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The desire of knowledge.
it.' 'And yet, (said I) people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.' He then called to the boy, 'What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts ?' 'Sir (said the boy,) I would give what I have.' Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr. Johnson then turning to me, 'Sir, (said he) a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge'.'
We landed at the Old Swan", and walked to Billingsgate, where we took oars, and moved smoothly along the silver Thames. It was a very fine day. We were entertained with the immense number and variety of ships that were lying at anchor, and with the beautiful country on each side of the river.
I talked of preaching, and of the great success which those called Methodists3 have, JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is owing to their
earnest and methodical attention to devout exercises. This disposition of mind is not a novelty, or peculiar to any sect, but has been, and still may be found, in many Christians of every denomination. Johnson himself was, in a dignified manner, a Methodist. In his Rambler, No. 110, he mentions with respect 'the whole discipline of regulated piety;' and in his Prayers and Meditations, many instances occur of his anxious examination into his spiritual state. That this religious earnestness, and in particular an observation of the influence of the Holy Spirit, has sometimes degenerated into folly, and sometimes been counterfeited for base purposes, cannot be denied. But it is not, therefore, fair to decry it when genuine. The principal argument in reason and good
expressing themselves in a plain and familiar manner, which is the only way to do good to the common people, and which clergymen of genius and learning ought to do from a principle of duty, when it is suited to their congregations; a practice, for which they will be praised by men of sense'. To insist against drunkenness as a crime, because it debases reason, the noblest faculty of man, would be of no service to the common people: but to tell them that they may die in a fit of drunkenness, and shew them how dreadful that would be, cannot fail to make
sense against methodism is, that it
Oxford to Wesley and his followers, continues :-'One person with less irreverence and more learning observed, in reference to their methodical manner of life, that a new sect of Methodists was sprung up, alluding to the ancient school of physicians known by that name.' Wesley, in 1744, wrote The Humble Address to the King of the Societies in derision called Methodists. Journal, i. 437. He often speaks of the people called Methodists,' but sometimes he uses the term without any qualification. Mrs. Thrale, in 1780, wrote to Johnson - Methodist is considered always a term of reproach, I trust, because I never yet did hear that any one person called himself a Methodist.' Piozzi Letters, ii.
'Wesley said :-'We should constantly use the most common, little, easy words (so they are pure and proper) which our language affords. When first I talked at Oxford to plain people in the Castle [the prison] or the town, I observed they gaped and stared. This quickly obliged me to alter my style, and adopt the language of those I spoke to; and yet there is a dignity in their simplicity, which is not disagreeable to those of the highest rank.' Southey's Wesley, i. 431. See post, 1770, in Dr. Maxwell's Collectanea, Oct. 12, 1779, Aug. 30, 1780, and Boswell's Hebrides, Nov. 10, 1773.
A course of study.
a deep impression. Sir, when your Scotch clergy give up their homely manner, religion will soon decay in that country.' Let this observation, as Johnson meant it, be ever remembered.
I was much pleased to find myself with Johnson at Greenwich, which he celebrates in his London as a favourite scene. I had the poem in my pocket, and read the lines aloud with enthusiasm:
'On Thames's banks in silent thought we stood:
He remarked that the structure of Greenwich hospital was too magnificent for a place of charity, and that its parts were too much detached to make one great whole.
Buchanan, he said, was a very fine poet; and observed, that he was the first who complimented a lady, by ascribing to her the different perfections of the heathen goddesses2; but that Johnston3 improved upon this, by making his lady, at the same time, free from their defects.
He dwelt upon Buchanan's elegant verses to Mary Queen of Scots, Nympha Caledonia, &c., and spoke with enthusiasm of the beauty of Latin verse. 'All the modern languages (said he) cannot furnish so melodious a line as
'Formosam resonare doces Amarillida silvas*'
Afterwards he entered upon the business of the day, which was to give me his advice as to a course of study. And here I am to mention with much regret, that my record of what he said is miserably scanty. I recollect with admiration an animating blaze of eloquence, which rouzed every intellectual power in me to the highest pitch, but must have dazzled me so much, that my memory could not preserve the substance of his discourse; for
In the original, struck.
Epigram, Lib. ii. In Elizabeth. Angliæ Reg.' MALONE.
3 See Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 23. Virgil, Eclogues, i. 5. Johnson, when a boy, turned the line thus:'And the wood rings with Amarillis' name.' Ante, p. 51.
5 Boswell said of Paoli's talk about great men :-'I regret that the fire with which he spoke upon such occasions so dazzled me, that I could not recollect his sayings, so as to write them down when I retired from his presence.' Corsica, p. 197.
Nature and Fleet-street.
the note which I find of it is no more than this:-' He ran over the grand scale of human knowledge; advised me to select some particular branch to excel in, but to acquire a little of every kind.' The defect of my minutes will be fully supplied by a long letter upon the subject which he favoured me with, after I had been some time at Utrecht, and which my readers will have the pleasure to peruse in its proper place.
We walked in the evening in Greenwich Park. He asked me, I suppose, by way of trying my disposition, 'Is not this very fine?' Having no exquisite relish of the beauties of Nature', and being more delighted with the busy hum of men',' I answered, 'Yes, Sir; but not equal to Fleet-street'.' JOHNSON. 'You are right, Sir.'
I am aware that many of my readers may censure my want of taste. Let me, however, shelter myself under the authority of a very fashionable Baronet in the brilliant world, who, on his attention being called to the fragrance of a May evening in the country, observed, 'This may be very well; but, for my part, I prefer the smell of a flambeau at the play-house".
We staid so long at Greenwich, that our sail up the river, in our return to London, was by no means so pleasant as in the morning; for the night air was so cold that it made me shiver. I was the more sensible of it from having sat up all the night before, recollecting and writing in my journal what I thought worthy of preservation; an exertion, which, during the first part
1 More passages than one in Boswell's Letters to Temple shew this absence of relish. Thus in 1775 he writes:-'I perceive some dawnings of taste for the country' (p. 216); and again:- I will force a taste for natural beauties' (p. 219).
* Milton's L'Allegro, l. 118.
3 See post, April 2, 1775, and April 17, 1778.
My friend Sir Michael Le Fleming. This gentleman, with all his experience of sprightly and elegant life, inherits, with the beautiful family Domain, no inconsiderable share of that love of literature, which distinguished his venerable grandfather,
the Bishop of Carlisle. He one day observed to me, of Dr. Johnson, in a felicity of phrase, 'There is a blunt dignity about him on every occasion.' BOSWELL.
5 Wordsworth's lines to the Baronet's daughter, Lady Fleming, might be applied to the father :-'Lives there a man whose sole delights
Are trivial pomp and city noise, Hardening a heart that loathes or
What every natural heart enjoys?'
Wordsworth's Poems, iv. 338.
of my acquaintance with Johnson, I frequently made. I remember having sat up four nights in one week, without being much incommoded in the day time.
Johnson, whose robust frame was not in the least affected by the cold, scolded me, as if my shivering had been a paltry effeminacy, saying, 'Why do you shiver?' Sir William Scott', of the Commons, told me, that when he complained of a headach in the post-chaise, as they were travelling together to Scotland, Johnson treated him in the same manner: 'At your age, Sir, I had no head-ach.' It is not easy to make allowance for sensations in others, which we ourselves have not at the time. We must all have experienced how very differently we are affected by the complaints of our neighbours, when we are well and when we are ill. In full health, we can scarcely believe that they suffer much; so faint is the image of pain upon our imagination: when softened by sickness, we readily sympathize with the sufferings of others.
We concluded the day at the Turk's Head coffee-house very socially. He was pleased to listen to a particular account which I gave him of my family, and of its hereditary estate, as to the extent and population of which he asked questions, and made calculations; recommending, at the same time, a liberal kindness to the tenantry, as people over whom the proprietor was placed by Providence. He took delight in hearing my description of the romantick seat of my ancestors. I must be there, Sir, (said he) and we will live in the old castle; and if there is not a room in it remaining, we will build one.' I was highly flattered, but could scarcely indulge a hope that Auchinleck would indeed be honoured by his presence, and celebrated by a description, as it afterwards was, in his Journey to the Western Islands3.
After we had again talked of my setting out for Holland, he said, I must see thee out of England; I will accompany you to Harwich.' I could not find words to express what I
'Afterwards Lord Stowell. He was a member of Doctors' Commons, the College of Civilians in London, who practised in the Ecclesiastical Courts and the Court of the Admiralty. See Boswell's Hebrides, Aug. 14, 1773.
2 He repeated this advice on the death of Boswell's father, post, Sept. 7, 1782.
3 Johnson (Works, ix. 159) describes 'the sullen dignity of the old castle.' See also Boswell's Hebrides, Nov. 4, 1773.