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impossible that this impudent fellow should know Crad. the truth of half what he has told us." Nay, sir,” replied Johnson, hastily,“ if we venture to come into company with Foote, we have no right, I think, to look for truth.”]
The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance was mentioned with exact precision. [Indeed one reason Piozzi, why his memory was so particularly exact might be P. 88. derived from his rigid attention to veracity ; being always resolved to relate every fact as it stood, he looked even on the smaller parts of life with minute attention, and remembered such passages as escape cursory and common observers.
His veracity was p. 234. indeed, from the most trivial to the most solemn occasions, strict even to severity ; he scorned to embellish a story with fictitious circumstances, which (he used to say) took off from its real value. “A story,” said Johnson,“ should be a specimen of life and manners; but if the surrounding circumstances are false, as it is no more a representation of reality, it is no longer worthy our attention.”] The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may mention an odd incident which he related as having happened to him one night in Fleet-street. “ A gentlewoman,” said he, “ begged I would give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I accordingly did; upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor.” This, if told by most people, would have been thought an invention; when
told by Johnson, it was believed by his friends as much as if they had seen what passed'.
[Mrs. Piozzi relates some very similar instances, which he himself told her. As he was walking along the Strand a gentleman stepped out of some neighbouring tavern, with his napkin in his hand and no hat, and stopping him as civilly as he could : “I beg your pardon, sir; but you are Dr. Johnson, I believe.” “ Yes, sir." “We have a wager depending on your reply: pray, sir, is it irreparable or irrepàirable that one should say ?” “The last I think, sir,” answered Dr. Johnson, “for the adverb [adjective] ught to follow the verb; but you had better consult my Dictionary than me, for that was the result of more thought than you will now give me time for." “No, no,” replied the gentleman, gaily, “the book I have no certainty at all of; but here is the author, to whom I referred: I have won my twenty guineas quite fairly, and am much obliged to you, sir;” so shaking Dr. Johnson kindly by the hand, he went back to finish his dinner or dessert.
He also once told Mrs. Piozzi that a young gentleman called on him one morning, and told him that, having dropped suddenly into an ample fortune, he was willing to qualify himself for genteel society by adding some literature to his other endowments, and wished to be put in an easy way of obtaining it. Johnson recommended the University; "for you read Latin, sir, with facility.” “I read it a little, to be sure, sir.” “ But do you read it with facility, I say ?” “Upon my word, sir, I do not very well know, but I rather believe not.” Dr. Johnson now began to recommend other branches of science; and,
(Miss Reynolds says, in her Recollections, that she wonders why Mr. Boswell should think this anecdote so surprising; for Johnson's dress was so mean (until his pension) that he might have been easily mistaken for a beggar.-ED.)
advising him to study natural history, there arose Piozzi
, some talk about animals, and their divisions into oviparous and viviparous: “And the cat here, sir,” said the youth who wished for instruction, “pray in which class is she?” The Doctor's patience and desire of doing good began now to give way. “ You would do well,” said he,“ to look for some person to be always about you, sir, who is capable of explaining such matters, and not come to us to know whether the cat lays eggs or not: get a discreet man to keep you company; there are many who would be glad of your table and fifty pounds a year.” The young gentleman retired, and in less than a week informed his friends, that he had fixed on a preceptor to whom no objections could be made; but when he named as such one of the most distinguished characters in our age or nation, Dr. Johnson fairly gave himself up to an honest burst of laughter, at seeing this youth at such a surprising distance from common knowledge of the world.
We landed at the Temple-stairs, where we parted.
We talked of religious orders. He said, " It is as unreasonable for a man to go into a Carthusian convent for fear of being immoral, as for a man to cut off his hands for fear he should steal.
There is, indeed, great resolution in the immediate act of dismembering himself; but when that is once done, he has no longer any merit: for though it is out of his power to steal, yet he may all his life be a thief in his heart. So when a man has once become a Carthusian, he is obliged to continue so, whether he chooses it or not. Their silence, too, is absurd. We read in the Gospel of the apostles being sent to preach,
1 [Mr. Burke.—Malone MS.-Ed.]
but not to hold their tongues. All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle. I said to the Lady Abbess of a convent, 'Madam, you are here, not for the love of virtue, but the fear of vice. She said, “She should remember this as long as she lived.'” I thought it hard to give her this view of her situation, when she could not help it; and, indeed, I wondered at the whole of what he now said ; because, both in his “Rambler” and “ Idler," he treats religious austerities with much solemnity of respect.
Finding him still persevering in his abstinence from wine, I ventured to speak to him of it. JOHNSON. “Sir, I have no objection to a man's drinking wine, if he can do it in moderation. I found myself apt to go to excess in it, and therefore, after having been for some time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to return to it. Every man is to judge for himself, according to the effects which he experiences. One of the fathers tells us, he found fasting made him so peevish that he did not practise it.”
Though he often enlarged upon the evil of intoxication, he was by no means harsh and unforgiving to those who indulged in occasional excess in wine. One of his friends, I well remember, came to sup at a tavern with him and some other gentlemen, and too plainly discovered that he had drunk too much at dinner. When one who loved mischief, thinking to produce a severe censure, asked Johnson, a few days afterwards, “Well, sir, what did your friend say to you, as an apology for being in such a situation ?" Johnson answered, “Sir, he said all that a man should say: he said he was sorry for it."
· [Probably Mr. Boswell himself.-ED.]
I heard him once give a very judicious practical advice upon the subject : “A man who has been drinking wine at all freely should never go into a new company. With those who have partaken of wine with him, he may be pretty well in unison; but he will probably be offensive, or appear ridiculous, to other people.”
He allowed very great influence to education. 6 I do not deny, sir, but there is some original difference in minds; but it is nothing in comparison of what is formed by education. We may instance the science of numbers, which all minds are equally capable of attaining!: yet we find a prodigious difference in the powers of different men, in that respect, after they are grown up, because their minds have been more or less exercised in it: and I think the same cause will explain the difference of excellence in other things, gradations admitting always some difference in the first principles.”
This is a difficult subject; but it is best to hope that diligence may do a great deal. We are sure of what it can do, in increasing our mechanical force and dexterity.
I again visited him on Monday. He took occasion to enlarge, as he often did, upon the wretchedness of a sea-life.
“A ship is worse than a gaol. There is, in a gaol, better air, better company, better conveniency of every kind; and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger. When men come to like a sea-life, they are not fit to live on land.” “Then,” said I, “it would be cruel in a father to
· [This appears to be an ill-chosen illustration. It seems, on the contrary, that there are few powers of mind so unequally given as those connected with numbers. The few who have them in any extraordinary degree, like Jedediah Buxton, and like the boys Bidder and Colborne, of our times, seem to have little other intellectual power. See accounts of Buxton in Gent. Mag. v. xxi. p. 61, and v. xxiv. p. 251.-Ed.]