Thursday, 30th September
There was as great a storm of wind and rain as I have almost ever seen, which necessarily confined us to the house; but we were fully compensated by Dr Johnson's conversation. He said, he did not grudge Burke's being the first man in the House of Commons, for he was the first man every where; but he grudged that a fellow who makes no figure in company, and has a mind as narrow as the neck of a vinegar cruet, should make a figure in the House of Commons, merely by having the knowledge of a few forms, and being furnished with a little occasional information. [Footnote: He did not mention the name of any particular person; but those who are conversant with the political world will probably recollect more persons than one to whom this observation may be applied.] He told us, the first time he saw Dr Young was at the house of Mr Richardson, the author of Clarissa. He was sent for, that the doctor might read to him his Conjectures on Original Composition, which he did, and Dr Johnson made his remarks; and he was surprised to find Young receive as novelties, what he thought very common maxims. He said, he believed Young was not a great scholar, nor had studied regularly the art of writing; that there were very fine things in his Night Thoughts, though you could not find twenty lines together without some extravagance. He repeated two passages from his Love of Fame--the characters of Brunetta and Stella, which he praised highly. He said Young pressed him much to come to Wellwyn. He always intended it, but never went. He was sorry when Young died. The cause of quarrel between Young and his son, he told us, was, that his son insisted Young should turn away a clergyman's widow, who lived with him, and who, having acquired great influence over the father, was saucy to the son. Dr Johnson said, she could not conceal her resentment at him, for saying to Young, that 'an old man should not resign himself to the management of any body.' I asked him, if there was any improper connection between them. 'No, sir, no more than between two statues. He was past fourscore, and she a very coarse woman. She read to him, and, I suppose, made his coffee, and frothed his chocolate, and did such things as an old man wishes to have done for him.'
Dr Dodridge being mentioned, he observed that 'he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton's Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:
"Live, while you live, the EPICURE would say, And seize the pleasures of the present day. Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries, And give to God each moment as it flies. Lord, in my views let both united be; I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE."'
I asked if it was not strange that government should permit so many infidel writings to pass without censure. JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is mighty foolish. It is for want of knowing their own power. The present family on the throne came to the crown against the will of nine tenths of the people. Whether those nine tenths were right or wrong, it is not our business now to inquire. But such being the situation of the royal family, they were glad to encourage all who would be their friends. Now you know every bad man is a Whig; every man who has loose notions. The Church was all against this family. They were, as I say, glad to encourage any friends; and therefore, since their accession, there is no instance of any man being kept back on account of his bad principles; and hence this inundation of impiety.' I observed that Mr Hume, some of whose writings were very unfavourable to religion, was, however, a Tory. JOHNSON. 'Sir, Hume is a Tory by chance, as being a Scotchman; but not upon a principle of duty; for he has no principle. If he is any thing, he is a Hobbist.'
There was something not quite serene in his humour to night, after supper; for he spoke of hastening away to London, without stopping much at Edinburgh. I reminded him, that he had General Oughton and many others to see. JOHNSON. 'Nay, I shall neither go in jest, nor stay in jest. I shall do what is fit.' BOSWELL. 'Ay, sir, but all I desire is, that you will let me tell you when it is fit.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I shall not consult you.' BOSWELL. 'If you are to run away from us, as soon as you get loose, we will keep you confined in an island.' He was, however, on the whole, very good company. Mr Donald M'Leod expressed very well the gradual impression made by Dr Johnson on those who are so fortunate as to obtain his acquaintance. 'When you see him first, you are struck with awful reverence; then you admire him; and then you love him cordially.'
I read this evening some part of Voltaire's History of the War in 1741, and of Lord Kames against Hereditary Indefeasible Right. This is a very slight circumstance, with which I should not trouble my reader, but for the sake of observing, that every man should keep minutes of whatever he reads. Every circumstance of his studies should be recorded; what books he has consulted; how much of them he has read; at what times; how often the same authors; and what opinions he formed of them, at different periods of his life. Such an account would much illustrate the history of his mind.