Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

“ This (said

to the Western Islands” was attacked in every mode; 1775. and I read a great part of them to him, knowing they Ætat.06. would afford him entertainment. I wish the writers of them had been present: they would have been sufficiently vexłd. One ludicrous imitation of his style, by Mr. Maclaurin, now one of the Scotch Judges, with the title of Lord Dreghorn, was distinguished by him from the rude mass. he,) is the best. But I could caricature my own style much better myself.” He defended his remark upon the general insufficiency of education in Scotland, and confirmed to me the authenticity of his witty saying on the learning of the Scotch;-"T learning is like bread in a besieged town: every man gets a little, but no man gets a full meal.” “ There is (said he,) in Scotland' a diffusion of learning, a certain portion of it widely and thinly spread. A merchant has as much learning as one of their clergy.”

He talked of Isaac Walton's Lives, which was one of his most favourite books. Dr. Donne's Life, he said, was the most perfect of them. He observed, that "it was wonderful that Walton, who was in a very low situation in life, should have been familiarly received by so many great men, and that at a tiine when the ranks of society were kept more separate than they are now.” He supposed that Walton had then given up his business as a linen-draper and sempster, and was only an authour;

* and added,

* [Johnson's conjecture was erroneous. Walton did not retire from business till 10+3. But in 1664 Dr. King, Bishop of Chichester, in a letter prefixed to his Lives, mentions his having been familiarly acquainted with him for forty years: and in 1631

1775. “ that he was a great panegyrist." Boswell. “No Atat. 66. quality will get a man more friends than a disposition

to admire the qualities of others. I do not mean flattery, but a sincere admiration.” Johnson. “Nay, Sir, flattery pleases very generally. In the first place, the flatterer may think what he says to be true : but, in the second place, whether he thinks so or not, he certainly thinks those whom he flatters of consequence enough to be flattered.”

No sooner had we made our bow to Mr. Cambridge, in his library, than Johnson ran eagerly to one side of the room, intent on poring over the backs of the books. * Sir Joshua observed, (aside,) runs to the books, as I do to the pictures : but I have the advantage. I can see much more of the pictures than he can of the books.” Mr. Cambridge, upon this, politely said, “ Dr. Johnson, I am going, with your pardon, to accuse inyself, for I have the same custom which I perceive you have. But it seems odd that one should have such a desire to look at the backs of books.". Johnson, ever ready for contest, instantly started from his reverie, wheeled about and answered, “Sir, the reason is very plain. Knowledge is of two kinds.

We know a subject ourselves, or we know were we can find information upon it. When we enquire into any

« He

*

he was so intimate with Dr. Donne, that he was one of the friends who attended him on his death bed. J. B.--0.]

[The first time he dined with me, he was shewn into my book room, and instantly pored over the lettering of each volume within his reach. My collection of books is very miscellaneous, and I feared there might be some among them that he would not like. But seeing the number of volumes very considerable, he said, You are an honest man, to bare formed so great an accumulation of knowledge." B.]

subject, the first thing we have to do is to know 1775. what books have treated of it. This leads us to look

Ætat. 66 at catalogues, and the backs of books in libraries.” Sir Joshua observed to me the extraordinary promptitude with which Johnson flew upon an argument. “ Yes, (said I, he has no formal preparation, no flourishing with his sword ; he is through your body in an instant."

Johnson was here solaced with an elegant entertainment, a very accomplished family and much good company; among whom was Mr. Harris of Salisbury, who paid him many compliments on his Journey to the Western Islands."

The common remark as to the utility of reading history being made ;-Johnson.“ We must consider how very little history there is ; I mean real authentick history. That certain Kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend upon as true ; but all the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture.” Boswell. “ Then, Sir, you would reduce all history to no better than an almanack, a mere chronological series of remarkable events." Mr. Gibbon, who must at that time have been employed upon his history, of which he published the first volume in the following year, was present; but did not step forth in defence of that species of writing. He probably did not like to trust himself wih Johnson !)

Johnson observed, that the force of our early habits was so great, that though reason approved, nay, though our senses relished a different course, almost every man returned to them. I do not believe

7 See p. 356.

1775. there is any observation upon hunian nature better .

founded than this; and in many cases, it is a very Ætat, 66.

painful truth; for where early habits have been mean and wretched, the joy and elevation resulting from better modes of life, must be damped by the gloomy consciousness of being under an almost inevitable doom to sink back into a situation which we recollect with disgust. It surely may be prevented, by constant attention and unremitting exertion to establish contrary habits of superiour efficacy.

“ The Beggar's Opera,” and the common question, whether it was pernicious in it effects, having been introduced ;--JOHNSON. “As to this matter, which has been very much contested, I myself am of opinion, that more influence has been ascribed to • The Beggar's Opera,' than it in reality ever had ; for I do not believe that any man was ever made a rogue by being present at its representation. At the same time I do not deny that it may have some influence, by making the character of a rogue familiar, and in some degree pleasing." Then collecting

[ocr errors]

8 A very eminent physician, whose discernment is as acute and penetrating in judging of the human character as it is in his own profession, remarked once at a club where I was, that a lively young man, fond of pleasure, and without money, would hardly resist a solicitation from his mistress to go upon the highway, immediately after being present at the representation of “ The Reggar's Opera. I have been told of an ingenious observation by Mr, Gibbon, that " The Beggar's Opera may, perhaps, have sonietiines increased the number of highwaymen; but that it has had a beneficial effect in refining that class of men, making them less- ferocious, more polite, in short, more 'like gentlemen." Upon this Mr. Courtenay said, that“ Gay was the Orpheus of highwaynien.”.

[ocr errors]

himself, as it were, to give a heavy stroke : “ There 1775. is in it such a labefactation of all principles, as may be

Ætat. 66. injurious to morality."

While he pronounced this response, we sat in a comical sort of restraint, smothering a laugh, which we were afraid might burst out. In his life of Gay, he has been still more decisive as to the inefficiency of “ The Beggar's Opera" in corrupting society. But I have ever thought somewhat differently; for, in deed, not only are the gaiety and heroism of a highwayman very captivating to a' youthful imagination, but the arguments for adventurous depredation are so plausible, the allusions so lively, and the contrasts with the ordinary and more painful modes of acquiring property are so artfully displayed, that it requires a cool and strong judgement to resist so imposing an aggregate : yet, I own, I should be very sorry to have “ The Beggar's Opera" suppressed; for there is in it so much of real London life, so much brilliant wit, and such a variety of airs, which, from early association of ideas, engage, soothe, and enliven the mind, that no performance which the theatre exhibits, delights me more.

The late “ worthyDuke of Queensberry, as Thomson, in his “ Seasons,” justly characterizes him, told me, that when Gay shewed him “ The Beggar's Opera,” his Grace's observation was, “This is a very odd thing, Gay; I am satisfied that it is either a very good thing, or a very bad thing." It proved the former, beyond the warmest expectations of the authour or his friends. Mr. Cambridge, however shewed us to day, that there was good reason enough to doubt concerning its success. He was told by Quin, that during the first night of its appearance it

« AnteriorContinuar »