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THE LIFE OF
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
AVING left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped
H to change horses at Derby, and availed ourselves of a
moment to enjoy the conversation of my countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there. He was in great indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia' had been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against it. 'I am glad, (said he,) that Parliament has had the spirit to throw it out. You wanted to take advantage of the timidity of our scoundrels;' (meaning, I suppose, the ministry). It may be observed, that he used the epithet scoundrel very commonly not quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but as a strong term of disapprobation; as when he abruptly answered Mrs. Thrale, who had asked him how he did, 'Ready to become a scoundrel, Madam; with a little more spoiling you will, I think, make me a complete rascal':'
1 See ante, March 15, 1776.
Anecdotes of Johnson, p. 176. BOSWELL. 'It is,' he said, 'so very difficult for a sick man not to be a scoundrel.' Ib. p. 175. He called Fludyer a scoundrel (ante, March 20, 1776), apparently because he became a Whig. He used to say a man was a scoundrel that was afraid of anything. 'Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o'clock is," he said, "a scoundrel." Johnson's Works (1787), xi. 199, 211. Mr. Croker points out that 'Johnson in his Dictionary defined knave, a scoundrel; sneakup, a scoundrel; rascal, a scoundrel; loon, a scoundrel; lout, a scoundrel; poltroon, a scoundrel; and that he coined the word scoundrelism' (Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 25, 1773). Churchill, in The Ghost, Book ii. (Poems, i. 1. 217), describes Johnson as one
Who makes each sentence current pass,
Early friends of great men.
he meant, easy to become a capricious and self-indulgent valetudinarian; a character for which I have heard him express great disgust.
Johnson had with him upon this jaunt, 'Il Palmerino d'Inghilterra,' a romance' praised by Cervantes; but did not like it much. He said, he read it for the language, by way of preparation for his Italian expedition.—We lay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I mentioned that old Mr. Sheridan complained of the ingratitude of Mr. Wedderburne' and General Fraser, who had been much obliged to him when they were young Scotchmen entering upon life in England. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot keep up all his former connections. Then, Sir, those who knew him formerly upon a level with themselves, may think that they ought still to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a former situation may bring out things which it would be very disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps, every body knows of them.' He placed this subject in a new light to me, and shewed that a man who has risen in the world, must not be condemned too harshly for being distant to former acquaintance, even though he may have been much obliged to them. It is, no doubt, to be wished that a proper degree of attention should be shewn by great men to their early friends. But if either from obtuse insensibility to difference of situation, or presumptuous forwardness, which will not submit even to an exteriour observance of it, the dignity of high
Swift liked the word. 'God forbid,' he wrote, 'that ever such a scoundrel as Want should dare to approach you.' Swift's Works, ed. 1803, xviii. 39.
1 See ante, i. 57, for Johnson's fondness for the old romances.
' Boswell, ante, i. 447, implies that Sheridan's pension was partly due to Wedderburne's influence.
Remarks upon marrying.
place cannot be preserved, when they are admitted into the company of those raised above the state in which they once were, encroachment must be repelled, and the kinder feelings sacrificed. To one of the very fortunate persons whom I have mentioned, namely, Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, I must do the justice to relate, that I have been assured by another early acquaintance of his, old Mr. Macklin', who assisted in improving his pronunciation, that he found him very grateful. Macklin, I suppose, had not pressed upon his elevation with so much eagerness as the gentleman who complained of him. Dr. Johnson's remark as to the jealousy entertained of our friends who rise far above us, is certainly very just. By this was withered the early friendship between Charles Townshend and Akenside'; and many similar instances might be adduced.
He said, 'It is commonly a weak man who marries for love.' We then talked of marrying women of fortune; and I mentioned a common remark, that a man may be, upon the whole, richer by marrying a woman with a very small portion, because a woman of fortune will be proportionally expensive; whereas a woman who brings none will be very moderate in expenses. JOHNSON. Depend upon it, Sir, this is not true. A woman of fortune being used to the handling of money, spends it judiciously: but a woman who gets the command of money for the first time upon her marriage, has such a gust in spending it, that she throws it away with great profusion.'
1 See ante, i. 447.
Akenside, in his Ode to Townshend (Book ii. 4), says :—
'For not imprudent of my loss to come,
I saw from Contemplation's quiet cell
His feet ascending to another home,
Where public praise and envied greatness dwell.' He had, however, no misgivings, for he thus ends :— 'Then for the guerdon of my lay,
“This_man_ with faithful friendship," will I say,
"From youth to honoured age my arts and me hath viewed.”'
Death of Dr. Fames.
He praised the ladies of the present age, insisting that they were more faithful to their husbands, and more virtuous in every respect, than in former times, because their understandings were better cultivated'. It was an undoubted proof of his good sense and good disposition, that he was never querulous, never prone to inveigh against the present times, as is so common when superficial minds are on the fret. On the contrary, he was willing to speak favourably of his own age; and, indeed, maintained its superiority' in every respect, except in its reverence for government; the relaxation of which he imputed, as its grand cause, to the shock which our monarchy received at the Revolution, though necessary; and secondly, to the timid concessions made to faction by successive administrations in the reign of his present Majesty. I am happy to think, that he lived to see the Crown at last recover its just influence'.
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James' was dead. I thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom he had lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-traveller much but he only said, Ah! poor Jamy.' Afterwards, however, when we were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness, 'Since I set out on this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a young
''We have now more knowledge generally diffused; all our ladies read now, which is a great extension.' Post, April 29, 1778.
2 See post, April 28, 1783.
› See post, March 22, 1783.
See post, March 18, 1784.
Newbery, the publisher, was the vendor of Dr. James's famous powder. It was known that on the doctor's death a chemist whom he had employed meant to try to steal the business, under the pretence that he alone knew the secret of the preparation. A supply of powders enough to last for many years was laid in by Newbery in anticipation, while James left an affidavit that the chemist was never employed in the manufacture. He, however, asserted that James was deprived of his mental faculties when the affidavit was made. Evidence against this was collected and published; the conclusion to the Preface being written by Johnson. A Bookseller of the Last Century, p. 138. See ante, i. 183.