Johnson's character.

by the present age, and by posterity, with admiration and


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In Johnson's character of Boerhaave there is much that applies equally well to himself. Thus died Boerhaave, a man formed by nature for great designs, and guided by religion in the exertion of his abilities. He was of a robust and athletick constitution of body, so hardened by early severities and wholesome fatigue that he was insensible of any sharpness of air, or inclemency of weather. He was tall, and remarkable for extraordinary strength. There was in his air and motion something rough and artless, but so majestick and great at the same time, that no man ever looked upon him without veneration, and a kind of tacit submission to the superiority of his genius. . . . He was never soured by calumny and detraction, nor ever thought it necessary to confute them; "for they are sparks," said he, "which, if you do not blow them, will go out of themselves." ... He was not to be overawed or depressed by the presence, frowns, or insolence of great men; but persisted, on all occasions, in the right with a resolution always present and always calm. . . . Nor was he unacquainted with the art of recommending truth by elegance, and embellishing the philosopher with polite literature. . . . He knew the importance of his own writings to mankind, and lest he might by a roughness and barbarity of style, too frequent among men of great learning, disappoint his own intentions, and make his labours less useful, he did not neglect the politer arts of eloquence and poetry. Thus was his learning at once various and exact, profound and agreeable.... He asserted on all occasions the divine authority and sacred efficacy of the holy Scriptures; and maintained that they alone taught the way of salvation, and that they only could give peace of mind.' Johnson's Works, vi. 288.



(Page 134, note 2.)

THERE are at least three accounts of this altercation and three versions of the lines. Two of these versions nearly agree. The earliest is found in a letter by Richard Burke, senior, dated Jan. 6, 1773 (Burke Corres. i. 403); the second in the Annual Register for 1776, p. 223; and the third in Miss Reynolds's Recollections (Croker's Boswell, 8vo, p. 833). R. Burke places the scene in Reynolds's house. Whether he himself was present is not clear. The dean,' he says, 'asserted that after forty-five a man did not improve. "I differ with you, Sir," answered Johnson; "a man may improve, and you yourself have great room for improvement.” The dean was confounded, and for the instant silent. Recovering, he said, "On recollection I see no cause to alter my opinion, except I was to call it improvement for a man to grow (which I allow he may) positive, rude, and insolent, and save arguments by brutality." Neither the Annual Register nor Miss Reynolds reports the Dean's speech. But she says that 'soon after the ladies withdrew, Dr. Johnson followed them, and sitting down by the lady of the house [that is by herself, if they were at Sir Joshua's] he said, "I am very sorry for having spoken so rudely to the Dean." "You very well may, Sir." "Yes," he said, "it was highly improper to speak in that style to a minister of the gospel, and I am the more hurt on reflecting with what mild dignity he received it."' If Johnson really spoke of the Dean's mild dignity, it is clear that Richard Burke's account is wrong. But it was written just after the scene, and Boswell says there was a pretty smart altercation.' Miss Reynolds continues: When the Dean came up into the drawingroom, Dr. Johnson immediately rose from his seat, and made him sit on the sofa by him, and with such a beseeching look for pardon and with such fond gestures-literally smoothing down his arms and his knees,' &c. The Annual Register says that Barnard the next day sent the verses addressed to 'Sir Joshua Reynolds & Co.' On the next page I give Richard Burke's version of the lines, and show the various readings.

IV. 32





Appendix A.


I lately thought no man alive
Could e'er improve past forty-five,
And ventured to assert it;
The observation was not new,
But seem'd to me so just and true,
That none could controvert it.

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'No, Sir,' says Johnson, 'tis not so;
That's your mistake, and I can show
An instance, if you doubt it;

You who perhaps are You, Sir, who are near forty-eight,
May much improve, 'tis not too late;
I wish you'd set about it.'



Genius I knew was

what none can





Like thee to turn

attained invitation

study meditation

Encouraged thus to mend my faults,
I turn'd his counsel in my thoughts,
Which way I should apply it :

Learning and wit seem'd past my reach,

Annual Register.

For who can learn where none will teach? when none will

And wit-I could not buy it.

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Appendix A.


Thy art of pleasing teach me, Garrick,
Thou who reversest odes Pindarick',

A second time read o'er;

Oh! could we read thee backwards too,
Last thirty years thou shouldst review,
And charm us thirty more.

If I have thoughts and can't express 'em,
Gibbon shall teach me how to dress 'em
In terms select and terse;


Annual Reg


Jones teach me modesty-and Greek;
Smith how to think; Burke how to speak, Burk (sic).
And Beauclerk to converse.

Let Johnson teach me how to place
In fairest light each borrowed grace,
From him I'll learn to write;
Copy his clear and easy style,
And from the roughness of his file,
Grow as himself-polite.'


clear familiar


Horace Walpole, on Dec. 27, 1775, speaks of these verses as if they were fresh. They are an answer,' he writes, to a gross brutality of Dr. Johnson, to which a properer answer would have been to fling a glass of wine in his face. I have no patience with an unfortunate monster trusting to his helpless deformity for indemnity for any impertinence that his arrogance suggests, and who thinks that what he has read is an excuse for everything he says.' Horace Walpole's Letters, vi. 302. It is strange that Walpole should be so utterly ignorant of Johnson's courage and bodily strength. The date of Walpole's letter makes me suspect that Richard Burke dated his Jan. 6, 1775 (he should have written 1776), and that the blunder of a copyist has changed 1775 into 1773.

1 See ante, ii. 50, note 1.



Appendix B.


(Page 274.)

Had Boswell continued the quotation from Priestley's Illustrations of Philosophical Necessity he would have shown that though Priestley could not hate the rioters, he could very easily prosecute them.

He says:

'If as a Necessarian I cease to blame men for their vices in the ultimate sense of the word, though, in the common and proper sense of it, I continue to do as much as other persons (for how necessarily soever they act, they are influenced by a base and mischievous disposition of mind, against which I must guard myself and others in proportion as I love myself and others),' &c. Priestley's Works, iii. 508.

Of his interview with Johnson, Priestley, in his Appeal to the Public, part ii, published in 1792 (Works, xix. 502), thus writes, answering the impudent falsehood that when I was at Oxford Dr. Johnson left a company on my being introduced to it':


In fact we never were at Oxford at the same time, and the only interview I ever had with him was at Mr. Paradise's, where we dined together at his own request. He was particularly civil to me, and promised to call upon me the next time he should go through Birmingham. He behaved with the same civility to Dr. Price, when they supped together at Dr. Adams's at Oxford. Several circumstances show that Dr. Johnson had not so much of bigotry at the decline of life as had distinguished him before, on which account it is well known to all our common acquaintance, that I declined all their pressing solicitations to be introduced to him.'

Priestley expresses himself ill, but his meaning can be made Parr answered Boswell in the March number of the Gent.


Mag. for 1795, p. 179. But the evidence that he brings is rendered needless by Priestley's positive statement. May peace henceforth fall on 'Priestley's injured name.' Mrs. Barbauld's Poems, ii. 243.

When Boswell asserts that Johnson 'was particularly resolute in not giving countenance to men whose writings he considered as


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