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While Johnson was in France, he was generally very resolute in speaking Latin. It was a maxim with him that a man should not let himself down by speaking a language which he speaks imperfectly. Indeed, we must have often observed how inferiour, how much like a child a man appears, who speaks a broken tongue. When Sir Joshua Reynolds, at one of the dinners of the royal academy, presented him to a Frenchman of great distinction, he would not deign to speak French, but talked Latin, though his excellency did not understand it, owing, perhaps, to Johnson's English pronunciation : yet upon another occasion he was observed to speak French to a Frenchman of high rank, who spoke English; and being asked the reason, with some expression of surprise, he answered, “because I think my French is as good as his English.” Though Johnson understood French perfectly, he could not speak it readily, as I have observed at his first interview with General Paoli, in 1769 ; yet he wrote it, I imagine, pretty well, as appears from some of his letters in Mrs. Piozzi's collection, of which I shall transcribe one:
“A MADAME LA COMTESSE DE
“ 16th May, 1771. “ Oui, madame, le moment est arrivé, et il faut que je parte. Mais pourquoi faut il partir. Est ce que je m'ennuye? Je m'ennuyerai ailleurs. Est ce que je cherche ou quelque plaisir, ou quelque soulagement ? Je ne cherche rien, je n'espere rien. Aller voir
[See ante, vol. i. p. 87, where it is conjectured that this note was addressed to Madame de Boufflers, which the editor now sees reason to doubt. The date in Mrs. Piozzi's collection, where it first appeared, was 16th May, 1771. In Mr. Boswell's first edition it became 16th July, 1771; and in all the later editions, by a more elaborate error, 16th July, 1775. These two latter dates are mani. fest mistakes. Madame de Boufflers’ visit was in 1769, and in the May of 1771, Johnson was in London, without any intention of leaving it—so that the editor is wholly at a loss to guess to whom or on what occasion the letter was written. Perhaps it was an exercise. Ed.]
ce que j'ai vũ, etre un peu rejoué', un peu degouté, me resouvenir que la vie se passe, et qu'elle se passe en vain, me plaindre de moi, m'endurcir aux dehors ; voici le tout de ce qu'on compte pour les delices de l'année. Que Dieu vous donne, madame, tous les agrémens de la vie, avec un esprit qui peut en jouir sans s'y livrer trop?."
He spoke Latin with wonderful fluency and elegance.
When Pere Boscovich 3 was in England, Johnson dined in company with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, and at Dr. Douglas's, now Bishop of Salisbury. Upon both occasions that celebrated foreigner expressed his astonishment at Johnson's Latin conversation. [The conversation at Dr. Douglas's was at first mostly in French. Johnson, though thoroughly versed in that language, and a professed admirer of Boileau and La Bruyere, did not understand its pronunciation, nor could he speak it himself with propriety. For the rest of the evening the talk was in Latin. Boscovich had a ready current flow of that flimsy phraseology with which a priest may travel through Italy, Spain, and Germany. Johnson scorned what he called colloquial barbarisms. It was his pride to speak his best. He went on, after a little practice, with as much facility as if it was his native tongue. One sentence Mr. Murphy remembered. Observing that Fontenelle at first opposed the Newtonian philosophy, and embraced it afterwards, his words were: Fontinellus, ni fallor, in extremá senectute, fuit transfuga ad castra Newtoniana +] When at Paris, Johnson thus characterised Voltaire to Freron the journalist : “Vir est acerrimi ingenii et paucarum literarum.”
· [This letter, notwithstanding some faults, is very tolerable French ; rejoué is probably a printer's error for rejoui, and peut should be puisse.--Ed.]
[Here followed the anecdote relative to Madame de Boufflers, transferred to v. i. p. 428-Ed.]
3 [See ante, vol. i. p. 384. Boscovich was a jesuit, born at Ragusa in 1711, who first introduced the Newtonian philosophy into Italy. He visited London in 1760, and was there elected into the Royal Society. He died in 1787.-Ev.]
4 [This phrase seems rather too pompous for the occasion. Johnson had probably in his mind a passage in Seneca, quoted in Menagiana (v. ii. p. 46),
“ TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
“Edinburgh, 5th Dec. 1775. “MY DEAR SIR,- Mr. Alexander Maclean, the of Col, being to set out to-morrow for London, I give him this letter to introduce him to your acquaintance. The kindness which you and I experienced from his brother, whose unfor tunate death we sincerely lament, will make us always desirous to show attention to any branch of the family. Indeed, you have so much of the true Highland cordiality, that I am sure you would have thought me to blame if I had neglected to recommend to you this Hebridean prince, in whose island we were hospitably entertained. I ever am with respectful attachment, my dear sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
“ JAMES BOSWELL.”
Mr. Maclean returned with the most agreeable accounts of the polite attention with which he was received by Dr. Johnson.
In the course of the year Dr. Burney informs me that “he very frequently met Dr. Johnson at Mr. Thrale's, at Streatham, where they had many long conversations, often sitting up as long as the fire and candles lasted, and much longer than the patience of the servants subsisted.”
A few of Johnson's sayings, which that gentleman recollects, shall here be inserted.
“I never take a nap after dinner but when I have Burney. had a bad night, and then the nap takes me.”
“ The writer of an epitaph should not be considered as saying nothing but what is strictly true.
“Sénéque voulant dire qu'il profitait de ce qu'il y avait de bon dans les auteurs dit, “Solon sæpe in aliena castra transire ; non tanquam transfuga, sed tanquam explorator ;” and this is rendered the more probable because in the same volume of the Menagiana, and within a few pages of each other, are found two other Latin quotations, which Johnson has made use of, the one from Thuanus, “ Fami non famæ scribere existimatus Xylandrus.” See ante, vol. i. p. 182, n. The other from J. C. Scaliger, Homo ex alieno in. genio poeta, ex suo tantum versificator :” which is the motto Johnson prefixed to his version of the Messiah : ante, v. i. p. 33.-Ed.]
Burney. Allowance must be made for some degree of exag
gerated praise. In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.”
“ There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.”
“ More is learned in publick than in private schools, from emulation; there is the collision of mind with mind, or the radiation of many minds pointing to one centre. Though few boys make their own exercises, yet if a good exercise is given up, out of a great number of boys, it is made by somebody.”
“I hate by-roads in education. Education is as well known, and has long been as well known as ever it can be. Endeavouring to make children prematurely wise is useless labour. Suppose they have more knowledge at five or six years old than other children, what use can be made of it? It will be lost before it is wanted, and the waste of so much time and labour of the teacher can never be repaid. Too much is expected from precocity, and too little performed. Miss — - was an instance of early cultivation, but in what did it terminate? In marrying a little presbyterian parson, who keeps an infant boarding-school, so that all her employment now is,
• To suckle fools, and chronicle small beer.'
She tells the children, “This is a cat, and that is a dog, with four legs, and a tail; see there! you are much better than a cat or a dog, for you can speak.' If I had bestowed such an education on a daughter, and had discovered that she thought of marrying such a fellow, I would have sent her to the Congress."
(Miss Letitia Aiken, who married Mr. Barbauld, and published “ Easy Lessons for Children."--Ed.)
“ After having talked slightingly of musick, he Burney. was observed to listen very attentively while Miss Thrale played on the harpsichord; and with eagerness he called to her, “Why don't you dash away like Burney ?' Dr. Burney upon this said to him, I believe, sir, we shall make a musician of
at last.' Johnson with candid complacency replied, “Sir, I shall be glad to have a new sense given to me.'
“He had come down one morning to the breakfast-room, and been a considerable time by himself before any body appeared. When on a subsequent day he was twitted by Mrs. Thrale for being very late, which he generally was, he defended himself by alluding to the extraordinary morning, when he had been too early. Madam, I do not like to come down to vacuity.'
“Dr. Burney having remarked that Mr. Garrick was beginning to look old, he said, Why, sir, you are not to wonder at that; no man's face has had more wear and tear.'
[Mrs. Montagu's recent kindness to Miss Williams ED. was not lost on Johnson. His letters to that lady became more elaborately respectful, and his subsequent mention of her took, as we shall see, a high tone of panegyric'.] [“ DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. MONTAGU.
615th Dec. 1775. MSS. MADAM,--Having, after my return from a little ramble to France, passed some time in the country, I did not hear, till I was told by Miss Reynolds, that you were in town; and when I did hear it, I heard likewise that you were ill. To have you detained among us by sickness is to enjoy your presence at too dear a rate. I suffer myself to be flattered with hope that only half the intelligence is now true, and that you are now so well as to be able to leave us, and so kind as not to be willing.I am, madam, your most humble servant, “Sam.JOHNSON.”]
[See ante, v. i. 339, and v. ii. p. 468, n. and post, sub 26th April, 1776.. ED.)