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Levelling up.

"

I thus, Sir, shewed her the absurdity of the levelling doctrine. She has never liked me since. Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves. They would all have some people under them; why not then have some people above them?' I mentioned a certain authour who disgusted me by his forwardness, and by shewing no deference to noblemen into whose company he was admitted. JOHNSON. Suppose a shoemaker should claim an equality with him, as he does with a Lord; how he would stare. "Why, Sir, do you stare? (says the shoemaker,) I do great service to society. 'Tis true I am paid for doing it; but so are you, Sir: and I am sorry to say it, paid better than I am, for doing something not so necessary. For mankind could do better without your books, than without my shoes." Thus, Sir, there would be a perpetual struggle for precedence, were there no fixed invariable rules for the distinction of rank, which creates no jealousy, as it is allowed to be accidental.'

He said, Dr. Joseph Warton was a very agreeable man, and his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, a very pleasing book. I wondered that he delayed so long to give us the continuation of it'. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I suppose he finds himself a little disappointed, in not having been able to persuade the world to be of his opinion as to Pope.'

We have now been favoured with the concluding volume, in which, to use a parliamentary expression, he has explained, so as not to appear quite so adverse to the opinion of the world, concerning Pope, as was at first thought; and we must all

The first volume was published in 1756, the second in 1782.

* Warton, to use his own words, 'did not think Pope at the head of his profession. In other words, in that species of poetry wherein Pope excelled, he is superior to all mankind; and I only say that this species of poetry is not the most excellent one of the art.' He disposes the English poets in four classes, placing in the first only Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. In the second class should be ranked such as possessed the true poetical genius

[A.D. 1763.

in a more moderate degree, but whe had noble talents for moral, ethical, and panegyrical poetry.' In this class, in his concluding volume, he says, 'we may venture to assign Pope a place, just above Dryden. Yet, to bring our minds steadily to make this decision, we must forget, for a moment, the divine Music Ode of Dryden; and may, perhaps, then be compelled to confess that though Dryden be the greater genius, yet Pope is the better artist.' Warton's Essay, i. i, vii. and ii. 404. See post, March 31, 1772.

agree,

Aetat. 54.]

Sir James Macdonald.

agree that his work is a most valuable accession to English literature.

A writer of deserved eminence' being mentioned, Johnson said, 'Why, Sir, he is a man of good parts, but being originally poor, he has got a love of mean company and low jocularity; a very bad thing, Sir. To laugh is good, as to talk is good. But you ought no more to think it enough if you laugh, than you are to think it enough if you talk. You may laugh in as many ways as you talk; and surely every way of talking that is practised cannot be esteemed.'

I spoke of Sir James Macdonald' as a young man of most distinguished merit, who united the highest reputation at Eaton and Oxford, with the patriarchal spirit of a great Highland Chieftain. I mentioned that Sir James had said to me, that he had never seen Mr. Johnson, but he had a great respect for him, though at the same time it was mixed with some

' Mr. Croker believes Joseph Warton was meant. His father, however, had been Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and was afterwards Vicar of Basingstoke and Cobham, and Professor of Poetry in his own University, so that the son could scarcely be described as being 'originally poor.' It is, no doubt, after Boswell's fashion to introduce in consecutive paragraphs the same person once by name and once anonymously; but then the 'certain author who disgusted Boswell by his forwardness,' mentioned just before Warton, may be Warton himself.

2 "When he arrived at Eton he could not make a verse; that is, he wanted a point indispensable with us to a certain rank in our system. But this wonderful boy, having satisfied the Master [Dr. Barnard] that he was an admirable scholar, and possessed of genius, was at once placed at the head of a form. He acquired the rules of Latin verse; tried his powers; and perceiving that he could not rise above his rivals in Virgil, Ovid, or the lyric of Horace, VOL. I.

449

he took up the sermoni propiora, and there overshadowed all competitors. In the following lines he describes the hammer of the auctioneer with a mock sublimity which turns Horace into Virgil:

'Jam-jamque cadit, celerique re

cursu

Erigitur, lapsum retrahens, perque aera nutat.'

Nichols's Lit. Anec. viii. 547. Horace Walpole wrote of him in Sept. 1765 (Letters, iv. 411):- He is a very extraordinary young man for variety of learning. He is rather too wise for his age, and too fond of showing it; but when he has seen more of the world, he will choose to know less.' He died at Rome in the following year. Hume, on hearing the news, wrote to Adam Smith:'Were you and I together, dear Smith, we should shed tears at present for the death of poor Sir James Macdonald. We could not possibly have suffered a greater loss than in that valuable young man.' J. H. Burton's Hume, ii. 349. See Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 5, 1773.

degree

G g

450

Martin's Western Isles.

degree of terrour'. JOHNSON. 'Sir, if he were to be acquainted with me, it might lessen both.'

The mention of this gentleman led us to talk of the Western Islands of Scotland, to visit which he expressed a wish that then appeared to me a very romantick fancy, which I little thought would be afterwards realised?. He told me, that his father had put Martin's account of those islands into his hands when he was very young, and that he was highly pleased with it; that he was particularly struck with the St. Kilda man's notion that the high church of Glasgow had been hollowed out of a rock3; a circumstance to which old Mr. Johnson had directed his attention. He said he would go to the Hebrides with me, when I returned from my travels, unless som good companion should offer when I was absent, which he did not think probable; adding, 'There are few people to whom I take so much to as you.' And when I talked of my leaving

' Boswell says that Macdonald had for Johnson 'a great terrour.' (Boswelliana, p. 216.) Northcote (Life of Reynolds, i. 329) says:-'It is a fact that a certain nobleman, an intimate friend of Reynolds, had strangely conceived in his mind such a formidable idea of all those persons who had gained great fame as literary characters, that I have heard Sir Joshua say, he verily believed he could no more have prevailed upon this noble person to dine at the same table with Johnson and Goldsmith than with two tigers.' According to Mr. Seward (Biographiana, p. 600), Mrs. Cotterell having one day asked Dr. Johnson to introduce her to a celebrated writer, 'Dearest madam,' said he, ‘you had better let it alone; the best part of every author is in general to be found in his book, I assure you.' Mr. Seward refers to The Rambler, No. 14, where Johnson says that there has often been observed a manifest and striking contrariety between the life of an authour and his writings.'

* See post, Jan. 19, 1775. In his

[A.D. 1763.

3 6

Hebrides (p. 1) Boswell writes :-
'When I was at Ferney, in 1764,
I mentioned our design to Voltaire.
He looked at me as if I had talked of
going to the North Pole, and said,
"You do not insist on my accom-
panying you?" "No, Sir." "Then
I am very willing you should go."'
'When he went through the
streets he desired to have one to
lead him by the hand. They asked
his opinion of the high church. He
answered that it was a large rock,
yet there were some in St. Kilda
much higher, but that these were the
best caves he ever saw; for that was
the idea which he conceived of the
pillars and arches upon which the
church stands.' M. Martin's Western
Isles, p. 297. Mr. Croker compares
the passage in The Spectator (No.
50), in which an Indian king is made
to say of St. Paul's:-'It was proba
bly at first an huge misshapen rock
that grew upon the top of the hill,
which the natives of the country
(after having cut it into a kind of
regular figure) bored and hollowed
with incredible pains and industry.'

England,

A schoolboy's happiness.

451

England, he said with a very affectionate air, 'My dear Boswell, I should be very unhappy at parting, did I think we were not to meet again'.' I cannot too often remind my readers, that although such instances of his kindness are doubtless very flattering to me, yet I hope my recording them will be ascribed to a better motive than to vanity; for they afford unquestionable evidence of his tenderness and complacency, which some, while they were forced to acknowledge his great powers, have been so strenuous to deny.

He maintained that a boy at school was the happiest of human beings. I supported a different opinion, from which I have never yet varied, that a man is happier; and I enlarged upon the anxiety and sufferings which are endured at school. JOHNSON. Ah! Sir, a boy's being flogged is not so severe as a man's having the hiss of the world against him. Men have a solicitude about fame3; and the greater share they have of it, the more afraid they are of losing it.' I silently asked myself, 'Is it possible that the great SAMUEL JOHNSON really entertains any such apprehension, and is not confident that his exalted fame is established upon a foundation never to be shaken ? '

He this evening drank a bumper to Sir David Dalrymple*, 'as a man of worth, a scholar, and a wit.' 'I have (said he) never heard of him except from you; but let him know my opinion of him: for as he does not shew himself much in

Aetat. 54.]

Boswell, writing to Temple the next day, slightly varies these words: -"He said, "My dear Boswell, it would give me great pain to part with you, if I thought we were not to meet again." Letters of Boswell, p. 34.

* Gibbon (Misc. Works, i. 43) protests against the trite and lavish praise of the happiness of our boyish years, which is echoed with so much affectation in the world. That happiness I have never known, that time I have never regretted. The poet may gaily describe the short hours of recreation; but he forgets the daily tedious labours of the school, which is approached each morning with anxious and reluctant steps.'

See ante, p. 44, and post, under Feb.

27, 1772.

3 About fame Gibbon felt much as Johnson did. 'I am disgusted,' he wrote (ib. 272), 'with the affectation of men of letters, who complain that they have renounced a substance for a shadow, and that their fame (which sometimes is no insupportable weight) affords a poor compensation for envy, censure, and persecution. My own experience, at least, has taught me a very different lesson; twenty happy years have been animated by the labour of my History, and its success has given me a name, a rank, a character, in the world, to which I should not otherwise have been entitled.'

4

See ante, p. 432.

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452

THE TALE OF A TUB.

[A.D. 1763.

the world, he should have the praise of the few who hear of him.'

On Tuesday, July 26, I found Mr. Johnson alone. It was a very wet day, and I again complained of the disagreeable effects of such weather. JOHNSON. 'Sir, this is all imagination, which physicians encourage; for man lives in air, as a fish lives in water; so that if the atmosphere press heavy from above, there is an equal resistance from below. To be sure, bad weather is hard upon people who are obliged to be abroad; and men cannot labour so well in the open air in bad weather, as in good: but, Sir, a smith or a taylor, whose work is within doors, will surely do as much in rainy weather, as in fair. Some very delicate frames, indeed, may be affected by wet weather; but not common constitutions'.'

We talked of the education of children; and I asked him what he thought was best to teach them first. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is no matter what you teach them first, any more than what leg you shall put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the mean time your breech is bare. Sir, while you are considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt them both.'

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On Thursday, July 28, we again supped in private at the Turk's Head coffee-house. JOHNSON. Swift has a higher reputation than he deserves. His excellence is strong sense; for his humour, though very well, is not remarkably good. I doubt whether The Tale of a Tub be his; for he never owned it, and it is much above his usual manner2.'

1 See ante, p. 332.

2 This opinion was given by him more at large at a subsequent period. See Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. p. 32 [Aug. 16]. Boswell. 'That Swift was its authour, though it be universally believed, was never owned by himself, nor very well proved by any evidence; but no other claimant can be produced, and he did not deny it when Archbishop Sharpe and the Duchess of Somerset, by showing it to the Queen, debarred

him from a bishoprick.' Johnson's Works, viii. 197. See also post, March 24, 1775. Stockdale records (Memoirs, ii. 61) that Johnson said 'that if Swift was really the author of The Tale of a Tub, as the best of his other performances were of a very inferior merit, he should have hanged himself after he had written it.' Scott (Life of Swift, ed. 1834, p. 77) says:- Mrs. Whiteway observed the Dean, in the latter years of his life [in 1735], looking over the Tale, 'Thompson,

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