Imatges de pàgina

"Milton, madam, was a genius, that could cut Colossus from a rock, but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones."

Boswell told him, that David Hume had made a short collection of Scotticisms. "I wonder," said Johnson," that he should find them."

No. X.


THERE had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, Boswell was saying, that Mr. Swinton, the chaplain of the gaol, and also a fre quent preacher before the university, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday; and in the close, he told his audience, that he should give them the remainder of what he had to say on the subject the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one of the company, a doctor of divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the university. Yes, sir," says Johnson, "but the university were not to be hanged the next morning."

Boswell mentioned, that Dr. Thomas Campbell had come from Ireland to London, principally to see Dr. Johnson: he seemed angry at this observation. DAVIES. "Why, sir, there came a man from Spain to see Livy, and Corelli came to England to

see Purcell, and when he heard he was dead, went directly back again to Italy." JOHNSON. "I should not wish to have been dead, to disappoint Campbell; but I should have wished to have been a hundred miles off." Boswell adds: "This was apparently perverse; and I do believe it was not his real way of thinking: he could not but like a man who came so far to see him. He laughed with some complacency, when I told him Campbell's odd expression to me concerning him, that having seen such a man, was a thing to talk of a century hence,' as if he could live so long."

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Of the father of one of his friends, he observed, "He never clarified his notions by filtrating them through other minds: he had a canal upon his estate, where at one place the bank was too low'I dug the canal deeper,' said he."

He once in his life was known himself to have uttered what is called a bull. Sir Joshua Reynolds, when they were riding together in Devonshire, complained, that he had a very bad horse, for that even when going down hill he moved slowly step by step. Ay," said Johnson, "and when he goes up hill, he stands still."


Mr. Davies was here mistaken: Corelli never was in England.-Burney.

No. XI.


SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS once asked Johnson by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in every company to im. part whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it into and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.

When Johnson showed Boswell a proof-sheet of the character of Addison, in which he so highly extols his style, Boswell could not help observing, that it had not been his own model, as no two styles could differ more from each other. JOHNSON. "Sir, Addison had his style, and I have mine." When he ventured to ask him, whether the difference did not consist in this, that Addison's style was full of idioms, colloquial phrases, and proverbs; and his own more strictly grammatical, and free from such phraseology, and modes of speech as can never be literally translated or understood by foreigners; he allowed the discrimination to be just.

Talking of Hume's style: JOHNSON. "Why, sir, his style is not English; the structure of his sen

tences is French. Now the French structure and the English structure may, in the nature of things, be equally good but if you allow that the English language is established, he is wrong. My name might originally have been Nicholson, as well as Johnson; but were you to call me Nicholson now, you would call me very absurdly."

In 1769, Boswell presented Dr. Johnson to general Paoli. They met with a manly ease, mutually conscious of their own abilities. The general spoke Italian and Dr. Johnson English, and understood one another very well, with a little of interpretation from Boswell, in which he compared himself to an isthmus, which joins two great continents. Upon Johnson's approach, the general said, "From what I have read of your works, sir, and from what Mr. Boswell has told me of you, I have long held you in great veneration." The general talked of languages being formed on the particular notions and manners of a people, without knowing which, we cannot know the language. We may know the direct signification of single words; but by these no beauty of expression, no sally of genius, no wit is conveyed to the mind. All this must be by allusion to other ideas. JOHNSON. "Sir, you talk of language, as if you had never done any thing else but study it, instead of governing a nation." PAOLI. "Questo e un troppo gran complimento: this is too great a compliment." JOHNSON. "I should have thought so, if I had not heard you talk."

Johnson advised Boswell to complete a dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which he had shown him a specimen. "Sir," said he, "Ray has made a collection of north-country words: by

collecting those of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language."

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Talking of language, Johnson observed, that Leibnitz had made some progress in a work, tracing all languages up to the Hebrew. Why, sir," said he, " you would not imagine, that the French jour, day, is derived from the Latin dies, and yet nothing is more certain; and the intermediate steps are very clear. From dies, comes diurnus; diu is, by inaccurate ears, or inaccurate pronunciation, easily confounded with giu; then the Italians form a substantive of the ablative of an adjective, and thence giurno, or, as they make it, giorno; which is readily contracted into giour, or jour." He observed that the Bohemian language was true Sclavonic. Mr. Kristrom, a Swede, said it had some similarity with the German. JOHNSON. "Why, sir, to be sure, such parts of Sclavonia as confine with Germany will borrow German words; and such parts as confine with Tartary will borrow Tartar words."


He said, he never had it properly ascertained, that the Scotch Highlanders and the Irish understood each other. Boswell told him, that his cousin, colonel Graham, of the Royal Highlanders, whom he met at Drogheda, said they did. JOHNSON. Sir, if the Highlanders understood Irish, why translate the New Testament into Erse, as was lately done at Edinburgh, when there is an Irish translation ?" BOSWELL." Although the Erse and Irish are both dialects of the same language, there may be a good deal of diversity between them, as between the different dialects in Italy."

Sir Alexander Macdonald said to him, "I have

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