Life Of Johnson, Vol. 3
by Boswell, Edited by Birkbeck Hill
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

In his Life of Milton[1234] he observes, 'I cannot but remark a kind of respect, perhaps unconsciously, paid to this great man by his biographers: every house in which he resided is historically mentioned, as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honoured by his presence.' I had, before I read this observation, been desirous of shewing that respect to Johnson, by various inquiries. Finding him this evening in a very good humour, I prevailed on him to give me an exact list of his places of residence, since he entered the metropolis as an authour, which I subjoin in a note[1235].

I mentioned to him a dispute between a friend of mine and his lady, concerning conjugal infidelity, which my friend had maintained was by no means so bad in the husband, as in the wife. JOHNSON. 'Your friend was in the right, Sir. Between a man and his Maker it is a different question: but between a man and his wife, a husband's infidelity is nothing. They are connected by children, by fortune, by serious considerations of community. Wise married women don't trouble themselves about the infidelity in their husbands.' BOSWELL. 'To be sure there is a great difference between the offence of infidelity in a man and that of his wife.' JOHNSON. 'The difference is boundless. The man imposes no bastards upon his wife[1236].'

Here it may be questioned whether Johnson was entirely in the right. I suppose it will not be controverted that the difference in the degree of criminality is very great, on account of consequences: but still it may be maintained, that, independent of moral obligation, infidelity is by no means a light offence in a husband; because it must hurt a delicate attachment, in which a mutual constancy is implied, with such refined sentiments as Massinger has exhibited in his play of The Picture.—Johnson probably at another time would have admitted this opinion. And let it be kept in remembrance, that he was very careful not to give any encouragement to irregular conduct. A gentleman[1237], not adverting to the distinction made by him upon this subject, supposed a case of singular perverseness in a wife, and heedlessly said, 'That then he thought a husband might do as he pleased with a safe conscience.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, this is wild indeed (smiling) you must consider that fornication is a crime[1238] in a single man; and you cannot have more liberty by being married.'

He this evening expressed himself strongly against the Roman Catholics; observing, 'In every thing in which they differ from us they are wrong.' He was even against the invocation of saints[1239]; in short, he was in the humour of opposition.

Having regretted to him that I had learnt little Greek, as is too generally the case in Scotland; that I had for a long time hardly applied at all to the study of that noble language, and that I was desirous of being told by him what method to follow; he recommended to me as easy helps, Sylvanus's First Book of the Iliad; Dawson's Lexicon to the Greek New Testament; and Hesiod, with Pasoris Lexicon at the end of it.

On Tuesday, October 13, I dined with him at Mr. Ramsay's, with Lord Newhaven[1240], and some other company, none of whom I recollect, but a beautiful Miss Graham[1241], a relation of his Lordship's, who asked Dr. Johnson to hob or nob with her. He was flattered by such pleasing attention, and politely told her, he never drank wine; but if she would drink a glass of water, he was much at her service. She accepted. 'Oho, Sir! (said Lord Newhaven) you are caught.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, I do not see how I am caught; but if I am caught, I don't want to get free again. If I am caught, I hope to be kept.' Then when the two glasses of water were brought, smiling placidly to the young lady, he said, 'Madam, let us reciprocate.'

Lord Newhaven and Johnson carried on an argument for some time, concerning the Middlesex election[1242]. Johnson said, 'Parliament may be considered as bound by law as a man is bound where there is nobody to tie the knot. As it is clear that the House of Commons may expel, and expel again and again, why not allow of the power to incapacitate for that parliament, rather than have a perpetual contest kept up between parliament and the people.' Lord Newhaven took the opposite side; but respectfully said, 'I speak with great deference to you, Dr. Johnson; I speak to be instructed.' This had its full effect on my friend. He bowed his head almost as low as the table, to a complimenting nobleman; and called out, 'My Lord, my Lord, I do not desire all this ceremony; let us tell our minds to one another quietly.' After the debate was over, he said, 'I have got lights on the subject to-day, which I had not before.' This was a great deal from him, especially as he had written a pamphlet upon it[1243].

He observed, 'The House of Commons was originally not a privilege of the people, but a check for the Crown on the House of Lords. I remember Henry the Eighth wanted them to do something; they hesitated in the morning, but did it in the afternoon. He told them, "It is well you did; or half your heads should have been upon Temple-bar[1244]." But the House of Commons is now no longer under the power of the crown, and therefore must be bribed.' He added, 'I have no delight in talking of publick affairs[1245].'

Of his fellow-collegian,[1246] the celebrated Mr. George Whitefield, he said, 'Whitefield never drew as much attention as a mountebank does; he did not draw attention by doing better than others, but by doing what was strange.[1247] Were Astley[1248] to preach a sermon standing upon his head on a horse's back, he would collect a multitude to hear him; but no wise man would say he had made a better sermon for that. I never treated Whitefield's ministry with contempt; I believe he did good. He had devoted himself to the lower classes of mankind, and among them he was of use.[1249] But when familiarity and noise claim the praise due to knowledge, art, and elegance, we must beat down such pretensions.'

What I have preserved of his conversation during the remainder of my stay in London at this time, is only what follows: I told him that when I objected to keeping company with a notorious infidel,[1250] a celebrated friend[1251] of ours said to me, 'I do not think that men who live laxly in the world, as you and I do, can with propriety assume such an authority. Dr. Johnson may, who is uniformly exemplary in his conduct. But it is not very consistent to shun an infidel to-day, and get drunk to-morrow.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, this is sad reasoning. Because a man cannot be right in all things, is he to be right in nothing? Because a man sometimes gets drunk, is he therefore to steal? This doctrine would very soon bring a man to the gallows.'

After all, however, it is a difficult question how far sincere Christians should associate with the avowed enemies of religion; for in the first place, almost every man's mind may be more or less 'corrupted by evil communications;'[1252] secondly, the world may very naturally suppose that they are not really in earnest in religion, who can easily bear its opponents; and thirdly, if the profane find themselves quite well received by the pious, one of the checks upon an open declaration of their infidelity, and one of the probable chances of obliging them seriously to reflect, which their being shunned would do, is removed.

He, I know not why, shewed upon all occasions an aversion to go to Ireland, where I proposed to him that we should make a tour. JOHNSON. 'It is the last place where I should wish to travel.' BOSWELL. 'Should you not like to see Dublin, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir? Dublin is only a worse capital.' BOSWELL. 'Is not the Giant's-Causeway worth seeing?' JOHNSON. 'Worth seeing? yes; but not worth going to see.'

Yet he had a kindness for the Irish nation, and thus generously expressed himself to a gentleman from that country, on the subject of an UNION which artful Politicians have often had in view—'Do not make an union with us, Sir. We should unite with you, only to rob you. We should have robbed the Scotch, if they had had any thing of which we could have robbed them[1253].'

Of an acquaintance of ours, whose manners and every thing about him, though expensive, were coarse, he said, 'Sir, you see in him vulgar prosperity.'

A foreign minister of no very high talents, who had been in his company for a considerable time quite overlooked, happened luckily to mention that he had read some of his Rambler in Italian, and admired it much. This pleased him greatly; he observed that the title had been translated, Il Genio errante, though I have been told it was rendered more ludicrously, Il Vagabondo;[1254] and finding that this minister gave such a proof of his taste, he was all attention to him, and on the first remark which he made, however simple, exclaimed, 'The Ambassadour says well—His Excellency observes—.' And then he expanded and enriched the little that had been said, in so strong a manner, that it appeared something of consequence.[1255] This was exceedingly entertaining to the company who were present, and many a time afterwards it furnished a pleasant topick of merriment: 'The Ambassadeur says well,' became a laughable term of applause, when no mighty matter had been expressed.

I left London on Monday, October 18, and accompanied Colonel Stuart to Chester, where his regiment was to lye for some time.

'Mr. Boswell to Dr. Johnson. 'Chester, October 22, 1779.

'My Dear Sir,

'It was not till one o'clock on Monday morning, that Colonel Stuart and I left London; for we chose to bid a cordial adieu to Lord Mountstuart, who was to set out on that day on his embassy to Turin. We drove on excellently, and reached Lichfield in good time enough that night. The Colonel had heard so preferable a character of the George, that he would not put up at the Three Crowns, so that I did not see our host Wilkins.[1256] We found at the George as good accommodation as we could wish to have, and I fully enjoyed the comfortable thought that I was in Lichfield again. Next morning it rained very hard; and as I had much to do in a little time, I ordered a post-chaise, and between eight and nine sallied forth to make a round of visits. I first went to Mr. Green, hoping to have had him to accompany me to all my other friends, but he was engaged to attend the Bishop of Sodor and Man, who was then lying at Lichfield very ill of the gout. Having taken a hasty glance at the additions to Green's museum,[1257] from which it was not easy to break away, I next went to the Friery,[1258] where I at first occasioned some tumult in the ladies, who were not prepared to receive company so early: but my name, which has by wonderful felicity come to be closely associated with yours, soon made all easy; and Mrs. Cobb and Miss Adye re-assumed their seats at the breakfast-table, which they had quitted with some precipitation. They received me with the kindness of an old acquaintance; and after we had joined in a cordial chorus to your praise, Mrs. Cobb gave me the high satisfaction of hearing that you said, "Boswell is a man who I believe never left a house without leaving a wish for his return." And she afterwards added, that she bid you tell me, that if ever I came to Lichfield, she hoped I would take a bed at the Friery. From thence I drove to Peter Garrick's, where I also found a very flattering welcome. He appeared to me to enjoy his usual chearfulness; and he very kindly asked me to come when I could, and pass a week with him. From Mr. Garrick's, I went to the Palace to wait on Mr. Seward.[1259] I was first entertained by his lady and daughter, he himself being in bed with a cold, according to his valetudinary custom. But he desired to see me; and I found him drest in his black gown, with a white flannel night-gown above it; so that he looked like a Dominican friar. He was good-humoured and polite; and under his roof too my reception was very pleasing. I then proceeded to Stow-hill, and first paid my respects to Mrs. Gastrell,[1260] whose conversation I was not willing to quit. But my sand-glass was now beginning to run low, as I could not trespass too long on the Colonel's kindness, who obligingly waited for me; so I hastened to Mrs. Aston's,[1261] whom I found much better than I feared I should; and there I met a brother-in-law of these ladies, who talked much of you, and very well too, as it appeared to me. It then only remained to visit Mrs. Lucy Porter, which I did, I really believe, with sincere satisfaction on both sides. I am sure I was glad to see her again; and, as I take her to be very honest, I trust she was glad to see me again; for she expressed herself so, that I could not doubt of her being in earnest. What a great key-stone of kindness, my dear Sir, were you that morning! for we were all held together by our common attachment to you. I cannot say that I ever passed two hours with more self-complacency than I did those two at Lichfield. Let me not entertain any suspicion that this is idle vanity. Will not you confirm me in my persuasion, that he who finds himself so regarded has just reason to be happy?

'We got to Chester about midnight on Tuesday; and here again I am in a state of much enjoyment. Colonel Stuart and his officers treat me with all the civility I could wish; and I play my part admirably. Laetus aliis, sapiens sibi,[1262] the classical sentence which you, I imagine, invented the other day, is exemplified in my present existence. The Bishop[1263], to whom I had the honour to be known several years ago, shews me much attention; and I am edified by his conversation. I must not omit to tell you, that his Lordship admires, very highly, your Prefaces to the Poets. I am daily obtaining an extension of agreeable acquaintance, so that I am kept in animated variety; and the study of the place itself, by the assistance of books, and of the Bishop, is sufficient occupation. Chester pleases my fancy more than any town I ever saw. But I will not enter upon it at all in this letter.

'How long I shall stay here I cannot yet say. I told a very pleasing young lady[1264], niece to one of the Prebendaries, at whose house I saw her, "I have come to Chester, Madam, I cannot tell how; and far less can I tell how I am to get away from it." Do not think me too juvenile. I beg it of you, my dear Sir, to favour me with a letter while I am here, and add to the happiness of a happy friend, who is ever, with affectionate veneration,

'Most sincerely yours, 'James Boswell.'[1265]

'If you do not write directly, so as to catch me here, I shall be disappointed. Two lines from you will keep my lamp burning bright.'

'To James Boswell, Esq. 'Dear Sir,

'Why should you importune me so earnestly to write? Of what importance can it be to hear of distant friends, to a man who finds himself welcome wherever he goes, and makes new friends faster than he can want them? If to the delight of such universal kindness of reception, any thing can be added by knowing that you retain my good-will, you may indulge yourself in the full enjoyment of that small addition.

'I am glad that you made the round of Lichfield with so much success: the oftener you are seen, the more you will be liked. It was pleasing to me to read that Mrs. Aston was so well, and that Lucy Porter was so glad to see you.

'In the place where you now are, there is much to be observed; and you will easily procure yourself skilful directors. But what will you do to keep away the black dog[1266] that worries you at home? If you would, in compliance with your father's advice, enquire into the old tenures and old charters of Scotland, you would certainly open to yourself many striking scenes of the manners of the middle ages.[1267] The feudal system, in a country half-barbarous, is naturally productive of great anomalies in civil life. The knowledge of past times is naturally growing less in all cases not of publick record; and the past time of Scotland is so unlike the present, that it is already difficult for a Scotchman to image the oeconomy of his grandfather. Do not be tardy nor negligent; but gather up eagerly what can yet be found.[1268]

'We have, I think, once talked of another project, a History of the late insurrection in Scotland, with all its incidents.[1269] Many falsehoods are passing into uncontradicted history. Voltaire, who loved a striking story, has told what he[1270] could not find to be true. [1271]

'You may make collections for either of these projects, or for both, as opportunities occur, and digest your materials at leisure. The great direction which Burton has left to men disordered like you, is this, Be not solitary; be not idle[1272]: which I would thus modify;—If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.

'There is a letter for you, from 'Your humble servant, 'Sam. Johnson[1273].'

'London, October 27, 1779.' 'To Dr. Samuel Johnson. 'Carlisle, Nov. 7, 1779.

'My dear Sir,

'That I should importune you to write to me at Chester, is not wonderful, when you consider what an avidity I have for delight; and that the amor of pleasure, like the amor nummi[1274], increases in proportion with the quantity which we possess of it. Your letter, so full of polite kindness and masterly counsel, came like a large treasure upon me, while already glittering with riches. I was quite enchanted at Chester, so that I could with difficulty quit it. But the enchantment was the reverse of that of Circe; for so far was there from being any thing sensual in it, that I was all mind. I do not mean all reason only; for my fancy was kept finely in play. And why not?—If you please I will send you a copy, or an abridgement of my Chester journal, which is truly a log-book of felicity.

'The Bishop treated me with a kindness which was very flattering. I told him, that you regretted you had seen so little of Chester.[1275] His Lordship bade me tell you, that he should be glad to shew you more of it. I am proud to find the friendship with which you honour me is known in so many places.

'I arrived here late last night. Our friend the Dean[1276] has been gone from hence some months; but I am told at my inn, that he is very populous (popular). However, I found Mr. Law, the Archdeacon, son to the Bishop[1277], and with him I have breakfasted and dined very agreeably. I got acquainted with him at the assizes here, about a year and a half ago; he is a man of great variety of knowledge, uncommon genius, and I believe, sincere religion. I received the holy sacrament in the Cathedral in the morning, this being the first Sunday in the month; and was at prayers there in the evening. It is divinely cheering to me to think that there is a Cathedral so near Auchinleck; and I now leave Old England in such a state of mind as I am thankful to GOD for granting me.

'The black dog that worries me at home I cannot but dread; yet as I have been for some time past in a military train, I trust I shall repulse him. To hear from you will animate me like the sound of a trumpet, I therefore hope, that soon after my return to the northern field, I shall receive a few lines from you.

'Colonel Stuart did me the honour to escort me in his carriage to shew me Liverpool, and from thence back again to Warrington, where we parted[1278]. In justice to my valuable wife, I must inform you she wrote to me, that as I was so happy, she would not be so selfish as to wish me to return sooner than business absolutely required my presence. She made my clerk write to me a post or two after to the same purpose, by commission from her; and this day a kind letter from her met me at the Post-Office here, acquainting me that she and the little ones were well, and expressing all their wishes for my return home. I am, more and more, my dear Sir,

'Your affectionate 'And obliged humble servant, 'JAMES BOSWELL.'


'Your last letter was not only kind but fond. But I wish you to get rid of all intellectual excesses, and neither to exalt your pleasures, nor aggravate your vexations, beyond their real and natural state[1279].

'Why should you not be as happy at Edinburgh as at Chester? In culpa est animus, qui se non effugit usquam[1280]. Please yourself with your wife and children, and studies, and practice.

'I have sent a petition[1281] from Lucy Porter, with which I leave it to your discretion whether it is proper to comply. Return me her letter, which I have sent, that you may know the whole case, and not be seduced to any thing that you may afterwards repent. Miss Doxy perhaps you know to be Mr. Garrick's niece.

'If Dean Percy can be popular at Carlisle, he may be very happy. He has in his disposal two livings, each equal, or almost equal in value to the deanery; he may take one himself, and give the other to his son.

'How near is the Cathedral to Auchinleck, that you are so much delighted with it? It is, I suppose, at least an hundred and fifty miles off[1282]. However, if you are pleased, it is so far well.

'Let me know what reception you have from your father, and the state of his health. Please him as much as you can, and add no pain to his last years.

'Of our friends here I can recollect nothing to tell you. I have neither seen nor heard of Langton. Beauclerk is just returned from Brighthelmston, I am told, much better. Mr. Thrale and his family are still there; and his health is said to be visibly improved; he has not bathed, but hunted[1283].

'At Bolt-court there is much malignity, but of late little open hostility[1284]. I have had a cold, but it is gone.

'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, &c.

'I am, Sir,

'Your humble servant,

'London, Nov. 13, 1779.'


On November 22, and December 21, I wrote to him from Edinburgh, giving a very favourable report of the family of Miss Doxy's lover;—that after a good deal of enquiry I had discovered the sister of Mr. Francis Stewart[1285], one of his amanuenses when writing his Dictionary;—that I had, as desired by him, paid her a guinea for an old pocket-book of her brother's which he had retained; and that the good woman, who was in very moderate circumstances, but contented and placid, wondered at his scrupulous and liberal honesty, and received the guinea as if sent her by Providence[1286].—That I had repeatedly begged of him to keep his promise to send me his letter to Lord Chesterfield, and that this memento, like Delenda est Carthago, must be in every letter that I should write to him, till I had obtained my object[1287].

1780: AETAT. 71.—In 1780, the world was kept in impatience for the completion of his Lives of the Poets, upon which he was employed so far as his indolence allowed him to labour[1288].

I wrote to him on January 1, and March 13, sending him my notes of Lord Marchmont's information concerning Pope;—complaining that I had not heard from him for almost four months, though he was two letters in my debt;—that I had suffered again from melancholy;—hoping that he had been in so much better company, (the Poets,) that he had not time to think of his distant friends; for if that were the case, I should have some recompence for my uneasiness;—that the state of my affairs did not admit of my coming to London this year; and begging he would return me Goldsmith's two poems, with his lines marked[1289].

His friend Dr. Lawrence having now suffered the greatest affliction to which a man is liable, and which Johnson himself had felt in the most severe manner; Johnson wrote to him in an admirable strain of sympathy and pious consolation.



'At a time when all your friends ought to shew their kindness, and with a character which ought to make all that know you your friends, you may wonder that you have yet heard nothing from me.

'I have been hindered by a vexatious and incessant cough, for which within these ten days I have been bled once, fasted four or five times, taken physick five times, and opiates, I think, six. This day it seems to remit.

'The loss, dear Sir, which you have lately suffered, I felt many years ago, and know therefore how much has been taken from you, and how little help can be had from consolation. He that outlives a wife whom he has long loved, sees himself disjoined from the only mind that has the same hopes, and fears, and interest; from the only companion with whom he has shared much good or evil; and with whom he could set his mind at liberty, to retrace the past or anticipate the future. The continuity of being is lacerated[1290]; the settled course of sentiment and action is stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless, till it is driven by external causes into a new channel. But the time of suspense is dreadful.

'Our first recourse in this distressed solitude, is, perhaps for want of habitual piety, to a gloomy acquiescence in necessity. Of two mortal beings, one must lose the other; but surely there is a higher and better comfort to be drawn from the consideration of that Providence which watches over all, and a belief that the living and the dead are equally in the hands of GOD, who will reunite those whom he has separated; or who sees that it is best not to reunite.

'I am, dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate,

'And most humble servant,


'January 20, 1780.'



'Well, I had resolved to send you the Chesterfield letter; but I will write once again without it. Never impose tasks upon mortals. To require two things is the way to have them both undone.

'For the difficulties which you mention in your affairs I am sorry; but difficulty is now very general: it is not therefore less grievous, for there is less hope of help. I pretend not to give you advice, not knowing the state of your affairs; and general counsels about prudence and frugality would do you little good. You are, however, in the right not to increase your own perplexity by a journey hither; and I hope that by staying at home you will please your father.

'Poor dear Beauclerk[1291]—nec, ut soles, dabis joca[1292]. His wit and his folly, his acuteness and maliciousness, his merriment and reasoning, are now over. Such another will not often be found among mankind. He directed himself to be buried by the side of his mother, an instance of tenderness which I hardly expected[1293]. He has left his children to the care of Lady Di, and if she dies, of Mr. Langton, and of Mr. Leicester his relation, and a man of good character. His library has been offered to sale to the Russian ambassador[1294].

'Dr. Percy, notwithstanding all the noise of the newspapers, has had no literary loss[1295]. Clothes and moveables were burnt to the value of about one hundred pounds; but his papers, and I think his books, were all preserved.

'Poor Mr. Thrale has been in extreme danger from an apoplectical disorder, and recovered, beyond the expectation of his physicians; he is now at Bath, that his mind may be quiet, and Mrs. Thrale and Miss are with him.

'Having told you what has happened to your friends, let me say something to you of yourself. You are always complaining of melancholy, and I conclude from those complaints that you are fond of it. No man talks of that which he is desirous to conceal, and every man desires to conceal that of which he is ashamed.[1296] Do not pretend to deny it; manifestum habemus furem; make it an invariable and obligatory law to yourself, never to mention your own mental diseases; if you are never to speak of them, you will think on them but little, and if you think little of them, they will molest you rarely. When you talk of them, it is plain that you want either praise or pity; for praise there is no room, and pity will do you no good; therefore, from this hour speak no more, think no more, about them[1297].

'Your transaction with Mrs. Stewart gave me great satisfaction; I am much obliged to you for your attention. Do not lose sight of her; your countenance may be of great credit, and of consequence of great advantage to her. The memory of her brother is yet fresh in my mind; he was an ingenious and worthy man.

'Please to make my compliments to your lady, and to the young ladies. I should like to see them, pretty loves.

'I am, dear Sir,

'Yours affectionately,


'April 8, 1780.'

Mrs. Thrale being now at Bath with her husband, the correspondence between Johnson and her was carried on briskly. I shall present my readers with one of her original letters to him at this time, which will amuse them probably more than those well-written but studied epistles which she has inserted in her collection, because it exhibits the easy vivacity of their literary intercourse. It is also of value as a key to Johnson's answer, which she has printed by itself, and of which I shall subjoin extracts.


'I had a very kind letter from you yesterday, dear Sir, with a most circumstantial date[1298]. You took trouble with my circulating letter, [1299] Mr. Evans writes me word, and I thank you sincerely for so doing: one might do mischief else not being on the spot.

'Yesterday's evening was passed at Mrs. Montagu's: there was Mr. Melmoth;[1300] I do not like him though, nor he me; it was expected we should have pleased each other; he is, however, just Tory enough to hate the Bishop of Peterborough[1301] for Whiggism, and Whig enough to abhor you for Toryism.

'Mrs. Montagu flattered him finely; so he had a good afternoon on't. This evening we spend at a concert. Poor Queeney's[1302] sore eyes have just released her; she had a long confinement, and could neither read nor write, so my master[1303] treated her very good-naturedly with the visits of a young woman in this town, a taylor's daughter, who professes musick, and teaches so as to give six lessons a day to ladies, at five and threepence a lesson. Miss Burney says she is a great performer; and I respect the wench for getting her living so prettily; she is very modest and pretty-mannered, and not seventeen years old.

'You live in a fine whirl indeed; if I did not write regularly you would half forget me, and that would be very wrong, for I felt my regard for you in my face last night, when the criticisms were going on.

'This morning it was all connoisseurship; we went to see some pictures painted by a gentleman-artist, Mr. Taylor, of this place; my master makes one, every where, and has got a good dawling[1304] companion to ride with him now. He looks well enough, but I have no notion of health for a man whose mouth cannot be sewed up.[1305] Burney[1306] and I and Queeney teize him every meal he eats, and Mrs. Montagu is quite serious with him; but what can one do? He will eat, I think, and if he does eat I know he will not live; it makes me very unhappy, but I must bear it. Let me always have your friendship. I am, most sincerely, dear Sir,

'Your faithful servant,

'H. L. T.'

'Bath, Friday, April 28.'



'Mr. Thrale never will live abstinently, till he can persuade himself to live by rule[1307].

* * * * *

Encourage, as you can, the musical girl.

'Nothing is more common than mutual dislike, where mutual approbation is particularly expected. There is often on both sides a vigilance not over-benevolent; and as attention is strongly excited, so that nothing drops unheeded, any difference in taste or opinion, and some difference where there is no restraint will commonly appear, immediately generates dislike.

'Never let criticisms operate upon your face or your mind; it is very rarely that an authour is hurt by his criticks. The blaze of reputation cannot be blown out, but it often dies in the socket[1308]; a very few names may be considered as perpetual lamps that shine unconsumed. From the authour of Fitzosborne's Letters I cannot think myself in much danger. I met him only once about thirty years ago, and in some small dispute reduced him to whistle; having not seen him since, that is the last impression. Poor Moore, the fabulist[1309], was one of the company.

'Mrs. Montagu's long stay, against her own inclination, is very convenient. You would, by your own confession, want a companion; and she is par pluribus; conversing with her you may find variety in one[1310].'

'London, May 1, 1780.'

On the and of May I wrote to him, and requested that we might have another meeting somewhere in the North of England, in the autumn of this year.

From Mr. Langton I received soon after this time a letter, of which I extract a passage, relative both to Mr. Beauclerk and Dr. Johnson.

'The melancholy information you have received concerning Mr. Beauclerk's death is true. Had his talents been directed in any sufficient degree as they ought, I have always been strongly of opinion that they were calculated to make an illustrious figure; and that opinion, as it had been in part formed upon Dr. Johnson's judgment, receives more and more confirmation by hearing what, since his death, Dr. Johnson has said concerning them; a few evenings ago, he was at Mr. Vesey's[1311], where Lord Althorpe[1312], who was one of a numerous company there, addressed Dr. Johnson on the subject of Mr. Beauclerk's death, saying, "Our CLUB has had a great loss since we met last." He replied, "A loss, that perhaps the whole nation could not repair!" The Doctor then went on to speak of his endowments, and particularly extolled the wonderful ease with which he uttered what was highly excellent. He said, that "no man ever was so free when he was going to say a good thing, from a look that expressed that it was coming; or, when he had said it, from a look that expressed that it had come." At Mr. Thrale's, some days before when we were talking on the same subject, he said, referring to the same idea of his wonderful facility, "That Beauclerk's talents were those which he had felt himself more disposed to envy, than those of any whom he had known[1313]."

'On the evening I have spoken of above, at Mr. Vesey's, you would have been much gratified, as it exhibited an instance of the high importance in which Dr. Johnson's character is held, I think even beyond any I ever before was witness to. The company consisted chiefly of ladies, among whom were the Duchess Dowager of Portland[1314], the Duchess of Beaufort, whom I suppose from her rank I must name before her mother Mrs. Boscawen, and her elder sister Mrs. Lewson, who was likewise there; Lady Lucan[1315], Lady Clermont, and others of note both for their station and understandings. Among the gentlemen were Lord Althorpe, whom I have before named, Lord Macartney, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Lucan, Mr. Wraxal[1316], whose book you have probably seen, The Tour to the Northern Parts of Europe; a very agreeable ingenious man; Dr. Warren, Mr. Pepys, the Master in Chancery, whom I believe you know, and Dr. Barnard, the Provost of Eton[1317]. As soon as Dr. Johnson was come in and had taken a chair[1318], the company began to collect round him, till they became not less than four, if not five, deep; those behind standing, and listening over the heads of those that were sitting near him[1319]. The conversation for some time was chiefly between Dr. Johnson and the Provost of Eton, while the others contributed occasionally their remarks. Without attempting to detail the particulars of the conversation, which perhaps if I did, I should spin my account out to a tedious length, I thought, my dear Sir, this general account of the respect with which our valued friend was attended to, might be acceptable[1320].'


'May 25, 1780.


'I know your disposition to second any literary attempt, and therefore venture upon the liberty of entreating you to procure from College or University registers, all the dates, or other informations which they can supply, relating to Ambrose Philips, Broome, and Gray, who were all of Cambridge, and of whose lives I am to give such accounts as I can gather. Be pleased to forgive this trouble from, Sir,

'Your most humble servant,


While Johnson was thus engaged in preparing a delightful literary entertainment for the world, the tranquillity of the metropolis of Great-Britain was unexpectedly disturbed, by the most horrid series of outrage that ever disgraced a civilised country. A relaxation of some of the severe penal provisions against our fellow-subjects of the Catholic communion had been granted by the legislature, with an opposition so inconsiderable that the genuine mildness of Christianity, united with liberal policy, seemed to have become general in this island[1321]. But a dark and malignant spirit of persecution soon shewed itself, in an unworthy petition for the repeal of the wise and humane statute. That petition was brought forward by a mob, with the evident purpose of intimidation, and was justly rejected. But the attempt was accompanied and followed by such daring violence as is unexampled in history. Of this extraordinary tumult, Dr. Johnson has given the following concise, lively, and just account in his _Letters to Mrs. Thrale[1322]:—

'On Friday[1323], the good Protestants met in Saint George's-Fields, at the summons of Lord George Gordon, and marching to Westminster, insulted the Lords and Commons, who all bore it with great tameness. At night the outrages began by the demolition of the mass-house by Lincoln's-Inn.'

'An exact journal of a week's defiance of government I cannot give you. On Monday, Mr. Strahan[1324], who had been insulted, spoke to Lord Mansfield, who had I think been insulted too, of the licentiousness of the populace; and his Lordship treated it as a very slight irregularity. On Tuesday night[1325] they pulled down Fielding's house, and burnt his goods in the street. They had gutted on Monday Sir George Savile's house, but the building was saved. On Tuesday evening, leaving Fielding's ruins, they went to Newgate to demand their companions who had been seized demolishing the chapel. The keeper could not release them but by the Mayor's permission, which he went to ask; at his return he found all the prisoners released, and Newgate in a blaze. They then went to Bloomsbury, and fastened upon Lord Mansfield's house, which they pulled down; and as for his goods, they totally burnt them[1326]. They have since gone to Caen-wood, but a guard was there before them. They plundered some Papists, I think, and burnt a mass-house[1327] in Moorfields the same night.'

'On Wednesday I walked with Dr. Scott to look at Newgate, and found it in ruins, with the fire yet glowing. As I went by, the Protestants were plundering the Sessions-house at the Old-Bailey. There were not, I believe, a hundred; but they did their work at leisure, in full security, without sentinels, without trepidation, as men lawfully employed, in full day. Such is the cowardice of a commercial place. On Wednesday they broke open the Fleet, and the King's-Bench, and the Marshalsea, and Wood-street Compter, and Clerkenwell Bridewell, and released all the prisoners[1328].'

'At night they set fire to the Fleet, and to the King's-Bench, and I know not how many other places; and one might see the glare of conflagration fill the sky from many parts. The sight was dreadful. Some people were threatened: Mr. Strahan advised me to take care of myself. Such a time of terrour you have been happy in not seeing.'

'The King said in Council, "That the magistrates had not done their duty, but that he would do his own;" and a proclamation was published, directing us to keep our servants within doors, as the peace was now to be preserved by force. The soldiers were sent out to different parts, and the town is now [June 9] at quiet.'

'The soldiers[1329] are stationed so as to be every where within call: there is no longer any body of rioters, and the individuals are hunted to their holes, and led to prison; Lord George was last night sent to the Tower. Mr. John Wilkes was this day[1330] in my neighbourhood, to seize the publisher of a seditious paper.'

'Several chapels have been destroyed, and several inoffensive Papists have been plundered; but the high sport was to burn the gaols. This was a good rabble trick. The debtors and the criminals were all set at liberty; but of the criminals, as has always happened, many are already retaken; and two pirates have surrendered themselves, and it is expected that they will be pardoned.'

'Government now acts again with its proper force; and we are all[1331] under the protection of the King and the law. I thought that it would be agreeable to you and my master to have my testimony to the publick security; and that you would sleep more quietly when I told you that you are safe.'

'There has, indeed, been an universal panick from which the King was the first that recovered. Without the concurrence of his ministers, or the assistance of the civil magistrate, he put the soldiers in motion, and saved the town from calamities, such as a rabble's government must naturally produce.'

'The publick[1332] has escaped a very heavy calamity. The rioters attempted the Bank on Wednesday night, but in no great number; and like other thieves, with no great resolution. Jack Wilkes headed the party that drove them away. It is agreed, that if they had seized the Bank on Tuesday, at the height of the panick, when no resistance had been prepared, they might have carried irrecoverably away whatever they had found. Jack, who was always zealous for order and decency,[1333] declares that if he be trusted with power, he will not leave a rioter alive. There is, however, now no longer any need of heroism or bloodshed; no blue ribband[1334] is any longer worn[1335].'

Such was the end of this miserable sedition, from which London was delivered by the magnanimity of the Sovereign himself. Whatever some may maintain, I am satisfied that there was no combination or plan, either domestic or foreign; but that the mischief spread by a gradual contagion of frenzy, augmented by the quantities of fermented liquors, of which the deluded populace possessed themselves in the course of their depredations.

I should think myself very much to blame, did I here neglect to do justice to my esteemed friend Mr. Akerman, the keeper of Newgate, who long discharged a very important trust with an uniform intrepid firmness, and at the same time a tenderness and a liberal charity, which entitle him to be recorded with distinguished honour[1336].

Upon this occasion, from the timidity and negligence of magistracy on the one hand, and the almost incredible exertions of the mob on the other, the first prison of this great country was laid open, and the prisoners set free; but that Mr. Akerman, whose house was burnt, would have prevented all this, had proper aid been sent to him in due time, there can be no doubt.

Many years ago, a fire broke out in the brick part which was built as an addition to the old gaol of Newgate. The prisoners were in consternation and tumult, calling out, 'We shall be burnt—we shall be burnt! Down with the gate—down with the gate!' Mr. Akerman hastened to them, shewed himself at the gate, and having, after some confused vociferation of 'Hear him—hear him!' obtained a silent attention, he then calmly told them, that the gate must not go down; that they were under his care, and that they should not be permitted to escape: but that he could assure them, they need not be afraid of being burnt, for that the fire was not in the prison, properly so called, which was strongly built with stone; and that if they would engage to be quiet, he himself would come in to them, and conduct them to the further end of the building, and would not go out till they gave him leave. To this proposal they agreed; upon which Mr. Akerman, having first made them fall back from the gate, went in, and with a determined resolution, ordered the outer turnkey upon no account to open the gate, even though the prisoners (though he trusted they would not) should break their word, and by force bring himself to order it. 'Never mind me, (said he,) should that happen.' The prisoners peaceably followed him, while he conducted them through passages of which he had the keys, to the extremity of the gaol which was most distant from the fire. Having, by this very judicious conduct, fully satisfied them that there was no immediate risk, if any at all, he then addressed them thus: 'Gentlemen, you are now convinced that I told you true. I have no doubt that the engines will soon extinguish this fire; if they should not, a sufficient guard will come, and you shall all be taken out and lodged in the Compters[1337]. I assure you, upon my word and honour, that I have not a farthing insured. I have left my house, that I might take care of you. I will keep my promise, and stay with you if you insist upon it; but if you will allow me to go out and look after my family and property, I shall[1338] be obliged to you.' Struck with his behaviour, they called out, 'Master Akerman, you have done bravely; it was very kind in you: by all means go and take care of your own concerns.' He did so accordingly, while they remained, and were all preserved.

Johnson has been heard to relate the substance of this story with high praise, in which he was joined by Mr. Burke. My illustrious friend, speaking of Mr. Akerman's kindness to his prisoners, pronounced this eulogy upon his character:—'He who has long had constantly in his view the worst of mankind, and is yet eminent for the humanity of his disposition, must have had it originally in a great degree, and continued to cultivate it very carefully[1339].'

In the course of this month my brother David waited upon Dr. Johnson, with the following letter of introduction, which I had taken care should be lying ready on his arrival in London.


'Edinburgh, April 29, 1780.


'This will be delivered to you by my brother David, on his return from Spain. You will be glad to see the man who vowed to "stand by the old castle of Auchinleck, with heart, purse, and sword;" that romantick family solemnity devised by me, of which you and I talked with complacency upon the spot. I trust that twelve years of absence have not lessened his feudal attachment; and that you will find him worthy of being introduced to your acquaintance.

'I have the honour to be,

'With affectionate veneration,

'My dear Sir,

'Your most faithful humble servant,


Johnson received him very politely, and has thus mentioned him in a letter to Mrs. Thrale[1340]: 'I have had with me a brother of Boswell's, a Spanish merchant,[1341] whom the war has driven from his residence at Valentia; he is gone to see his friends, and will find Scotland but a sorry place after twelve years' residence in a happier climate. He is a very agreeable man, and speaks no Scotch.'



'More years[1342] than I have any delight to reckon, have past since you and I saw one another; of this, however, there is no reason for making any reprehensory complaint—Sic fata ferunt[1343]. But methinks there might pass some small interchange of regard between us. If you say, that I ought to have written, I now write; and I write to tell you, that I have much kindness for you and Mrs. Beattie; and that I wish your health better, and your life long. Try change of air, and come a few degrees Southwards: a softer climate may do you both good; winter is coming on; and London will be warmer, and gayer, and busier, and more fertile of amusement than Aberdeen.

'My health is better; but that will be little in the balance, when I tell you that Mrs. Montagu has been very ill, and is I doubt now but weakly. Mr. Thrale has been very dangerously disordered; but is much better, and I hope will totally recover. He has withdrawn himself from business the whole summer. Sir Joshua and his sister are well; and Mr. Davies has got great success as an authour,[1344] generated by the corruption of a bookseller.[1345] More news I have not to tell you, and therefore you must be contented with hearing, what I know not whether you much wish to hear[1346], that I am, Sir,

'Your most humble servant, 'SAM. JOHNSON.'

'Bolt-court, Fleet-street, August 21, 1780.'



'I find you have taken one of your fits of taciturnity, and have resolved not to write till you are written to; it is but a peevish humour, but you shall have your way.

'I have sat at home in Bolt-court, all the summer, thinking to write the Lives, and a great part of the time only thinking. Several of them, however, are done, and I still think to do the rest.

'Mr. Thrale and his family have, since his illness, passed their time first at Bath, and then at Brighthelmston; but I have been at neither place. I would have gone to Lichfield, if I could have had time, and I might have had time if I had been active; but I have missed much, and done little.

'In the late disturbances, Mr. Thrale's house and stock were in great danger; the mob was pacified at their first invasion, with about fifty pounds in drink and meat; and at their second, were driven away by the soldiers[1347]. Mr. Strahan got a garrison into his house, and maintained them a fortnight; he was so frighted that he removed part of his goods. Mrs. Williams took shelter in the country.

'I know not whether I shall get a ramble this autumn[1348]; it is now about the time when we were travelling. I have, however, better health than I had then, and hope you and I may yet shew ourselves on some part of Europe, Asia, or Africa[1349]. In the mean time let us play no trick, but keep each other's kindness by all means in our power.

'The bearer of this is Dr. Dunbar, of Aberdeen, who has written and published a very ingenious book[1350], and who I think has a kindness for me, and will, when he knows you, have a kindness for you.

'I suppose your little ladies are grown tall; and your son is become a learned young man. I love them all, and I love your naughty lady, whom I never shall persuade to love me. When the Lives are done, I shall send them to complete her collection, but must send them in paper, as for want of a pattern, I cannot bind them to fit the rest.

'I am, Sir, 'Yours most affectionately, 'SAM. JOHNSON.' 'London, Aug. 21, 1780.'

This year he wrote to a young clergyman[1351] in the country, the following very excellent letter, which contains valuable advice to Divines in general:—

'Dear Sir,

'Not many days ago Dr. Lawrence shewed me a letter, in which you make mention of me: I hope, therefore, you will not be displeased that I endeavour to preserve your good-will by some observations which your letter suggested to me.

'You are afraid of falling into some improprieties in the daily service by reading to an audience that requires no exactness. Your fear, I hope, secures you from danger. They who contract absurd habits are such as have no fear. It is impossible to do the same thing very often, without some peculiarity of manner: but that manner may be good or bad, and a little care will at least preserve it from being bad: to make it good, there must, I think, be something of natural or casual felicity, which cannot be taught.

'Your present method of making your sermons seems very judicious. Few frequent preachers can be supposed to have sermons more their own than yours will be. Take care to register, somewhere or other, the authours from whom your several discourses are borrowed; and do not imagine that you shall always remember, even what perhaps you now think it impossible to forget.

'My advice, however, is, that you attempt, from time to time, an original sermon; and in the labour of composition, do not burthen your mind with too much at once; do not exact from yourself at one effort of excogitation, propriety of thought and elegance of expression. Invent first, and then embellish. The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced. Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise, in the first words that occur; and, when you have matter, you will easily give it form: nor, perhaps, will this method be always necessary; for by habit, your thoughts and diction will flow together[1352].

'The composition of sermons is not very difficult: the divisions not only help the memory of the hearer, but direct the judgement of the writer; they supply sources of invention, and keep every part in its proper place.

'What I like least in your letter is your account of the manners of your parish; from which I gather, that it has been long neglected by the parson. The Dean of Carlisle[1353], who was then a little rector in Northamptonshire[1354], told me, that it might be discerned whether or no there was a clergyman resident in a parish by the civil or savage manner of the people. Such a congregation as yours stands in need of much reformation; and I would not have you think it impossible to reform them. A very savage parish was civilised by a decayed gentlewoman, who came among them to teach a petty school. My learned friend Dr. Wheeler[1355] of Oxford, when he was a young man, had the care of a neighbouring parish for fifteen pounds a year, which he was never paid; but he counted it a convenience that it compelled him to make a sermon weekly. One woman he could not bring to the communion; and, when he reproved or exhorted her, she only answered, that she was no scholar. He was advised to set some good woman or man of the parish, a little wiser than herself, to talk to her in a language level to her mind. Such honest, I may call them holy artifices, must be practised by every clergyman; for all means must be tried by which souls may be saved[1356]. Talk to your people, however, as much as you can; and you will find, that the more frequently you converse with them upon religious subjects, the more willingly they will attend, and the more submissively they will learn. A clergyman's diligence always makes him venerable. I think I have now only to say, that in the momentous work you have undertaken, I pray GOD to bless you.

'I am, Sir, 'Your most humble servant, 'SAM. JOHNSON.'

'Bolt-court, Aug. 30, 1780.'

My next letters to him were dated August 24, September 6, and October 1, and from them I extract the following passages:—

'My brother David and I find the long indulged fancy of our comfortable meeting again at Auchinleck, so well realised, that it in some degree confirms the pleasing hope of O! preclarum diem![1357] in a future state.'

'I beg that you may never again harbour a suspicion of my indulging a peevish humour, or playing tricks; you will recollect that when I confessed to you, that I had once been intentionally silent to try your regard, I gave you my word and honour that I would not do so again[1358].'

'I rejoice to hear of your good state of health; I pray GOD to continue it long. I have often said, that I would willingly have ten years added to my life, to have ten taken from yours; I mean, that I would be ten years older to have you ten years younger. But let me be thankful for the years during which I have enjoyed your friendship, and please myself with the hopes of enjoying it many years to come in this state of being, trusting always, that in another state, we shall meet never to be separated. Of this we can form no notion; but the thought, though indistinct, is delightful, when the mind is calm and clear[1359].'

'The riots in London were certainly horrible; but you give me no account of your own situation, during the barbarous anarchy. A description of it by DR. JOHNSON would be a great painting[1360]; you might write another London, a Poem.'

'I am charmed with your condescending affectionate expression, "let us keep each other's kindness by all the means in our power;" my revered Friend! how elevating is it to my mind, that I am found worthy to be a companion to Dr. Samuel Johnson! All that you have said in grateful praise of Mr. Walmsley,[1361] I have long thought of you; but we are both Tories,[1362] which has a very general influence upon our sentiments. I hope that you will agree to meet me at York, about the end of this month; or if you will come to Carlisle, that would be better still, in case the Dean be there. Please to consider, that to keep each other's kindness, we should every year have that free and intimate communication of mind which can be had only when we are together. We should have both our solemn and our pleasant talk.'

'I write now for the third time, to tell you that my desire for our meeting this autumn, is much increased. I wrote to Squire Godfrey Bosville[1363], my Yorkshire chief, that I should, perhaps, pay him a visit, as I was to hold a conference with Dr. Johnson at York. I give you my word and honour that I said not a word of his inviting you; but he wrote to me as follows:—

'"I need not tell you I shall be happy to see you here the latter end of this month, as you propose; and I shall likewise be in hopes that you will persuade Dr. Johnson to finish the conference here. It will add to the favour of your own company, if you prevail upon such an associate, to assist your observations. I have often been entertained with his writings, and I once belonged to a club of which he was a member, and I never spent an evening there, but I heard something from him well worth remembering."

'We have thus, my dear Sir, good comfortable quarters in the neighbourhood of York, where you may be assured we shall be heartily welcome. I pray you then resolve to set out; and let not the year 1780 be a blank in our social calendar, and in that record of wisdom and wit, which I keep with so much diligence, to your honour, and the instruction and delight of others.'

Mr. Thrale had now another contest for the representation in parliament of the borough of Southwark, and Johnson kindly lent him his assistance, by writing advertisements and letters for him. I shall insert one as a specimen:



'A new Parliament being now called, I again solicit the honour of being elected for one of your representatives; and solicit it with the greater confidence, as I am not conscious of having neglected my duty, or of having acted otherwise than as becomes the independent representative of independent constituents; superiour to fear, hope, and expectation, who has no private purposes to promote, and whose prosperity is involved in the prosperity of his country. As my recovery from a very severe distemper is not yet perfect, I have declined to attend the Hall, and hope an omission so necessary will not be harshly censured.

'I can only send my respectful wishes, that all your deliberations may tend to the happiness of the kingdom, and the peace of the borough.

'I am, Gentlemen,

'Your most faithful

'And obedient servant,


'Southwark, Sept. 5, 1780.'

On his birth-day, Johnson has this note:—

'I am now beginning the seventy-second year of my life, with more strength of body, and greater vigour of mind, than I think is common at that age[1364].'

But still he complains of sleepless nights and idle days, and forgetfulness, or neglect of resolutions. He thus pathetically expresses himself,—

'Surely I shall not spend my whole life with my own total disapprobation[1365].'

Mr. Macbean, whom I have mentioned more than once, as one of Johnson's humble friends, a deserving but unfortunate man, being now oppressed by age and poverty, Johnson solicited the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, to have him admitted into the Charterhouse. I take the liberty to insert his Lordship's answer[1366], as I am eager to embrace every occasion of augmenting the respectable notion which should ever be entertained of my illustrious friend:—


'London, October 24, 1780.


'I have this moment received your letter, dated the 19th, and returned from Bath.

'In the beginning of the summer I placed one in the Chartreux[1367], without the sanction of a recommendation so distinct and so authoritative as yours of Macbean; and I am afraid, that according to the establishment of the House, the opportunity of making the charity so good amends will not soon recur. But whenever a vacancy shall happen, if you'll favour me with notice of it, I will try to recommend him to the place, even though it should not be my turn to nominate.

'I am, Sir, with great regard,

'Your most faithful

'And obedient servant,




'I am sorry to write you a letter that will not please you, and yet it is at last what I resolve to do. This year must pass without an interview; the summer has been foolishly lost, like many other of my summers and winters. I hardly saw a green field, but staid in town to work, without working much.

'Mr. Thrale's loss of health has lost him the election;[1369] he is now going to Brighthelmston, and expects me to go with him; and how long I shall stay, I cannot tell. I do not much like the place, but yet I shall go, and stay while my stay is desired. We must, therefore, content ourselves with knowing what we know as well as man can know the mind of man, that we love one another, and that we wish each other's happiness, and that the lapse of a year cannot lessen our mutual kindness.

'I was pleased to be told that I accused Mrs. Boswell unjustly, in supposing that she bears me ill-will. I love you so much, that I would be glad to love all that love you, and that you love; and I have love very ready for Mrs. Boswell, if she thinks it worthy of acceptance. I hope all the young ladies and gentlemen are well.

'I take a great liking to your brother. He tells me that his father received him kindly, but not fondly; however, you seem to have lived well enough at Auchinleck, while you staid. Make your father as happy as you can.

'You lately told me of your health: I can tell you in return, that my health has been for more than a year past, better than it has been for many years before. Perhaps it may please GOD to give us some time together before we are parted.

'I am, dear Sir, 'Yours most affectionately, 'SAM. JOHNSON.' 'October 17, 1780.'


(Page 314.)

The alehouse in the city where Johnson used to go and sit with George Psalmanazar was, no doubt, the club in Old Street, where he met also 'the metaphysical tailor,' the uncle of Hoole the poet (post, under March 30, 1783). Psalmanazar is mentioned a third time by Boswell (post, May 15, 1784) in a passage borrowed from Hawkins's edition of Johnson's Works, xi. 206, where it is stated that 'Johnson said: "He had never seen the close of the life of any one that he wished so much his own to resemble as that of him, for its purity and devotion." He was asked whether he ever contradicted him. "I should as soon," said he, "have thought of contradicting a bishop." When he was asked whether he had ever mentioned Formosa before him, he said, "he was afraid to mention even China."' We learn from Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 547, that 'Psalmanazar lived in Ironmonger Row, Old Street; in the neighbourhood whereof he was so well known and esteemed, that, as Dr. Hawkesworth once told me, scarce any person, even children, passed him without shewing him the usual signs of respect.' In the list of the writers of the Universal History that Johnson drew up a few days before his death his name is given as the historian of the Jews, Gauls, and Spaniards (post, November, 1784). According to Mrs. Piozzi (Anecdotes, p. 175):—'His pious and patient endurance of a tedious illness, ending in an exemplary death, confirmed the strong impression his merit had made upon the mind of Mr. Johnson. "It is so very difficult," said he always, "for a sick man not to be a scoundrel."' Johnson, in Prayers and Meditations, p. 102, mentions him as a man 'whose life was, I think, uniform.' Smollett, in Humphry Clinker (in Melford's Letter of June 10), describes him as one 'who, after having drudged half a century in the literary mill, in all the simplicity and abstinence of an Asiatic, subsists upon the charity of a few booksellers, just sufficient to keep him from the parish.' A writer in the Annual Register for 1764 (ii. 71), speaking of the latter part of his life, says:—'He was concerned in compiling and writing works of credit, and lived exemplarily for many years.' He died a few days before that memorable sixteenth day of May 1763, when Boswell first met Johnson. It is a pity that no record has been kept of the club meetings in Ironmonger Row, for then we should have seen Johnson in a new light. Johnson in an alehouse club, with a metaphysical tailor on one side of him, and an aged writer on the other side of him, 'who spoke English with the city accent and coarsely enough,'[1370] and whom he would never venture to contradict, is a Johnson that we cannot easily imagine.

Of the greater part of Psalmanazar's life we know next to nothing—little, I believe, beyond the few facts that I have here gathered together. His early years he has described in his Memoirs. That he started as one of the most shameless impostors, and that he remained a hypocrite and a cheat till he was fully forty, if not indeed longer, his own narrative shows. That for many years he lived laboriously, frugally, and honestly seems to be no less certain. How far his Memoirs are truthful is somewhat doubtful. In them he certainly confesses the impudent trick which he had played in his youth, when he passed himself off as a Formosan convert. He wished, he writes, 'to undeceive the world by unravelling that whole mystery of iniquity' (p. 5). He lays bare roguery enough, and in a spirit, it seems, of real sorrow. Nevertheless there are passages which are not free from the leaven of hypocrisy, and there are, I suspect, statements which are at least partly false. Johnson, indeed, looked upon him as little less than a saint; but then, as Sir Joshua Reynolds tells us, though 'Johnson was not easily imposed upon by professions to honesty and candour, he appeared to have little suspicion of hypocrisy in religion.'[1371] It was in the year 1704 that Psalmanazar published his Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa. So gross is the forgery that it almost passes belief that it was widely accepted as a true narrative. He gave himself out as a native of that island and a convert to Christianity. He lied so foolishly as to maintain that in the Academies of Formosa Greek was studied (p. 290). He asserted also that in an island that is only about half as large as Ireland 18,000 boys were sacrificed every year (p. 176). But his readers were for the most part only too willing to be deceived; for in Protestant England his abuse of the Jesuits covered a multitude of lies. Ere he had been three months in London, he was, he writes (Memoirs, p. 179), 'cried up for a prodigy, and not only the domestic, but even the foreign papers had helped to blaze forth many things in his praise.' He was aided in his fraud by the Rev. Dr. Innes, or Innys, a clergyman of the English Church, who by means of his interesting convert pushed himself into the notice of Compton, Bishop of London, and before long was made chaplain-general to the English forces in Portugal (Memoirs, p. 191). The same man, as Boswell tells us (ante, i. 359), by another impudent cheat, a second time obtained 'considerable promotion.' Psalmanazar's book soon reached a second edition, 'besides the several versions it had abroad' (p. 5). Yet it is very dull reading—just such a piece of work as might be looked for from a young man of little fancy, but gifted with a strong memory. Nevertheless, the author's credit lasted so long, that for many years he lived on a subscription 'which was founded on a belief of his being a Formosan and a real convert to the Church of England' (p. 208). He was even sent to Oxford to study, and had rooms in one of the colleges—Christ Church, if I mistake not (p. 186). It was not only as a student that he was sent by his dupes to that ancient seat of learning; the Bishop of London hoped that he would 'teach the Formosan language to a set of gentlemen who were afterwards to go with him to convert those people to Christianity' (p. 161).

While he was living the life of a lying scoundrel, he was, he says (p. 192), 'happily restrained by Divine Grace,' so that 'all sense of remorse was not extinguished,' and there was no fall into 'downright infidelity.' At length he picked up Law's Serious Call, which moved him, as later on it moved better men (ante, i. 68). Step by step he got into a way of steady work, and lived henceforth a laborious and honest life. It was in the year 1728, thirty-five years before his death, that he began, he says, to write the narrative of his imposture (p. 59). A dangerous illness and the dread of death had deeply moved him, and filled him with the desire of leaving behind 'a faithful narrative' which would 'undeceive the world.' Nineteen years later, though he did not publish his narrative, he made a public confession of his guilt. In the unsigned article on Formosa, which he wrote in 1747 for Bowen's Complete System of Geography (ii. 251), he says, 'Psalmanaazaar [so he had at one time written his name] hath long since ingenuously owned the contrary [of the truthfulness of his narrative] though not in so public a manner, as he might perhaps have done, had not such an avowment been likely to have affected some few persons who for private ends took advantage of his youthful vanity to encourage him in an imposture, which he might otherwise never had the thought, much less the confidence, to have carried on. These persons being now dead, and out of all danger of being hurt by it, he now gives us leave to assure the world that the greatest part of that account was fabulous ... and that he designs to leave behind him a faithful account of that unhappy step, and other particulars of his life leading to it, to be published after his death.'

In his Memoirs he will not, he writes (p. 59), give any account 'of his real country or family.' Yet it is quite clear from his own narrative that he was born in the south of France. 'His pronunciation of French had,' it was said, 'a spice of the Gascoin accent, and in that provincial dialect he was so masterly that none but those born in the country could excel him' (Preface, p. 1). If a town can be found that answers to all that he tells of his birth-place, his whole account may be true; but the circumstances that he mentions seem inconsistent. The city in which he was born was twenty-four miles from an archiepiscopal city in which there was a college of Jesuits (p. 67), and about sixty miles from 'a noble great city full of gentry and nobility, of coaches, and all kinds of grandeur,' the seat of a great university (pp. 76, 83). When he left the great city for Avignon he speaks of himself as 'going down to Avignon' (p. 87). Thence he started on a pilgrimage to Rome, and in order to avoid his native place, after he had gone no great way, 'he wheeled about to the left, to leave the place at some twenty or thirty miles distance' (p. 101). He changed his mind, however, and returned home. Thence he set off to join his father, who was 'near 500 miles off' in Germany (p. 60). 'The direct route was through the great university city' and Lyons (p. 104). His birth-place then, if his account is true, was on the road from Avignon to Rome, sixty miles from a great university city and southwards of it, for through this university city passed the direct road from his home to Lyons. It was, moreover, sixty miles from an archiepiscopal city. I do not think that such a place can be found. He says (p. 59) that he thought himself 'obliged out of respect to his country and family to conceal both, it being but too common, though unjust, to censure them for the crimes of private persons.' The excuse seems unsatisfactory, for he tells enough to shew that he came from the South of France, while for his family there was no need of care. It was, he writes, 'ancient but decayed,' and he was the only surviving child. Of his father and mother he had heard nothing since he started on the career of a pious rogue. They must have been dead very many years by the time his Memoirs were given to the world. His story shews that at all events for the first part of his life he had been one of the vainest of men, and vanity is commonly found joined with a love of mystery. He is not consistent, moreover, in his dates. On April 23, 1752, he was in the 73rd year of his age (p. 7); so that he was born in either 1679 or 1680. When he joined his father he was 'hardly full sixteen years old' (p. 112); yet it was a few years after the Peace of Ryswick, which was signed on September 22, 1697. He was, he says, 'but near twenty' when he wrote his History of Formosa (p. 184). This was in the year 1704.

With his father he stayed but a short time, and then set out rambling northwards. At Avignon, by shameless lying, he had obtained a pass 'as a young student in theology, of Irish extract [sic] who had left his country for the sake of religion' (p. 98). It was wonderful that his fraud had escaped detection there, for he had kept his own name, 'because it had something of quality in it' (p. 99). He now resolved on a more impudent pretence; for 'passing as an Irishman and a sufferer for religion, did not only,' he writes, 'expose me to the danger of being discovered, but came short of the merit and admiration I had expected from it' (p. 112). He thereupon gave himself out as a Japanese convert, and forged a fresh pass, 'clapping to it the old seal' (p. 116). He went through different adventures, and at last enlisted in the army of the Elector of Cologne—an 'unhappy herd, destitute of all sense of religion and shamefacedness.' He got his discharge, but enlisted a second time, 'passing himself off for a Japanese and a heathen, under the name of Salmanazar' (pp. 133-141). Later on he altered it, he says, 'by the addition of a letter or two to make it somewhat different from that mentioned in the Book of Kings' (Shalmaneser, II Kings, xvii. 3). In his Description of Formosa he wrote it Psalmanaazaar, and in later life Psalmanazar. In his vanity he invented 'an awkward show of worship, turning his face to the rising or setting sun, and pleased to be taken notice of for so doing' (p. 144). He had moreover 'the ambition of passing for a moral heathen' (p. 147). By way of singularity he next took to living altogether upon raw flesh, roots, and herbs (p. 163).

It was when he was on garrison duty at Sluys that he became acquainted with Innes, who was chaplain to a Scotch regiment that was in the pay of the Dutch (p. 148). This man found in him a tool ready made to his hand. He had at once seen through his roguery, but he used his knowledge only to plunge him deeper in his guilt. By working on his fears and his vanity and by small bribes he induced him to profess himself a convert to the Church of England and to submit to baptism (p. 158). He brought him over to London, and introduced him to the Bishop of London, and to Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury (pp. 164, 179). Psalmanazar spoke Latin fluently, but 'his Grace had either forgotten his, or being unused to the foreign pronunciation was forced to have it interpreted to him by Dr. Innes in English' (p. 178). The young impostor everywhere gave himself out as a Formosan who had been entrapped by a Jesuit priest, and brought to Avignon. 'There I could expect,' he wrote, 'no mercy from the Inquisitors, if I had not in hypocrisy professed their religion' (History of Formosa, p. 25). He was kept, he says, in a kind of custody, 'but I trusted under God to my heels' (p. 24). It was Innes who made him write this History.

In the confession of his fraud Psalmanazar seems to keep back nothing. His repentance appears to be sincere, and his later life, there can be little question, was regular. Yet, as I have said, even his confessions apparently are not free from the old leaven of hypocrisy. It is indeed very hard, if not altogether impossible, for a man who has passed forty years and more as a lying hypocrite altogether to 'clear his mind of cant.' In writing of the time when he was still living the life of a lying scoundrel, he says:—'I have great reason to acknowledge it the greatest mercy that could befall me, that I was so well grounded in the principles and evidence of the Christian religion, that neither the conversation of the then freethinkers, as they loved to stile themselves, and by many of whom I was severely attacked, nor the writings of Hobbes, Spinosa, &c. against the truth of Divine revelation could appear to me in any other light than as the vain efforts of a dangerous set of men to overturn a religion, the best founded and most judiciously calculated to promote the peace and happiness of mankind, both temporal and eternal' (Memoirs, p. 192). Two pages further on he writes, a little boastfully it seems, of having had 'some sort of gallantry with the fair sex; with many of whom, even persons of fortune and character, of sense, wit, and learning, I was become,' he continues, 'a great favourite, and might, if I could have overcome my natural sheepishness and fear of a repulse, have been more successful either by way of matrimony or intrigue.' He goes on:—'I may truly say, that hardly any man who might have enjoyed so great a variety ever indulged himself in so few instances of the unlawful kind as I have done.' He concludes this passage in his writings by 'thankfully acknowledging that there must have been some secret providence that kept me from giving such way to unlawful amours as I might otherwise have done, to the ruin of my health, circumstances,' &c.

When he came to wish for an honest way of life he was beset with difficulties. 'What a deadly wound,' he writes, 'must such an unexpected confession have given to my natural vanity, and what a mortification would it have been to such sincere honest people [as my friends] to hear it from my mouth!' (p. 213.) This was natural enough. That he long hesitated, like a coward, on the brink is not to be cast in his teeth, seeing that at last he took the plunge. But then in speaking of the time when he weakly repeated, and to use his own words, 'as it were confirmed anew,' his old falsehoods, he should not have written that 'as the assurance of God's mercy gave me good grounds to hope, so that hope inspired me with a design to use all proper means to obtain it, and leave the issue of it to his Divine Providence' (p. 214). The only proper means to obtain God's mercy was at once to own to all the world that he had lied. It is only the Tartuffes and the Holy Willies who, whilst they persist in their guilt, talk of leaving the issue to the Divine Providence of God.

Since this Appendix was in type I have learnt, through the kindness of Mr. C.E. Doble, the editor of Hearne's Remarks and Collections, ed. 1885, that a passage in that book (i. 271), confirms my conjecture that Psalmanazar was lodged in Christ Church when at Oxford. Hearne says (July 9, 1706):—'Mr. Topping of Christ Church ... also tells me that Salmanezzer, the famous Formosan, when he left Christ Church (where he resided while in Oxon) left behind him a Book in MSt., wherein a distinct acct was given of the Consular and Imperial coyns by himself.' Mr. Doble has also pointed out to me in the first edition of the Spectator the following passage at the end of No. 14:—


'On the first of April will be performed at the Play-house in the Hay-market an opera call'd The Cruelty of Atreus. N.B. The Scene wherein Thyestes eats his own children is to be performed by the famous Mr. Psalmanazar lately arrived from Formosa: The whole Supper being set to Kettle-drums.'

* * * * *



(Page 352).

On the passage in the text Macaulay in his Review of Croker's Edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson partly founds the following criticism:—

'Johnson's visit to the Hebrides introduced him to a state of society completely new to him; and a salutary suspicion of his own deficiencies seems on that occasion to have crossed his mind for the first time. He confessed, in the last paragraph of his Journey, that his thoughts on national manners were the thoughts of one who had seen but little, of one who had passed his time almost wholly in cities. This feeling, however, soon passed away. It is remarkable that to the last he entertained a fixed contempt for all those modes of life and those studies which tend to emancipate the mind from the prejudices of a particular age or a particular nation. Of foreign travel and of history he spoke with the fierce and boisterous contempt of ignorance. "What does a man learn by travelling? Is Beauclerk the better for travelling? What did Lord Charlemont learn in his travels, except that there was a snake in one of the pyramids of Egypt?"' Macaulay's Essays, ed. 1843, i. 403.

In another passage (p. 400) Macaulay says:—

'Johnson was no master of the great science of human nature. He had studied, not the genus man, but the species Londoner. Nobody was ever so thoroughly conversant with all the forms of life and all the shades of moral and intellectual character which were to be seen from Islington to the Thames, and from Hyde-Park corner to Mile-end green. But his philosophy stopped at the first turnpike-gate. Of the rural life of England he knew nothing, and he took it for granted that everybody who lived in the country was either stupid or miserable.'

Of the two assertions that Macaulay makes in these two passages, while one is for the most part true, the other is utterly and grossly false. Johnson had no contempt for foreign travel. That curiosity which animated his eager mind in so many parts of learning did not fail him, when his thoughts turned to the great world outside our narrow seas. It was his poverty that confined him so long to the neighbourhood of Temple Bar. He must in these early days have sometimes felt with Arviragus when he says:—

'What should we speak of When we are old as you? when we shall hear The rain and wind beat dark December, how In this our pinching cave, shall we discourse The freezing hours away? We have seen nothing.'

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse