Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the ‘Life of Samuel Johnson’
By James Boswell (1740–1795)
IT seems to me in my moments of self-complacency that this extensive biographical Work, however inferior in its nature, may in one respect be assimilated to the ‘Odyssey.’ Amidst a thousand entertaining and instructive episodes the Hero is never long out of sight; for they are all in some degree connected with him; and He, in the whole course of the History, is exhibited by the author for the best advantage of his readers:—
  “Quid Virtus et quid sapientia possit,
Utile proposuit nobis exemplar Ulyssen.”
(What may by virtue be done, and what by wisdom accomplished, Homer affords in Ulysses for us a helpful example.)
  Should there be any cold-blooded and morose mortals who really dislike this book, I will give them a story to apply. When the great Duke of Marlborough, accompanied by Lord Cadogan, was one day reconnoitring the army in Flanders, a heavy rain came on, and they both called for their cloaks. Lord Cadogan’s servant, a good-humored, alert lad, brought his Lordship’s in a minute. The Duke’s servant, a lazy, sulky dog, was so sluggish that his Grace, being wet to the skin, reproved him, and had for answer with a grunt, “I came as fast as I could;” upon which the Duke calmly said, “Cadogan, I would not for a thousand pounds have that fellow’s temper.”  2
  Mr. Thomas Davies the actor, who then kept a bookseller’s shop in Russel-street, Covent Garden, told me that Johnson was very much his friend, and came frequently to his house, where he more than once invited me to meet him; but by some unlucky accident or other he was prevented from coming to us.  3
  Mr. Thomas Davies was a man of good understanding and talents, with the advantage of a liberal education. Though somewhat pompous, he was an entertaining companion; and his literary performances have no inconsiderable share of merit. He was a friendly and very hospitable man. Both he and his wife (who has been celebrated for her beauty), though upon the stage for many years, maintained a uniform decency of character; and Johnson esteemed them, and lived in as easy an intimacy with them as with any family which he used to visit. Mr. Davies recollected several of Johnson’s remarkable sayings, and was one of the best of the many imitators of his voice and manner, while relating them. He increased my impatience more and more to see the extraordinary man whose works I highly valued, and whose conversation was reported to be so peculiarly excellent.  4
  At last, on Monday the 16th of May, when I was sitting in Mr. Davies’ back-parlor, after having drunk tea with him and Mrs. Davies, Johnson unexpectedly came into the shop; and Mr. Davies having perceived him through the glass-door in the room in which we were sitting, advancing toward us, he announced his awful approach to me, somewhat in the manner of an actor in the part of Horatio, when he addresses Hamlet on the appearance of his father’s ghost,—“Look, my lord, it comes.” I found that I had a very perfect idea of Johnson’s figure from the portrait of him painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds soon after he had published his Dictionary, in the attitude of sitting in his easy-chair in deep meditation; which was the first picture his friend did for him, which Sir Joshua very kindly presented to me, and from which an engraving has been made for this work. Mr. Davies mentioned my name, and respectfully introduced me to him. I was much agitated, and recollecting his prejudice against the Scotch, of which I had heard much, I said to Davies, “Don’t tell where I came from.”—“From Scotland,” cried Davies, roguishly. “Mr. Johnson” (said I), “I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” I am willing to flatter myself that I meant this as light pleasantry to soothe and conciliate him, and not as an humiliating abasement at the expense of my country. But however that might be, this speech was somewhat unlucky; for with that quickness of wit for which he was so remarkable, he seized the expression “come from Scotland,” which I used in the sense of being of that country; and as if I had said that I had come away from it, or left it, retorted, “That, sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.” This stroke stunned me a good deal; and when he had sat down, I felt myself not a little embarrassed, and apprehensive of what might come next. He then addressed himself to Davies:—“What do you think of Garrick? He has refused me an order for the play of Miss Williams, because he knows the house will be full, and that an order would be worth three shillings.” Eager to take any opening to get into conversation with him, I ventured to say, “Oh, sir, I cannot think Mr. Garrick would grudge such a trifle to you.” “Sir,” (said he, with a stern look) “I have known David Garrick longer than you have done; and I know no right you have to talk to me on the subject.” Perhaps I deserved this check; for it was rather presumptuous in me, an entire stranger, to express any doubt of the justice of his animadversion upon his old acquaintance and pupil. I now felt myself much mortified, and began to think that the hope which I had long indulged of obtaining his acquaintance was blasted. And in truth, had not my ardor been uncommonly strong, and my resolution uncommonly persevering, so rough a reception might have deterred me for ever from making any further attempts. Fortunately, however, I remained upon the field not wholly discomfited; and was soon rewarded by hearing some of his conversation, of which I preserved the following short minute, without marking the questions and observations by which it was produced.  5
  “People” (he remarked) “may be taken in once, who imagine that an author is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require uncommon opportunities for their exertion.”  6
  “In barbarous society, superiority of parts is of real consequence. Great strength or great wisdom is of much value to an individual. But in more polished times there are people to do everything for money; and then there are a number of other superiorities, such as those of birth and fortune and rank, that dissipate men’s attention and leave no extraordinary share of respect for personal and intellectual superiority. This is wisely ordered by Providence, to preserve some equality among mankind.”  7
  “Sir, this book” (‘The Elements of Criticism,’ which he had taken up) “is a pretty essay, and deserves to be held in some estimation, though much of it is chimerical.”  8
  Speaking of one who with more than ordinary boldness attacked public measures and the royal family, he said, “I think he is safe from the law, but he is an abusive scoundrel; and instead of applying to my Lord Chief Justice to punish him, I would send half a dozen footmen and have him well ducked.”  9
  “The notion of liberty amuses the people of England, and helps to keep off the tædium vitæ. When a butcher tells you that ‘his heart bleeds for his country,’ he has in fact no uneasy feeling.”  10
  “Sheridan will not succeed at Bath with his oratory. Ridicule has gone down before him, and I doubt Derrick is his enemy.”  11
  “Derrick may do very well, as long as he can outrun his character; but the moment his character gets up with him, it is all over.”  12
  It is, however, but just to record that some years afterwards, when I reminded him of this sarcasm, he said, “Well, but Derrick has now got a character that he need not run away from.”  13
  I was highly pleased with the extraordinary vigor of his conversation, and regretted that I was drawn away from it by an engagement at another place. I had for a part of the evening been left alone with him, and had ventured to make an observation now and then, which he received very civilly; so that I was satisfied that though there was a roughness in his manner, there was no ill-nature in his disposition. Davies followed me to the door, and when I complained to him a little of the hard blows which the great man had given me, he kindly took upon him to console me by saying, “Don’t be uneasy. I can see he likes you very well.”  14
  A few days afterwards I called on Davies, and asked him if he thought I might take the liberty of waiting on Mr. Johnson at his chambers in the Temple. He said I certainly might, and that Mr. Johnson would take it as a compliment. So on Tuesday the 24th of May, after having been enlivened by the witty sallies of Messieurs Thornton, Wilkes, Churchill, and Lloyd, with whom I had passed the morning, I boldly repaired to Johnson. His chambers were on the first floor of No. 1, Inner-Temple-lane, and I entered them with an impression given me by the Reverend Dr. Blair, of Edinburgh, who had been introduced to him not long before, and described his having “found the giant in his den”; an expression which, when I came to be pretty well acquainted with Johnson, I repeated to him, and he was diverted at this picturesque account of himself. Dr. Blair had been presented to him by Dr. James Fordyce. At this time the controversy concerning the pieces published by Mr. James Macpherson as translations of Ossian was at its height. Johnson had all along denied their authenticity; and what was still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no merit. The subject having been introduced by Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr. Johnson whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written such poems. Johnson replied, “Yes, sir, many men, many women, and many children.” Johnson, at this time, did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a Dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr. Fordyce’s having suggested the topic, and said, “I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains. Sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book when the author is concealed behind the door.”  15
  He received me very courteously; but it must be confessed that his apartment and furniture and morning dress were sufficiently uncouth. His brown suit of clothes looked very rusty; he had on a little shriveled unpowdered wig, which was too small for his head; his shirt-neck and the knees of his breeches were loose; his black worsted stockings ill drawn up; and he had a pair of unbuckled shoes by way of slippers. But all these slovenly particularities were forgotten the moment that he began to talk. Some gentlemen, whom I do not recollect, were sitting with him; and when they went away, I also rose; but he said to me, “Nay, don’t go.”—“Sir” (said I), “I am afraid that I intrude upon you. It is benevolent to allow me to sit and hear you.” He seemed pleased with this compliment, which I sincerely paid him, and answered, “Sir, I am obliged to any man who visits me.”  16
  In February, 1767, there happened one of the most remarkable incidents of Johnson’s life, which gratified his monarchical enthusiasm, and which he loved to relate with all its circumstances, when requested by his friends. This was his being honored by a private conversation with his Majesty, in the library at the Queen’s house. He had frequently visited those splendid rooms and noble collection of books, which he used to say was more numerous and curious than he supposed any person could have made in the time which the King had employed. Mr. Barnard, the librarian, took care that he should have every accommodation that could contribute to his ease and convenience, while indulging his literary taste in that place; so that he had here a very agreeable resource at leisure hours.  17
  His Majesty, having been informed of his occasional visits, was pleased to signify a desire that he should be told when Dr. Johnson came next to the library. Accordingly, the next time that Johnson did come, as soon as he was fairly engaged with the book, on which, while he sat by the fire, he seemed quite intent, Mr. Barnard stole round to the apartment where the King was, and in obedience to his Majesty’s commands mentioned that Dr. Johnson was then in the library. His Majesty said that he was at leisure, and would go to him; upon which Mr. Barnard took one of the candles that stood on the King’s table and lighted his Majesty through a suite of rooms, till they came to a private door into the library of which his Majesty had the key. Being entered, Mr. Barnard stepped forward hastily to Dr. Johnson, who was still in a profound study, and whispered him, “Sir, here is the King.” Johnson started up, and stood still. His Majesty approached him, and at once was courteously easy.  18
  His Majesty began by observing that he understood he came sometimes to the library; and then mentioned his having heard that the Doctor had been lately at Oxford, and asked him if he was not fond of going thither. To which Johnson answered that he was indeed fond of going to Oxford sometimes, but was likewise glad to come back again. The King then asked him what they were doing at Oxford. Johnson answered, he could not much commend their diligence, but that in some respect they were mended, for they had put their press under better regulations, and at that time were printing Polybius. He was then asked whether there were better libraries at Oxford or Cambridge. He answered, he believed the Bodleian was larger than any they had at Cambridge; at the same time adding, “I hope, whether we have more books or not than they have at Cambridge, we shall make as good use of them as they do.” Being asked whether All-Souls or Christ-Church library was the largest, he answered, “All-Souls library is the largest we have, except the Bodleian.” “Ay” (said the King), “that is the public library.”  19
  His Majesty inquired if he was then writing anything. He answered he was not, for he had pretty well told the world what he knew, and must now read to acquire more knowledge. The King, as it should seem with a view to urge him to rely on his own stores as an original writer, and to continue his labors, then said, “I do not think you borrow much from anybody.”  20
  Johnson said he thought he had already done his part as a writer. “I should have thought so too” (said the King), “if you had not written so well.”—Johnson observed to me, upon this, that “No man could have paid a handsomer compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay. It was decisive.” When asked by another friend, at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s, whether he made any reply to this high compliment, he answered, “No, sir. When the King had said it, it was to be so. It was not for me to bandy civilities with my Sovereign.” Perhaps no man who had spent his whole life in courts could have shown a more nice and dignified sense of true politeness than Johnson did in this instance.  21
  His Majesty having observed to him that he supposed he must have read a good deal, Johnson answered that he thought more than he read; that he had read a great deal in the early part of his life, but having fallen into ill health, he had not been able to read much compared with others: for instance, he said, he had not read much compared with Dr. Warburton. Upon which the King said that he heard Dr. Warburton was a man of much general knowledge; that you could scarce talk with him on any subject on which he was not qualified to speak: and that his learning resembled Garrick’s acting in its universality. His Majesty then talked of the controversy between Warburton and Lowth, which he seemed to have read, and asked Johnson what he thought of it. Johnson answered, “Warburton has the most general, most scholastic learning; Lowth is the more correct scholar. I do not know which of them calls names best.” The King was pleased to say he was of the same opinion: adding, “You do not think then, Dr. Johnson, that there was much argument in the case?” Johnson said he did not think there was. “Why, truly” (said the King), “when once it comes to calling names, argument is pretty well at an end.”  22
  His Majesty then asked him what he thought of Lord Lyttelton’s history, which was just then published. Johnson said he thought his style pretty good, but that he had blamed Henry the Second rather too much. “Why” (said the King), “they seldom do these things by halves.” “No, sir” (answered Johnson), “not to kings.” But fearing to be misunderstood, he proceeded to explain himself; and immediately subjoined, “That for those who spoke worse of kings than they deserved, he could find no excuse; but that he could more easily conceive how some one might speak better of them than they deserved, without any ill intention: for as kings had much in their power to give, those who were favored by them would frequently, from gratitude, exaggerate their praises; and as this proceeded from a good motive, it was certainly excusable as far as error could be excusable.”  23
  The King then asked him what he thought of Dr. Hill. Johnson answered that he was an ingenious man, but had no veracity; and immediately mentioned as an instance of it an assertion of that writer, that he had seen objects magnified to a much greater degree by using three or four microscopes at a time than by using one. “Now” (added Johnson), “every one acquainted with microscopes knows that the more of them he looks through, the less the object will appear.” “Why” (replied the King), “this is not only telling an untruth, but telling it clumsily; for if that be the case, every one who can look through a microscope will be able to detect him.”  24
  “I now” (said Johnson to his friends, when relating what had passed) “began to consider that I was depreciating this man in the estimation of his Sovereign, and thought it was time for me to say something that might be more favorable.” He added, therefore, that Dr. Hill was notwithstanding a very curious observer; and if he would have been contented to tell the world no more than he knew, he might have been a very considerable man, and needed not to have recourse to such mean expedients to raise his reputation.  25
  The King then talked of literary journals, mentioned particularly the Journal des Savants, and asked Johnson if it was well done. Johnson said it was formerly very well done, and gave some account of the persons who began it, and carried it on for some years; enlarging at the same time on the nature and use of such works. The King asked him if it was well done now. Johnson answered he had no reason to think that it was. The King then asked him if there were any other literary journals published in this kingdom except the Monthly and Critical Reviews; and on being answered there was no other, his Majesty asked which of them was the best. Johnson answered that the Monthly Review was done with most care, the Critical upon the best principles; adding that the authors of the Monthly Review were enemies to the Church. This the King said he was sorry to hear.  26
  The conversation next turned on the Philosophical Transactions, when Johnson observed that they had now a better method of arranging their materials than formerly. “Ay” (said the King), “they are obliged to Dr. Johnson for that;” for his Majesty had heard and remembered the circumstance, which Johnson himself had forgot.  27
  His Majesty expressed a desire to have the literary biography of this country ably executed, and proposed to Dr. Johnson to undertake it. Johnson signified his readiness to comply with his Majesty’s wishes.  28
  During the whole of this interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty with profound respect, but still in his firm, manly manner, with a sonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the levee and in the drawing-room. After the King withdrew, Johnson showed himself highly pleased with his Majesty’s conversation and gracious behavior. He said to Mr. Barnard, “Sir, they may talk of the King as they will; but he is the finest gentleman that I have ever seen.” And he afterwards observed to Mr. Langton, “Sir, his manners are those of as fine a gentleman as we may suppose Lewis the Fourteenth or Charles the Second.”  29
  At Sir Joshua Reynolds’s, where a circle of Johnson’s friends were collected round him to hear his account of this memorable conversation, Dr. Joseph Warton, in his frank and lively manner, was very active in pressing him to mention the particulars. “Come now, sir, this is an interesting matter; do favor us with it.” Johnson, with great good humor, complied.  30
  He told them:—“I found his Majesty wished I should talk, and I made it my business to talk. I find it does a man good to be talked to by his Sovereign. In the first place, a man cannot be in a passion—” Here some question interrupted him; which is to be regretted, as he certainly would have pointed out and illustrated many circumstances of advantage, from being in a situation where the powers of the mind are at once excited to vigorous exertion and tempered by reverential awe.  31
  Mr. Macpherson little knew the character of Dr. Johnson if he supposed that he could be easily intimidated; for no man was ever more remarkable for personal courage. He had indeed an awful dread of death, or rather “of something after death”; and what rational man, who seriously thinks of quitting all that he has ever known and going into a new and unknown state of being, can be without that dread? But his fear was from reflection; his courage natural. His fear, in that one instance, was the result of philosophical and religious consideration. He feared death, but he feared nothing else, not even what might occasion death. Many instances of his resolution may be mentioned. One day, at Mr. Beauclerk’s house in the country, when two large dogs were fighting, he went up to them and beat them till they separated; and at another time, when told of the danger there was that a gun might burst if charged with many balls, he put in six or seven and fired it off against a wall. Mr. Langton told me that when they were swimming together near Oxford, he cautioned Dr. Johnson against a pool which was reckoned particularly dangerous; upon which Johnson directly swam into it. He told me himself that one night he was attacked in the street by four men, to whom he would not yield, but kept them all at bay till the watch came up and carried both him and them to the round-house. In the play-house at Lichfield, as Mr. Garrick informed me, Johnson having for a moment quitted a chair which was placed for him between the side-scenes, a gentleman took possession of it, and when Johnson on his return civilly demanded his seat, rudely refused to give it up; upon which Johnson laid hold of it and tossed him and the chair into the pit. Foote, who so successfully revived the old comedy by exhibiting living characters, had resolved to imitate Johnson on the stage, expecting great profits from his ridicule of so celebrated a man. Johnson being informed of his intention, and being at dinner at Mr. Thomas Davies’s the bookseller, from whom I had the story, he asked Mr. Davies “what was the common price of an oak stick”; and being answered sixpence, “Why then, sir” (said he), “give me leave to send your servant to purchase a shilling one. I’ll have a double quantity; for I am told Foote means to take me off, as he calls it, and I am determined the fellow shall not do it with impunity.” Davies took care to acquaint Foote of this, which effectually checked the wantonness of the mimic. Mr. Macpherson’s menaces made Johnson provide himself with the same implement of defense; and had he been attacked, I have no doubt that, old as he was, he would have made his corporal prowess be felt as much as his intellectual.  32
  Mr. Hector was so good as to accompany me to see the great works of Mr. Bolton [Boulton], at a place which he has called Soho, about two miles from Birmingham, which the very ingenious proprietor showed me himself to the best advantage. I wished Johnson had been with us; for it was a scene which I should have been glad to contemplate by his light. The vastness and the contrivance of some of the machinery would have “matched his mighty mind.” I shall never forget Mr. Bolton’s expression to me, “I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have—power.” He had about seven hundred people at work. I contemplated him as an iron chieftain, and he seemed to be a father to his tribe. One of them came to him, complaining grievously of his landlord for having distrained his goods. “Your landlord is in the right, Smith” (said Bolton). “But I’ll tell you what: find you a friend who will lay down one-half of your rent, and I’ll lay down the other half; and you shall have your goods again.”  33
  From Mr. Hector I now learned many particulars of Dr. Johnson’s early life, which, with others that he gave me at different times since, have contributed to the formation of this work.  34
  Dr. Johnson said to me in the morning, “You will see, sir, at Mr. Hector’s, his sister Mrs. Careless, a clergyman’s widow. She was the first woman with whom I was in love. It dropped out of my head imperceptibly; but she and I will always have a kindness for each other.” He laughed at the notion that a man can never really be in love but once, and considered it as a mere romantic fancy.  35
  On our return from Mr. Bolton’s, Mr. Hector took me to his house, where we found Johnson sitting placidly at tea with his first love; who, though now advanced in years, was a genteel woman, very agreeable and well-bred.  36
  Johnson lamented to Mr. Hector the state of one of their schoolfellows, Mr. Charles Congreve, a clergyman, which he thus described:—“He obtained, I believe, considerable preferment in Ireland, but now lives in London, quite as a valetudinarian, afraid to go into any house but his own. He takes a short airing in his post-chaise every day. He has an elderly woman, whom he calls cousin, who lives with him, and jogs his elbow when his glass has stood too long empty, and encourages him in drinking, in which he is very willing to be encouraged; not that he gets drunk, for he is a very pious man, but he is always muddy. He confesses to one bottle of port every day, and he probably drinks more. He is quite unsocial; his conversation is quite monosyllabical; and when at my last visit I asked him what o’clock it was, that signal of my departure had so pleasing an effect upon him that he sprung up to look at his watch like a greyhound bounding at a hare.” When Johnson took leave of Mr. Hector, he said, “Don’t grow like Congreve; nor let me grow like him, when you are near me.”  37
  When he talked again of Mrs. Careless to-night, he seemed to have had his affection revived; for he said, “If I had married her, it might have been as happy for me.”  38
  Boswell—Pray, sir, do you not suppose that there are fifty women in the world, with any one of whom a man may be as happy as with any one woman in particular?  39
  Johnson—Ay, sir, fifty thousand.  40
  Boswell—Then, sir, you are not of opinion with some that imagine that certain men and certain women are made for each other; and that they cannot be happy if they miss their counterparts.  41
  Johnson—To be sure not, sir. I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of the characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter.  42
  I am now to record a very curious incident in Dr. Johnson’s life which fell under my own observation; of which pars magna fui, and which I am persuaded will, with the liberal-minded, be much to his credit.  43
  My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two men more different could perhaps not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry which can separate good qualities from evil in the same person.  44
  Sir John Pringle, “mine own friend and my father’s friend,” between whom and Dr. Johnson I in vain wished to establish an acquaintance, as I respected and lived in intimacy with both of them, observed to me once very ingeniously, “It is not in friendship as in mathematics, where two things, each equal to a third, are equal between themselves. You agree with Johnson as a middle quality, and you agree with me as a middle quality; but Johnson and I should not agree.” Sir John was not sufficiently flexible, so I desisted: knowing indeed that the repulsion was equally strong on the part of Johnson; who, I know not from what cause unless his being a Scotchman, had formed a very erroneous opinion of Sir John. But I conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter.  45
  My worthy booksellers and friends, Messieurs Dilly in the Poultry, at whose hospitable and well-covered table I have seen a greater number of literary men than at any other except that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, had invited me to meet Mr. Wilkes and some more gentlemen on Wednesday, May 15th. “Pray” (said I), “let us have Dr. Johnson.”—“What, with Mr. Wilkes? not for the world” (said Mr. Edward Dilly): “Dr. Johnson would never forgive me.”—“Come” (said I), “if you’ll let me negotiate for you, I will be answerable that all shall go well.”  46
  Dilly—Nay, if you will take it upon you, I am sure I shall be very happy to see them both here.  47
  Notwithstanding the high veneration which I entertained for Dr. Johnson, I was sensible that he was sometimes a little actuated by the spirit of contradiction, and by means of that I hoped I should gain my point. I was persuaded that if I had come upon him with a direct proposal, “Sir, will you dine in company with Jack Wilkes?” he would have flown into a passion, and would probably have answered, “Dine with Jack Wilkes, sir! I’d as soon dine with Jack Ketch.” I therefore, while we were sitting quietly by ourselves at his house in an evening, took occasion to open my plan thus:—  48
  “Mr. Dilly, sir, sends his respectful compliments to you, and would be happy if you would do him the honor to dine with him on Wednesday next along with me, as I must soon go to Scotland.”  49
  Johnson—Sir, I am obliged to Mr. Dilly. I will wait upon him—  50
  Boswell—Provided, sir, I suppose, that the company which he is to have is agreeable to you.  51
  Johnson—What do you mean, sir? What do you take me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world as to imagine that I am to prescribe to a gentleman what company he is to have at his table?  52
  Boswell—I beg your pardon, sir, for wishing to prevent you from meeting people whom you might not like. Perhaps he may have some of what he calls his patriotic friends with him.  53
  Johnson—Well, sir, and what then? What care I for his patriotic friends? Poh!  54
  Boswell—I should not be surprised to find Jack Wilkes there.  55
  Johnson—And if Jack Wilkes should be there, what is that to me, sir? My dear friend, let us have no more of this. I am sorry to be angry with you; but really it is treating me strangely to talk to me as if I could not meet any company whatever, occasionally.  56
  Boswell—Pray forgive me, sir: I meant well. But you shall meet whoever comes, for me.  57
  Thus I secured him, and told Dilly that he would find him very well pleased to be one of his guests on the day appointed.  58
  Upon the much-expected Wednesday I called on him about half an hour before dinner, as I often did when we were to dine out together, to see that he was ready in time, and to accompany him. I found him buffeting his books, as upon a former occasion, covered with dust, and making no preparation for going abroad. “How is this, sir?” (said I). “Don’t you recollect that you are to dine at Mr. Dilly’s?”  59
  Johnson—Sir, I did not think of going to Dilly’s: it went out of my head. I have ordered dinner at home with Mrs. Williams.  60
  Boswell—But, my dear sir, you know you were engaged to Mr. Dilly, and I told him so. He will expect you, and will be much disappointed if you don’t come.  61
  Johnson—You must talk to Mrs. Williams about this.  62
  Here was a sad dilemma. I feared that what I was so confident I had secured, would yet be frustrated. He had accustomed himself to show Mrs. Williams such a degree of humane attention as frequently imposed some restraint upon him; and I knew that if she should be obstinate, he would not stir. I hastened down-stairs to the blind lady’s room, and told her I was in great uneasiness, for Dr. Johnson had engaged to me to dine this day at Mr. Dilly’s, but that he had told me he had forgotten his engagement, and had ordered dinner at home. “Yes, sir” (said she, pretty peevishly), “Dr. Johnson is to dine at home.” “Madam” (said I), “his respect for you is such that I know he will not leave you, unless you absolutely desire it. But as you have so much of his company, I hope you will be good enough to forego it for a day; as Mr. Dilly is a very worthy man, has frequently had agreeable parties at his house for Dr. Johnson, and will be vexed if the Doctor neglects him to-day. And then, madam, be pleased to consider my situation: I carried the message, and I assured Mr. Dilly that Dr. Johnson was to come; and no doubt he has made a dinner, and invited a company, and boasted of the honor he expected to have. I shall be quite disgraced if the Doctor is not there.”  63
  She gradually softened to my solicitations, which were certainly as earnest as most entreaties to ladies upon any occasion, and was graciously pleased to empower me to tell Dr. Johnson “that, all things considered, she thought he should certainly go.” I flew back to him, still in dust, and careless of what should be the event, “indifferent in his choice to go or stay;” but as soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams’s consent, he roared, “Frank, a clean shirt,” and was very soon dressed. When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna Green.  64
  When we entered Mr. Dilly’s drawing-room, he found himself in the midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly, “Who is that gentleman, sir?” “Mr. Arthur Lee.” Johnson—“Too, too, too” (under his breath), which was one of his habitual mutterings. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a patriot but an American. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the court of Madrid. “And who is the gentleman in lace?” “Mr. Wilkes, sir.” This information confounded him still more; he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book, sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say, were awkward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company, and he therefore resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.  65
  The cheering sound of “Dinner is upon the table” dissolved his reverie, and we all sat down without any symptom of ill-humor. There were present, besides Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was an old companion of mine when he studied physics at Edinburgh, Mr. (now Sir John) Miller, Dr. Lettson, and Mr. Slater the druggist. Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him with so much attention and politeness that he gained upon him insensibly. No man eat more heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes was very assiduous in helping him to some fine veal. “Pray give me leave, sir—It is better here—A little of the brown—Some fat, sir—A little of the stuffing—Some gravy—Let me have the pleasure of giving you some butter—Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange; or the lemon, perhaps, may have more zest” “Sir, sir, I am obliged to you, sir,” cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his head to him with a look for some time of “surly virtue,” but in a short while of complacency.  66
  Sir William Forbes writes to me thus:—“I inclose the ‘Round Robin.’ This jeu d’esprit took its rise one day at dinner at our friend Sir Joshua Reynolds’s. All the company present except myself were friends and acquaintances of Dr. Goldsmith. The Epitaph written for him by Dr. Johnson became the subject of conversation, and various emendations were suggested, which it was agreed should be suggested to the Doctor’s consideration.—But the question was, who should have the courage to propose them to him? At last it was hinted that there could be no way so good as that of a ‘Round Robin,’ as the sailors call it, which they make use of when they enter into a conspiracy, so as not to let it be known who puts his name first or last to the paper. This proposition was instantly assented to; and Dr. Barnard, Dean of Derry, now Bishop of Killahoe, drew up an address to Dr. Johnson on the occasion, replete with wit and humor, but which it was feared the Doctor might think treated the subject with too much levity. Mr. Burke then proposed the address as it stands in the paper in writing, to which I had the honor to officiate as clerk.  67
  “Sir Joshua agreed to carry it to Dr. Johnson, who received it with much good humor, and desired Sir Joshua to tell the gentlemen that he would alter the Epitaph in any manner they pleased, as to the sense of it; but he would never consent to disgrace the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription.  68
  “I consider this ‘Round Robin’ as a species of literary curiosity worth preserving, as it marks in a certain degree Dr. Johnson’s character.”…  69
  Sir William Forbes’s observation is very just. The anecdote now related proves in the strongest manner the reverence and awe with which Johnson was regarded by some of the most eminent men of his time, in various departments, and even by such of them as lived most with him; while it also confirms what I have again and again inculcated, that he was by no means of that ferocious and irascible character which has been ignorantly imagined.  70
  This hasty composition is also one to be remarked as one of the thousand instances which evince the extraordinary promptitude of Mr. Burke; who, while he is equal to the greatest things, can adorn the least; can with equal facility embrace the vast and complicated speculations of politics or the ingenious topics of literary investigation.  71
  The character of Samuel Johnson has, I trust, been so developed in the course of this work that they who have honored it with a perusal may be considered as well acquainted with him. As, however, it may be expected that I should collect into one view the capital and distinguishing features of this extraordinary man, I shall endeavor to acquit myself of that part of my biographical undertaking, however difficult it may be to do that which many of my readers will do better for themselves.  72
  His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cast of an ancient statue; yet his appearance was rendered strange and somewhat uncouth by convulsive cramps, by the scars of that distemper which it was once imagined the royal touch could cure, and by a slovenly mode of dress. He had the use only of one eye; yet so much does mind govern and even supply the deficiency of organs, that his visual perceptions, as far as they extended, were uncommonly quick and accurate. So morbid was his temperament that he never knew the natural joy of a free and vigorous use of his limbs; when he walked, it was like the struggling gait of one in fetters; when he rode, he had no command or direction of his horse, but was carried as if in a balloon. That with his constitution and habits of life he should have lived seventy-five years, is a proof that an inherent vivida vis is a powerful preservative of the human frame.  73
  Man is in general made up of contradictory qualities: and these will ever show themselves in strange succession where a consistency in appearance at least, if not in reality, has not been attained by long habits of philosophical discipline. In proportion to the native vigor of the mind, the contradictory qualities will be the more prominent, and more difficult to be adjusted; and therefore we are not to wonder that Johnson exhibited an eminent example of this remark which I have made upon human nature.  74
  At different times he seemed a different man in some respects; not, however, in any great or essential article, upon which he had fully employed his mind and settled certain principles of duty, but only in his manners, and in the display of argument and fancy in his talk. He was prone to superstition, but not to credulity. Though his imagination might incline him to a belief of the marvelous and the mysterious, his vigorous reason examined the evidence with jealousy. He was a sincere and zealous Christian, of high Church-of-England and monarchical principles, which he would not tamely suffer to be questioned; and had perhaps at an early period narrowed his mind somewhat too much, both as to religion and politics. His being impressed with the danger of extreme latitude in either, though he was of a very independent spirit, occasioned his appearing somewhat unfavorable to the prevalence of that noble freedom of sentiment which is the best possession of man. Nor can it be denied that he had many prejudices; which, however, frequently suggested many of his pointed sayings, that rather show a playfulness of fancy than any settled malignity. He was steady and inflexible in maintaining the obligations of religion and morality, both from a regard for the order of society, and from a veneration for the Great Source of all order: correct—nay, stern—in his taste; hard to please, and easily offended; impetuous and irritable in his temper, but of a most humane and benevolent heart, which showed itself not only in a most liberal charity, as far as his circumstances would allow, but in a thousand instances of active benevolence. He was afflicted with a bodily disease which made him often restless and fretful; and with a constitutional melancholy, the clouds of which darkened the brightness of his fancy, and gave a gloomy cast to his whole course of thinking. We therefore ought not to wonder at his sallies of impatience and passion at any time, especially when provoked by obtrusive ignorance or presuming petulance; and allowance must be made for his uttering hasty and satirical sallies even against his best friends. And surely, when it is considered that “amidst sickness and sorrow” he exerted his faculties in so many works for the benefit of mankind, and particularly that he achieved the great and admirable Dictionary of our language, we must be astonished at his resolution.  75
  The solemn text, “Of him to whom much is given, much is expected,” seems to have been ever present to his mind in a rigorous sense, and to have made him dissatisfied with his labors and acts of goodness, however comparatively great; so that the unavoidable consciousness of his superiority was in that respect a cause of disquiet. He suffered so much from this, and from the gloom which perpetually haunted him and made solitude frightful, that it may be said of him, “If in this life only he had hope, he was of all men most miserable.” He loved praise when it was brought to him, but was too proud to seek for it. He was somewhat susceptible of flattery. As he was general and unconfined in his studies, he cannot be considered as master of any one particular science; but he had accumulated a vast and various collection of learning and knowledge, which was so arranged in his mind as to be ever in readiness to be brought forth. But his superiority over other learned men consisted chiefly in what may be called the art of thinking, the art of using his mind; a certain continual power of seizing the useful substance of all that he knew, and exhibiting it in a clear and forcible manner; so that knowledge which we often see to be no better than lumber in men of dull understanding, was in him true, evident, and actual wisdom. His moral precepts are practical, for they are drawn from an intimate acquaintance with human nature. His maxims carry conviction, for they are founded on the basis of common-sense and a very attentive and minute survey of real life. His mind was so full of imagery that he might have been perpetually a poet; yet it is remarkable that however rich his prose is in this respect, his poetical pieces, in general, have not much of that splendor, but are rather distinguished by strong sentiment and an acute observation, conveyed in harmonious and energetic verse, particularly in heroic couplets.  76
  Though usually grave and even awful in his deportment, he possessed uncommon and peculiar powers of wit and humor; he frequently indulged himself in colloquial pleasantry; and the heartiest merriment was often enjoyed in his company, with this great advantage, that as it was entirely free from any poisonous tincture of vice or impiety, it was salutary to those who shared in it. He had accustomed himself to such accuracy in his common conversation, that he at all times expressed his thoughts with great force and an elegant choice of language, the effect of which was aided by his having a loud voice and a slow deliberate utterance. In him were united a most logical head with a most fertile imagination, which gave him a most extraordinary advantage in arguing; for he could reason close or wide, as he saw best for the moment. Exulting in his intellectual strength and dexterity, he could when he pleased be the greatest sophist that ever contended in the lists of declamation; and from a spirit of contradiction, and a delight in showing his powers, he would often maintain the wrong side with equal warmth and ingenuity: so that when there was an audience, his real opinions could seldom be gathered from his talk; though when he was in company with a single friend, he would discuss a subject with genuine fairness; but he was too conscientious to make error permanent and pernicious by deliberately writing it; and in all his numerous works he earnestly inculcated what appeared to him to be the truth, his piety being constant and the ruling principle of all his conduct.  77
  Such was Samuel Johnson; a man whose talents, acquirements, and virtues were so extraordinary, that the more his character is considered, the more he will be regarded by the present age and by posterity with admiration and reverence.  78

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