« ZurückWeiter »
may, in the nature of things, be equally good. But if you allow that the English language is established, he is wrong. My name might originally have been Nicholson, as well as Johnson ; but were you to call me Nicholson now, you would call me very absurdly.”
Rousseau's treatise on the inequality of mankind was at this time a fashionable topic. It gave rise to an observation by Mr. Dempster, that the advantages of fortune and rank were nothing to a wise man, who ought to value only merit. Johnson. “ If man were a savage, living in the woods by himself, this might be true ; but in civilised society we all depend upon each other, and our happiness is very much owing to the good opinion of mankind. Now, Sir, in civilised society, external advantages make us more respected. A man with a good coat upon his back meets with a better reception than he who has a bad one. Sir, you may analyse this, and say, What is there in it ? But that will avail you nothing, for it is a part of a general system. Pound St. Paul's church into atoms, and consider any single atom ; it is, to be sure, good for nothing : but, put all these atoms together, and you have St. Paul's church. So it is with human felicity, which is made up of many ingredients, each of which may be shown to be very insignificant. In civilised society, personal merit will not serve you so much as money will. Sir, you may make the experiment. Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which will respect you most. If you wish only to support nature, Sir,
William Petty fixes your allowance at three pounds a year (1); but as times are much altered, let us call it six pounds. This sum will fill your belly, shelter you from the weather, and even get you a strong lasting coat, supposing it to be made of good bull's hide. Now, Sir, all beyond this is artificial, and is desired in order to obtain a greater degree of respect from our fellow creatures. And, Sir, if six hundred pounds a year procure a man more consequence, and, of course, more happiness, than six pounds a year, the same proportion will hold as to six thousand, and so on, as far as opulence can be carried. Perhaps he who has a large fortune may not be so happy as he who has a small one ; but that must proceed from other causes than from his having the large fortune : for, cæteris paribus, he who is rich, in civilized society, must be happier than he who is poor; as riches, if properly used, (and it is a man's own fault if they are not,) must be productive of the highest advantages. Money, to be sure, of itself is of no use ; for its only use is to part with it. Rousseau, and all those who deal in paradoxes, are led away by a childish desire of novelty. (2) When I was a boy, I used always to choose the wrong side of a debate (3), because most
(1) [See his “ Quantulumanque concerning Money.”]
(2) Johnson told Dr. Burney, that Goldsmith said, when he first began to write, he determined to commit to paper nothing but what was new; but he afterwards found that what was new was generally false, and from that time was no longer solicitous about novelty. - BURNEY.
(3) This boyish practice appears to have adhered, in some degree, to the man. - C. VOL. II.
ingenicus things, that is to say, most new things, could be said upon it. Sir, there is nothing for which you may not muster up more plausible arguments, than those which are urged against wealth and other external advantages. Why, now, there is stealing ; why should it be thought a crime? When we consider by what unjust methods property has been often acquired, and that what was unjustly got it must be unjust to keep, where is the harm in one man's taking the property of another from him? Besides, Sir, when we consider the bad use that many people make of their property, and how much better use the thief may make of it, it may be defended as a very allowable practice. Yet, Sir, the experience of mankind has discovered stealing to be so very bad a thing, that they make no scruple to hang a man for it. When I was running about this town a very poor fellow, I was a greater arguer for the advantages of poverty; but I was, at the same time, very sorry to be poor. Sir, all the arguments which are brought to represent poverty as no evil, shew it to be evidently a great evil. You never find people labouring to convince you
you may live very happily upon a plentiful fortune. So you hear people talking how miserable a king must be; and yet they all wish to be in his place.”
It was suggested, that kings must be unhappy, because they are deprived of the greatest of all satisfactions, easy and unreserved society. Johnson. “ That is an ill-founded notion. Being a king does not exclude a man from such society. Great kings have always been social. The king of Frussia, very social.
the only great king at present, is Charles the Second, the last king of England who was a man of parts, was social ; and our Henrys and Edwards were all social.” (1)
Mr. Dempster having endeavoured to maintain that intrinsic merit ought to make the only distinction amongst mankind.
“Why, Sir, mankind have found that this cannot be. Нов" shall we determine the proportion of intrinsic merit? Were that to be the only distinction amongst mankind, we should soon quarrel about the degrees of it. Were all distinctions abolished, the strongest would not long acquiesce, but would endeavour to obtain a superiority by their bodily strength. But, Sir, as subordination is very necessary for society, and contentions for superiority very dangerous, mankind, that is to say, all civilized nations, have settled it upon a plain invariable principle. A man is born to hereditary rank; or his being appointed to certain offices gives him a certain rank. Subordination tends greatly to human happiness. Were we all upon an equality, we should have no other enjoyment than mere animal pleasure.”
I said, I consider distinction of rank to be of so much importance in civilized society, that if I were asked on the same day to dine with the first Duke in England, and with the first man in Britain for genius, I should hesitate which to prefer. John
(1) This opinion has received strong confirmation from his late majesty George the Fourth, whose natural abilities were undoubtedly very considerable, whose reign was eminently glorious, and whose private life was amiable and social.-C.
SON. “ To be sure, Sir, if you were to dine only once, and it were never to be known where
you dined, you would choose rather to dine with the first man for genius; but to gain most respect, you should dine with the first duke in England. For nine people in ten that you meet with, would have a higher opinion of you for having dined with a duke ; and the great genius himself would receive you better, because you had been with the great duke.”
He took care to guard himself against any possible suspicion that his settled principles of reverence for rank, and respect for wealth, were at all owing to mean or interested motives ; for he asserted his own independence as a literary man. “No man,” said he, “ who ever lived by literature, has lived more independently than I have done.” He said he had taken longer time than he needed to have done in composing his Dictionary. He received our compliments upon that great work with complacency, and told us that the Academy della Crusca could scarcely believe that it was done by one man.
Next morning I found him alone, and have preserved the following fragments of his conversation. Of a gentleman (1) who was mentioned, he said, “I have not met with any man for a long time who has given me such general displeasure. He is totally unfixed in his principles, and wants to puzzle other
(1) Probably Mr. Dempster, whose share in the preceding conversation was very likely to have displeased Johnson. The “ infidel writer” is no doubt Dempster's countryman, Mr. Hume, -C,