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DUEL GOVERNMENT OF
INCREASE OF LONDON, AND ITS POPULATION -NATURAL AFFECTIONS
N Sunday, April 20, being Easter-day, after attending solemn ser
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: "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
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 would 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 : 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 will 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
1I 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," 3 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,
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,
I mercy asked, I mercy found.'"'1
BOSWELL: "Is not the expression in the Burial-service, '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 farther; but cannot help thinking that ess positive words would be more proper."
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
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."— BOSWELL.
1 In repeating this epitaph Johnson improved it. The original runs thus:
"Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
2 Upon this objection the Reverend Mr. Ralph Churton, Fellow of Brazenose 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 everything 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."-BOSWELL.
may not solids swell and be distended ?" JOHNSON: "Yes, Sir, they may swell and be distended; but that is not fat."
We talked of the accusation against a gentleman for supposed delinquencies in India. JOHNSON: "What foundation there is for accusation I know not; but they will not get at him. Where bad actions are committed at so a great distance, a delinquent can obscure the evidence till the scent becomes cold: there is a cloud between which cannot be penetrated therefore all distant power is bad. I am clear that the best plan for the government of India is a despotic governor; for if he be a good man, it is evidently the best government: and supposing him to be a bad man, it is better to have one plunderer than many. A governor, whose power is checked, lets others plunder, that he himself may be allowed to plunder; but if despotic, he sees that the more he lets others plunder, the less there will be for himself, so he restrains them; and though he himself plunders, the country is a gainer, compared with being plundered by numbers."
I mentioned the very liberal payment which had been received for reviewing; and, as evidence of this, that it had been proved in a trial, that Dr. Shebbeare had received six guineas a sheet for that kind of literary labour. JOHNSON: "Sir, he might get six guineas for a particular sheet, but not communibus sheetibus." BOSWELL" Pray, Sir, by a sheet of review is it meant that it shall be all of the writer's own composition? or are extracts, made from the book reviewed, deducted ?” JOHNSON: "No, Sir; it is a sheet, no matter of what." BOSWELL: "I think that it is not reasonable." JOHNSON "Yes, Sir, it is. A man will more easily write a sheet all his own, than read an octavo volume to get extracts." To one of Johnson's wonderful fertility of mind, I believe writing was really easier than reading and extracting; but with ordinary men the case is very different. A great deal, indeed, will depend upon the care and judgment with which extracts are made. I can suppose the operation to be tedious and difficult; but in many instances we must observe crude morsels cut out of books as if at random; and when a large extract is made from one place, it surely may be done with very little trouble. One, however, I must acknowledge, might be led, from the practice of reviewers, to suppose that they take a pleasure in original writing; for we often find, that instead of giving an accurate account of what has been done by the author whose work they are reviewing, which is surely the proper business of a literary journal, they produce some plausible and ingenious conceits of their own, upon the topics which have been discussed.
Upon being told that old Mr. Sheridan, indignant at the neglect of his oratorical plans, had threatened to go to America-JOHNSON: "I hope he will go to America.' BOSWELL: "The Americans don't want oratory.' JOHNSON: "But we can want Sheridan."
On Monday, April 28, I found him at home in the forenoon, and
Mr. Seward with him. Horace having been mentioned-BosWELL: "There is a great deal of thinking in his works. One finds there almost everything but religion." SEWARD: "He speaks of his returning to it, in his Ode Parcus Deorum cultor et infrequens." JOHNSON: Sir, he was not in earnest; this was merely poetical." Boswell: "There are, I am afraid, many people who have no religion at all.” "And sensible people too." SEWARD: JOHNSON : Why, Sir, not sensible in that respect. There must be either a natural or a moral stupidity, if one lives in a total neglect of so very important a concern." SEWARD: "I wonder that there should be people without religion." JOHNSON: "Sir, you need not wonder at this, when you consider how large a proportion of almost every man's life is passed without thinking of it. I myself was for some years totally regardless of religion. It had dropped out of my mind. It was at an early part of my life. Sickness brought it back, and I hope I have never lost it since." BOSWELL: "My dear Sir, what a man must you have been without religion! Why you must have gone on drinking, and swearing, and-" JOHNSON (with a smile): "I drank enough and swore enough to be sure. SEWARD: "One should think that sickness, and the view of death, would make more men religious." JOHNSON: Sir, they do not know how to go about it: they have not the first notion. A man who has never had religion before, no more grows religious, when he is sick, than a man who has never learned figures can count when he has need of calculation."
I mentioned a worthy friend of ours whom we valued much, but observed that he was too ready to introduce religious discourse upon all occasions. JOHNSON : Why, yes, Sir, he will introduce religious discourse without seeing whether it will end in instruction and improvement, or produce some profane jest. He would introduce it in the company of Wilkes, and twenty more such."
I mentioned Dr. Johnson's excellent distinction between liberty of conscience and liberty of teaching. JOHNSON: "Consider, Sir; if you have children whom you wish to educate in the principles of the Church of England, and there comes a Quaker who tries to pervert them to his principles, you would drive away the Quaker. You would not trust to the predomination of right, which you believe is in your opinions; you will keep wrong out of their heads. Now the vulgar are the children of the State. If any one attempts to teach them doctrines contrary to what the State approves, the magistrate may and ought to restrain him." SEWARD: "Would you restrain private conversation, Sir?" JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, it is difficult to say where private conversation begins and where it ends. If we three should discuss even the great question concerning the existence of a Supreme Being by ourselves, we should not be restrained; for that would be to put an end to all improve
But if we should discuss it in the presence of ten boarding