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Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the room. Dr. Johnson observed “ They are very well; but such as twenty people might write.” Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim, 66 - mediocribus esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, non concessére columnæ :" for here (I observed) was a very middle-rate poet, who pleased many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to some esteem ; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing else, have different gradations of excellence, and consequently of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that “as there is no necessity for our having poetry at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of pleasure, it can have no value, unless when exquisite in its kind.” I declared myself not satisfied. “Why, then, sir, (said he), Horace and you must settle it.” He was not much in the humour of talking.
No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journal, except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of lace for his lady, he said, “ Well, sir, you have done a good thing and a wise thing.” “I have done a good thing (said the gentleman), but I do not know that I have done a wise thing." JOHNSON. “ Yes, sir; no money is better spent than what is laid out for domestick satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is drest as well as other people; and a wife is pleased that she is drest.”
of particulars, which I have committed to writing; but I was not sufficiently diligent in obtaining more from him, not apprehending that his friends were so soon to lose him ; for notwithstanding his great age, he was very healthy and vigorous, and was at last carried off by a violent fever, which is often fatal at any period of life.
On Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the morning, according to my usual custom on that day, and breakfasted with him. I observed that he fasted so very strictly, that he did not even taste bread, and took no milk with his tea; I suppose because it is a kind of animal food.
He entered upon the state of the nation, and thus discoursed: “Sir, the great misfortune now is, that government has too little power. All that it has to bestow must of necessity be given to support itself ; so that it cannot reward merit. No man, for instance, can now be made a Bishop for his learning and piety;' his only chance for promotion is his being connected with somebody who has parliamentary interest. Our several ministers in this reign have out-bid each other in concessions to the people. Lord Bute, though a very honourable man, a man who meant well, a man who had his blood full of prerogative,--was a theoretical statesman,-a bookminister,--and thought this country could be governed by the influence of the Crown alone. Then, sir, he gave up a great deal. He advised the King to agree that the Judges should hold their places for life, instead of losing them at the accession of a new King Lord Bute, I suppose, thought to make the King popular by this concession; but the people never minded it; and it was a most impolitick measure. There is no reason why a Judge should hold his office for life, more than any other person in publick trust. A Judge may be partial otherwise than to the Crown: we have seen Judges partial to the populace. A Judge may become corrupt, and yet there may not be legal evidence against him. A Judge may become froward from age. A Judge may
I From this too just observation there are some eminent exceptions.
grow unfit for his office in many ways. It was desirable that there should be a possibility of being delivered from him by a new King. That is now gone by an act of Parliament ex gratiâ of the Crown. Lord Bute advised the King to give up a very large sum of money,' for which nobody thanked him. It was of consequence to the King, but nothing to the publick, among whom it was divided. When I say Lord Bute advised, I mean, that such acts were done when he was minister, and we are to suppose that he advised them.--Lord Bute shewed an undue para tiality to Scotchmen. He turned out Dr. Nichols, a very eminent man, from being physician to the King, to make room for one of his countrymen, a man very low in his profession. He had ********** and **** to go on errands for him. He had occasion for people to go on errands for him; but he should not have had Scotchmen; and, certainly, he should not have suffered them to have access to him before the first people in England.”
I told him, that the admission of one of them before the first people in England, which had given the greatest offence, was no more than what happens at
1 The money arising from the property of the prizes taken before the declaration of war, which were given to his Majesty by the peace of Paris, and amounted to upwards of 700,0001. and from the lands in the ceded islands, which were estimated at 200,0001. more. Surely, there was a noble munificence in this gift from a Monarch to his people. And let it be remembered, that during the Earl of Bute's administration, the King was graciously pleased to give up the hereditary revenues of the Crown, and to accept, instead of them, of the limited sum of 800,0001. a year; upon which Blackstone observes, that “ The hereditary revenues, being put under the same management as the other branches of the publick patrimony, will produce more, and be better collected than heretofore; and the publick is a gainer of upwards of 100,0001. per annum, by this disinterested bounty of his Majesty.” Book I. Chap vi, p. 330.
every minister's levee, where those who attend are admitted in the order that they have come, which is better than admitting them according to their rank; for if that were to be the rule, a man who has waited all the morning might have the mortification to see a peer, newly come, go in before him, and keep him waiting still. Johnson. " True, sir; but **** should not have come to the levee, to be in the way of people of consequence. He saw Lord Bute at all times, and could have said what he had to say at any time, as well as at the levee. There is now no Prime Minister: there is only an agent for government in the House of Commons. We are governed by the Cabinet: but there is no one head there since Sir Robert Walpole's time.” BOSWELL. “ What then, sir, is the use of Parliament?” Johnson. “ Why, sir, Parliament is a large council to the King; and the advantage of such a council is, having a great number of men of property concerned in the legislature, who, for their own interest, will not consent to bad laws. And you must have observed, sir, the administration is feeble and timid, and cannot act with that authority and resolution which is necessary. Were I in power, I would turn out every man who dared to oppose me. Government has the distribution of offices, that it may be enabled to maintain its authority.”
“ Lord Bute (he added) took down too fast, without building up something new.” Boswell. “ Because, sir, he found a rotten building. The political coach was drawn by a set of bad horses; it was necessary to change them.” Johnson. “ But he should have changed them one by one.”
I told him that I had been informed by Mr. Orme, that many parts of the East-Indies were better mapped than the Highlands of Scotland. Johnson. as That a country may be mapped, it must be tra
velled over.” “Nay (said I, meaning to laugh with him at one of his prejudices), can't you say, it is not worth mapping ?”
As we walked to St. Clement's church, and saw several shops open upon this most solemn fast-day of the Christian world, I remarked, that one disadvantage arising from the immensity of London was, that nobody was heeded by his neighbour; there was no fear of censure for not observing Good-Friday, as it ought to be kept, and as it is kept in country-towns. He said, it was, upon the whole, very well observed even in London. He however owned, that London was too large ; but added, “It is nonsense to say the head is too big for the body. It would be as much too big, though the body were ever so large ; that is to say, though the country were ever so extensive. It has no similarity to a head connected with a body."
Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College, Oxford, accompanied us home from church; and after he was gone, there came two other gentlemen, one of whom uttered the common-place complaints, that by the increase of taxes, labour would be dear, other nations would undersell us, and our commerce would be ruined. JOHNSON, (smiling). “ Never fear, sir. Our commerce is in a very good state; and suppose we had no commerce at all, we could live very well on the produce of our own country." I cannot omit to mention, that I never knew any man who was less disposed to be querulous than Johnson. Whether the subject was his own situation, or the state of the publick, or the state of human nature in general, though he saw the evils, his mind was turned to resolution, and never to whining or complaint.
We went again to St. Clement's in the afternoon. He had found fault with the preacher in the morning