« ZurückWeiter »
for not choosing a text adapted to the day. The preacher in the afternoon had chosen one extremely proper :
“ It is finished.” After the evening service, he said, “Come, you shall go home with me, and sit just an hour.” But he was better than his word; for after we had drunk tea with Mrs. Williams, he asked me to go up to his study with him, where we sat a long while together in a serene undisturbed frame of mind, sometimes in silence, and sometimes conversing, as we felt ourselves inclined, or more properly speaking, as he was inclined; for during all the course of my long intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated, and my wish to hear him was such, that I constantly watched every dawning of communication from that great and illuminated mind.
He observed, “ All knowledge is of itself of some value. There is nothing so minute or inconsiderable, that I would not rather know it than not. In the same manner, all power, of whatever sort, is of itself desirable. A man would not submit to learn to hem a ruffle, of his wife, or his wife's maid ; but if a mere wish could attain it, he would rather wish to be able to hem a ruffle.”
He again advised me to keep a journal fully and minutely, but not to mention such trifles as, that meat was too much or too little done, or that the weather was fair or rainy: He had, till very near his death, a contempt for the notion that the weather affects the human frame.
I told him that our friend Goldsmith had said to me that he had come too late into the world, for that Pope and other poets had taken up the places in the Temple of Fame; so that as but a few at any period can possess poetical reputation, a man of genius can now hardly acquire it." Johnson. “ That is one of the most sensible things I have ever heard of Golds
smith. It is difficult to get literary fame, and it is every day growing more difficult. Ah, sir, that should make a man think of securing happiness in another world, which all who try sincerely for it may attain. In comparison of that, how little are all other things! The belief of immortality is impressed upon all men, and all men act under an impression of it, however they may talk, and though, perhaps, they may be scarcely sensible of it.” I said, it appeared to me that some people had not the least notion of immortality; and I mentioned a distinguished gentleman of our acquaintance. JOHNSON. Sir, if it were not for the notion of immortality, he would cut a throat to fill his pockets.” When I quoted this to Beauclerk, who knew much more of the gentleman than we did, he said, in his acid manner, “ He would cut a throat to fill his pockets, if it were not for fear of being hanged.”
Dr. Johnson proceeded : “Sir, there is a great cry about infidelity: but there are, in reality, very few infidels. I have heard a person, originally a Quaker, but now, I am afraid, a Deist, say, that he did not believe there were, in all England, above two hundred infidels.”
He was pleased to say, “ If you come to settle here, we will have one day in the week on which we will meet by ourselves. That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments.” In his private register this evening is thus marked,
“ Boswell sat with me till night; we had some serious talk.” It also appears from the same record, that after I left him he was occupied in religious duties, in "giving Francis, his servant, some directions for preparation to communicate; in reviewing his life,
I Prayers and Meditations, p. 138.
and resolving on better conduct.” The humility and piety which he discovers on such occasions, is truly edifying. No saint, however, in the course of his religious warfare, was more sensible of the unhappy failure of pious resolves, than Johnson. He said one day, talking to an acquaintance on this subject, “Sir, Hell is paved with good intentions.'
On Sunday, April 16, being Easter-day, after having attended the solemn service at St. Paul's, I dined with Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Williams. I maintained that Horace was wrong in placing happiness in Nil admirari, for that I thought admiration one of the most agreeable of all our feelings; and I regretted that I had lost much of my disposition to admire, which people generally do as they advance in life. Johnson." Sir, as a man advances in life, he gets what is better than admiration,-judgement, to estimate things at their true value.” I still insisted that admiration was more pleasing than judgement, as love is more pleasing than friendship. The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne. Johnson. “No, sir; admiration and love are like being intoxicated with champagne ; judgement and friendship like being enlivened. Waller has hit upon the same thought with you:but I don't believe you have borrowed from Waller. I wish you would enable yourself to borrow more.”
1 [This is a proverbial sentence. “ Hell (says Herbert) is full of good meanings and wishings." JACULA PRUDENTUM, p. 11. edit. 1651. M.]
2 “ Amoret! as sweet and good
As the most delicious food;
He then took occasion to enlarge on the advantages of reading, and combated the idle superficial notion, that knowledge enough may be acquired in conversation. “ The foundation (said he) must be laid by reading. General principles must be had from books, which, however, must be brought to the test of real life. In conversation you never get a system. What is said upon a subject is to be gathered from a hundred people. The parts of a truth, which a man gets thus, are at such a distance from each other that he never attains to a full view.”
“ TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ. DEAR SIR,
“I HAVE inquired more minutely about the mea dicine for the rheumatism, which I am sorry to hear that
you still want. The receipt is this: “Take equal quantities of flour of sulphur, and flour of mustard-seed, make them into an electuary with honey or treacle; and take a bolus as big as a nutmeg several times a day, as you can bear it: drinking after it a quarter of a pint of the infusion of the root of Lovage.
“ Lovage, in Ray's Nomenclature,' is Levisticum: perhaps the Botanists may know the Latin
“Of this medicine I pretend not to judge. There is all the appearance of its efficacy, which a single instance can afford: the patient was very old, the pain very violent, and the relief, I think, speedy and lasting.
“ My opinion of alterative medicine is not high, but quid tentasse nocebit ? if it does harm, or does no good, it may be omitted; but that it may do good, you have, I hope, reason to think is desired by, sir, your most affectionate,
“ Humble servant, “ April 17, 1775."
“ SAM. JOHNSON.”
On Tuesday, April 11, he and I were engaged to go with Sir Joshua Reynolds to dine with Mr. Cambridge, at his beautiful villa on the banks of the Thames, near Twickenham. Dr. Johnson's tardiness was such, that Sir Joshua, who had an appointment at Richmond, early in the day, was obliged to go by himself on horseback, leaving his coach to Johnson and me. Johnson was in such good spirits, that every thing seemed to please him as we drove along.
Our conversation turned on a variety of subjects. He thought portrait-painting an improper employment for a woman. * Publick practice of any art, (he observed), and staring in men's faces, is very indelicate in a female.” I happened to start a question, whether when a man knows that some of his intimate friends are invited to the house of another friend, with whom they are all equally intimate, he may join them without an invitation. JOHNSON. “No, sir ; he is not to go when he is not invited. They may be invited on purpose to abuse him,” (smiling).
As a curious instance how little a man knows, or wishes to know, his own character in the world, or, rather as a convincing proof that Johnson's roughness was only external, and did not proceed from his
heart, I insert the following dialogue. JOHNSON. “ It is wonderful, sir, how rare a quality good humour is in life. We meet with very few good humoured men.” I mentioned four of our friends, none of whom he would allow to be good humoured. One was acid, another was muddy, and to the others he had objections which have escaped me. Then, shaking his head and stretching himself at ease in the coach, and