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JOHNSON DINES WITH WILKES AND DR. BEATTIE-LETTER-WRITING-BET FLINT -OKATORY BEAUCLERK'S LIBRARY BLUE-STOCKING CLUBS-STILLINGFLEETTHE COUNTESS OF CORK-JOHNSON'S "LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS"-" TALKING FOR VICTORY"-A "CUI BONO MAN-"HEROIC EPISTLE TO SIR W. CHAMBERS"JOHNSON'S COMMENDATION OF LORD CARLISLE'S POEMS-DR. BARNARD-"OF TORY AND WHIG"-BOSWELL'S DEPARTURE FOR SCOTLAND-VISIT TO WELWYNDR. YOUNG-ON ORIGINAL SIN-REV. MR. PALMER AND THE UNITARIANSANCIENT EGYPTIANS-WEALTH-REV. MR. SMITH-LUTON HOE, SEAT OF LORD BUTE SOCIETY OF PROCURATORS, IN SCOTLAND-MR. ROBERTSON, OF "THE CALEDONIAN MERCURY."
N Tuesday, May 8, I had the pleasure of again dining with Johnson and Mr. Wilkes, at Mr. Dilly's. No negociation was now required to bring them together; for Johnson was so well satisfied with the former interview, that he was very glad to meet Wilkes again, who was this day seated between Dr. Beattie and Dr. Johnson (between Truth and Reason, as General Paoli said, when I told him of it). WILKES: “I have been thinking, Dr. Johnson, that there should be a bill brought
into Parliament that the controverted elections for Scotland should be tried in that country at their own Abbey of Holyrood-house, and not here, for the consequence of trying them here is, that we have an inundation of Scotchmen, who come up and never go back again. Now here is Boswell, who is come upon the election for his own county, which will not last a fortnight." JOHNSON: "Nay, Sir, I see no reason why they should be tried at all; for, you know, one Scotchman is as good as another." WILKES: Pray, Boswell, how much may be got in a year by an Advocate at the Scotch bar ?" BOSWELL: "I believe, two thousand pounds." WILKES: How can it be possible to spend that money in Scotland ?" JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, the money may be spent in England; but there is a harder question. If one man in Scotland gets possession of two thousand pounds, what remains for all the rest of the nation?" WILKES: "You know, in the last war, the immense booty which Thurot carried off by the complete plunder of seven Scotch isles; he re-embarked with three and sixpence." Here again Johnson and Wilkes joined in extravagant sportive raillery upon the supposed poverty of Scotland, which Dr. Beattie and I did not think it worth our while to dispute.
The subject of quotation being introduced, Mr. Wilkes censured it as pedantry. JOHNSON: "No, Sir, it is a good thing; there is a community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.' WILKES: "Upon the continent they all quote the Vulgate Bible. Shakspeare is chiefly quoted here; and we quote also Pope, Prior, Butler, Waller, and sometimes Cowley."
We talked of letter-writing. JOHNSON: 'It is now become so much the fashion to publish letters, that, in order to avoid it, I put as little into mine as I can. BOSWELL: "Do what you will, Sir, you cannot avoid it. Should you even write as ill as you can, your letters would be published as curiosities :
'Behold a miracle! instead of wit,
See two dull lines with Stanhope's pencil writ.' "
He gave us an entertaining account of Bet Flint, a woman of the town, who, with some eccentric talents and much effrontery, forced herself upon his acquaintance. "Bet," said he, "wrote her own life in verse, which she brought to me, wishing that I would furnish her with a preface to it (laughing). I used to say of her, that she was generally slut and drunkard;-occasionally, whore and thief. She had, however,
1 Johnson, whose memory was wonderfully retentive, remembered the first four lines of this curious production, which have been communicated to me by a young lady of his acquaintance :
"When first I drew my vital breath,
A little minikin I came upon earth;
genteel lodgings, a spinnet on which she played, and a boy that walked before her chair. Poor Bet was taken up on a charge of stealing a who counterpane, and tried at the Old Bailey. Chief Justice loved a wench, summed up favourably, and she was acquitted.1 After which, Bet said, with a gay and satisfied air, 'Now that the counterpane is my own, I shall make a petticoat of it.'
Talking of oratory, Mr. Wilkes described it as accompanied with all the charms of poetical expression. JOHNSON: "No, Sir; oratory is the power of beating down your adversary's arguments, and putting better in their place." WILKES: "But this does not move the passions." JOHNSON: "He must be a weak man, who is to be so moved." WILKES (naming a celebrated orator): "Amidst all the brilliancy of imagination, and the exuberance of his wit, there is a strange want of taste. It was observed of Apelles's Venus, that her flesh seemed as if she had been nourished by roses: his oratory would sometimes make one suspect that he eats potatoes and drinks whiskey."
Mr. Wilkes observed, how tenacious we are of forms in this country ; and gave, as an instance, the vote of the House of Commons for remitting money to pay the army in America in Portugal pieces, when, in reality, the remittance is made not in Portugal money, but in our specie. JOHNSON: "Is there not a law, Sir, against exporting the current coin of the realm ?" WILKES: " Yes, Sir, but might not the House of Commons, in case of real evident necessity, order our own current coin to be sent into our own colonies ?"-Here Johnson, with that quickness of recollection which distinguished him so eminently, gave the Middlesex Patriot an admirable retort upon his own ground. Sure, Sir, you don't think a resolution of the House of Commons equal to the law of the land." WILKES (at once perceiving the application): GOD forbid, Sir."-To hear what had been treated with such violence in "The False Alarm," now turned into pleasant repartee, was extremely agreeable. Johnson went on :-"Locke observes well, that a prohibition to export the current coin is impolitic; for when the balance of trade happens to be against a state, the current coin must be exported."
Mr. Beauclerk's great library was this season sold in London by
1 The account which Johnson had received on this occasion was not quite accurate. Bet was tried at the Old Bailey in September, 1758, not by the Chief Justice here alluded to (who, however, tried another cause on the same day), but before Sir William Moreton, Recorder; and she was acquitted, not in consequence of any favourable summing up of the judge, but because the prosecutrix, Mary Walthow, could not prove that the goods charged to have been stolen (a counterpane, a silver spoon, two napkins, &c.) were her property. Bet does not appear to have lived at that time in a very genteel style; for she paid for her ready-furnished room in Meard's-court, Dean-street, Soho, from which these articles were alleged to be stolen, only five shillings a week. Mr. James Boswell took the trouble to examine the Sessions Paper, to ascertain these particulars.-MALONE.
2 Mr. Wilkes mistook the objection of Euphranor to the Theseus of Parrhasius for a description of the Venus of Apelles. Vide Plutarch, "Bellone an pace clariores Athenienses."- -KEARNEY.
auction. Mr. Wilkes said, he wondered to find in it such a numerous collection of sermons: seeming to think it strange that a gentleman of Mr. Beauclerk's character in the gay world should have chosen to have many compositions of that kind. JOHNSON: " Why, Sir, you are to consider, that sermons make a considerable branch of English literature; so that a library must be very imperfect if it has not a numerous collection of sermons:1 and in all collections, Sir, the desire of aug
1 Mr. Wilkes probably did not know that there is in an English sermon the most comprehensive and lively account of that entertaining faculty, for which he himself was so much admired. It is in Dr. Barrow's first volume, and fourteenth sermon, "Against Foolish Talking and Jesting." My old acquaintance, the late Corbyn Morris, in his ingenious "Essay on Wit, Humour, and Ridicule," calls it "a profuse description of wit;" but I do not see how it could be curtailed, without leaving out some good circumstance of discrimination. As it is not generally known, and may perhaps dispose some to read sermons, from which they may receive real advantage, while looking only for entertainment, I shall here subjoin it.
"But first," says the learned preacher, "it may be demanded, what the thing we speak of is? Or what this facetiousness (or wit, as he calls it before) doth import? To which questions I might reply, as Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "Tis that which we all see and know.' Any one better apprehends what it is by acquaintance, than I can inform him by description. It is, indeed, a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemed no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in scasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale; sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their sound; sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly diverting or cleverly retorting an objection; sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense; sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture, passeth for it; sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness, giveth it being; sometimes it riseth only from a lucky hitting upon what is strange; sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose. Often it consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable; being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy, and windings of language. It is, in short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit or expression, doth affect and amuse the fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight thereto. It raiseth admiration, as signifying a nimble sagacity of apprehension, a special felicity of invention, a vivacity of spirit, and reach of wit more than vulgar; it seeming to argue a rare quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote conceits applicable; a notable skill, that he can dexterously accommodate them to the purpose before him; together with a lively briskness of humour, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination. (Whence, in Aristotle, such persons are termed eridétioi, dexterous men, and evoтpopol, men of facile or versatile manners, who can easily turn themselves to all things, or turn all things to themselves.) It also procureth delight, by gratifying curiosity with its rareness, as semblance of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty, but their rarity: as juggling tricks, not for their use, but their abstruseness, are beheld with pleasure); by diverting the mind from its road of serious thoughts; by instilling gaiety and airiness of spirit; by provoking to such dispositions of spirit in way of emulation or complaisance; and by seasoning matters, otherwise distasteful or insipid, with an unusual and thence grateful tang."-BOSWELL.
menting them grows stronger in proportion to the advance in acquisition; as motion is accelerated by the continuance of the impetus. Besides, Sir," looking at Mr. Wilkes with a placid but significant smile, man may collect sermons with intention of making himself better by them. I hope Mr. Beauclerk intended, that some time or other that should be the case with him."
Mr. Wilkes said to me, loud enough for Dr. Johnson to hear, Johnson should make me a present of his 'Lives of the Poets,' as I am a poor patriot who cannot afford to buy them." Johnson seemed to take no notice of this hint; but in a little while he called to Mr. Dilly, “Pray, Sir, be so good as to send a set of my Lives to Mr. Wilkes, with my compliments." This was accordingly done; and Mr. Wilkes paid Dr. Johnson a visit, was courteously received, and sat with him a long time.
The company gradually dropped away. Mr. Dilly himself was called down stairs upon business; I left the room for some time; when I returned, I was struck with observing Dr. Samuel Johnson and John Wilkes, Esq., literally tête-à-tête; for they were reclined upon their chairs, with their heads leaning almost close to each other, and talking earnestly, in a kind of confidential whisper, of the personal quarrel between George the Second and the King of Prussia. Such a scene of
perfectly easy sociality between two such opponents in the war of political controversy, as that which I now beheld, would have been an excellent subject for a picture. It presented to my mind the happy days which are foretold in Scripture, when the lion shall lie down with the kid 1
After this day there was another pretty long interval, during which Dr. Johnson and I did not meet. When I mentioned it to him with regret, he was pleased to say, "Then, Sir, let us live double."
About this time it was much the fashion for several ladies to have evening assemblies, where the fair sex might participate in conversation with literary and ingenious men, animated by a desire to please. These societies were denominated Blue-stocking Clubs, the origin of which title being little known, it may be worth while to relate it. One of the most eminent members of those societies, when they first commenced, was Mr. Stillingfleet, whose dress was remarkably grave, and in particular it was observed that he wore blue stockings. Such was the excellence of his conversation, that his absence was felt as so great a loss, that it
1 When I mentioned this to the Bishop of Killaloe, "With the goat," said his lordship. Such, however, was the engaging politeness and pleasantry of Mr. Wilkes, and, such the social good humour of the bishop, that when they dined together at Mr. Dilly's, where I also was, they were mutually agreeable.-Boswell.
2 Mr. Benjamin Stillingfleet, author of tracts relating to natural history, &c-Boswell. Benjamin Stillingfleet was the grandson of the learned Bishop Stillingfleet, and besides his works on natural history, he was known as the author of "A Treatise on the Principles and the Powers of Harmony." He held the situation of barrack-master at Kensing ton, and died in 1771, at the age of 69.-ED.