Open main menu

Page:Footsteps of Dr. Johnson.djvu/145

This page needs to be proofread.


LORD MONBODDO. in

Lord Monboddo." The two men had not much in common except their love of learning, and their precision of speech. Monboddo, according to Foote, was an Elzevir edition of Johnson. In a letter to Mrs. Thrale Johnson thus describes him :

" He has lately written a strange book about the origin of language, in which he traces monkeys up to men, and says that in some countries the human species have tails like other beasts. He inquired for these long-tailed men of lianks, and was not well-pleased that they had not been found in all his peregrinations. He talked nothing of this to me, and I hope we parted friends ; for we agreed pretty well, only we disputed in adjusting the claims of merit between a shopkeeper of London and a savage of the American wildernesses. Our opinions were, I think, maintained on both sides without full conviction ; Monboddo declared boldly for the savage, and I perhaps for that reason sided with the citizen."

Johnson a few years earlier had contrasted Monboddo with Rousseau, "who talked nonsense so well that he must know he was talking nonsense;" whereas, he added, "chuckling and laughing, ' I am afraid Monboddo does not know that he is talking nonsense.'" He was undoubtedly a man of great learning, but he was almost destitute of the critical faculty. In the six volumes of his Ancient Metaphysics we come across such strange passages as the following:

"Not only are there tailed men extant, but men such as the ancients describe Satyrs have been found, who had not only tails, but the feet of goats, and horns on their heads. . . . We have the authority of a father of the Church for a greater singularity of the human form, and that is of men without heads but with eyes in their breasts. . . . There is another singularity as great or greater than any I have hitherto mentioned, and that is of men with the heads of dogs." '

After stating his readiness to believe that " a tame and gentle animal " once existed, " having the head of a man and the body of a lion," he continues :

" The variety of nature is so great that I am convinced of the truth of what Aristotle says, that everything exists, or did at some time exist, which is possible to exist." "

The orang-outang he describes as being " of a character mild and gentle, affectionate, too, and capable of friendship, with the sense also of what is decent and becoming." The ancients, he stoutly maintained, were in every respect better and stronger than their descendants. He shocked Hannah More by telling her that "he loved slavery upon principle." When she asked him " how he could vindicate such an enormity, he owned it was because Plutarch justified it." 4 In one respect he was wise in following

1 Ancient Metaphysics, iv. 45. 3 Ii>. p. 55'

" Ib. p. 48. ' Hannah More's Memoirs, \. 252.

�� �