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I suppose, and in eighteen years contrived to weary the patience of a woman1. 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 shewed 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 forget 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 Paschal and Soame Jennings3 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

See post, pp. 331, 341.

2 Boswell tells how 'Johnson delighted in exercising his mind on the science of numbers.' Life, iii. 207. The only book which he took with him on his tour to the Hebrides was Cocker's Arithmetic. Ib. v. 138, n. 2. See post, p. 301.

3 Soame Jenyns. Johnson reviewed his Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil. Life, i. 315; Works, vi. 47.

4 Mrs. Piozzi refers, I suppose, to

the second article of the first part of Pascal's Pensées. In that case she does not give his meaning correctly.

5 An infinite number is a contradiction in terms, and therefore everything that is infinite or eternal must exist in some manner which bears no manner of relation to Space or Time, and which must therefore be to us totally incomprehensible.' Jenyns's Miscellaneous Pieces, ed. 1761, ii.


it easily

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)2?

'He told Boswell that 'at Oxford the study of which he was the most fond was Metaphysicks, but he had not read much even in that way.' Life, i. 70. See ante, p. 17, for his prayer on the study of philosophy.

Mackintosh believed that he was withheld from metaphysics 'partly by a secret dread that it might disturb those prejudices in which his mind had found repose from the agitations of doubt.' Life of Mackintosh, ii. 171.

2 In a note on the Life, iii. 206, I have stated that 'he was no doubt sick of the constant reference made by writers and public speakers to Rome.' It was the cant of the age. Voltaire says:-'Les membres du parlement d'Angleterre aiment à se comparer aux anciens Romains autant qu'ils le peuvent.' Euvres, ed. 1819, xxiv. 33. Chesterfield writes to his son-Bring no precedents from the virtuous Spartans, the polite Athenians, and the brave Romans. Leave all that to futile pedants.' Letters, iii. 236.

Horace Walpole thus ridicules such talk as this (Letters, v. 235):-'I entertain myself with the idea of a future senate in Carolina and Vir

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Johnson seriously thought of translating De Thou's Historia sui Temporis, which contains the history of only sixty-four years, yet, it has been calculated, would require twelve months, at four hours a day, for its perusal.' Pattison's Isaac Casaubon, ed. 1892, p. 59. In a list of books proper for a young man to study, drawn up by Johnson, many histories are included. Life, iv. 311. In the talk between him and Lord Monboddo on Aug. 21, 1773, Monboddo said: The history of manners is the most valuable. I never set a high value on any other history.' Johnson replied :-'Nor I; and therefore I esteem biography as giving us what comes near to our


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 war2 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 wight3 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

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talked to me at club one day (replies our Doctor) concerning Catiline's conspiracy-so I withdrew my attention, and thought about Tom Thumb.'

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 stairhead-and we all know that he is no great chronologer.'-In the year 1777, or thereabouts, 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 2. 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 you 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 cats the less? Who sleeps the worse, for one general's ill

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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 3 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

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One evening at Mr. Thrale's Johnson said :-'Addison had made his Sir Andrew Freeport a true Whig, arguing against giving charity to beggars, and throwing out other such ungracious sentiments; but that he had thought better, and made amends by making him found an hospital

3Steele had made Sir Andrew Freeport, in the true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare that he "would not build an hospital for idle people." Works, vii. 432. Johnson quoted from memory and quoted for decayed farmers.' Life, ii. 212. wrongly; for, 'Sir Andrew, after giving money to some importunate beggars, says:-'I ought to give to an hospital of invalids, to recover as many useful subjects as I can, but I shall bestow none of my bounties upon an almshouse of idle people.' Spectator, No. 232.

The Spectator, No. 232, was written neither by Addison nor Steele; who wrote it is uncertain.

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He frequently gave all the silver in his pocket to the poor, who watched him between his house and the tavern where he dined.' Ib. ii. 119. 'You are much surer,' he said,


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