1752 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Hester Mulso Chapone to Elizabeth Carter, 10 July 1752; in Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 1:223-34n.



10th July, 1752,

We had a visit, whilst at Northend, from your friend Mr. Johnson and poor Mrs. Williams. I was charmed with his behaviour to her, which was like that of a fond father to his daughter. She seemed much pleased with her visit; showed very good sense, with a great deal of modesty and humility; so much patience and cheerfulness under her misfortune, that it doubled my concern for her. Mr. Johnson was very communicative and entertaining, and did me the honour to address most of his discourse to me. I had the assurance to dispute with him on the subject of human malignity, and wondered to hear a man, who, by his actions, shows so much benevolence, maintain that the human heart is naturally malevolent, and that the benevolence we see in the few who are good is acquired by reason and religion. You may believe I entirely disagreed with him, being, as you know, fully persuaded that benevolence or the love or our fellow-creatures, is as much a part of our natures as self-love; and that it cannot be suppressed or extinguished without great violence from the force of other passions. I told him, I suspected him of these bad notions from some of his Ramblers, and had accused him to your; but that you had persuaded me I had mistaken his sense. To which he answered, that if he had betrayed such sentiments in the Ramblers, it was without design; for that he believed that the doctrine of human malevolence, though a true one, is not a useful one, and ought not to be published to the world. Is there any truth that would not be useful, or that should not be known?