On Tuesday the 5th of July, I again visited Johnson. He told me he had looked into the poems of a pretty voluminous writer, Mr. (now Dr.) John Ogilvie, one of the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland, which had lately come out, but could find no thinking in them.
BOSWELL. 'Is there not imagination in them, Sir?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there is in them what was imagination, but it is no more imagination in him, than sound is sound in the echo. And his diction too is not his own. We have long ago seen white-robed innocence, and flower-bespangled meads.'
Talking of London, he observed,
'Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists.'
— I have often amused myself with thinking how different a place London is to different people. They, whose narrow minds are contracted to the consideration of some one particular pursuit, view it only through that medium.
A politician thinks of it merely as the seat of government in its different departments;
a grazier, as a vast market for cattle;
a mercantile man, as a place where a prodigious deal of business is done upon 'Change;
a dramatick enthusiast, as the grand scene of theatrical entertainments;
a man of pleasure, as an assemblage of taverns, and the great emporium for ladies of easy virtue.
But the intellectual man is struck with it, as comprehending the whole of human life in all its variety, the contemplation of which is inexhaustible.
On Wednesday, July 6, he was engaged to sup with me at my lodgings in Downing-street, Westminster. But on the preceding night my landlord having behaved very rudely to me and some company who were with me, I had resolved not to remain another night in his house.
I was exceedingly uneasy at the awkward appearance I supposed I should make to Johnson and the other gentlemen whom I had invited, not being able to receive them at home, and being obliged to order supper at the Mitre.
I went to Johnson in the morning, and talked of it as a serious distress. He laughed, and said,
'Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.'
— Were this consideration to be applied to most of the little vexatious incidents of life, by which our quiet is too often disturbed, it would prevent many painful sensations. I have tried it frequently, with good effect.
'There is nothing (continued he) in this mighty misfortune; nay, we shall be better at the Mitre.'
I told him that I had been at Sir John Fielding's office, complaining of my landlord, and had been informed, that though I had taken my lodgings for a year, I might, upon proof of his bad behaviour, quit them when I pleased, without being under an obligation to pay rent for any longer time than while I possessed them.
The fertility of Johnson's mind could shew itself even upon so small a matter as this.
'Why, Sir, (said he,) I suppose this must be the law, since you have been told so in Bow-street. But, if your landlord could hold you to your bargain, and the lodgings should be yours for a year, you may certainly use them as you think fit.
‘So, Sir, you may quarter two life-guardsmen upon him;
‘or you may send the greatest scoundrel you can find into your apartments;
‘or you may say that you want to make some experiments in natural philosophy, and may burn a large quantity of assafoetida in his house.'
I had as my guests this evening at the Mitre tavern, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Thomas Davies, Mr. Eccles, an Irish gentleman, for whose agreeable company I was obliged to Mr. Davies, and the Reverend Mr. John Ogilvie, who was desirous of being in company with my illustrious friend, while I, in my turn, was proud to have the honour of shewing one of my countrymen upon what easy terms Johnson permitted me to live with him.
Mr. Ogilvie was unlucky enough to choose for the topick of his conversation the praises of his native country. He began with saying, that there was very rich land round Edinburgh. Goldsmith, who had studied physick there, contradicted this, very untruly, with a sneering laugh. Disconcerted a little by this, Mr. Ogilvie then took new ground, where, I suppose, he thought himself perfectly safe; for he observed, that Scotland had a great many noble wild prospects.
JOHNSON. 'I believe, Sir, you have a great many. Norway, too, has noble wild prospects; and Lapland is remarkable for prodigious noble wild prospects.
‘But, Sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!'
This unexpected and pointed sally produced a roar of applause.
(To be continued. This week’s chapter was brought to you with the help of a generous grant from Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Bob’s Bowery Bar™ remains as it has remained for lo, these many years: a welcoming dark hidey-hole for the man or woman
who wants merely to sit and escape for an hour (or two or three) from the hustle and bustle of this crazy modern world. Be sure to try the house ‘basement-brewed” bock – it goes swell with ‘Bob’s Mom’s home-baked soft pretzels!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and host of Horace P. Sternwall Presents “Swisher’s King Edward Cigar Theatre”, Tuesday nights at 9pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.