Sunday, October 16, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 141

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century Social Media; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Cock-up at the Crown & Anchor, the Olney Community College Press.

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Soon after this day, he went to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. I had never seen that beautiful city, and wished to take the opportunity of visiting it, while Johnson was there. Having written to him, I received the following answer.



'Why do you talk of neglect? When did I neglect you? If you will come to Bath, we shall all be glad to see you. Come, therefore, as soon as you can. 

'But I have a little business for you at London. Bid Francis look in the paper-drawer of the chest of drawers in my bed-chamber, for two cases; one for the Attorney-General, and one for the Solicitor -General. They lie, I think, at the top of my papers; otherwise they are somewhere else, and will give me more trouble. 

'Please to write to me immediately, if they can be found. Make my compliments to all our friends round the world, and to Mrs. Williams at home. 

'I am, Sir, your, &c. 


'Search for the papers as soon as you can, that, if it is necessary, I may write to you again before you come down.'

On the 26th of April, I went to Bath; and on my arrival at the Pelican inn, found lying for me an obliging invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, by whom I was agreeably entertained almost constantly during my stay. They were gone to the rooms; but there was a kind note from Dr. Johnson, that he should sit at home all the evening. I went to him directly, and before Mr. and Mrs. Thrale returned, we had by ourselves some hours of tea-drinking and talk.

I shall group together such of his sayings as I preserved during the few days that I was at Bath.

Of a person who differed from him in politicks, he said, 'In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in publick life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong: that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by their conviction.'

It having been mentioned, I know not with what truth, that a certain female political writer, whose doctrines he disliked, had of late become very fond of dress, sat hours together at her toilet, and even put on rouge:

—JOHNSON. 'She is better employed at her toilet, than using her pen. It is better she should be reddening her own cheeks, than blackening other people's characters.'

'The mode of government by one may be ill adapted to a small society, but is best for a great nation. The characteristick of our own government at present is imbecility. The magistrate dare not call the guards for fear of being hanged. The guards will not come, for fear of being given up to the blind rage of popular juries.'

Of the father of one of our friends, he observed, 'He never clarified his notions, by filtrating them through other minds.' 

A literary lady of large fortune was mentioned, as one who did good to many, but by no means 'by stealth,' and instead of 'blushing to find it fame, acted evidently from vanity. 

JOHNSON. 'I have seen no beings who do as much good from benevolence, as she does, from whatever motive. If there are such under the earth, or in the clouds, I wish they would come up, or come down. No, Sir; to act from pure benevolence is not possible for finite beings. Human benevolence is mingled with vanity, interest, or some other motive.'

He would not allow me to praise a lady then at Bath; observing 'She does not gain upon me, Sir; I think her empty-headed.' 

He was, indeed, a stern critick upon characters and manners. Even Mrs. Thrale did not escape his friendly animadversion at times. When he and I were one day endeavouring to ascertain, article by article, how one of our friends could possibly spend as much money in his family as he told us he did, she interrupted us by a lively extravagant sally, on the expence of clothing his children, describing it in a very ludicrous and fanciful manner. 

Johnson looked a little angry, and said, 'Nay, Madam, when you are declaiming, declaim; and when you are calculating, calculate.' 

At another time, when she said, perhaps affectedly, 'I don't like to fly.' 

JOHNSON. 'With your wings, Madam, you must fly: but have a care, there are clippers abroad.' 

How very well was this said, and how fully has experience proved the truth of it! But have they not clipped rather rudely, and gone a great deal closer than was necessary?

A gentleman expressed a wish to go and live three years at Otaheité, or New-Zealand, in order to obtain a full acquaintance with people, so totally different from all that we have ever known, and be satisfied what pure nature can do for man.

JOHNSON. 'What could you learn, Sir? What can savages tell, but what they themselves have seen? Of the past, or the invisible, they can tell nothing. The inhabitants of Otaheité and New-Zealand are not in a state of pure nature; for it is plain they broke off from some other people. Had they grown out of the ground, you might have judged of a state of pure nature.

Fanciful people may talk of a mythology being amongst them; but it must be invention. They have once had religion, which has been gradually debased. And what account of their religion can you suppose to be learnt from savages? Only consider, Sir, our own state: our religion is in a book; we have an order of men whose duty it is to teach it; we have one day in the week set apart for it, and this is in general pretty well observed: yet ask the first ten gross men you meet, and hear what they can tell of their religion.'

On Monday, April 29, he and I made an excursion to Bristol.

We were by no means pleased with our inn. 

'Let us see now, (said I,) how we should describe it.' 

Johnson was ready with his raillery. 

'Describe it, Sir?— Why, it was so bad that Boswell wished to be in Scotland!'

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part 142

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