Life of Johnson (1776)

Boswell, James
‘Doctor Johnson Receiving Boswell in the Library’ by Eyre Crowe A.R.A. (1899). Private collector, Vancouver, Canada.


"To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party - Society; and if it be considered as a vow-God : and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone."

I mentioned a new gaming-club, of which Mr. Beauclerk had given me an account, where the members played to a desperate extent. JOHNSON. “Depend upon it, Sir, this is mere talk. Who is ruined by gaming? You will not find six instances in an age. There is a strange rout made about deep play: whereas you have many more people ruined by adventurous trade, and yet we do not hear such an outcry against it.” THRALE. “There may be few people absolutely ruined by deep play ; but very many are much hurt in their circumstances by it.” JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir, and so are very many by other kinds of expence.” I had heard him talk once before in the same manner; and at Oxford he said, “he wished he had learnt to play at cards.” The truth, however, is, that he loved to display his ingenuity in argument; and therefore would sometimes in conversation maintain opinions which he was sensible were wrong, but in supporting which, his reasoning and wit would be most conspicuous. He would begin thus: “Why, Sir, as to the good or evil of card-playing —“ “Now, (said Garrick,) he is thinking which side he shall take.” He appeared to have a pleasure in contradiction, especially when any opinion what ever was delivered with an air of confidence; so that there was hardly any topick, if not one of the great truths of Religion and Morality, that he might not have been incited to argue, either for or against. Lord Elibank had the highest admiration of his powers. He once observed to me, “Whatever opinion Johnson maintains, I will not say that he convinces me; but he never fails to shew me, that he has good reasons for it.” I have heard Johnson pay his Lordship this high compliment: “I never was in Lord Eli bank ' s company without learning something."

We sat together till it was too late for the afternoon service. Thrale said he had come with intention to go to church with us. We went at seven to evening prayers at St. Clement's church, after having drank coffee ; an indulgence, which I understood Johnson yielded to on this occasion, in compliment to Thrale.

On Sunday, April 7, Easter-day, after having been at St. Paul's Cathedral, I came to Dr. Johnson, according to my usual custom. It seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and placid in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of the most joyful event in the history of our world, the resurrection of our LORD and SAVIOUR, who, having triumphed over death and the grave, proclaimed immortality to mankind.

I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who maintained, that her husband's having been guilty of numberless infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they were reciprocal. JOHNSON. “This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party - Society; and if it be considered as a vow-God : and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another's property with his own hand.” BOSWELL. “But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be dissolved ; she only argues that she may indulge herself in gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia.” JOHNSON. “This lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.”


Taken from James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson. New York : Printed for Gabriel Wells by Doubleday, Page and Co., 1922, vol. 5, p. 49-52. Full volume or full edition from HATHITRUST.