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Johnson's relish for good eating.
philosophe, and he was, for the moment, not only serious but vehement. Yet I have heard him, upon other occasions, talk with great contempt of people who were anxious to gratify their palates; and the 206th number of his Rambler is a masterly essay against gulosity'. His practice, indeed, I must acknowledge, may be considered as casting the balance of his different opinions upon this subject; for I never knew any man who relished good eating more than he did. When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment; his looks seemed rivetted to his plate; nor would he, unless when in very high company, say one word, or even pay the least attention to what was said by others, till he had satisfied his appetite, which was so fierce, and indulged with such intenseness, that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible3. To those whose sensations were delicate, this could not but be disgusting; and it was doubtless not very suitable to the character of a philosopher, who should be distinguished by self-command. But it must be owned, that Johnson, though he could be rigidly abstemious, was not a temperate man either in eating or drinking. He could refrain, but he could not use moderately. He told me, that he
and if he cannot get that well dressed, he should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things." Yet he 'used to say that a man who rode out for an appetite consulted but little the dignity of human nature.' Johnson's Works (1787), xi. 204.
This essay is more against the practices of the parasite than gulosity. It is entitled The art of living at the cost of others. Johnson wrote to one of Mrs. Thrale's children :-'Gluttony is, I think, less common among women than among men. Women commonly eat more sparingly, and are less curious in the choice of meat; but if once you find a woman gluttonous, expect from her very little virtue. Her mind is enslaved to the lowest and grossest temptation.' Piozzi Letters, ii. 298.
* Hawkins (Life, p. 355) mentions 'the greediness with which he ate, his total inattention to those among whom he was seated, and his profound silence at the moment of refection.'
3 Cumberland (Memoirs, i. 357) says:He fed heartily, but not voraciously, and was extremely courteous in his commendations of any dish that pleased his palate.'
Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on July 10, 1780-'Last week I saw flesh but twice and I think fish once; the rest was pease. You are afraid, you say, lest I extenuate myself too fast, and are an enemy to violence; but did you never hear nor read, dear Madam, that every man has his genius, and that the great rule by which all excellence is attained and all success procured, is to follow had
A critick of cookery.
had fasted two days without inconvenience, and that he had never been hungry but once'. They who beheld with wonder how much he eat upon all occasions when his dinner was to his taste, could not easily conceive what he must have meant by hunger; and not only was he remarkable for the extraordinary quantity which he eat, but he was, or affected to be, a man of very nice discernment in the science of cookery. He used to descant critically on the dishes which had been at table where he had dined or supped, and to recollect very minutely what he had liked". I remember, when he was in Scotland, his praising 'Gordon's palates,' (a dish of palates at the Honourable Alexander Gordon's) with a warmth of expression which might have done honour to more important subjects. As for Maclaurin's imitation of a made dish, it was a wretched attempt3. He about the same time was so much displeased with the performances of a nobleman's French cook, that he exclaimed with vehemence, 'I'd throw such a rascal into the river;' and he then proceeded to alarm a lady at whose house he was to sup, by the following manifesto of his skill: 'I, Madam, who live at a variety of good tables, am a much better judge of cookery, than any person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home; for his palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook; whereas,
the dishes than my thoughts. I remember you commended me for seeming pleased with my dinners when you had reduced your table; I am able to tell you with great veracity, that I never knew when the reduction began, nor should have known that it was made, had not you told me. I now think and consult to-day what I shall eat tomorrow. This disease will, I hope, be cured! Piozzi Letters, ii. 362.
Johnson's visit to Gordon and Maclaurin are just mentioned in Boswell's Hebrides, under Nov. 11, 1773.
The only nobleman with whom he dined about the same time' was Lord Elibank. After dining with him, 'he supped,' says Boswell, ‘with my wife and myself.' Ib.
Madam, in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge'. When invited to dine, even with an intimate friend, he was not pleased if something better than a plain dinner was not prepared for him. I have heard him say on such an occasion, 'This was a good dinner enough, to be sure; but it was not a dinner to ask a man tó.' On the other hand, he was wont to express, with great glee, his satisfaction when he had been entertained quite to his mind. One day when we had dined with his neighbour and landlord in Bolt-court, Mr. Allen, the printer, whose old housekeeper had studied his taste in every thing, he pronounced this eulogy: 'Sir, we could not have had a better dinner had there been a Synod of Cooks??
While we were left by ourselves, after the Dutchman had gone to bed, Dr. Johnson talked of that studied behaviour which many have recommended and practised. He disapproved of it; and said, 'I never considered whether I should be a grave man, or a merry man, but just let inclination, for the time, have its course3.'
He flattered me with some hopes that he would, in the course of the following summer, come over to Holland, and accompany me in a tour through the Netherlands.
I teized him with fanciful apprehensions of unhappiness. A moth having fluttered round the candle, and burnt itself, he laid hold of this little incident to admonish me; saying, with a sly look, and in a solemn but quiet tone, 'That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was BOSWELL.'
1 See post, April 15, 1778.
2 Mrs. Piozzi (Anec. p. 102) says, 'Johnson's own notions about eating were nothing less than delicate; a leg of pork boiled till it dropped from the bone, a veal-pie with plums and sugar, or the outside cut of a salt buttock of beef were his favourite dainties.' Cradock saw Burke at a tavern dinner send Johnson a very small piece of a pie, the crust of which was made with bad butter. 'Johnson soon returned his plate for more. Burke exclaimed :"I am glad that you are able so well to relish this pie." Johnson, not at
all pleased that what he ate should ever be noticed, retorted :-" There is a time of life, Sir, when a man requires the repairs of a table."' Cradock's Memoirs, i. 229. A passage in Baretti's Italy, ii. 316, seems to show that English eating in general was not delicate. 'I once heard a Frenchman swear,' he writes, 'that he hated the English, “parce qu'ils versent du beurre fondu sur leur veau rôti.”'
3 'He had an abhorrence of affectation,' said Mr. Langton. Post, 1780, in Mr. Langton's Collection.
Bishop Berkeley's sophistry.
Next day we got to Harwich to dinner; and my passage in the packet-boat to Helvoetsluys being secured, and my baggage put on board, we dined at our inn by ourselves. happened to say it would be terrible if he should not find a speedy opportunity of returning to London, and be confined to so dull a place. JOHNSON. 'Don't, Sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters'. It would not be terrible, though I were to be detained some time here.' The practice of using words of disproportionate magnitude, is, no doubt, too frequent every where; but, I think, most remarkable among the French, of which, all who have travelled in France must have been struck with innumerable instances.
We went and looked at the church, and having gone into it and walked up to the altar, Johnson, whose piety was constant and fervent, sent me to my knees, saying, 'Now that you are going to leave your native country, recommend yourself to the protection of your CREATOR and REDEEMER.'
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, I refute it thus? This was a stout exemplification of the first truths of Pere Bouffier3, or the original principles of Reid and of Beattie; without admitting which, we can no more argue in metaphysicks, than we can argue in methematicks without axioms. To me it is not conceivable how Berkeley can be answered by pure reasoning; but I know that the nice and difficult task was to have been undertaken by one of the most luminous minds of the present age, had not politicks 'turned him
At college he would not let his companions say prodigious. Post, April 17, 1778.
See post, Sept. 19, 1777, and 1780 in Mr. Langton's Collection. Dugald Stewart quotes a saying of Turgot:-'He who had never doubted of the existence of matter
might be assured he had no turn for metaphysical disquisitions.' Life of Reid, p. 416.
3 Claude Buffier, born 1661, died 1737. Author of Traité des premières vérités et de la source de nos juge
Boswell embarks for Holland.
from calm philosophy aside'.' What an admirable display of subtilty, united with brilliance, might his contending with Berkeley have afforded us! How must we, when we reflect on the loss of such an intellectual feast, regret that he should be characterised as the man,
'Who born for the universe narrow'd his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind3?'
My revered friend walked down with me to the beach, where we embraced and parted with tenderness, and engaged to correspond by letters. I said, 'I hope, Sir, you will not forget me in my absence.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, it is more likely you should forget me, than that I should forget you.' As the vessel put out to sea, I kept my eyes upon him for a considerable time, while he remained rolling his majestick frame in his usual manner : and at last I perceived him walk back into the town, and he disappeared1.
I 'Not when a gilt buffet's reflected
Turns you from sound philo-
Pope's Satires, ii. 5.
2 Mackintosh (Life, i. 71) said that 'Burke's treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful is rather a proof that his mind was not formed for pure philosophy; and if we may believe Boswell that it was once the intention of Mr. Burke to have written against Berkeley, we may be assured that he would not have been successful in answering that great speculator; or, to speak more correctly, that he could not have discovered the true nature of the questions in dispute, and thus have afforded the only answer consistent with the limits of the human faculties.'
3 Goldsmith's Retaliation.
I have the following autograph letter written by Johnson to Dr. Taylor three weeks after Boswell's departure.
'Having with some impatience
reckoned upon hearing from you these two last posts, and been disappointed, I can form to myself no reason for the omission but your perturbation of mind, or disorder of body arising from it, and therefore I once more advise removal from Ashbourne as the proper remedy both for the cause and the effect.
'You perhaps ask, whither should I go? any whither where your case is not known, and where your presence will cause neither looks nor whispers. Where you are the necessary subject of common talk, you will not safely be at rest.
'If you cannot conveniently write to me yourself let somebody write for you to
'Your most affectionate, 'SAM. JOHNSON.
'August 25, 1763. 'To the Reverend Dr. Taylor in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.' Five other letters on the same subject are given in Notes and