Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 17

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Boswellian Studies, Assistant Scrabble Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: “‘Tis Pity He’s a Whoreson”, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq interplanetary productions™” (lettering begun by roy dismas and completed by eddie del greco).

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

His schoolfellow and friend, Dr. Taylor, told me a pleasant anecdote of Johnson's triumphing over his pupil David Garrick.

When that great actor had played some little time at Goodman's fields, Johnson and Taylor went to see him perform, and afterwards passed the evening at a tavern with him and old Giffard.

Johnson, who was ever depreciating stage-players, after censuring some mistakes in emphasis which Garrick had committed in the course of that night's acting, said, 'the players, Sir, have got a kind of rant, with which they run on, without any regard either to accent or emphasis.'

Both Garrick and Giffard were offended at this sarcasm, and endeavoured to refute it;

upon which Johnson rejoined, 'Well now, I'll give you something to speak, with which you are little acquainted, and then we shall see how just my observation is. That shall be the criterion. Let me hear you repeat the ninth Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."'

Both tried at it, said Dr. Taylor, and both mistook the emphasis, which should be upon ‘not’ and ‘false witness’.

Johnson put them right, and enjoyed his victory with great glee. 

In 1745 he published a pamphlet entitled Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on Sir T.H.'s (Sir Thomas Hammer's) Edition of Shakspeare. To which he affixed, proposals for a new edition of that poet.

As we do not trace any thing else published by him during the course of this year, we may conjecture that he was occupied entirely with that work. But the little encouragement which was given by the publick to his anonymous proposals for the execution of a task which Warburton was known to have undertaken, probably damped his ardour. 

His pamphlet, however, was highly esteemed, and was fortunate enough to obtain the approbation even of the supercilious Warburton himself, who, in the Preface to his Shakspeare published two years afterwards, thus mentioned it:

'As to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakspeare, if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.'

Of this flattering distinction shewn to him by Warburton, a very grateful remembrance was ever entertained by Johnson, who said, 

'He praised me at a time when praise was of value to me.'

In 1746 it is probable that he was still employed upon his Shakspeare, which perhaps he laid aside for a time, upon account of the high expectations which were formed of Warburton's edition of that great poet.

It is somewhat curious, that his literary career appears to have been almost totally suspended in the years 1745 and 1746, those years which were marked by a civil war in Great-Britain, when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of Stuart to the throne. That he had a tenderness for that unfortunate House, is well known; and some may fancifully imagine, that a sympathetick anxiety impeded the exertion of his intellectual powers: but I am inclined to think, that he was, during this time, sketching the outlines of his great philological work.

None of his letters during those years are extant, so far as I can discover. This is much to be regretted. It might afford some entertainment to see how he then expressed himself to his private friends, concerning State affairs.

In 1747 it is supposed that the Gentleman's Magazine for May was enriched by him with five short poetical pieces, distinguished by three asterisks. The first is a translation, or rather a paraphrase, of a Latin Epitaph on Sir Thomas Hanmer. The others are 'To Miss——, on her giving the Authour a gold and silk net-work Purse of her own weaving;' 'Stella in Mourning;' 'The Winter's Walk;' 'An Ode;' and, 'To Lyce, an elderly Lady.'

It is remarkable, that in this first edition of ‘The Winter’s Walk’, the concluding line is much more Johnsonian than it was afterwards printed; for in subsequent editions, after praying Stella to 'snatch him to her arms,' he says,

'And shield me from the ills of life.'  

Whereas in the first edition it is

And hide me from the sight of life.' 

A horrour at life in general is more consonant with Johnson's habitual gloomy cast of thought.

part 18

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