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The solemn procession to Tyburn. [A.D. 1783. supported by it. Why is all this to be swept away?' I perfectly agree with Dr. Johnson upon this head, and am persuaded that executions now, the solemn procession being discontinued, have not nearly the effect which they formerly had'. Magistrates both in London, and elsewhere,
among those that crowd in thousands to the legal massacre, and look with carelessness, perhaps with triumph, on the utmost exacerbations of human misery, would then be able to return without horror and dejection.' He continues: It may be observed that all but murderers have, at their last hour, the common sensations of mankind pleading in their favour.... They who would rejoice at the correction of a thief, are yet shocked at the thought of destroying him. His crime shrinks to nothing compared with his misery, and severity defeats itself by exciting pity.'
1 Richardson, in his Familiar Letters, No. 160, makes a country gentleman in town describe the procession of five criminals to Tyburn, and their execution. He should have heard, he said, 'the exhortation spoken by the bell-man from the wall of St. Sepulchre's churchyard; but the noise of the officers and the mob was so great, and the silly curiosity of people climbing into the cart to take leave of the criminals made such a confused noise that I could not hear them. They are as follow: "All good people pray heartily to God for these poor sinners, who now are going to their deaths; for whom this great bell doth toll. You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears.... Lord have mercy upon you! Christ have mercy upon you!" which last words the bell-man repeats three times. All the way up Holborn the crowd was so great, as at every twenty or thirty yards to obstruct the passage; and wine, notwithstanding a late good order against that practice, was brought the malefactors, who drank greedily of it. After this the three thoughtless young men, who at first seemed not enough concerned, grew most shamefully daring and wanton. They swore, laughed, and talked obscenely. At the place of execution the scene grew still more shocking; and the clergyman who attended was more the subject of ridicule than of their serious attention. The psalm was sung amidst the curses and quarrelling of hundreds of the most abandoned and profligate of mankind. As soon as the poor creatures were half-dead, I was much surprised to see the populace fall to haling and pulling the carcases with so much earnestness as to occasion several warm rencounters and broken heads. These, I was told, were the friends of the persons executed, or such as for the sake of tumult chose to appear so; and some persons sent by private surgeons to obtain bodies for dissection.' The
have, I am afraid, in this had too much regard to their own ease'.
Of Dr. Hurd, Bishop of Worcester, Johnson said to a friend, Hurd, Sir, is one of a set of men who account for every thing systematically; for instance, it has been a fashion to wear scarlet breeches; these men would tell you, that according to causes and effects, no other wear could at that time have been chosen.' He, however, said of him. at another time to the same gentleman, 'Hurd, Sir, is a man whose acquaintance is a valuable acquisition.'
That learned and ingenious Prelate' it is well known published at one period of his life Moral and Political Dialogues, with a woefully Whiggish cast. Afterwards, his Lordship having thought better, came to see his errour, and republished the work with a more constitutional spirit. Johnson, however, was unwilling to allow him full credit for his political conversion. I remember when his Lordship declined the honour of being Archbishop of Canterbury, Johnson said, 'I am glad he did not go to Lambeth; for, after all, I fear he is a Whig in his heart.'
Johnson's attention to precision and clearness in expression was very remarkable. He disapproved of parentheses; and I believe in all his voluminous writings, not half a dozen
psalm is mentioned in a note on the line in The Dunciad, i. 41, 'Hence hymning Tyburn's elegiac lines:'-'It is an ancient English custom,' says Pope, 'for the malefactors to sing a psalm at their execution at Tyburn.'
The rest of these miscellaneous sayings were first given in the Additions to Dr. Johnson's Life at the beginning of vol. 1 of the second edition.
2 Hume (Auto. p. 6) speaks of Hurd as attacking him 'with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility which distingush the Warburtonian school.' 'Hurd,' writes Walpole, had acquired a great name by several works of slender merit, was a gentle, plausible man, affecting a singular decorum that endeared him highly to devout old ladies.' Journal of the Reign of George III, ii. 50. He is best known to the present generation by his impertinent notes on Addison's Works. By reprinting them, Mr. Bohn did much to spoil what was otherwise an excellent edition of that author. See ante, iv. 55, note 3.
Johnson's irritability and liberality. [A.D. 1783.
of them will be found. He never used the phrases the former and the latter, having observed, that they often occasioned obscurity; he therefore contrived to construct his sentences so as not to have occasion for them, and would even rather repeat the same words, in order to avoid them'. Nothing is more common than to mistake surnames when we hear them carelessly uttered for the first time. To prevent this, he used not only to pronounce them slowly and distinctly, but to take the trouble of spelling them; a practice which I have often followed; and which I wish were general.
Such was the heat and irritability of his blood, that not only did he pare his nails to the quick; but scraped the joints of his fingers with a pen-knife, till they seemed quite red and raw.
The heterogeneous composition of human nature was remarkably exemplified in Johnson. His liberality in giving his money to persons in distress was extraordinary. Yet there lurked about him a propensity to paultry saving. One day I owned to him that 'I was occasionally troubled with a fit of narrowness.' 'Why, Sir, (said he,) so am I. But I do not tell it.' He has now and then borrowed a shilling of me; and when I asked for it again, seemed to be rather out of humour. A droll little circumstance once occurred as if he meant to reprimand my minute exactness as a creditor, he thus addressed me;-' Boswell, lend me sixpence-not to be repaid".
This great man's attention to small things was very
The Rev. T. Twining, one of Dr. Burney's friends, wrote in 1779: -You use a form of reference that I abominate, i. e. the latter, the former. As long as you have the use of your tongue and your pen," said Dr. Johnson to Dr. Burney, “never, Sir, be reduced to that shift.” Recreations and Studies of a Country Clergyman of the XVIIIth Century, p. 72.
A shilling was now wanted for some purpose or other, and none of them happened to have one; I begged that I might lend one. "Ay, do," said the Doctor, "I will borrow of you; authors are like privateers, always fair game for one another." Mme. D'Arblay's Diary, ii. 212.
remarkable. As an instance of it, he one day said to me, 'Sir, when you get silver in change for a guinea, look carefully at it; you may find some curious piece of coin.'
Though a stern true-born Englishman', and fully prejudiced against all other nations, he had discernment enough to see, and candour enough to censure, the cold reserve too common among Englishmen towards strangers: Sir, (said he,) two men of any other nation who are shewn into a room together, at a house where they are both visitors, will immediately find some conversation. But two Englishmen will probably go each to a different window, and remain in obstinate silence. Sir, we as yet do not enough understand the common rights of humanity'.'
Johnson was at a certain period of his life a good deal with the Earl of Shelburne', now Marquis of Lansdown, as he doubtless could not but have a due value for that nobleman's activity of mind, and uncommon acquisitions of important knowledge, however much he might disapprove of other parts of his Lordship's character, which were widely different from his own.
Maurice Morgann, Esq., authour of the very ingenious Essay on the character of Falstaff*, being a particular friend
See ante, i. 150, note 1.
2 See post, June 3, 1784, where he uses almost the same words. • What this period was Boswell seems to leave intentionally vague. Johnson knew Lord Shelburne at least as early as 1778 (ante, iii. 300). He wrote to Dr. Taylor on July 22, 1782:-'Shelburne speaks of Burke in private with great malignity.' Notes and Queries, 6th S., v. 462. The company commonly gathered at his house would have been displeasing to Johnson. Priestley, who lived with Shelburne seven years, says (Auto. p. 55) that a great part of the company he saw there was like the French philosophers, unbelievers in Christianity, and even professed atheists: men who had given no proper attention to Christianity, and did not really know what it was.' Johnson was intimate with Lord Shelburne's brother. See ante, ii. 323, note 2. Johnson being asked his opinion of this Essay, answered, Why, Sir, we shall have the man come forth again; and as he has proved Falstaff to be no coward, he may prove Iago to be a very good character.' Boswell
Two anecdotes by Mr. Morgann.
[A.D. 1783. of his Lordship, had once an opportunity of entertaining Johnson for a day or two at Wickham, when its Lord was absent, and by him I have been favoured with two anecdotes.
One is not a little to the credit of Johnson's candour. Mr. Morgann and he had a dispute pretty late at night, in which Johnson would not give up, though he had the wrong side, and in short, both kept the field. Next morning, when they met in the breakfasting - room, Dr. Johnson accosted Mr. Morgann thus:-Sir, I have been thinking on our dispute last night-You were in the right'.'
The other was as follows:-Johnson, for sport perhaps, or from the spirit of contradiction, eagerly maintained that Derrick had merit as a writer. Mr. Morgann argued with him directly, in vain. At length he had recourse to this device. Pray, Sir, (said he,) whether do you reckon Derrick or Smart the best poet?' Johnson at once felt himself roused; and answered, ‘Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.'
Once, when checking my boasting too frequently of myself in company, he said to me, Boswell, you often vaunt
A writer in the European Magazine, xxx. 160, says that Johnson visited Lord Shelburne at Bowood. At dinner he repeated part of his letter to Lord Chesterfield (ante, i. 303). A gentleman arrived late. Shelburne, telling him what he had missed, went on :-'I dare say the Doctor will be kind enough to give it to us again.' 'Indeed, my Lord, I will not. I told the circumstance first for my own amusement, but I will not be dragged in as story-teller to a company.' In an argument he used some strong expressions, of which his opponent took no notice. Next morning he went up to the gentleman with great good-nature, and said, "Sir, I have found out upon reflection that I was both warm and wrong in my argument with you last night; for the first of which I beg your pardon, and for the second, I thank you for setting me right." It is clear that the second of these anecdotes is the same as that told by Mr. Morgann of Johnson and himself, and that the scene has been wrongly transferred from Wickham to Bowood. The same writer says that it was between Derrick and Boyce-not Derrick and Smart-that Johnson, in the story that follows, could not settle the precedency. See ante, i. 459.
2 See ante, i. 144, 456.