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THE LIFE OF
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
HAVING left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped to
change horses at Derby, and availed ourselves of a moment to enjoy the conversation of my countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there. He was in great indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia' had been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against it. 'I am glad, (said he,) that Parliament has had the spirit to throw it out. You wanted to take advantage of the timidity of our scoundrels;' (meaning, I suppose, the ministry). It may be observed, that he used the epithet scoundrel very commonly not quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but as a strong term of disapprobation; as when he abruptly answered Mrs. Thrale, who had asked him how he did, 'Ready to become a scoundrel, Madam; with a
le more spoiling you will, I think, make me a complete rascal':' he meant, easy to become a capricious and selfindulgent valetudinarian; a character for which I have heard him express great disgust.
1 See ante, March 15, 1776.
2 Anecdotes of Johnson, p. 176. BOSWELL. It is,' he said, ' so very difficult for a sick man not to be a scoundrel.' Ib. p. 175. He called Fludyer a scoundrel (ante, March 20, 1776), apparently because he became a Whig. 'He used to say a man was a scoundrel that was afraid of anything. "Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o'clock is," he said, "a scoundrel." Johnson's Works (1787), xi. 199, 211. Mr. Croker points out that 'Johnson in his Dictionary defined knave, a scoundrel; sneakup, a scoundrel; rascal, a scoundrel; VOL. III.
Early friends of great men.
Johnson had with him upon this jaunt, 'Il Palmerino d'Inghilterra,' a romance' praised by Cervantes; but did not like it much. He said, he read it for the language, by way of preparation for his Italian expedition. We lay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I mentioned that old Mr. Sheridan complained of the ingratitude of Mr. Wedderburne and General Fraser, who had been much obliged to him when they were young Scotchmen entering upon life in England. JOHNSON. Why, Sir, a man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot keep up all his former connections. Then, Sir, those who knew him formerly upon a level with themselves, may think that they ought still to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a former situation may bring out things which it would be very disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps, every body knows of them.' He placed this subject in a new light to me, and shewed that a man who has risen in the world, must not be condemned too harshly for being distant to former acquaintance, even though he may have been much obliged to them.' It is, no doubt, to be wished that a proper degree of attention should be shewn by great men to their early friends. But if either from obtuse insensibility to difference of situation, or presumptuous forwardness, which will not submit even to an exteriour observance of it, the dignity of high place cannot be preserved, when they are admitted into the company of those raised above the state in which they once were, encroachment must be repelled, and the kinder feelings sacrificed. To one of the very fortunate persons whom I have mentioned, namely, Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, I must do the justice to relate, that I have been assured by another early acquaintance of his, old Mr. Macklin3, who assisted in improving his pronunciation, that he found him very grateful. Macklin, I suppose, had not pressed upon his elevation with so much.
1 See ante, i. 49, for Johnson's fondness for the old romances.
2 Boswell, ante, i. 386, implies that
Sheridan's pension was partly due to
Ladies of the present age.
eagerness as the gentleman who complained of him. Dr. Johnson's remark as to the jealousy entertained of our friends who rise far above us, is certainly very just. By this was withered the early friendship between Charles Townshend and Akenside'; and many similar instances might be adduced.
He said, 'It is commonly a weak man who marries for love." We then talked of marrying women of fortune; and I mentioned a common remark, that a man may be, upon the whole, richer by marrying a woman with a very small portion, because a woman of fortune will be proportionally expensive; whereas a woman who brings none will be very moderate in expenses. JOHNSON. Depend upon it, Sir, this is not true. A woman of fortune being used to the handling of money, spends it judiciously: but a woman who gets the command of money for the first time upon her marriage, has such a gust in spending it, that she throws it away with great profusion.'
He praised the ladies of the present age, insisting that they were more faithful to their husbands, and more virtuous in every respect, than in former times, because their understandings were better cultivated". It was an undoubted proof of his good sense and good disposition, that he was never querulous, never prone to inveigh against the present times, as is so common when superficial minds are on the fret. On the contrary, he was willing to speak favourably of his own age; and, indeed, maintained its superiority3 in every respect, except in its reverence for government; the relaxation of which he imputed, as its grand cause, to the shock which our monarchy received at the Revolution, though necessary; and secondly, to the timid concessions made to faction by successive administrations in the reign of his
Death of Dr. James.
[A.D. 1776. present Majesty. I am happy to think, that he lived to see the Crown at last recover its just influence1.
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James was dead. I thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom he had lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-traveller much: but he only said, 'Ah! poor Jamy.' Afterwards, however, when we were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness, 'Since I set out on this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a young one;-Dr. James, and poor Harry3. (Meaning Mr. Thrale's son.)
Having lain at St. Alban's, on Thursday, March 28, we breakfasted the next morning at Barnet. I expressed to him a weakness of mind which I could not help; an uneasy apprehension that my wife and children, who were at a great distance from me, might, perhaps, be ill. Sir, (said he,) consider how foolish you would think it in them to be apprehensive that you are ill. This sudden turn relieved me for the moment; but I afterwards perceived it to be an ingenious fallacy. I might, to be sure, be satisfied that they had no reason to be apprehensive about me, because I knew that I myself was well: but we might have a mutual anxiety, without
See post, March 18, 1784.
Newbery, the publisher, was the vendor of Dr. James's famous powder. It was known that on the doctor's death a chemist whom he had employed meant to try to steal the business, under the pretence that he alone knew the secret of the preparation. A supply of powders enough to last for many years was laid in by Newbery in anticipation, while James left an affidavit that the chemist was never employed in the manufacture. He, however, asserted that James was deprived of his mental faculties when the affidavit was made. Evidence against this was collected and published; the conclusion to the Preface being written by Johnson. A Bookseller of the Last Century, p. 138. See ante, i. 159.
3 Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on
the charge of folly; because each was, in some degree, uncertain as to the condition of the other.
I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London, that metropolis which we both loved so much, for the high and varied intellectual pleasure which it furnishes'. I experienced immediate happiness while whirled along with such a companion, and said to him, 'Sir, you observed one day at General Oglethorpe's', that a man is never happy for the present, but when he is drunk. Will you not add,—or when driving rapidly in a post-chaise3?' JOHNSON. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, you are driving
rapidly from something, or to something.'
Talking of melancholy, he said, 'Some men, and very thinking men too, have not those vexing thoughts*. Sir Joshua Reynolds is the same all the year round. Beauclerk, except when ill and in pain, is the same. But I believe most men have them in the degree in which they are capable of having them. If I were in the country, and were distressed by that malady, I would force myself to take a book; and every time I did it I should find it the easier. Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking".'
We stopped at Messieurs Dillys, booksellers in the Poultry; from whence he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr.
3 See ante, March 21, 1776, and post, Sept. 19, 1777.
* The phrase 'vexing thoughts,' is, I think, very expressive. It has been familiar to me from my childhood ; for it is to be found in the Psalms in Metre, used in the churches (I believe I should say kirks) of Scotland, Psal. xliii. v. 5 ;
'Why art thou then cast down, my soul?
What should discourage thee? And why with vexing thoughts art thou
Disquieted in me?'
Some allowance must no doubt be made for early prepossession. But at a maturer period of life, after looking at various metrical versions of the Psalms, I am well satisfied
that the version used in Scotland is, upon the whole, the best; and that it is vain to think of having a better. It has in general a simplicity and unction of sacred Poesy; and in many parts its transfusion is admirable. BOSWELL.
5 Burke and Reynolds are the same one day as another,' Johnson said, post, under Sept. 22, 1777. Boswell celebrates Reynolds's 'equal and placid temper,' ante, i. I. On Aug. 12, 1775, he wrote to Temple:'It is absurd to hope for continual happiness in this life; few men, if any, enjoy it. I have a kind of belief that Edmund Burke does; he has so much knowledge, so much animation, and the consciousness of so much fame.' Letters of Boswell, p. 212.