« ZurückWeiter »
The other instance was a paragraph of a letter to me, from my old and most intimate friend the Reverend Mr. Temple, who wrote the character of Gray, which has had the honour to be adopted both by Mr. Mason and Dr. Johnson in their accounts of that poet. The words were, “ How can your great, I will not say your pious, but your moral friend, support the barbarous measures of administration, which they have not the face to ask even their infidel pensioner Hume to defend ?”
However confident of the rectitude of his own mind, Johnson may have felt sincere uneasiness that his conduct should be erroneously imputed to unworthy motives, by good men; and that the influence of his valuable writings should on that account be in any degree obstructed or lessened.
He complained to a Right Honourable friend of distinguished talents and very elegant manners, with whom he maintained a long intimacy, and whose generosity towards him will afterwards appear, that his pension having been given to him as a literary character, he had been applied to by administration to write political pamphlets; and he was even so much irritated, that he declared his resolution to resign his pension. His friend shewed him the impropriety of such a measure, and he afterwards expressed his gratitude, and said he had received good advice. To that friend he once signified a wish to have his pension secured to him for his life; but he neither asked nor received from government any reward whatsoever for his political labours.
On Friday, March 24, I met him at the LITERARY Club, where were Mr. Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Mr. Colman, Dr. Percy, Mr. Vesey, Sir Charles Bunbury, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Charles Fox. Before he came in, we talked of his “ Journey to the Western Islands," and of his coming away,
“willing to believe the second sight,”! which seemed to excite some ridicule. I was then so impressed with the truth of many of the stories of which I had been told, that I avowed my conviction, saying, “ He is only willing to believe: I do believe. Tħe evidence is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not fill a quart bottle will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief.” “Are you? (said Colman), then cork it up.”
I found his “ Journey” the common topick of conversation in London at this time, wherever I happened to be. At one of Lord Mansfield's formal Sunday evening conversations, strangely called Levées, his Lordship addressed me, “ We have all been reading your travels, Mr. Boswell.” I answered, “ I was but the humble attendant of Dr. Johnson.” The Chief Justice replied, with that air and manner which none who ever saw and heard him can forget, ill of nobody but Ossian.”
Johnson was in high spirits this evening at the club, and talked with great animation and success. He attacked Swift, as he used to do upon all occasions. “ The · Tale of a Tub' is so much superiour to his other writings, that one can hardly believe he was the authour of it:? there is in it such a vigour
“ He speaks of mind, such a swarm of thoughts, so much of nature, and art, and life." I wondered to hear him say of • Gulliver's Travels,' When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest. I endeavoured to make a stand for Swift, and tried to rouse those who were much more able to defend him; but in vain. Johnson at last, of his own accord, allowed very great merit to the inventory of articles found in the pocket of the Man Mountain," particularly the description of hise watch, which it was conjectured was his God, as he consulted it upon all occasions. He observed, that “ Swift put his name to but two things (after he had a name to put), · The Plan of the Improvement of the English language,' and the last · Drapier's Letter.'”
1 Johnson's “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” edit. 1785, p. 256.
2 This doubt has been much agitated on both sides, I think without good reason. See Addison's “ Freeholder,” May 4, 1714; An Apology for the Tale of a Tub:-Dr. Hawkesworth's Preface to Swift's Works, and Swift's Letter to Tooke the Printer, and Tooke's Answer in that Collection :-Sheridan's Life of Swift; -Mr. Courtenay's note on p. 3 of his “ Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of Dr. Johnson ;" and Mr. Cooksey's “Essay on the Life and Character of John Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham."
Dr. Johnson here speaks only to the internal evidence. I take leave to differ from him, having a very high estimation of the powers of Dr. Swift. His “ Sentiments of a Church-of-Englandman;" his “ Sermon on the Trinity,” and other serious pieces, prove his learning as well as his acuteness in logick and metaphysicks; and his various compositions of a different cast exhibit not only wit, humour, and ridicule ; but a knowledge of nature, and art, and life:” a combination therefore of those powers, when (as the “ Apology” says), “ the authour was young, his invention at the height, and his reading fresh in his head,” might surely produce “The Tale of a Tub."
From Swift, there was an easy transition to Mr. Thomas Sheridan.--JOHNSON, “ Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of Douglas, and presented its authour with a gold medal. Some years ago, at a coffee-house in Oxford, I called to him, · Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Sheridan, how came you to give a gold medal to Home, for writing that foolish play?' This, you see, was wanton and insolent; but I meant to be wanton and insolent. A medal has no value but as a stamp of merit. And was Sheridan to assume to himself the right of giving that stamp? If Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow a gold medal as an honorary reward of dramatick excellence, he should have requested one of the Universities to choose the person on whom it should be conferred. Sheridan had no right to give a stamp of merit : it was counterfeiting Apollo's
coin.” On Monday, March 27, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Strahan’s. He told us, that he was engaged to go that evening to Mrs. Abington's benefit. “She was visiting some ladies whom I was visiting, and begged that I would come to her benefit. I told her I could not hear, but she insisted so much on my coming, that it would have been brutal to have refused her.” This was a speech quite characteristical. He loved to bring forward his having been in the gay circles of life, and he was, perhaps, a little vain of the solicitations of this elegant and fashionable actress. He told us, the play was to be “ The Hypocrite,” altered from Cibber's “ Nonjuror,” so as to satirize the Methodists. “ I do not think (said he), the character of the Hypocrite justly applicable to the Methodists, but it was very applicable to the Nonjurors. I once said to Dr. Madan, a clergyman of Ireland, who was a great Whig, that perhaps a Nonjuror would have been less criminal in taking the oaths imposed by the ruling power, than refusing them ; because refusing them, necessarily laid him under almost an irresistible temptation to be more criminal; for, a man must live, and if he precludes himself from the support furnished by the establishment, will probably be reduced to very wicked shifts to maintain himself.” 1 Boswell. “ I should think,
1 This was not merely a cursory remark; for in his Life of Fenton he observes, “ With many other wise and virtuous men, who at that time of discord and debate (about the beginning of this century], consulted conscience well or ill informed, more than interest, he doubted the legality of the government; and refusing to qualify himself for publick employment, by taking the oaths re
sir, that a man who took the oaths contrary to his principles, was a determined wicked man, because he was sure he was committing perjury, whereas a Nonjuror might be insensibly led to do what was wrong, without being so directly conscious of it.” Johnson.
Why, sir, a man who goes to bed to his patron's wife is pretty sure that he is committing wicked
Boswell. “ Did the nonjuring clergymen do so, sir?” Johnson. “ I am afraid many of them did.”
I was startled at this argument, and could by no means think it convincing. Had not his own father complied with the requisition of government, (as to which he once observed to me, when I pressed him upon it, " That, sir, he was to settle with himself,”) he would probably have thought more unfavourably of a Jacobite who took the oaths :
had he not resembled My father as he swore
Mr. Strahan talked of launching into the great ocean of London, in order to have a chance for rising
quired, left the University without a degree.” This conduct Johnson calls “ perverseness of integrity.”
The question concerning the morality of taking oaths, of whatever kind, imposed by the prevailing power at the time, rather than to be excluded from all consequence, or even any consider- , able usefulness in society, has been agitated with all the acuteness of casuistry. It is related, that he who devised the oath of abjuration profligately boasted, that he had framed a test which should "damn one half of the nation, and starve the other.” Upon minds not exalted to inftexible rectitude, or minds in which zeal for a party is predominant to excess, taking that oath against conviction, may have been palliated under the plea of necessity, or ventured upon in heat, as upon the whole producing more good than evil.
At a county election in Scotland, many years ago, when there