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“When threescore years have chilld thee quite,
May Bates or Coulson cry.
“ The scholar's pride can Brent disarm ?
The climacteric eye ?
“ The social club, the lonely tower,
In worth or wisdom shine!
“ And while play pleases idle boys,
That useful task be thine.”
The copy of verses in Latin hexameters, as well as I remember, which he wrote to Dr. Lawrence, I forgot to keep a copy of; and he obliged me to resign his translation of the song beginning, Busy, curious, thirsty fly, for him to give Mr. Langton, with a promise not to retain a copy. I concluded he knew why, so never enquired the reason. He had the greatest possible value for Mr. Langton, of whose virtue and learning he delighted to talk in very exalted terms; and poor Dr. Lawrence had long been his friend and confidant. The conversation I saw them hold together in Essex-street one day in the year 1781 or 1782, was a melancholy one, and made a singular impression on my mind. He was himself exceedingly ill, and I accompanied him thither for advice. The physician was however, in some respects, more to be pitied than the patient: Johnson was panting under an asthma and dropsy; but Lawrence had been brought home that very morning struck with the palsy, from which he had, two hours before we came, strove to awaken himself by blisters : they were both deaf, and scarce able to speak besides ; one from difficulty of breathing, the other from paralytic debility. To give and receive medical counsel therefore, they fairly sate down on each side a table in the Doctor's gloomy apartment, adorned with skeletons, preserved monsters, &c., and agreed to write Latin billets to each other: such a scene did I never see! “ You (said Johnson) are timidè and gelidè ;" finding that his friend had prescribed palliative not drastic remedies. “ It is not me,"
replies poor Lawrence in an interrupted voice; “ 'tis nature that is gelidè and timidè.” In fact he lived but few months after I believe, and retained his faculties still a shorter time. a man of strict piety and profound learning, but little skilled in the knowledge of life or manners, and died without having ever enjoyed the reputation he so justly deserved.
Mr. Johnson's health had always been extremely bad since I first knew him, and his over-anxious care to retain without blemish the perfect sanity of his mind, contributed much to disturb it. He had studied medicine diligently in all its branches ; but had given particular attention to the diseases of the imagination, which he watched in himself with a solicitude destructive of his own peace, and intolerable to those he trusted. Dr. Lawrence told him one day, that if he would come and beat him once a week he would bear it; but to hear his complaints was more than man could support. 'Twas therefore that he tried, I suppose, and in eighteen years contrived to weary the patience of a woman. When Mr. Johnson felt his fancy, or fancied he felt it, disordered, his constant recurrence was to the study of arithmetic; and one day that he was totally confined to his chamber, and I enquired what he had been doing to divert himself; he showed me a calculation which I could scarce be made to understand, so vast was the plan of it, and so very intricate were the figures : no other indeed than that the national debt, computing it at one hundred and eighty millions sterling, would, if converted into silver, serve to make a meridian of that metal, I forgot how broad, for the globe of the whole earth, the real globe. On a similar occasion I asked him (knowing what subject he would like best to talk upon), How his opinion stood towards the question between Pascal and Soame Jenyns about number and numeration ? as the French philosopher observes that infinity, though on all sides astonishing, appears most so when the idea is connected with the idea of number; for the notions of infinite number, and infinite number we know there is, stretches one's capacity still more than the idea of infinite
space : “Such a notion indeed (adds he) can scarcely find room in the human mind." Our English author on the other hand exclaims, let no man give himself leave to talk about infinite number, for infinite number is a contradiction in terms; whatever is once numbered, we all see cannot be infinite.
“ I think (said Mr. Johnson after a pause) we must settle the matter thus: numeration is certainly infinite, for eternity might be employed in
adding unit to unit; but every number is in itself finite, as the possibility of doubling it easily proves: besides, stop at what point you will, you find yourself as far from infinitude as ever.” These passages I wrote down as soon as I had heard them, and repent that I did not take the same method with a dissertation he made one other day that he was very ill, concerning the peculiar properties of the number Sixteen, which I afterwards tried, but in vain, to make him repeat.
As ethics or figures, or metaphysical reasoning, was the sort of talk he most delighted in, so no kind of conversation pleased him less I think, than when the subject was historical fact or general polity. “ What shall we learn from that stuff (said he) ? let us not fancy like Swift that we are exalting a woman's character by telling how she
« Could name the ancient heroes round,
Explain for what they were renown'd,' &c.” I must not however lead my readers to suppose that he meant to reserve such talk for men's company as a proof of pre-eminence. “ He never (as he expressed it) desired to hear of the Punic war while he lived: such conversation was lost time (he said), and carried one away from common life, leaving no ideas behind which could serve living wight as warning or direction.”
“ How I should act is not the case,
But how would Brutus in my place ?” “And now (cries Mr. Johnson, laughing with obstreperous violence,) if these two foolish lines can be equalled in folly, except by the two succeeding ones—shew them me.”
I asked him once concerning the conversation powers of a gentleman with whom I was myself unacquainted—“He talked to me at club one day. (replies our Doctor) concerning Catiline's conspiracy—so I withdrew my attention, and thought about Tom
Modern politics fared no better. I was one time extolling the character of a statesman, and expatiating on the skill required to direct the different currents, reconcile the jarring interests, &c. “ Thus (replies he) a mill is a complicated piece of mechanism enough, but the water is no part of the workmanship.”—On another occasion, when some one lamented the weakness of a then present minister, and complained that he was dull and tardy, and
knew little of affairs,—“You may as well complain, Sir (says Johnson), that the accounts of time are kept by the clock; for he certainly does stand still upon the stair-head—and we all know that he is no great chronologer.”—In the year 1777, or there. abouts, when all the talk was of an invasion,' he said most pathetically one afternoon, “ Alas! alas ! how this unmeaning stuff spoils all my comfort in my friends' conversation ! Will the people never have done with it; and shall I never hear a sentence again without the French in it? Here is no invasion coming, and you know there is none. Let the vexatious and frivolous talk alone, or suffer it at least to teach you one truth; and learn by this perpetual echo of even unapprehended distress, how historians magnify events expected, or calamities endured; when
know they are at this very moment collecting all the big words they can find, in which to describe a consternation never felt, for a misfortune which never happened. Among all your lamentations, who eats the less ? Who sleeps the worse, for one general's ill success, or another's capitulation? Oh, pray let us hear no more of it!”—No man however was more zealously attached to his party; he not only loved a tory himself, but he loved a man the better if he heard he hated a whig. “Dear Bathurst (said he to me one day) was a man to my very heart's content: he hated a fool, and he hated a rogue, and he hated a whig; he was a very good hater."
Some one mentioned a gentleman of that party for having behaved oddly on an occasion where faction was not concerned :“ Is he not a citizen of London, a native of North America, and a whig ? (says Johnson)-Let him be absurd, I beg of you: when a monkey is too like a man, it shocks one.”
Severity towards the poor was, in Dr. Johnson's opinion (as is visible in his Life of Addison particularly), an undoubted and constant attendant or consequence upon whiggism; and he was not contented with giving them relief, he wished to add also indulgence. He loved the poor as I never yet saw any one else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy.—What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to common beggars ? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. “ And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure,
See Life, April 28, 1778.
reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.” In consequence of these principles he nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his little income could secure them : and commonly spending the middle of the week at our house, he kept his numerous family in Fleet-street upon a settled allowance; but returned to them every Saturday, to give them three good dinners, and his company, before he came back to us on the Monday night-treating them with the same, or perhaps more ceremonious civility, than he would have done by as many people of fashion-making the holy scriptures thus the rule of his conduct, and only expecting salvation as he was able to obey its precepts.
While Dr. Johnson possessed however the strongest compassion for poverty or illness, he did not even pretend to feel for those who lamented the loss of a child, a parent, or a friend.“ These are the distresses of sentiment (he would reply) which a man who is really to be pitied has no leisure to feel. The sight of people who want food and raiment is so common in great cities, that a surly fellow like me, has no compassion to spare for wounds given only to vanity or softness.” No man, therefore, who smarted from the ingratitude of his friends, found any sympathy from our philosopher : “Let him do good on higher motives next time," would b3 the answer; “ he will then be sure of his reward.”—It is easy to observe that the justice of such sentences made them offensive; but we must be careful how we condemn a man for saying what we know to be true, only because it is so. I hope that the reason our hearts rebelled a little against his severity, was chiefly because it came from a living mouth.—Books were invented to take off the odium of immediate superiority, and soften the rigour of duties prescribed by the teachers and censors of human kind--setting at least those who are acknowledged wiser than ourselves at a distance. When we recollect however, that for this very reason they are seldom consulted and little obeyed, how much cause shall his contemporaries have to rejoice that their living Johnson forced them to feel the reproofs due to vice and folly—while Seneca and Tillotson were no longer able to make impression-except on our shelves. Few things