Page images

Johnson in a good house in Johnson’s-court, Fleet-street, in which he had accommodated Miss Williams with an apartment on the ground floor, while Mr. Levett occupied his post in the garret: his faithful Francis was still attending upon him. He received me with much kind. ness. The fragments of our first conversation, which I have preserved, are these ; I told him that Voltaire, in a conversation with me, had distinguished Pope and Dryden thus :~" Pope drives a handsome chariot, with a couple of neat trim nags; Dryden a coach, and six stately horses.” JOHNSON. “Why, Sir, the truth is, they both drive coaches and six; but Dryden's horses are either galloping orstumbling : Pope's go at a steady even trot."1 He said of Goldsmith's “ Traveller," which had been published in my absence, “ There has not been so fine a poem since Pope's time.” And here it is proper to settle, with authentick

precision, what has long floated in publick report, as to Johnson's being himself the author of a considerable part of that poem. Much, no doubt, both of the sentiments and expression were derived from conversation with him; and it was certainly submitted to his friendly revision: but in the year 1783, he at my request marked with a pencil the lines which he had furnished, which are only line 420th,

To stop too fearful, and too faint to go ;"

. It is remarkable that Mr. Gray has employed somewhat the same image to characterise Dryden. He indeed, furnishes his car with but two horses ; but they are of “ ethereal race:”

“ Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car,
• Wide o'er the fields of glory bear
“ Two coursers of ethereal race,
“ With necks in thunder cloath'd, and long resounding pace."

Ode on the Progress of Poesy. and the concluding ten lines, except the last couplet but one, which I distinguish by the Italick character :

“ How small of all that human hearts endure,
“ That part which kings or laws can cause or cure.
" Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
“Our own felicity we make or find;
“With secret course which no loud storms annoy,
“ Glides the smooth current of domestick joy :
The lifted axe, the agonizing wheel,
Luke's iron crown, and Damien's bed of steel,
“ To men remote from power, but rarely known,

Leave reason, faith, and conscience, all our own.” He added, “ These are all of which I can be sure." They bear a small proportion to the whole, which consists of four hundred and thirty-eight verses. Goldsmith, in the couplet which he inserted, mentions Luke as a person well known, and superficial readers have passed it over quite smoothly; while those of more attention have been as much perplexed by Luke as by Lydiat, in “ The Vanity of Human Wishes.” The truth is, that Goldsmith himself was in a mistake. In the Respublica Hungarica,” there is an account of a desperate rebellion in the year 1514, headed by two brothers, of the name of Zeck, George and Luke. When it was quelled, George, not Luke, was punished by his head being encircled with a red hot iron crown: “coronâ candescente ferred coronatur.” The same severity of torture was exercised on the Earl of Athol, one of the murderers of King James I. of Scotland.?

Dr. Johnson at the same time favoured me by mark

? [On the iron crown, see Mr. Steevens's note 7, on Act iv. sc. i. of RICHARD III. It seems to be alluded to in MACBETH, Act ir. sc. i.

Thy crown does sear.” &c. See also Gough's Camden, vol. iii. p. 396. BLAKEWAY.]

ing the lines which he furnished to Goldsmith's “ De-
serted Village,” which are only the last four :

“ That trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay,
As ocean sweeps the labourd mole away :
“ While self-dependent power can time defy,

“ As rocks resist the billows and the sky."
Talking of education, “ People have now a-days,
(said he,) got a strange opinion that every thing should
be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures
can do so much good as reading the books from which
the lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best
taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be
shewn. You may teach chymistry by lectures : You
might teachmaking of shoes by lectures ! ”

At night I supped with him at the Mitre Tavern, that we might renew our social intimacy at the original place of meeting. But there was now a considerable difference in his way of living. Having had an illness, in which he was advised to leave off wine, he had, from that period, continued to abstain from it, and drank only water, or lemonade.

I told him that a foreign friend of his, whom I had met with abroad, was so wretchedly perverted to infidelity, that he treated the hopes of immortality with brutal levity; and said, As man dies like a dog, let him lie like a dog.” JOHNSON. “ If he dies like a dog, let him lie like a dog." I added, that this man said to me, hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, he must be very singular in his opinion, if he thinks himself one of the best of men; for none of his friends think him so.”—He said, “ No honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair examination of the proofs of Christianity.” I named Hume. JOHNSON.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


“ No, Sir; Hume owned to a clergyman in the bishop. rick of Durham, that he had never read the New Testament with attention.”—I mentioned Hume's notion, that all who are happy are equally happy; a little Miss with a new gown at a dancing-school ball, a General at the head of a victorious army, and an orator, after having made an eloquent speech in a great assembly. JOHN

“ Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher." I remember this very question very happily illustrated in opposition to Hume, by the Reverend Mr. Robert Brown, at Utrecht.“ A small drinking-glass and a large one, (said he,) may be equally full ; but the large one holds more than the small.” 3

Dr. Johnson was very kind this evening, and said to me,

“You have now lived five-and-twenty years, and you have employed them well.” “ Alas, Sir, (said I,) I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematicks ? Do I know law ? ” JOHNSON. “Why, Sir, though you may know no science so well as to be able to teach it, and no profession so well as to be able to follow it, your general mass of knowledge of books and men renders you very capable to make yourself master of any science, or fit yourself for any profession.” I mentioned that a gay friend had advised me against being a lawyer,

3 [Bishop Hall, in discussing this subject, has the same image: " Yet so conceive of these heavenly degrees, that the least is glorious. So do these vessels differ, that all are full.Epistles, Dec. iii. cap. 6. “Of the different degrees of heavenly glory." This most learned and ingenious writer, however, was not the first who suggested this image ; for it is found also in an old book entitled “ A Work worth the reading," by Charles Gibbon, 4to, 1591. In the fifth dialogue of this work, in which the question debated is, “whether there be degrees of glorie in heaven, ar difference of painés in hell,” one of the

[ocr errors]

because I should be excelled by plodding blockheads. JOHNSON. “ Why, Sir, in the formulary and statutory part of law, a plodding blockhead may excel ; but in the ingenious and rational part of it a plodding blockhead can never excel.”

I talked of the mode adopted by some to rise in the world, by courting great men, and asked him whether he had ever submitted to it. JOHNSON. Why, Sir, I never was near enough to great men, to court them. You may be prudently attached to great men, and yet independent. You are not to do what you think wrong; and, Sir, you are to calculate, and not pay too dear for what you get. You must not give a shilling's worth of court for sixpence worth of good. But if you can get a shilling's worth of good for sixpence worth of court, you are a fool if you do not pay court." He said,

“ If convents should be allowed at all, they should only be retreats for persons unable to serve the publick, or who have served it. It is our first duty to serve society; and, after we have done that, we may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged."

I introduced the subject of second sight, and other mysterious manifestations; the fulfilment of which, I suggested might happen by chance. . JOHNSON. “ Yes,

, Sir, but they have happened so often, that mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous.”

speakers observes, that no doubt in the world to come, (where the least pleasure is unspeakable,) it cannot be but that he which hath bin most afflicted here, shall conceive and receive more exceeding joy, than he which hath bin touched with lesse tribulation ; and yet the joyes of heaven are fitlie compared to vessels filled with licour, of all quantities ; for everie man shall have his full measure there." By “ all quantities” this writer (who seems to refer to a still more ancient authour than himself) I suppose, means different quantities. MALONE.]

« PreviousContinue »