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and seriously desire to have an armed force to defend them, they should pay for it. Your scheme is to retain a part of your land-tax, by making us pay and clothe your militia." BoSWELL. "You should not talk of we and you, Sir; there is now an union." JOHNSON." There must be a distinction of interest, while the proportions of land-tax are so unequal. If Yorkshire should say, 'Instead of paying our landtax, we will keep a greater number of militia,' it would be unreasonable." In this argument my friend was certainly in the wrong. The land-tax is as unequally proportioned between different parts of England, as between England and Scotland; nay, it is considerably unequal in Scotland itself. But the land-tax is but a small part of the numerous branches of public revenue, all of which Scotland pays precisely as England does. A French invasion made in Scotland. would soon penetrate into England.
He thus discoursed upon supposed obligation in settling estates: "Where a man gets the unlimited property of an estate, there is no obligation upon him in justice to leave it to one person rather than to another. There is a motive of preference from kindness, and this kindness is generally entertained for the nearest relation. If I owe a particular man a sum of money, I am obliged to let that man have the next money I get, and cannot in justice let another have it; but if I owe money to no man, I may dispose of what I get as I please. There is not a debitum justitiæ to a man's next heir; there is only a debitum caritatis. It is plain, then, that I have morally a choice according to my liking. If I have
a brother in want, he has a claim from affection to my assistance; but if I have also a brother in want, whom I like better, he has a preferable claim. The right of an heir at law is only this, that he is to have the succession to an estate, in case no other person is appointed to it by the owner. His right is merely preferable to that of the king."
We got into a boat to cross over to Blackfriars ; and as we moved along the Thames, I talked to him of a little volume, which, altogether unknown to him, was advertised to be published in a few days, under the title of "Johnsoniana, or Bon-mots of Dr. Johnson." JOHNSON. "Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing." BOSWELL. "Pray, Sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher for bringing out, under your name, what you never said, and ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear profanely, as many ignorant relaters of your bon-mots do?" JOHNSON. "No, Sir; there will always be some truth mixed with the falsehood, and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how much is false? Besides, Sir, what damages would a jury give me for having been represented as swearing?" BOSWELL. "I think, Sir, you should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and posterity might with much plausible foundation say,
Here is a volume which was publicly advertised and came out in Dr. Johnson's own name, and, by his silence, was admitted by him to be genuine.' JOHNSON. "I shall give myself no trouble about the matter."
He was, perhaps, above suffering from such spurious
publications; but I could not help thinking, that many men would be much injured in their reputation, by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.
He said, "The value of every story depends on its being true. A story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in general: if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance: suppose a man should tell that Johnson, before setting out for Italy, as he had to cross the Alps, sat down to make himself wings. This many people would believe: but it would be a picture of nothing. *** **() (naming a worthy friend of ours) used to think a story, a story, till I showed him that truth was essential to it." I observed, that Foote entertained us with stories which were not true; but that, indeed, it was properly not as narratives that Foote's stories pleased us, but as collections of ludicrous images. JOHNSON. "Foote is quite impartial, for he tells lies of every body.” (2)
(1) Although Mr. Langton was a man of strict and accurate veracity, I suspect, from the term worthy friend, which Boswell generally appropriates to Mr. Langton, as well as the number of asterisks, that he was here meant: if so, the opinion which Johnson corrected was probably one stated by Mr. Langton in very early life, for he knew Johnson when he was only fifteen years of age. C.
(2) On another occasion he said, "A story is a specimen of human manners, and derives its sole value from its truth. When Foote has told me something, I dismiss it from my mind like a passing shadow; when Reynolds tells me something, I consider myself as possessed of an idea the more.". Piozzi. A gentleman sitting next to Johnson at a table where Foote was entertaining the company with some exaggerated recitals, whispered his neighbour, "Why, Dr. Johnson, it is impossible that this impudent fellow should know the truth of half what he has told
The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance was mentioned with exact precision. (1)
The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may mention an odd incident which he related as having happened to him one night in Fleet Street. "A gentlewoman," said he, "begged I would give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I accordingly did; upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor." This, if told by most people, would have been thought an invention; when told by Johnson, it was believed by his friends as much as if they had seen what passed. (2)
"Nay, sir," replied Johnson, hastily, "if we venture to come into company with Foote, we have no right, I think, to look for truth." . CRADOCK.
(1) One reason why his memory was so particularly exact might be derived from his rigid attention to veracity; being always resolved to relate every fact as it stood, he looked even on the smaller parts of life with minute attention, and remembered such passages as escape cursory and common observers. His veracity was, indeed, from the most trivial to the most solemn occasions, strict even to severity; he scorned to embellish a story with fictitious circumstances, which (he used to say) took off from its real value. "A story," he said, "should be a specimen of life and manners; but if the surrounding circumstances are false, as it is no more a representation of reality, it is no longer worthy our attention. - PIOZZI.
(2) As he was walking along the Strand, a gentleman stepped
We landed at the Temple Stairs, where we parted. I found him in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room. We talked of religious orders. He said, "It is as unreasonable for a man to go into a Carthusian
out of some neighbouring tavern, with his napkin in his hand and no hat, and stopping him as civilly as he could: "I beg your pardon, sir; but you are Dr. Johnson, I believe." "Yes, sir." "We have a wager depending on your reply: pray, sir, is it irreparable or irrepairable that one should say?" "The last, I think, sir," answered Dr. Johnson, for the adverb [adjective] ought to follow the verb; but you had better consult my Dic tionary than me, for that was the result of more thought than you will now give me time for." "No, no," replied the gentleman, gaily, "the book I have no certainty at all of; but here is the author, to whom I referred: I have won my twenty guineas quite fairly, and am much obliged to you, sir;" so shaking Dr. Johnson kindly by the hand, he went back to finish his dinner or dessert. He once told me that a young gentleman called on him one morning, and told him that, having dropped suddenly into an ample fortune, he was willing to qualify himself for genteel society by adding some literature to his other endowments, and wished to be put in an easy way of obtaining it. Johnson recommended the University; "for you read Latin, sir, with facility." "I read it a little, to be sure, sir." "But do you read it with facility, I say?" "Upon my word, sir, I do not very well know, but I rather believe not." Dr. Johnson now began to recommend other branches of science and, advising him to study natural history, there arose some talk about animals, and their divisions into oviparous and viviparous: "And the cat here, sir," said the youth, who wished for instruction, "pray in which class is she?" Our Doctor's patience and desire of doing good began now to give way. "You would do well," said he, "to look for some person to be always about you, sir, who is capable of explaining such matters, and not come to us to know whether the cat lays eggs or not get a discreet man to keep you company; there are many who would be glad of your table and fifty pounds a year." The young gentleman retired, and in less than a week informed his friends that he had fixed on a preceptor to whom no objections could be made; but when he named as such one of the most distinguished characters in our age or nation, Dr. Johnson fairly gave himself up to an honest burst of laughter, at seeing this youth at such a surprising distance from common knowledge of the world. - Piozzi.