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thought I could not make them understand me. 1773. No man was more incredulous as to particular facts,
Ætat. 67. which were at all extraordinary; and therefore no man was more scrupulously inquisitive, in order to discover the truth.
I dined with him this day at the house of my friends, Messieurs Edward and Charles Dilly, booksellers in the Poultry: there were present, their elder brother Mr. Dilly of Bedfordshire, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Langton, Mr. Claxton, Reverend Dr. Mayo, a dissenting minister, the Reverend Mr. Toplady, and my friend the Reverend Mr. Temple.
Hawkesworth’s compilation of the voyages to the South Sea being mentioned ;-Johnson. “ Sir, if you
talk of it as a subject of commerce, it will be gainful ; if as a book that is to increase human knowledge, I believe there will not be much of that. Hawkesworth can tell only what the voyagers have told him ; and they have found very little, only one new animal, I think.” Boswell. “But many insects, Sir.” Johnson. “Why, Sir, as to insects, Ray reckons of British insects twenty thousand
species. They might have staid at home and discovered enough in that way.
Talking of birds, I mentioned Mr. Daines Barrington's ingenious Essay against the received notion of their migration. Johnson. “ I think we have as good evidence for the migration of woodcocks as can be desired. We find they disappear at a certain time of the year, and appear again at a certain time of the year; and some of them, when weary in their flight, have been known to alight on the rigging of ships far out at sea."
One of the company observed, that there had been instances of some of
1773. them found in summer in Essex. Johnson. “ Sir,
that strengthens our argument. Exceptio probat Atat. 64.
regulam. Some being found shews, that, if all remained, many would be found. A few sick or lame ones may be found.” GOLDSMITH. “ There is a partial migration of the swallows; the stronger ones migrate, the others do not.”
BOSWELL. “ I am well assured that the people of Otaheite who have the bread tree, the fruit of which serves them for bread, laughed heartily when they were informed of the tedious process necessary with us to have bread;—plowing, sowing, harrowing, reaping, threshing, grinding, baking.” Johnson.“ Why, Sir, all ignorant savages will laugh when they are told of the advantages of civilized life. Were you to tell men who live without houses, how we pile brick upon brick, and rafter upon rafter, and that after a house is raised to a certain height, a man tumbles off a scaffold, and breaks his neck; he would laugh heartily at our folly in building; but it does not follow that men are better without houses. No, Sir, (holding up a slice of a good loaf,) this is better than the bread tree."
He repeated an argument, which is to be found in his “ Rambler," against the notion that the brute creation is endowed with the faculty of reason : « birds build by instinct; they never improve; they build their first nest as well as any one they ever build." GOLDSMITH, “ Yet we see if
away a bird's nest with the eggs in it, she will make a slighter nest and lay again.” Johnson. “Sir, that is because at first she has full time and makes her nest deliberately. In the case you mention she is pressed to lay, and must therefore make her nest
quickly, and consequently it will be slight.” GOLD- 1773. SMITH. “ The nidification of birds is what is least
Ætat, 64, known in natural history, though one of the most curious things in it.”
I introduced the subject of toleration. Johnson. « Every society has a right to preserve publick peace and order, and therefore has a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency. To say the magistrate has this right, is using an inadequate word : it is the society for which the magistrate is agent. He may be morally or theologically wrong in restraining the propagation of opinions which he thinks dangerous, but he is politically right.” Mayo. “ I am of opinion, Sir, that every man is entitled to liberty of conscience in religion ; and that the magistrate cannot restrain that right.” Johnson. “ Sir, I agree with you. Every man has a right to liberty of conscience, and with that the magistrate cannot interfere. People confound liberty of thinking with liberty of talking; nay, with liberty of preaching. Every man has a physical right to think as he pleases; for it cannot be discovered how he thinks. He has not a moral right, for he ought to inform himself, and think justly. But, Sir, no member of a society has a right to teach any doctrine contrary to what the society holds to be true. The magistrate, I say, may be wrong in what he thinks: but while he thinks himself right, he may and ought to enforce what he thinks.” Mayo. “ Then, Sir, we are to remain always in errour, and truth never can prevail; and the magistrate was right in persecuting the first Christians. Johnson. “Sir, the only method by which religious truth can be established is by mar
1773. tyrdom. The magistrate has a right to enforce what
he thinks; and he who is conscious of the truth has Ætat. 64.
a right to suffer. I am afraid there is no other way of ascertaining the truth, but by persecution on the one band and enduring it on the other.” GOLDSMITH. “ But how is a man to act, Sir? Though firmly convinced of the truth of his doctrine, may he not think it wrong to expose himself to persecution? Has he a right to do so? Is it not, as it were, committing voluntary suicide ?" JOHNSON.
Sir, as to voluntary suicide, as you call it, there are twenty thousand men in an army who will go without scruple to be shot at, and mount a breach for five-pence a day." GOLDSMITH. “ But have they a moral right to do this?" JOHNSON. “Nay, Sir, if you will not take the universal opinion of mankind, I have nothing to say. If mankind cannot defend their own way of thinking, I cannot defend it. Sir, if a man is in doubt whether it would be better for him to expose himself to martyrdom or not, he should not do it. He must be convinced that he has a delegation from heaven.” GOLDSMITH. “ I would consider whether there is the greater chance of good or evil upon the whole. If I see a man who has fallen into a well, I would wish to help him out; but if there is a greater probability that he shall pull me in, than that I shall pull him out, I would not attempt it. So were I to go to Turkey, I might wish to convert the Grand Signor to the Christain faith; but when I considered that I should probably be put to death without effectuating my purpose in any degree, I should keep myself quiet.” JOHNSON.“ Sir, you must consider that we have perfect and imperfect obligations. Perfect obligations,
which are generally not to do something, are clear 1773. and positive; as, thou shalt not kill.' But charity, Ætat. 67. for instance, is not definable by limits. It is a duty to give to the poor; but no man can say how much another should give to the poor, or when a man has given too little to save his soul. In the same manner it is a duty to instruct the ignorant, and of consequence to convent infidels to Christianity; but no man in the common course of things is obliged to carry this to such a degree as to incur the danger of martyrdom, as no man is obliged to strip himself to the shirt in order to give charity. I have said, that a man must be persuaded that he has a particular delegation from heaven.” GOLDSMITH. “How is this to be known? Our first reformers, who were burnt for not believing bread and wine to be Christ”Johnson. (interrupting him,) “Sir, they were not burnt for not believing bread and wine to be Christ, but for insulting those who did believe it. And, Sir, when the first reformers began, they did not intend to be martyred: as many of them ran away as could.” Boswell. " But, Sir, there was your countryman, Elwal, who you told me challenged King George with his black-guards, and his red-guards.” JohnSON. " My countryman, Elwal, Sir, should have been put in the stocks; a proper pulpit for him; and he'd have had a numerous audience. A man who preaches in the stocks will always have hearers enough.” BosWELL. “But Elwal thought himself in the right.” Johnson. “ We are not providing for mad people; there are places for them in the neighbourhood." (meaning Moorfields.) Mayo. “ But, Sir, is it not very hard that I should not be allowed to teach my children what I really believe to be the truth?"