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to with reverence, he was placid and instructive ; but on all occasions he was proud, and generally solemn. He was extremely fond of disputation; and as he could never endure to be outdone, he uniformly contended for victory at whatever cost. He did not hesitate, in the strife, to make reason turn traitor to herself, and to support sentiments altogether opposite to what he himself seriously judged to be true and rational. If closely pressed, he had recourse to every effort of ridicule and of sophistry ; and rather than admit an error, or seem vanquished, he rose into the most boisterous vehemence of voice and manner, while at the same time he condescended to use the utmost asperity, or even gross rudeness and insolence of language. Garrick, who loved and respected him, called him a tremendous companion. Many men of letters avoided the society and conversation of a who was apt to express difference of opinion in the language of anger or of enmity, who had no respect for the feelings of others, and whose asperity of reproach, or insolence of remark, they were incapable, or unwilling to retort. Johnson, however, found in Burke, Thurlow, Windham, and various others, men of talents, who delighted in colloquial strife like himself, and found him an equal antagonist. He also found a variety of individuals who listened to his words as oracles of wisdom, and reported every sentiment, however trifling, that he uttered. A conversation concerning Johnson by Dr Robertson, the historian, and by Johnson's admirers, Ramsay the painter, Boswell, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, sufficiently explains what was thought of Johnson' by his friends, as well as by in partial persons. It
is thus reported by Boswell: “ Before Johnson
came in, we talked a good deal of him. Rama “say said he had always found him a very polite man,
and that he treated him with great respect, “ which he did very sincerely. I said, I wor
shipped him. Robertson. • But some of you “ spoil him : you should not worship him ; you “ should worship no man.' Boswell. • I can. “not help worshipping him; he is so much supe« rior to other men,' ROBERTSON. « In criti. “ cism, and in wit and conversation, he is no " doubt
excellent; but, in other respects, he ! is not above other men. He will believe any “ thing, and will strenuously defend the most mi
nute circumstance, connected with the Church “ of England.' Boswell. • Believe me, Doc“ tor, you are much mistaken as to this; for when you
talk with him çalmly in private, he is “ very liberal in his way of thinking. ROBERT
He and I have been always very gra“ cious. The first time I met with him was one “ evening at Strahan’s, when he had just had an “ unlucky altercation with Adam Smith, to whom “ he had been so rough, that Strahan, after Smith was gone,
had remonstrated with him, and told “ him that I was coming soon, and that he was uneasy to think that he might behave in the
. No, no,' said Johnson; $6! I warrant you, Robertson and I shall do very “ well. Accordingly, he was gentle, and good. " humoured, and courteous with me, the whole “ evening; and he has been so upon every occa“ sion that we have met since. I have often said,
(laughing) that I have been in a great measure
same manner to me.
“ indebted to Smith for my good reception." “ Boswell. • His power of reasoning is very “ strong ; and he has a peculiar art of drawing
characters, which is as rare as good portrait
painting.' Sir Joshua REYNOLDS. . He is “ undoubtedly admirable in this; but, in order to " mark the characters which he draws, he over“ charges them, and gives people more than they “ really have, whether of good or bad *.”
Boswell gives a statement of one of his conversations with Johnson, which may be considered as an illustration of this last remark. “I hating “ mentioned that I had passed some time with « Rousseau in his wild retreat ; and having quoted
some remark made by Mr Wilkes, with whom “ I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy, “ Johnson said, sarcastically, It seems, Sir, you “ have kept very good company abroad, Rousseau " and Wilkes. Thinking it enough to defend one " at a time, I said nothing as to my gay friend, “ but answered with a smile, My dear Sir, you “ don't call Rousseau bad company? Do you “ really think him a bad man ? JOHNSON. "Sir, “ if you are talking jestingly of this, I don't talk you,
you mean to be serious, I think “ him one of the worst of men, a rascal, who ought “ to be hunted out of society, as he has been. " Three or four nations have expelled him; and " it is a shame that he is protected in this coun
Boswell. “I don't deny, Sir, that his “ novel may perhaps do harm; but I cannot think « his intention was bad.' JOHNSON. • Sir, that Vol. I.
* Life of Johnson, by James Boswell, Esq. vol. iii.
o's will not do. We cannot prove any man's inten" tion to be bad. You
shoot a man through " the head, and say you intended to miss him; " but the judge will order you to be hanged. An “ alleged want of attention, when evil is commit
ted, will not be allowed in a court of justice. “ Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would “ sooner sign a sentence for his transportation " than that of any felon who has gone from the “Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should “ like to have him work in the plantations."
The following description, given in Lord Chesterfield's 212th Letter to his Son, is supposed to be a statement of that Nobleman's opinion of the manners and conversation of Johnson. 66 There “ is a man, whose moral character, deep learning, “ and superior parts, I acknowledge, admire, and “ respect; but whom it is so impossible for me to « love, that I am almost in a fever whenever I am “ in his company. His figure (without being de“ formed) seems made to disgrace or ridicule the “common structure of the human body. His « legs and arms are never in the position which, “ according to the situation of his body, they “ought to be in, but constantly employed in com“mitting acts of hostility upon the graces. He " throws any where but wn his throat whatever “ he means to drink, and only mangles what he
Inattentive to all the regards 66 of social life, he mis-times and mis-places every " thing. He disputes with heat, and indiscrimi“ nately mindless of the rank, character, and situa“tion of them with whom he disputes ; absolutely “ignorant of the several gradations of familiarity
he is exactly the same to his supe
means to carve.
on and respect,
“ riors, his equals, and his inferiors ; and there“ fore, by a necessary consequence, absurd to two " of the three. Is it possible to love such a man? “ No: the utmost I can do for him is, to consi. « der him as a respectable Hottentot.” It must be remarked, however, that Johnson himself denied that this character could be a description of him, because he said Lord Chesterfield never in his life saw him eat ; but the public opinion upon the subject could not originate without the existence of some degree of coincidence between his man. ners and the description here given.
Towards the latter end of Johnson's life, when prosperity began to smile upon him, and an opportunity was afforded him, particularly in the house of Mr Thrale, of mixing with polite society, he himself began to attempt to soften the asperity of his own manners, and to endeavour to mix with the world upon terms of ease and equality. He possessed too much good taste and discernment, not to perceive the advantages conferred upon their possessors by polished manners, and by that selfcommand which avoids every assumption of supe. riority, or appearance of selfishness, and seems only occupied in attempting to contribute to the happiness or the accommodation of others.
He never was entirely successful, however, in his endeavours to imitate the manners which he was probably too late of having seen. His friend, Mr Murphy, remarks, that “ He certainly wished to be polite, “ and even thought himself so; but his civility “ still retained something uncouth and harsh ; his
manners took a milder tone, but the endeavour was too palpably seen. He laboured even in