Sunday, April 22, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 213


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

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and non-GMO organic plant-based colors by "eddie el greco ; lettering by roy dismas) a penmarqhaus™/SternwallCorp™ co-production.

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Johnson, who had done liberal justice to Warburton {William Warburton, writer and cleric, editor of the works of Pope and Shakespeare – Editor} in his edition of Shakspeare, which was published during the life of that powerful writer, with still greater liberality took an opportunity, in the Life of Pope, of paying the tribute due to him when he was no longer in 'high place,' but numbered with the dead.

It seems strange, that two such men as Johnson and Warburton, who lived in the same age and country, should not only not have been in any degree of intimacy, but been almost personally unacquainted. But such instances, though we must wonder at them, are not rare.


If I am rightly informed, after a careful enquiry, they never met but once, which was at the house of Mrs. French, in London, well known for her elegant assemblies, and bringing eminent characters together. The interview proved to be mutually agreeable.

I am well informed, that Warburton said of Johnson, 'I admire him, but I cannot bear his style:' and that Johnson being told of this, said, 'That is exactly my case as to him.' 


The manner in which he expressed his admiration of the fertility of Warburton's genius and of the variety of his materials was, 'The table is always full, Sir. He brings things from the north, and the south, and from every quarter. In his Divine Legation, you are always entertained. He carries you round and round, without carrying you forward to the point; but then you have no wish to be carried forward.' He said to the Reverend Mr. Strahan, 'Warburton is perhaps the last man who has written with a mind full of reading and reflection.'


It is remarkable, that in the Life of Broome, Johnson takes notice of Dr. Warburton using a mode of expression which he himself used, and that not seldom, to the great offence of those who did not know him. Johnson had accustomed himself to use the word lie, to express a mistake or an errour in relation; in short, when the thing was not so as told, though the relator did not mean to deceive. When he thought there was intentional falsehood in the relator, his expression was, 'He lies, and he knows he lies.'


Speaking of Pope's not having been known to excel in conversation, Johnson observes, that 'traditional memory retains no sallies of raillery, or sentences of observation; nothing either pointed or solid, wise or merry; and that one apophthegm only is recorded.' 

In this respect, Pope differed widely from Johnson, whose conversation was, perhaps, more admirable than even his writings, however excellent. Mr. Wilkes has, however, favoured me with one repartee of Pope, of which Johnson was not informed. 


Johnson, after justly censuring him for having 'nursed in his mind a foolish dis-esteem of Kings,' tells us, 'yet a little regard shewn him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say when he was asked by his Royal Highness, how he could love a Prince, while he disliked Kings?' 

The answer which Pope made, was, 'The young lion is harmless, and even playful; but when his claws are full grown he becomes cruel, dreadful, and mischievous.'


But although we have no collection of Pope's sayings, it is not therefore to be concluded, that he was not agreeable in social intercourse; for Johnson has been heard to say, that 'the happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered but a general effect of pleasing impression.' 

The late Lord Somerville, who saw much both of great and brilliant life, told me, that he had dined in company with Pope, and that after dinner the little man, as he called him, drank his bottle of Burgundy, and was exceedingly gay and entertaining.


In the Life of ADDISON we find an unpleasing account of his having lent Steele a hundred pounds, and 'reclaimed his loan by an execution {a judicial writ – Editor}.' Mr. Malone has obliged me with the following note concerning it:—

'I mentioned to him that some people thought that Mr. Addison's character was so pure, that the fact, though true, ought to have been suppressed. He saw no reason for this. 


'"If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shewn, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing. The sacred writers (he observed) related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair, into which otherwise they would naturally fall, were they not supported by the recollection that others had offended like themselves, and by penitence and amendment of life had been restored to the favour of Heaven."'


In the Life of BLACKMORE, we find that writer's reputation generously cleared by Johnson from the cloud of prejudice which the malignity of contemporary wits had raised around it.

We trace Johnson's own character in his observations on Blackmore's 'magnanimity as an authour.' 

'The incessant attacks of his enemies, whether serious or merry, are never discovered to have disturbed his quiet, or to have lessened his confidence in himself.' 


Johnson, I recollect, once told me, laughing heartily, that he understood it had been said of him, 'He appears not to feel; but when he is alone, depend upon it, he suffers sadly.' 

I am as certain as I can be of any man's real sentiments, that he enjoyed the perpetual shower of little hostile arrows as evidences of his fame.

In the Life of SWIFT, it appears to me that Johnson had a certain degree of prejudice against that extraordinary man, of which I have elsewhere had occasion to speak.


Mr. Thomas Sheridan imputed it to a supposed apprehension in Johnson, that Swift had not been sufficiently active in obtaining for him an Irish degree when it was solicited, but of this there was not sufficient evidence; and let me not presume to charge Johnson with injustice, because he did not think so highly of the writings of this authour, as I have done from my youth upwards. 

Yet that he had an unfavourable bias is evident, were it only from that passage in which he speaks of Swift's practice of saving, as, 'first ridiculous and at last detestable;' and yet after some examination of circumstances, finds himself obliged to own, that 'it will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expence better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give.'

One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's life should be often inculcated:— 

'It may be justly supposed, that there was in his conversation what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, an ambition of momentary equality, sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul; but a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's dignity puts himself in his power; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.'

While the world in general was filled with admiration of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, there were narrow circles in which prejudice and resentment were fostered, and from which attacks of different sorts issued against him. By some violent Whigs he was arraigned of injustice to Milton; by some Cambridge men of depreciating Gray; and his expressing with a dignified freedom what he really thought of George, Lord Lyttelton, gave offence to some of the friends of that nobleman. 

These minute inconveniencies gave not the least disturbance to Johnson. He nobly said, when I talked to him of the feeble, though shrill outcry which had been raised, 

'Sir, I considered myself as entrusted with a certain portion of truth. I have given my opinion sincerely; let them shew where they think me wrong.'


"(classix comix™ is brought to you by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “I should like to remind our viewers that Tuesday nights are half-price burger nights at my favorite eating and drinking establishment Bob’s Bowery Bar, and modesty shall not prevent me from recommending the ‘Horaceburger’ a quarter pound of house-ground free-range aged Angus beef, topped with four thick rashers of Pennsylvania Dutch bacon, a generous slab of melted New York State aged Cheddar, a thick slice of red onion, diced sun-dried tomatoes and a buttery fried farm-fresh egg, served on Mom’s crunchy sourdough roll – goes swell with a tall imperial pint schooner of Bob’s basement-brewed house bock!”

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 212


Edited by Dan Leo, Assistant Professor of 18th Century Philological Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Bashful Brigand, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and cybernetically-generated colors by "eddie el greco; lettering by "roy dismas ) for penmarqabable™ productions, ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Sternwall Corporation.

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In 1781 Johnson at last completed his Lives of the Poets, of which he gives this account: 'Some time in March I finished the Lives of the Poets, which I wrote in my usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and working with vigour and haste.' In a memorandum previous to this, he says of them: 'Written, I hope, in such a manner as may tend to the promotion of piety.'

This is the work which of all Dr. Johnson's writings will perhaps be read most generally, and with most pleasure.


Philology and biography were his favourite pursuits, and those who lived most in intimacy with him, heard him upon all occasions, when there was a proper opportunity, take delight in expatiating upon the various merits of the English Poets: upon the niceties of their characters, and the events of their progress through the world which they contributed to illuminate. His mind was so full of that kind of information, and it was so well arranged in his memory, that in performing what he had undertaken in this way, he had little more to do than to put his thoughts upon paper, exhibiting first each Poet's life, and then subjoining a critical examination of his genius and works.


But when he began to write, the subject swelled in such a manner, that instead of prefaces to each poet, of no more than a few pages, as he had originally intended, he produced an ample, rich, and most entertaining view of them in every respect. The booksellers, justly sensible of the great additional value of the copy-right, presented him with another hundred pounds, over and above two hundred, for which his agreement was to furnish such prefaces as he thought fit.


This was, however, but a small recompense for such a collection of biography, and such principles and illustrations of criticism, as, if digested and arranged in one system, by some modern Aristotle or Longinus, might form a code upon that subject, such as no other nation can shew. As he was so good as to make me a present of the greatest part of the original and indeed only manuscript of this admirable work, I have an opportunity of observing with wonder, the correctness with which he rapidly struck off such glowing composition. 


That he, however, had a good deal of trouble, and some anxiety in carrying on the work, we see from a series of letters to Mr. Nichols the printer, whose variety of literary inquiry and obliging disposition, rendered him useful to Johnson. Mr. Steevens appears, from the papers in my possession, to have supplied him with some anecdotes and quotations; and I observe the fair hand of Mrs. Thrale as one of his copyists of select passages. But he was principally indebted to my steady friend Mr. Isaac Reed, of Staple-inn, whose extensive and accurate knowledge of English literary history I do not express with exaggeration, when I say it is wonderful. 


It is not my intention to dwell upon each of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, or attempt an analysis of their merits, which, were I able to do it, would take up too much room in this work; yet I shall make a few observations upon some of them.

So easy is his style in these Lives, that I do not recollect more than three uncommon or learned words; one, when giving an account of the approach of Waller's mortal disease, he says, 'he found his legs grow tumid;' by using the expression his legs swelled, he would have avoided this; and there would have been no impropriety in its being followed by the interesting question to his physician, 'What that swelling meant?'


Another, when he mentions that Pope had emitted proposals; when published or issued would have been more readily understood; and a third, when he calls Orrery and Dr. Delany, writers both undoubtedly veracious, when true, honest, or faithful, might have been used. Yet, it must be owned, that none of these are hard or too big words; that custom would make them seem as easy as any others; and that a language is richer and capable of more beauty of expression, by having a greater variety of synonimes.


His dissertation upon the unfitness of poetry for the aweful subjects of our holy religion, though I do not entirely agree with with him, has all the merit of originality, with uncommon force and reasoning.

Against his Life of MILTON, the hounds of Whiggism have opened in full cry. But of Milton's great excellence as a poet, where shall we find such a blazon as by the hand of Johnson?


I have, indeed, often wondered how Milton, 'an acrimonious and surly Republican,'—' a man who in his domestick relations was so severe and arbitrary,' and whose head was filled with the hardest and most dismal tenets of Calvinism, should have been such a poet; should not only have written with sublimity, but with beauty, and even gaiety; should have exquisitely painted the sweetest sensations of which our nature is capable; imaged the delicate raptures of connubial love; nay, seemed to be animated with all the spirit of revelry. It is a proof that in the human mind the departments of judgement and imagination, perception and temper, may sometimes be divided by strong partitions; and that the light and shade in the same character may be kept so distinct as never to be blended.


In the Life of Milton, Johnson took occasion to maintain his own and the general opinion of the excellence of rhyme over blank verse, in English poetry; and quotes this apposite illustration of it by 'an ingenious critick,' that  it seems to be verse only to the eye. The gentleman whom he thus characterises, is Mr. Lock, of Norbury Park, in Surrey, whose knowledge and taste in the fine arts is universally celebrated. 


In drawing Dryden's character, Johnson has given, though I suppose unintentionally, some touches of his own. Thus:— 'The power that predominated in his intellectual operations was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented, he studied rather than felt; and produced sentiments not such as Nature enforces, but meditation supplies. With the simple and elemental passions as they spring separate in the mind, he seems not much acquainted. He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetick; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others.' 


It may indeed be observed, that in all the numerous writings of Johnson, whether in prose or verse, and even in his Tragedy, of which the subject is the distress of an unfortunate Princess, there is not a single passage that ever drew a tear.

The Life of POPE was written by Johnson con amore, both from the early possession which that writer had taken of his mind, and from the pleasure which he must have felt, in for ever silencing all attempts to lessen his poetical fame, by demonstrating his excellence, and pronouncing the following triumphant eulogium:—


'After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking in return, If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumscribe poetry by a definition, will only shew the narrowness of the definer; though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past; let us enquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed.'

I remember once to have heard Johnson say, 'Sir, a thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope.'


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part 213


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 211


Edited by Dan Leo, Associate Professor of 18th Century British Morality Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Uncharitable Countess, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and Easter egg dyes by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); A penmarq projeqts™/sternwall studios™ co-production.

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Richardson had little conversation, except about his own works, of which Sir Joshua Reynolds said he was always willing to talk, and glad to have them introduced. Johnson when he carried Mr. Langton to see him, professed that he could bring him out into conversation, and used this allusive expression, "Sir, I can make him rear." But he failed; for in that interview Richardson said little else than that there lay in the room a translation of his Clarissa into German.'

'Once when somebody produced a newspaper in which there was a letter of stupid abuse of Sir Joshua Reynolds, of which Johnson himself came in for a share,—" Pray," said he, "let us have it read aloud from beginning to end;" which being done, he with a ludicrous earnestness, and not directing his look to any particular person, called out, "Are we alive after all this satire!"'

'Of a certain noble Lord, he said, "Respect him, you could not; for he had no mind of his own. Love him you could not; for that which you could do with him, every one else could."'


'Of Dr. Goldsmith he said, "No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had."'

'Depend upon it, said he, that if a man talks of his misfortunes, there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery, there never is any recourse to the mention of it.'

'A man must be a poor beast that should read no more in quantity than he could utter aloud.'


'Many a man is mad in certain instances, and goes through life without having it perceived: for example, a madness has seized a person of supposing himself obliged literally to pray continually — had the madness turned the opposite way and the person thought it a crime ever to pray, it might not improbably have continued unobserved.'

'Supposing (said he) a wife to be of a studious or argumentative turn, it would be very troublesome: for instance,— if a woman should continually dwell upon the subject of the Arian heresy.'

'No man speaks concerning another, even suppose it be in his praise, if he thinks he does not hear him, exactly as he would, if he thought he was within hearing.'


'The applause of a single human being is of great consequence: This he said to me with great earnestness of manner, very near the time of his decease, on occasion of having desired me to read a letter addressed to him from some person in the North of England; I only told him in general that it was highly in his praise;— and then he expressed himself as above.'


'He observed once, at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, that a beggar in the street will more readily ask alms from a man, though there should be no marks of wealth in his appearance, than from even a well-dressed woman; which he accounted for from the greater degree of carefulness as to money that is to be found in women; saying farther upon it, that the opportunities in general that they possess of improving their condition are much fewer than men have; and adding, as he looked round the company, which consisted of men only,— there is not one of us who does not think he might be richer if he would use his endeavour.'

'An observation of Bathurst's may be mentioned, which Johnson repeated, appearing to acknowledge it to be well founded, namely, it was somewhat remarkable how seldom, on occasion of coming into the company of any new person, one felt any wish or inclination to see him again.'


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part 212


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 210


Edited by Dan Leo, Assistant Professor of Remedial Low Dutch, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Barrow-Grinder’s Complaint, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and d√©coupage by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq ateliers™/Sternwall International™ co-production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

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A gentleman who introduced his brother to Dr. Johnson was earnest to recommend him to the Doctor's notice, which he did by saying, "When we have sat together some time, you'll find my brother grow very entertaining."

"Sir, (said Johnson,) I can wait."'

'In the latter part of his life, in order to satisfy himself whether his mental faculties were impaired, he resolved that he would try to learn a new language, and fixed upon the Low Dutch, for that purpose, and this he continued till he had read about one half of Thomas √† Kempis; and finding that there appeared no abatement of his power of acquisition, he then desisted, as thinking the experiment had been duly tried.'


'Mr. Langton and he having gone to see a Freemason's funeral procession, when they were at Rochester, and some solemn musick being played on French horns, he said, "This is the first time that I have ever been affected by musical sounds;" adding, "that the impression made upon him was of a melancholy kind." 

Mr. Langton saying, that this effect was a fine one,— 

JOHNSON. "Yes, if it softens the mind, so as to prepare it for the reception of salutary feelings, it may be good: but inasmuch as it is melancholy per se, it is bad."'


'Goldsmith had long a visionary project, that some time or other when his circumstances should be easier, he would go to Aleppo, in order to acquire a knowledge as far as might be of any arts peculiar to the East, and introduce them into Britain. When this was talked of in Dr. Johnson's company, he said, "Of all men Goldsmith is the most unfit to go out upon such an inquiry; for he is utterly ignorant of such arts as we already possess, and consequently could not know what would be accessions to our present stock of mechanical knowledge. Sir, he would bring home a grinding barrow, which you see in every street in London, and think that he had furnished a wonderful improvement."'

'Greek, Sir, (said he,) is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.'


'It is well known that there was formerly a rude custom for those who were sailing upon the Thames, to accost each other as they passed, in the most abusive language they could invent, generally, however, with as much satirical humour as they were capable of producing. Johnson was once eminently successful in this species of contest; a fellow having attacked him with some coarse raillery, Johnson answered him thus, "Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods."'



'Beauclerk having observed to him of one of their friends, that he was aukward at counting money, "Why, Sir, said Johnson, I am likewise aukward at counting money. But then, Sir, the reason is plain; I have had very little money to count."'

'He had an abhorrence of affectation. Talking of old Mr. Langton, of whom he said, "Sir, you will seldom see such a gentleman, such are his stores of literature, such his knowledge in divinity, and such his exemplary life;" he added, "and Sir, he has no grimace, no gesticulation, no bursts of admiration on trivial occasions; he never embraces you with an overacted cordiality."'


'Being in company with a gentleman who thought fit to maintain Dr. Berkeley's ingenious philosophy, that nothing exists but as perceived by some mind; when the gentleman was going away, Johnson said to him, "Pray, Sir, don't leave us; for we may perhaps forget to think of you, and then you will cease to exist."'

'Goldsmith, upon being visited by Johnson one day in the Temple, said to him with a little jealousy of the appearance of his accommodation, "I shall soon be in better chambers than these."



Johnson at the same time checked him and paid him a handsome compliment, implying that a man of his talents should be above attention to such distinctions,—' Nay, Sir, never mind that. Nil te quaesiveris extra [“Seek not thyself without thyself to find.” – Dryden’s translation of Persius – Editor].'

'When Mr. Vesey was proposed as a member of the LITERARY CLUB, Mr. Burke began by saying that he was a man of gentle manners. "Sir, said Johnson, you need say no more. When you have said a man of gentle manners; you have said enough."'


'The late Mr. Fitzherbert told Mr. Langton that Johnson said to him, "Sir, a man has no more right to say an uncivil thing, than to act one; no more right to say a rude thing to another than to knock him down."'

'My dear friend Dr. Bathurst, (said he with a warmth of approbation) declared he was glad that his father, who was a West-Indian planter, had left his affairs in total ruin, because having no estate, he was not under the temptation of having slaves.'


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part 211