Sunday, July 23, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 178


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century British Cisgender Platonic Romance Literature; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Banged up in Bedlam, the Olney Community College Press.

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to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here






The subject of cookery having been very naturally introduced at a table where Johnson, who boasted of the niceness of his palate, owned that 'he always found a good dinner,' he said, 

'I could write a better book of cookery than has ever yet been written; it should be a book upon philosophical principles. Pharmacy is now made much more simple. Cookery may be made so too. A prescription which is now compounded of five ingredients, had formerly fifty in it. So in cookery, if the nature of the ingredients be well known, much fewer will do.


Then as you cannot make bad meat good, I would tell what is the best butcher's meat, the best beef, the best pieces; how to choose young fowls; the proper seasons of different vegetables; and then how to roast and boil, and compound.' 

DILLY. 'Mrs. Glasse's Cookery, which is the best, was written by Dr. Hill. Half the trade know this.' 

JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir. This shews how much better the subject of cookery may be treated by a philosopher. I doubt if the book be written by Dr. Hill; for, in Mrs. Glasse's Cookery, which I have looked into, salt-petre and sal-prunella are spoken of as different substances, whereas sal-prunella is only salt-petre burnt on charcoal; and Hill could not be ignorant of this.


However, as the greatest part of such a book is made by transcription, this mistake may have been carelessly adopted. But you shall see what a Book of Cookery I shall make! I shall agree with Mr. Dilly for the copy-right.' 

Miss SEWARD. 'That would be Hercules with the distaff indeed.' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Madam. Women can spin very well; but they cannot make a good book of Cookery.'


JOHNSON. 'O! Mr. Dilly— you must know that an English Benedictine Monk at Paris has translated The Duke of Berwick's Memoirs, from the original French, and has sent them to me to sell. I offered them to Strahan, who sent them back with this answer:—"That the first book he had published was the Duke of Berwick's Life, by which he had lost: and he hated the name."— Now I honestly tell you, that Strahan has refused them; but I also honestly tell you, that he did it upon no principle, for he never looked into them.' 

DILLY. 'Are they well translated, Sir?' 


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, very well— in a style very current and very clear. I have written to the Benedictine to give me an answer upon two points— What evidence is there that the letters are authentick? (for if they are not authentick they are nothing;)— And how long will it be before the original French is published? For if the French edition is not to appear for a considerable time, the translation will be almost as valuable as an original book. They will make two volumes in octavo; and I have undertaken to correct every sheet as it comes from the press.' 


Mr. Dilly desired to see them, and said he would send for them. He asked Dr. Johnson if he would write a Preface to them. 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. The Benedictines were very kind to me, and I'll do what I undertook to do; but I will not mingle my name with them. I am to gain nothing by them. I'll turn them loose upon the world, and let them take their chance.' 

Mrs. Knowles affected to complain that men had much more liberty allowed them than women. 


JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, women have all the liberty they should wish to have. We have all the labour and the danger, and the women all the advantage. We go to sea, we build houses, we do everything, in short, to pay our court to the women.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'The Doctor reasons very wittily, but not convincingly. Now, take the instance of building; the mason's wife, if she is ever seen in liquor, is ruined; the mason may get himself drunk as often as he pleases, with little loss of character; nay, may let his wife and children starve.' 


JOHNSON. 'Madam, you must consider, if the mason does get himself drunk, and let his wife and children starve, the parish will oblige him to find security for their maintenance. We have different modes of restraining evil. Stocks for the men, a ducking-stool for women, and a pound for beasts. If we require more perfection from women than from ourselves, it is doing them honour. And women have not the same temptations that we have: they may always live in virtuous company; men must mix in the world indiscriminately. If a woman has no inclination to do what is wrong being secured from it is no restraint to her. I am at liberty to walk into the Thames; but if I were to try it, my friends would restrain me in Bedlam, and I should be obliged to them.' 


MRS. KNOWLES. 'Still, Doctor, I cannot help thinking it a hardship that more indulgence is allowed to men than to women. It gives a superiority to men, to which I do not see how they are entitled.' 

JOHNSON. 'It is plain, Madam, one or other must have the superiority. As Shakspeare says, "If two men ride on a horse, one must ride behind."' 

DILLY. 'I suppose, Sir, Mrs. Knowles would have them to ride in panniers, one on each side.' 


JOHNSON. 'Then, Sir, the horse would throw them both.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'Well, I hope that in another world the sexes will be equal.' 

BOSWELL. 'That is being too ambitious, Madam. We might as well desire to be equal with the angels. We shall all, I hope, be happy in a future state, but we must not expect to be all happy in the same degree. It is enough if we be happy according to our several capacities. A worthy carman will get to heaven as well as Sir Isaac Newton. Yet, though equally good, they will not have the same degrees of happiness.' 


JOHNSON. 'Probably not.'

Upon this subject I had once before sounded him, by mentioning the late Reverend Mr. Brown, of Utrecht's image; that a great and small glass, though equally full, did not hold an equal quantity; which he threw out to refute David Hume's saying, that a little miss, going to dance at a ball, in a fine new dress, was as happy as a great oratour, after having made an eloquent and applauded speech. 


After some thought, Johnson said, 'I come over to the parson.' 

As an instance of coincidence of thinking, Mr. Dilly told me, that Dr. King, a late dissenting minister in London, said to him, upon the happiness in a future state of good men of different capacities, 'A pail does not hold so much as a tub; but, if it be equally full, it has no reason to complain. Every Saint in heaven will have as much happiness as he can hold.' 

Mr. Dilly thought this a clear, though a familiar illustration of the phrase, 'One star differeth from another in brightness.'


(classix comix™ is underwritten in part by a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar Fund for Underemployed Artists and Writers: “Have you ever woken up in mid-afternoon with not the faintest idea of what you did the night before, and with a killing headache vying for your attention with a gnawing hunger? Well, I certainly have, so why not do what I do and make your way somehow to Bob’s Bowery Bar – conveniently located (ha ha) right downstairs from my own fourth-floor walk-up at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery – and take your pick from Bob’s all-day breakfast menu? My current ‘fave’? Bob’s Porkroll Special: three half-inch slices of Taylor porkroll {ask for ‘crispy edges’} on a thick toasted buttered house-baked sourdough roll, topped with a fried free-range egg and a generous dollop of melted Limburger cheese –

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 177


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Remedial Basic English Reading Comprehension Skills; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Murder in the Mews, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction and layout by "rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, cgi, claymation by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a “penmarq cinematic universe” production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here






On Monday, April 13, I dined with Johnson at Mr. Langton's, where were Dr. Porteus, then Bishop of Chester, now of London, and Dr. Stinton. He was at first in a very silent mood. Before dinner he said nothing but 'Pretty baby,' to one of the children. Langton said very well to me afterwards, that he could repeat Johnson's conversation before dinner, as Johnson had said that he could repeat a complete chapter of The Natural History of Iceland, from the Danish of Horrebow, the whole of which was exactly thus:— 


'CHAP. LXXII. Concerning snakes.

'There are no snakes to be met with throughout the whole island.'

We talked of the styles of different painters, and how certainly a connoisseur could distinguish them; I asked, if there was as clear a difference of styles in language as in painting, or even as in hand-writing, so that the composition of every individual may be distinguished? 


JOHNSON. 'Yes. Those who have a style of eminent excellence, such as Dryden and Milton, can always be distinguished.' 

I had no doubt of this, but what I wanted to know was, whether there was really a peculiar style to every man whatever, as there is certainly a peculiar handwriting, a peculiar countenance, not widely different in many, yet always enough to be distinctive. 

The Bishop thought not; and said, he supposed that many pieces in Dodsley's collection of poems, though all very pretty, had nothing appropriated in their style, and in that particular could not be at all distinguished. 


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I think every man whatever has a peculiar style, which may be discovered by nice examination and comparison with others: but a man must write a great deal to make his style obviously discernible. As logicians say, this appropriation of style is infinite in potestate, limited in actu.'

Mr. Topham Beauclerk came in the evening, and he and Dr. Johnson and I staid to supper. It was mentioned that Dr. Dodd had once wished to be a member of THE LITERARY CLUB. 


JOHNSON. 'I should be sorry if any of our Club were hanged. I will not say but some of them deserve it.' 

BEAUCLERK; (supposing this to be aimed at persons for whom he had at that time a wonderful fancy, which, however, did not last long,) was irritated, and eagerly said, 'You, Sir, have a friend, (naming him) who deserves to be hanged; for he speaks behind their backs against those with whom he lives on the best terms, and attacks them in the newspapers. He certainly ought to be kicked.' 


JOHNSON. 'Sir, we all do this in some degree. To be sure it may be done so much, that a man may deserve to be kicked.' 

BEAUCLERK. 'He is very malignant.' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; he is not malignant. He is mischievous, if you will. He would do no man an essential injury; he may, indeed, love to make sport of people by vexing their vanity. I, however, once knew an old gentleman who was absolutely malignant. He really wished evil to others, and rejoiced at it.' 


BOSWELL. 'The gentleman, Mr. Beauclerk, against whom you are so violent, is, I know, a man of good principles.' 

BEAUCLERK. 'Then he does not wear them out in practice.'

Dr. Johnson, who, as I have observed before, delighted in discrimination of character, and having a masterly knowledge of human nature, was willing to take men as they are, imperfect and with a mixture of good and bad qualities, I suppose thought he had said enough in defence of his friend, of whose merits, notwithstanding his exceptional points, he had a just value; and added no more on the subject.


On Tuesday, April 14, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with General Paoli and Mr. Langton. General Oglethorpe declaimed against luxury. 

JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get.' 

OGLETHORPE. 'But the best depends much upon ourselves; and if we can be as well satisfied with plain things, we are in the wrong to accustom our palates to what is high-seasoned and expensive. What says Addison in his Cato, speaking of the Numidian?

"Coarse are his meals, the fortune of the chace, 
Amid the running stream he slakes his thirst, 
Toils all the day, and at the approach of night, 
On the first friendly bank he throws him down, 

Or rests his head upon a rock till morn; 
And if the following day he chance to find 
A new repast, or an untasted spring, 
Blesses his stars, and thinks it's luxury."


Let us have that kind of luxury, Sir, if you will.' 

JOHNSON. 'But hold, Sir; to be merely satisfied is not enough. It is in refinement and elegance that the civilized man differs from the savage. A great part of our industry, and all our ingenuity is exercised in procuring pleasure; and, Sir, a hungry man has not the same pleasure in eating a plain dinner, that a hungry man has in eating a luxurious dinner.'

Talking of different governments,— 


JOHNSON. 'The more contracted that power is, the more easily it is destroyed. A country governed by a despot is an inverted cone. Government there cannot be so firm, as when it rests upon a broad basis gradually contracted, as the government of Great Britain, which is founded on the parliament, then is in the privy council, then in the King.' 

BOSWELL. 'Power, when contracted into the person of a despot, may be easily destroyed, as the prince may be cut off. So Caligula wished that the people of Rome had but one neck, that he might cut them off at a blow.' 


On Wednesday, April 15, I dined with Dr. Johnson at Mr. Dilly's, and was in high spirits, for I had been a good part of the morning with Mr. Orme, the able and eloquent historian of Hindostan, who expressed a great admiration of Johnson. 'I do not care (said he,) on what subject Johnson talks; but I love better to hear him talk than any body. He either gives you new thoughts, or a new colouring. It is a shame to the nation that he has not been more liberally rewarded. Had I been George the Third, and thought as he did about America, I would have given Johnson three hundred a year for his Taxation no Tyranny alone.' I repeated this, and Johnson was much pleased with such praise from such a man as Orme.


At Mr. Dilly's to-day were Mrs. Knowles, the ingenious Quaker lady, Miss Seward, the poetess of Lichfield, the Reverend Dr. Mayo, and the Rev. Mr. Beresford, Tutor to the Duke of Bedford. 

Before dinner Dr. Johnson seized upon Mr. Charles Sheridan's Account of the late Revolution in Sweden, and seemed to read it ravenously, as if he devoured it, which was to all appearance his method of studying. 


'He knows how to read better than any one (said Mrs. Knowles;) he gets at the substance of a book directly; he tears out the heart of it.' 

He kept it wrapt up in the tablecloth in his lap during the time of dinner, from an avidity to have one entertainment in readiness when he should have finished another; resembling (if I may use so coarse a simile) a dog who holds a bone in his paws in reserve, while he eats something else which has been thrown to him.


"(classix comix™ is brought to you by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “I should like to remind our viewers who, like myself, tend to keep somewhat irregular hours, ha ha, that my favorite watering hole Bob’s Bowery Bar serves its hearty breakfast menu from 7 am to 3 am every day! False modesty shall not prevent me from recommending the eponymous ‘Sternwall Eye-Opener Special’: corned beef hash, fried groat cakes, three eggs ‘any style’, and your choice of 7-grain or sourdough toast, with a ‘bottomless’ cup of Chase & Sanborn coffee, a dram of Gilbey’s gin and an imperial pint of Bob’s world-renowned basement-brewed bock – all for the low, low price of $4.95!”

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part 178


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 176


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor of All-but-Forgotten Classics; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: the Bawd from Battersea’s Bequest, the Olney Community College Press.

Art and layout personally directed by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, nail polish by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqalastiq™ production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here






On Sunday, April 12, I found him at home before dinner; Dr. Dodd's poem entitled Thoughts in Prison was lying upon his table. This appearing to me an extraordinary effort by a man who was in Newgate for a capital crime, I was desirous to hear Johnson's opinion of it: to my surprize, he told me he had not read a line of it. I took up the book and read a passage to him. 

JOHNSON. 'Pretty well, if you are previously disposed to like them.' 


I read another passage, with which he was better pleased. He then took the book into his own hands, and having looked at the prayer at the end of it, he said, 'What evidence is there that this was composed the night before he suffered? I do not believe it.' 

He then read aloud where he prays for the King, &c. and observed, 'Sir, do you think that a man the night before he is to be hanged cares for the succession of a royal family?— Though, he may have composed this prayer, then. A man who has been canting all his life, may cant to the last.— And yet a man who has been refused a pardon after so much petitioning, would hardly be praying thus fervently for the King.'


He and I, and Mrs. Williams, went to dine with the Reverend Dr. Percy. 

Talking of Goldsmith, Johnson said, he was very envious. I defended him, by observing that he owned it frankly upon all occasions. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are enforcing the charge. He had so much envy, that he could not conceal it. He was so full of it that he overflowed. He talked of it to be sure often enough. Now, Sir, what a man avows, he is not ashamed to think; though many a man thinks, what he is ashamed to avow. We are all envious naturally; but by checking envy, we get the better of it.


So we are all thieves naturally; a child always tries to get at what it wants, the nearest way; by good instruction and good habits this is cured, till a man has not even an inclination to seize what is another's; has no struggle with himself about it.'

And here I shall record a scene of too much heat between Dr. Johnson and Dr. Percy, which I should have suppressed, were it not that it gave occasion to display the truely tender and benevolent heart of Johnson, who, as soon as he found a friend was at all hurt by any thing which he had 'said in his wrath,' was not only prompt and desirous to be reconciled, but exerted himself to make ample reparation.


Books of Travels having been mentioned, Johnson praised Pennant very highly, as he did at Dunvegan, in the Isle of Sky. Dr. Percy, knowing himself to be the heir male of the ancient Percies, and having the warmest and most dutiful attachment to the noble House of Northumberland, could not sit quietly and hear a man praised, who had spoken disrespectfully of Alnwick-Castle and the Duke's pleasure grounds, especially as he thought meanly of his travels. He therefore opposed Johnson eagerly. 

JOHNSON. 'Pennant in what he has said of Alnwick, has done what he intended; he has made you very angry.' 


PERCY. 'He has said the garden is trim, which is representing it like a citizen's parterre, when the truth is, there is a very large extent of fine turf and gravel walks.' 

JOHNSON. 'According to your own account, Sir, Pennant is right. It is trim. Here is grass cut close, and gravel rolled smooth. Is not that trim? The extent is nothing against that; a mile may be as trim as a square yard. Your extent puts me in mind of the citizen's enlarged dinner, two pieces of roast-beef, and two puddings. There is no variety, no mind exerted in laying out the ground, no trees.' 

PERCY. 'He pretends to give the natural history of Northumberland, and yet takes no notice of the immense number of trees planted there of late.' 


JOHNSON. 'That, Sir, has nothing to do with the natural history; that is civil history. A man who gives the natural history of the oak, is not to tell how many oaks have been planted in this place or that. A man who gives the natural history of the cow, is not to tell how many cows are milked at Islington. The animal is the same, whether milked in the Park or at Islington.' 

PERCY. 'Pennant does not describe well; a carrier who goes along the side of Lochlomond would describe it better.' 

JOHNSON. 'I think he describes very well.' 

PERCY. 'I travelled after him.' 

JOHNSON. 'And I travelled after him .' 

PERCY. 'But, my good friend, you are short-sighted, and do not see so well as I do.' 

I wondered at Dr. Percy's venturing thus. Dr. Johnson said nothing at the time; but inflammable particles were collecting for a cloud to burst. In a little while Dr. Percy said something more in disparagement of Pennant. 

JOHNSON. (pointedly) 'This is the resentment of a narrow mind, because he did not find every thing in Northumberland.' 


PERCY. (feeling the stroke) 'Sir, you may be as rude as you please.' 

JOHNSON. 'Hold, Sir! Don't talk of rudeness; remember, Sir, you told me (puffing hard with passion struggling for a vent) I was short-sighted. We have done with civility. We are to be as rude as we please.' 

PERCY. 'Upon my honour, Sir, I did not mean to be uncivil.' 

JOHNSON. 'I cannot say so, Sir; for I did mean to be uncivil, thinking you had been uncivil.' 

Dr. Percy rose, ran up to him, and taking him by the hand, assured him affectionately that his meaning had been misunderstood; upon which a reconciliation instantly took place. 


JOHNSON. 'My dear Sir, I am willing you shall hang Pennant.' 

PERCY. (resuming the former subject) 'Pennant complains that the helmet is not hung out to invite to the hall of hospitality. Now I never heard that it was a custom to hang out a helmet.' 

JOHNSON. 'Hang him up, hang him up.' 

BOSWELL. (humouring the joke) 'Hang out his skull instead of a helmet, and you may drink ale out of it in your hall of Odin, as he is your enemy; that will be truly ancient.' 


JOHNSON. 'He's a Whig, Sir; a sad dog. (smiling at his own violent expressions, merely for political difference of opinion.) But he's the best traveller I ever read; he observes more things than any one else does.'

I could not help thinking that this was too high praise of a writer who had traversed a wide extent of country in such haste, that he could put together only curt frittered fragments of his own, and afterwards procured supplemental intelligence from parochial ministers, and others not the best qualified or most impartial narrators, whose ungenerous prejudice against the house of Stuart glares in misrepresentation; a writer, who at best treats merely of superficial objects, and shews no philosophical investigation of character and manners, such as Johnson has exhibited in his masterly Journey, over part of the same ground;


and who it should seem from a desire of ingratiating himself with the Scotch, has flattered the people of North-Britain so inordinately and with so little discrimination, that the judicious and candid amongst them must be disgusted, while they value more the plain, just, yet kindly report of Johnson.

Having impartially censured Mr. Pennant, as a Traveller in Scotland, let me allow him, from authorities much better than mine, his deserved praise as an able Zoologist; and let me also from my own understanding and feelings, acknowledge the merit of his London, which, is one of the most pleasing topographical performances that ever appeared in any language. Mr. Pennant, like his countrymen in general, has the true spirit of a Gentleman. As a proof of it, I shall quote from his London the passage, in which he speaks of my illustrious friend. 


'I must by no means omit Bolt-court, the long residence of Doctor SAMUEL JOHNSON, a man of the strongest natural abilities, great learning, a most retentive memory, of the deepest and most unaffected piety and morality, mingled with those numerous weaknesses and prejudices which his friends have kindly taken care to draw from their dread abode. I brought on myself his transient anger, by observing that in his tour in Scotland, he once had "long and woeful experience of oats being the food of men in Scotland as they were of horses in England."

'It was a national reflection unworthy of him, and I shot my bolt. In return he gave me a tender hug. Con amore he also said of me “The dog is a Whig!”'



We had a calm after the storm, staid the evening and supped, and were pleasant and gay. But Dr. Percy told me he was very uneasy at what had passed; for there was a gentleman there who was acquainted with the Northumberland family, to whom he hoped to have appeared more respectable, by shewing how intimate he was with Dr. Johnson, and who might now, on the contrary, go away with an opinion to his disadvantage. He begged I would mention this to Dr. Johnson, which I afterwards did. 


His observation upon it was, 'This comes of stratagem; had he told me that he wished to appear to advantage before that gentleman, he should have been at the top of the house, all the time.' 

He spoke of Dr. Percy in the handsomest terms. 

'Then, Sir, (said I,) may I be allowed to suggest a mode by which you may effectually counteract any unfavourable report of what passed. I will write a letter to you upon the subject of the unlucky contest of that day, and you will be kind enough to put in writing as an answer to that letter, what you have now said, and as Lord Percy is to dine with us at General Paoli's soon, I will take an opportunity to read the correspondence in his Lordship's presence.' 


This friendly scheme was accordingly carried into execution without Dr. Percy's knowledge. Johnson's letter placed Dr. Percy's unquestionable merit in the fairest point of view; and I contrived that Lord Percy should hear the correspondence, by introducing it at General Paoli's, as an instance of Dr. Johnson's kind disposition towards one in whom his Lordship was interested. Thus every unfavourable impression was obviated that could possibly have been made on those by whom he wished most to be regarded. 


I breakfasted the day after with him, and informed him of my scheme, and its happy completion, for which he thanked me in the warmest terms, and was highly delighted with Dr. Johnson's letter in his praise, of which I gave him a copy. 

He said, 'I would rather have this than degrees from all the Universities in Europe. It will be for me, and my children and grand-children.' 

Dr. Johnson having afterwards asked me if I had given him a copy of it, and being told I had, was offended, and insisted that I should get it back, which I did.


As, however, he did not desire me to destroy either the original or the copy, or forbid me to let it be seen, I think myself at liberty to apply to it his general declaration to me concerning his other letters, 'That he did not choose they should be published in his lifetime; but had no objection to their appearing after his death.'  I shall therefore insert this kindly correspondence, having faithfully narrated the circumstances accompanying it. 


'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ. 

'SIR, 


'The debate between Dr. Percy and me is one of those foolish controversies, which begin upon a question of which neither party cares how it is decided, and which is, nevertheless, continued to acrimony, by the vanity with which every man resists confutation. Dr. Percy's warmth proceeded from a cause which, perhaps, does him more honour than he could have derived from juster criticism. His abhorrence of Pennant proceeded from his opinion that Pennant had wantonly and indecently censured his patron. His anger made him resolve, that, for having been once wrong, he never should be right. Pennant has much in his notions that I do not like; but still I think him a very intelligent traveller.


If Percy is really offended, I am sorry; for he is a man whom I never knew to offend any one. He is a man very willing to learn, and very able to teach; a man, out of whose company I never go without having learned something. It is sure that he vexes me sometimes, but I am afraid it is by making me feel my own ignorance. So much extension of mind, and so much minute accuracy of enquiry, if you survey your whole circle of acquaintance, you will find so scarce, if you find it at all, that you will value Percy by comparison. 


'Upon the whole, you see that what I might say in sport or petulance to him, is very consistent with full conviction of his merit. 


'I am, dear Sir, 

'Your most, &c., 

'SAM. JOHNSON.' 

'April 23, 1778.'



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part 177