Samuel Johnson

The Letters of Samuel Johnson, with Mrs. Thrale's genuine letters to him, Vol. 2: 1775-1782; Letters 370-821.1

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575. Th. 23 Apr. '78. James Boswell (Edinburgh).Not traced; copy by JB, Isham (see Addenda, p. 529) (no variants).—Boswell 1791, ii. 218 (Hill iii. 277).


The debate1 between Dr. Percy and me is one of those pg 247foolish controversies, which begin upon a question of which neither party cares how it is decided, and which is, nevertheless, continued to acrimony, by the vanity with which every man resists confutation. Dr. Percy's warmth proceeded from a cause which, perhaps, does him more honour than he could have derived from juster criticism. His abhorrence of Pennant proceeded from his opinion that Pennant had wantonly and indecently censured his patron.2 His anger made him resolve that for having been once wrong, he never should be right. Pennant has much in his notions that I do not like; but still I think him a very intelligent traveller. If Percy is really offended, I am sorry; for he is a man whom I never knew to offend any one. He is a man very willing to learn, and very able to teach; a man, out of whose company I never go without having learned something. It is sure that he vexes me sometimes, but I am afraid it is by making me feel my own ignorance. So much extension of mind, and so much minute accuracy of enquiry, if you survey your whole circle of acquaintance, you will find so scarce, if you find it at all, that you will value Percy by comparison. Lord Hailes is somewhat like him: but Lord Hailes does not, perhaps, go beyond him in research; and I do not know that he equals him in elegance. Percy's attention to poetry has given grace and splendour to his studies of antiquity. A mere antiquarian is a rugged being.

Upon the whole, you see that what I might say in sport or petulance to him, is very consistent with full conviction of his merit.

  • I am, dear Sir, Your most, &c.,
  • Sam. Johnson.

April 23, 1778.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
575. JB added to his copy 'The foregoing is an exact copy … James Boswell'.
Editor’s Note
575.—1. For the quarrel, and the reconciliation effected by JB, see L iii. 275–8.
Editor’s Note
575.—2. The Duke of Northumberland.
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