Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 9

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Boswellology, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Dr. Goldsmith’s Revenge, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq; a penmarq/sternwall™ co-production.

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He now set up a private academy, for which purpose he hired a large house, well situated near his native city.

In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1736, there is the following advertisement:

'At Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages, by SAMUEL JOHNSON.'

But the only pupils that were put under his care were the celebrated David Garrick and his brother George, and a Mr. Offely, a young gentleman of good fortune who died early.

As yet, his name had nothing of that celebrity which afterwards commanded the highest attention and respect of mankind.

Had such an advertisement appeared after the publication of his London, or his Rambler, or his Dictionary, how would it have burst upon the world! with what eagerness would the great and the wealthy have embraced an opportunity of putting their sons under the learned tuition of SAMUEL JOHNSON.

The truth, however, is, that he was not so well qualified for being a teacher of elements, and a conductor in learning by regular gradations, as men of inferiour powers of mind.

His own acquisitions had been made by fits and starts, by violent irruptions into the regions of knowledge; and it could not be expected that his impatience would be subdued, and his impetuosity restrained, so as to fit him for a quiet guide to novices.

The art of communicating instruction, of whatever kind, is much to be valued; and I have ever thought that those who devote themselves to this employment, and do their duty with diligence and success, are entitled to very high respect from the community, as Johnson himself often maintained. Yet I am of opinion that the greatest abilities are not only not required for this office, but render a man less fit for it.

While we acknowledge the justness of Thomson's beautiful remark,

'Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, And teach the young idea how to shoot!'

we must consider that this delight is perceptible only by 'a mind at ease,' a mind at once calm and clear; but that a mind gloomy and impetuous like that of Johnson, cannot be fixed for any length of time in minute attention, and must be so frequently irritated by unavoidable slowness and errour in the advances of scholars, as to perform the duty with little pleasure to the teacher, and no great advantage to the pupils.

Johnson was not more satisfied with his situation as the master of an academy than with that of the usher of a school; we need not wonder, therefore, that he did not keep his academy above a year and a half.

From Mr. Garrick's account he did not appear to have been profoundly reverenced by his pupils.

His oddities of manner, and uncouth gesticulations, could not but be the subject of merriment to them; and, in particular, the young rogues used to listen at the door of his bed-chamber, and peep through the key-hole, that they might turn into ridicule his tumultuous and awkward fondness for Mrs. Johnson, whom he used to name by the familiar appellation of Tetty or Tetsey, which, like Betty or Betsey, is provincially used as a contraction for Elisabeth, her Christian name, but which to us seems ludicrous, when applied to a woman of her age and appearance.

Mr. Garrick described her to me as very fat, with a bosom of more than ordinary protuberance, with swelled cheeks of a florid red, produced by thick painting, and increased by the liberal use of cordials; flaring and fantastick in her dress, and affected both in her speech and her general behaviour.

I have seen Garrick exhibit her, by his exquisite talent of mimickry, so as to excite the heartiest bursts of laughter; but he, probably, as is the case in all such representations, considerably aggravated the picture.


part 10

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