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wonderful how much they do for others. As it is said 1778. of the greatest liar, that he tells more truth than false
Ætat. hood; so it may be said of the worst man, that he does 69. more good than evil.” Boswell.“ Perhaps from experience men may be found happier than we suppose.” Johnson. “ No, Sir; the more we enquire we shall find men the less happy.” P. “As to thinking better or worse of mankind from experience, some cunning people will not be satisfied unless they have put men to the test, as they think. There is a very good story told of Sir Godfrey Kneller, in his character of a justice of the peace. A gentleman brought his servant before him, upon an accusation of having stolen some money from him ; but it having come out that he had laid it purposely in the servant's way, in order to try his honesty, Sir Godfrey sent the master to prison.".' Johnson.“ To resist temptation once, is not a sufficient proof of honesty. If a servant, indeed, were to resist the continued temptation of silver lying in a window, as some people let it lye, when he is sure his master does not know how much there is of it, he would give a strong proof of honesty. But this is a proof to which you have no right to put a man. You know, humanly speaking, there is a certain degree of temptation, which will overcome any virtue. Now, in so far as you approach temptation to a man, you do him an injury; and, if he is overcome, you share his guilt.” P. “ And, when once overcome, it is easier for him to be got the better of again.” Boswell. “ Yes, you are his seducer; you have debauched him. I have known a man resolved to put friendship to the test, by asking a friend to lend him money, merely with that view, when he did not want it.” Johnson. “ That is very wrong, Sir.
Your friend may be a narrow man, and yet have many good qualities : narrowness may be his only fault. Now you are trying his general char
* Pope thus introduces this story :
Imitations of Horace, Book II. Epist. ii.
1778. acter as a friend, by one particular singly, in which he Ætat. happens to be defective, when, in truth, his character 69. is composed of many particulars."
E. “I understand the hogshead of claret, which this society was favoured with by our friend the Dean, is nearly out; I think he should be written to, to send another of the same kind. Let the request be made with a happy ambiguity of expression, so that we may have the chance of his sending it also as a present. Johnson. “I am willing to offer my services as secretary on this occasion.” P. “As many as are for Dr. Johnson being secretary hold up your hands.-Carried unanimously." Boswell. “ He will be our Dictator." Johnson. “ No, the company is to dictate to me. I am only to write for wine ; and I am quite disinterested, as I drink none ; I shall not be suspected of having forged the application. I am no more than humble scribe.” E. “Then you shall prescribe.” BOSWELL. “ Very well. The first play of words to-day.” J. “No, no; the bulls in Ireland.” Johnson. "Were I your Dictator you should have no wine. It would be my business cavere ne quid detrimenti Respublica caperet, and wine is dangerous. Rome was ruined by luxury," (smiling.) E.
E. « If you allow no wine as Dictator, you shall not have me for your master of horse.”
On Saturday, April 4, I drank tea with Johnson at Dr. Taylor's, where he had dined. He entertained us with an account of a tragedy written by a Dr. Kennedy, (not the Lisbon physician.) “The catastrophe of it (said he) was, that a King, who was jealous of his Queen with his prime-minister, castrated himself.“ This tragedy was actually shewn about in manuscript to several people, and, amongst others, to Mr. Fitzherbert, who repeated to me two lines of the Prologue:
• The reverse of the story of Combabus, on which Mr. David Hume told Lord Macartney, that a friend of his had written a tragedy. It is, however, possible that I may have been inaccurate in my perception of what Dr. Johnson related, and that he may have been talking of the same ludicrous tragical subject that Mr. Hume had mentioned.
[The story of Combabus, which was originally told by Lucian, may be found in Bayle's Dictionary. M.]
· Our hero's fate we have but gently touch'd ;
“It is hardly to be believed what absurd and indecent images men will introduce into their writings, without being sensible of the absurdity and indecency. I remember Lord Orrery told me, that there was a pamphlet written against Sir Robert Walpole, the whole of which was an allegory on the PHALLICK OBSCENITY. The Duchess of Buckingham asked Lord Orrery who this person was? He answered he did not know. She said, she would send to Mr. Pulteney, who, she supposed, could inform her. So then, to prevent her from making herself ridiculous, Lord Orrery sent her Grace a note, in which he gave her to understand what was meant.
He was very silent this evening ; and read in a variety of books : suddenly throwing down one, and taking up another. He talked of going to Streatham that night. Tav
“ You'll be robbed, if you do: or you must shoot a highwayman. Now I would rather be robbed than do that; I would not shoot a highwayman.” JOHN
66 But I would rather shoot him in the instant when he is attempting to rob me, than afterwards swear against him at the Old Bailey, to take away his life, after he has robbed me. I am surer I am right in the one case, than in the other. I may be mistaken as to the man when I swear: I cannot be mistaken, if I shoot him in the act. Besides, we feel less reluctance to take away a man's life, when we are heated by the injury, than to do it at a distance of time by an oath, after we have cooled.” Boswell. “So, Sir, you would rather act from the motive of private passion, than that of publick advantage.” Johnson. “Nay, Sir, when I shoot the highwayman, I act from both." Boswell.
Very well, very well. There is no catching him.” Johnson. “ At the same time, one does not know what to say. For perhaps one may, a year after, hang himself from uneasiness for having shot a highway
Etat. a thing."
1778. man.' Few minds are fit to be trusted with so great
Boswell. Then, Sir, you would not 69. shoot him?” Johnson. “But I might be vexed af
terwards for that too."
Thrale's carriage not having come for him, as he expected, I accompanied him some part of the way home to his own house. I told him, that I had talked of him to Mr. Dunning a few days before, and had said, that in his company we did not so much interchange conversation, as listen to him ; and that Dunning observed, upon this, “ One is always willing to listen to Dr. Johnson :” to which I answered, “ That is a great deal from you, Sir.”—“ Yes, Sir, (said Johnson,) a great deal indeed. Here is a man willing to listen, to whom the world is listening all the rest of the year." Boswell. “I think, Sir, it is right to tell one man of such a handsome thing which has been said of him by another. It tends to increase benevolence.” Johnson. “Undoubtedly it is right, Sir.”
On Tuesday, April 7, I breakfasted with him at his house. He said, “nobody was content.” I mentioned to him a respectable person in Scotland whom be knew; and I asserted, that I really believed he was always content.
Johnson. “No, Sir, he is not content with the present; he has always some new scheme, some new plantation, something which is future. You know he was not content as a widower; for he married again.” Boswell. “But he is not restless.” Johnson. “ Sir, he is only locally at rest. A chymist is locally at rest ; but his mind is hard at work. This gentlernan has done with external exertions. It is too late for him to engage in distant projects." Boswell. “ He seems to amuse himself quite well; to have his
5 The late Duke of Montrose was generally said to have been uneasy on that account ; but I can contradict the report from his Grace's own authority. As he used to admit me to very easy conversation with him, I took the liberty to introduce the subject. His Grace told me, that when riding one night near London, he was attacked by two highwaymen on horseback, and that he instantly shot one of them, upon which the other gallopped off; that his servant, who was very well mounted, proposed to pursue him and take him, but that his Grace said, “ No, we have had blood enough : I hope the man may live to repent.” His Grace, upon my presuming to put the question, assured me, that his mind was not at all clouded by what he had thus done in self-defence.
attention fixed, and his tranquillity preserved by very :778. small matters. I have tried this; but it would not do
Ætat. with me.” Johnson. (laughing) “ No, Sir; it must 69. be born with a man to be contented to take up with little things. Women have a great advantage that they may take up with little things, without disgracing themselves : a man cannot, except with fiddling. Had I learnt to fiddle, I should have done nothing else." Boswell. “Pray, Sir, did you ever play on any musical instrument?” Johnson. “No, Sir. I once bought me a flagelet ; but I never made out a tune.”
BosWELL.“ A flagelet, Sir !---so small an instrument ?6 I should have liked to hear you play on the violoncello. That should have been your instrument.” Johnson.
Sir, I might as well have played on the violoncello as another ; but I should have done nothing else. No, Sir; a man would never undertake great things, could he be amused with small. I once tried knotting. Dempster's sister undertook to teach me; but I could not learn it.” Boswell.
BoswELL. “So, Sir! It will be related in pompous narrative, Once for his amusement he tried knotting ; nor did this Hercules disdain the distaff.” Johnson. “ Knitting of stockings is a good amusement. As a freeman of Aberdeen I should be a knitter of stockings.” He asked me to go down with him and dine at Mr. Thrale's at Streatham, to which I agreed. I had lent him “ An Account of Scotland, in 1702,” written by a man of various enquiry, an English chaplain to a regiment stationed there. Johnson." It is sad stuff, Sir, miserably written, as books in general then were.
There is now an elegance of style universally diffused. No man now writes so ill as Martin's Account of the Hebrides is written. A man could not write so ill, if he should try. Set a merchant's clerk now to write, and he'll do better."
He talked to me with serious concern of a certain fe. male friend's “ laxity of narration, and inattention to
• When I told this to Miss Seward, she smiled, and repeated, with admirable readiness, from “ Acis and Galatea,”
Bring me a hundred reeds of ample growth,
“ To make a pipe for my CAPACIOUS MOBTH.' VOL. II.