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TO THE REV. JOHN NEWTON.*
Olney, August 17, 1785. My dear Friend—I did very warmly and very sincerely thank Mr. Bacon for his most friendly and obliging letter; but, having written my acknowledgments in the cover, I suppose that they escaped your notice. . I should not have contented myself with transmitting them through your hands, but should have addressed them immediately to himself, but that I foresaw plainly this inconvenience: that in writing to him on such an occasion, I must almost unavoidably make self and self's book the subject. Therefore it was, as Mrs. Unwin can vouch for me, that I denied myself that pleasure. I place this matter now in the van of all that I have to say: first, that you may not overlook it; secondly, because it is uppermost in my consideration; and thirdly, because I am impatient to be exculpated from the seeming omission.
You told me, I think, that you seldom read the papers. In our last we had an extract from Johnson's Diary, or whatever else he called it. It is certain that the publisher of it is neither much a friend to the cause of religion, nor to the author's memory; for, by the specimen of it that has reached us, it seems to contain only such stuff as has a direct tendency to expose both to ridicule. His prayers for the dead, and his minute account of the rigour with which he observed church fasts, whether he drank tea or coffee, whether with sugar or without and
· Private Correspondence.
whether one or two dishes of either, are the most important items to be found in this childish register of the great Johnson, supreme dictator in the chair of literature, and almost a driveller in his closet: a melancholy witness to testify how much of the wisdom of this world may consist with almost infantine ignorance of the affairs of a better. I remember a good man at Huntingdon, who, I doubt not, is now with God, and he also kept a Diary. After his death, through the neglect or foolish wantonness of his executors, it came abroad for the amusement of his neighbours. All the town saw it, and all the town found it highly diverting. It contained much more valuable matter than the poor Doctor's journal seems to do; but it contained also a faithful record of all his deliverances from wind, (for he was much troubled with flatulence,) together with pious acknowledgments of the mercy. There is certainly a call for gratitude, whatsoever benefit we receive ; and it is equally certain that we ought to be humbled under the recollection of our least offences; but it would have been as well if neither my old friend had recorded his eructations, nor the Doctor his dishes of sugarless tea, or the dinner at which he ate too much. I wonder, indeed, that any man of such learned eminence as Johnson, who knew that every
word he uttered was deemed oracular, and that every scratch of his pen was accounted a treasure, should leave behind him what he would have blushed to exhibit while he lived. If Virgil would have burnt his Æneid, how much more reason had these good men to have burnt their journals!
Mr. Perry will leave none such behind him. He is dying, as I suppose you have heard. Dr. Kerr, who I think has visited him twice or thrice, desired at his last visit to be no more sent for. He pronounced his case hopeless ; for that his thigh and leg must mortify. He is however in a most comfortable frame of mind. So long as he thought it possible that he might recover, he was much occupied with a review of his ministry; and, under a deep impression of his deficiencies in that function, assured Mr. R that he intended, when he should enter upon it again, to be much more diligent than he had been. He was conscious, he said, that many fine things had been said of him; but that, though he trusted he had found grace so to walk as not to dishonour his office, he was conscious at the same time how little he deserved them. This, with much more to the same purport, passed on Sunday last. On Thursday, Mr. R- was with him again ; and at that time Mr. Perry knew that he must die. The rules and cautions that he had before prescribed to himself, he then addressed directly to his visitor. He exhorted him by all means to be earnest and affectionate in his applications to the unconverted, and not less solicitous to admonish the careless, with a head full of light, and a heart alienated from the ways of God; and those, no less, who being wise in their own conceit, were much occupied with matters above their reach, and very little with subjects of immediate and necessary concern. He added that he had received from God, during his illness, other views of sin than he had ever been favoured
with before, and exhorted him by all means to be watchful. Mr. R- being himself the reporter of these conversations, it is to be supposed that they impressed him. Admonitions from such lips, and in a dying time too, must have their weight; and it is well with the hearer, when the instruction abides with him. But our own view of these matters is, I believe, that alone which can effectually
The representations of a dying man may strike us at the time; and, if they stir up in us a spirit of self-examination and inquiry, so that we rest not till we have made his views and experience our own, it is well; otherwise, the wind that passes us is hardly sooner gone than the effect of the most serious exhortations.
Farewell, my friend. My views of my spiritual state are, as you say, altered; but they are yet far from being such as they must be, before I can be enduringly comforted. Yours unfeignedly,
The Diary of Dr. Johnson, adverted to in the last letter, created both surprise and disappointment. The great moralist of the age there appears in his real character, distinct from that external splendour with which popular admiration always encircles the brow of genius. The portrait is drawn by his own hand. We cannot withhold our praise from the ingenuousness with which he discloses the secret recesses of his heart, and the fidelity with which conscience exercises its inquisi
torial power over the life and actions, We are also affected by the deep humility, the confession of sin, and the earnest appeal for mercy, discernible in many of the prayers and meditations. But, viewed as a whole, this Diary creates painful feelings, and affords occasion for much reflection. If therefore we indulge in a few remarks, founded on some of the extracts, it is not to detract from the high fame of so distinguished a scholar, whom we consider to have enlarged the bounds of British literature, and to have acquired a lasting title to public gratitude and esteem, but to perform a solemn and conscientious duty.* We are now arrived at a period when it is high time to establish certain great and momentous truths in the public mind; and, among those that are of primary importance, to prove
that Conversion is not a term but a principle ; not the designation of a party but the enjoined precept of a Saviour; the evidence of our claim to the title of Christian ; and indispensable to constitute our meetness for the enjoyment of heaven.
We now extract the following passages from the Diary of Dr. Johnson, with the intention of adding a few comments.
Easter-day, 1765.—“Since the last Easter, I have
* “ If there is a regard due to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth.”
“It is the business of a biographer to pass lightly over those performances and actions which produce vulgar greatness; to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life, where exterior appearances are laid aside."--Rambler, No. 60, vol. ii.