Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 22

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Forgotten Literature; Assistant Badminton Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Amorous Propensities in the Green Room, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq productions unlimited™”, lettering begun by roy dismas and completed by eddie el greco and rhoda penmarq .

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

In 1750 he came forth in the character for which he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom.

The vehicle which he chose was that of a periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, were the last of the kind published in England, which had stood the test of a long trial; and such an interval had now elapsed since their publication, as made him justly think that, to many of his readers, this form of instruction would, in some degree, have the advantage of novelty.

Johnson was, I think, not very happy in the choice of his title, The Rambler, which certainly is not suited to a series of grave and moral discourses;

which the Italians have literally, but ludicrously translated by Il Vagabondo; and which has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of licentious tales, The Rambler's Magazine.

He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds the following account of its getting this name: 'What must be done, Sir, will be done. When I was to begin publishing that paper, I was at a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it. '

With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was undertaken, is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed and offered up on the occasion:

'Almighty GOD, the giver of all good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom is folly; grant, I beseech Thee, that in this undertaking thy Holy Spirit may not be with-held from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself and others: grant this, O LORD, for the sake of thy son JESUS CHRIST. Amen.'

The first paper of the Rambler was published on Tuesday the 20th of March, 1750; and its authour was enabled to continue it, without interruption, every Tuesday and Friday, till Saturday the 17th of March, 1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote elsewhere, that 'a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it;' for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week from the stores of his mind, during all that time; having received no assistance, except four billets in No. 10, by Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone; No. 30, by Mrs. Catharine Talbot; No. 97, by Mr. Samuel Richardson, whom he describes in an introductory note as 'An author who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue;' and Nos. 44 and 100 by Mrs. Elizabeth Carter. 

Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed.

It can be accounted for only in this way; that by reading and meditation, and a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and energetick expression.

Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language.

He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in every company; to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.

Yet he was not altogether unprepared as a periodical writer; for I have in my possession a small duodecimo volume, in which he has written, in the form of Mr. Locke's Common-Place Book, a variety of hints for essays on different subjects.

Sir John Hawkins, who is unlucky upon all occasions, tells us, that 'this method of accumulating intelligence had been practised by Mr. Addison, and is humourously described in one of the Spectators, wherein he feigns to have dropped his paper of notanda, consisting of a diverting medley of broken sentences and loose hints, which he tells us he had collected, and meant to make use of. Much of the same kind is Johnson's Adversaria'.

But the truth is, that there is no resemblance at all between them. Addison's note was a fiction, in which unconnected fragments of his lucubrations were purposely jumbled together, in as odd a manner as he could, in order to produce a laughable effect. Whereas Johnson's abbreviations are all distinct, and applicable to each subject of which the head is mentioned:

'Youth's Entry, &c. Baxter's account of things in which he had changed his mind as he grew up. Voluminous. — No wonder. — If every man was to tell, or mark, on how many subjects he has changed, it would make vols. but the changes not always observed by man's self. — From pleasure to business to quiet; from thoughtfulness to reflection to piety; from dissipation to domesticity by imperceptible  gradations but the change is certain. Look back, consider what was thought at some distant period.’

'Hope predom. in youth. Mind not willingly indulges unpleasing thoughts. The world lies all enameled before him, as a distant prospect sun-gilt; inequalities only found by coming to it. Love is to be all joy — children excellent — Fame to be constant — caresses of the great — applauses of the learned — smiles of Beauty.’

'Fear of disgrace — bashfulness — Finds things of less importance. Miscarriages forgot like excellencies; — if remembered, of no import. Danger of sinking into negligence of reputation. Lest the fear of disgrace destroy activity.’

'Confidence in himself. Long tract of life before him. — No thought of sickness. — Embarrassment of affairs. — Distraction of family. Publick calamities. — No sense of the prevalence of bad habits. — Negligent of time — ready to undertake — careless to pursue — all changed by time.’

'Confident of others — unsuspecting as unexperienced — imagining himself secure against neglect, never imagines they will venture to treat him ill. Ready to trust; expecting to be trusted. Convinced by time of the selfishness, the meanness, the cowardice, the treachery of men.’

'Youth ambitious, as thinking honours easy to be had.’

‘Hard it would be if men entered life with the same views with which they leave it, or left as they enter it.’

(To be continued well into the new year at least)

part 23


  1. What a great 21st century mix of text and image .It really is quite unique.Hope you have a happy new year and Christmas Regards and affection Lee Kwo.

    1. lee, thank you very much! happy christmas and new year to you too!