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Johnson's Friends, 1732-53*
His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Esq., of Langton, in Lincolnshire, another much valued friend, commenced soon after the conclusion of his Rambler; which that gentleman, then a youth, had read with so much admiration, that he came to London chiefly with the view of endeavouring to be introduced to its author. By a fortunate chance he happened to take lodgings in a house where Mr. Levet1 frequently visited; and having mentioned his wish to his landlady, she introduced him to Mr. Levet, who readily obtained Johnson's permission to bring Mr. Langton to him; as, indeed, Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no shyness, real or affected, but was easy of access to all w ho were properly recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his levee, as his morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be called. Mr. Langton was exceedingly surprised when the sage first appeared. He hail not received the smallest intimation of his figure, dress, or manner. From perusing his writings, he fancied he should see a decent, well-drest, in short, a remarkably decorous philosopher. Instead of which, down from his bed-chamber, about noon, came, as newly risen, a huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loose about him. But his conversation was so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and his religious and political notions so congenial with those in which Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever preserved. . . .
One night when Beauclerk-' and Langton had supped at a tavern in London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig on the top of his head, instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him. When he discovered w ho they were, and was j told their errand, he smiled, and with great good humour agreed to their proposal: "What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with yon." He was soon dressed, and they sallied;
1 A surgeon, and odd r> A gentleman of elecharacter, Inmate Kant tastes lint
of Dr. Johnson's rather free nnm
housc. ners and opinions.
* These dates Indicate the period of Johnson's life under which the particular records arc made. See any edition of Boswell's Johimoii.
forth together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers were bcgini.iug to arrange their hampers, just come in from the country. Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his services were not relished. They then repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called Bixhop,* which Johnson had always liked: while, in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had liecn roused, he repeated the festive lines,
"Short, () short, then he thy reign,
They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk anil Johnson were so well pleased with their amusement that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the rest of the day: but Langton deserted them, being engaged to breakfast with some young ladies. Johnson scolded him for "leaving his social friends, to go and sit with a set of wretched un-idea'd girls." Garrick being told of this ramble, saitl to him smartly, "I heard of your frolic t'other night. You'll be in the Chronicle." Upon which Johnson afterwards observed, "lie durst not do such a thing. His wife would not let him!"
He entered upon this year, 1753, with his usual piety, as appears from the following prayer, which I transcribed from that part of his diary which he burned a few days before his death:
"Jan. 1, 1703, N. S.,* which I shall use for the future.
"Almighty God, who hast continued my life to this day, grant that, by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may improve the time which thou shalt grant me, to my eternal salvation. Make me to remember, to thy glory, thy judgments and thy mercies. Make me so to consider the loss of my wife, whom thou hast taken from me, that it may dispose me by thy grace, to lend the residue of my life in thy fear. Grant this. O Lord, for Jesus Chkist's sake. Amen."
Johnson And Goldsmith, 1773
He and Mr. Langton and 1 went together to The Cut.4 where we found Mr. Burke. Mr.
a Mulled wine, oranges 4 The Literary Club. See and sugar Bug. Lit., p. L'07
•New style: referring to the change to the Crcgoritin calendar, which was adopted in Knsland in 1 "■"»-. when the dates between September *Jnd :md Htli were omitted.
Garriek, and some other members, ami amongst j them our friend Goldsmith, who sat silently brooding over Johnson's reprimand to him after dinner.f Johnson perceived this, and said aside to some of us, "I '11 make Goldsmith forgive me; " and then called to him in a loud voice, '1 Dr. Goldsmith—something passed today where you and 1 dined: I ask your pardon." Goldsmith answered placidly, "It must be much from you, Sir, that I take ill." And so at once the difference was over, and they were on as easy terms as ever, and Goldsmith rattled away as usual.
In our way to the club to-night, when I regretted that Goldsmith would, upon every occasion, endeavour to shine, by which he often exposed himself, Mr. Langton observed that he was not like Addison, who was content with the fame of his writings, and did not aim also at excellency in conversation, for which he found himself unfit: and that he said to a lady who complained of his having talked little in company, ".Madam, I have but nine-pence in ready money, but I can draw for a thousand pounds.'' I observed that Goldsmith had a great deal of gold in his cabinet, but not content with that, | was always taking out his purse. Johnson, j "Yes, Sir, and that so often an empty purse!"
Goldsmith's incessant desire of being conspicuous in company was the occasion of his sometimes appearing to such disadvantage an one should hardly have supposed possible in a man of his genius. When his literary reputation had risen deservedly high, and his society was much courted, he became very jealous of the extraordinary attention which was everywhere paid to Johnson. One evening, in a circle of wits, he found fault with me for talking of Johnson as entitled to the honour of unquestionable superiority. "Sir, (said he,) you are for making a monarchy of what should be a republic."
lie was still more mortified, when talking in a company with fluent vivacity, and, as he flattered himself, to the admiration of all who were present; a German who sat next him, and perceived Johnson rolling himself as if about to speak, suddenly stopped him, saying. "Stay, stay—Toetor Shonson is going to say something.'' This was, no doubt, very provoking, especially to one so irritable as Goldsmith, who frequently mentioned it with strong expressions of indignation.
It may also be observed that Goldsmith was
t After one of Johnson's Inns discourses. Goldsmith hud bended that somebody else might he heard: whereupon Johnson called him impertinent.
sometimes content to be treated with an easy familiarity, but upon occasions would be consequential and important. An instance of this occurred in a small particular. Johnson had a way of contracting the names of his friends: as Beauclerk, Beau; Boswell, Bozzy; Langton, Lanky; Murphy, Mur; Sheridan,5 Sherry. I remember one day, when Tom Davies8 was telling that Br. Johnson said, "We are all in labour for a name to Goldy's play," Goldsmith seemed displeased that such a liberty should be taken with ltis name, and said, "I have often desired him not to call me Uoldy." Tom was remarkably attentive to the most minute circumstance about Johnson. I recollect his telling me once, on my arrival in London, "Sir, our great friend has made an improvement on his appellation of old Mr. Sheridan. He calls him now Sherry derry."
1775. Johnson was in high spirits this evening at the club, and talked with great animation and success. He attacked Swift, as he used to do upon all occasions. "The 'Talc of a Tub' is so much superior to his other writings, that one can hardly believe he was the author of it: there is in it such a vigour of mind, such a swarm of thoughts, so much of nature, and art, and life.'' I wondered to hear him say of "Gulliver's Travels," "When once you have thought of big men and little men, it is very easy to do all the rest." I endeavoured to make a stand for Swift, ami tried to rouse those who were much more able to defend him; but in vain. Johnson at last, of his own accord, allowed very great merit to the inventory of articles found in the pocket of "the Man Mountain," particularly the description of his watch, which it was conjectured was his God, as he consulted it upon all occasions. He observed, that "Swift put his name to but two things (after he had a name to put), 'The Plan for the Improvement of the English Language,' and the last 'Drapier's Letter.'"
1775. Next day I dined with Johnson at Mr. Thrale's. He attacked Gray, calling him "a dull fellow." Boswei.l. "I understand he was reserved, and might appear dull in company; but surely he was not dull in poetry." Johnson. "Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him GREAT. He was a mechanical poet." He then
Thomas Sheridan, father of the dramatist. <> A ltookseller and publisher who published a pirated edition of Johnson's writings but was forgiven by him.
repeated some ludicrous lines, which have escaped my memory, and said, "Is not that Gkeat, like his Odes?" Mrs. Thrale maintained that his Odes were melodious; upon which he exclaimed,
"'Weave the warp, and weave the woof;'"
I added, in n solemn tone,
"'The winding-sheet of Edward's race.'
There is a good line."—"Ay, (said he,) and the next line is a good one (pronouncing it contemptuously),
"'Give ample verge and room enough.'
No, Sir, there are but two good stanzas in Clray's poetiy, which are in his 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard.'" He then repeated the stanza,
"For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey," &c,
mistaking one word; for instead of precincts he said confines. He added, "The other stanza I forget."
1776. Talking of The Spectator, he said, "It is wonderful that there is such a proportion of bad papers in the half of the work which waB uot written by Addison; for theTe was all the world to write that half, yet not a half of that half is good."
Talk At The Club, 1778
On Friday, April 3, I dined with him in London, in a company where were present several eminent men, whom I shall not name, but distinguish their parts in the conversation by different letters.*
F. "I have been looking at this famous antique marble dog of IIr. Jennings,t valued at a thousand guineas, said to be Alcibiades's dog.'' Johnson. '' His tail then must be
• "It appears, by the books of the Club, that the company on that oveniug consisted of Dr. Johnson, president, Mr. Burke, Mr. Boswell. Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Gibbon. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Upper Ossory, and Mr. R. B. Sheridan. In Mr. Boswell's account the letter E no doubt stands for Edmund Burke; F., In allusion to his family name of Fitzpntrlck. probably means Lord Upper Ossory; but the appropriation of the other letters is very difficult."—Croker.
t Henry C. Jennings, a collector of antiques. The marble dog was at this date an object of great curiosity in London. Johnson had In mind the story In Plutarch's Lives: "Alcibiades had a dog of uncommon size and beautv, I which cost him seventy mlnne. and vet his tall, which was his principal ornament, he 1 caused to be cut off."
docked. That was the mark of Alcibiades's dog." E. "A thousand guineas! The representation of no animal whatever is worth so much. At this rate a dead dog would indeed be better than a living lion." Johnson. "Sir, it is not the worth of the thing, but of the skill in forming it, which is so highly estimated. Everything that enlarges the sphere of human powers, that shows man he can do what he thought he could not do, is valuable. The first man who balanced a straw upon his nose; Johnson who rode upon three horses at a time; in short, all such men deserved the applause of mankind, not on account of the use of what they did, but of the dexterity which they exhibited." Boswell. "Yet a misapplication of time and assiduity is not to be encouraged. Addison, in one of his Spectators, commends the judgment of a King, who as a suitable reward to a man that by long perseverance hail attained to the art of throwing a barley-corn through the eye of a needle, gave him a bushel of barley." Johnson. "He must have been a King of Scotland, where barley is scarce." F. "One of the most remarkable antique figures of an animal is the boar at Florence. Johnson. "The first boar that is well made in marble, should be preserved as a wonder. When men arrive at a facility of making boars well, then the workmanship is not of such value, but they should however be preserved as examples, and as a greater security for the restoration of the art, should it be lost." . .
E. "From the experience which I have had —and I have had a great deal—I have learnt to think better of mankind." Johnson. '' From my experience I have found them worse in commercial dealings, more disposed to cheat than T had any notion of; but more disposed to do one another good than I had conceived." J. "Less just and more beneficent." JohnSon. "And really it is wonderful, considering how much attention is necessary for men to take care of themselves, and ward off immediate evils which press upon them, it is wonderful how much they do for others. As it is said of the greatest liar, that he tells more truth than falsehood; so it may be said of the worst man, that he does more good than evil.'' BosWell. '' Perhaps from experience men may be found happier than we suppose." Johnson. '' No, Sir; the more we enquire we shall find men the less happy." P. "As to thinking better or worse of mankind from experience, some cunning people will not be satisfied unless they have put men to the test, as they think. There is a very good story told of Sir Godfrey Kneller,* in bis character of a justice of the peace. A gentleman brought his servant before him, upon an accusation of having stolen some money from him; but it having come out that he had laid it purposely in the servant's way in order to try his honesty, Sir Godfrey sent the master to prison." Johnson. "To resist temptation once is not a sufficient proof of honesty. If a servant, indeed, were to resist the continued temptation of silver lying in a window, as some people let it lie, when he is sure his master does not know how much there - of it, he would give a strong proof of honesty. But this is a proof to which you have no right to put a man. You know, humanly speaking, there is a certain degree of temptation which will overcome any virtue. Now, in s.) far as you approach temptation to a man, you do him an injury; and, if he is overcome, you share his guilt."
The character of Samuel Johnson has, I trust, been so developed in the course of this work, that they who have honoured 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 endeavour 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.
His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cast of an nni-ient statue; yet his appearance was rendered strange ami somewhat uncouth, by convulsive cramps, by the scars of that distemper8 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
'PnrlriU painter to Charles II. and William III. "Scrofula, or King's Evil. On the '"royal touch."
see Kvelyn's Mart), July 6, 1060 (p. 274). o so sickly was his constitution
that an inherent vivida i-isio is a powerful preservative of the human frame.
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 vigour 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. 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 marvellous and the mysterious, his vigorous1 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 polities. His being impressed with the danger of extreme latitude in either, though he was of a very independent spirit, occasioned his appearing somewhat unfavourable 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 hig 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
I to living force, spiritual energy
and passion at any time; es|>ccially when j>ro-1 voked by obtrusive ignorance, or presuming petulance; anil allowance must be made for liis 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. The solemn text, "Of him to whom much is given much will be required," seems to have been ever present to his mind, in a rigorous sense, and to have made him dissatisfied with his labours 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 ami 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 Whs somewhat susceptible of flattery. As he was general and unconfiiied 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. Hut 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, an 1 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 arc 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 splendour, but are rather distinguished by strong sentiment, and acute observation, conveyed in harmonious and energetic verse, particularly in heroic couplets.
Though usually grave, and even awful in his [ deportment, he possessed uncommon and peculiar powers of wit and humour; 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 w ith 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 an 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 ami 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.
Such was Sami'ei. 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.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728-1774)
From THE CITIZEN OF THE WORLD*
To Mr. , Merchant in London.
Amsterdam. Sir,—Yours of the 13th instant, covering two bills, one on Messrs. R. and D., value £478 10s., and the other on Mr. —, value f-JSo, duly came to hand, the former of which met with honour, but the other has been trifled with, and I am afraid will be returned protested.
• TheRe "Chinese Letters," as they were commonly culled. 123 In number, were written for The I'ublir l.nlnrr In 1700 and 1761. The source of their popularity lay In the amusing social satire obtained by viewing the customs of one country through the eyes of n citizen of another. I.len I'M Altangl I* of course Bet I tlous. ns arc the other Chinese characters mentioned.