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“TO THE REV. MR. THOMAS WARTON. “DEAR SIR,
May 31, 1769. Many years ago, when I used to read in the library of your college, I promised to recompense the college for that permission, by adding to their books a Baskerville's Virgil. I have now sent it, and desire you to deposit it on the shelves in my name.1
“If you will be pleased to let me know when you have an hour of leisure, I will drink tea with you. I am engaged for the afternoon, to-morrow and on Friday : all my mornings are my own.2 I am, &c.
“ SAM. JOHNSON.” I came to London in the autumn, and having informed him that I was going to be married in a few months, I wished to have as much of
his conversation as I could before engaging in a state of life which would probably keep me more in Scotland, and prevent me seeing him so often as when I was a single man; but I found he was at Brighthelmstone with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I was very sorry that I had not his company with me at the Jubilee, in honour of Shaks.: peare, at Stratford-upon-Avon, the great poet's native town. Johnson's connection both with Shakspeare and Garrick founded a double claim to his presence; and it would have been highly gratifying to Mr. Garrick. Upon this occasion I particularly lamented that he had not that warmth of friendship for his brilliant pupil, which we may suppose would have had a benignant effect on both. When almost every man of eminence in the literary
world was happy to partake in this festival of genius, the absence of Johnson could not but be wondered at
1 “It has this inscription in a blank leaf: . Hunc librum D. D. Samuel Johnson, eo quod hic loci studiis interdum vacaret.' Of this library, which is an old Gothic room, he was very fond. On my observing to him that some of the modern libraries of the University were more commodious and pleasant for study, as being more spacious and airy, he replied, “Sir, if a man has a mind to prance, he must study at Christ Church and All-Souls.'"-WARTON.
During this visit he seldom or never dined out. He appeared to be deeply engaged in some literary work. Miss Williams was now with him at Oxford." WARTON.
and regretted. The only trace of him there, was in the whimsical advertisement of a haberdasher, who sold Shaksperian ribands of various dyes ; and, by way of illustrating their appropriation to the bard, introduced a line from the celebrated Prologue at the opening of Drury-lane theatre :
“Each change of many-colour'd life he drew.” From Brighthelmstone Dr. Johnson wrote me the following letter, which they who may think I ought to have suppressed, must have less ardent feelings than I have always avowed."
“TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ. “DEAR SIR,
Brighthelmstone, Sept. 9, 1769. Why do you charge me with unkindness? I have omitted nothing that could do you good, or give you pleasure, unless it be that I have forborne to tell you my opinion of your · Account of Corsica.' I believe my opinion, if you think well of my judgment, might have given you pleasure; but when it is considered how much vanity is excited by praise, I am not sure that it would have done you good. Your history is like other histories, but your Journal is in a very high degree curious and delightful. There is between the history and the journal that difference which there will always be found between notions borrowed from without, and notions generated within. Your history was copied from books; your journal rose out of your own experience and observation. You express images which operated strongly upon yourself
, and you have impressed them with great force upon your readers. I know not whether I could name any narrative by which curiosity is better excited or better gratified.
“I am glad that you are going to be married; and as I wish you well in things of less importance, wish you well with proportionate ardour in this crisis of your life. What I can contribute to your happiness, I should be very unwilling to withhold: for I have always loved and valued you, and shall love you and value you still more, as you become more regular and useful : effects which a happy marriage will hardly fail to produce.
"I do not find that I am likely to come back very soon from this place. I shall, perhaps, stay a fortnight longer : and a fortnight is a long time to a lover absent from his mistress. Would a fortnight ever have an end ?
1 In the Preface of my Account of Corsica,' published in 1768, I thus express myself: —“He who publishes a book affecting not to be an author, and professing an indifference for literary fame, may possibly impose upon many people such an idea of his consequence as he wishes may be received. For my part I should be proud to be known as an author, and I have an ardent ambition for literary fame; for, of all possessions I shonld imagine literary fame to be the most valuable. A man who has been able to furnish a book, which has been approved by the world, has established himself as a respectable character in distant society, without any danger of having that character lessened by the observation of his weaknesses. To preserve an uniform dignity among those who see us every day, is hardly possible; and to aim at it, must put us under the fetters of perpetual restraint. The author of an approved book may allow his natural disposition an easy play, and yet indulge the pride of superior genius, when he considers that by those who know him only as an author, he never ceases to be respected. Such an author, when in his hours of gloom and discontent, may have the consolation to think, that his writings are at that very time, giving pleasure to numbers; and such an author may cherish the hope of being remembered after death ; which has been a great object to the noblest minds in all ages.” -BosweLL.
“I am, dear Sir,
“SAM. JOHNSON." After his return to town, we met frequently, and I continued the practice of making notes of his conversation, though not with so much assiduity as I wish I had done. At this time, indeed, I had a sufficient excuse for not being able to appropriate so much time to my journal ; for General Paoli, after Corsica had been overpowered by the monarchy of France, was now no longer at the head of his brave countrymen, but having with difficulty escaped from his native island, had sought an asylum in Great Britain ; and it was my duty, as well as my pleasure, to attend much upon him. Such particulars of Johnson's conversation at this period as I have committed to writing, I shall here introduce, without any strict attention to methodical arrangement. Sometimes short notes of different days shall be blended together, and sometimes a day may seem important enough to be separately distinguished,
He said, he would not have Sunday kept with rigid severity and gloom, but with a gravity and simplicity of behaviour.
I told him that David Hume had made a short collection of Scotticisms. “I wonder,” said Johnson, " that he should find them.”ı
He would not admit the importance of the question concerning the legality of general warrants. “Such a power,” he observed, “must be vested in every government, to answer particular cases of necessity ; and there can be no just complaint but when it is abused, for which those who arlminister government must be answerable. It is a matter of such indifference, a matter about which the people care so very little, that were a man to be sent over Britain to offer them an exemption from it at a halfpenny a piece, very few would purchase it.” This was a specimen of that laxity of talking, which I had heard him fairly acknowledge; for, surely, while the power of granting general warrants was supposed to be legal, and the apprehension of them hung over our heads, we did not possess that security of freedom, congenial to our happy constitution, and which, by the intrepid exertions of Mr. Wilkes, has been happily established.
He said, “ The duration of Parliament, whether for seven years or the life of the King, appears to me so immaterial, that I would not give half-a-crown to turn the scale one way or the other. The habeas corpus is the single advantage which our governinent has over that of other countries.
On the 30th of September we dined together at the Mitre. I attempted to argue for the superior happiness of the savage life, upon the
1 The first edition of Hume's “ History of England” was full of Scotticisms, many of which he corrected in subsequent editions.-Malone.
so, Sir ?”
usual fanciful topics. JOHNSON : "Sir, there can be nothing more false. The savages have no bodily advantages beyond those of civilized men. They have not better health ; and as to care or mental uneasiness, they are not above it, but below it, like bears. No, Sir ; you are not to talk such paradox: let me have no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less can it instruct. Lord Monboddo, one of your Scotch judges, talked a great deal of such nonsense. I suffered him, but I will not suffer you.' BOSWELL: “But, Sir, does not Rousseau talk such nonsense ?” Johx
True, Sir; but Rousseau knows he is talking nonsense, and laughs at the world for staring at him.”
How JOHNSON : “Why, Sir, a man who talks nonsense so well, must know that he is talking nonsense. But I am afraid (chuckling and laughing) Monboddo does not know that he is talking nonsense. Boswell: “Is it wrong then, Sir, to affect singularity, in order to make people stare ?" JOHNSON: “Yes, if you do it by propagating error ; and, indeed, it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a general inclination to make people stare ; and every wise man has himself to cure of it, and does cure himself. If
wish to make people stare by doing better than others, why make them stare till they stare their eyes out. But consider how easy it is to make people stare, by being absurd. I
may do it by going into a drawing-room without my shoes. You remember the gentleman in. The Spectator,' who had a commission of lunacy taken out against him for his extreme singularity, such as never wearing a wig, but a night-cap. Now, Sir, abstractedly, the night-cap was best : but, relatively, the advantage was overbalanced by his making the boys run after him."2
Talking of a London life, he said, “The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom.” BOSWELL: " The only disadvantage is the great distance at which people live from one another,” JOHNSON : Yes, Sir; but that is occasioned by the largeness of it, which is the cause of all the other advantages. BosWELL: Sometimes I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a desert.” JOHNSON : “Sir, you have desert enough in Scotland.”
1 His Lordship having frequently spoken in an abusive manner of Dr. Johnson in my company, I, on one occasion during the life-time of my illustrious friend, could not refrain from retaliation, and repeated to him this saying. He has since published I don't know how many pages in one of his curious books, attempting, in much anger, but with pitiful effect, to persuade mankind that my illustrious friend was not the great and good man which they esteemed and ever will esteem him to be.—Boswell.
2 William Seward, Esq., F.R.S., editor of “ Anecdotes of some Distinguished Persons," &c., in 4 vols. 8vo. well known to a numerous and valuable acquaintance for his literaturé, love of the fine arts, and social virtues. I am indebted to him for several communications concerning Johnson.-Boswell.
Mr. Seward was born in London in 1747, the son of a wealthy brewer, partner in the house of Calvert and Seward. He was educated at the Charter-house and at Oxford, and died April 24, 1799.-MALONE.
Although I had promised myself a great deal of instructive conversation with him on the conduct of the married state, of which I had then a near prospect, he did not say much upon that topic. Mr. Seward heard him once say, that “a man has a very bad chance for happiness in that state, unless he marries a woman of very strong and fixed principles of religion.” He maintained to me contrary to the common notion, that a woman would not be the worse wife for being learned ; in which, from all that I have observed of Artemisias, I humbly differed from him. That a woman should be sensible and well informed, I allow to be a great advantage; and think that Sir Thomas Overbury, in his rude versification, has very judiciously pointed out that degree of intelligence which is to be desired in a female companion :
“Give me, next good, an understanding wife,
By Nature wise, not learned by much art;
More scope of conversation impart;
They are most firmly good, who best know why.” When I censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a second time, as it showed a disregard of his first wife, he said, “Not at all, Sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it might be concluded that his first wife had given him a disgust to marriage ; but by taking a second wife he pays the highest compliment to the first, by showing that she made him so happy as a married man, that he wishes to be so a second time." So ingenious a turn did he give to this delicate question. And yet, on another occasion, he owned that he once had almost asked a promise of Mrs. Johnson that she would not marry again, but had checked himself. Indeed, I cannot help thinking, that in his case the request would have been unreasonable ; for if Mrs. Johnson forgot, or thought it no injury to the memory of her first love-the husband of her youth and the father of her children—to make a second marriage, why should she be precluded from a third, should she be so inclined ? In Johnson's persevering fond appropriation of his Tetty, even after her decease, he seems totally to have overlooked the prior claim of the honest Birmingham trader. I presume that her having been married before had, at times, given him some uneasiness ; for I remember his observing upon the marriage of one of our common friends, “He has done a very foolish thing, Sir; he has married a widow, when he might have had a maid.
We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I had last year the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson's one morning, and had conversation enough with her to admire her talents, and to show her that I was as Johnsonian as herself. Dr. Johnson had probably been kind enough to
1 “A Wife," a poem, 1614.-Boswell.