Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

JOHNSON. (with a hearty loud laugh of approbation,) “Speak no

Rest your colloquial fame upon this." Upon our arrival at Oxford, Dr. Johnson and I went directly to University College, but were disappointed on finding that one of the fellows, his friend Mr. Scott, who accompanied him from Newcastle to Edinburgh, was gone to the country. We put up at the Angel inn, and passed the evening by ourselves in easy and familiar conversation. Talking of constitutional melancholy, he observed, “A man so afflicted, Sir, must divert distressing thoughts, and not combat with them.” BOSWELL.“ May not he think them down, Sir?” JOHNSON. “No, Sir. To attempt to think them down is madness. He should have a lamp constantly burning in his bed. chamber during the night, and if wakefully disturbed, take a book, and read, and compose himself to rest. To have the management of the mind is a great art, and it may be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise.” Boswell. “Should not he provide amusements for himself? Would it not, for instance, be right for him to take a course of chymistry?" JOHNSON. “Let him take a course of chymistry, or a course of rope-dancing, or a course of any thing to which he is inclined at the time. Let him contrive to have as many retreats for his mind as he can, as many things to which it can fly from itself. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy' is a valuable work. It is, perhaps, overloaded with quotation. But there is great spirit and great power in what Burton says, when he writes from his own mind.”

Next morning we visited Dr. Wetherell, Master of University College, with whom Dr. Johnson conferred on the most advantageous mode of disposing of the books printed at the Clarendon press, on which subject his letter has been inserted in a former page. I often had occasion to remark, Johnson loved business, loved to have his wisdom actually operate on real life. Dr. Wetherell and I talked of him without reserve in his own presence. WeTheRELL. “I would have given him a hundred guineas if he would have written a preface to his · Political Tracts,' by way of a Discourse on the British Constitution." Boswell, “ Dr. Johnson, though in his writings, and upon all occasions a great friend to the constitution both in church and state, has never written expressly in support of either. There is really a claim upon him for both. I am sure he could give a volume of no great bulk upon each, which would comprise all the substance, and with his spirit would effectually maintain them. He should erect a fort on the confines of each.” I could perceive that he was displeased by this dialogue. He burst out, “Why should I be

always writing ?" I hoped he was conscious that the debt was just, and meant to discharge it, though he disliked being dunned.

We then went to Pembroke College, and waited on his old friend Dr. Adams, the master of it, whom I found to be a most polite, pleasing, communicative man. Before his advancement to the headship of his College, I had intended to go and visit him at Shrewsbury, where he was rector of St. Chad's, in order to get from him what particulars he could recollect of Johnson's academical life. He now obligingly gave me part of that authentick information, which, with what I afterwards owed to his kindness, will be found incorporated in its proper place in this work.

Dr. Adams had distinguished himself by an able answer to David Hume's “Essay on Miracles." He told me he had once dined in company with Hume in London ; that Hume shook hands with him, and said, “ You have treated me much better than I deserve;" and that they exchanged visits. I took the liberty to object to treating an infidel writer with smooth civility. Where there is a controversy concerning a passage in a classick authour, or concerning a question in antiquities, or any other subject in which human happiness is not deeply interested, a man may treat his antagonist with politeness and even respect. But where the controversy is concerning the truth of religion, it is of such vast importance to him who maintains it, to obtain the victory, that the person of an opponent ought not to be spared. If a man firmly believes that religion is an invaluable treasure, he will consider a writer who endeavours to deprive mankind of it as a robber; he will look upon him as odious though the Infidel may think himself in the right. A robber who reasons as the gang do in the “Beggar's Opera," who call themselves practical philosophers, and may have as much sincerity as pernicious speculative philosophers, is not the less an object of just indignation. An abandoned profligate may think that it is not wrong to debauch my wife; but shall I, there. fore, not detest him ? And if I catch him making an attempt shall I treat him with politeness? No, I will kick him down stairs, or run him through the body: that is, if I really love my wife, or have a true rational notion of honour. An Infidel then should not be treated handsomely by a Christian, merely because he endeavours to rob with ingenuity. I do declare, however, that I am exceedingly unwilling to be provoked to anger, and could I be persuaded that truth would not suffer from a cool moderaticn in its defenders, I should wish to preserve good humour, at least, in every controversy; nor, indeed, do I see why a man should lose his temper while he does all he can to refute an opponent. I think ridicule

may be fairly used against an infidel; for instance, if he be an ugly fellow, and yet absurdly vain of his person, we may contrast his appearance with Cicero's beautiful image of Virtue, could she be seen. Johnson coincided with me and said, " When a man voluntarily engages in an important controversy, he is to do all he can to lessen his antagonist, because authority from personal respect has much weight with most people, and often more than reasoning If my antagonist writes bad language, though that may not be essential to the question, I will attack him for his bad language.” ADAMS. “You would not jostle a chimney-sweeper.” JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir, if it were necessary to jostle him down."

Dr. Adams told us, that in some of the Colleges at Oxford, the fellows had excluded the students from social intercourse with them in the common room. JOHNSON. “ They are in the right, Sir, for there can be no real conversation, no fair exertion of mind amongst them, if the young men are by; for a man who has a character does not choose to stake it in their presence." Boswell. “ But, Sir, may there not be very good conversation without a con. test for superiority?" JOHNSON. “No animated conversation, Sir, for it cannot be but one or other will come off superiour. I do not mean that the victor must have the better of the argument, for he may take the weak side; but his superiority of parts and knowledge will necessarily appear: and he to whom he thus shews himself superiour is lessened in the eyes of the young men. You know it was said, Mallem cum Scaligero errare quam cum Clavio rectè sapere.' In the same manner take Bentley's and Jason de Neres' Comments upon Horace, you will admire Bentley more when wrong, than Jason when right."

We walked with Dr. Adams into the master's garden, and into the common room. JOHNSON. (after a reverie of meditation) “Aye ! Here I used to play at drafts with Phil. Jones and Fludyer. Jones loved beer, and did not get very forward in the church. Fludyer turned out a scoundrel, a Whig, and said he was ashamed of having been bred at Oxford. He had a living at Putney, and got under the eye of some retainers to the court at that time, and so became a violent Whig: but he had been a scoundrel all along, to be sure.” Boswell. “Was he a scoundrel, Sir, in any other way than being a political scoundrel ? Did he cheat at drafts?" JOHNSON. “Sir, we never played for money."

He then carried me to visit Dr. Bentham, Canon of Christ. Church, and Divinity Professor, with whose learned and lively conversation we were much pleased. He gave us an invitatica to dinner, which Dr. Johnson told me was a high honour. “Sir,

it is a great thing to dine with the Canons of Christ-Church." We could not accept his invitation, as we were engaged to dine at University College. We had an excellent dinner there, with the Master and Fellows, it being St. Cuthbert's day, which is kept by them as a festival, as he was a saint of Durham, with which this College is much connected.

We drank tea with Dr. Horne, President of Magdalen College, now Bishop of Norwich, of whose abilities, in different respects, the publick has had eminent proofs, and the esteem annexed to whose character was increased by knowing him personally. He had talked of publishing an edition of Walton's Lives, but had laid aside that design, upon Dr. Johnson's telling him, from mis. take, that Lord Hailes intended to do it. I had wished to negociate between Lord Hailes and him, that one or other should perform so good a work. JOHNSON. “In order to do it well, it will be necessary to collect all the editions of Walton's Lives. By way of adapting the book to the taste of the present age, they have, in a later edition, left out a vision which he relates Dr. Donne had, but it should be restored ; and there should be a critical catalogue given of the works of the different persons whose lives were written by Walton, and therefore their works must be carefully read by the editor.”

We then went to Trinity College, where he introduced me to Mr. Thomas Warton, with whom we passed a part of the evening. We talked of biography.-JOHNSON. “It is rarely well executed. They only who live with a man can write his life with any genuine exactness and discrimination; and few people who have lived with a man know what to remark about him. The chaplain of a late Bishop, whom I was to assist in writing some memoirs of his Lordship, could tell me almost nothing."?

I said, Mr. Robert Dodsley's life should be written, as he had been so much connected with the wits of his time, and by his literary merit had raised himself from the station of a footman. Mr. Warton said, he had published a little volume under the title of “ The Muse in Livery." JOHNSON. “I doubt whether Dodsley's

Cor. et Ad.-Line 30: For “almost nothing." read “scarcely any thing;" and upon “thing" put the following note :-“It has been mentioned to me by an accurate English friend, that Dr. Johnson could never have used the phrase almost nothing, as not being English ; and therefore I have put another in its place. At the same time, I am not quite convinced it is not good English. For the best writers use this phrase little or nothing; ' i.e. almost so little as to be nothing."

Mr. Croker was fortunate enough to hear from Dr. Fisher, then a young Felhow of the College, a short report of the

conversation.

* The bishop was Dr. Pearce, and the chaplain Mr. Derby.

brother would thank a man who should write his life : yet Dodsley himself was not unwilling that his original low condition should be recollected. When Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues of the Dead' came out, one of which is between Apicius, an ancient epicure, and Darteneuf, a modern epicure, Dodsley said to me, I knew Darteneuf well, for I was once his footman.'

Biography led us to speak of Dr. John Campbell, who had written a considerable part of the Biographia Britannica." Johnson, though he valued him highly, was of opinion that there was not so much in his great work, “A Political Survey of GreatBritain," as the world had been taught to expect; and had said to me, that he believed Campbell's disappointment, on account of the bad success of that work, ha killed him. He

is evening observed of it, “ That work was his death.” Mr. Warton, not adverting to his meaning, answered, “ I believe so; from the great attention he bestowed on it.” JOHNSON. “ Nay, Sir, he died of want of attention, if he died at all by that book.”

We talked of a work much in vogue at that time, written in a very mellifluous style, but which, under pretext of another subject, contained much artful infidelity. I said it was not fair to attack us thus unexpectedly; he should have warned us of our danger, before we entered his garden of flowery eloquence, by advertising,“ Springguns and man-traps set here.' The authour had been an Oxonian, and was remembered there for having “turned Papist." I observed, that as he had changed several times—from the Church of England to the Church of Rome—from the Church of Rome to infidelity—I did not despair yet of seeing him a methodist preacher. Johnson. (laughing,) “ It is said, that his range has been more ex. tensive, and that he has once been Mahometan. However, now that he has published his infidelity, he will probably persist in it." Boswell. “I am not quite sure of that, Sir.”

I mentioned Sir Richard Steele having published his “Christian Hero,” with the avowed purpose of obliging himself to lead a reli. gious life; yet, that his conduct was by no means strictly suitable. JOHNSON. “ Steele, I believe, practised the lighter vices.”

Mr. Warton, being engaged, could not sup with us at our inn; we had therefore another evening by ourselves. I asked Johnson, whether a man's being forward in making himself known to eminent

Cor, et Ad.-Line 11: On “expect " put the following note :—" Yet surely it is a very useful work, and of wonderful research and labour for one man to have uecuted."

1 Gibbon's Roman History.

VOL. II.

6

« ZurückWeiter »