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Advice about composition.
very often, without some peculiarity of manner: but that manner may be good or bad, and a little care will at least preserve it from being bad to make it good, there must, I think, be something of natural or casual felicity, which cannot be taught.
'Your present method of making your sermons seems very judicious. Few frequent preachers can be supposed to have sermons more their own than yours will be. Take care to register, somewhere or other, the authours from whom your several discourses are borrowed; and do not imagine that you shall always remember, even what perhaps you now think it impossible to forget.
'My advice, however, is, that you attempt, from time to time, an original sermon; and in the labour of composition, do not burthen your mind with too much at once; do not exact from yourself at one effort of excogitation, propriety of thought and elegance of expression. Invent first, and then embellish. The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced. Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise, in the first words that occur; and, when you have matter, you will easily give it form: nor, perhaps, will this method be always necessary; for by habit, your thoughts and diction will flow together'.
'The composition of sermons is not very difficult: the divisions not only help the memory of the hearer, but direct the judgement of the writer; they supply sources of invention, and keep every part in its proper place.
'What I like least in your letter is your account of the manners of your parish; from which I gather, that it has been long neglected by the parson. The Dean of Carlisle, who was then a little rector in Northamptonshire3, told me, that it might be discerned whether or no there was a clergyman resident in a parish by the civil or savage manner of the people. Such a congregation as yours stands in need of much reformation; and I would not have you think it impossible to reform them. A very savage parish was civilised by a decayed gentlewoman, who came among them to teach a petty school. My learned friend Dr. Wheeler* of Oxford, when he was a young man, had the care of a neighbouring parish for fifteen pounds a year, which he was never paid; but he counted it a convenience that it compelled him to make a sermon weekly. One woman he could not bring to the communion; and, when he reproved or exhorted her, she only
Boswell's hopes of a future state.
438 answered, that she was no scholar. He was advised to set some good woman or man of the parish, a little wiser than herself, to talk to her in a language level to her mind. Such honest, I may call them holy artifices, must be practised by every clergyman; for all means must be tried by which souls may be saved1. Talk to your people, however, as much as you can; and you will find, that the more frequently you converse with them upon religious subjects, the more willingly they will attend, and the more submissively they will learn. A clergyman's diligence always makes him venerable. I think I have now only to say, that in the momentous work you have undertaken, I pray GoD to bless you.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
Bolt-court, Aug. 30, 1780.'
My next letters to him were dated August 24, September 6, and October 1, and from them I extract the following passages:
'My brother David and I find the long indulged fancy of our comfortable meeting again at Auchinleck, so well realised, that it in some degree confirms the pleasing hope of O! preclarum diem!2 in a future state.'
'I beg that you may never again harbour a suspicion of my indulging a peevish humour, or playing tricks; you will recollect that when I confessed to you, that I had once been intentionally silent to try your regard, I gave you my word and honour that I would not do so again3.'
'I rejoice to hear of your good state of health; I pray GoD to continue it long. I have often said, that I would willingly have ten years added to my life, to have ten taken from yours; I mean, that I would be ten years older to have you ten years younger. But let me be thankful for the years during which I have enjoyed your friendship, and please myself with the hopes of enjoying it many years to come in this state of being, trusting always, that in another state, we shall meet never to be separated. Of this we can form no notion; but the thought, though indistinct, is delightful, when the mind is calm and clear".'
The riots in London were certainly horrible; but you give me no
See ante, i. 458.
2 'O præclarum diem quum ad illud divinum animorum concilium cœtumque proficiscar." Cicero's De
Senectute, c. 23.
See ante, ii. 162.
Boswell's Yorkshire chief.
account of your own situation, during the barbarous anarchy. A description of it by DR. JOHNSON would be a great painting'; you might write another London, a Poem!'
'I am charmed with your condescending affectionate expression, "let us keep each other's kindness by all the means in our power;" my revered Friend! how elevating is it to my mind, that I am found worthy to be a companion to Dr. Samuel Johnson! All that you have said in grateful praise of Mr. Walmsley2, I have long thought of you; but we are both Tories 3, which has a very general influence upon our sentiments. I hope that you will agree to meet me at York, about the end of this month; or if you will come to Carlisle, that would be better still, in case the Dean be there. Please to consider, that to keep each other's kindness, we should every year have that free and intimate communication of mind which can be had only when we are together. We should have both our solemn and our pleasant talk.'
'I write now for the third time, to tell you that my desire for our meeting this autumn, is much increased. I wrote to 'Squire Godfrey Bosville, my Yorkshire chief, that I should, perhaps, pay him a visit, as I was to hold a conference with Dr. Johnson at York. I give you my word and honour that I said not a word of his inviting you; but he wrote to me as follows:
""I need not tell you I shall be happy to see you here the latter end of this month, as you propose; and I shall likewise be in hopes that you will persuade Dr. Johnson to finish the conference here. It will add to the favour of your own company, if you prevail upon such an associate, to assist your observations. I have often been entertained with his writings, and I once belonged to a club of which he was a member, and I never spent an evening there, but I heard something from him well worth remembering."
'We have thus, my dear Sir, good comfortable quarters in the neighbourhood of York, where you may be assured we shall be heartily welcome. I pray you then resolve to set out; and let not the year 1780 be a blank in our social calendar, and in that record of wisdom and wit, which I keep with so much diligence, to your honour, and the instruction and delight of others.'
Mr. Thrale had now another contest for the representation
I I had not then seen his letters to Mrs. Thrale. BOSWELL.
In the Life of Edmund Smith. See ante, i. 81, and Johnson's Works, vii. 380.
3 Unlike Walmsley and Johnson, of whom one was a Whig, the other
a Tory. 'Walmsley was a Whig, wrote Johnson, with all the virulence and malevolence of his party; yet difference of opinion did not keep us apart. I honoured him, and he endured me.'
See ante, ii. 169, note 2.
An address to the Electors of Southwark. [A.D. 1780.
in parliament of the borough of Southwark, and Johnson kindly lent him his assistance, by writing advertisements and letters for him. I shall insert one as a specimen :*
'TO THE WORTHY ELECTORS OF THE BOROUGH OF SOUTHWARK. 'GENTLEMEN,
'A new Parliament being now called, I again solicit the honour of being elected for one of your representatives; and solicit it with the greater confidence, as I am not conscious of having neglected my duty, or of having acted otherwise than as becomes the independent representative of independent constituents; superiour to fear, hope, and expectation, who has no private purposes to promote, and whose prosperity is involved in the prosperity of his country. As my recovery from a very severe distemper is not yet perfect, I have declined to attend the Hall, and hope an omission so necessary will not be harshly censured.
'I can only send my respectful wishes, that all your deliberations may tend to the happiness of the kingdom, and the peace of the borough. 'I am, Gentlemen,
'Your most faithful
'And obedient servant,
'Southwark, Sept. 5, 1780.'
On his birth-day, Johnson has this note:
'I am now beginning the seventy-second year of my life, with more strength of body, and greater vigour of mind, than I think is common at that age1.'
But still he complains of sleepless nights and idle days, and forgetfulness, or neglect of resolutions. He thus pathetically expresses himself,
'Surely I shall not spend my whole, life with my own total disapprobation 2.'
Mr. Macbean, whom I have
Miss Burney described an evening spent by Johnson at Dr. Burney's some weeks earlier :-'He was in high spirits and good humour, talked all the talk, affronted nobody, and delighted everybody. I never saw him more sweet, nor better attended to by his audience.' In December she wrote:- Dr. Johnson is very
mentioned more than once, as
gay, and sociable, and comfortable,
Lord Chancellor Thurlow's letter.
one of Johnson's humble friends, a deserving but unfortunate man, being now oppressed by age and poverty, Johnson solicited the Lord Chancellor Thurlow, to have him admitted into the Charterhouse. I take the liberty to insert his Lordship's answer', as I am eager to embrace every occasion of augmenting the respectable notion which should ever be entertained of my illustrious friend ::
'TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'London, October 24, 1780.
'I have this moment received your letter, dated the 19th, and returned from Bath.
'In the beginning of the summer I placed one in the Chartreux2, without the sanction of a recommendation so distinct and so authoritative as yours of Macbean; and I am afraid, that according to the establishment of the House, the opportunity of making the charity so good amends will not soon recur. But whenever a vacancy shall happen, if you'll favour me with notice of it, I will try to recommend him to the place, even though it should not be my turn to nominate. 'I am, Sir, with great regard,
'Your most faithful
'And obedient servant,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I am sorry to write you a letter that will not please you, and yet it is at last what I resolve to do. interview; the summer has been
'See Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 27. 2 The Charterhouse.
3 Macbean was, on Lord Thurlow's nomination, admitted ‘a poor brother of the Charterhouse.' Ante, i. 187. Johnson, on Macbean's death on June 26, 1784, wrote:-'He was one of those who, as Swift says, stood as a screen between me and death. has, I hope, made a good exchange. He was very pious; he was very innocent; he did no ill; and of doing good a continual tenour of distress allowed him few opportunities; he
This year must pass without an foolishly lost, like many other of
was very highly esteemed in the
Who wisely thought my age a
When death approached, to stand between.'
Swift's Works, ed. 1803, xi. 246.