Sunday, July 15, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 223


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

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to begin at the beginning, click here

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We stopped at Welwyn, where I wished much to see, in the company of Dr. Johnson, the residence of the authour of Night Thoughts {A long poem by Edward Young, published between 1742 and 1745; Boswell called it "the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced"; today it is best known for the illustrations done for it in 1797 by William Blake.– Editor}, which was then in the possession of his son, Mr. Young. 


Here some address was requisite, for I was not acquainted with Mr. Young, and had I proposed to Dr. Johnson that we send to him, he would have checked my wish, and perhaps have been offended. I therefore concerted with Mr. Dilly, that I should steal away from Dr. Johnson and him, and try what reception I could procure from Mr. Young; if unfavourable, nothing was to be said; but if agreeable, I should return and notify it to them. 


I hastened to Mr. Young’s, found he was at home, sent in word that a gentleman desired to wait upon him, and was shewn in to a parlour where he and a young lady, his daughter, were sitting. He appeared to be a plain, civil, country gentleman: and when I begged pardon for presuming to trouble him, but that I wished much to see his place, if he would give me leave; he behaved very courteously, and answered, ‘By all means, Sir; we are just going to drink tea; will you sit down?’ 

I thanked him, but said, Dr. Johnson had come with me from London, and I must return to the inn to drink tea with him; that my name was Boswell, that I had traveled with him in the Hebrides.


‘Sir (said he), I should think it a great honour to see Dr. Johnson here. Will you allow me to send for him?’

Availing myself of this opening, I said that, ‘I would go myself and bring him, when he had drunk tea; he knew nothing of my calling here.’ 

Having been thus successful, I hastened back to the inn, and informed Dr. Johnson that ‘Mr. Young, son of Dr. Young, the authour of Night Thoughts, whom I had just left, desired to have the honour of seeing him at the house where his father lived.’


Dr. Johnson luckily made no inquiry as to how this invitation had arisen, but agreed to go, and when we entered Mr. Young’s parlour, he addressed him with a very polite bow, ‘Sir, I had a curiosity to see this place. I had the honour to know that great man, your father.’ 

We went into the garden, where we found a gravel walk, on each side of which was a row of trees, planted by Dr. Young, which formed a handsome Gothick arch: Dr. Johnson called it a fine grove. I beheld it with reverence.

We sat some time in the summer-house. I said to Mr. Young, that I had been told his father was cheerful.


‘Sir (said he), he was too well-bred a man not to be cheerful in company; but he was gloomy when alone. He never was cheerful after my mother’s death, and he had many disappointments.’ 

Dr. Johnson observed to me afterwards, ‘That this was no favourable account of Dr. Young; for it is not becoming in a man to have so little acquiescence in the ways of Providence, as to be gloomy because he has not obtained as much preferment as he expected; nor to continue gloomy for the loss of his wife. Grief has its time.’ 


The last part of this censure was theoretically made. Practically, we know that grief for the loss of a wife may continue very long, in proportion as affection has been sincere. No man knew this better than Dr. Johnson.

Upon the road we talked about the uncertainty with which authours and booksellers engage in the publication of literary works. 

JOHNSON. ‘My judgement I have found is no certain rule as to the sale of a book.’


BOSWELL. ‘Pray, Sir, have you been much plagued with authours sending you their works to revise?’

JOHNSON. ‘No, sir; I have been thought a sour, surly fellow.’

BOSWELL. ‘Very lucky for you, Sir, – in that respect.’

I must however observe, notwithstanding what he now said,  which he no doubt imagined at the time to be the fact, there was, perhaps, no man who more frequently yielded to the solicitations even of very obscure authours, to read their manuscripts, or more liberally assisted them with advice and correction.    


He found himself very happy at Squire Dilly’s, where there is always abundance of excellent fare, and hearty welcome.



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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 222


Edited by Dan Leo, Assistant Professor of Unjustly Unread Classics of British Literature, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Scandal in Scalding Alley, the Olney Community College Press.

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I asked him if he was dissatisfied at having so small a share of wealth, and none of those distinctions in the state which are the objects of ambition. He had only a pension of three hundred a year. Why was he not in such circumstances as to keep his coach? Why had he not some considerable office?

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I have never complained of the world; nor do I think that I have reason to complain. It is rather to be wondered at that I have so much. My pension is more out of the usual course of things than any instance that I have known. Here, Sir, was a man avowedly no friend to Government at the time, who got a pension without asking for it.


I never courted the great; they sent for me; but I think they now give me up. They are satisfied; they have seen enough of me.'

Upon my observing that I could not believe this, for they must certainly be highly pleased by his conversation; conscious of his own superiority, he answered, ‘No, sir; great lords and ladies don’t love to have their mouths stopped.’

This was very expressive of the effect which the force of his understanding and brilliancy of his fancy could not but produce; and, to be sure, they must have found themselves strangely diminished in his company. When I warmly declared how happy I was at all times to hear him; –


‘Yes, Sir (said he); but if you were Lord Chancellor, it would not be so; you would then consider your own dignity.’

There was much truth and knowledge of human nature in this remark. But certainly one should think, that in whatever elevated state of life a man who knew the value of the conversation of Johnson might be placed, though he might prudently avoid a situation in which he might appear lessened by comparison; yet he would frequently gratify himself in private with the participation of the rich intellectual entertainment which Johnson could furnish. 


Strange, however, it is, to consider how few of the great sought his society; so that if one were disposed to take occasion for satire on that account, very conspicuous objects present themselves. His noble friend, Lord Elibank, well observed, that if a great man procured an interview with Johnson, and did not wish to see him more, it shewed a mere idle curiosity, and a wretched want of relish for extraordinary powers of mind. Mrs. Thrale justly and wittily accounted for such conduct by saying, that Johnson’s conversation was by much too strong for a person accustomed to obsequiousness and flattery; it was mustard in a young child’s mouth!


One day, when I told him that I was a zealous Tory, but not enough 'according to knowledge,' and should be obliged to him for 'a reason,' he was so candid, and expressed himself so well, that I begged of him to repeat what he had said, and I wrote down as follows:— 

OF TORY AND WHIG.

'A wise Tory and a wise Whig, I believe, will agree. Their principles are the same, though their modes of thinking are different. A high Tory makes government unintelligible: it is lost in the clouds. A violent Whig makes it impracticable: he is for allowing so much liberty to every man, that there is not power enough to govern any man.


The prejudice of the Tory is for establishment; the prejudice of the Whig is for innovation. A Tory does not wish to give more real power to Government; but that Government should have more reverence. Then they differ as to the Church. The Tory is not for giving more legal power to the Clergy, but wishes they should have a considerable influence, founded on the opinion of mankind; the Whig is for limiting and watching them with a narrow jealousy.'


On Saturday, June 2, I had set out for Scotland, and had promised to pay a visit in my way, as I sometimes did, at Southill, in Bedfordshire, at the hospitable mansion of Squire Dilly, the elder brother of my worthy friends, the booksellers, in the Poultry. {“The Poultry”: a London street which got its name because poulterers sent their fowls there to be prepared, in “Scalding Alley”. - Editor} Dr. Johnson agreed to be of the party this year, with Mr. Charles Dilly and me, and to go and see Lord Bute's seat at Luton Hoe.


He talked little to us in the carriage, being chiefly occupied in reading Dr. Watson's second volume of Chemical Essays, which he liked very well, and his own Prince of Abyssinia, on which he seemed to be intensely fixed; having told us, that he had not looked at it since it was first published. I happened to take it out of my pocket this day, and he seized upon it with avidity. He pointed out to me the following remarkable passage:—


'By what means (said the prince) are the Europeans thus powerful; or why, since they can so easily visit Asia and Africa for trade or conquest, cannot the Asiaticks and Africans invade their coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring us thither.' 

'They are more powerful, Sir, than we, (answered Imlac,) because they are wiser. Knowledge will always predominate over ignorance, as man governs the other animals. But why their knowledge is more than ours, I know not what reason can be given, but the unsearchable will of the Supreme Being.'

He said, ‘This, Sir, no man can explain otherwise.’



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part 223


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 221


Edited by Dan Leo, Professor of Basic Remedial English Language Skills, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Murder at the Blue-Stocking Club, the Olney Community College Press.

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About this time it was much the fashion for several ladies to have evening assemblies, where the fair sex might participate in conversation with literary and ingenious men, animated by a desire to please. These societies were denominated Blue-stocking Clubs, the origin of which title being little known, it may be worth while to relate it. One of the most eminent members of those societies, when they first commenced, was Mr. Stillingfleet, whose dress was remarkably grave, and in particular it was observed, that he wore blue stockings.


Such was the excellence of his conversation, that his absence was felt as so great a loss, that it used to be said, 'We can do nothing without the blue stockings;' and thus by degrees the title was established. Miss Hannah More has admirably described a Blue-stocking Club, in her Bas Bleu, a poem in which many of the persons who were most conspicuous there are mentioned.

Johnson was prevailed with to come sometimes into these circles, and did not think himself too grave even for the lively Miss Monckton (now Countess of Corke), who used to have the finest bit of blue at the house of her mother, Lady Galway. Her vivacity enchanted the Sage, and they used to talk together with all imaginable ease. 


A singular instance happened one evening, when she insisted that some of Sterne's writings were very pathetick. Johnson bluntly denied it. 

'I am sure (said she) they have affected me.' 

'Why (said Johnson, smiling, and rolling himself about,) that is, because, dearest, you're a dunce.' 

When she some time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said with equal truth and politeness; 'Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not have said it.'


Another evening Johnson's kind indulgence towards me had a pretty difficult trial. I had dined at the Duke of Montrose's with a very agreeable party, and his Grace, according to his usual custom, had circulated the bottle very freely. Lord Graham and I went together to Miss Monckton's, where I certainly was in extraordinary spirits, and above all fear or awe. In the midst of a great number of persons of the first rank, amongst whom I recollect with confusion, a noble lady of the most stately decorum, I placed myself next to Johnson, and thinking myself now fully his match, talked to him in a loud and boisterous manner, desirous to let the company know how I could contend with Ajax. 


I particularly remember pressing him upon the value of the pleasures of the imagination, and as an illustration of my argument, asking him, 'What, Sir, supposing I were to fancy that the—( naming the most charming Duchess in his Majesty's dominions) were in love with me, should I not be very happy?' 

My friend with much address evaded my interrogatories, and kept me as quiet as possible; but it may easily be conceived how he must have felt. However, when a few days afterwards I waited upon him and made an apology, he behaved with the most friendly gentleness.


While I remained in London this year, Johnson and I dined together at several places. I recollect a placid day at Dr. Butter's, who had now removed from Derby to Lower Grosvenor-street, London; but of his conversation on that and other occasions during this period, I neglected to keep any regular record, and shall therefore insert here some miscellaneous articles which I find in my Johnsonian notes.

His disorderly habits, when 'making provision for the day that was passing over him,' appear from the following anecdote, communicated to me by Mr. John Nichols:—


'In the year 1763, a young bookseller, who was an apprentice to Mr. Whiston, waited on him with a subscription to his Shakspeare: and observing that the Doctor made no entry in any book of the subscriber's name, ventured diffidently to ask, whether he would please to have the gentleman's address, that it might be properly inserted in the printed list of subscribers. 

'I shall print no list of subscribers;' said Johnson, with great abruptness: but almost immediately recollecting himself, added, very complacently, 'Sir, I have two very cogent reasons for not printing any list of subscribers;— one, that I have lost all the names,— the other, that I have spent all the money.'


Johnson could not brook appearing to be worsted in argument, even when he had taken the wrong side, to shew the force and dexterity of his talents. When, therefore, he perceived that his opponent gained ground, he had recourse to some sudden mode of robust sophistry. Once when I was pressing upon him with visible advantage, he stopped me thus:—

'My dear Boswell, let's have no more of this; you'll make nothing of it. I'd rather have you whistle a Scotch tune.'

Care, however, must be taken to distinguish between Johnson when he 'talked for victory,' and Johnson when he had no desire but to inform and illustrate. 


'One of Johnson's principal talents (says an eminent friend of his) was shewn in maintaining the wrong side of an argument, and in a splendid perversion of the truth. If you could contrive to have his fair opinion on a subject, and without any bias from personal prejudice, or from a wish to be victorious in argument, it was wisdom itself, not only convincing, but overpowering.'

He had, however, all his life habituated himself to consider conversation as a trial of intellectual vigour and skill; and to this, I think, we may venture to ascribe that unexampled richness and brilliancy which appeared in his own. As a proof at once of his eagerness for colloquial distinction, and his high notion of this eminent friend, he once addressed him thus:-


'——, we now have been several hours together; and you have said but one thing for which I envied you.'

He disliked much all speculative desponding considerations, which tended to discourage men from diligence and exertion. He was in this like Dr. Shaw, the great traveller, who Mr. Daines Barrington told me, used to say, 'I hate a cui bono man.' 

Upon being asked by a friend what he should think of a man who was apt to say non est tanti {“it is not worth it” – Editor};-'That he's a stupid fellow, Sir; (answered Johnson): What would these tanti men be doing the while?' 


When I in a low-spirited fit, was talking to him with indifference of the pursuits which generally engage us in a course of action, and inquiring a reason for taking so much trouble; 

'Sir (said he, in an animated tone) it is driving on the system of life.'

Goldsmith could sometimes take adventurous liberties with him, and escape unpunished. Beauclerk told me that when Goldsmith talked of a project for having a third Theatre in London, solely for the exhibition of new plays, in order to deliver authours from the supposed tyranny of managers, Johnson treated it slightingly; upon which Goldsmith said, 'Ay, ay, this may be nothing to you, who can now shelter yourself behind the corner of a pension;' and that Johnson bore this with good-humour.


Johnson had called twice on the Bishop of Killaloe before his Lordship set out for Ireland, having missed him the first time. He said, 'It would have hung heavy on my heart if I had not seen him. No man ever paid more attention to another than he has done to me; and I have neglected him, not wilfully, but from being otherwise occupied. Always, Sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.'

Johnson told me, that he was once much pleased to find that a carpenter, who lived near him, was very ready to shew him some things in his business which he wished to see: 

'It was paying (said he) respect to literature.'


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part 222


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 220


Edited by Dan Leo, Professor of 18th Century British Badinage Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Corpse in Queen’s Gate Mews, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork supervised personally by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, mimeography by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarq studios international™. “A penmarq™ production is a ‘qlassy’ production!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author and life coach. 

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For some time after this day I did not see him very often, and of the conversation which I did enjoy, I am sorry to find I have preserved but little. I was at this time engaged in a variety of other matters, which required exertion and assiduity, and necessarily occupied almost all my time.

One day having spoken very freely of those who were then in power, he said to me, 'Between ourselves, Sir, I do not like to give opposition the satisfaction of knowing how much I disapprove of the ministry.' 


And when I mentioned that Mr. Burke had boasted how quiet the nation was in George the Second's reign, when Whigs were in power, compared with the present reign, when Tories governed;—

'Why, Sir, (said he,) you are to consider that Tories having more reverence for government, will not oppose with the same violence as Whigs, who being unrestrained by that principle, will oppose by any means.'

This month he lost not only Mr. Thrale, but another friend, Mr. William Strahan, Junior, printer, the eldest son of his old and constant friend, Printer to his Majesty. 

'TO MRS. STRAHAN. 

'DEAR MADAM,


'The grief which I feel for the loss of a very kind friend is sufficient to make me know how much you suffer by the death of an amiable son; a man, of whom I think it may truly be said, that no one knew him who does not lament him. I look upon myself as having a friend, another friend, taken from me.

'Comfort, dear Madam, I would give you if I could, but I know how little the forms of consolation can avail. Let me, however, counsel you not to waste your health in unprofitable sorrow, but go to Bath, and endeavour to prolong your own life; but when we have all done all that we can, one friend in time must lose the other.

'I am, dear Madam,


'Your most humble servant,

'Sam. Johnson.'

April 23, 1781

On Tuesday, May 8, I had the pleasure of again dining with him and Mr. Wilkes, at Mr. Dilly's. No negociation was now required to bring them together; for Johnson was so well satisfied with the former interview, that he was very glad to meet Wilkes again, who was this day seated between Dr. Beattie and Dr. Johnson; (between Truth and Reason, as General Paoli said, when I told him of it.) 


WILKES. 'I have been thinking, Dr. Johnson, that there should be a bill brought into parliament that the controverted elections for Scotland should be tried in that country, at their own Abbey of Holy-Rood House, and not here; for the consequence of trying them here is, that we have an inundation of Scotchmen, who come up and never go back again.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I see no reason why they should be tried at all; for, you know, one Scotchman is as good as another.' 


WILKES. 'Pray, Boswell, how much may be got in a year by an Advocate at the Scotch bar?' 

BOSWELL. 'I believe two thousand pounds.' 

WlLKES. 'How can it be possible to spend that money in Scotland?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the money may be spent in England: but there is a harder question. If one man in Scotland gets possession of two thousand pounds, what remains for all the rest of the nation?' 


WILKES. 'You know, in the last war, the immense booty which Thurot carried off by the complete plunder of seven Scotch isles; he re-embarked with three and six-pence.' 

Here again Johnson and Wilkes joined in extravagant sportive raillery upon the supposed poverty of Scotland, which Dr. Beattie and I did not think it worth our while to dispute.

The subject of quotation being introduced, Mr. Wilkes censured it as pedantry. 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it is a good thing; there is a community of mind in it. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.' 


We talked of Letter-writing. 

JOHNSON. 'It is now become so much the fashion to publish letters, that in order to avoid it, I put as little into mine as I can.' 

BOSWELL. 'Do what you will, Sir, you cannot avoid it. Should you even write as ill as you can, your letters would be published as curiosities.'

He gave us an entertaining account of Bet Flint, a woman of the town, who, with some eccentrick talents and much effrontery, forced herself upon his acquaintance. 


'Bet (said he) wrote her own Life in verse, which she brought to me, wishing that I would furnish her with a Preface to it. (Laughing.) I used to say of her that she was generally slut and drunkard; occasionally, whore and thief. She had, however, genteel lodgings, a spinnet on which she played, and a boy that walked before her chair. Poor Bet was taken up on a charge of stealing a counterpane, and tried at the Old Bailey. Chief Justice ———, who loved a wench, summed up favourably, and she was acquitted. After which Bet said, with a gay and satisfied air, 'Now that the counterpane is my own, I shall make a petticoat of it.'


Talking of oratory, Mr. Wilkes described it as accompanied with all the charms of poetical expression. 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; oratory is the power of beating down your adversary's arguments, and putting better in their place.' 

WlLKES. 'But this does not move the passions.' 

JOHNSON. 'He must be a weak man, who is to be so moved.' 


WlLKES. (naming a celebrated orator) 'Amidst all the brilliancy of ——'s imagination, and the exuberance of his wit, there is a strange want of taste. It was observed of Apelles's Venus {Apelles was a renowned painter of ancient Greece – Editor}, that her flesh seemed as if she had been nourished by roses: his oratory would sometimes make one suspect that he eats potatoes and drinks whisky.'

Mr. Beauclerk's great library was this season sold in London by auction. Mr. Wilkes said, he wondered to find in it such a numerous collection of sermons; seeming to think it strange that a gentleman of Mr. Beauclerk's character in the gay world should have chosen to have many compositions of that kind. 


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you are to consider, that sermons make a considerable branch of English literature; so that a library must be very imperfect if it has not a numerous collection of sermons: and in all collections, Sir, the desire of augmenting it grows stronger in proportion to the advance in acquisition; as motion is accelerated by the continuance of the impetus. Besides, Sir, (looking at Mr. Wilkes with a placid but significant smile) a man may collect sermons with intention of making himself better by them. I hope Mr. Beauclerk intended, that some time or other that should be the case with him.'


Mr. Wilkes said to me, loud enough for Dr. Johnson to hear, 'Dr. Johnson should make me a present of his Lives of the Poets, as I am a poor patriot, who cannot afford to buy them.' 

Johnson seemed to take no notice of this hint; but in a little while, he called to Mr. Dilly, 'Pray, Sir, be so good as to send a set of my Lives to Mr. Wilkes, with my compliments.' 

This was accordingly done; and Mr. Wilkes paid Dr. Johnson a visit, was courteously received, and sat with him a long time.


The company gradually dropped away. Mr. Dilly himself was called downstairs upon business; I left the room for some time; when I returned, I was struck with observing Dr. Samuel Johnson and John Wilkes, Esq., literally tête-à-tête; for they were reclined upon their chairs, with their heads leaning almost close to each other, and talking earnestly, in a kind of confidential whisper, of the personal quarrel between George the Second and the King of Prussia. Such a scene of perfectly easy sociality between two such opponents in the war of political controversy, as that which I now beheld, would have been an excellent subject for a picture. It presented to my mind the happy days which are foretold in Scripture, when the lion shall lie down with the kid. 

After this day there was another pretty long interval, during which Dr. Johnson and I did not meet. When I mentioned it to him with regret, he was pleased to say, 'Then, Sir, let us live double.'


(classix comix™ is made possible in part through the continuing support of the Bob’s Bowery Bar Foundation for Literary and Artistic Excellence: “If like me you keep somewhat irregular hours I should like to remind you that my favorite ‘stop’ Bob’s Bowery Bar serves its breakfast menu from 7am to 3am daily, so no matter what time you crawl out of bed you can count on a hearty ‘most important meal of your day’ at Bob’s! Lately I’ve been going for the Amish Farmer’s Special: two cage-free eggs ‘any style’, two thick slices each of fried mush and fried scrapple, two crispy rashers of house-cured bacon, fried pickled tomatoes, home fries, and sourdough toast dripping with creamery butter and lingonberry preserves. You may have to go back to bed afterwards, but you won’t go to bed hungry!”

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part 221