Sunday, October 15, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 190

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of 18th Century British Sexual Politics, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Unrepentant Rake, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, organic plant-based oils by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq ateliers™/sternwall studios™ co-production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Talking of divorces, I asked if Othello's doctrine was not plausible? 

'He that is robb'd, not wanting what is stolen, 
Let him not know't, and he's not robb'd at all.' 

Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale joined against this. 

JOHNSON. 'Ask any man if he'd wish not to know of such an injury.' 

BOSWELL. 'Would you tell your friend to make him unhappy?' 

JOHNSON. 'Perhaps, Sir, I should not; but that would be from prudence on my own account. A man would tell his father.' 

BOSWELL. 'Yes; because he would not have spurious children to get any share of the family inheritance.' 

MRS. THRALE. 'Or he would tell his brother.' 

BOSWELL. 'Certainly his elder brother.' 

JOHNSON. 'You would tell your friend of a woman's infamy, to prevent his marrying a whore: there is the same reason to tell him of his wife's infidelity, when he is married, to prevent the consequences of imposition. It is a breach of confidence not to tell a friend.' 

BOSWELL. 'Would you tell Mr.——?' (naming a gentleman who assuredly was not in the least danger of such a miserable disgrace, though married to a fine woman.) 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; because it would do no good: he is so sluggish, he'd never go to parliament and get through a divorce.'

He said of one of our friends, 'He is ruining himself without pleasure. A man who loses at play, or who runs out his fortune at court, makes his estate less, in hopes of making it bigger: (I am sure of this word, which was often used by him:) but it is a sad thing to pass through the quagmire of parsimony, to the gulph of ruin. To pass over the flowery path of extravagance is very well.'

Amongst the numerous prints pasted on the walls of the dining-room at Streatham, was Hogarth's 'Modern Midnight Conversation.' I asked him what he knew of Parson Ford, who makes a conspicuous figure in the riotous group. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, he was my acquaintance and relation, my mother's nephew. He had purchased a living in the country, but not simoniacally. I never saw him but in the country. I have been told he was a man of great parts; very profligate, but I never heard he was impious.' 

BOSWELL. 'Was there not a story of his ghost having appeared?' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it was believed. A waiter at the Hummums, in which house Ford died, had been absent for some time, and returned, not knowing that Ford was dead. Going down to the cellar, according to the story, he met him; going down again he met him a second time. When he came up, he asked some of the people of the house what Ford could be doing there. They told him Ford was dead. The waiter took a fever, in which he lay for some time. When he recovered, he said he had a message to deliver to some women from Ford; but he was not to tell what, or to whom. He walked out; he was followed; but somewhere about St. Paul's they lost him. He came back, and said he had delivered the message, and the women exclaimed, "Then we are all undone!"

Dr. Pellet, who was not a credulous man, inquired into the truth of this story, and he said, the evidence was irresistible. My wife went to the Hummums; (it is a place where people get themselves cupped.) I believe she went with intention to hear about this story of Ford. At first they were unwilling to tell her; but, after they had talked to her, she came away satisfied that it was true. To be sure the man had a fever; and this vision may have been the beginning of it. But if the message to the women, and their behaviour upon it, were true as related, there was something supernatural. That rests upon his word; and there it remains.'

After Mrs . Thrale was gone to bed, Johnson and I sat up late. We resumed Sir Joshua Reynolds's argument on the preceding Sunday, that a man would be virtuous though he had no other motive than to preserve his character. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not true: for as to this world vice does not hurt a man's character.' 

BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, debauching a friend's wife will.' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. Who thinks the worse of —— for it?' 

BOSWELL. 'Lord —— was not his friend.' 

JOHNSON. 'That is only a circumstance, Sir; a slight distinction. He could not get into the house but by Lord ——. A man is chosen Knight of the shire, not the less for having debauched ladies.' 

BOSWELL. 'What, Sir, if he debauched the ladies of gentlemen in the county, will not there be a general resentment against him?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. He will lose those particular gentlemen; but the rest will not trouble their heads about it.' (warmly.) 

BOSWELL. 'Well, Sir, I cannot think so.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, there is no talking with a man who will dispute what every body knows, (angrily.) Don't you know this?' 

BOSWELL. 'No, Sir; and I wish to think better of your country than you represent it. I knew in Scotland a gentleman obliged to leave it for debauching a lady; and in one of our counties an Earl's brother lost his election, because he had debauched the lady of another Earl in that county, and destroyed the peace of a noble family.'

Still he would not yield. He proceeded: 

'Will you not allow, Sir, that vice does not hurt a man's character so as to obstruct his prosperity in life, when you know that —— was loaded with wealth and honours; a man who had acquired his fortune by such crimes, that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat.' 

BOSWELL. 'You will recollect, Sir, that Dr. Robertson said, he cut his throat because he was weary of still life; little things not being sufficient to move his great mind.' 

JOHNSON, (very angry.) 'Nay, Sir, what stuff is this! You had no more this opinion after Robertson said it, than before. I know nothing more offensive than repeating what one knows to be foolish things, by way of continuing a dispute, to see what a man will answer,— to make him your butt!' (angrier still.) 

BOSWELL. 'My dear Sir, I had no such intentions as you seem to suspect; I had not indeed. Might not this nobleman have felt every thing "weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable," as Hamlet says?' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, if you are to bring in gabble, I'll talk no more. I will not, upon my honour.'

— My readers will decide upon this dispute.

Next morning I stated to Mrs. Thrale at breakfast, before he came down, the dispute of last night as to the influence of character upon success in life. She said he was certainly wrong; and told me, that a Baronet lost an election in Wales, because he had debauched the sister of a gentleman in the county, whom he made one of his daughters invite as her companion at his seat in the country, when his lady and his other children were in London. But she would not encounter Johnson upon the subject.

I staid all this day with him at Streatham. He talked a great deal, in very good humour.

(classix comix™ is made possible in part through the generous support of the Bob’s Bowery Foundation for At-Risk Artists and Writers: “I should like to remind our viewers that Friday is Pie Day at my favorite ‘stop’ Bob’s Bowery Bar! All day from noon to 3 am, all of ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ homebaked pies are half-price, so why not drop in and order a savory steak-and-kidney pie followed up by a slice – or two – of warm apple pie served with a melted thick slice of New York cheddar cheese? Don’t like apple? Try the rutabaga! Offer good only while supplies last.”

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 189

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of 18th Century Platonic Same-Sex Romance Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Thrashing at Mrs. Thrale’s, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and design supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, sharpie™ coloration by eddie el greco; lettering by "roy dismas); a penmarq productions™/sternwall productions™ co-production in association with bowerybar productions™.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

On Saturday, May 9, we fulfilled our purpose of dining by ourselves at the Mitre, according to old custom. There was, on these occasions, a little circumstance of kind attention to Mrs. Williams, which must not be omitted. Before coming out, and leaving her to dine alone, he gave her choice of a chicken, a sweetbread, or any other little nice thing, which was carefully sent to her from the tavern, ready-drest.

Our conversation to-day, I know not how, turned, (I think for the only time at any length, during our long acquaintance,) upon the sensual intercourse between the sexes, the delight of which he ascribed chiefly to imagination. 

'Were it not for imagination, Sir, (said he,) a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess. But such is the adventitious charm of fancy, that we find men who have violated the best principles of society, and ruined their fame and their fortune, that they might possess a woman of rank.' 

It would not be proper to record the particulars of such a conversation in moments of unreserved frankness, when nobody was present on whom it could have any hurtful effect. That subject, when philosophically treated, may surely employ the mind in as curious discussion, and as innocently, as anatomy; provided that those who do treat it keep clear of inflammatory incentives.

'From grave to gay, from lively to severe,'— we were soon engaged in very different speculation; humbly and reverently considering and wondering at the universal mystery of all things, as our imperfect faculties can now judge of them. 

'There are (said he) innumerable questions to which the inquisitive mind can in this state receive no answer: Why do you and I exist? Why was this world created? Since it was to be created, why was it not created sooner?'

' On Sunday, May 10, I supped with him at Mr. Hoole's, with Sir Joshua Reynolds. I have neglected the memorial of this evening, so as to remember no more of it than two particulars; one, that he strenuously opposed an argument by Sir Joshua, that virtue was preferable to vice, considering this life only; and that a man would be virtuous were it only to preserve his character: and that he expressed much wonder at the curious formation of the bat, a mouse with wings; saying, that 'it was almost as strange a thing in physiology, as if the fabulous dragon could be seen.'

On Tuesday, May 12, I waited on the Earl of Marchmont, to know if his Lordship would favour Dr. Johnson with information concerning Pope, whose Life he was about to write. Johnson had not flattered himself with the hopes of receiving any civility from this nobleman; for he said to me, when I mentioned Lord Marchmont as one who could tell him a great deal about Pope,— 

'Sir, he will tell me nothing.' 

I had the honour of being known to his Lordship, and applied to him of myself, without being commissioned by Johnson. His Lordship behaved in the most polite and obliging manner, promised to tell all he recollected about Pope, and was so very courteous as to say, 'Tell Dr. Johnson I have a great respect for him, and am ready to shew it in any way I can. I am to be in the city to-morrow, and will call at his house as I return. ' 

His Lordship however asked, 'Will he write the Lives of the Poets impartially? He was the first that brought Whig and Tory into a Dictionary. And what do you think of his definition of Excise? Do you know the history of his aversion to the word transpire?

Then taking down the folio Dictionary, he shewed it with this censure on its secondary sense: 'To escape from secrecy to notice; a sense lately innovated from France, without necessity.' The truth was Lord Bolingbroke, who left the Jacobites, first used it; therefore, it was to be condemned. 'He should have shewn what word would do for it, if it was unnecessary.' 

I afterwards put the question to Johnson: 'Why, Sir, (said he,) get abroad.' 

BOSWELL. 'That, Sir, is using two words.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no end of this. You may as well insist to have a word for old age.' 

BOSWELL. 'Well, Sir, Senectus.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, to insist always that there should be one word to express a thing in English, because there is one in another language, is to change the language.'

I availed myself of this opportunity to hear from his Lordship many particulars both of Pope and Lord Bolingbroke, which I have in writing.

I proposed to Lord Marchmont that he should revise Johnson's Life of Pope

'So (said his Lordship) you would put me in a dangerous situation. You know he knocked down Osborne the bookseller.'

Elated with the success of my spontaneous exertion to procure material and respectable aid to Johnson for his very favourite work, The Lives of the Poets, I hastened down to Mr. Thrale's at Streatham, where he now was, that I might insure his being at home next day; and after dinner, when I thought he would receive the good news in the best humour, I announced it eagerly: 

'I have been at work for you to-day, Sir. I have been with Lord Marchmont. He bade me tell you he has a great respect for you, and will call on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and communicate all he knows about Pope.'

—Here I paused, in full expectation that he would be pleased with this intelligence, would praise my active merit, and would be alert to embrace such an offer from a nobleman. But whether I had shewn an over-exultation, which provoked his spleen; or whether he was seized with a suspicion that I had obtruded him on Lord Marchmont, and humbled him too much; or whether there was any thing more than an unlucky fit of ill-humour, I know not; but, to my surprize, the result was,— 

JOHNSON. 'I shall not be in town to-morrow. I don't care to know about Pope.' 

MRS. THRALE: (surprized as I was, and a little angry.) 'I suppose, Sir, Mr. Boswell thought, that as you are to write Pope's Life, you would wish to know about him.' 

JOHNSON. 'Wish! why yes. If it rained knowledge I'd hold out my hand; but I would not give myself the trouble to go in quest of it.' 

There was no arguing with him at the moment. 

Some time afterwards he said, 'Lord Marchmont will call on me, and then I shall call on Lord Marchmont.' 

Mr. Thrale was uneasy at his unaccountable caprice; and told me, that if I did not take care to bring about a meeting between Lord Marchmont and him, it would never take place, which would be a great pity. I sent a card to his Lordship, to be left at Johnson's house, acquainting him, that Dr. Johnson could not be in town next day, but would do himself the honour of waiting on him at another time. 

I give this account fairly, as a specimen of that unhappy temper with which this great and good man had occasionally to struggle, from something morbid in his constitution. Let the most censorious of my readers suppose himself to have a violent fit of the tooth-ach, or to have received a severe stroke on the shin-bone, and when in such a state to be asked a question; and if he has any candour, he will not be surprized at the answers which Johnson sometimes gave in moments of irritation. But it must not be erroneously supposed that he was, in the smallest degree, careless concerning any work which he undertook, or that he was generally thus peevish. It will be seen, that in the following year he had a very agreeable interview with Lord Marchmont, at his Lordship's house; and this very afternoon he soon forgot any fretfulness, and fell into conversation as usual.

I mentioned a reflection having been thrown out against four Peers for having presumed to rise in opposition to the opinion of the twelve Judges, in a cause in the House of Lords, as if that were indecent. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no ground for censure. The Peers are Judges themselves; and supposing them really to be of a different opinion, they might from duty be in opposition to the Judges, who were there only to be consulted.'

In this observation I fully concurred with him; for, unquestionably, all the Peers are vested with the highest judicial powers; and when they are confident that they understand a cause, are not obliged, nay ought not to acquiesce in the opinion of the ordinary Law Judges, or even in that of those who from their studies and experience are called the Law Lords. I consider the Peers in general as I do a Jury, who ought to listen with respectful attention to the sages of the law; but, if after hearing them, they have a firm opinion of their own, are bound, as honest men, to decide accordingly. 

JOHNSON. 'How foolish was it in Pope to give all his friendship to Lords, who thought they honoured him by being with him; and then always saying, "I do not value you for being a Lord;" which was a sure proof that he did. I never say, I do not value Boswell more for being born to an estate, because I do not care.' 

BOSWELL. 'Nor for being a Scotchman?' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I do value you more for being a Scotchman. You are a Scotchman without the faults of a Scotchman. You would not have been so valuable as you are, had you not been a Scotchman.'

(classix comix™ is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “A word to the wise guys and gals among our television viewers who live in the metropolitan area, or who perhaps are visiting our fair city: my favorite urban roadhouse Bob’s Bowery Bar now serves its critically-acclaimed Sunday Brunch all day Sunday until 3am! So join me if you will for such favorites as ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ Flapjacks Deluxe’ – a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes slathered in creamery butter, inundated in rich Vermont maple syrup, topped with warm organic blueberry compote, and with four thick rashers of house-cured bacon, a fat piece of blood pudding, two crisp slices of scrapple, and a couple of hot cross buns to mop up your plate!”

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part 190

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 188

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Basic Remedial Writing Skills for Native English Speakers, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Saucy Serveuse, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, organic plant-based paints by eddie el greco; lettering by "roy dismas); a penmarq™/sternwall™/pagan babies™ co-production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Next day, Thursday, April 30, I found him at home by himself. 

JOHNSON. 'Well, Sir, Ramsay gave us a splendid dinner. I love Ramsay. You will not find a man in whose conversation there is more instruction, more information, and more elegance, than in Ramsay's.' 

BOSWELL. 'What I admire in Ramsay, is his continuing to be so young.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why , yes, Sir, it is to be admired. I value myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my conversation. I am now sixty-eight, and I have no more of it than at twenty-eight.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, would not you wish to know old age? He who is never an old man, does not know the whole of human life; for old age is one of the divisions of it.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, what talk is this?' 

BOSWELL. 'I mean, Sir, the Sphinx's description of it; — morning, noon, and night. I would know night, as well as morning and noon.' 

JOHNSON. 'What, Sir, would you know what it is to feel the evils of old age? Would you have the gout? Would you have decrepitude?'

— Seeing him heated, I would not argue any farther; but I was confident that I was in the right. I would, in due time, be a Nestor, an elder of the people; and there should be some difference between the conversation of twenty-eight and sixty-eight. A grave picture should not be gay. There is a serene, solemn, placid old age. 

JOHNSON. 'Mrs. Thrale's mother said of me what flattered me much. A clergyman was complaining of want of society in the country where he lived; and said, "They talk of runts;" (that is, young cows). "Sir, (said Mrs. Salusbury,) Mr. Johnson would learn to talk of runts:" meaning that I was a man who would make the most of my situation, whatever it was.' He added, 'I think myself a very polite man.'

On Saturday, May 2, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, where there was a very large company, and a great deal of conversation; but owing to some circumstance which I cannot now recollect,

I have no record of any part of it, except that there were several people there by no means of the Johnsonian school; so that less attention was paid to him than usual, which put him out of humour; and upon some imaginary offence from me, he attacked me with such rudeness, that I was vexed and angry, because it gave those persons an opportunity of enlarging upon his supposed ferocity, and ill treatment of his best friends. I was so much hurt, and had my pride so much roused, that I kept away from him for a week; and, perhaps, might have kept away much longer, nay, gone to Scotland without seeing him again, had not we fortunately met and been reconciled. To such unhappy chances are human friendships liable.

On Friday, May 8, I dined with him at Mr. Langton's. I was reserved and silent, which I suppose he perceived, and might recollect the cause. After dinner when Mr. Langton was called out of the room, and we were by ourselves, he drew his chair near to mine, and said, in a tone of conciliating courtesy, 'Well, how have you done?' 

BOSWELL. 'Sir, you have made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me when we were last at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. You know, my dear Sir, no man has a greater respect and affection for you, or would sooner go to the end of the world to serve you. Now to treat me so—.' 

He insisted that I had interrupted him, which I assured him was not the case; and proceeded— 

'But why treat me so before people who neither love you nor me?' 

JOHNSON. 'Well, I am sorry for it. I'll make it up to you twenty different ways, as you please.' 

BOSWELL. 'I said to-day to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you tossed me sometimes— I don't care how often, or how high he tosses me, when only friends are present, for then I fall upon soft ground: but I do not like falling on stones, which is the case when enemies are present.— I think this a pretty good image, Sir.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is one of the happiest I have ever heard.'

The truth is, there was no venom in the wounds which he inflicted at any time, unless they were irritated by some malignant infusion by other hands. We were instantly as cordial again as ever, and joined in hearty laugh at some ludicrous but innocent peculiarities of one of our friends. 

BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, it is always culpable to laugh at a man to his face?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that depends upon the man and the thing. If it is a slight man, and a slight thing, you may; for you take nothing valuable from him.'

He said, 'I read yesterday Dr. Blair's sermon on Devotion, from the text "Cornelius, a devout man." His doctrine is the best limited, the best expressed: there is the most warmth without fanaticism, the most rational transport. There is one part of it which I disapprove, and I'd have him correct it; which is, that "he who does not feel joy in religion is far from the kingdom of heaven!" There are many good men whose fear of GOD predominates over their love. It may discourage. It was rashly said. A noble sermon it is indeed. I wish Blair would come over to the Church of England.'

When Mr . Langton returned to us, the 'flow of talk' went on. An eminent author being mentioned;— 

JOHNSON. 'He is not a pleasant man. His conversation is neither instructive nor brilliant. He does not talk as if impelled by any fulness of knowledge or vivacity of imagination. His conversation is like that of any other sensible man. He talks with no wish either to inform or to hear, but only because he thinks it does not become – – to sit in a company and say nothing.'

Mr. Langton having repeated the anecdote of Addison having distinguished between his powers in conversation and in writing, by saying 'I have only nine-pence in my pocket; but I can draw for a thousand pounds;'— 

JOHNSON. 'He had not that retort ready, Sir; he had prepared it before-hand.' 

LANGTON: (turning to me.) 'A fine surmise. Set a thief to catch a thief.'

Johnson called the East-Indians barbarians. 

BOSWELL. 'You will except the Chinese, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 

BOSWELL. 'Have they not arts?' 

JOHNSON. 'They have pottery.' 

BOSWELL. 'What do you say to the written characters of their language?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, they have not an alphabet. They have not been able to form what all other nations have formed.' 

BOSWELL. 'There is more learning in their language than in any other, from the immense number of their characters.' 

JOHNSON. 'It is only more difficult from its rudeness; as there is more labour in hewing down a tree with a stone than with an axe.'

He said, 'I have been reading Lord Kames's Sketches of the History of Man. In treating of severity of punishment, he mentions that of Madame Lapouchin, in Russia, but he does not give it fairly; for I have looked at Chappe D'Auteroche, from whom he has taken it.

He stops where it is said that the spectators thought her innocent, and leaves out what follows; that she nevertheless was guilty. Now this is being as culpable as one can conceive, to misrepresent fact in a book, and for what motive? It is like one of those lies which people tell, one cannot see why. The woman's life was spared; and no punishment was too great for the favourite of an Empress who had conspired to dethrone her mistress.' 

BOSWELL. 'He was only giving a picture of the lady in her sufferings.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, don't endeavour to palliate this. Guilt is a principal feature in the picture. Kames is puzzled with a question that puzzled me when I was a very young man. Why is it that the interest of money is lower, when money is plentiful; for five pounds has the same proportion of value to a hundred pounds when money is plentiful, as when it is scarce? A lady explained it to me. "It is (said she) because when money is plentiful there are so many more who have money to lend, that they bid down one another. Many have then a hundred pounds; and one says,— Take mine rather than another's, and you shall have it at four per cent."' 

BOSWELL. 'Does Lord Kames decide the question?' 

JOHNSON. 'I think he leaves it as he found it.' 

BOSWELL. 'This must have been an extraordinary lady who instructed you, Sir. May I ask who she was?' 

JOHNSON. 'Molly Aston, Sir, the sister of those ladies with whom you dined at Lichfield. I shall be at home to-morrow.' 

BOSWELL. 'Then let us dine by ourselves at the Mitre, to keep up the old custom, "the custom of the manor," the custom of the mitre.'


JOHNSON. 'Sir, so it shall be.'

(classix comix™ is underwritten in part by the Bob’s Bowery Foundation for the Unremunerative Arts: “I should like to apprise our viewers of a delightful new ‘special’ addition to the fall menu at my favorite stopping-place Bob’s Bowery Bar: Bob’s Mom’s Wild Boar Stew, the savory result of Bob’s last hunting trip in the wilds of the Poconos: aged wild boar meat slow-simmered in our basement-brewed bock beer with Mom’s garden vegetables and potatoes, served with your choice of fresh-from-the-oven hot cross buns or crusty groat cakes. Bob bagged a three-hundred pounder this trip, but this special tends to sell out quick, so come early and often!”

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part 189