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considering for how many ages books were preserved by writing alone.
The same gentleman maintained, that a general diffusion of knowledge among a people was a disadvantage; for it made the vulgar rise above their humble sphere. JOHNSON. “Sir, while knowledge is a distinction, those who are possessed of it will naturally rise above those who are not. Merely to read and write was a distinction at first; but we see when reading and writing have become general, the common people keep their stations. And so, were higher attainments to become general, the effect would be the
“Goldsmith,” he said, “referred every thing to vanity; his virtues and his vices too were from that motive. He was not a social man. He never exchanged mind with you o.”
We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole's. Mr. Mickle, the excellent translator of “The Lusiad,” was there. I have preserved little of the conversation of this evening. Dr. Johnson said, “Thomson had a true poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels, who compiled . Cibber's Lives of the Poets, was one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then
· The authour did not recollect that of the books preserved (and an infinite number was lost) all were confined to two languages. In modern times and modern languages, France and Italy alone produce more books in a given time than Greece and Rome : put England, Spain, Germany, and the northern kingdoms out of the question.-BLAKEWAY.
(This seems not easy to understand. Poor Goldsmith was social to a fault; how he behaved in society is another matter; and as to “ exchanging mind,” his chief defect was, that he had no reserve whatsoever, and opened whatever he had in his mind with the utmost confidence of indiscretion, (see passim). Dr. Johnson, perhaps, meant that he was too much of an egotist, and thought too much of personal triumph in conversation, to be a man of agreeable social habits; yet we know that Johnson himself always considered conversation as a kind of gladiatorial exercise. En.} 3 See ante, note, p. 395, &c. VOL. III.
asked, -Is not this fine? Shiels having expressed the highest admiration—Well, sir, (said I), I have omitted every other line.”
I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day when they and I were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762. Goldsmith asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley appealed to his own Collection, and maintained, that though you could not find a palace like Dryden's “ Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,” you had villages composed of very pretty houses ; and he mentioned particularly “ The Spleen.” JOHNSON. “I think Dodsley gave up the question. He and Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a softer manner than Goldsmith did ; for he acknowledged there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit and humour in verse, and yet no poetry. “Hudibras' has a profusion of these; yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. «The Spleen,' in Dodsley's Collection, on which you say
he chiefly rested, is not poetry.” BOSWELL. “Does not Gray's poetry, sir, tower above the common mark?” Johnson. “ Yes, sir; but we must attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do if he would. Sixteen-string Jack' towered above the common mark.” BOSWELL. “Then, sir, what is poetry?” JOHNSON. “Why, sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell
what it is." Hawk.
[Gray, he said, on another occasion, was the very Apoph. p. 214. Torré” of poetry; he played his coruscations so spe
1 A noted highwayman, who, after having been several times tried and ac. quitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in his dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings at the knees of his breeches.
?[A foreigner of that name, who, some years ago, exhibited a variety of splendid fire-works at Marybone Gardens. ]
ciously, that his steel-dust is mistaken by many for a shower of gold”.]
On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's, where we met Mr. Cradock, of Leicestershire, authour of " Zobeide,” a tragedy; a very pleasing gentleman, to whom my friend Dr. Farmer's very excellent Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare is addressed ; and Dr. Harwood, who has written and published various works; particularly a fantastical translation of the New Testament, in modern phrase, and with a Socinian twist ”.
I introduced Aristotle's doctrine, in his “Art of Poetry,” of “ kabapois twv manuatwy, the purging of the passions," as the purpose of tragedy *.
“ But how are the passions to be purged by terrour and pity ?” said I, with an assumed air of ignorance, to incite him to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address. JOHNSON. “Why, sir, you are to consider what is the ineaning of purging in the original sense. It is to expel impurities from the human body. The mind is subject to the same imperfection. The passions are the great movers of human actions; but they are mixed with such impurities, that it is necessary they should be purged
[This and some subsequent extracts are from a collection of Dr. Johnson's Apophthegms, Sentiments, Opinions, and occasional Reflections," male by Sir John Hawkins, and published in the last volume of his edition of Johnson's works.—ED.]
» [Who has since published Memoirs of his own Times, of which the Editor has made occasional use.—ED.]
3 [He is more advantageously known by a work on the classics. This poor man had, about 1783, a stroke of the palsy, which rendered him a cripple, and, in 1788, he published, in the European Magazine, a letter, written to him in 1773 by Bishop Lowth, to show that the bishop, though no friend to dissenters, was kind and liberal towards him. Harwood concludes his appeal by saying, that, had be been a dishonest man, and could have conformed to the trinitarian worship of the church, he should not have been in indigent and necessitous circumstances. Bishop Lowth, he says, contributed, to the last year of his life, to relieve his wants. European Magazine, 1788, p. 413.ED.]
4 See an ingenious essay on this subject by the late Dr. Moor, Greek professor at Glasgow. Boswell. See also a learned note on this passage of Aristotle, by Mr. Twining, in his admirable translation of the Poeticks, in which the various explanations of other criticks are considered, and in which Dr. Moor's essay is particularly discussed.J. BOSWELL.
cor refined by means of terrour and pity. For instance, ambition is a noble passion; but by seeing upon the stage, that a man who is so excessively ambitious as to raise himself by injustice is punished, we are terrified at the fatal consequences of such a passion. In the same manner a certain degree of resentment is necessary; but if we see that a man carries it too far, we pity the object of it, and are taught to moderate that passion.” My record upon this occasion does great injustice to Johnson's expression, which was so forcible, and brilliant, that Mr. Cradock whispered me, "O that his words were written in a book 1 !”
I observed, the great defect of the tragedy of “Othello" was, that it had not a moral; for that no man could resist the circumstances of suspicion which were artfully suggested to Othello's mind. JOHNSON. “In the first place, sir, we learn from Othello this very useful moral, not to make an unequal match ; in the second place, we learn not to yield too readily to suspicion. The handkerchief is merely a trick, though a very pretty trick ; but there are no other circumstances of reasonable suspicion, except what is related by Iago of Cassio's warm expressions concerning Desdemona in his sleep; and that depended entirely upon the assertion of one man. No, sir, I think Othello has more moral than almost any play.”
Talking of a penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, Johnson said, “Sir, he is narrow, not so much from avarice, as from impotence to spend his money. He cannot find in his heart to pour out a bottle of wine; but he would not much care if it should sour.”
He said, he wished to see “ John Dennis's Critical
[Perhaps in allusion to, “Oh, that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book !”—Job, xix. 23...HALL.]
Works" collected. Davies said, they would not sell.
Davies said of a well known dramatick authour 1, that “ he lived upon potted stories, and that he made his way as Hannibal did, by vinegar; having begun by attacking people, particularly the players.
He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him the highest compliment that ever was paid to a layman, by asking his pardon for repeating some oaths in the course of telling a story. [He never suffered any one to swear before him. Hawk.
a libertine, but a man of some note, p. 210. was talking before him, and interlarding his stories with oaths, Johnson said, “Sir, all this swearing will do nothing for our story; I beg you will not swear.” The narrator went on swearing : Johnson said, “I must again entreat you not to swear.”
He swore again; Johnson quitted the room.]
Johnson and I supped this evening at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in company with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Mr. Nairne, now one of the Scotch judges, with the title of Lord Dunsinano, and my very worthy friend, Sir William Forbes, of Pitsligo.
We discussed the question, whether drinking improved conversation and benevolence. Sir Joshua maintained, it did. JOHNSON. “ No, sir : before dinner men meet with great inequality of understanding; and those who are conscious of their inferiority have the modesty not to talk.
When they have drunk wine, every man feels himself happy, and loses that modesty, and grows impudent and vociferous: but he is not improved : he is only not sensible of his defects.” Sir Joshua said the Doctor
' [Probably Mr. Cumbciland. -Ed.]