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Aetat. 54.1 Mr. Thomas Sheridan's dulness.
'Thompson, I think, had as much of the poet about him as most writers. Every thing appeared to him through the medium of his favourite pursuit. He could not have viewed those two candles burning but with a poetical eye'.'
'Has not -2 a great deal of wit, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'I do not think so, Sir. He is, indeed, continually attempting wit, but he fails. And I have no more pleasure in hearing a man. attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it.'.
He laughed heartily, when I mentioned to him a saying of his concerning Mr. Thomas Sheridan, which Foote took a wicked pleasure to circulate. 'Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, Sir, is not in Nature.' 'So (said he,) I allowed him all his own merit.'
He now added, ‘Sheridan cannot bear me. I bring his declamation to a point. I ask him a plain question, 'What do you mean to teach ?' Besides, Sir, what influence can Mr. Sheridan have upon the language of this great country, by his narrow
when suddenly closing the book he muttered, in an unconscious soliloquy, "Good God! what a genius I had when I wrote that book!" She begged it of him, who made some excuse at the moment; but on her birthday he presented her with it. inscribed, "From her affectionate cousin." On observing the inscription, she ventured to say, "I wish, Sir, you had said the gift of the author!" The Dean bowed, smiled good humouredly, and answered, "No, I thank you," in a very significant manner." There is this to be said of Johnson's incredulity about the Tale of a Tub, that the History of John Bull and the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus, though both by Arbuthnot, were commonly assigned to Swift, and are printed in his Works.
Thomson thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a
man of genius; he looks round on Nature and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet;—the eye that distinguishes in everything presented to its view whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast, and attends to the minute.' Johnson's Works, viii. 377. See post, ii. 63, and April 11, 1776.
2 Burke seems to be meant. post, April 25, 1778, and Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 15, and Sept. 15, 1773. It is strange however that, while in these three places Boswell mentions Burke's name, he should leave a blank here. In Boswelliana, p. 328, Boswell records :-' Langton said Burke hammered his wit upon an anvil, and the iron was cold. There were no sparks flashing and flying all about.'
Experience the test of truth.
exertions? Sir, it is burning a farthing candle at Dover, to shew light at Calais'.'
Talking of a young man who was uneasy from thinking that he was very deficient in learning and knowledge, he said, 'A man has no reason to complain who holds a middle place, and has many below him; and perhaps he has not six of his years above him;—perhaps not one. Though he may not know any thing perfectly, the general mass of knowledge that he has acquired is considerable. Time will do for him all that is wanting.'
The conversation then took a philosophical turn. JOHNSON. 'Human experience, which is constantly contradicting theory, is the great test of truth. A system, built upon the discoveries of a great many minds, is always of more strength, than what is produced by the mere workings of any one mind, which, of itself, can do little. There is not so poor a book in the world that would not be a prodigious effort were it wrought out entirely by a single mind, without the aid of prior investigators. The French writers are superficial3; because they are not scholars, and so proceed upon the mere power of their own minds; and we see how very little power they have.'
'As to the Christian religion, Sir, besides the strong evidence which we have for it, there is a balance in its favour from the number of great men who have been convinced of its truth, after a serious consideration of the question. Grotius was an acute man, a lawyer, a man accustomed to examine evidence, and he was convinced. Grotius was not a recluse, but a man of the world, who certainly had no bias to the side of religion.
In Boswelliana (p. 214) this anecdote is thus given :-' Boswell was talking to Mr. Samuel Johnson of Mr. Sheridan's enthusiasm for the advancement of eloquence. "Sir," said Mr. Johnson, "it won't do. He cannot carry through his scheme. He is like a man attempting to stride the English Channel. Sir, the cause bears no proportion to the effect. It is setting up a candle at Whitechapel to give light at Westminster."' See also ante, p. 385, and post, Oct. 16, 1769, April 18 and May 17, 1783.
2 Most likely Boswell himself. See ante, p. 410.
3 Let a Frenchman talk twice with a minister of state, he desires no more to furnish out a volume.' Swift's Works, ed. 1803, xvi. 197. Lord Chesterfield wrote from Paris in 1741They [the Parisians] despise us, and with reason, for our ill-breeding; on the other hand, we despise them for their want of learning, and we are in the right of it.' Supplement to Chesterfield's Letters, p. 49 See Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 14, 1773
The University of Salamancha.
Sir Isaac Newton set out an infidel', and came to be a very firm believer.'
He this evening again recommended to me to perambulate Spain. I said it would amuse him to get a letter from me dated at Salamancha. JOHNSON. 'I love the University of Salamancha; for when the Spaniards were in doubt as to the lawfulness of their conquering America, the University of Salamancha gave it as their opinion that it was not lawful.' He spoke this with great emotion, and with that generous warmth which dictated the lines in his London, against Spanish encroachment3.
I expressed my opinion of my friend Derrick as but a poor writer. JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir, he is; but you are to consider that his being a literary man has got for him all that he has. It has made him King of Bath. Sir, he has nothing to say for himself but that he is a writer. Had he not been a writer, he must have been sweeping the crossings in the streets, and asking halfpence from every body that past.'
''Dr. Johnson said that he had been told by an acquaintance of Sir Isaac Newton, that in early life he started as a clamorous infidel.' Seward's Anecdotes, ii. 324. In Brewster's Life of Newton I find no mention of early infidelity. On the contrary, Newton had been described as one who had been a searcher of the Scriptures from his youth' (ii. 314). Brewster says that 'some foreign writers have endeavoured to shew that his theological writings were composed at a late period of life, when his mind was in its dotage.' It was not so, however. Ib. p. 315.
* I fully intended to have followed advice of such weight; but having staid much longer both in Germany and Italy than I proposed to do, and having also visited Corsica, I found that I had exceeded the time allowed me by my father, and hastened to France in my way homewards. BOSWELL. See ante, p. 410.
3 Has heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscovered shore?
No secret island in the boundless main?
No peaceful desert, yet unclaimed by Spain?'
Johnson looked upon the discovery of America as a misfortune to mankind. In Taxation no Tyranny (Works, vi. 233) he says that no part of the world has yet had reason to rejoice that Columbus found at last reception and employment. In the same year, in a year hitherto disastrous to mankind, by the Portuguese was discovered the passage of the Indies, and by the Spaniards the coast of America.' On March 4, 1773, he wrote (Croker's Boswell, p. 248):-'I do not much wish well to discoveries, for I am always afraid they will end in conquest and robbery.' See ante, p. 308, note 2, and post, March 21, 1775, and under Dec. 24, 1783.
See ante, p. 394, note 2.
In justice, however, to the memory of Mr. Derrick, who was my first tutor in the ways of London, and shewed me the town in all its variety of departments, both literary and sportive, the particulars of which Dr. Johnson advised me to put in writing, it is proper to mention what Johnson, at a subsequent period, said of him both as a writer and an editor: Sir, I have often said, that if Derrick's letters' had been written by one of a more established name, they would have been thought very pretty letters. And, I sent Derrick to Dryden's relations to gather materials for his life; and I believe he got all that I myself should have got3.'
Poor Derrick! I remember him with kindness. Yet I cannot with-hold from my readers a pleasant humourous sally which could not have hurt him had he been alive, and now is perfectly harmless. In his collection of poems, there is one upon entering the harbour of Dublin, his native city, after a long absence. It begins thus:
'Eblana! much lov'd city, hail!
And after a solemn reflection on his being 'numbered with forgotten dead,' there is the following stanza:
'Unless my lines protract my fame,
And those, who chance to read them, cry,
I knew him! Derrick was his name,
Which was thus happily parodied by Mr. John Home, to whom we owe the beautiful and pathetick tragedy of Douglas:
'Unless my deeds protract my fame,
1 Letters written from Leverpoole, Chester, Corke, &c., by Samuel Derrick, 1767.
Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd ed. p. 104 [Aug. 27, 1773]. BOSWELL.
3 Ibid. p. 142 [242, Sept. 22, 1773) BOSWELL. Johnson added :-'but it was nothing.' Derrick, in 1760, published Dryden's Misc. Works, with an Account of his Life.
A day at Greenwich.
I doubt much whether the amiable and ingenious author of these burlesque lines will recollect them, for they were produced extempore one evening while he and I were walking together in the dining-room at Eglintoune Castle, in 1760, and I have never mentioned them to him since.
Johnson said once to me, Sir, I honour Derrick for his presence of mind. One night, when Floyd', another poor authour, was wandering about the streets in the night, he found Derrick fast asleep upon a bulk2; upon being suddenly waked, Derrick started up, "My dear Floyd, I am sorry to see you in this destitute state; will you go home with me to my lodgings?"
I again begged his advice as to my method of study at Utrecht. 'Come, (said he) let us make a day of it. Let us go down to Greenwich and dine, and talk of it there.' The following Saturday was fixed for this excursion.
As we walked along the Strand to-night, arm in arm, a woman of the town accosted us, in the usual enticing manner. 'No, no, my girl, (said Johnson) it won't do.' He, however, did not treat her with harshness, and we talked of the wretched life of such women; and agreed, that much more misery than happiness, upon the whole, is produced by illicit commerce between the
On Saturday, July 30, Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education. JOHNSON. 'Most certainly, Sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, Sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with