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Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this, • That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter chair ; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer chair.' Cibber could tell no more but That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's. You are to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other.” BOSWELL. “ Yet Cibber was a man of observation ?” JOHNSON. “I think not.” BOSWELL. “ You will allow his “ Apology' to be well done." Johnson. “ Very well done, to be sure, Sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:
• Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand.'” Boswell.“ And his plays are good.” JOHNSON. “ Yes; but that was his trade ; l'esprit du corps ; he had been all his life among players and playwriters. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then showed me an ode of his own, with an absurd couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle's wing. (1) I told him that when the
of Drury Lane theatre, and afterwards of the Queen's theatre in the Haymarket. He was also a dramatic writer, having produced a comedy entitled “ The Quacks, or Love's the Physician,” 1705, and two operas. - M.
(1) See antè, Vol. II. p. 176.
ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real.” Mr. Wilkes remarked, that “
among all the bold flights of Shakspeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnam-wood march to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland ! ha! ha! ha!” And he also observed, that “the clannish slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of the mountain nymph, sweet Liberty,' being worshipped in all hilly countries.” “When I was at Inverary,” said he, “on a visit to my old friend Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, “It is, then, gentlemen, truly lucky for me ; for if I had displeased the duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you
but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to him in a charger. It would have been only
• Off with his head! so much for Aylesbury.'
I was then member for Aylesbury.”
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's “ Art of Poetry," Difficile est propriè communia dicere. Mr. Wilkes, according to my note, gave the interpretation thus : “It is difficult to speak with propriety of common things ; as, if a poet had to speak of Queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the vulgarity of cups and saucers.” But, upon reading my note, he tells me that he meant to say, that “the word communia, being a Roman law term, signifies
here things communis juris, that is to say, what have never yet been treated by any body; and this appears clearly from what followed,
Quàm si proferres ignota indictaque primus. You will easier make a tragedy out of the Iliad than on any subject not handled before.” (1) Johnson. “ He means that it is difficult to appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all mankind, as Homer has done."
Wilkes. “We have no city-poet now: that is an office which has gone into disuse. The last was Elkanah Settle. (2) There is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now Elkanah Settle sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden, in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits.” Johnson. “I suppose, Sir, Settle did as well for aldermen in his time, as John Home could do now. Where did Beckford and Trecothick learn English ?”
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. Johnson.
(1) (For Mr. Boswell's strictures on Wilkes's interpretation of Horace's “ Difficile est propriè communia dicere," see Appendix, No. III.)
(2) [Settle, for his factious audacity, was made the city poet, whose annual office was to describe the glories of the Mayor's-day. Of these bards he was the last. He died, in 1723, a pensioner in the Charterhouse. - Johnson, Life of Dryden.)
“Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.” BoswELL. “ Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say
did not see meat and drink enough there." Johnson •Why, yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.” All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topic he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused themselves with perseyering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him; but there must first be the judgment of a court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgment is obtained, can take place only if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fuge. Wilkes. “That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation.” Johnson (to Mr. Wilkes). “ You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell, and showed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, iny native city, that he might see for once real civility; for you know
he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.” Wilkes. “ Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people, like you and me." Johnson (smiling). “ And we ashamed of him.”
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, “You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced.” Wilkes talked with all imaginable freedom of the ludicrous title given to the attorney-general, Diabolus regis; adding, “I have reason to know something about that officer; for I was prosecuted for a libel.” Johnson, who many people would have supposed must have been furiously angry at hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word. He was now, indeed, “ a good-humoured fellow.”
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady, well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. (1) Amidst some patriotic groans, somebody (I think the alderman) said, “Poor old England is lost.” JOHNSON. it is not so much to be lamented that old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it.” (?)
(1) It is to this gentleman that allusion is supposed to be made in the following anecdote:-“ Some one mentioned a gentleman of that party for having behaved oddly on an occasion where faction was not concerned : Is he not a citizen of London, a native of North America, and a Whig?' said Johnson. • Let him be absurd, I beg of you: when a monkey is too like a man, it shocks one. Piozzi, p. 64. — - C.
(2) It would not become me to expatiate on this strong and pointed remark, in which a very great deal of meaning is condensed.