James Boswell.

The life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. : comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works in chronological order ; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations with many eminent persons ; and various original pieces of his composition, never before published ; the whole exhibiti online

. (page 13 of 35)
Online LibraryJames BoswellThe life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. : comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works in chronological order ; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations with many eminent persons ; and various original pieces of his composition, never before published ; the whole exhibiti → online text (page 13 of 35)
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Johnson gave us this evening, in his happy discriminative manner, a
portrait of the late Mr. Fitzherbert of Derbyshire. "There was," said
he, " no sparkle, no brilliancy in Fitzherbert ; but I never knew a man
who was so generally acceptable. He made every body quite easy,
overpowered nobody by the superiority of his talents, made no man
think worse of himself by being his rival, seemed always to listen,
did not oblige you to hear much from him, and did not oppose what
you said. Every body liked him but he had no friend, as I under-
stand the word, nobody with whom he exchanged intimate thoughts.
People were willing to think well of everything about him. A gentle-
man was making an affected rant, as many people do, of great feelings
about ' his dear son,' who was at school near London ; how anxious he
was lest he might be ill, and what he would give to see him. ' Can't
you,' said Fitzherbert, ' take a post-chaise and go to him.' This, to be
sure, finished the affected man, but there was not much in it. 1 How-
ever, this was circulated as wit for a whole winter, and I believe part
of a summer too ; a proof that he was no very witty man. He was
an instance of the truth of the observation, that a man will please more
upon the whole by negative qualities than by positive ; by never
offending, than by giving a great deal of delight. In the first place,
men hate more steadily than they love ; and if I have said something
to hurt a man once, I shall not get the better of this, by saying many
things to please him."

Tuesday, September 16, Dr. Johnson having mentioned to me the
extraordinary size and price of some cattle reared by Dr. Taylor, I rode
out with our host, surveyed his farm, and was shown one cow which he
had sold for a hundred and twenty guineas, and another for which he
had been offered a hundred and thirty. Taylor thus described to me
his old schoolfellow and friend, Johnson : " He is a man of a very clear
head, great power of words, and a very gay imagination ; but there is
no disputing with him. He will not hear you, and, having a louder
voice than you, must roar you down."

In the afternoon I tried to get Dr. Johnson to like the Poems of

1 Dr. Gisborne, Physician to his Majesty's Household, has obligingly communicated to me
a fuller account of this story than had reached Dr. Johnson. The affected gentleman was the
late John Gilbert Cooper, Esq., author of a Life of Socrates, and of some poems in Dodsley's
collection. Mr. Fitzherbert found him one morning apparently in such violent agitation, on
account of the indisposition of his son, as to seem beyond the power of comfort. At length,
however, he exclaimed, " I '11 write an Elegy." Mr. Fitzherhert, being satisfied by this of the
sincerity of his emotions, slily said, " Had not you better take a postchaise, and go and seehim ? "
It was the shrewdness of the insinuation which made the story be circulated. BOSWELL.


Mr. Hamilton, of Bangour, which I had brought with me : I had been
much pleased with them at a very early age : the impression still
remained on my mind ; it was confirmed by the opinion of my friend
the Honourable Andrew Erskine, himself both a good poet and a critic,
who thought Hamilton as true a poet as ever wrote, and that his not
having fame was unaccountable. Johnson, upon repeated occasions,
while I was at Ashbourne, talked slightingly of Hamilton. He said
there was no power of thinking in his verses, nothing that strikes one,
nothing better than what you generally find in magazines ; and that the
highest praise they deserved was, that they were very well for a gentle-
man to hand about among his friends. He said the imitation of Ne sit
ancittce tibi amor, &c., was too solemn ; he read part of it at the begin-
ning. He read the beautiful pathetic song, " Ah ! the poor Shepherd's
mournful fate !" and did not seem to give attention to what I had been
used to think tender elegant strains, but laughed at the rhyme, in
Scotch pronunciation, wishes and blushes, reading u-ushes and there he
stopped. He owned that the epitaph on Lord Newhall was pretty well
done. He read the " Inscription in a Summer-house," and a little of
the imitations of Horace's Epistles ; but said he found nothing to make
him desire to read on. When I urged that there were some good
poetical passages in the book, " Where," said he, " will you find so
large a collection without some ]" I thought the description of Winter
might obtain his approbation :

" See Winter, from the frozen north,
Drives his iron chariot forth !
His grisly hand in icy chains
Fair Tweeda's silver flood constrains," &c.

He asked why an " iron chariot ?" and said, "icy chains " was an old
image. I was struck with the uncertainty of taste, and somewhat sorry
that a poet whom I had long read with fondness was not approved by
Dr. Johnson. I comforted myself with thinking that the beauties were
too delicate for his robust perceptions. Garrick maintained that he had
not a taste for the finest productions of genius ; but I was sensible, that
when he took the trouble to analyse critically, he generally convinced us
that he was right.

In the evening the Eeverend Mr. Seward, of Lichfield, who was
passing through Ashbourne, in his way home, drank tea with us.
Johnson described him thus : " Sir, his ambition is to be a fine talker ;
so he goes to Buxton, and such places, where he may find companies to
listen to him. And, Sir, he is a valetudinarian, one of those who are
always mending themselves. I do not know a more disagreeable
character than a valetudinarian, who thinks he may do any thing that is
for his ease, and indulges himself in the grossest freedoms. Sir, he
brings himself to the state of a hog in a sty."


Dr. Taylor's nose happening to bleed, he said, it was because he had
omitted to have himself blooded four days after a quarter of a year's
interval. Dr. Johnson, who was a great dabbler in physic, disapproved
much of periodical bleeding. " For," said he, " you accustom yourself
to an evacuation which Nature cannot perform of herself, and therefore
she cannot help you, should you, from forgetfulness or any other cause,
omit it ; so you may be suddenly suffocated. You may accustom your-
self to other periodical evacuations, because, should you omit them,
Nature can supply the omission ; but Nature cannot open a vein to
blood you." * " I do not like to take an emetic," said Taylor, " for fear
of breaking some small vessels." "Poh !" said Johnson, " if you have
so many things that will break, you had better break your neck at once,
and there's an end on't. You will break no small vessels" (blowing
with high derision).

I mentioned to Dr. Johnson, that David Hume's persisting in his
infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much. JOHNSON : " Why
should it shock you, Sir ? Hume owned he had never read the Testa-
ment with attention. Here then was a man who had been at no pains
to inquire into the truth of religion, and had continually turned his
mind the other way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of
death would alter his way of thinking, unless GOD should send an angel
to set him right." I said I had reason to believe that the thought
of annihilation gave Hume no pain. JOHNSON : " It was not so, Sir.
He had a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he
should assume an appearance of ease, than so very improbable a thing
should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive
theory, he cannot be sure but he may go) into an unknown state, and
not being uneasy at leaving all he knew. And you are to consider
that, upon his own principle of annihilation, he had a motive to speak
the truth." The horror of death, which I had always observed in
Dr. Johnson, appeared strong to-night. I ventured to tell him that I
had been for moments in my life not afraid of death ; therefore I could
suppose another man in that state of mind for a considerable space of
time. He said, " He never had a moment in which death was not
terrible to him." He added, that it had been observed, that scarce any
man dies in public but with apparent resolution ; from that desire of
praise which never quits us. I said, Dr. Dodd seemed willing to die,
and full of hopes of happiness. " Sir," said he, " Dr. Dodd would have
given both his hands and both his legs to have lived. The better a
man is, the more he is afraid of death, having a clearer view of infinite
purity." He owned, that our being in an unhappy uncertainty as to
our salvation was mysterious ; and said, " Ah ! we must wait till we are
in another state of being to have many things explained to us." Even

1 Nature, however, may supply the evacuation by an haemorrhage. KEARNEY.


the powerful mind of Johnson seemed foiled by futurity. But I thought
that the gloom of uncertainty in solemn religious speculation, being
mingled with hope, was yet more consolatory than the emptiness of
infidelity. A man can live in thick air, but perishes in an exhausted

Dr. Johnson was much pleased with a remark which I told him was
made to me by General Paoli : " That it is impossible not to be afraid
of death ; and that those who at the time of dying are not afraid, are
not thinking of death, but of applause, or something else, which keeps
death out of their sight : so that all men are equally afraid of death
when they see it ; only some have a power of turning their sight away
from it better than others."

On Wednesday, September 17, Dr. Butter, physician at Derby,
drank tea with us ; and it was settled that Dr. Johnson and I should
go on Friday and dine with him. Johnson said, " I'm glad of this."
He seemed weary of the uniformity of life at Dr. Taylor's.

Talking of biography, I said, in writing a life, a man's peculiarities
should be mentioned, because they mark his character. JOHNSON :
" Sir, there is no doubt as to peculiarities : the question is, whether a
man's vices should be mentioned ; for instance, whether it should be
mentioned that Addison and Parnell drank too freely ; for people will
probably more easily indulge in drinking from knowing this ; so that
more ill may be done by the example, than good by telling the whole
truth." Here was an instance of his varying from himself in talk ; for
when Lord Hailes and he sat one morning calmly conversing in my
house at Edinburgh, I well remember that Dr. Johnson maintained,
that " if a man is to write A Panegyric, he may keep vices out of
sight : but if he professes to write A Life, he must represent it really as
it was :" and when I objected to the danger of telling that Parnell drank
to excess, he said, that " it would produce an instructive caution to
avoid drinking, when it was seen that even the learning and genius of
Parnell could be debased by it." And in the Hebrides he maintained,
as appears from my " Journal," 1 that a man's intimate friend should
mention his faults, if he writes his life.

He had this evening (partly, I suppose, from the spirit of contradic-
tion to his Whig friend) a violent argument with Dr. Taylor, as to the
inclinations of the people of England at this time towards the royal
family of Stuart. He grew so outrageous as to say, " that if England
were fairly polled the present king would be sent away to-night, and
his adherents hanged to-morrow." Taylor, who was as violent a Whig
as Johnson was a Tory, was roused by this to a pitch of bellowing.
He denied loudly what Johnson said, and maintained that there was
an abhorrence against the Stuart family, though he admitted that the

1 " Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," 3d edit., p. 240. BOSWELL.


people were not much attached to the present king. 1 JOHNSON : " Sir,
the state of the country is this : the people knowing it to be agreed on
all hands that this king has not the hereditary right to the crown, and
there being no hope that he who has it can be restored, have grown
cold and indifferent upon the subject of loyalty, and have no warm
attachment to any king. They would not, therefore, risk anything to
restore the exiled family. They would not give 20s. a piece to bring it
about. But if a mere vote could do it, there would be twenty to one ;
at least, there would be a very great majority of voices for it. For, Sir,
you are to consider, that all those who think a king has a right to his
crown, as a man has to his estate, which is the just opinion, would be
for restoring the king who certainly has the hereditary right, could he
be trusted with it ; ill which there would be no danger now, when
laws and every thing else are so much advanced : and every king will
govern by the laws. And you must also consider, Sir, that there is
nothing on the other side to oppose this ; for it is not alleged by any
one that the present family has any inherent right : so that the Whigs
could not have a contest between two rights."

Dr. Taylor admitted, that if the question as to hereditary right were
to be tried by a poll of the people of England, to be sure the abstract
doctrine would be given in favour of the family of Stuart ; but he said
the conduct of that family, which occasioned their expulsion, was so
fresh in the minds of the people, that they would not vote for a restora-
tion. Dr. Johnson, I think, was contented with the admission as to
the hereditary right, leaving the original point in dispute, viz. what the
people upon the whole would do, taking in right and affection ; for he
said, people were afraid of a change, even though they think it right.
Dr. Taylor said something of the slight foundation of the hereditary
right of the house of Stuart. " Sir," said Johnson, " the house of Stuart
succeeded to the full right of both the houses of York and Lancaster,
whose common source had the undisputed right. A right to a throne
is like a right to anything else. Possession is sufficient, where no
better right can be shown. This was the case with the royal family
of England, as it is now with the king of France : for as to the first
beginning of the right we are in the dark."

Thursday, September 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that
the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor's large room should be
lighted up some time or other. Taylor said it should be lighted up
next night. " That will do very well," said I, " for it is Dr. Johnson's
birthday." When we were in the Isle of Sky, Johnson had desired me
not to mention his birthday. He did not seem pleased at this time

1 Dr. Taylor was very ready to make this admission, because the party with which he was
connected was not in power. There was then some truth in it, owing to the pertinacity of
factious clamour. Had he lived till now, it would have heen impossible for him to deny that
his Majesty possesses the warmest affection of his people. BOSWELL.


that I mentioned it, and said somewhat sternly, " he would not have
the lustre lighted the next day."

Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his
birthday, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally by
wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birthday
mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching
nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.

I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from
low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now
uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any pertur-
bation. " Sir," said Johnson, " this is only a disordered imagination
taking a different turn."

"We talked of a collection being made of all the English Poets who
had published a volume of poems. Johnson told me " that a Mr.
Coxeter," 1 whom he knew, had gone the greatest length towards this,
having collected, I think, about five hundred volumes of poets whose
works were little -known ; but that upon his death Tom Osborne
bought them, and they were dispersed, which he thought a pity, as it
was curious to see any series complete ; and in every volume of poems
something good may be found."

He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into
a bad style of Poetry of late. " He puts," said he, " a very common
thing in a strange dress till he does not know it himself, and thinks other
people do not know it." BOSWELL : " That is owing to his being so much
versant in old English poetry." JOHNSON : " What is that to the pur-
pose, Sir 1 If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his

taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, Sir, has

taken to an odd mode. For example, he'd write thus :

'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray.'

Gray evening is common enough ; but evening gray he'd think fine.
Stay we'll make out the stanza :

' Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray,
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,

What is bliss, and which the way ?' "

BOSWELL: "But why smite his bosom, Sir?" JOHNSON: "Why to

1 Thomas Coieter, Esq., who had also made a large collection of old plays, and from whose
manuscript notes " The Lives of the English Poets," by Shiels and Cibber, were principally
compiled, as should have been mentioned in a former page. See pp. 18 20 of this volume.
[Mr. Coxeter was bred at Trinity College, Oxford, and died in London, April 17, 1747, in his
fifty-ninth year. A particular account of him may be found in " The Gentleman's Magazine "
for 1781, p. 173. MALONE.]


show he was in earnest" (smiling). He, at an after period, added the
following stanza :

" Thus I spoke ; and speaking sigh'd,

Scarce repressed the starting tear ;
When the smiling sage replied

Come, my lad, and drink some beer." 1

I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also
the first three lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque
surprise on gloomy sentimental inquirers. And, perhaps, the advice
as good as can be given to a low-spirited, dissatisfied being : " Don't
trouble your head with sickly thinking : take a cup and be merry."

1 As some of my readers maybe gratified by reading the progress of tliis little composition,
I shall insert it from my notes. " When Dr. Johnson and I were sitting tete-a-tete at the
Mitre Tavern, May 9, 1778, he said, '. Where is bliss ' would be better. He then added a
ludicrous stanza, but would not repeat it, lest I should take it down. It was somewhat as
follows ; the last line I am sure I remember :

' While I thus cried,

The hoary replied,

Come, my lad, and drink some beer.'

In spring, 1779, when in better humour, he made the second stanza, as in the text. There
was only one variation afterwards made on my suggestion, which was changing hoary, in the
third line, to smiling, both 1o avoid a sameness with the epithet in the first line, and to
describe the hermit in his pleasantry. He was then very well pleased that 1 should preserve
it." Bos WELL.




TfKIDAY, September 19, after breakfast, Dr. Johnson and I set out
in Dr. Taylor's chaise to go to Derby. The day was fine, and we
resolved to go by Keddlestone, the seat of Lord Scarsdale, that I might
see his Lordship's fine house. I was struck with the magnificence of
the building ; and the extensive park, with the finest verdure, covered
with deer, and cattle, and sheep, delighted me. The number of old
oaks, of an immense size, filled me with a sort of respectful admiration.
For one of them, 601. was offered. The excellent smooth gravel roads ;
the large piece of water formed by his Lordship from some small
brooks, with a handsome barge upon it : the venerable Gothic church,




now the family chapel, just by the house ; in short, the grand group of
objects agitated and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner.
" One should think," said I, " that the proprietor of all this must be


happy." " Nay, Sir," said Johnson, " all this excludes but one evil
poverty." 1

Our names were sent up, and a well-dressed elderly housekeeper, a
most distinct articulator, showed us the house ; which I need not
describe, as there is an account of it published in " Adams' Works in
Architecture." Dr. Johnson thought better of it to-day than when he
saw it before ; for he had lately attacked it violently, saying, " It would
do excellently for a town-hall. The large room with the pillars," said
he, " would do for the judges to sit in at the assizes ; the circular room
for a jury-chamber ; and the room above for prisoners." Still he
thought the large room ill-lighted, and of no use but for dancing in ;
and the bed-chambers but indifferent rooms ; and that the immense
sum which it cost was injudiciously laid out. Dr. Taylor had put him
in mind of his appearing pleased with the house. " But," said he,
" that was when Lord Scarsdale was present. Politeness obliges us to

1 When I mentioned Dr. Johnson's remark to a lady of admirable good sense and quickness
of understanding, she observed, " It is true, all this excludes only one evil ; but how much
good does it let in?" To this observation much praise has been justly given. Let me then
now do myself the honour to mention that the lady who made it was the late Margaret
Montgomerie, my very valuable wife, and the very affectionate mother of my children, who,
if they inherit her good qualities, will have no reason to complain of their lot. Dos mayna,
parentum virtus. R<wwm.T..


appear pleased with a man's works when he is present. No man will
be so ill-bred as to question you. You may therefore pay compliments
without saying what is not true. I should say to Lord Scarsdale of his
large room, 'My Lord, this is the most costly room that I ever saw;'
which is true."

Dr. Manningham, physician in London, who was visiting at Lord
Scarsdale's, accompanied us through many of the rooms ; and soon after-
wards my Lord himself, to whom Dr. Johnson was known, appeared,
and did the honours of the house. We talked of Mr. Langton. John-
son, with a warm vehemence of affectionate regard, exclaimed, " The
earth does not bear a worthier man than Bennet Langton." We saw a
good many fine pictures, which I think are described in one of "Young's
Tours." There is a printed catalogue of them, which the housekeeper
put into my hand ; I should like to view them at leisure. I was much
struck with Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream, by Rem-
brandt. We were shown a pretty large library. In his Lordship's
dressing-room lay Johnson's small Dictionary : he showed it to me with
some eagerness, saying, " Look'ye ! Quce regio in terris nostri non plena
laboris!" He observed, also, Goldsmith's " Animated Nature ;" and
said, " Here 's our friend ! The poor Doctor would have been happy to
hear of this."

In our way Johnson strongly expressed his love of dirving fast in a
post-chaise. " If," said he, " I had no duties, and no reference to futurity,
I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty
woman ; but she should be one who could understand me, and would
add something to the conversation." I observed, that we were this day
to stop just where the Highland army did in 1745. JOHNSON : " It was a
noble attempt." BOSWELL : " I wish we could have an authentic history
of it." JOHNSON : " If you were not an idle dog you might write it, by
collecting from everybody what they can tell, and putting down your
authorities." BOSWELL : " But I could not have the advantage of it in
my lifetime." JOHNSON : " You might have the satisfaction of its fame,
by printing it in Holland ; and as to profit, consider how long it was

Online LibraryJames BoswellThe life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. : comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works in chronological order ; a series of his epistolary correspondence and conversations with many eminent persons ; and various original pieces of his composition, never before published ; the whole exhibiti → online text (page 13 of 35)