Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a distinction of interest, while the proportions of land-tax are so unequal. If Yorkshire should say, 'Instead of paying our land-tax, we will keep a greater number of militia,' it would be unreasonable." In this argument my friend was certainly in the wrong. The land. tax is as unequally proportioned between different parts of England, as between England and Scotland; nay, it is considerably unequal in Scotland itself. But the land-tax is but a small part of the numerous branches of publick revenue, all of which Scotland pays precisely as England does. A French invasion made in Scotland would soon penetrate into England.

He thus discoursed upon supposed obligations in settling estates :—“Where a man gets the unlimited property of an estate, there is no obligation upon him in justice to leave it to one person rather than to another. There is a motive of preference from kindness, and this kindness is generally entertained for the nearest relation. If I owe a particular man a sum of money, I am obliged to let that man have the next money I get, and cannot in justice let another have it: but if I owe money to no man, I may dispose of what I get as I please. There is not a debitum justitia to a man's next heir; there is only a debitum caritatis. It is plain, then, that I have morally a choice, according to my liking. If I have a brother in want, he has a claim from affection to my assistance: but if I have also a brother in want, whom I like better, he has a preferable claim. The right of an heir at law is only this, that he is to have the succession to an estate, in case no other person is appointed to it by the owner. His right is merely preferable to that of the King."

We got into a boat to cross over to Black-friars; and as we moved along the Thames, I talked to him of a little volume, which, altogether unknown to him, was advertised to be published in a few days, under the title of Johnsoniana, or Bon Mots of Dr. Johnson." JOHNSON. “Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing." Boswell. “Pray, Sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher for bringing out, under your name, what you never said, and ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear profanely, as many ignorant relaters of your bon mots do?" JOHNSON. “ No, Sir; there will always be some truth mixed with the false. hood, and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how much is false? Besides, Sir, what damages would a jury give me for having been represented as swearing ?” Boswell. “I think, Sir, you should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and posterity might with much plausible foundation say, • Here is a volume which was publickly advertised and came out in

[ocr errors]

Dr. Johnson's own time, and, by his silence, was admitted by him to be genuine." JOHNSON. “I shall give myself no trouble about the matter."

He was, perhaps, above suffering from such spurious publications; but I could not help thinking, that many men would be much injured in their reputation, by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.

He said, “The value of every story depends on its being true. A story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in general : if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance: suppose a man should tell that Johnson, before setting out for Italy, as he had to cross the Alps, sat down to make himself wings. This many people would believe; but it would be a picture of nothing. ******* (naming a worthy friend of ours,)' used to think a story, a story, till I shewed him that truth was essential to it.” I observed, that Foote entertained us with stories which were not true; but that, indeed, it was properly not as narratives that Foote's stories pleased us, but as collections of ludicrous images. JOHNSON. “Foote is quite impartial, for he tells lies of every body."

The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance was mentioned with exact precision. The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may mention an odd incident which he related as having happened to him one night in Fleet-street. “A gentlewoman (said he) begged I would give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I accordingly did; upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor." This, if told by most people, would have been thought an invention : when told by Johnson, it was believed by his friends as much as if they had seen what passed.

We landed at the Temple-stairs, where we parted.

I found him in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room. We talked of religious orders. He said, “ It is as unreasonable for a man to go into a Carthusian convent, for fear of being immoral, as for a man to cut off his hands for fear he should steal. There is, indeed,

"The term “worthy friend,” as well as the number of asterisks, Mr. Croker

justly remarks, point to Langton.

great resolution in the immediate act of dismembering himself; but when that is once done, he has no longer any merit: for though it is out of his power to steal, yet he may all his life be a thief in his heart. So when a man has once become a Carthusian, he is obliged to continue so, whether he chooses it or not. Their silence, too, is absurd. We read in the gospel of the apostles being sent to preach, but not to hold their tongues. All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle. I said to the Lady Abbess of a convent, 'Madam, you are here, not for the love of virtue, but the fear of vice.' She said, “She should remember this as long as she lived."" I thought it hard to give her this view of her situation, when she could not help it; and, indeed, I wondered at the whole of what he now said; because, both in his “ Rambler” and “ Idler," he treats religious austerities with much solemnity of respect.

Finding him still persevering in his abstinence from wine, I ventured to speak to him of it.-JOHNSON. “Sir, I have no objection to a man's drinking wine, if he can do it in moderation. I found myself apt to go to excess in it, and therefore, after having been for some time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to return to it. Every man is to judge for himself, according to the effects which he experiences. One of the fathers tells us, he found fasting made him so peevish that he did not practise it."

Though he often enlarged upon the evil of intoxication, he was by no means harsh and unforgiving to those who indulged in occasional excess in wine. One of his friends, I well remember, came to sup at a tavern with him and some other gentlemen, and too plainly discovered that he had drunk too much at dinner. When one who loved mischief, thinking to produce a severe censure, asked Johnson, some days afterwards, “Well, Sir, what did your friend say to you, as an apology for being in such a situation?” Johnson answered, “Sir, he said all that a man should say: he said he was

sorry for it."

I heard him once give a very judicious practical advice upon this subject : “A man, (said he,) who has been drinking wine at all freely, should never go into a new company. With those who have

" The manner in which this story is told, the phrases, one who loved mischief,” and “thinking to produce a severe censure,

,” the recording Johnson's rebuke of the talebearer, are pleasantly characteristic of the biographer, and

show that he was the “ friend" who had drunk too much. “I was heartily disgusted with Mr. Boswell,” writes Hannah More, fifteen years later, “who came upstairs much disordered with wine."

partaken of wine with him, he may be pretty well in unison; but he will probably be offensive, or appear ridiculous, to other people.”

He allowed very great influence to education. “I do not deny, Sir, but there is some original difference in minds; but it is nothing in comparison of what is formed by education. We may instance the science of numbers, which all minds are equally capable of attaining; yet we find a prodigious difference in the powers of different men, in that respect, after they are grown up, because their minds have been more or less exercised in it; and I think the same cause will explain the difference of excellence in other things, gradations admitting always some difference in the first principles.”

This is a difficult subject; but it is best to hope that diligence may do a great deal. We are sure of what it can do, in increasing our mechanical force and dexterity.

I again visited him on Monday. He took occasion to enlarge, as he often did, upon the wretchedness of a sea-life. "A ship is worse than a gaol. There is, in a gaol, better air, better company, better conveniency of every kind; and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger. When men come to like a sea-life, they are not fit to live on land.”—“ Then (said I,) it would be cruel in a father to breed his son to the sea.” JOHNSON. “ It would be cruel in a father who thinks as I do. Men go to sea, before they know the unhappiness of that way of life ; and when they have come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is then too late to choose another profession; as indeed is generally the case with men, when they have once engaged in any particular way of life.”

On Tuesday, March 19, which was fixed for our proposed jaunt, we met in the morning at the Somerset coffee-house in the Strand, where we were taken up by the Oxford coach. He was accompanied by Mr. Gwyn, the architect; and a gentleman of Merton College, whom we did not know, had the fourth seat. We soon got into conversation; for it was very remarkable of Johnson, that the presence of a stranger was no restraint upon his talk. I observed that Garrick, who was about to quit the stage, would soon have an easier life. JOHNSON. “I doubt that, Sir.” BOSWELL. “Why, Sir, he will be Atlas with the burthen off his back.” JOHNSON. “But I know not, Sir, if he will be so steady without his load. However, he should never play any more, but be entirely the gentleman, and not partly the player: he should no longer subject himself to be hissed by a mob, or to be insolently treated by performers, whom he used to rule with a high hand, and who would gladly retaliate."

"1

1 Johnson's prophecy was curiously

fulfilled. When Garrick, a short time

Boswell. “ I think he should play once a year for the benefit of decayed actors, as it has been said he means to do.” JOHNSON. Alas, Sir! he will soon be a decayed actor himself.”

Johnson expressed his disapprobation of ornamental architecture, such as magnificent columns supporting a portico, or expensive pilasters supporting merely their own capitals, “because it consumes labour disproportionate to its utility."

For the same reason he satyrised statuary. “Painting (said he,) consumes labour not disproportionate to its effect; but a fellow will hack half a year at a block of marble to make something in stone that hardly resembles a man. The value of statuary is owing to its difficulty. You would not value the finest head cut upon a carrot." Here he seemed to me to be strangely deficient in taste; for surely statuary is a noble art of imitation, and preserves a wonderful expression of the varieties of the human frame; and although it must be allowed that the circumstances of difficulty enhances the value of a marble head, we should consider, that if it requires a long time in the performance, it has a proportionate value in durability.

Gwyn was a fine lively rattling fellow. Dr. Johnson kept him in subjection, but with a kindly authority. The spirit of the artist, however, rose against what he thought a Gothick attack, and he made a brisk defence. What, Sir, will you allow no value to beauty in architecture or in statuary? Why should we allow it then in writing? Why do you take the trouble to give us so many fine allusions, and bright images, and elegant phrases ?

You might convey all your instruction without these ornaments.” Johnson smiled with complacency; but said, “Why, Sir, all these ornaments are useful, because they obtain an easier reception for truth; but a building is not at all more convenient for being decorated with superfluous carved work."

Gwyn at last was lucky enough to make one reply to Dr. Johnson, which he allowed to be excellent. Johnson censured him for taki down a church which might have stood many years, and building a new one at a different place, for no other reason but that there might be a direct road to a new bridge; and his expression was, “ You are taking a church out of the way, that the people may go in a straight line to the bridge.”—“No, Sir, (said Gwyn) I am putting the church in the way, that the people may not go out of the way.”

after his retirement, was dining with the members of the Theatrical Fund, he was treated with gross rudeness by some of the performers; and when he came to his old theatre to give instruction to a

young player, he was insulted by the elder Sheridan, who took it as an intrusion. The great actor was deeply wounded by such treatment. - See Gar. Cor., vol ü

« ZurückWeiter »