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Naples, Feb. 10, 1786. SINCE the foregoing went to press, having seen a passage from Mr. Boswell's “Tour to the Hebrides," ' in which it is said, that I could not get through Mrs. Montagu's Essay on Shakespeare, I do not delay a moment to declare, that, on the contrary, I have always commended it myself, and heard it commended by every one else; and few things would give me more concern than to be thought incapable of tasting, or unwilling to testify my opinion of its excellence.
1 See Poswell's note, vol. v. (Sept. 23, 1773).
Published in the eleventh volume, pp. 196-216, of Sir John Hawkins' Collective Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
R. JOHNSON said he always mistrusted romantick virtue,
as thinking it founded on no fixed principle. He used to say, that where secrecy or mystery began, vice or roguery was not far off; and that he leads in general an' ill life, who stands in fear of no man's observation.
When a friend of his who had not been very lucky in his first wife, married a second, he said —Alas! another instance of the triumph of hope over experience.
Of Sheridan's writings on Elocution, he said, they were a continual renovation of hope, and an unvaried succession of disappointments.
Of musick, he said, -—It is the only sensual pleasure without vice.
He used to say, that no man read long together with a folio on his table:-Books, said he, that you may carry to the fire, and hold readily in your hand, are the most useful after all.He would say, such books form the man of general and easy reading
He was a great friend to books like the French Esprits d'un tel; for example, “Beauties of Watts,” &c., &c., at which, said he, a man will often look and be tempted to go on, when he would have been frightened at books of a larger size and of a more erudite appearance.
Being once asked if he ever embellished a story—No, said he ; a story is to lead either to the knowledge of a fact or character, and is good for nothing if it be not strictly and literally true.
? Query-no ill life ?- Editor.
Round numbers, said he, are always false.
“Watts's Improvement of the Mind" was a very favourite book with him; he used to recommend it, as he also did “ Le Dictionnaire portatif” of the Abbé L'Avocat.
He has been accused of treating Lord Lyttelton roughly in his life of him; he assured a friend, however, that he kept back a very ridiculous anecdote of him, relative to a question he put to a great divine of his time.
Johnson's account of Lord Lyttelton's envy to? Shenstone for his improvements in his grounds, &c., was confirmed by an ingenious writer. Spence was in the house for a fortnight with the Lytteltons, before they offered to shew him Shenstone's place.
When accused of mentioning ridiculous anecdotes in the lives of the poets, he said, he should not have been an exact biographer if he had omitted them. The business of such a one, said he, is to give a complete account of the person whose life he is writing, and to discriminate him from all other persons by any peculiarities of character or sentiment he may happen to have.
He spoke Latin with great fluency and elegance. He said, indeed, he had taken great pains about it.
A very famous schoolmaster said, he had rather take Johnson's opinion about any Latin composition, than that of any other person in England.
Dr. Sumner, of Harrow, used to tell this story of Johnson: they were dining one day, wit many other persons, at Mrs. Macaulay's; she had talked a long time at dinner about the natural equality of mankind; Johnson, when she had finished her harangue, rose up from the table, and with great solemnity of countenance, and a bow to the ground, said to the servant, who was waiting behind his chair, Mr. John, pray be seated in my place, and permit me to wait upon you in my turn : your mistress says, you hear, that we are all equal.
When some one was lamenting Foote's unlucky fate in being kicked in Dublin, Johnson said he was glad of it; he is rising in the world, said he ; when he was in England, no one thought it worth while to kick him.
Ile was much pleased with the following repartee: Fiat expe
1 Query—of Shenstone ?_Editor.