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But errour is dangerous indeed, if you err when you choose a religion for yourself.” Mrs. KNOWLES. “ Must we then go by implicit faith?” JOHNSON. “ Why, madam, the greatest part of our knowledge is implicit faith; and as to religion, have we heard all that a disciple of Confucius, all that a Mahometan, can say for himself ?” He then rose again into passion, and attacked the young proselyte in the severest terms of reproach, so that both the ladies seemed to be much shocked.
1 Mrs. Knowles, not satisfied with the fame of her needle-work, the “ sutile pictures” mentioned by Johnson, in which she has indeed displayed much dexterity, nay, with the fame of reasoning better than women generally do, as I have fairly shown her to have done, communicated to me a dialogue of considerable length, which, after many years had elapsed, she wrote down as having passed between Dr. Johnson and her at this interview. As I had not the least recollection of it, and did not find the smallest trace of it in my “record" taken at the time, I could not, in consistency with my firm regard to authenticity, insert it in my work. It has, however, been published in “ The Gentleman's Dlagazine" for June, 1791 (v. lxi. p. 500]. It chiefly relates to the principles of the sect called Quakers; and no doubt the lady appears to have greatly the advan. tage of Dr. Johnson in argument, as well as expression. From what I have now stated, and from the internal evidence of the paper itself, any one who may have the curiosity to peruse it will judge whether it was wrong in me to reject it, however willing to gratify Mrs. Knowles.-BOSWELL. (Mrs. Knowles, to her own account of this conversation was desirous of adding Miss Seward's testimony; and Miss Seward, who had by this time become exceedingly hostile to Johnson's memory, and was a great admirer of Mrs. Knowles, was not unwilling to gratify her. She accordingly communicated to Mrs. Knowles her notes of the conversation (Lett. 6. 97), which, it may be fairly presumed, were not too partial to Johnson. But they nevertheless did not satisfy the fair disputant, who, as Miss Seward complains (Lett. 2. 179), was “curiously dissatisfied with them, because they did not contain all that had passed, and as exhibiting her in a poor eclipsed light;" and it is amusing to observe, that—except on the words “odious wench" at the outset, in which all three accounts agree, and the words “I never desire to meet fools anywhere,” with which the ladies agree that the conversation ended- there is little accordance between them. Had they been content to say that the violence of Johnson was a disagreeable contrast to the quiet reasoning of the fair Quaker, they would probably have said no more than the truth; but when they affect to give the precise dialogue in the very words of the speakers, and yet do not agree in almost any one expression or sentiment—when neither preserve a word of what Mr. Boswell reports - and when both (but particularly Mrs. Knowles) attribute to Johr.son the poorest and feeblest trashwe may be forgiven for rejecting both as fabulous, and the rather because Mr. Boswell's note was written on the instant (“his custom ever in the afternoon"), while those of the ladies seem to have been made up many years after the event. It may however be suspected that Boswell was himself a little ashamed of Johnson's violence, for he evidently slurs over the latter part of the conversation. But in the doctor's behalf it should be recollected that he had taken a great and affectionate interest in this young creature, who had, as he feared, not only enda her spiritual welfare, but offended her friends, and forfeited her fortune ; and that he was forced into the discussion by the very person by whose unauthorized and un
We remained together till it was pretty late. Notwithstanding occasional explosions of violence, we were all delighted upon the whole with Johnson. I compared him at this time to a warm West Indian climate, where you have a bright sun, quick vegetation, luxuriant foliage, luscious fruits; but where the same heat sometimes produces thunder, lightning, and earthquakes in a terrible degree.
April 17, being Good-Friday, I waited on Johnson, as usual. I observed at breakfast that although it was a part of his abstemious discipline, on this most solemn fast, to take no milk in his tea, yet when Mrs. Desmoulins inadvertently poured it in, he did not reject it. I talked of the strange indecision of mind, and imbecility in the common occurrences of life, which we may observe in some people. JOHNSON. “Why, sir, I am in the habit of getting others to do things for me.” BOSWELL. “What, sir! have you that weakness ?” JOHNSON. Yes, sir. But I always think afterwards I should have done better for myself.”
I told him that at a gentleman's house where there was thought to be such extravagance or bad management, that he was living much beyond his income, his lady' had objected to the cutting of a pickled
derhand interference so much mischief (as he considered it) had been done.—Long as this note is, it must be added, that it appears in another part of Miss Seward's correspondence (vol. ii. p. 383), that when a young Quaker lady married a member of the church of England, Mrs. Knowles did not hesitate to designate her as an APOSTATE, although she had not quitted her sect, but only married one who did not belong to it.—ED.)
(We learn from Miss Hawkins (Mem. ii. 282), what might have been guessed from several other passages, that the gentleman and lady here alluded to were Mr. Langton and Lady Rothes. She goes on to say, that “the anecdote not having a shadow of truth in it but the presence of the mango at table, Lady Rothes, who knew the slander to be aimed at herself, asked Boswell how he could put together such a falsity. He replied, affecting the tone of Johnson, Why, madam, it is no more than is done by landscape painters ; the landscape is from nature, and they put a tree in the foreground as an embellishment."" As Miss Hawkins could have heard Boswell's confession only at second-hand, we may, without questioning her veracity, be permitted to disbelieve it altogether. Boswell never could have made any such admission.-Ed.)
mango, and that I had taken an opportunity to ask the price of it, and found it was only two shillings; so here was a very poor saving. JOHNSON. “ Sir, that is the blundering economy of a narrow understanding. It is stopping one hole in a sieve.”
I expressed some inclination to publish an account of my travels upon the continent of Europe, for which I had a variety of materials collected. JOHNsox. “ I do not say, sir, you may not publish your travels; but I give you my opinion, that you would lessen yourself by it. What can you tell of countries so well known as those upon the continent of Europe, which you have visited ?” BOSWELL. “ But I can give an entertaining narrative, with many incidents, anecdotes, jeux d'esprit, and remarks, so as to make very pleasant reading.” Johnson. “Why, sir, most modern travellers in Europe who have published their travels have been laughed at: I would not have you added to the number'. The world is now not contented to be merely entertained by a traveller's narrative; they want to learn something. Now some of my friends asked me, why I did not give some account of my travels in France. The reason is plain ; intelligent readers had seen more of France than I had. You might have liked my travels in France, and THE CLUB might have liked them; but, upon the whole, there would have been more ridicule than good produced by them.” BOSWELL. “I cannot agree with you, sir. People would like to read what you say of any thing. Suppose a face has been painted by fifty painters before; still we love to see it done by Sir Joshua.” Johnson. " True, sir; but Sir Joshua cannot paint a face when he has not
I believe, however, I shall follow my own opinion ; for the world has shown a very Aattering partiality to my writings, on many occasions.—BOSWELL.
time to look on it.” BOSWELL. “ Sir, a sketch of any sort by him is valuable. And, sir, to talk to you in your own style (raising my voice, and shaking my head), you should have given us your travels in France. I am sure I am right, and there's an end
I said to him that it was certainly true, as my friend Dempster had observed in his letter to me upon the subject, that a great part of what was in his “ Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” had been in his mind before he left London. John. SON. Why, yes, sir, the topicks were; and books of travels will be good in proportion to what a man has previously in his mind; his knowing what to observe; his power of contrasting one mode of life with another. As the Spanish proverb says, 'He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.' So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge.” BOSWELL. “ The proverb, I suppose, sir, means, he must carry a large stock with him to trade with.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, sir.”
It was a delightful day; as we walked to St. Clement's church, I again remarked that Fleet-street was the most cheerful scene in the world.
“ Fleetstreet,” said I,“ is in my mind more delightful than Tempé.” Johnson. Ay, sir, but let it be compared with Mull!"
There was a very numerous congregation to-day at St. Clement's church, which Dr. Johnson said he observed with pleasure.
And now I am to give a pretty full account of one of the most curious incidents in Johnson's life, of which he himself has made the following minute on this day :
He & Med.
“ In my return from church, I was accosted by Edwards', Prayers an old fellow-collegian, who had not seen me since 17292. knew me, and asked if I remembered one Edwards; I did not
p.4. 164. at first recollect the name, but gradually, as we walked along, recovered it, and told him a conversation that had passed at an alehouse between us. My purpose is to continue our acquaintance.”
It was in Butcher-row that this meeting happened. Mr. Edwards, who was a decent-looking, elderly man, in gray clothes, and a wig of many curls, accosted Johnson with familiar confidence, knowing who he was, while Johnson returned his salutation with a courteous formality, as to a stranger. But as soon as Edwards had brought to his recollection their having been at Pembroke College together nine-andforty years ago, he seemed much pleased, asked where he lived, and said he should be glad to see him in Bolt-court. EDWARDS. " Ah, sir! we are old men
Johnson (who never liked to think of being old). “ Don't let us discourage one another.” EDWARDS. “ Why, doctor, you look stout and hearty. I am happy to see you so; for the newspapers told us you were very ill.” Johnson. “ Ay, sir, they are always telling lies of us old fellows.”
Wishing to be present at more of so singular a conversation as that between two fellow-collegians, who had lived forty years in London without ever having chanced to meet, I whispered to Mr. Edwards that Dr. Johnson was going home, and that he had better accompany him now. So Edwards walked along with us, I eagerly assisting to keep up the conversation. Mr. Edwards informed Dr. Johnson
(Oliver Edwards entered at Pembroke College only in June, 1729, so that he and Johnson could not have been long acquainted.-HALL.]
? (This deliberate assertion of Johnson, that he had not seen Edwards since 1729, is a confirmation of the opinion derived by Dr. Hall from the dates in the college books, that Johnson did not return to Pembroke College after Christmas
, 1729—an important fact in his early history. See ante, vol. i. p. 47, 1.-Ed.) VOL. IV.