Sunday, October 4, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 95

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Men’s Studies, Assistant Mixed Martial Arts Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Battered Bride from Battersea, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout by rhoda penmarq, with the assistance of  eddie el greco (gouaches) and roy dismas (lettering) for rhoda penmarq remarqable™ productions.

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We drank tea with the ladies; and Goldsmith sung Tony Lumpkin's song in his comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, and a very pretty one, to an Irish tune, which he had designed for Miss Hardcastle; but as Mrs. Bulkeley, who played the part, could not sing, it was left out. He afterwards wrote it down for me, by which means it was preserved, and now appears amongst his poems.

Dr. Johnson, in his way home, stopped at my lodgings in Piccadilly, and sat with me, drinking tea a second time, till a late hour.

I told him that Mrs. Macaulay said, she wondered how he could reconcile his political principles with his moral; his notions of inequality and subordination with wishing well to the happiness of all mankind, who might live so agreeably, had they all their portions of land, and none to domineer over another.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I reconcile my principles very well, because mankind are happier in a state of inequality and subordination. Were they to be in this pretty state of equality, they would soon degenerate into brutes;— they would become Monboddo's nation;— their tails would grow. Sir, all would be losers were all to work for all:— they would have no intellectual improvement. All intellectual improvement arises from leisure; all leisure arises from one working for another.'

Talking of the family of Stuart, he said, 'It should seem that the family at present on the throne has now established as good a right as the former family, by the long consent of the people; and that to disturb this right might be considered as culpable. At the same time I own, that it is a very difficult question, when considered with respect to the house of Stuart. To oblige people to take oaths as to the disputed right, is wrong. I know not whether I could take them: but I do not blame those who do.' 

So conscientious and so delicate was he upon this subject, which has occasioned so much clamour against him.

On Thursday, April 15, I dined with him and Dr. Goldsmith at General Paoli's. We found here Signor Martinelli, of Florence, authour of a History of England, in Italian, printed at London.

I spoke of Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, in the Scottish dialect, as the best pastoral that had ever been written; not only abounding with beautiful rural imagery, and just and pleasing sentiments, but being a real picture of manners; and I offered to teach Dr. Johnson to understand it.

'No, Sir (said he,) I won't learn it. You shall retain your superiority by my not knowing it.'

This brought on a question whether one man is lessened by another's acquiring an equal degree of knowledge with him. Johnson asserted the affirmative. I maintained that the position might be true in those kinds of knowledge which produce wisdom, power, and force, so as to enable one man to have the government of others; but that a man is not in any degree lessened by others knowing as well as he what ends in mere pleasure:— eating fine fruits, drinking delicious wines, reading exquisite poetry.

The General observed, that Martinelli was a Whig.

JOHNSON. 'I am sorry for it. It shows the spirit of the times: he is obliged to temporise.'

BOSWELL. 'I rather think, Sir, that Toryism prevails in this reign.'

JOHNSON. 'I know not why you should think so, Sir. You see your friend Lord Lyttelton, a nobleman, is obliged in his History to write the most vulgar Whiggism.'

An animated debate took place whether Martinelli should continue his History of England to the present day.

GOLDSMITH. 'To be sure he should.'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he would give great offence. He would have to tell of almost all the living great what they do not wish told.'

GOLDSMITH. 'It may, perhaps, be necessary for a native to be more cautious; but a foreigner who comes among us without prejudice, may be considered as holding the place of a Judge, and may speak his mind freely.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, a foreigner, when he sends a work from the press, ought to be on his guard against catching the errour and mistaken enthusiasm of the people among whom he happens to be.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'Sir, he wants only to sell his history, and to tell truth; one an honest, the other a laudable motive.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, they are both laudable motives. It is laudable in a man to wish to live by his labours; but he should write so as he may live by them, not so as he may be knocked on the head. I would advise him to be at Calais before he publishes his history of the present age. A foreigner who attaches himself to a political party in this country, is in the worst state that can be imagined: he is looked upon as a mere intermeddler. A native may do it from interest.' 

BOSWELL. 'Or principle.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'There are people who tell a hundred political lies every day, and are not hurt by it. Surely, then, one may tell truth with safety.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in the first place, he who tells a hundred lies has disarmed the force of his lies. But besides; a man had rather have a hundred lies told of him, than one truth which he does not wish should be told.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'For my part, I'd tell truth, and shame the devil.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but the devil will be angry. I wish to shame the devil as much you do, but I should choose to be out of the reach of his claws.' 

It having been observed that there was little hospitality in London;— 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, any man who has a name, or who has the power of pleasing, will be very generally invited in London. The man, Sterne, I have been told, has had engagements for three months.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'And a very dull fellow.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir.'

Martinelli told us, that for several years he lived much with Charles Townshend, and that he ventured to tell him he was a bad joker.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, thus much I can say upon the subject. One day he and a few more agreed to go and dine in the country, and each of them was to bring a friend in his carriage with him. Charles Townshend asked Fitzherbert to go with him, but told him, “You must find somebody to bring you back: I can only carry you there.” Fitzherbert did not much like this arrangement. He however consented, observing sarcastically, “It will do very well; for then the same jokes will serve you in returning as in going.”'

An eminent publick character being mentioned;—

JOHNSON. 'I remember being present when he shewed himself to be so corrupted, or at least something so different from what I think right, as to maintain, that a member of parliament should go along with his party right or wrong. Now, Sir, this is so remote from native virtue, from scholastick virtue, that a good man must have undergone a great change before he can reconcile himself to such a doctrine. It is maintaining that you may lie to the publick; for you lie when you call that right which you think wrong, or the reverse. A friend of ours, who is too much an echo of that gentleman, observed, that a man who does not stick uniformly to a party, is only waiting to be bought. Why then, said I, he is only waiting to be what that gentleman is already.'

We talked of the King's coming to see Goldsmith's new play.—

'I wish he would,' said Goldsmith; adding, however, with an affected indifference, 'Not that it would do me the least good.' 

JOHNSON. 'Well then, Sir, let us say it would do him good, (laughing). No, Sir, this affectation will not pass;— it is mighty idle. In such a state as ours, who would not wish to please the Chief Magistrate?'

A person was mentioned, who it was said could take down in short hand the speeches in parliament with perfect exactness. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is impossible. I remember one, Angel, who came to me to write for him a Preface or Dedication to a book upon short hand, and he professed to write as fast as a man could speak. In order to try him, I took down a book, and read while he wrote; and I favoured him, for I read more deliberately than usual. I had proceeded but a very little way, when he begged I would desist, for he could not follow me.' 

Hearing now for the first time of this Preface or Dedication, I said, 'What an expense, Sir, do you put us to in buying books, to which you have written Prefaces or Dedications.'

JOHNSON. 'Why I have dedicated to the Royal family all round; that is to say, to the last generation of the Royal family.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'And perhaps, Sir, not one sentence of wit in a whole Dedication.' 

JOHNSON. 'Perhaps not, Sir.' 

BOSWELL. 'What then is the reason for applying to a particular person to do that which any one may do as well?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, one man has greater readiness at doing it than another.'

I spoke of Mr. Harris, of Salisbury, as being a very learned man, and in particular an eminent Grecian.

JOHNSON. 'I am not sure of that. His friends give him out as such, but I know not who of his friends are able to judge of it.'

GOLDSMITH. 'He is what is much better: he is a worthy humane man.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, that is not to the purpose of our argument: that will as much prove that he can play upon the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an eminent Grecian.'

GOLDSMITH. 'The greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above seven hundred a year.'

JOHNSON. 'That is indeed but little for a man to get, who does best that which so many endeavour to do. There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one; but give him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do nothing.'

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part 96

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