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1780. To hear a man, of the weight and dignity of Johnis
son, repeating such humble attempts at poetry, had Ætat. 71.
a very amusing effect. He, however, seriously observed of the last stanza repeated by him, that it nearly comprised all the advantages that wealth can give."
"An eminent foreigner, when he was shewn the British Museum, was very troublesome with many absurd enquiries. Now there, Sir, (said he,) is the difference between an Englishman and a Frenchman. A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows any thing of the matter or not; an Englishmen is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say."
“ His unjust contempt for foreigners was, indeed, extreme. One evening, at Old Slaughter's coffeehouse, when a number of them were talking loud about little inatters, he said, “Does not this confirın old Meynell's observation-For any thing I seen foreigners are fools.”
“He said, that once, when he had a violent tooth-ach, a Frenchman accosted him thus: Ah, Monsieur, vous etudiez trop.”
4 Having spent an evening at Mr. Langton's, with the Reverend Dr. Parr, he was much pleased with the conversation of that learned gentleman ; and, after he was gone, said to Mr. Langton, Sir, I am obliged to you for having asked me this evening. Parr is a fair man. I do not know when I have had an occasion of such free controversy. It is remark
2[When the Corporation of Norwich applied to Johnson to point out to them a proper master for their Grammar-School, he Tecommended Dr. Parr, on his ceasing to be usher to Sumner at Harrow. B.]
able how much of a man's life may pass without 180. meeting with any instance of this kind of open dis
Ætat. 71. cussion.”
“ We may fairly institute a criticism between Shakspeare' and Corneille, as they both had, though in a different degree, the lights of a latter age. It is not so just between the Greek dramatick writers and Shakspeare. It may be replied to what is said by one of the remarkers on Shakspeare, that though Darius's shade had prescience, it does not necessarily follow that he had all past particulars revealed to him.”
“ Spanish plays, being wildly and improbably farcical, would please children here, as children are entertained with stories full of prodigies; their experience not being sufficient to cause them to be so readily startled at deviations from the natural course of life. The machinery of the Pagans is uninteresting to us: when a Goddess appears in Homer or Virgil, we grow weary; still more so in the Grecian tragedies, as in that kind of composition a nearer approach to Nature is intended. Yet there are good reasons for reading romances; as—the fertility of invention, the beauty of style and expression, the curiosity of seeing with what kind of performances the age and country in which they were written was delighted: for it is to be apprehended, that at the time when very wild improbable tales were well re. ceived, the people were in a barbarous state, and so on the footing of children, as has been explained.”.
“ It is evident enough that no one who writes now can use the Pagan deities and mythology; the only machinery, therefore, seems that of ministering spirits, the ghosts of thedeparted, witches, and fairies,
1780. though these latter, as the vulgar superstition con
cerning them (which, while in its force, infected at Ætat. 71.
least the imagination of those that had more advantage in education, though their reason set them free from it,) is every day wearing out, seem likely to be of little futher assistance in the machinery of poetry. As I recollect, Hammond introduces a hag or witch into one of his love elegies, where the effect is unmeaning and disgusting.”
“ The man who uses his talent of ridicule in creating or grossly exaggerating the instances he gives, who imputes absurdities that did not happen, or when a man was a little ridiculous, describes him as having been very much so, abuses his talents greatly. The great use of delineating absurdities is, that we may know how far human folly can go; the account, therefore, ought of absolute necessity to be faithful. A certain character (naming the person) as to the general cast of it, is well decribed by Garrick, but a great deal of the phraseology he uses in it, is quite his own, particularly in the proverbial comparisons, • obstinate as a pig,' &c. but I don't know whether it might not be true of Lord , that from a too great eagerness of praise and popularity, and a politeness carried to a ridiculous excess, he was likely, after asserting a thing in general, to give it up again in parts. For instance, if he had said Reynolds was the first of painters, he was capable enough of giving up, as objections might happen to be severally made, first, his outline,--then the grace in form,—then the colouring,--and lastly, to have owned that he was such a mannerist, that the disposition of his pictures was all alike."
“ For hospitality, as formerly practised, there is
no longer the same reason; heretofore the poorer people were more numerous, and from want of commerce, their means of getting a livelihood more difficult; therefore the supporting them was an act of great benevolence; now that the poor can find maintenance for themselves, and their labour is wanted, a general undiscerning hospitality tends to ill, by withdrawing thein from their work to idleness and drunkenness. Then, formerly rents were received in kind, so that there was a great abundance of provisions in possession of the owners of the lands, which since the plenty of money afforded by commerce, is no longer the case.”
“ Hospitality to strangers and foreigners in our country is now almost at an end, since, from the increase of them that come to us, there have been a sufficient number of people that have found an interest in providing inns and proper accommodations, which is in general a more expedient method for the entertainment of travellers. Where the travellers and strangers are few, more of that hospitality subsists, as it has not been worth while to provide places of accommodation. In Ireland there is still hospitality to strangers, in some degree; in Hungary and Poland probably more.
“ Colman, in a note on his translation of Terence, talking of Shakspeare's learning, asks, 'What says Farmer to this? What says Johnson?' Upon this he observed, “Sir, let Farmer answer for himself: I never engaged in this controversy. I always said, Shakspeare had Latin enough to grammaticise his English.“
“A clergyman, whom he characterised as one who loved to say little oddities, was affecting one.
1780. day, at a Bishop's table, a sort of slyness and freedom Ætat. 71.
not in character, and repeated, as if part of “The Old Man's Wish,' a song by Dr. Walter Pope, a verse bordering on licentiousness. Johnson rebuked him in the finest manner, by first shewing him that he did not know the passage he was aiming at, and thus humbling him: “Sir, that is not the song: it is thus.' And he gave it right. Then looking stedfastly on him, “Sir, there is a part of that song which I should wish to exemplify in my own life:
“May I govern my passions with absolute sway.!"
“ Being asked if Barnes knew a good deal of Greek, he answered, I doubt, Sir, he was unoculus inter cæcos."
“ He used frequently to observe, that men might be very eminent in a profession, without our perceiving any particular power of mind in them in conversation. It seems strange (said he) that a man should see so far to the right, who see so short a way to the left. Burke is the only man whose common conversation corresponds with the general fame which he has in the world. Take up whatever topick you please, he is ready to meet you.”. .“ A gentleman, by no means deficient in literature, having discovered less acquaintance with one of
3 [Johnson in his Life of Milton, after mentioning that great poet's extraordinary fancy that the world was in its decay, and that his book was to be written in an age too late for heroick poesy, thus concludes : “ However inferior to the heroes who were born in better ages, he might still be great among his contemporaries, with the hope of growing every day greater in the dwindle of posa terity; he might still be a giant among the pigmies, the one-eyed monarch of the blind.” J. B.-0.]