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1769. Confess your faults one to another,' and the priests
confess as well as the laity. Then it must be considered that their absolution is only upon repentance, and often upon penance also. You think your sins may be forgiven without penance, upon repentance alone.”
I thus ventured to mention all the common objections against the Roman Catholick Church, that I might hear so great a man upon them. What he , said is here accurately recorded. But it is not improbable that if one had taken the other side, he might have reasoned differently.
I must however mention, that he had a respect for 66 the old religion," as the mild Melancthon called that of the Roman Catholick Church, even while he was exerting himself for its reformation in some particulars. Sir William Scott informs me, that he heard Johnson say, “ A man who is converted from Protestantism to Popery, may be sincere : he parts with nothing : he is only superadding to what he al. ready had. But a convert from Popery to Protestantism, gives up so much of what he has held as sacred as any thing that he retains ; their is so much laceration of mind in such a conversion, that it can hardly be sincere and lasting.” The truth of this reflection may he confirmed by many and eminent instances, some of which will occur to most of my readers.
When we were alone, I introduced the subject of death, and endeavoured to maintain that the fear of it might be got over. I told him that David Hume said to me, he was no more uneasy to think he should not be after his life, than that he had not been before he began to exist. JOHNSON. “ Sir, if he really thinks so, his perceptions are disturbed; he is mad; if he
does not think so, he lies. He
he holds 1769. his finger in the flame of a candle, without feeling Etat. 6o. pain ; would you believe him ? When he dies, he at least gives up all he has.” BOSWELL. “ Foote, Sir, told me, that when he was very ill he was not afraid to die?” JOHNSON. “ It is not true, Sir, Hold a pistol to Foote's breast, or to Hume's breast, and threaten to kill them, and you'll see how they behave.” Boswell.“ But may we not fortify our minds for the approach of death ?”—Here I am sensible I was in the wrong, to bring before his view what he ever looked upon with horrour ; for although when in a celestial frame of mind in his “ Vanity of Human Wishes,” he has supposed death to be “ kind Nature's signal for retreat," from this state of being to “ahappier seat,” his thoughts upon this aweful change were in general full of dismal apprehensions. His mind resembled the vast amphitheatre, the Coliseum at Rome. In the centre stood his judgement, which like a mighty gladiator, combated those apprehensions that, like the wild beasts of the Arena, were all around in cells, ready to be let out upon him. After a conflict, he drives them back into their dens; but not killing them, they were still assailing him. To my question, whether we might not fortify our minds for the approach of death, he answered, in a passion,
No, Sir, let it alone. It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.” He added, (with an earnest look,) " A man knows it must be so, and submits. It will do him no good to whine.”
I attempted to continue the conversation. He was so provoked, that he said : “Give us no more of this ;” and was thrown into such a state of agitation, that he expressed himself in a way that alarmed and
1769. distressed me; shewed an impatience that I should 5o leave him, and when I was going away, called to me sternly, “ Don't let us meet to-morrow.”
I went home exceedingly uneasy. All the harsh observations which I had ever heard made upon his character, crowded into my mind ; and I seemed to myself like the man who had put his head into the lion's mouth a great many times with perfect safety, but at last had it bit off.
Next morning I sent him a note, stating that I might have been in the wrong, but it was not intentionally; he was therefore, I could not help thinking, too severe upon me. That notwithstanding our agreement not to meet that day, I would call on him in my way to the city, and stay five minutes by my watch. “ You are, (said I) in my mind, since last night, surrounded with cloud and storm. Let me have a glimpse of sunshine, and go about my affairs in serenity and cheerfulness.”
Upon entering his study, I was glad that he was not alone, which would have made our ineeting more awkward. There were with him, Mr. Steevens and Mr. Tyers, both of whom I now saw for the first time. My note had, on his own reflection, softened him, for he received me very complacently; so that I unexpectedly found myself at ease ; and joined in the conversation.
He said, the criticks had done too much honour to Sir Richard Blackmore, by writing so much against him. That in his “ Creation" he had been helped by various wits, a line by Phillips and a line by Tickell ; so that by their aid, and that of others, the poem had been inade out. .
[Johnson himself has vindicated Blackmore upon this very
I defended Blackmore's supposed lines, which 1769. have been ridiculed as absolute nonsense :
Ætat. 60. " A painted vest Prince Volitger had on,
“ Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won." I maintained it to be a poetical conceit. A Pict being painted, if he is slain in battle, and a vest is made of his skin, it is a painted vest won from him, though he was naked.
“ Johnson spoke unfavourably of a certain pretty voluminous authour, saying, “ He used to write anonymous books, and then other books commend
point. See the Lives of the Poets, vol. iii. p. 75. 8vo. 1791. I. B.-0.]
? An acute correspondent of the European Magazine, April 1792, has completely exposed a mistake which has been unaccountably frequent in ascribing these lines to Blackmore, notwithstanding that Sir Richard Steele, in that very popular work “The Spectator," mentions them as written by the Authour of “ The British Princes,” the Hon. Edward Howard. The correspondent above mentioned, shews this mistake to be so inveterate, that not only I defended the lines as Blackmore's, in the presence of Dr. Johnson, without any contradiction or doubt of their authenticity, but that the Reverend Mr. Whitaker has asserted in print, that he understands they were suppressed in the late edition or editions of Blackmore. “ After all (says this intelligent writer) it is not unworthy of particular observation, that these lines, so often quoted do not exist either in Blackmore or Howard." In “ The British Princes," 8vo. 1669, now before me, p. 96, they stand thus :
“ A vest as admir'd Voltiger had on,
“ Oblig'd to triumph in this legacy." It is probable, I think, that some wag, in order to make Howard still more ridiculous than he really was, has formed the couplet as it now circulates.
1769. ing those books, in which there was something of ras
cality.” Ætat. 60.
I whispered him, Well, Sir, you are now in good humour.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, Sir.” I was going to leave him, and had got as far as the staircase. He stopped me, and smiling, said, “ Get you gone in ;” a curious mode of inviting me to stay, which I accordingly did for some time longer.
This little incidental quarrel and reconciliation, which, perhaps, I may be thought to have detailed too minutely, must be esteemed as one of many proofs which his friends had, that though he might be charged with bad humour at times, he was always a good-natured man; and I have heard Sir Joshua Reynolds, a nice and delicate observer of manners, particularly remark, that when upon any occasion Johnson had been rough to any person in company, he took the first opportunity of reconciliation, by drinking to him, or addressing his discourse to him ; but if he found his dignified indirect overtures sullenly neglected, he was quite indifferent, and considered himself as having done all that he ought to do, and the other as now in the wrong.
Being to set out for Scotland on the 10th of November, I wrote to hiin at Streatham, begging that he would meet me in town on the oth ; but if this should be very inconvenient to him, I would ther. His answer was as follows :
6 TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
6 DEAR SIR,
“ Upon balancing the inconveniencies of both