« AnteriorContinuar »
1775. These pamphlets drew upon him numerous atÆtat. 66.
tacks. Against the common weapons of literary warfare he was hardened; but there were twc instances of animadversion which I communicated to him, and from what I could judge, both from his silence and his looks, appeared to me to impress him much.
One was, “ A Letter to Dr. Samuel Johnson, occasioned by his laté political Publications.” It appeared previous to his “ Taxation no Tyranny,” and was written by Dr. Joseph Towers. In that performance, Dr. Johnson was treated with the respect due to so eminent a man, while his conduct as a political writer was boldly and pointedly arraigned, as inconsistent with the character of one, who, if he did employ his pen upon politicks, " it might reasonably be expected should distinguish himself, not by party violence and rancour, but by moderation and by wisdom.”
It concluded thus : " I would, however, wish you to remember, should you again address the publick under the character of a political writer, that luxuriance of imagination or energy of language, will ill compensate for the want of candour, of justice, and of truth. And I shall only add, that should I hereafter be disposed to read, as I heretofore have done, the most excellent of all your performances, “The RAMBLER,' the pleasure which I have been accustomed to find in it will be much diminished by the reflection that the writer of so moral, so elegant, and so valuable a work, was capable of prostituting his talents in such productions as “The False Alarm," the · Thoughts on the Transactions respecting Falkland's Islands,' and The Patriot."
I am willing to do justice to the merit of Dr. 1775. Towers, of whom I will say, that although I abhor
Ætat. 66, his Whiggish democratical notions and propensities, (for I will not call them principles,) I esteem him as. an ingenious, knowing, and very convivial man. The other instance was a paragraph of a letter to
old and most intimate friend the Reverend Mr. Temple, who wrote the charcter of Gray, which has had the honour to be adopted both by Mr. Mason and Dr. Johnson in their accounts of that poet. The words were, “ How can your great, I will not say your pious, but your moral friend, support the barbarous measures of administration, which they have not the face to ask even their infidel
pensioner Hume to defend."
However confident of the rectitude of his own mind, Johnson may have felt sincere uneasiness that his conduct should be erroneously imputed to unworthy motives, by good men; and that the influence of his valuable writings should on that account be in any degree obstructed or lessened.
He complained to a Right Honourable friend of distinguished talents and very elegant manners, with whom he maintained a long intimacy, and whose generosity towards him will afterwards appear, that his pension having been given to him as a literary character, he had been applied to by administration to write political pamphlets; and he was even so much irritated, that he declared his resolution to resign his pension. His friend showed him the im, propriety of such a measure, and he afterwards expressed his gratitude, and said he had received good advice. To that friend he once signified a wish 10 have his pension secured to him for his life ; but he
1775. neither asked nor received from government any reÆtat. 66. ward whatsoever for his political labours.
On Friday, March 24, I met him at the LiTERARY Club, where were Mr. Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Mr. Colman, Dr. Percy, Mr. Vesey, Sir Charles Bunbury, Dr. George Fordyce, Mr. Steevens, and Mr. Charles Fox. Before he came in, we talked of his “ Journey to the Western Islands,” and of his coming away,
willing to believe the second sight,"? which seemed to excite some ridicule. . I was then so impressed with the truth of many of the stories of it which I had been told, that I avowed my conviction, saying, “ He is only willing to be , lieve : I do believe. The evidence is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not fill a quart bottle will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief."
“ Are you ? (said Colman,) then cork
I found his .- Journey" the common topick of conversation in London at this time, wherever I happened to be. At one of Lord Mansfield's formal Sunday evening conversations, strangely called Levées, his Lordship addressed me, “We have all been reading your travels, Mr. Boswell," I answered, “ I was but the humble attendant of Dr. Johnson. The Chief Justice replied, with that air and manner which none, who ever saw and heard him, can for gét, “ He speaks ill of nobody but Ossian,”
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 occa
7 Johnson's " Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland," edit. 3785, p. 256.
gions. « The Tale of a Tub' is so much superiour 1775. to his other writings, that one can hardly believe
Atat. 66. he was the authour of it:8 “ 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, and 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 Improve,
8.This doubt has been much agitated op both sides, I think without good reason. See Addison's “ Freeholder,” May 4, 1714; An Apology for the Tale of a Tub:
-Dr. Hawkesworth'a Preface to Swift's Works, and Swift's Letter to Tooke the Printer, and Tooke's Answer in that collection :--Sheridan's Life of Swift;~Mr. Courtenay's note on p. 3 of his “ Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral Character of Dr. Jchoson;" and Mr. Cooksey's Essay on the Life and Character of John Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham.”
Dr. Johnson here speaks only to the internal evidence. I take leave to differ from him, having a very high estimation of the powers of Dr. Swift.
His “ Sentiments of a Church-of-Englandman;" his “ Sermon on the Trinity," and other serious pieces, prove his learning as well as his acuteness in logick and metaphysicks;" and his various compositions of a different cast exhibit not only wit, humour, and ridicule ; but a knowledge “ of nature, and art, and life:” a combination therefore of those powers, when (as the “ Apology" says,) “ the authour was young, bis invention at the heighth, and his reading fresh in his head," might surely produce “ The Tale of' a Tub."
1775. ment of the English language, and the last • Dra.
Ætat. 66. pier's Letter."
From Swift, there was an easy transition to Mr. Thomas Sheridan.---JOHNSON. “ Sheridan is a wonderful admirer of the tragedy of Douglas, and presented its authour with a gold medal. Some years ago, at a coffee-house in Oxford, I called to him, * Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Sheridan, how came you to give a gold medal to Home, for writing that foolish play?' This, you see, was wanton and insolent; but I meant to be wanton and insolent. A medal has no value but as a stamp of merit. And was Sheridan to assume to himself the right of giving that stamp? If Sheridan was magnificent enough to bestow a gold medal as an hononary reward of dramatick excellence, he should have requested one of the Universities to choose the person on whom it should be conferred. Sheridan had no right to give a stamp of merit: it was counterfeiting Apollo's coin."
On Monday, March 27, I breakfasted with him at Mr. Strahan's. He told us, that he was engaged to go that evening to Mrs. Abington's benefit. was visiting some ladies whom I was visiting, and begged that I would come to her benefit. I told her I could not hear : but she insisted so niuch on my coming, that it would have been brutal to have refused her.” This was a speech quite characteristical, He loved to bring forward his having been in the gay circles of life; and he was, perhaps, a little vain of the solicitations of this elegant and fashionable
He told us, the play was to be “ The Hypocrite,” altered from Cibber's “ Nonjuror," so as to satirize the Methodists. "I do not think (said he,)