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1779. military uniform, and I suppose her to be the Genius
of Britain.” Johnson. “ Sir, you are giving a reason Ætat. for it, but that will not make it right. You may have
; a reason why two and two should make five ; but they will still make but four.”
Although I was several times with him in the course of the following days, such it seems were my occupations, or such my negligence, that I have preserved no memorial of his conversation till Friday, March 26, when I visited him. He said he expected to be attacked on account of his " Lives of the Poets." “ However (said he) I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an authour is to be silent as to his works.
An assault upon a town is a bad thing ; but starving it is still worse ; an assault may be unsuccessful ; you may have more men killed than you kill ; but if you starve the town, you are sure of victory.
Talking of a friend of ours associating with persons of very discordant principles and characters ; I said he was a very universal man, quite a man of the world. Johnson. “ Yes, Sir ; but one may be so much a man of the world, as to be nothing in the world. I remember a passage in Goldsmith's · Vicar of Wakefield, which he was afterwards fool enough to expunge : 'I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing." BosWELL. “ That was a fine passage.” Johnson. “ Yes, Sir : there was another fine passage too, which he struck out: 'When I was a young man, being anxious to distinguish myself, I was perpetually starting new propositions. But I soon gave this over : for, I found that generally what was new was false.” 2 I said I did not like to sit with people of whom I had not a good opinion. Johnson.“ But you must not indulge your
[Dr. Burney in a note introduced in a former page has mentioned this circumstance, concerning Goldsmith, as communicated to him by Dr. Johnson; not recollecting that it occurred here. His remark, however, is not wholly superfluous, as it ascertains that the words which Goldsmith had put into the mouth of a fictitious character in “ The Vicar of Wakefield,” and which as we learn from Dr. Johnson he afterwards expunged, related, like many other passages in his Novel, to himself. M.]
delicacy too much ; or you will be a tête-à-tête man all 1779.
Ætat, During my stay in London this spring, I find I was 70. unaccountably negligent in preserving Johnson's sayings, more so than at any time when I was happy enough to have an opportunity of hearing his wisdom and wit. There is no help for it now. I must content myself with presenting such scraps as I have. But I am nevertheless ashamed and vexed to think how much has been lost. It is not that there was a bad crop this year ; but that I was not sufficiently careful in gathering it in. I, therefore, in some instances can only exhibit a few detached fragments.
Talking of the wonderful concealment of the authour of the celebrated letters signed Junius ; he said, I should have believed Burke to be Junius, because I know no man but Burke who is capable of writing these letters; but Burke spontaneously denied it to me.
The case would have been different, had I asked him if he was the authour; a man so questioned, as to an anonymous publication, may think he has a right to deny it."
He observed that his old friend, Mr. Sheridan, had been honoured with extraordinary attention in his own country, by having had an exception made in his favour in an Irish Act of Parliament concerning insolvent debt
“ Thus to be singled out (said he) by a legislature, as an object of publick consideration and kindness, is a proof of no common merit."
At Streatham, on Monday, March 29, at breakfast, he maintained that a father had no right to controul the inclinations of his daughters in marriage.
On Wednesday, March 31, when I visited him, and confessed an excess of which I had very seldom been guilty : that I had spent a whole night in playing at cards, and that I could not look back on it with satisfaction : instead of a harsh animadversion, he mildly said,
Alas, Sir, on how few things can we look back with satisfaction.
On Thursday, April 1, he commended one of the Dukes of Devonshire for “ a dogged veracity.”3 He
3 See p. 434 of Volume II.
1779. said too, “ London is nothing to some people ; but to a Ætat, man whose pleasure is intellectual, London is the place. 70.
And there is no place where economy can be so well
Here a lady may have well-furnished apartments, and elegant dress, without any meat in her kitchen."
I was amused by considering with how much ease and coolness he could write or talk to a friend, exhorting him not to suppose that happiness was not to be found as well in other places as in London ; when he himself was at all times sensible of its being, comparatively speaking, a heaven upon earth. The truth is, that by those who from sagacity, attention, and experience, have learnt the full advantage of London, its preeminence over every other place, not only for variety of enjoyment, but for comfort, will be felt with a philosophical exultation. The freedom from remark and petty censure, with which life may be passed there, is a circumstance which a man who knows the teazing restraint of a narrow circle must relish highly. Mr. Burke, whose orderly and amiable domestick habits might make the eye of observation less irksome to him than to most men, said once very pleasantly, in my hearing, “ Though I have the honour to represent Bristol, I should not like to live there ; I should be obliged to be so much upon my good behaviour.” In London, a man may live in splendid society at one time, and in frugal retirement at another, without animadversion. There, and there alone, a man's own house is truly his castle, in which he can be in perfect safety from intrusion whenever he pleases. I never shall forget how well this was expressed to me one day by Mr. Meynell : “ The chief advantage of London (said he) is, that a man is always so near his burrow.”
He said of one of his old acquaintances, “He is very fit for a travelling governour. He knows French very well. He is a man of good principles ; and there would be no danger that a young gentleman should catch his
manner ; for it is so very bad, that it must be avoided. 1779. In that respect he would be like the drunken Helot.”
Ætat. A gentleman has informed me, that Johnson said of 70. the same person, “Sir, he has the most inverted understanding of any man whom I have ever known.”
On Friday, April 2, being Good-Friday, I visited him in the morning as usual ; and finding that we insensibly fell into a train of ridicule upon the foibles of one of our friends, a very worthy man, I, by way of a check, quoted some good admonition from “The Government of the Tongue,” that very pious book. It happened also remarkably enough, that the subject of the sermon preached to us to-day by Dr. Burrows, the rector of St. Clement Danes, was the certainty that at the last day we must give an account of “ the deeds done in the body ;” and amongst various acts of culpability he mentioned evil-speaking. As we were moving slowly along in the croud from church, Johnson jogged my elbow, and said, “Did you attend to the sermon ?" -“Yes, Sir, (said I,) it was very applicable to us." He however, stood upon the defensive. Why, Sir, the sense of ridicule is given us, and may be lawfully used. The authour of The Government of the Tongue' would have us treat all men alike.”
In the interval between morning and evening service, he endeavoured to employ himself earnestly in devotional exercise ; and, as he has mentioned in his "Prayers and Meditations,”* gave me “ Les Pensées de
“ Paschal,” that I might not interrupt him. I preserve the book with reverence. His presenting it to me is marked upon it with his own hand, and I have found in it a truly divine unction. We went to church again in the afternoon.
On Saturday, April 3, I visited him at night, and found him sitting in Mrs. WiHiams's room, with her, and one who he afterwards told me was a natural sons of the second Lord Southwell. The table had a singular appearance, being covered with a heterogeneous as
4 Page 173. » [Mr. Mauritius Lowe, a painter: M.]
1779. semblage of oysters and porter for his company, and tea Ætat.
for himself. I mentioned my having heard an eminent 70. physician, who was himself a Christian, argue in favour
of universal toleration, and maintained, that no man could be hurt by another man's differing from him in opinion. Johnson. “Sir, you are to a certain degree hurt by knowing that even one man does not believe.”
On Easter-day, after solemn service at St. Paul's, I dined with him : Mr. Allen the printer was also his guest. He was uncommonly silent; and I have not written down any thing, except a single curious fact, which, having the sanction of his inflexible veracity, may be received as a striking instance of human insensibility and inconsideration. As he was passing by a fishmonger who was skinning an eel alive, he heard him “ curse it, because it would not lye still.”
On Wednesday, April 7, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. I have not marked what company was there. Johnson harangued upon the qualities of different liquors ; and spoke with great contempt of claret, as so weak, that “a man would be drowned by
s it before it made him drunk.” He was persuaded to drink one glass of it, that he might judge, not from recollection, which might be dim, but from immediate sensation. He shook his head, and said, “ Poor stuff! No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys ; port for men ; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy. In the first place, the flavour of brandy is most grateful to the palate ; and then brandy will do soonest for a man what drinking can do for him. There are, indeed, few who are able to drink brandy. That is a power rather to be wished for than attained. And yet, (proceeded he) as in all pleasure hope is a considerable part, I know not but fruition comes too quick by brandy. Florence wine I think the worst ; it is wine only to the eye ; it is wine neither while you are drinking it, nor after you have drunk it ; it neither pleases the taste, nor exhilarates the spirits." I reminded him how heartily he and I used to drink wine together, when we were first acquainted ; and how I used to have a head-ache after sitting up with him.