1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Pennant

James Boswell, in Life of Johnson (1791); ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 3:311-12.



JOHNSON. "He's a Whig, Sir; a sad dog. (smiling at his own violent expressions, merely for political difference of opinion.) But he's the best traveller I ever read; he observes more things than any one else does.

I could not but help thinking that this was too high praise of a writer who had traversed a wide extent of country in such haste, and that he could put together only curt frittered fragments of his own, and afterwards procured supplemental intelligence from parochial ministers, and others not the best qualified or mot impartial narrators, whose ungenerous prejudice against the house of Stuart glares in misrepresentation; a writer, who at best treats merely of superficial objects, and shews no philosophical investigation of character and manners, such as Johnson has exhibited in his masterly Journey, over part of the same ground; and who it should seem from a desire of ingratiating imself with the Scotch, has flattered the people of North-Britain so inordinately and with so little discrimination, that the judicious and candid amongst them must be disgusted, while they value more the plain, just, yet kindly report of Johnson.

Having impartially censured Mr. Pennant, as a Traveller in Scotland, let me allow him, from authorities much better than mine, his deserved praise as an able Zoologist; and let me also from my own understanding and feelings, acknowledge the merit of his "London," though said to be not quite accurate in some particulars, is one of the most pleasing topographical performances that ever appeared in any language. Mr. Pennant, like his countryman in general, has the true spirit of a Gentleman. As a proof of it, I shall quote from his "London" the passage, in which he speaks of my illustrious friend. "I must be no means omit Bolt-court, the long residence of Doctor SAMUEL JOHNSON, a man of the strongest natural abilities, great learning, a most retentive memory, of the deepest and most unaffected piety and morality, mingled with those numerous weaknesses and prejudices which his friends have kindly taken care to draw from their dread abode." I brought on myself his transient anger, by observing that in his tour in Scotland, he once had "long and woeful experience of oats being the food of men in Scotland as they were of horses in England." It was a national reflection unworthy of him, and I shot my bolt. In return he gave me a tender hug. "Con amore" he also said of me "The dog is a Whig;" I admired the virtues of Lord Russell, and pities his fall. I should have been a Whig at the Revolution. There have been periods since, in which I should have been, wht I now am, a moderate Tory, a supporter, as far as my little influence extends, of a well-poised balance between the crown and the people: but should the scale preponderate against the "Salus populi," that moment may it be said, "The dog's a Whig!"