Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 31

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Obscurantist Literature; Assistant Scrabble Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Inebriate Lord, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq superior productions™ (lettering by roy dismas with the assistance of eddie el greco). 

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for previous chapter, click here

Mr. Andrew Millar, bookseller in the Strand, took the principal charge of conducting the publication of Johnson's Dictionary; and as the patience of the proprietors was repeatedly tried and almost exhausted, by their expecting that the work would be completed within the time which Johnson had sanguinely supposed, the learned authour was often goaded to dispatch, more especially as he had received all the copy-money, by different drafts, a considerable time before he had finished his task. When the messenger who carried the last sheet to Millar returned, Johnson asked him,

'Well, what did he say?'

—'Sir, (answered the messenger) he said, thank GOD I have done with him.'

'I am glad (replied Johnson, with a smile) that he thanks GOD for any thing.'



'It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of which I was guilty, and which I have not since atoned. I received both your letters, and received them with pleasure proportionate to the esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which I hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that gratification will be for a time withheld.

'I have, indeed, published my Book, of which I beg to know your father's judgement, and yours; and I have now staid long enough to watch its progress into the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and, I think, has yet had no opponents, except the criticks of the coffee-house, whose outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more:

from this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the opportunity of this interval to make an excursion; and why not then into Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr. Langton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve: — I have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can disengage myself here, I resolve to go.

'As I know, dear Sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this, will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your kindness. I have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can; for when the duty that calls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in vain.

'Do not, dear Sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that I have committed; for I have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further knowledge; and I assure you, once more, that to live in a house that contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon degree of pleasure, by, dear Sir, your most obliged, and

'Most humble servant,


'May 6, 1755.'



'It is strange how many things will happen to intercept every pleasure, though it [be] only that of two friends meeting together. I have promised myself every day to inform you when you might expect me at Oxford, and have not been able to fix a time. The time, however, is, I think, at last come; and I promise myself to repose in Kettel-Hall, one of the first nights of the next week. I am afraid my stay with you cannot be long; but what is the inference? We must endeavour to make it chearful.

I wish your brother could meet us, that we might go and drink tea with Mr. Wise in a body. I hope he will be at Oxford, or at his nest of British and Saxon antiquities. The Dictionary sells well. The rest of the world goes on as it did. Dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate, &c.


'[London,] June 10, 1755.'



'To talk of coming to you, and not yet to come, has an air of trifling which I would not willingly have among you; and which, I believe, you will not willingly impute to me, when I have told you, that since my promise, two of our partners are dead, and that I was solicited to suspend my excursion till we could recover from our confusion.

'I have not laid aside my purpose; for every day makes me more impatient of staying from you. But death, you know, hears not supplications, nor pays any regard to the convenience of mortals. I hope now to see you next week; but next week is but another name for to-morrow, which has been noted for promising and deceiving.

'I am, &c.


'[London,] June 24, 1755.'

The Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language, being now at length published, in two volumes folio, the world contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man, while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole academies.

Vast as his powers were, I cannot but think that his imagination deceived him, when he supposed that by constant application he might have performed the task in three years. Let the Preface be attentively perused, in which is given, in a clear, strong, and glowing style, a comprehensive, yet particular view of what he had done; and it will be evident, that the time he employed upon it was comparatively short. I am unwilling to swell my book with long quotations from what is in every body's hands, and I believe there are few prose compositions in the English language that are read with more delight, or are more impressed upon the memory, than that preliminary discourse. One of its excellencies has always struck me with peculiar admiration: I mean the perspicuity with which he has expressed abstract scientifick notions. As an instance of this, I shall quote the following sentence:

'When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their own nature collateral?'

We have here an example of what has been often said, and I believe with justice, that there is for every thought a certain nice adaptation of words which none other could equal, and which, when a man has been so fortunate as to hit, he has attained, in that particular case, the perfection of language.

The extensive reading which was absolutely necessary for the accumulation of authorities, and which alone may account for Johnson's retentive mind being enriched with a very large and various store of knowledge and imagery, must have occupied several years.

The Preface furnishes an eminent instance of a double talent, of which Johnson was fully conscious. Sir Joshua Reynolds heard him say,

'There are two things which I am confident I can do very well: one is an introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner; the other is a conclusion, shewing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what the authour promised to himself and to the publick.’

How should puny scribblers be abashed and disappointed, when they find him displaying a perfect theory of lexicographical excellence, yet at the same time candidly and modestly allowing that he 'had not satisfied his own expectations.'

Here was a fair occasion for the exercise of Johnson's modesty, when he was called upon to compare his own arduous performance, not with those of other individuals, (in which case his inflexible regard to truth would have been violated, had he affected diffidence,) but with speculative perfection; as he, who can outstrip all his competitors in the race, may yet be sensible of his deficiency when he runs against time.

Well might he say, that 'the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned,' for he told me, that the only aid which he received was a paper containing twenty etymologies, sent to him by a person then unknown, who he was afterwards informed was Dr. Pearce, Bishop of Rochester.

The etymologies, though they exhibit learning and judgement, are not, I think, entitled to the first praise amongst the various parts of this immense work. The definitions have always appeared to me such astonishing proofs of acuteness of intellect and precision of language, as indicate a genius of the highest rank. This it is which marks the superiour excellence of Johnson's Dictionary over others equally or even more voluminous, and must have made it a work of much greater mental labour than mere Lexicons, or Word-books, as the Dutch call them.

They, who will make the experiment of trying how they can define a few words of whatever nature, will soon be satisfied of the unquestionable justice of this observation, which I can assure my readers is founded upon much study, and upon communication with more minds than my own.

(To be continued; this week’s chapter made possible in part by a generous grant from The Uneeda™ Biscuit Corporation: “Deep down inside you know you need a Uneeda™ Biscuit, the cracker that made America proud and strong!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of Ruminations and Exhortations: Down-To-Earth Advice for the Young People of Today; the Olney Community College Press.)

part 31

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

a wag

by charles baudelaire

translated by louise varese

illustrated by konrad kraus

Pandemonium of New Year's Eve: chaos of snow and mud churned up by a thousand carriages glittering with toys and bonbons, swarming with cupidity and despair; official frenzy of a big city designed to trouble the mind of the most impervious solitary.

In the midst of this deafening hubbub, a donkey was trotting briskly along, belabored by a low fellow armed with a whip.

Just as the donkey was about to turn a corner,

a resplendent gentleman, all groomed, gloved, cruelly cravatted and imprisoned in brand new clothes, made a ceremonious bow to the humble beast, saying as he took off his hat: "A very happy and prosperous New Year to you!"

Then he turned with a fatuous air toward some vague companions, as though to beg them to make his satisfaction complete by their applause.

The donkey paid no attention to this elegant wag, and continued to trot zealously along where duty called.

As for me, I was suddenly seized by an incomprehensible rage against this bedizened imbecile, for it seemed to me that in him was concentrated all the wit of France.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 30

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Ontological Literature; Assistant Ping Pong Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Rubicund Publican, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq amalgamated productions™”. 

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In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his degree of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his Dictionary published, his correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.

The degree of Master of Arts, which, it has been observed, could not be obtained for him at an early period of his life, was now considered as an honour of considerable importance, in order to grace the title-page of his Dictionary; and his character in the literary world being by this time deservedly high, his friends thought that, if proper exertions were made, the University of Oxford would pay him the compliment.



'I am extremely obliged to you and to Mr. Wise, for the uncommon care which you have taken of my interest: if you can accomplish your kind design, I shall certainly take me a little habitation among you.

'Can I do any thing to promoting the diploma? I would not be wanting to co-operate with your kindness; of which, whatever be the effect, I shall be, dear Sir,

'Your most obliged, &c.




Nov. 28, 1754.'

'I am extremely sensible of the favour done me, both by Mr. Wise and yourself. The book cannot, I think, be printed in less than six weeks, nor probably so soon; and I will keep back the title-page, for such an insertion as you seem to promise me. Be pleased to let me know what money I shall send you, for bearing the expence of the affair; and I will take care that you may have it ready at your hand.

'I shall be extremely glad to hear from you again, to know, if the affair proceeds. I have mentioned it to none of my friends for fear of being laughed at for my disappointment.

'You know poor Mr. Dodsley has lost his wife; I believe he is much affected. I hope he will not suffer so much as I yet suffer for the loss of mine. I have ever since seemed to myself broken off from mankind; a kind of solitary wanderer in the wild of life, without any direction, or fixed point of view: a gloomy gazer on a world to which I have little relation. Yet I would endeavour, by the help of you and your brother, to supply the want of closer union, by friendship: and hope to have long the pleasure of being, dear Sir,

'Most affectionately your's,


[London,] Dec. 21, 1754.'



'I wrote to you some weeks ago, but believe did not direct accurately, and therefore know not whether you had my letter. I would, likewise, write to your brother, but know not where to find him. I now begin to see land, after having wandered, according to Mr. Warburton's phrase, in this vast sea of words.

‘What reception I shall meet with on the shore, I know not; whether the sound of bells, and acclamations of the people, or a general murmur of dislike, I know not. I hope, however, the criticks will let me be at peace; for though I do not much fear their skill and strength, I am a little afraid of myself, and would not willingly feel so much ill-will in my bosom as literary quarrels are apt to excite.

'I am, dearest Sir, 

'Your humble servant, 


As the Publick will doubtless be pleased to see the whole progress of this well-earned academical honour, I shall insert the Chancellor of Oxford's letter to the University, and Johnson's letter of thanks to the Vice-Chancellor. 

'To the Reverend Dr. HUDDESFORD,

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford; to be communicated to the Heads of Houses, and proposed in Convocation.

'MR. VICE-CHANCELLOR, AND GENTLEMEN, 'Mr. Samuel Johnson, who was formerly of Pembroke College, having very eminently distinguished himself by the publication of a series of essays, excellently calculated to form the manners of the people, and in which the cause of religion and morality is every where maintained by the strongest powers of argument and language;

and who shortly intends to publish a Dictionary of the English Tongue, formed on a new plan, and executed with the greatest labour and judgement; I persuade myself that I shall act agreeably to the sentiments of the whole University, in desiring that it may be proposed in convocation to confer on him the degree of Master of Arts by diploma, to which I readily give my consent; and am, 

 'Mr. Vice-Chancellor, and Gentlemen, 

'Your affectionate friend and servant, 




'After I received my diploma, I wrote you a letter of thanks, with a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, and sent another to Mr. Wise; but have heard from nobody since, and begin to think myself forgotten.

'Dear Mr. Warton, let me hear from you, and tell me something, I care not what, so I hear it but from you. Something I will tell you: — I hope to see my Dictionary bound and lettered, next week. And I have a great mind to come to Oxford at Easter; but you will not invite me. Shall I come uninvited, or stay here where nobody perhaps would miss me if I went? A hard choice! But such is the world to, dear Sir,

'Your, &c.


'[London] March 20, 1755.'



'I am very glad that the Vice-Chancellor was pleased with my note. I shall impatiently expect you at London, that we may consider what to do next. I intend in the winter to open a Bibliothèque, and remember, that you are to subscribe a sheet a year; let us try, likewise, if we cannot persuade your brother to subscribe another. My book is now coming in luminis oras. What will be its fate I know not, nor think much, because thinking is to no purpose. It must stand the censure of the great vulgar and the small; of those that understand it, and that understand it not. But in all this, I suffer not alone: every writer has the same difficulties, and, perhaps, every writer talks of them more than he thinks.

'You will be pleased to make my compliments to all my friends: and be so kind, at every idle hour, as to remember, dear Sir,

'Your, &c.


'[London,] March 25, 1755.'

Dr. Adams told me, that this scheme of a Bibliothèque was a serious one: for upon his visiting him one day, he found his parlour floor covered with parcels of foreign and English literary journals, and he told Dr. Adams he meant to undertake a Review.

'How, Sir, (said Dr. Adams,) can you think of doing it alone? All branches of knowledge must be considered in it. Do you know Mathematicks? Do you know Natural History?'

Johnson answered, 'Why, Sir, I must do as well as I can. My chief purpose is to give my countrymen a view of what is doing in literature upon the continent; and I shall have, in a good measure, the choice of my subject, for I shall select such books as I best understand.'

Dr. Adams suggested, that as Dr. Maty had just then finished his Bibliothèque Britannique, which was a well-executed work, giving foreigners an account of British publications, he might, with great advantage, assume him as an assistant.

'He, (said Johnson) the little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames.'

The scheme, however, was dropped.


'March 29, 1755.


'I have sent some parts of my Dictionary, such as were at hand, for your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like them, you will say nothing. I am, Sir,

'Your most affectionate humble servant,



Norfolk-street, April 23, 1755.


'The part of your Dictionary which you have favoured me with the sight of has given me such an idea of the whole, that I most sincerely congratulate the publick upon the acquisition of a work long wanted, and now executed with an industry, accuracy, and judgement, equal to the importance of the subject. You might, perhaps, have chosen one in which your genius would have appeared to more advantage; but you could not have fixed upon any other in which your labours would have done such substantial service to the present age and to posterity. I am glad that your health has supported the application necessary to the performance of so vast a task; and can undertake to promise you as one (though perhaps the only) reward of it, the approbation and thanks of every well-wisher to the honour of the English language. I am, with the greatest regard,


'Your most faithful and 'Most affectionate humble servant,


Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler and the Plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished, he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; intreating, if it should be by subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.

In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity.' 



'If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me.

'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.

'I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.

'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, Sir,

'Your most obliged

'And most humble servant,


'Gough-square, Fleet-street,

'April 8, 1755,'

(To be continued; this week’s chapter sponsored in part by Fox’s U-bet™ Chocolate Syrup Company: “I honestly don’t know how I could have survived this brutal winter without countless steaming hot cups of cocoa made with Fox’s U-bet™ Chocolate Syrup!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of Love Songs for the Damned; the Olney Community College Press.)

part 31

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 29

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Eschatological Studies; Assistant Bobsled Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Tarts of Tottenham, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for “penmarq studios international™” (inks: roy dismas ; lettering: konrad kraus). 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

There is a curious minute circumstance which struck me, in comparing the various editions of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal. In the tenth Satire, one of the couplets upon the vanity of wishes even for literary distinction stood thus:

'Yet think what ills the scholar's life assail,
'Pride, envy, want, the garret, and the jail.'

But after experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield's fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word garret from the sad group, and in all the subsequent editions the line stands

'Pride, envy, want, the Patron, and the jail.'

That Lord Chesterfield must have been mortified by the lofty contempt, and polite, yet keen satire with which Johnson exhibited him to himself in this letter, it is impossible to doubt. He, however, with that glossy duplicity which was his constant study, affected to be quite unconcerned.

Dr. Adams mentioned to Mr. Robert Dodsley that he was sorry Johnson had written his letter to Lord Chesterfield. Dodsley, with the true feelings of trade, said 'he was very sorry too; for that he had a property in the Dictionary, to which his Lordship's patronage might have been of consequence.' He then told Dr. Adams, that Lord Chesterfield had shewn him the letter.

'I should have imagined (replied Dr. Adams) that Lord Chesterfield would have concealed it.'

'Poh! (said Dodsley) do you think a letter from Johnson could hurt Lord Chesterfield? Not at all, Sir. It lay upon his table, where any body might see it. He read it to me; said, "this man has great powers," pointed out the severest passages, and observed how well they were expressed.'

This air of indifference, which imposed upon the worthy Dodsley, was certainly nothing but a specimen of that dissimulation which Lord Chesterfield inculcated as one of the most essential lessons for the conduct of life. His Lordship endeavoured to justify himself to Dodsley from the charges brought against him by Johnson; but we may judge of the flimsiness of his defence, from his having excused his neglect of Johnson, by saying that 'he had heard he had changed his lodgings, and did not know where he lived;' as if there could have been the smallest difficulty to inform himself of that circumstance, by inquiring in the literary circle with which his Lordship was well acquainted, and was, indeed, himself one of its ornaments.

Dr. Adams expostulated with Johnson, and suggested, that his not being admitted when he called on him, was, probably, not to be imputed to Lord Chesterfield; for his Lordship had declared to Dodsley, that 'he would have turned off the best servant he ever had, if he had known that he denied him to a man who would have been always more than welcome;' and, in confirmation of this, he insisted on Lord Chesterfield's general affability and easiness of access, especially to literary men.

'Sir, (said Johnson) that is not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man this day existing.'

'No, (said Dr. Adams) there is one person, at least, as proud; I think, by your own account, you are the prouder man of the two.'

'But mine (replied Johnson, instantly) was defensive pride.'

This, as Dr. Adams well observed, was one of those happy turns for which he was so remarkably ready.

Johnson having now explicitly avowed his opinion of Lord Chesterfield, did not refrain from expressing himself concerning that nobleman with pointed freedom:

'This man (said he) I thought had been a Lord among wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among Lords!'

And when his Letters to his natural son were published, he observed, that 'they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.'

Johnson this year found an interval of leisure to make an excursion to Oxford, for the purpose of consulting the libraries there. Of his conversation while at Oxford at this time, Mr. Warton preserved and communicated to me the following memorial:

'When Johnson came to Oxford in 1754, the long vacation was beginning, and most people were leaving the place. This was the first time of his being there, after quitting the University. The next morning after his arrival, he wished to see his old College, Pembroke. I went with him. He was highly pleased to find all the College-servants which he had left there still remaining, particularly a very old butler; and expressed great satisfaction at being recognised by them, and conversed with them familiarly.

'He waited on the master, Dr. Radcliffe, who received him very coldly. Johnson at least expected, that the master would order a copy of his Dictionary, now near publication: but the master did not choose to talk on the subject, never asked Johnson to dine, nor even to visit him, while he stayed at Oxford. After we had left the lodgings, Johnson said to me,

'"There lives a man, who lives by the revenues of literature, and will not move a finger to support it. If I come to live at Oxford, I shall take up my abode at Trinity."

'We then called on the Reverend Mr. Meeke, one of the fellows, and of Johnson's standing. Here was a most cordial greeting on both sides.

'He much regretted that his first tutor was dead; for whom he seemed to retain the greatest regard. He said,

'"I once had been a whole morning sliding in Christ-Church Meadow, and missed his lecture in logick. After dinner, he sent for me to his room. I expected a sharp rebuke for my idleness, and went with a beating heart. When we were seated, he told me he had sent for me to drink a glass of wine with him, and to tell me, he was not angry with me for missing his lecture. Some more of the boys were then sent for, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon."'

‘In an evening, we frequently took long walks from Oxford into the country, returning to supper. Once, in our way home, we viewed the ruins of the abbies of Oseney and Rewley, near Oxford. After at least half an hour's silence, Johnson said,

'"I viewed them with indignation!" 

'— About this time there had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday;

and that in the close he told his audience, that he should give them the remainder of what he had to say on the subject, the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one of our company, a Doctor of Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the University:

"Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the University were not to be hanged the next morning."'

(To be continued; this week’s chapter brought to you again by the good people at the Fox’s U-bet™ Chocolate Syrup Company: “An egg cream’s not an egg cream without Fox’s U-bet™ Chocolate Syrup!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and motivational speaker, author of Don’t Kick the Tiger and Other Poems; the Olney Community College Press.)

part 30