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THE LIFE OF
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
AVING left Ashbourne in the evening, we stopped to .
change horses at Derby, and availed ourselves of a moment to enjoy the conversation of my countryman, Dr. Butter, then physician there. He was in great indignation because Lord Mountstuart's bill for a Scotch militia' had been lost. Dr. Johnson was as violent against it. 'I am glad, (said he,) that Parliament has had the spirit to throw it out. You wanted to take advantage of the timidity of our scoundrels ;' (meaning, I suppose, the ministry). It may be observed, that he used the epithet scoundrel very commonly not quite in the sense in which it is generally understood, but as a strong term of disapprobation ; as when he abruptly answered Mrs. Thrale, who had asked him how he did, 'Ready to become a scoundrel, Madam ; with a little more spoiling you will, I think, make me a complete rascal" : ' he meant, easy to become a capricious and selfindulgent valetudinarian ; a character for which I have heard him express great disgust.
'See ante, March 15, 1776.
loon, a scoundrel; lout, a scoundrel; Anecdotes of Johnson, p. 176. poltroon, a scoundrel; and that he BOSWELL. It is,' he said, “so very coined the word scoundrelism' (Bosdifficult for a sick man not to be a well's Hebrides, Aug. 25, 1773). scoundrel. Ib. p. 175.
Churchill, in The Ghost, Book ii. Fludyer a scoundrel (ante, March 20, (Poems, i. 1. 217), describes Johnson 1776), apparently because he became a Whig. 'He used to say a man was 'Who makes each sentence current a scoundrel that was afraid of any pass, thing. “Whoever thinks of going to With puppy, coxcomb, scoundrel, bed before twelve o'clock is,” he said, ass.' “a scoundrel.") Johnson's Works Swift liked the word. God forbid,' (1787), xi. 199, 211. Mr. Croker points he wrote, “that ever such a scoundrel out that ‘Johnson in his Dictionary as Want should dare to approach defined knave, a scoundrel ; sneakup, you.' Swift's Works, ed. 1803, xviii. a scoundrel; rascal, a scoundrel ; 39. VOL. III.
Johnson had with him upon this jaunt, 'Il Palmerino d'Inghilterra,' a romance' praised by Cervantes; but did not like it much. He said, he read it for the language, by way of preparation for his Italian expedition.—We lay this night at Loughborough.
On Thursday, March 28, we pursued our journey. I mentioned that old Mr. Sheridan complained of the ingratitude of Mr. Wedderburne’ and General Fraser, who had been much obliged to him when they were young Scotchmen entering upon life in England. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot keep up all his former connections. Then, Sir, those who knew him formerly upon a level with themselves, may think that they ought still to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a former situation may bring out things which it would be very disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps, every body knows of them. He placed this subject in a new light to me, and shewed that a man who has risen in the world, must not be condemned too harshly for being distant to former acquaintance, even though he may have been much obliged to them.' It is, no doubt, to be wished that a proper degree of attention should be shewn by great men to their early friends. But if either from obtuse insensibility to difference of situation, or presumptuous forwardness, which will not submit even to an exteriour observance of it, the dignity of high place cannot be preserved, when they are admitted into the company of those raised above the state in which they once were, encroachment must be repelled, and the kinder feelings sacrificed. To one of the very fortunate persons whom I have mentioned, namely, Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, I must do the justice to relate, that I have been assured by another early acquaintance of his, old Mr. Macklin?, who assisted in improving his pronunciation, that he found him very grateful. Macklin, I suppose, had not pressed upon his elevation with so much
* See ante, i. 49, for Johnson's fondness for the old romances.
Boswell, ante, i. 386, implies that
Sheridan's pension was partly due to
Ladies of the present age.
eagerness as the gentleman who complained of him. Dr. Johnson's remark as to the jealousy entertained of our friends who rise far above us, is certainly very just. By this was withered the early friendship between Charles Townshend and Akenside'; and many similar instances might be adduced.
He said, 'It is commonly a weak man who marries for love.' We then talked of marrying women of fortune ; and I mentioned a common remark, that a man may be, upon the whole, richer by marrying a woman with a very small portion, because a woman of fortune will be proportionally expensive ; whereas a woman who brings none will be very moderate in expenses. JOHNSON. “Depend upon it, Sir, this is not true. A woman of fortune being used to the handling of money, spends it judiciously: but a woman who gets the command of money for the first time upon her marriage, has such a gust in spending it, that she throws it away with great profusion.'
He praised the ladies of the present age, insisting that they were more faithful to their husbands, and more virtuous in every respect, than in former times, because their understandings were better cultivated'. It was an undoubted proof of his good sense and good disposition, that he was never querulous, never prone to inveigh against the present times, as is so common when superficial minds are on the fret. On the contrary, he was willing to speak favourably of his own age; and, indeed, maintained its superiority' in every respect, except in its reverence for government; the relaxation of which he imputed, as its grand cause, to the shock which our monarchy received at the Revolution, though necessary*; and secondly, to the timid concessions made to faction by successive administrations in the reign of his
will I say,
Akenside, in his Ode to Towns "Then for the guerdon of my lay, hend (Book ii. 4), says :-
“This man with faithful friendship,” *For not imprudent of my loss to come,
“From youth to honoured age my I saw from Contemplation's quiet arts and me hath viewed.” cell
: 'We have now more knowledge His feet ascending to another generally diffused; all our ladies home,
read now, which is a great extenWhere public praise and envied sion.' Post, April 29, 1778. greatness dwell.'
3 See post, April, 28, 1783. He had, however, no misgivings, * See post, March 22, 1783. for he thus ends :
Death of Dr. James.
present Majesty. I am happy to think, that he lived to see the Crown at last recover its just influence'.
At Leicester we read in the news-paper that Dr. James? was dead. I thought that the death of an old school-fellow, and one with whom he had lived a good deal in London, would have affected my fellow-traveller much : but he only said, 'Ah! poor Jamy. Afterwards, however, when we were in the chaise, he said, with more tenderness, 'Since I set out on this jaunt, I have lost an old friend and a young one ;-Dr. James, and poor Harry3.' (Meaning Mr. Thrale's son.)
Having lain at St. Alban's, on Thursday, March 28, we breakfasted the next morning at Barnet. I expressed to him a weakness of mind which I could not help ; an uneasy apprehension that my wife and children, who were at a great distance from me, might, perhaps, be ill. “Sir, (said her) consider how foolish you would think it in them to be apprehensive that you are illo.' This sudden turn relieved me for the moment; but I afterwards perceived it to be an ingenious fallacy. I might, to be sure, be satisfied that they had no reason to be apprehensive about me, because I knew that I myself was well: but we might have a mutual anxiety, without ? See post, March 18, 1784.
the birth of a second son who died 2 Newbery, the publisher, was the early I congratulate you upon vendor of Dr. James's famous pow your boy; but you must not think der. It was known that on the that I shall love him all at once as doctor's death a chemist whom he well as I love Harry, for Harry you had employed meant to try to steal know is so rational. I shall love the business, under the pretence that him by degrees.' Piozzi Letters, i. he alone knew the secret of the pre 206. A week after Harry's death he paration. A supply of powders wrote :- I loved him as I never enough to last for many years was expect to love any other little boy ; laid in by Newbery in anticipation, but I could not love him as a parent.' while James left an affidavit that the chemist was never employed in the Johnson had known this anxiety. manufacture. He, however, asserted He wrote to Mrs. Thrale from Ashthat James
was deprived of his bourne on July 7, 1775:- I cannot mental faculties when the affidavit think why I hear nothing from you. was made. Evidence against this I hope and fear about my dear was collected and published ; the friends at Streatham. But I may conclusion to the Preface being have a letter this afternoon-Sure it written by Johnson. A Bookseller will bring me no bad news.' Ib. i. of the Last Century, p. 138. See 263. See Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. ante, i. 159.
21, 1773. Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on
Ib. p. 310.
the charge of folly; because cach was, in some degree, uncertain as to the condition of the other.
I enjoyed the luxury of our approach to London, that metropolis which we both loved so much, for the high and varied intellectual pleasure which it furnishes! I experienced immediate happiness while whirled along with such a companion, and said to him, “Sir, you observed one day at General Oglethorpe's?, that a man is never happy for the present, but when he is drunk. Will you not add,-or when driving rapidly in a post-chaise3?' JOHNSON. “No, Sir, you are driving rapidly from something, or to something.'
Talking of melancholy, he said, 'Some men, and very thinking men too, have not those vexing thoughts*. Sir Joshua Reynolds is the same all the year round". Beauclerk, except when ill and in pain, is the same. But I believe most men have them in the degree in which they are capable of having them. If I were in the country, and were distressed by that malady, I would force myself to take a book; and every time I did it I should find it the easier. Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking..?
We stopped at Messieurs Dillys, booksellers in the Poultry ; from whence he hurried away, in a hackney coach, to Mr. See ante, ii. 75.
that the version used in Scotland is, * Ante, April 10, 1775.
upon the whole, the best ; and that 3 See ante, March 21, 1776, and it is vain to think of having a better. post, Sept. 19, 1777.
It has in general a simplicity and • The phrase "vexing thoughts,' is, unction of sacred Poesy; and in I think, very expressive. It has been many parts its transfusion is adfamiliar to me from my childhood ; mirable. BOSWELL. for it is to be found in the Psalms in 5. Burke and Reynolds are the Metre, used in the churches (I be same one day as another,' Johnson lieve I should say kirks) of Scotland, said, post, under Sept. 22, 1777. Psal. xliii. v. 5;
Boswell celebrates Reynolds's equal * Why art thou then cast down, my and placid temper,' ante, i. 1. On soul?
Aug. 12, 1775, he wrote to Temple:What should discourage thee? 'It is absurd to hope for continual And why with vexing thoughts art happiness in this life ; few men, if thou
any, enjoy it. I have a kind of beDisquieted in me?'
lief that Edmund Burke does; he Some allowance must no doubt be has so much knowledge, so much made for early prepossession. But animation, and the consciousness of at a maturer period of life, after so much fame.' Letters of Boswell, looking at various metrical versions of the Psalms, I am well satisfied 6 See ante, i. 446.