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down first, and pity him afterwards. No, Sir, every man will dispute with great good humour upon a subject in which he is not interested. I will dispute very calmly upon the probability of another man's son being hanged ; but if a man zealously enforces the probability that my own son will be hanged, I shall certainly not be in a very good humour with him.” I added this illustration, “If a man endeavours to convince me that my wife, whom I love very much, and in whom I place great confidence, is a disagreeable woman, and is even unfaithful to me, I shall be very angry, for he is putting me in fear of being unhappy.” MURRAY. “But, Sir, truth will always bear an examination.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, Sir, but it is painful to be forced to defend it. Consider, Sir, how should you like, though conscious of your innocence, to be tried before a jury for a capital crime, once a week.”
We talked of education at great schools; the advantages and disadvantages of which Johnson displayed in a luminous manner; but his arguments preponderated so much in favour of the benefit which a boy of good parts might receive at one of them (1), that I have reason to believe Mr. Murray
(1) A peculiar advantage of an education in our public schools was stated in one of his parliamentary speeches, by the late Mr. Canning — himself a great authority and example on such a subject. « Foreigners often ask, · By what means an uninterrupted succession of men, qualified more or less eminently for the performance of united parliamentary and official duties, is secured?' First, I answer (with the prejudices, perhaps, of Eton and Oxford), that we owe it to our system of public schools and universities. From these institutions is derived (in the language of the prayer of our collegiate churches) a due supply of men fitted to serve their country both in church and state.' It is in her
was very much influenced by what he had heard today in his determination to send his own son to Westminster school. I have acted in the same manner with regard to my own two sons; having placed the eldest at Eton, and the second at Westminster. I cannot say which is best. But in justice to both those noble seminaries, I with high satisfaction declare, that my boys have derived from them a great deal of good, and no evil: and I trust they will, like Horace, be grateful to their father for giving them so valuable an education.
I introduced the topic, which is often ignorantly urged, that the universities of England are too rich (1); so that learning does not flourish in them as it would do, if those who teach had smaller salaries, and depended on their assiduity for a great part of their income. Johnson. reverse of this is the truth; the English universities are not rich enough. Our fellowships are only sufficient to support a man during his studies to fit
- Sir, the very
public schools and universities that the youth of England are, by a discipline which shallow judgments have sometimes attempted to undervalue, prepared for the duties of public life. There are rare and splendid exceptions, to be sure; but in my conscience I believe, that England would not be what she is without her system of public education, and that no other country can become what England is without the advantages of such a system.” Such was also Mr. Gibbon's opinion. “I shall always be ready to join in the public opinion, that our public schools, which have produced so many eminent characters, are the best adapted to the genius and constitution of the English people." Memoirs. Misc. Works, vol. i. p. 37. — C.
(1) Dr. Adam Smith, who was for some time a professor in the university of Glasgow, has uttered, in his “ Wealth of Nations,” some reflections upon this subject which are certainly not well founded, and seem to be invidious.
him for the world, and accordingly in general they are held no longer than till an opportunity offers of getting away. Now and then, perhaps, there is a fellow who grows old in his college; but this is against his will, unless he be a man very indolent indeed. A hundred a-year is reckoned a good fellowship, and that is no more than is necessary to keep a man decently as a scholar. We do not allow our fellows to marry, because we consider academical institutions as preparatory to a settlement in the world. It is only by being employed as a tutor, that a fellow can obtain any thing more than a livelihood. To be sure, a man who has enough without teaching will probably not teach ; for we would all be idle if we could. In the same manner, a man who is to get nothing by teaching will not exert himself. Gresham college was intended as a place of instruction for London ; able professors were to read lectures gratis ; they contrived to have no scholars ; whereas, if they had been allowed to receive but sixpence a lecture from each scholar, they would have been emulous to have had many scholars. Every body will agree that it should be the interest of those who teach to have scholars; and this is the case in our universities. That they are too rich is certainly not true; for they have nothing good enough to keep a man of eminent learning with them for his life. In the foreign universities a professorship is a high thing. It is as much almost as a man can make by his learning: and therefore we find the most learned men abroad are in the universities. It is not so with us. Our uni
versities are impoverished of learning, by the penury of their provisions. I wish there were many places of a thousand a-year at Oxford, to keep firstrate men of learning from quitting the university." Undoubtedly, if this were the case, literature would have a still greater dignity and splendour at Oxford, and there would be grander living sources of instruction.
I mentioned Mr. Maclaurin's uneasiness on account of a degree of ridicule carelessly thrown on his deceased father, in Goldsmith's 6 History of Animated Nature,” in which that celebrated mathematician is represented as being subject to fits of yawning so violent as to render him incapable of proceeding in his lecture; a story altogether unfounded, but for the publication of which the law would give no reparation. (1) This led us to agitate the question, whether legal redress could be obtained, even when a man's deceased relation was calumniated in a publication. Mr. Murray maintained there should be reparation, unless the author could justify himself by proving the fact. JOHN
“Sir, it is of so much more consequence that truth should be told, than that individuals should not be made uneasy, that it is much better that the law does not restrain writing freely concerning the characters of the dead. Damages will be given to
(1) Dr. Goldsmith was dead before Mr. Maclaurin discovered the ludicrous error. But Mr. Nourse, the bookseller, who was the proprietor of the work, upon being applied to by Sir John Pringle, agreed very handsomely to have the leaf on which it was contained cancelled, and reprinted without it, at his own expense.
LIBELS ON THE DEAD,
a man who is calumniated in his lifetime, because he
may be hurt in his worldly interest, or at least hurt in his mind; but the law does not regard that uneasiness which a man feels on having his ancestor calumniated. That is too nice. Let him deny what is said, and let the matter have a fair chance by discussion. But if a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written ; for a great deal is known of men of which proof cannot be brought. A minister may be notoriously known to take bribes, and yet you may not be able to prove it.” Mr. Murray suggested that the author should be obliged to show some sort of evidence, though he would not require a strict legal proof; but Johnson firmly and resolutely opposed any restraint whatever, as adverse to a free investigation of the characters of mankind.(1)
(1) What Dr. Johnson has here said is undoubtedly good sense; yet I am afraid that law, though defined by Lord Coke “ the perfection of reason,” is not altogether with him ; for it is held in the books, that an attack on the reputation even of a dead man, may be punished as a libel, because tending to a breach of the peace. There is, however, I believe, no modern decided case to that effect. In the King's Bench, Trinity term, 1790, the question occurred on occasion of an indictment, the King v. Topham, who, as a proprietor of a newspaper entitled “ The World,” was found guilty of a libel against Earl Cowper, deceased, because certain injurious charges against his lordship were published in that paper. An arrest of judgment having been moved for, the case was afterwards solemnly argued. My friend, Mr. Const, whom I delight in having an opportunity to praise, not only for his abilities but his manners - a gentleman whose ancient German blood has been mellowed in England, and who may truly be said to unite the baron and the barrister, was one of the Counsel for Mr. Topham. He displayed much learning and ingenuity upon the general question; which, however, was not decided, as the court granted an arrest chiefly on the informality of the indictment. No man has a higher reverence for the law of England than I have; but with all deference