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difference of colours; but that difference is so fine, 1772. that it is not sensible to the touch. The General
Ætat. 63. mentioned jugglers and fraudulent gamesters, who could know cards by the touch. Dr. Johnson said, “ the cards used by such persons must be less polished than ours commonly are.'
We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a simple sound, but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I presumed to differ from this opinion, and mentioned the soft and sweet sound of a fine woman's voice. Johnson. “ No, Sir, if a serpent or a toad uttered it, you would think it ugly.” Boswell.“ So you would think, Sir, were a beautiful tune to be uttered by one of those animals.” JOHNSON. “No, Sir, it would be admired. We have seen fine fiddlers whom we liked as little as toads.” (laughing.)
Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he said, that difference of taste was, in truth, difference of skill. Boswell. “ But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking? For instance, we find people differ much as to what is the best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best ; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, you must first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you have , mentioned, don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour. In like manner, one loves a plain coat, another loves a laced coar; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind."
While I remained in London this spring, I was
with him at several other times, both by himself Ætat. 63.
and in company. I dined with him one day at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, with Lord Elibank, Mr. Langton, and Dr. Vansittart of Oxford. Without specifying each particular day, I have preserved the following memorable things.
I regretted the reflection in his Preface to Shakspeare against Garrick, to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: “I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very communicative.” I told him, that Garrick had complained to me of it, and had vindicated himself by assuring me, that Johnson was made welcome to the full use of his collection, and that he left the key of it with a servant, with orders to have a fire and every convenience for him. I found Johnson's notion was, that Garrick wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the contrary, Garrick should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his own accord. But, indeed, considering the slovenly and careless manner in which books were treated by Johnson, it could not be expected that scarce and valuable editions should have been lent to him.
A gentleman having to some of the usual arguments for drinking added this : “ You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us forget whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to drink for that reason?" JOHNSON. “ Yes, Sir, if. he sat next you.
I expressed a liking for Mr. Francis Osborne's works, and asked him what he thought of that writer. He answered, “ A conceited fellow. . Were a
man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at 1772. him.” He, however, did not alter my opinion of a favourite authour, to whom I was first directed by his being quoted in “ The Spectator,” and in whom I have found much shrewd and lively sense, expressed indeed in a style somewhat quaint, which, however, I do not dislike. His book has an air of originality. We figure to ourselves an ancient gentleman talking to us.
When one of his friends endeavoured to maintain that a country gentleman might contrive to pass his life very agreeably, “Sir, (said he,) you cannot give me an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.” This observation, however, is equally applicable to gentlemen who live in cities, and are of no profession.
He said, “ there is no permanent national character; it varies according to circumstances. Alexander the Great swept India: now the Turks sweep Greece."
A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to inform us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose seven or eight minutes in relating it circumstantially. He in a plentitude of phrase told us, that large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in the town-hall;—that by reason of this, fleas nestled there in prodigious numbers ; that the lodgings of the counsel were near the town-hall ;---and that those little animals moved from place to place with wonderful agility. Johnson sat in great impatience till the gentleman had finished his tedious narrative, and then burst out (playfully however,)
1772. “ It is a pity, Sir, that you have not seen a lion; for Ætat, 63.
a flea has taken you such a time, that a lion must
credit from Lord Mansfield; for he was educated in England. “Much (said he,) may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young,
Talking of a modern historian and a modern mo. ralist, he said, “ There is more thought in the moralist than in the historian. There is but a shallow stream of thought in history.” Boswell. “ But surely, Sir, an historian has reflection.” Johnson. “Why yes, Sir; and so has a cat when she catches a mouse for her kitten. But she cannot write like *******; neither can *********."
He said, “I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours, and give them my opinion. If the authors who apply to me have money, I bid them boldly print without a name; if they have written in order to get money, I tell them to go to the booksellers and make the best bargain they can.” BosWELL. “ But, Sir, if a bookseller should bring you a manuscript to look at.” Johnson. “Why, Sir, I would desire the bookseller to take it away.
I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain, and was unwilling to return to Britain. Johnson. “ Sir, he is attached to some woman.” Boswell. “I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine climate which keeps him there.”. Johnson. “Nay, Sir, how can you talk so? What is climate to happiness? Place me in the heart of Asia, should I not be exiled? What proportion does climate bear to the complex
9 Mrs. Piozzi, to whom I told this anecdote, has related it, as if the gentleman had given “the natural history of the mouse." Anecdotes, p. 191.
system of human life? You may advise me to go to 1772. live at Bologna to eat sausages.
Ætat. 63. are the best in the world ; they lose much by being carried."
On Saturday, May 9, Mr. Dempster and I had agreed to dine by ourselves at the British Coffeehouse. Johnson, on whom I happened to call in the morning, said, he would join us, which he did, and we spent a very agreeable day, though I recollect but little of what passed.
He said, “ Walpole was a minister given by the King to the people : Pitt was a minister given by the people to the King,—as an adjunct.”
6. The misfortune of Goldsmith in conversation is this: he goes on without knowing how he is to get off. His genius is great, but his knowledge is small. As they say of a generous man, it is a pity he is not rich, we may say of Goldsmith, it is a pity he is not knowing. He would not keep his knowledge to himself.”
Before leaving London this year, I consulted him upon a question purely of Scotch law. It was held of old, and continued for a long period, to be an established principle in that law, that whoever intermeddled with the effects of a person deceased, without the interposition of legal authority to guard against embezzlement, should be subjected to pay all the debts of the deceased, as having been guilty of what was technically called vicious intromission. The Court of Session had gradually relaxed the strictness of this principle, where the interference proved had been inconsiderable. In a case' which came before
I Wilson against Smith and Armour.