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

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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 14 of 35)
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before writing came to be considered in a pecuniary view. Baretti
says, he is the first man that ever received copy-money in Italy." I
said that I would endeavour to do what Dr. Johnson suggested ; and I
thought that I might write so as to venture to publish my " History of
the Civil War in Great Britain in 1745 and 1746," without being obliged
to go to a foreign press. 1

When we arrived at Derby, Dr. Butter acccompanied us to see the
manufactory of China there. I admired the ingenuity and delicate art
with which a man fashioned clay into a cup, a saucer, or a tea-pot,

1 I am now happy to understand that Mr. John Home (who was himself gallantly in the field
for the reigning family in that interesting warfare, but is generous enough to do justice to
the other side), is preparing an account of it for the press. BOSWELL.


while a boy turned round a wheel to give the mass rotundity. I thought
this as excellent in its species of power, as making good verses in its
species. Yet I had no respect for this potter. Neither, indeed, has a
man of any extent of thinking for a mere verse-maker, in whose num-
bers, however perfect, there is no poetry, no mind. The china was
beautiful ; but Dr. Johnson justly observed it was too dear ; for that
he could have vessels of silver, of the same size, as cheap as what were
here made of porcelain.

I felt a pleasure in walking about Derby, such as I always have in
walking about any town to which I am not accustomed. There is an
immediate sensation of novelty ; and one speculates on the way in which
life is passed in it, which, although there is a sameness everywhere
upon the whole, is yet minutely diversified. The minute diversities in
everything are wonderful. Talking of shaving the other night at Dr.
Taylor's, Dr. Johnson said, " Sir, of a thousand shavers, two do not shave
so much alike as not to be distinguished." I thought this not possible,
till he specified so many of the varieties in shaving ; holding the razor
more or less perpendicular ; drawing long or short strokes ; beginning
at the upper part of the face, or the under at the right side or the left
side. Indeed, when one considers what variety of sounds can be uttered
by the wind-pipe, in the compass of a very small aperture, we may be
convinced how many degrees of difference there may be in the application
of a razor.

We dined with Dr. Butter, 1 whose lady is daughter of my cousin, Sir
John Douglas, whose grandson is now presumptive heir of the noble
family of Queensberry. Johnson and he had a good deal of medical
conversation. Johnson said, he had somewhere or other given an
account of Dr. Nichols's discourse " De Animd Medicd." He told us,
" that whatever a man's distemper was, Dr. Nichols would not attend
him as a physician, if his mind was not at ease ; for he believed that
no medicines would have any influence. He once attended a man in
trade, upon whom he found none of the medicines he prescribed had
any effect ; he asked the man's wife privately whether his affairs were
not in a bad way ? She said no. He continued his attendance some
time, still without success. At length the man's wife told him, she
had discovered that her husband's affairs were in a bad way. When
Goldsmith was dying, Dr. Turton said to him, ' Your pulse is in greater
disorder than it should be, from the degree of fever which you have :
is your mind at ease 1 ' Goldsmith answered it was not."

After dinner, Mrs. Butter went with me to see the silk-mill which
Mr. John Lombe had had a patent for, 2 having brought away the con-

1 Dr. Butter was at this time a practising physician at Derby. He afterwards removed to
London, where he died in his 79th year, March 22, 1805. He is author of several medical
tracts. M ALONE."

2 See Button's " History of Derby," a book which is deservedly esteemed for its information,


trivance from Italy. I am not very conversant with mechanics ; but the
simplicity of this machine, and its multiplied operations, struck me with
an agreeable surprise. I had learnt from Dr. Johnson, during this inter-
view, not to think with a dejected indifference of the works of art and
the pleasures of life, because life is uncertain and short ; but to consider
such indifference as a failure of reason, a morbidness of mind ; for
happiness should be cultivated as much as we can and the objects which
are instrumental to it should be steadily considered as of importance,
with a reference not only to ourselves, but to multitudes in successive
ages. Though it is proper to value small parts, as

" Sands make the mountain, moments make the year ; "

yet we must contemplate, collectively, to have a just estimation of objects.
One moment's being uneasy or not, seems of no consequence ; yet this
may be thought of the next, and the next, and so on, till there is a large
portion of misery. In the same way one must think of happiness, of
learning, of friendship. We cannot tell the precise moment when friend-
ship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a
drop which makes it run over ; so in a series of kindnesses there is at
last one which makes the heart run over. We must not divide objects
of our attention into minute parts, and think separately of each part. It
is by contemplating a large mass of human existence, that a man, while
he sets a just value on his own life, does not think of his death as anni-
hilating all that is great and pleasing in the world, as if actually contained
in his mind, according to Berkeley's reverie. If his imagination be not
sickly and feeble, it " wings its distant way " far beyond himself, and
views the world in unceasing activity of every sort. It must be acknow-
ledged, however, that Pope's plaintive reflection, that all things would
be as gay as ever, on the day of his death, is natural and common. We
are apt to transfer to all around us our own gloom, without considering
that at any given point of time there is, perhaps, as much youth and gaiety
in the world as at another. Before I came into this life, in which I have
had so many pleasant scenes, have not thousands and tens of thousands
of deaths and funerals happened, and have not families been in grief for
their nearest relations 1 But have those dismal circumstances at all
affected me ? Why then should the gloomy scenes which I experience
or which I know, affect others ? Let us guard against imagining that
there is an end of felicity upon earth, when we ourselves grow old, or
are unhappy.

Dr. Johnson told us at tea, that when some of Dr. Dodd's pious
friends were trying to console him by saying that he was going to leave
"a wretched world," he had honesty enough not to join in the cant :

accuracy, and good narrative. Indeed the age in which we live is eminently distinguished
by topographical excellence. BOSWELL.


" No, no," said he, " it has been a very agreeable world to me." John-
son added, " I respect Dodd for thus speaking the truth ; for, to be
sure, he had for several years enjoyed a life of great voluptuousness."

He told us that Dodd's city friends stood by him so, that a thousand
pounds were ready to be given to the gaoler, if he would let him escape.
He added, that he knew a friend of Dodd's who walked about Newgate
for some time on the evening before the day of his execution, with five
hundred pounds in his pocket, ready to be paid to any of the turnkeys who
could get him out ; but it was too late, for he was watched with much
circumspection. He said, Dodd's friends had an image of him made of
wax, which was to have been left in his place ; and he believed it was
carried into the prison.

Johnson disapproved of Dr. Dodd's leaving the world persuaded that
" The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren " was of his own
writing. " But, Sir," said I, " you contributed to the deception ; for
when Mr. Seward expressed a doubt to you that it was not Dodd's own,
because it had a great deal more force of mind in it than anything
known to be his, you answered, ' Why should you think so ? Depend
upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,
it concentrates his mind wonderfully.' " JOHNSON : " Sir, as Dodd
got it from me to pass as his own, while that could do him any good,
that was an implied promise that I should not own it. To own it,
therefore, would have been telling a lie, with the addition of breach of
promise, which was worse than simply telling a lie to make it be believed
it was Dodd's. Besides, Sir, I did not directly tell a lie : I left the
matter uncertain. Perhaps I thought that Seward would not believe
it the less to be mine for what I said ; but I would not put it in his
power to say I had owned it."

He praised Blair's Sermons : " Yet," said he, (willing to let us see
he was aware that fashionable fame, however deserved, is not always
the most lasting,) "perhaps they may not be reprinted after seven
years ; at least not after Blair's death."

He said, " Goldsmith was a plant that flowered late. There appeared
nothing remarkable about him when he was young ; though when he
got high in fame, one of his friends began to recollect something of
his being distinguished at College. 1 Goldsmith in the same manner
recollected more of that friend's early years, as he grew a greater man."

I mentioned that Lord Monboddo told me, he awaked every morning
at four, and then for his health got up and walked in his room naked,
with the window open, which he called taking an air lath ; after which
he went to bed again, and slept two hours more. Johnson, who was
always ready to beat down anything that seemed to be exhibited

1 He was distinguished in college, as appears from a circumstance mentioned by Dr. Kearne}'.
See vol. i., chap. xiii. MALONB.


with disproportionate importance, thus observed : I suppose, Sir,
there is no more in it than this, he wakes at four, and cannot sleep
till he chills himself, and makes the warmth of the bed a grateful

I talked of the difficulty of rising in the morning. Dr. Johnson told
me, " that the learned Mrs. Carter, 1 at that period when she was eager
in study, did not awake as early as she wished, and she therefore had a
contrivance, that, at a certain hour, her chamber-light should burn a
string to which a heavy weight was suspended, which then fell with a
strong sudden noise : this roused her from her sleep, and then she had
no difficulty in getting up." But I said thai was my difficulty ; and
wished there could be some medicine invented which would make one
rise without pain, which I never did, unless after lying in bed a very long
time. Perhaps there may be something in the stores of nature which
could do this. I have thought of a pulley to raise me gradually ; but
that would give me pain, as it would counteract my internal inclination.
I would have something that can dissipate the vis inertice, and give
elasticity to the muscles. As I imagine that the human body may be
put, by the operation of other substances, into any state in which it has
ever been ; and as I have experienced a state in which rising from bed
was not disagreeable, but easy, nay, sometimes agreeable ; I suppose
that this state may be produced, if we knew by what. We can heat the
body, we can cool it ; we can give it tension or relaxation ; and surely
it is possible to bring it into a state in which rising from bed will not
be a pain.

Johnson observed, that " a man should take a sufficient quantity o
sleep, which Dr. Mead says is between seven and nine hours." I told
him, that Dr. Cullen said to me, that a man should not take more sleep
than he can take at once. JOHNSON : " This rule, Sir, cannot hold in
all cases ; for many people have their sleep broken by sickness ; and
surely Cullen would not have a man to get up, after having slept but
an hour. Such a regimen would soon end in a long sleep." z Dr. Taylor

1 This was the learned and accomplished Elizabeth Carter, whose name is frequently
mentioned in these Memoirs. She was born at Deal in 1717, and was the daughter of the
Rev. Dr. Nicholas Carter, through whose instructions she became acquainted with the Latin and
Greek languages. She was also well skilled in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese,
Arabic, and Hebrew. She was known as the translator of Cronsay's " Critique on Pope's
Essay on Man," Algarotti's " Explanation of Newton's Philosophy," and of " Epictetus."
After her decease, six volumes of her Correspondence were published, which display great
intellectual powers. Mr. Cave was the means of first introducing her to many authors and
scholars of note, and among those was Dr. Johnson, with whom she continued on terms of
intimacy as long as he lived. She died in Clarges-street, in 1806. ED.

8 This regimen was, however, practised by Bishop Ken, of whom Hawkins (not Sir John) in
his life of that venerable prelate, p. 4, tells us, " And that neither his study might be the
aggressor on his hours of instruction, or what he judged his duty, prevent his improvements ;
or both, his closet addresses to his GOD ; he strictly accustomed himself to but one sleep,
which often obliged him to rise at one or two of the clock in the morning, and sometimes
sooner ; and grew so habitual, that it continued with him almost till his last illness. And so.
VOL. m. I


remarked, I think very justly, that " a man who does not feel an inclina-
tion to sleep at the ordinary times, instead of being stronger than other
people, must not be well ; for a man in health has all the natural incli-
nations to eat, drink, and sleep in a strong degree."

Johnson advised me to-night not to refine in the education of my
children. " Life," said he, " will not bear refinement ; you must do as
other people do."

As we drove back to Ashbourne, Dr. Johnson recommended to me,
as he had often done, to drink water only : " For," said he, " you are
then sure not to get drunk ; whereas, if you drink wine, you are never
sure." I said, drinking wine was a pleasure which I was unwilling to give
up. " Why, Sir," said he, " there is no doubt that not to drink wine
is a great deduction from life : but it may be necessary." He, however,
owned that, in his opinion, a free use of wine did not shorten life ; and
said, he would not give less for the life of a certain Scotch Lord (whom
he named) celebrated for hard drinking, than for that of a sober man.
" But stay," said he, with his usual intelligence and accuracy of inquiry,
"does it take much wine to make him drunk ?" I answered, " a great
deal either of wine or strong punch." " Then," said he, " that is the
worse." I presume to illustrate my friend's observation thus : " A
fortress which soon surrenders has its walls less shattered, than when a
long and obstinate resistance is made."

I ventured to mention a person who was as violent a Scotsman as
he was an Englishman ; and literally had the same contempt for an
Englishman compared with a Scotsman, that he had for a Scotsman
compared with an Englishman ; and that he would say of Dr. Johnson,
" Damned rascal ! to talk as he does of the Scotch." This seemed,
for a moment, " to give him pause." It perhaps presented his extreme
prejudice against the Scotch in a point of view somewhat new to him,
by the effect of contrast.

By the time when we returned to Ashbourne, Dr. Taylor was gone
to bed. Johnson and I sat up a long time by ourselves.

He was much diverted with an article which I showed him in " The
Critical Review " of this year, giving an account of a curious publica-
tion, entitled, " A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies, by John Rutty,
M.D." Dr. Rutty was one of the people called Quakers, a physician of
some eminence in Dublin, and author of several works. This Diary,
which was kept from 1753 to 1775, the year in which he died, and was
now published in two volumes octavo, exhibited, in the simplicity of his
heart, a minute and honest register of the state of his mind ; which,

lively and cheerful was his temper, that he would be very facetious and entertaining to his
friends in the evening, even when it was perceived that with difficulty he kept his eyes open;
and then seemed to go to rest with no other purpose than the refreshing and enabling him
with more vigour and cheerfulness to sing his morning hymn, as he then used to do to his
lute before he put on his clothes." BOSWELL.


though frequently laughable enough, was not more so than the history
of many men would be, if recorded with equal fairness.
The following specimens were extracted by the Reviewers :

"Tenth month, 1753.

"23. Indulgence in bed an hour too long.

"Twelfth month, 17. An hypochondriac obnubilation from wind and


" Ninth month, 28. An over dose of whisky.
" 29. A dull, cross, choleric day.

" First month, 1757 22. A little swinish at dinner and repast.
" 31. Dogged on provocation.
" Second month, 5. Very dogged or snappish.
"14. Snappish on fasting.

"26. Cursed snappishness to those under me, on a bodily indisposition.
" Third month, 11. On a provocation, exercised a dull resentment for two

days instead of scolding.
" 22. Scolded too vehemently.
" 23. Dogged again.
" Fourth month, 29. Mechanically and sinfully dogged."

Johnson laughed heartily at this good quietist's self-condemning
minutes ; particularly at his mentioning, with such a serious regret,
occasional instances of " swinishness in eating, and doggedness of temper."
He thought the observations of the Critical Reviewers upon the im-
portance of a man to himself so ingenious and so well expressed, that I
shall here introduce them.

After observing, that "there are few writers who have gained any
reputation by recording their own actions," they say,

" We may reduce the egotists to four classes. In the first we have
Julius Caesar : he relates his own transactions ; but he relates them
with peculiar grace and dignity, and his narrative is supported by the
greatness of his character and achievements. In the second class we
have Marcus Antoninus : this writer has given us a series of reflections
on his own life ; but his sentiments are so noble, his morality so sub-
lime, that his meditations are universally admired. In the third class
we have some others of tolerable credit, who have given importance
to their own private history by an intermixture of literary anec-
dotes, and the occurrences of their own times : the celebrated
Huetius has published an entertaining volume upon this plan ' De
relus ad eum pertinentibus? In the fourth class we have the jour-
nalists, temporal and spiritual : Elias Ashmole, 1 William Lilly, 2 George

1 Elias Ashmole was the founder of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. In the early
part of his life he ardently devoted himself to alchemy. He was born in 1617, and died
in 1692. ED.

a The well-known astrologer, who was employed daring the civil wars, both by Charles I.
and the Parliamentary forces, in astrological predictions ; and those contained in his almanacs



Whitefield, 1 John Wesley, 2 and a thousand other old women and
fanatic writers of memoirs and meditations."

I mentioned to him that Dr. Hugh Blair, in his lectures on Rhetoric
and Belles Lettres, which I heard him deliver at Edinburgh, had ani-
madverted on the Johnsonian style as too pompous ; and attempted to
imitate it, by giving a sentence of Addison in " The Spectator," No.
411, in the manner of Johnson. When treating of the utility of the
pleasures of imagination in preserving us from vice, it is observed of
those " who know not how to be idle and innocent," that " their very
first step out of business is into vice or folly," which Dr. Blair supposed
would have been expressed in " The Rambler" thus : " Their very first
step out of the regions of business is into the perturbation of vice, or
the vacuity of folly." 3 JOHNSON : " Sir, these are not the words I should
have used. No, Sir ; the imitators of my style have not hit it. Miss
Aikin has done it the best ; for she has imitated the sentiment as well
as the diction."

I intend, before this work is concluded, to exhibit specimens of
imitation of my friend's style in various modes ; some caricaturing or
mimicking it, and some formed upon it, whether intentionally or with
a degree of similarity to it, of which, perhaps, the writers were not

In Baretti's Review, which he published in Italy under the title of
" FRUSTA LETTERARIA," it is observed, that Dr. Robertson, the historian,
had formed his style upon that of " 11 celebre Samuele Johnson." My
friend himself was of that opinion ; for he once said to me, in a pleasant
humour, " Sir, if Robertson's style be faulty, he owes it to me ; that is,
having too many words, and those too big ones."

I read to him a letter which Lord Monboddo had written to me,
containing some critical remarks upon the style of his " Journey to the
Western Islands of Scotland." His Lordship praised the very fine
passage upon landing at Icolmkill ; 4 but his own style being exceedingly

are represented to have produced a great effect upon the soldiers and the populace. He was
born in Leicestershire in 1602, and died at Horsham in 1681. ED.

1 Whitefield was the founder of the Calvinistic Methodists, and one of the most popular
and zealous preachers of his time. He was born at Gloucester in 1714, and died at Newbury-
port, in New England, in 1770. ED.

2 Wesley was a contemporary and the fellow-labourer of Whitefield, and the great founder
of Methodism; but a disagreement arising on the subject of Calvinistic and Arminian
doctrines, a separation soon took place ; and hence two distinct sects arose. Wesley was born
in 1703, and died in 1791. ED.

3 When Dr. Blair published his "Lectures," he was invidiously attacked for having
omitted his censure on Johnson's style, and, on the contrary, praising it highly. But
before that time Johnson's "Lives of the Poets" had appeared, in which his style was
considerably easier than when he wrote "The Rambler." It would, therefore, have been
uncandid in Blair, even supposing his criticism to have been just, to have preserved it.

4 "We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the
Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of


dry and hard, he disapproved of the richness of Johnson's language,
and of his frequent use of metaphorical expressions. JOHNSOX : " Why,
Sir, this criticism would be just, if, in my style, superfluous words, or
words too big for the thoughts, could be pointed out ; but this I do not
believe can be done. For instance, in the passage which Lord Mon-
boddo admires, ' We were now treading that illustrious region,' the word
illustrious contributes nothing to the mere narration ; for the fact might
be told without it : but it is not therefore superfluous ; for it awakes
the mind to peculiar attention, where something of more than usual
importance is to be presented. ' Illustrious !' for what ? and then the
sentence proceeds to expand the circumstances connected with lona.
And, Sir, as to metaphorical expression, that is a great excellence in
style, when it is used with propriety, for it gives you two ideas for one ;
conveys the meaning more luminously, and generally with a perception
of delight."

. He told me that he had been asked to undertake the new edition of
" The Biographia Britannica," but had declined it ; which he afterwards
said to me he regretted. In this regret many will join, because it would
have procured us more of Johnson's most delightful species of writing ;
and, although my friend Dr. Kippis 1 has hitherto discharged the task
judiciously, distinctly, and with more impartiality than might have
been expected from a Separatist, it were to have been wished that the
superintendence of this literary Temple of Fame had been assigned to
" a friend to the constitution in Church and State." We should not
then have had it too much crowded with obscure dissenting teachers,
doubtless men of merit and worth, but not quite to be numbered
amongst "the most eminent persons who have flourished in Great
Britain and Ireland." 2

knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would
be impossible if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever
withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the

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 14 of 35)