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While Johnson was in France, he was generally very resolute in speaking Latin. It was a maxim with him that a man should not let himself down by speaking a language which he speaks imperfectly. Indeed, we must have often observed how inferior, how much like a child a man appears, who speaks a broken tongue. When Sir Joshua Reynolds, at one of the dinners of the royal academy, presented him to a Frenchman of great distinction, he would not deign to speak French, but talked Latin, though his excellency did not understand it, owing, perhaps, to Johnson's English pronunciation: yet upon another occasion he was observed to speak French to a Frenchman of high rank, who spoke English; and being asked the reason, with some expression of surprise, he answered, “ because I think my French is as good as his English." Though Johnson understood French perfectly, he could not speak it readily, as I any. I spoke only Latin, and I could not have much convers. ation. There is no good in letting the French have a superiority over you every word you speak. On telling Mr. Baretti of the proof that Johnson gave of the stupidity of the French in the management of their horse-races, - that all the jockeys wore the same colour coat, &c., he said that was like Johnson's remarks
- He could not see.'—But it was observed that he could inquire: -'yes,' and it was by the answers he received that he was misled, for he asked, what did the first jockey wear? answer, green; what the second ? green ; what the third? green, which was true; but, then, the greens were all different greens, and very easily distinguished. — Johnson was perpetually making mistakes ; so, on going to Fontainebleau, when we were about three fourths of the way, he exclaimed with amazement, that now we were between Paris and the King of France's court, and yet we had not met one carriage coming from thence, or even one going thither! On which all the company in the coach burst out a laughing, and immediately cried out, Look, look, there is a coach gone by, there is a chariot, there is a postchaise!' I dare say we saw a hundred carriages, at least, that were going to or coming from Fontainebleau.” Miss Reynolds's Recollections. -C.
MADAME DE BOUFFLERS.
have observed at his first interview with General Paoli, in 1769 ; yet he wrote it, I imagine, pretty well, as appears from some of his letters in Mrs. Piozzi's collection, of which I shall transcribe one: LETTER 226. A MADAME LA COMTESSE
May 16. 1771. “ Oui, madame, le moment est arrivé, et il faut que je parte. Mais pourquoi faut-il partir ?
Est-ce que je m'ennuye? Je m'ennuyerai ailleurs.
Est-ce que je cherche ou quelque plaisir, ou quelque soulagement? Je ne cherche rien, je n'espère rien. Aller voir ce que j'ai vû, être un peu rejoui, un peu degouté, me ressouvenir que la vie se passe, et qu'elle se passe en vain, me plaindre de moi, m'endurcir aux dehors; voici le tout de ce qu'on compte pour les delices de l'annee. Que Dieu vous donne, madame, tous les agrémens de la vie, avec un esprit qui peut en jouir sans s'y livrer trop.”
Here let me not forget a curious anecdote, as related to me by Mr. Beauclerk, which I shall endeavour to exhibit as well as I can in that gentleman's lively manner; and in justice to him it is proper to add, that Dr. Johnson told me I might rely both on the correctness of his memory, and the fidelity of his narrative. “When Madame de Boufflers (1) was first in England,” said Beauclerk, “ she was desirous to see Johnson. I accordingly went with her to his chambers in the Temple, where she was entertained with his conversation for some time. When our visit was over, she and I left him, and were got into
(1) La Comtesse de Boufflers was the mistress of the Prince of Conti, and aspired to be his wife. she was a bel-esprit, and in that character thought it necessary to be an Anglomane, and to visit England; which she did in 1763.-C.
Inner Temple Lane, when all at once I heard a voice like thunder. This was occasioned by Johnson, who, it seems, upon a little reflection, had taken it into his head that he ought to have done the honours of his literary residence to a foreign lady of quality, and, eager to show himself a man of gallantry, was hurrying down the staircase in violent agitation. He overtook us before we reached the Temple-gate, and, brushing in between me and Madame de Boufflers, seized her hand, and conducted her to her coach. His dress was a rusty brown morning suit, a pair of old shoes by way of slippers, a little shrivelled wig sticking on the top of his head, and the sleeves of his shirt and the knees of his breeches hanging loose. A considerable crowd of people gathered round, and were not a little struck by this singular appearance.”
He spoke Latin with wonderful fluency and elegance. When Père Boscovich (1) was in England, Johnson dined in company with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, and at Dr. Douglas's, now Bishop of Salisbury. Upon both occasions that celebrated foreigner expressed his astonishment at Johnson's Latin conversation. (2) When at Paris, Johnson
(1) See antè, Vol. III. p. 140. Boscovich was a jesuit, born at Ragusa in 1711, who first introduced the Newtonian philosophy into Italy. He visited London in 1760, and was there elected into the Royal Society. He died in 1787. — C.
(2) Boscovich had a ready current flow of that flimsy phraseology with which a priest may travel through Italy, Spain, and Germany. Johnson scorned what he called colloquial barbarisms. It was his pride to speak his best. He went on, after a little practice, with as much facility as if it was his native tongue. One sentence I remember. Observing that Fontenelle at first opposed the Newtonian philosophy, and embraced it afterwards, his words were: Fontinellus, ni fallor, in extrema senectute, fuit transfuga ad castra Newtoniana. MURPHY.
thus characterised Voltaire to Freron the journalist : “ Vir est acerrimi ingenii et paucarum literarum.”
LETTER 227. TO DR. JOHNSON.
“ Edinburgh, Dec. 5. 1775. “ MY DEAR SIR, - Mr. Alexander Maclean, the young laird of Col, being to set out to-morrow for London, I give him this letter to introduce him to your acquaintance. The kindness which you and I experienced from his brother, whose unfortunate death we sincerely lament, will make us always desirous to show attention to any branch of the family. Indeed, you have so much of the true Highland cordiality, that I am sure you would have thought me to blame if I had neglected to recommend to you this Hebridean prince, in whose island we were hospitably entertained. I ever am, with respectful attachment, my dear Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
" JAMES BOSWELL."
Mr. Maclean returned with the most agreeable accounts of the polite attention with which he was received by Dr. Johnson.
In the course of the year Dr. Burney informs me that “he very frequently met Dr. Johnson at Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where they had many long conversations, often sitting up as long as the fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants subsisted.” A few of Johnson's sayings, which that gentlemen recollects, shall here be inserted.
“I ever take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and then the nap takes me.”
The writer of an epitaph should not be considered
as saying nothing but what is strictly true. Allowance must be made for some degree of exaggerated praise. In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.
“ There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.”
“ More is learned in public than in private schools, from emulation; there is the collision of mind with mind, or the radiation of many minds pointing to one centre. Though few boys make their own exercises, yet if a good exercise is given up, out of a great number of boys, it is made by somebody.”
“ I hate by-roads in education. Education is as well known, and has long been as well known as ever it can be. Endeavouring to make children prematurely wise is useless labour. Suppose they have more knowledge at five or six years old than other children, what use can be made of it? It will be lost before it is wanted, and the waste of so much time and labour of the teacher can never be repaid. Too much is expected from precocity, and too little performed. Miss (1) was an instance of early cultivation, but in what did it termina ate? In marrying a little presbyterian parson, who keeps an infant boarding-school, so that all her employment now is,
• To suckle fools, and chronicle small beer. She tells the children, “This is a cat, and that is a dog, with four legs, and a tail; see there ! you are much better than a cat or a dog, for you can speak. If I had bestowed such an education on a daughter, and had discovered that she thought of marrying such a fellow, I would have sent her to the Congress.”
“ After having talked slightingly of music, he was
(1) Miss Letitia Aiken, who married Mr. Barbauld, and published “ Easy Lessons for Children, &c. &c." - C.