Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 27

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Basic English Composition; “Texas Hold ‘Em” Club Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Missing Maharajah, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq amalgamated productions™” (coloring by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco). 

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Sir Joshua told me a pleasant characteristical anecdote of Johnson about the time of their first acquaintance.

When they were one evening together at the Miss Cotterells', the then Duchess of Argyle and another lady of high rank came in. Johnson thinking that the Miss Cotterells were too much engrossed by them, and that he and his friend were neglected, as low company of whom they were somewhat ashamed, grew angry; and resolving to shock their supposed pride, by making their great visitors imagine that his friend and he were low indeed, he addressed himself in a loud tone to Mr. Reynolds, saying, 'How much do you think you and I could get in a week, if we were to work as hard as we could?'— as if they had been common mechanicks.

His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Esq. of Langton, in Lincolnshire, another much valued friend, commenced soon after the conclusion of his Rambler; which that gentleman, then a youth, had read with so much admiration, that he came to London chiefly with the view of endeavouring to be introduced to its authour.

By a fortunate chance he happened to take lodgings in a house where Mr. Levet frequently visited; and having mentioned his wish to his landlady, she introduced him to Mr. Levet, who readily obtained Johnson's permission to bring Mr. Langton to him; as, indeed, Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no shyness, real or affected, but was easy of access to all who were properly recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his levee, as his morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be called.

Mr. Langton was exceedingly surprised when the sage first appeared. He had not received the smallest intimation of his figure, dress, or manner. From perusing his writings, he fancied he should see a decent, well-drest, in short, a remarkably decorous philosopher. Instead of which, down from his bedchamber, about noon, came, as newly risen, a huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loose about him. But his conversation was so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and his religious and political notions so congenial with those in which Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever preserved.

Mr. Langton afterwards went to pursue his studies at Trinity College, Oxford, where he formed an acquaintance with his fellow student, Mr. Topham Beauclerk; who, though their opinions and modes of life were so different, that it seemed utterly improbable that they should at all agree, had so ardent a love of literature, so acute an understanding, such elegance of manners, and so well discerned the excellent qualities of Mr. Langton, a gentleman eminent not only for worth and learning, but for an inexhaustible fund of entertaining conversation, that they became intimate friends.

Johnson, soon after this acquaintance began, passed a considerable time at Oxford. He at first thought it strange that Langton should associate so much with one who had the character of being loose, both in his principles and practice; but, by degrees, he himself was fascinated; and, in a short time, the moral, pious Johnson, and the gay, dissipated Beauclerk, were companions.

'What a coalition! (said Garrick, when he heard of this;) I shall have my old friend to bail out of the Round-house.'

But I can bear testimony that it was a very agreeable association. Beauclerk was too polite, and valued learning and wit too much, to offend Johnson by sallies of infidelity or licentiousness; and Johnson delighted in the good qualities of Beauclerk, and hoped to correct the evil.

Innumerable were the scenes in which Johnson was amused by these young men. Beauclerk could take more liberty with him, than any body with whom I ever saw him; but, on the other hand, Beauclerk was not spared by his respectable companion, when reproof was proper.

Beauclerk had such a propensity to satire, that at one time Johnson said to him, 'You never open your mouth but with intention to give pain; and you have often given me pain, not from the power of what you said, but from seeing your intention.'

At another time applying to him, with a slight alteration, a line of Pope, he said, 'Thy love of folly, and thy scorn of fools. Every thing thou dost shews the one, and every thing thou say'st the other.'

At another time he said to him, 'Thy body is all vice, and thy mind all virtue.'

Beauclerk not seeming to relish the compliment, Johnson said, 'Nay, Sir, Alexander the Great, marching in triumph into Babylon, could not have desired to have had more said to him.'

One night when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them in a ramble.

They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig on the top of his head, instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him.

When he discovered who they were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and with great good humour agreed to their proposal:

'What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with you.'

He was soon drest, and they sallied forth together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers were beginning to arrange their hampers, just come in from the country. Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his services were not relished.

They then repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called "Bishop", which Johnson had always liked; while in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,

'Short, O short then be thy reign, And give us to the world again!'

They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and rowed to Billingsgate.

Beauclerk and Johnson were so well pleased with their amusement, that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the rest of the day: but Langton deserted them, being engaged to breakfast with some young Ladies. Johnson scolded him for 'leaving his social friends, to go and sit with a set of wretched un-idea'd girls.'

Garrick being told of this ramble, said to him smartly,

'I heard of your frolick t'other night. You'll be in the Chronicle.'

Upon which Johnson afterwards observed,

'He durst not do such a thing. His wife would not let him!'

(To be continued; this week’s chapter sponsored in part by Ovaltine™: “’Classix Comix’™ and delicious and nutritious hot Ovaltine™ – the perfect combination for these frigid winter nights!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and motivational speaker.)

part 28

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