Sunday, June 4, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 172

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century Epistemological Studies; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Purloined Penwiper, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, lead-based paints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarqaïq™ productions.

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Soon after our arrival at Thrale's, I heard one of the maids calling eagerly on another, to go to Dr. Johnson. I wondered what this could mean. I afterwards learnt, that it was to give her a Bible, which he had brought from London as a present to her.

He was for a considerable time occupied in reading Mémoires de Fontenelle, leaning and swinging upon the low gate into the court, without his hat.

I looked into Lord Kames's Sketches of the History of Man; and mentioned to Dr. Johnson his censure of Charles the Fifth, for celebrating his funeral obsequies in his life-time, which, I told him, I had been used to think a solemn and affecting act. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man may dispose his mind to think so of that act of Charles; but it is so liable to ridicule, that if one man out of ten thousand laughs at it, he'll make the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine laugh too.'

I could not agree with him in this.

Sir John Pringle had expressed a wish that I would ask Dr. Johnson's opinion what were the best English sermons for style. BOSWELL. 'What I wish to know is, what sermons afford the best specimen of English pulpit eloquence.'

JOHNSON. 'We have no sermons addressed to the passions that are good for any thing; if you mean that kind of eloquence.'

A CLERGYMAN: (whose name I do not recollect.) 'Were not Dodd's sermons addressed to the passions?'

JOHNSON. 'They were nothing, Sir, be they addressed to what they may.'

At dinner, Mrs. Thrale expressed a wish to go and see Scotland.

JOHNSON. 'Seeing Scotland, Madam, is only seeing a worse England. It is seeing the flower gradually fade away to the naked stalk. Seeing the Hebrides, indeed, is seeing quite a different scene.'

He and I returned to town in the evening. Upon the road, I endeavoured to maintain, in argument, that a landed gentleman is not under any obligation to reside upon his estate; and that by living in London he does no injury to his country.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he does no injury to his country in general, because the money which he draws from it gets back again in circulation; but to his particular district, his particular parish, he does an injury. All that he has to give away is not given to those who have the first claim to it. And though I have said that the money circulates back, it is a long time before that happens. Then, Sir, a man of family and estate ought to consider himself as having the charge of a district, over which he is to diffuse civility and happiness.'

Next day I found him at home in the morning.

Talking of a man's resolving to deny himself the use of wine, from moral and religious considerations, he said,

'He must not doubt about it. When one doubts as to pleasure, we know what will be the conclusion. I now no more think of drinking wine, than a horse does. The wine upon the table is no more for me, than for the dog that is under the table.'

On Thursday, April 9, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with the Bishop of St. Asaph, (Dr. Shipley,) Mr. Allan Ramsay, Mr. Gibbon, Mr. Cambridge, and Mr. Langton.

Mr. Ramsay had lately returned from Italy, and entertained us with his observations upon Horace's villa, which he had examined with great care. I relished this much, as it brought fresh into my mind what I had viewed with great pleasure thirteen years before. The Bishop, Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Cambridge, joined with Mr. Ramsay, in recollecting the various lines in Horace relating to the subject.

Horace's journey to Brundusium being mentioned, Johnson observed, that the brook which he describes is to be seen now, exactly as at that time, and that he had often wondered how it happened, that small brooks, such as this, kept the same situation for ages, notwithstanding earthquakes, by which even mountains have been changed, and agriculture, which produces such a variation upon the surface of the earth.

The Bishop said, it appeared from Horace's writings that he was a cheerful contented man. 

JOHNSON. 'We have no reason to believe that, my Lord. Are we to think Pope was happy, because he says so in his writings? We see in his writings what he wished the state of his mind to appear. Dr. Young, who pined for preferment, talks with contempt of it in his writings, and affects to despise every thing that he did not despise.' 

BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH. 'He was like other chaplains, looking for vacancies: but that is not peculiar to the clergy. I remember when I was with the army, after the battle of Lafeldt, the officers seriously grumbled that no general was killed.'

BOSWELL. 'How hard is it that man can never be at rest.'

RAMSAY. 'It is not in his nature to be at rest. When he is at rest, he is in the worst state that he can be in; for he has nothing to agitate him. He is then like the man in the Irish song,

"There liv'd a young man in Ballinacrazy. Who wanted a wife for to make him un-ai-sy."'

Goldsmith being mentioned, Johnson observed, that it was long before his merit came to be acknowledged. That he once complained to him, in ludicrous terms of distress, 'Whenever I write any thing, the publick make a point to know nothing about it:' but that his Traveller brought him into high reputation. 

SIR JOSHUA. 'I was glad to hear Charles Fox say, it was one of the finest poems in the English language.'

LANGTON. 'Why was you glad? You surely had no doubt of this before.'

JOHNSON. 'No; the merit of The Traveller is so well established, that Mr. Fox's praise cannot augment it, nor his censure diminish it.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'But his friends may suspect they had too great a partiality for him.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, the partiality of his friends was always against him. It was with difficulty we could give him a hearing. Goldsmith had no settled notions upon any subject; so he talked always at random. It seemed to be his intention to blurt out whatever was in his mind, and see what would become of it. He was angry too, when catched in an absurdity; but it did not prevent him from falling into another the next minute. I remember Chamier, after talking with him for some time, said, "Well, I do believe he wrote this poem himself: and, let me tell you, that is believing a great deal." 

'Chamier once asked him, what he meant by slow, the last word in the first line of The Traveller,

'"Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow."

'Did he mean tardiness of locomotion? 

'Goldsmith, who would say something without consideration, answered, "Yes." 

'I was sitting by, and said, "No, Sir; you do not mean tardiness of locomotion; you mean, that sluggishness of mind which comes upon a man in solitude." 

'Chamier believed then that I had written the line as much as if he had seen me write it.

'Goldsmith, however, was a man, who, whatever he wrote, did it better than any other man could do. He deserved a place in Westminster-Abbey, and every year he lived, would have deserved it better. He had, indeed, been at no pains to fill his mind with knowledge. He transplanted it from one place to another; and it did not settle in his mind; so he could not tell what was in his own books.'

We talked of living in the country.

JOHNSON. 'No wise man will go to live in the country, unless he has something to do which can be better done in the country. For instance: if he is to shut himself up for a year to study a science, it is better to look out to the fields, than to an opposite wall. Then, if a man walks out in the country, there is nobody to keep him from walking in again: but if a man walks out in London, he is not sure when he shall walk in again. A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life; and "The proper study of mankind is man," as Pope observes.'

BOSWELL. 'I fancy London is the best place for society; though I have heard that the very first society of Paris is still beyond any thing that we have here.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I question if in Paris such a company as is sitting round this table could be got together in less than half a year. They talk in France of the felicity of men and women living together: the truth is, that there the men are not higher than the women, they know no more than the women do, and they are not held down in their conversation by the presence of women.' 

RAMSAY. 'Literature is upon the growth, it is in its spring in France. Here it is rather passée.

JOHNSON. 'Literature was in France long before we had it. Paris was the second city for the revival of letters: Italy had it first, to be sure. Our literature came to us through France.  No, Sir, if literature be in its spring in France, it is a second spring; it is after a winter. We are now before the French in literature; but we had it long after them. In England, any man who wears a sword and a powdered wig is ashamed to be illiterate. I believe it is not so in France. Yet there is, probably, a great deal of learning in France, because they have such a number of religious establishments; so many men who have nothing else to do but to study.

I do not know this; but I take it upon the common principles of chance. Where there are many shooters, some will hit.'

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part 173

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