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Aetat. 54. Johnson's first letter to Boswell.
Utrecht seeming at first very dull to me, after the animated scenes of London, my spirits were grievously affected; and I wrote to Johnson a plaintive and desponding letter, to which he paid no regard. Afterwards, when I had acquired a firmer tone of mind, I wrote him a second letter, expressing much anxiety to hear from him. At length I received the following epistle, which was of important service to me, and I trust, will be so to many others.
•À M. M. BOSWELL, À LA COUR DE L'EMPEREUR, UTRECHT. Dear Sir,
"You are not to think yourself forgotten, or criminally neglected, that you have had yet no letter from me.
I love to see my friends, to hear from them, to talk to them, and to talk of them ; but it is not without a considerable effort of resolution that I prevail upon myself to write. I would not, however, gratify my own
• You perhaps ask, whither should I go? any whither where your case is not known, and where your presence will cause neither looks nor whispers. Where you are the necessary subject of common talk, you will not safely be at rest.
If you cannot conveniently write to me yourself let somebody write for you to
• Dear Sir,
.Sam. Johnson.' August 25, 1763. • To the Reverend Dr. Taylor
Derbyshire.' Five other letters on the same subject are given in Notes and Queries, 6th S. v. pp. 324, 342, 382. Taylor and his wife 'never lived very well together' (p. 325), and at last she left him. On May 22nd of the next year Johnson congratulated Taylor upon the happy end of so vexatious an affair, the happyest (sic) that could be next to reformation and reconcilement' (p.382). Taylor did not follow the advice to leave Ashbourne; for on Sept. 3 Johnson wrote to him :— You seem to be so well pleased to be where you are, that I shall not now press your removal; but do not believe that every one who rails at your wise wishes well to you. A small country town is not the place in which one would chuse to quarrel with a wife; every human being in such places is a spy.' Ib. p. 343.
Johnson's first letter to Boswell.
indolence by the omission of any important duty, or any office of real kindness.
*To tell you that I am or am not well, that I have or have not been in the country, that I drank your health in the room in which we sat last together, and that your acquaintance continue to speak of you with their former kindness, topicks with which those letters are commonly filled which are written only for the sake of writing, I seldom shall think worth communicating; but if I can have it in my power to calm any harassing disquiet, to excite any virtuous desire, to rectify any important opinion, or fortify any generous resolution, you need not doubt but I shall at least wish to prefer the pleasure of gratifying a friend much less esteemed than yourself, before the gloomy calm of idle vacancy. Whether I shall easily arrive at an exact punctuality of correspondence, I cannot tell. I shall, at present, expect that you will receive this in return for two which I have had from you. The first, indeed, gave me an account so hopeless of the state of your mind, that it hardly admitted or deserved an answer ; by the second I was much better pleased : and the pleasure will still be increased by such a narrative of the progress of your studies, as may evince the continuance of an equal and rational application of your mind to some useful enquiry.
You will, perhaps, wish to ask, what study I would recommend. I shall not speak of theology, because it ought not to be considered as a question whether you shall endeavour to know the will of GOD.
'I shall, therefore, consider only such studies as we are at liberty to pursue or to neglect; and of these I know not how you will make a better choice, than by studying the civil law, as your father advises, and the ancient languages, as you had determined for yourself ; at least resolve, while you remain in any settled residence, to spend a certain number of hours every day amongst your books. The dissipation of thought, of which you complain, is nothing more than the vacillation of a mind suspended between different motives, and changing its direction as any motive gains or loses strength. If you can but kindle in your mind any strong desire, if you can but keep predominant any wish for some partic ular excellence or attainment, the gusts of imagination will break away, without any effect upon your conduct, and commonly without any traces left
the memory. There lurks, perhaps, in every human heart a desire of distinction, which inclines every man first to hope, and then to believe,
Aetat. 54.) Boswell's character sketched by Johnson. 549
that Nature has given him something peculiar to himself. This vanity makes one mind nurse aversion, and another actuate desires, till they rise by art much above their original state of power; and as affectation, in time, improves to habit, they at last tyrannise over him who at first encouraged them only for show. Every desire is a viper in the bosom, who, while he was chill, was harmless; but when warmth gave him strength, exerted it in poison. You know a gentleman, who, when first he set his foot in the gay world, as he prepared himself to whirl in the vortex of pleasure, imagined a total indifference and universal negligence to be the most agreeable concomitants of youth, and the strongest indication of an airy temper and a quick apprehension. Vacant to every object, and sensible of every impulse, he thought that all appearance of diligence would deduct something from the reputation of genius; and hoped that he should appear to attain, amidst all the ease of carelessness, and all the tumult of diversion, that knowledge and those accomplishments which mortals of the common fabrick obtain only by mute abstraction and solitary drudgery. He tried this scheme of life awhile, was made weary of it by his sense and his virtue; he then wished to return to his studies; and finding long habits of idleness and pleasure harder to be cured than he expected, still willing to retain his claim to some extraordinary prerogatives, resolved the common consequences of irregularity into an unalterable decree of destiny, and concluded that Nature had originally formed him incapable of rational employment.
‘Let all such fancies, illusive and destructive, be banished henceforward from your thoughts for ever. Resolve, and keep your resolution; choose, and pursue your choice. If you spend this day in study, you will find yourself still more able to study to-morrow; not that you are to expect that you shall at once obtain a complete victory. Depravity is not very easily overcome. Resolution will sometimes relax, and diligence will sometimes be interrupted; but let no accidental surprise or deviation, whether short or long, dispose you to despondency. Consider these failings as incident to all mankind. Begin again where you left off, and endeavour to avoid the seducements that prevailed over you before.
‘This, my dear Boswell, is advice which, perhaps, has been often given you, and given you without effect. But this advice, if you will not take from others, you must take from your own reflections, if you purpose to do the duties of the station to which the bounty of Providence has called you.
The Frisick language.
Let me have a long letter from you as soon as you can. I hope you continue your journal, and enrich it with many observations upon the country in which you reside. It will be a favour if you can get me any books in the Frisick language, and can enquire how the poor are maintained in the Seven Provinces. I am, dear Sir, *Your most affectionate servant,
*SAM. JOHNSON.' London, Dec. 8, 1763.'
I am sorry to observe, that neither in my own minutes, nor in my letters to Johnson, which have been preserved by him, can I find any information how the poor are maintained in the Seven Provinces. But I shall extract from one of my letters what I learnt concerning the other subject of his curiosity.
'I have made all possible enquiry with respect to the Frisick language, and find that it has been less cultivated than any other of the northern dialects; a certain proof of which is their deficiency of books. Of the old Frisick there are no remains, except some ancient laws preserved by Schotanus in his Beschryvinge van die Heerlykheid van Friesland; and his Historia Frisica. I have not yet been able to find these books. Professor Trotz, who formerly was of the University of Vranyken in Friesland, and is at present preparing an edition of all the Frisick laws, gave me this information. Of the modern Frisick, or what is spoken by the boors at this day, I have procured a specimen. It is Gisbert Fapix's Rymelerie, which is the only book that they have. It is amazing, that they have no translation of the bible, no treatises of devotion, nor even any of the ballads and story-books which are so agreeable to country people. You shall have Japix by the first convenient opportunity. I doubt not to pick up Schotanus. Mynheer Trotz has promised me his assistance.'
1764: ÆTAT. 55.]_Early in 1764 Johnson paid a visit to the Langton family, at their seat of Langton, in Lincolnshire, where he passed some time, much to his satisfaction'. His
According to Mrs. Piozzi (Anec. p. 210) he was accompanied by his black servant Frank. 'I must have you know, ladies,' said he, that Frank has carried the empire of Cupid further than most men. When I was in Lincolnshire so many years ago he attended me thither; and when we returned home together, I found that a female
Johnson's visit to Langton.
friend Bennet Langton, it will not be doubted, did every thing in his power to make the place agreeable to so illustrious a guest; and the elder Mr. Langton and his lady, being fully capable of understanding his value, were not wanting in attention. He, however, told me, that old Mr. Langton, though a man of considerable learning, had so little allowance to make for his occasional ‘laxity of talk',' that because in the course of discussion he sometimes mentioned what might be said in favour of the peculiar tenets of the Romish church, he went to his grave believing him to be of that communion'.
Johnson, during his stay at Langton, had the advantage of a good library, and saw several gentlemen of the neighbourhood. I have obtained from Mr. Langton the following particulars of this period.
He was now fully convinced that he could not have been satisfied with a country living®; for, talking of a respectable clergyman in Lincolnshire, he observed, 'This man, Sir, fills up the duties of his life well. I approve of him, but could not imitate him.'
To a lady who endeavoured to vindicate herself from blame for neglecting social attention to worthy neighbours, by saying, 'I would go to them if it would do them any good,' he said, What good, Madam, do you expect to have in your power to do them? It is shewing them respect, and that is doing them good.'
So socially accommodating was he, that once when Mr. Langton and he were driving together in a coach, and Mr.
haymaker had followed him to London for love.' If this story is generally true, it bears the mark of Mrs. Piozzi's usual inaccuracy. The visit was paid early in the year, and was over in February; what haymakers were there at that season?
Boswell by his quotation marks refers, I think, to his Hebrides, Oct. 24, 1773, where Johnson says:— Nobody, at times, talks more laxly than I do.' See also post, ii. 83.
* See post, April 26, 1776, for old Mr. Langton's slowness of understanding : See ante, i. 370, 371,