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To a lady who signified a great desire to increase her acquaintance with authors, conceiving that more might be learned from their conversation and manner of living, than from their works, "Madam," said he, "the best part of an author will always be found in his writings.'
"Complainers," said he, "are always loud and cla
220. Lord Chesterfield's Son.
Johnson said, that he had once seen Mr. Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield's son', at Dodsley's shop, and was so much struck with his awkward manner and appearance, that he could not help asking Mr. Dodsley who he was.
221. Fear of Death.
To his censure of fear in general, he made, however, one exception-with respect to the fear of death, timorum maximus: he thought that the best of us were but unprofitable servants, and had much reason to fear.
222. Dr. Birch.
Of Dr. Birch, Johnson was used to speak in this manner :-"Tom is a lively rogue; he remembers a great deal, and can tell many pleasant stories; but a pen is to Tom a torpedo; the touch of it benumbs his hand and his brain Tom can talk; but he is no writer."
223. Lyttelton and the Leasowes.
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 show him Shenstone's place.
[The natural son to whom Lord Chesterfield addressed the celebrated Letters on Manners.]
[See Croker, vol. iii. p. 174., and p. 110. of this volume.]
in his life of him
He has been accused of treating Lord Lyttelton roughly 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.
224. Public Opinion.
Dr. Johnson held all authors very cheap that were not satisfied with the opinion of the public about them. He used to say, that every man who writes thinks he can amuse or inform mankind, and they must be the best judges of his pretensions.
Though no great friend to puns, he once, by accident, made a singular one. A person who affected to live after the Greek manner, and to anoint himself with oil, was one day mentioned: Johnson, in the course of conversation on the singularity of his practice, gave him the denomination of this man of Greece (or grease, as you please to take it).
226. Society and Retirement.
He thought worse of the vices of retirement than of those of society.
227. The Law.
He thought very favourably of the profession of the law, and said that the sages thereof, for a long series backward, had been friends to religion. Fortescue says, that their afternoon's employment was the study of the Scriptures.'
1 [Lord Coke, in his Institutes, 1. ii. c. 1. s. 85., quotes these ancient, as he calls them, verses, recommending a proper distribution of the time of a law-student:
"Sex horas somno, totidem des legibus æquis,
Of these Sir William Jones made two versions: ·
"Six hours to sleep, to law's grave study six;
rather (he adds),
"Six hours to law, to soothing slumber seven ;
228. The old English Divines.
That Johnson owed his excellence as a writer to the divines and others of the last century, I can attest. Hooker he admired for his logical precision, Sanderson for his acuteness, and Taylor for his amazing erudition; Sir Thomas Browne for his penetration, and Cowley for the ease and unaffected structure of his periods. The tinsel of Sprat disgusted him, and he could but just endure the smooth verbosity of Tillotson. Hammond and Barrow he thought involved, and of the latter that he was unnecessarily prolix.
229." Fiat experimentum in corpore vili."
He was much pleased with the following repartee: "Fiat experimentum in corpore vili," said a French physician to his colleague, in speaking of the disorder of a poor man that understood Latin, and who was brought into an hospital; "Corpus non tam vile est," says the patient, "pro quo Christus ipse non dedignatus est mori."
He would never hear Hume mentioned with any temper. "A man," said he, "who endeavoured to persuade his friend, who had the stone, to shoot himself!"
He was a great enemy to the present fashionable way of supposing worthless and infamous persons mad.
232. A Scoundrel.
Dr. Johnson used to say a man was a scoundrel who was afraid of any thing.
It is not very clear what nature in the first version means; in the second Sir William has shortened his day to twenty-three hours: and the general advice "of all to Heaven" destroys the peculiar appropriation of a certain period to religious exercises. The following version, if less poetical, is at least more exact : —
Six hours to sleep devote
to law the same;
He thought of Dr. Clarke, whose sermons he valued above all others, that he complied too frequently with invitatious to dine with persons of high rank, his parishioners, and spent too much of his time in ceremonious visits : differing, in this respect, from his contemporary Smalridge, the elegant Favonius of the Tatler, who in the height of his reputation as a preacher, was ever ready to visit a sick person in the most obscure alley of Westminster.
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 sentiments he may happen to have."
235. Round Numbers.
"Round numbers," said he, " are always false."
He once mentioned to me a saying of Dr. Nicholls, and highly commended it; namely, that it was a point of wisdom to form intimacies, and choose for our friends only persons of known worth and integrity; and that to do so had been the rule of his life.
237. Story Telling.
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.'
He said to me one day, “Garrick, I hear, complains that I am the only popular author of his time who has exhibited no praise of him in print: but he is mistaken,
Akenside has forborne to mention him. Some, indeed, are lavish in their applause of all who come within the compass of their recollection; yet he who praises every body praises nobody; when both scales are equally loaded, neither can preponderate."
He was extremely fond of the company and conversation of women, and had certainly very correct notions as to the basis on which matrimonial connections should be formed. He always advised his friends, when they were about to marry, to unite themselves to a woman of a pious and religious frame of mind. "Fear of the world, and a sense of honour," said he, "may have an effect upon a man's conduct and behaviour: a woman without religion is without the only motive that in general can incite her to do well." When some one asked him for what he should marry, he replied, "First, for virtue; secondly, for wit; thirdly, for beauty; and fourthly, for money."
In his interview with Lord Marchmont, he told me, that his first question was, "What kind of a man was Mr. Pope in his conversation?" His lordship answered, that "if the conversation did not take something of an epigrammatic turn, he fell asleep, or perhaps pretended to be so.”
241. Allegorical Painting.
Talking with some persons about allegorical painting, he said, "I had rather see the portrait of a dog that I know, than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world."
242. A Lad of Parts.
He once told me, that being at the house of a friend, whose son in his school vacation was come home, the father spoke of this child as a lad of pregnant parts, and said that he was well versed in the classics, and acquainted with history, in the study whereof he took great delight. Having this information, Johnson, as a test of the young