« VorigeDoorgaan »
overheard her, and, with great good humour and complacency, said, "Madam, I thank you; I stand rebuked before you, and promise that, on one subject at least, you shall never hear me talk nonsense again."
657. Pleasure of Hunting.
The honours of the University of Cambridge were once performed to Dr. Johnson, by Dr. Watson, afterwards Bishop of Llandaff, and then Professor of Chemistry, &c. (1) After having spent the morning in seeing all that was worthy of notice, the sage dined at his conductor's table, which was surrounded by various persons, all anxious to see so remarkable a character, but the moment was not favourable; he had been wearied by his previous exertions, and would not talk. After the party had dispersed, he said, “I was tired, and would not take the trouble, or I could have set them right upon several subjects, Sir; for instance, the gentleman who said he could not imagine how any pleasure could be derived from hunting,- the reason is, because man feels his own vacuity less in action than when at rest."
658. Johnson in a Stage Coach.
Mr. Williams, the rector of Wellesbourne, in Warwickshire, mentioned having once, when a young man, performed a stage-coach journey with Dr. Johnson, who took his place in the vehicle, provided with a little book, which his companion soon discovered to be Lucian: he occasionally threw it aside, if struck by any remark made by his fellow-travellers, and poured forth his knowledge and eloquence in a full stream, to the delight and astonishment of his auditors. Accidentally, the first subject which attracted him was the digestive
(1) Dr. Watson was a fellow of Trinity. See antè, Vol. II. p. 284. and p. 330., an account of this visit to Cambridge, which occurred in Feb. 1765.- C.
faculties of dogs, from whence he branched off as to the powers of digestion in various species of animals, discovering such stores of information, that this particular point might have been supposed to have formed his especial study, and so it was with every other subject started. The strength of his memory was not less astonishing than his eloquence; he quoted from various authors, either in support of his own argument or to confute those of his companions, as readily, and apparently as accurately, as if the works had been in his hands. The coach halted, as usual, for dinner, which seemed to be a deeply interesting business to Johnson, who vehemently attacked a dish of stewed carp, using his fingers only in feeding himself. (1)
659. "Pilgrim's Progress."
Bishop Percy was at one time on a very intimate footing with Dr. Johnson, and the Doctor one day took Percy's little daughter (2) upon his knee, and asked her what she thought of " Pilgrim's Progress?" The child answered, that she had not read it. "No!" replied the Doctor; "then I would not give one farthing for you;" and he set her down and took no further notice of her.
660. Dinner at University.
My venerable friend, Dr. Fisher, of the Charterhouse, now in his eighty-fifth year, informs me (says Mr. Croker) that he was one of the party who dined with Dr. Johnson at University College, Oxford, in March, 1776. (3) There were present, he says, Dr. Wetherell, Johnson, Boswell, Coulson, Scott, Gwynn,
(1) Mr. Boswell, antè, Vol. VIII. p. 284., mentions another instance, in which Dr. Johnson surprised his accidental companions in a stage-coach with the force of his conversation and the goodness of his appetite. — C.
(2) Afterwards Mrs. Isted, of Ecton, Northamptonshire.
Dr. Chandler the traveller, and Fisher, then a young Fellow of the College. He recollects one passage of the conversation at dinner :-Boswell quoted “Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat," and asked where it was. After a pause Dr. Chandler said in Horace,-another pause; then Fisher remarked, that he knew no metre in Horace to which the words could be reduced; upon which Johnson said dictatorially "The young man is right." Dr. Fisher recollects another conversation during this visit to Oxford, when there was a Mr. Mortimer, a shallow, vulgar man, who had no sense of Johnson's superiority, and talked a great deal of flippant At last he said, that "metaphysics were all stuff —nothing but vague words." "Sir," said Johnson, "do you know the meaning of the word metaphysics?" "To be sure," said the other. "Then, Sir, you must know that two and two make four, is a metaphysical proposition."—" I deny it,” rejoined Mortimer, "'t is an arithmetical one; I deny it utterly." 'Why, then Sir," said Johnson, "if you deny that we arrive at that conclusion by a metaphysical process, I can only say, that plus in unâ horâ unus asinus negabit, quam centum philosophi in centum annis probaverint."
661. Langton on Johnson's Death.
• The following letter was written with an agitated hand, from the very chamber of death, by the amiable Bennet Langton, and obviously interrupted by his feelings. It is not addressed, but Mr. Langton's family believe it was intended for Mr. Boswell:
"MY DEAR SIR,- After many conflicting hopes and fears respecting the event of this heavy return of illness which has assailed our honoured friend, Dr. Johnson, since his arrival from Lichfield, about four days ago the appearances grew more and more awful, and this afternoon at eight o'clock, when I arrived at his house to see how he should be going on, I was acquainted at the door, that about three quarters of an hour
before, he had breathed his last. I am now writing in the room where his venerable remains exhibit a spectacle, the interesting solemnity of which, difficult as it would be in any sort to find terms to express, so to you, my dear Sir, whose own sensations will paint it so strongly, it would be of all men the most superfluous to attempt to ——
662. Johnson and Burke compared. (1)
The distinguishing excellence of Johnson's manner, both in speaking and writing, consists in the apt and lively illustrations by example, with which, in his vigorous sallies, he enforces his just and acute remarks on human life and manners, in all their modes and representations: the character and charm of his style, is a happy choice of dignified and appropriate expressions, and that masterly involution of phrase, by which he contrives to bolt the prominent idea strongly on the mind. Burke's felicity is in a different sphere: it lies in the diversified allusions to all arts and to all sciences, by which, as he pours along his redundant tide of eloquence and reason, he reflects a light and interest on every topic which he treats; in a promptitude to catch the language and transpose the feelings of passion; and in the unrestrained and ready use of a style, the most flexible and the most accommodating to all topics, " from grave to gay, from lively to severe," that perhaps any writer, in any language, ever attained. Ipsæ res verba rapiunt.' As opposed to each other, condensation might perhaps be regarded as the distinguishing characteristic of the former, and expansion of the latter.
663. Preface to Shakspeare.
It would be difficult to find in the English language, of equal variety and length, four such compositions as
(1) [This and the nine following are from "The Diary of a Lover of Literature," by T. Green of Ipswich, 4to, 1810; and
Burke's Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Johnson's Preface to Shakspeare, Parr's Dedication to Hurd, and Lowth's Letter to Warburton.
664. "Panting Time."
Johnson, perhaps, caught his "panting Time toiled after him in vain," from Young's "And leave praise panting in the distant vale."
665. "The Happy Valley."
Looked over Rennell's Memoir of his Map of Hindostan. The secluded valley of Cashmere, forming, between the parallels of 34° and 35°, an oval hollow eighty miles by fifty; blooming with perennial spring, refreshed with cascades and streams and lakes, and enriched with mountainous ridges towering into the regions of eternal snow, -was perhaps Johnson's prototype for the Happy Valley of Amhara in "Rasselas."
It is curious to hear Gray, in his tenth letter to Horace Walpole, say, "The same man's verses" (Johnson's, at the opening of Garrick's theatre) are not bad". of one who was destined afterwards to sit in imperial judgment on him and all his tribe.
667. Johnson's Conversation.
Had a long and interesting conversation with [Sir James] Mackintosh. Spoke highly of Johnson's prompt and vigorous powers in conversation, and, on this ground, of Boswell's Life of him: Burke, he said, agreed with him; and affirmed, that this work was a greater monument to Johnson's fame, than all his writings put together.
668. "Pleasures of Hope."
Read Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. The beautiful allusion with which this poem opens, is borrowed