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1768. your knife and your fork, across your plate, was to him
a verse :
Lay your knife and your fork, across your plīte, . As he wrote a great number of verses, he sometimes by chance made good ones, though he did not know it.”
He renewed his promise of coming to Scotland, and going with me to the Hebrides, but said he would now content himself with seeing one or two of the most curious of them. He said “ Macaulay, who writes the account of St. Kilda, set out with a prejudice against prejudice, and wanted to be a smart modern thinker; and yet he affirms for a truth, that when a ship arrives there all the inhabitants are seized with a cold.”
Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated writer, took a great deal of pains to ascertain this fact, and attempted to account for it on physical principles, from the effect of effluvia from human bodies. Johnson, at another time praised Macaulay for his “ magnanimity,” in asserting this wonderful story, because it was well attested. A Lady of Norfolk, by a letter to my
friend Dr. Burney, has favoured me with the following solution : “ Now for the explication of this seeming mystery, which is so very obvious as, for that reason, to have escaped the penetration of Dr. Johnson and his friend, as well as that of the authour. Reading the book with my ingenious friend, the late Reverend Mr. Christian of Docking after ruminating a little, “The cause, (says he,) is a natural one. The situation of St. Kilda renders a North-East Wind indispensably necessary before a stranger can land. The wind, not the stranger, occasions an epidemick cold: If I am not mistaken,
Mr. Macaulay is dead, if living, this solution might 1768. please him, as I hope it will Mr. Boswell, in return for the many agreeable hours his works have afforded us.”
Johnson expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning. “ There is here, Sir, (said he,) such a progressive emulation. The students are anxious to appear well to their tutors; the tutors are anxious to have their pupils appear well in the college; the colleges are anxious to have their students appear well in the University; and there are excellent rules of discipline in every college. That the rules are sometimes ill observed, may be true ; but is nothing against the system. The members of an University may, for a season, be unmindful of their duty. I am arguing for the excellency of the institution.”
Of Guthrie, he said, “ Sir, he is a man of parts. He has no great regular fund of knowledge; but by reading so long, and writing so long, he no doubt has picked up a good deal.”
He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown very weary before he left it. Boswell. “ I wonder at that, Sir; it is your native place.” Johnson, Why so is Scotland your native place.”
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time. When I talked of our advancement in literature, “Sir, (said he,) you have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men. Hume would never have written History, had not Voltaire written it before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.” BOSWELL. “ But, Sir, we have Lord Kames." Johnson. « You have Lord Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy
1768. you him. Do you ever see Dr. Robertson ?" Bos Ætar. 59. WELL, “ Yes, Sir.” Johnson. “ Does the dog talk
of me?" BoswELL. “ Indeed, Sir, he does, and loves you.” Thinking that I now had him in a corner, and being solicitous for the literary fame of my country, I pressed him for his opinion on the merit of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. But, to my surprize, he escaped." Sir, I love Robertson, and I won't talk of his book.”
It is but justice both to him and Dr. Robertson to add, that though he indulged himself in this sally of wit, he had too good taste not to be fully sensible of the merits of that admirable work.
An essay, written by Mr. Deane, a Divine of the Church of England, maintaining the future life of brutes, by an explication of certain parts of the scriptures, was mentioned, and the doctrine insisted on by a gentleman who seemed fond of curious speculation, Johnson, who did not like to hear of any thing concerning a future state which was not authorised by the regular canons of orthodoxy, discouraged this talk; and being offended at its continuation, he watched an opportunity to give the gentleman a blow of reprehension. So, when the poor speculatist, with a serious metaphysical pensive face, addressed him, “ But really, Sir, when we see a very sensible dog, we don't know what to think of him." Johnson, rolling with joy at the thought which beamed in his eye, turned quickly round, and replied, " True, Sir : and when we see a very foolish fellow, we don't know what to think of him.” He then rose up,
strided to the fire, and stood for some time laughing and exulting.
I told him that I had several times when in Italy, seen the experiment of placing a scorpion within a 1763. circle of burning coals; that it ran round and round in extreme pain ; and finding no way to escape, retired to the centre, and like a true Stoick philosopher, darted its sting into its head, and thus at once, freed itself from its woes." This must end’em.” I . said, this was a curious fact, as it shewed deliberate suicide in a reptile. Johnson would not admit the fact. He said, Maupertuis? was of opinion that it does not kill itself, but dies of the heat ; that it gets to the centre of the circle, as the coolest place ; that its turning its tail in upon its head is merely a convulsion, and that it does not sting itself. He said he would be satisfied if the great anatomist Morgagni, after dissecting a scorpion on which the experiment had been tried, should certify that its sting had penetrated into its head.
He seemed pleased to talk of natural philosophy. “ That woodcocks, (said he,) fly over the northern
. I should think it impossible not to wonder at the variety of Johnson's reading, however desultory it might have been. Who could bave imagined that the High Church of England-man would be so prompt in quoting Muupertuis, who, I am sorry to think, stands in the list of those unfortunate mistaken men, who call themselves esprits forts. I have, however, a high respect for that Philosopher whom the Great Frederick of Prussia loved and how noured, and addressed pathetically in one of his Poems,
“ Maupertuis cher Maupertuis
“ Que notre vie est peu de chose.” There was in Maupertuis a vigour and yet a tenderness of senti. ment, united with strong intellectual powers, and uncommon ardour of soul. Would he had been a Christian ! I cannot help earnestly venturing to hope that he is one now.
[Maupertuis died in 1759 at the age of 62, in the arms of the Bernoullis, tres Chretiennement. B.]
1768. countries, is proved; because they have been observed at sea.
Swallows certainly sleep all the winter. A Ætat. 59.
number of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then all in a heap throw themselves under water, and lye in the bed of a river.” He told us, one of his first essays was a Latin poem upon the glow-worm, I am sorry I did not ask where it was to be found.
Talking of the Russians and the Chinese, he advised me to read Bell's Travels. I asked him whether I should read Du Halde's Account of China. “Why yes, (said he) as one reads such a book; that is to
say, consult it.”
He talked of the heinousness of the crime of adultery, by which the peace of families was destroyed. He said, “ Confusion of progeny constitutes the essence of the crime ; and therefore a woman who breaks her marriage vows is much more criminal than a man who does it. A man, to be sure, is criminal in the sight of God; but he does not do his wife a very material injury, if he does not insult her ; if, for instance, from mere wantonness of appetite, he steals. privately to her chambermaid. Sir, a wife ought not greatly to resent this. I would not receive home a daughter who had run away from her husband on that account. A wife should study to reclaim her husband by more attention to please him. Sir, a man will not, once in a hundred instances, leave his wife and go to a harlot, if his wife has not been negligent of pleasing."
Here he discovered that acute discrimination, that solid judgement, and that knowledge of human nature, for which he was upon all occasions remarkable. Taking care to keep in view the moral and religious