« PoprzedniaDalej »
with which he was much pleased, and he exerted himself to be as entertaining as his indisposition allowed him.
The anxiety of his friends to preserve so estimable a life, as long as human means might be supposed to have influence, made them plan for him a retreat from the severity of a British winter, to the mild climate of Italy. This scheme was at last brought to a serious resolution at General Paoli's, where I had often talked of it. One essential matter, however, I understood was necessary to be previously settled, which was obtaining such an addition to his income as would be sufficient to enable him to defray the expense in a manner becoming the first literary character of a great nation, and, independent of all his other merits, the author of the Dictionary of the English Language. The person to whom I above all others thought I should apply to negociate this business, was the Lord Chancellor,1 because I knew that he highly valued Johnson, and that Johnson highly valued his Lordship; so that it was no degradation of my illustrious friend to solicit for him the favour of such a man. I have mentioned what Johnson said of him to me when he was at the bar; and after his Lordship was advanced to the seals he said of him, "I would prepare myself for no man in England but Lord Thurlow. When I am to meet with him I should wish to know a day before." How he would have prepared himself, I cannot conjecture. Would he have selected certain topics, and considered them in every view, so as to be in readiness to argue them at all points? and what may we suppose those topics to have been? I once started the curious inquiry to the great man who was the subject of this compliment; he smiled, but did not pursue it.
I first consulted with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who perfectly coincided in opinion with me; and I therefore, though personally very little known to his Lordship, wrote to him, stating the case, and requesting his good offices for Dr. Johnson. I mentioned that I was obliged to set out for Scotland early in the following week; so that, if his lordship should have any commands for me as to this pious negociation, he would be pleased to send them before that time; otherwise Sir Joshua Reynolds would give all attention to it.
This application was made, not only without any suggestion on the part of Johnson himself, but was utterly unknown to him; nor had he the smallest suspicion of it. Any insinuations, therefore, which since his death have been thrown out, as if he had stopped to ask what was superfluous, are without any foundation. But, had he asked it, it would not have been superfluous; for though the money he had saved proved
I Edward Lord Thurlow, who died September 11, 1806.-MALONE.
2 It is strange that Sir John Hawkins should have related that the application was made by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when he could so easily have been informed of the truth by inquiring of Sir Joshua. Sir John's carelessness to ascertain facts is very remark. able. BOSWELL.
to be more than his friends imagined, or than I believe he himself, in his carelessness concerning worldly matters, knew it to be, had he travelled upon the Continent, an augmentation of his income would by no means have been unnecessary.
On Wednesday, June 23, I visited him in the morning, after having been present at the shocking sight of fifteen men executed before Newgate. I said to him, I was sure that human life was not machinery, that is to say, a chain of fatality planned and directed by the Supreme Being, as it had in it so much wickedness and misery, so many instances of both, as that by which my mind was now clouded.
Were it machinery, it would be better than it is in these respects, though less noble, as not being a system of moral government. He agreed with me now, as he always did, upon the great question of the liberty of the human will, which has been in all ages perplexed with so much sophistry: But, Sir, as to the doctrine of necessity, no man believes it. If a man should give me arguments that I do not see, though I could not answer them, should I believe that I do not see?” It will be observed, that Johnson at all times made the just distinction between doctrines contrary to reason, and doctrines above reason.
Talking of the religious discipline proper for unhappy convicts, he said, "Sir, one of our regular clergy will probably not impress their minds sufficiently: they should be attended by a Methodist preacher ;1 or a Popish priest." Let me however observe, in justice to the Rev. Mr. Vilette, who has been Ordinary of Newgate for no less than eighteen years, in the course of which he has attended many hundreds of wretched criminals, that his earnest and humane exhortations have been very effectual. His extraordinary diligence is highly praiseworthy, and merits a distinguished reward."2
On Thursday, June 24, I dined with him at Mr. Dilly's, where were the Rev. Mr. (now Dr.) Knox, master of Tunbridge-school, Mr. Smith, vicar of Southill, Dr. Beattie, Mr Pinkerton, author of various literary performances, and the Rev. Dr. Mayo. At my desire old Mr. Sheridan was invited, as I was carnest to have Johnson and him brought together again by chance, that a reconciliation might be effected. Mr. Sheridan happened to come early, and, having learnt that Dr. Johnson was to be there, went away; so I found, with sincere regret, that my friendly intentions were hopeless. I recollect nothing that passed this day, except Johnson's quickness, who, when Dr. Beattie observed, as something remarkable which had happened to him, that he had chanced to see both No. 1, and No. 1000, of the hackney-coaches, the first and
1 A friend of mine happened to be passing by a field congregation in the environs of London, when a Methodist preacher quoted this passage with triumph.-BOSWELL.
2 I trust that the City of London, now happily in unison with the Court, will have the justice and generosity to obtain preferment for this reverend gentleman, now a worthy old servant of that magnificent corporation.-BOSWELL.
the last :-"Why, Sir," said Johnson, "there is an equal chance for one's seeing those two numbers as any other two." He was clearly right: yet the seeing of the two extremes, each of which is in some degree more conspicuous than the rest, could not but strike one in a stronger manner than the sight of any other two numbers. Though I have neglected to preserve his conversation, it was perhaps at this interview that Dr. Knox formed the notion of it, which he has exhibited in his "Winter Evenings."
On Friday, June 25, I dined with him at General Paoli's, where he says, in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, "I love to dine." There was a variety of dishes much to his taste, of all which he seemed to me to eat so much, that I was afraid he might be hurt by it; and I whispered to the General my fear, and begged he might not press him. 'Alas! said the General, see how very ill he looks; he can live but a very short time. Would you refuse any slight gratifications to a man under sentence of death? There is a humane custom in Italy, by which persons in that melancholy situation are indulged with having whatever they like best to eat and drink, even with expensive delicacies."
I showed him some verses on Lichfield by Miss Seward, which I had that day received from her, and had the pleasure to hear him approve of them. He confirmed to me the truth of a high compliment which I had been told he had paid to that lady, when she mentioned to him “The Colombiade," an epic poem, by Madame du Boccage :—“ :-"Madam, there is not anything equal to your description of the sea round the North Pole, in your Ode on the death of Captain Cooke."
On Sunday, June 27th, I found him rather better. I mentioned to him a young man who was going to Jamaica with his wife and children, in expectation of being provided for by two of her brothers settled in that island, one a clergyman, and the other a physician. JOHNSON: "It is a wild scheme, Sir, unless he has a positive and deliberate invitation. There was a poor girl, who used to come about me, who had a cousin in Barbadoes, that, in a letter to her, expressed a wish she should come out to that island, and expatiated on the comforts and happiness of her situation. The poor girl went out: her cousin was much surprised, and asked her how she could think of coming. Because,' said she, you invited me.'-' Not I,' answered the cousin. The letter was then produced. 'I see it is true,' said she, that I did invite you: but I did not think you would come.' They lodged her in an out-house, where she passed her time miserably and as soon as she had an opportunity she returned to England. Always tell this, when you hear of people going abroad to relations, upon a notion of being well received. In the case which you mention it is probable the clergyman spends all he gets, and the physician does not know how much he is to get."
We this day dined at Sir Joshua Reynolds's with General Paoli, Lord Eliot (formerly Mr. Eliot, of Port Eliot), Dr. Beattie, and some
other company. Talking of Lord Chesterfield :-JOHNSON: "His manner was exquisitely elegant, and he had more knowledge than I expected." BOSWELL: 'Did you find, Sir, his conversation to be of a superior style?" JOHNSON: "Sir, in the conversation which I had with him I had the best right to superiority, for it was upon philology and literature.' Lord Eliot, who had travelled at the same time with Mr. Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield's natural son, justly observed, that it was strange that a man who showed he had so much affection for his son as Lord Chesterfield did, by writing so many long and anxious letters to him, almost all of them when he was Secretary of State, which certainly was a proof of great goodness of disposition, should endeavour to make his son a rascal. His Lordship told us, that Foote had intended to bring on the stage a father who had thus tutored his son, and to show the son an honest man to every one else, but practising his father's maxims upon him, and cheating him. JOHNSON: "I am much pleased with this design; but I think there was no occasion to make the son honest at all. No; he should be a consummate rogue: the contrast between honesty and knavery would be the stronger. It should be contrived so that the father should be the only sufferer by the son's villany, and thus there would be poetical justice."
He put Lord Eliot in mind of Dr. Walter Harte. "I know," said he, "Harte was your Lordship's tutor, and he was also tutor to the Peterborough family. Pray, my Lord, do you recollect any particulars that he told you of Lord Peterborough? He is a favourite of mine, and is not enough known; his character has been only ventilated in party pamphlets." Lord Eliot said, if Dr. Johnson would be so good as to ask him any questions, he would tell what he could recollect. Accordingly some things were mentioned. But," said his Lordship, "the best account of Lord Peterborough that I have happened to meet with, is in Captain Carleton's Memoirs.' Carleton was descended of an ancestor who had distinguished himself at the siege of Derry. He was an officer; and what was rare at that time, had some knowledge of engineering.” Johnson said, he had never heard of the book. Lord Eliot had it at Port Eliot; but after a good deal of inquiry, procured a copy in London, and sent it to Johnson, who told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he was going to bed when it came; but was so much pleased with it, that he sat up till he had read it through, and found in it such an air of truth, that he could not doubt of its authenticity; adding, with a smile (in allusion to Lord Eliot's having recently been raised to the peerage), "I did not think a young Lord could have mentioned to me a book in the English history that was not known to me."
An addition to our company came after we went up to the drawingroom: Dr. Johnson seemed to rise in spirits as his audience increased. He said, He wished Lord Orford's pictures, and Sir Ashton Lever's Museum, might be purchased by the public, because both the money,
and the pictures, and the curiosities would remain in the country; whereas if they were sold into another kingdom, the nation would indeed get some money, but would lose the pictures and the curiosities, which it would be desirable we should have, for improvement in taste and natural history. The only question was, as the nation was much in want of money, whether it would not be better to take a large price from a foreign State?"
He entered upon a curious discussion of the difference between intuition and sagacity; one being immediate in its effect, the other requiring a circuitous process; one, he observed, was the eye of the mind, the other the nose of the mind.
A young gentleman present took up the argument against him, and maintained that no man ever thinks of the nose of the mind, not adverting that though that figurative sense seems strange to us, as very unusual, it is truly not more forced than Hamlet's " In my mind's eye, Horatio." He persisted much too long, and appeared to Johnson as putting himself forward as his antagonist with too much presumption : upon which he called to him, in a loud tone, "What is it you are contending for, if you be contending ?"-And afterwards imagining that the gentleman retorted upon him with a kind of smart drollery, he said, "Mr. —, it does not become you to talk so to me. Besides, ridicule is not your talent; you have there neither intuition nor sagacity."-The gentleman protested that he had intended no improper freedom, but had the greatest respect for Dr. Johnson. After a short pause, during which we were somewhat uneasy;-JOHNSON: "Give me your hand, Sir. You were too tedious, and I was too short." MR. : "Sir, I am honoured by your attention in any way." JOHNSON: "Come, Sir, let's have no more of it. We offended one another by our contention; let us not offend the company by our compliments."
He now said, "He wished much to go to Italy, and that he dreaded passing the winter in England." I said nothing; but enjoyed a secret satisfaction in thinking that I had taken the most effectual measures to make such a scheme practicable.
On Monday, June 28, I had the honour to receive from the Lord Chancellor the following letter :
"TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
"I should have answered your letter immediately, if (being much engaged when I received it) I had not put it in my pocket, and forgot to open it till this morning.
"I am much obliged to you for the suggestion; and I will adopt and press it as far as I can. The best argument, I am sure, and I hope it is not likely to fail, is Dr. Johnson's merit.—But it will be necessary, if I should be so unfortunate as to miss seeing you, to converse with Sir Joshua on the sum it will be