."—He was in gloomy agitation, and said, "I'll have no more on't."-If what has now been stated should be urged by the enemies of Christianity, as if its influence on the mind were not benignant, let it be remembered, that Johnson's temperament was melancholy, of which such direful apprehensions of futurity are often a common effect. We shall presently see, that when he approached nearer to his awful change, his mind became tranquil, and he exhibited as much fortitude as becomes a thinking man in that situation.

From the subject of death we passed to discourse of life, whether it was upon the whole more happy or miserable. Johnson was decidedly for the balance of misery in confirmation of which I maintained that no man would choose to lead over again the life which he had experienced. Johnson acceded to that opinion in the strongest terms. This is an inquiry often made; and its being a subject of disquisition is a proof that much misery presses upon human feelings; for those who are conscious of a felicity of existence would never hesitate to accept of a repetition of it. I have met with very few who would. I have heard Mr. Burke make use of a

very ingenious and plausible argument on this subject: "Every man," said he, "would lead his life over again; for every man is willing to go on and take an addition to his life, which, as he grows older, he has no reason to think will be better, or even so good as what has preceded." I imagine, however, the truth is that there is a deceitful hope that the next part of life will be free from the pains, and anxieties, and sorrows, which we have already felt. We are for wise purposes "Condemned to Hope's delusive mine," as Johnson finely says; and I may also quote the celebrated lines of Dryden, equally philosophical and poetical:

"When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat,
Yet, fool'd with hope, men favour the deceit―
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay;
To-morrow's falser than the former day;
Lies worse; and, while it says we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again;
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain;

And from the dregs of life think to receive

What the first sprightly running could not give."

[ocr errors]

It was observed to Dr. Johnson, that it seemed strange that he, who has so often delighted his company by his lively and brilliant conversation, should say he was miserable. JOHNSON. "Alas! it is all outside; I may be cracking my joke, and cursing the sun. Sun, how I hate thy beams!" I knew not well what to think of this declaration; whether to hold it as a genuine picture of his mind,* or as the effect of his persuading himself contrary to fact, that the position which he had assumed as to human unhappiness was true. We may apply to him a sentence in Mr. Greville's "Maxims, Characters, and Reflections ;" a book which is entitled to much more praise than it has received: "Aristarchus is charming; how full of


1 Aurengzebe, Act. iv. Scene 1.

2 Yet there is no doubt that a man may appear very gay in company, who is sad at heart. His merriment is like the sound of drums and trumpets in a battle, to drown the groans of the wounded and dying.

Fulke Greville, Esq. of Welberry, in Wilts, the husband of the authoress of the “Ode to Indifferent 3."-MARKLAND.

knowledge, of sense, of sentiment. You get him with difficulty to your supper; and after having delighted everybody and himself for a few hours, he is obliged to return home; he is finishing his treatise, to prove that unhappiness is the portion of man."

99 1

1 Here followed a very long note, or rather dissertation, by the Rev. Mr. Churton, on the subject of Johnson's opinion of the misery of human life.-C.



Milton-Anonymous Writings-Pope-David Lewis-Sackville Parker-Cook's Voyages-Bar risters-Lord Hale-Attornies-Puns-" Tommy Townshend "-"The Rehearsal "-Painting -Cross Readings-Last Dinner at the Club-Italy-Free Will-Miss Seward-Lord Chesterfield-Carleton's Memoirs-Intuition and Sagacity-Lord Thurlow-Country Life-Mrs. Piozzi's" Anecdotes."

ON Sunday, 13th of June, our philosopher was calm at breakfast. There was something exceedingly pleasing in our leading a college life, without restraint and with superior elegance, in consequence of our living in the master's house, and having the company of ladies.

Mrs. Kennicott related, in his presence, a lively saying of Dr. Johnson to Miss Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet who had written "Paradise Lost," should write such poor sonnets: "Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock, but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones."

We talked of the casuistical question, "Whether it was allowable at any time to depart from truth?" JOHNSON. "The general rule is, that truth should never be violated, because it is of the utmost importance to the comfort of life that we should have a full security by mutual faith; and occasional inconveniences should be willingly suffered, that we may preserve it. There must, however, be some exceptions. If, for instance, a murderer should ask you which way a man is gone, you may tell him what is not true, because you are under a previous obligation not to betray a man to a murderer." BOSWELL " 'Supposing the person who wrote Junius were asked whether he was the anthor, might he deny it ?" JOHNSON. "I don't know what to say to this. If you were sure that he wrote Junius, would you, if he denied it, think as well of him afterwards? Yet it may be urged that what a man has no right to ask, you may refuse to communicate; and there is no other effectual

« VorigeDoorgaan »