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1775. were sitting around could hardly stifle laughter, pro
duced a very ludicrous effect. Silence having ensued, Ætat. 66.
he proceeded: “We are told, that the black bear is innocent; but I should not like to trust myself with him.” Mr. Gibbon muttered, in a low tone of voice, “ I should not like to trust myself with you." This piece of sarcastick pleasantry was a prudent resolution, if applied to a competition of abilities.
Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: “ Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged, (not by Johnson) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired. Johnson. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his polítical conduct that he is honest. Were he to accept a place from this ministry, he would lose that character of firmness which he has, and might be turned out of his place in a year. This ministry is neither stable, nor grateful to their friends, as Sir Robert Walpole was: so that he may think it more for his interest to take his chance of his party com
Mrs. Pritchard being mentioned, he said, “ Her playing was quite mechanical. It is wonderful how little niind she had. Sir, she had never read the tragedy of Macbeth all through. She no more thought of the play out of which her part was taken, than a
shoemaker thinks of the skin, out of which the piece 1775. of leather, of which he is making a pair of shoes, is
Ætat. 66. cut."
On Saturday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Thrale's, where we met the Irish Dr. Campbell. Johnson had supped the night before at Mrs. Abington's, with some fashionable people whom he named; and he seemed much pleased with having made one in so elegant a circle. Nor did he omit to pique his mistress a little with jealousy of her housewifery ; for he said, (with a smile,) - Mrs. Abington's jelly, my dear Lady, was better than yours.”
Mrs. Thrale, who frequently practised a coarse mode of flattery, by repeating his bon-mots in his hearing, told us that he had said, a certain celebrated actor was just fit to stand at the door of an auctionroom with a long pole, and cry“ Pray, gentlemen, walk in ;” and that a certain authour, upon hearing this, had said, that another still more celebrated actor was fit for nothing better than that, and would pick your pocket after you came out. Johnson. “ Nay, my dear lady, there is not wit in what our friend added; there is only abuse. You may as well say
of any man that he will pick a pocket. Besides, the man who is stationed at the door does not pick people's pockets ; that is done within, by the auctioneer."
Mrs. Thrale told us, that Tom Davies repeated, in a very bald manner, the story of Dr. Johnson's first repartee to me, which I have related exactly." He made me say, “I was born in Scotland," instead of * I come from Scotland;" so that Johnson's saying,
9 P. 361, Vol. I.
“ That, Sir, is what a great many of your country
men cannot help,” had no point, or even meaning : Ætat. 66.
and that upon this being mentioned to Mr. Fitzherbert, he observed, “ It is not every man that can carry a bon mot.”
On Monday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, with Mr. Langton and the Irish Dr. Campbell, whom the General had obligingly given me leave to bring with me. This learned gentleman was thus gratified with a very high intelləctual feast, by not only being in company with Dr. Johnson, but with General Oglethorpe, who had been so long a celebrated name both at home and abroad.'
I must, again and again, intreat of my readers not to suppose that my imperfect record of conversation contains the whole of what was said by Johnson, or
"Let me here be allowed to pay my tribute of most sincere gratitude to the memory of that excellent person, my intimacy with whom was the more valuable to me, because my first acquaintance with him was unexpected and unsolicited. Soon after the publication of my “ Account of Corsica," he did me the honour to call on me, and approaching me with a frank courteous air, said, “My name, Sir, is Oglethorpe, and I wish to be acquainted with you.” I was not a little flattered to be thus addressed by an eminent man, of whom I had read in Pope, from my early years,
“ Or, driven by strong benevolence of soul,
" Will fly, like Oglethorpe, from pole to pole." I was fortunate enough to be found worthy of his good opinion, insomuch, that I not only was invited to make one in the many respectable companies whom he entertained at his table, but had a cover at his hospitable board every day when I happened to be disengaged; and in his society I never failed to enjoy learned and animated conversation, seasoned with genuine sentiments of viţe tue and religion,
other eminent persons who lived with him. What I 1775. have preserved, however, has the value of the most
Ætat. 66, perfect authenticity.
He this day enlarged upon Pope's melancholy remark,
“ Man never is, but always to be blest.” He asserted, that the present was never a happy state to any human being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion, that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, “ Never, but when he is drunk.".
He urged General Oglethorpe to give the world his Life. He said, “I know no man whose Life would be more interesting. If I were furnished with materials, I should be very glad to write it.”2 Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the
Dr. Johnson observed “ They are very well; but such as twenty people onight write.” Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim,
mediocribus esse poetis
2 The General seemed unwilling to enter upon it at this time; but upon a subsequent occasion he communicated to me a number of particulars, which I have committed to writing; but I was not sufficiently diligent in obtaining more from him, not apprehending that his friends were so soon to lose him; for notwithstanding his great age, he was very healt and gorous, and was last carried off by a violent fever, which is often fatal at any period of life.
1775. for here, (I observed,) was a very middle-rate poet, Ætat. 66.
who pleased many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to some esteem; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing else, have different gradations of excellence, and consequently of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that “as there is no necessity for our having poetry at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of pleasure, it can have no value, unless when exquisite in its kind.” I declared myself not satisfied. “Why then, Sir, (said he,) Horace and you must settle it.” He was not much in the humour of talking
No more of his conversation for some days appears in my journal, except that when a gentleman told him he had bought a suit of lace for his lady, he said, “Well, Sir, you have done a good thing and a wise thing.” “I have done a good thing, (said the gentleman,) but I do not know that I have done a wise thing.” Johnson. “ Yes, Sir; no money is better spent than what is laid out for domestick satisfaction. A man is pleased that his wife is drest as well as other people; and a wife is pleased that she is drest."
On Friday, April 14, being Good-Friday, I repaired to him in the morning, according to my usual custom on that day, and breakfasted with him. I observed that he fasted so very strictly, that he did not even taste bread, and took no milk with his tea; I suppose because it is a kind of animal food.
He entered upon the state of the nation, and thus discoursed: “ Sir, the great misfortune now is, that government has too little power. All that it has to bestow must of necessity be given to support itself; so that it cannot reward merit. No man, for in