Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 47

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of Unjustly Unread Classics, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Druids of Drury Lane, the Olney Community College Press.

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

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As Dr. Oliver Goldsmith will frequently appear in this narrative, I shall endeavour to make my readers in some degree acquainted with his singular character. He was a native of Ireland, and a contemporary with Mr. Burke at Trinity College, Dublin, but did not then give much promise of future celebrity. He, however, observed to Mr. Malone, that 'though he made no great figure in mathematicks, which was a study in much repute there, he could turn an Ode of Horace into English better than any of them.'

He afterwards studied physick at Edinburgh, and upon the Continent; and I have been informed, was enabled to pursue his travels on foot, partly by demanding at Universities to enter the lists as a disputant, by which, according to the custom of many of them, he was entitled to the premium of a crown; so that, as I once observed to Dr. Johnson, he disputed his passage through Europe. He then came to England, and was employed successively in the capacities of an usher to an academy, a corrector of the press, a reviewer, and a writer for a news-paper. He had sagacity enough to cultivate assiduously the acquaintance of Johnson, and his faculties were gradually enlarged by the contemplation of such a model. To me and many others it appeared that he studiously copied the manner of Johnson, though, indeed, upon a smaller scale.

At this time I think he had published nothing with his name, though it was pretty generally known that one Dr. Goldsmith was the authour of An Enquiry into the present State of polite Learning in Europe, and of The Citizen of the World, a series of letters supposed to be written from London by a Chinese. No man had the art of displaying with more advantage as a writer, whatever literary acquisitions he made. 'Nihil quod tetigit non ornavit' {“He touched nothing he did not adorn.” – Ed.} His mind resembled a fertile, but thin soil. There was a quick, but not a strong vegetation, of whatever chanced to be thrown upon it. No deep root could be struck. The oak of the forest did not grow there; but the elegant shrubbery and the fragrant parterre appeared in gay succession. It has been generally circulated and believed that he was a mere fool in conversation; but, in truth, this has been greatly exaggerated.

He had, no doubt, a more than common share of that hurry of ideas which we often find in his countrymen, and which sometimes produces a laughable confusion in expressing them. He was very much what the French call un ├ętourdi, and from vanity and an eager desire of being conspicuous wherever he was, he frequently talked carelessly without knowledge of the subject, or even without thought. 

His person was short, his countenance coarse and vulgar, his deportment that of a scholar awkwardly affecting the easy gentleman. Those who were in any way distinguished, excited envy in him to so ridiculous an excess, that the instances of it are hardly credible. When accompanying two beautiful young ladies with their mother on a tour in France, he was seriously angry that more attention was paid to them than to him;

and once at the exhibition of the Fantoccini in London, when those who sat next him observed with what dexterity a puppet was made to toss a pike, he could not bear that it should have such praise, and exclaimed with some warmth, 'Pshaw! I can do it better myself.'

He, I am afraid, had no settled system of any sort, so that his conduct must not be strictly scrutinised; but his affections were social and generous, and when he had money he gave it away very liberally. His desire of imaginary consequence predominated over his attention to truth.

When he began to rise into notice, he said he had a brother who was Dean of Durham, a fiction so easily detected, that it is wonderful how he should have been so inconsiderate as to hazard it. He boasted to me at this time of the power of his pen in commanding money, which I believe was true in a certain degree, though in the instance he gave he was by no means correct. He told me that he had sold a novel for four hundred pounds. This was his Vicar of Wakefield.

But Johnson informed me, that he had made the bargain for Goldsmith, and the price was sixty pounds. 'And, Sir, (said he,) a sufficient price too, when it was sold; for then the fame of Goldsmith had not been elevated, as it afterwards was, by his Traveller;

and the bookseller had such faint hopes of profit by his bargain, that he kept the manuscript by him a long time, and did not publish it till after The Traveller had appeared. Then, to be sure, it was accidentally worth more money.'

Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins have strangely mis-stated the history of Goldsmith's situation and Johnson's friendly interference, when this novel was sold. I shall give it authentically from Johnson's own exact narration:—

'I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was drest, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me.

I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.' 

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Bob’s Bowery Bar was a welcome and highly affordable haven for me when I was a young fellow just starting out in the writing game, and so it remains to this day.

Allow me to recommend Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock with the breakfast special of creamed chipped beef on ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ home-baked whole-grain toast; I believe you will find this collation a most satisfactory cure for even the most persistent hangover!” - Horace P. Sternwall, author and motivational speaker, host of Horace P. Sternwall Presents; Tuesdays, 9pm EST, The Dumont Television Network.)

part 48

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “F”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Outdated Lexicography, Assistant Gin Rummy Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Mrs. Piozzi’s Dilemma (the Olney Community College Press).

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq with the assistance of eddie el greco and roy dismas; a “rhoda penmarq studios™/horace p. sternwall productions™ co-production”.

to begin selections from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, click here

for previous selection from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, click here

to begin at the beginning of Boswell's Life of Johnson, click here

for previous chapter of Boswell's Life of Johnson, click here

Fabaceous.  Having the nature of a bean.

Facetious. Gay; cheerful; lively; merry; witty. It is used both of persons and sentiments.

Socrates, informed of some derogating speeches used of him behind his back, made this facetious reply, Let him beat me too when I am absent.

Facinerious. Wicked.

'Tis strange, 'tis very strange, that is the brief and the tedious of it; and he's of a most facinerious spirit that will not acknowledge it. Shakes. All's well that ends well.

Factious. Given to faction; loud and violent in a party; publickly dissensious; addicted to form parties and raise publick disturbances.

He is a traitor; let him to the Tower,

And crop away that factious pate of his. Shakes. Hen. VI.

Fairy. A kind of fabled beings supposed to appear in a diminutive human form, and to dance in the meadows, and reward cleanliness in houses.

Fart. Wind from behind.

Love is the fart

Of every heart;

It pains a man when 'tis kept close;

And others doth offend, when 'tis let loose.Suckling.

Farthingale. A hoop; circles of whalebone used to spread the petticoat to a wide circumference.

With silken coats, and caps, and golden rings

With ruffs, and cuffs, and farthingales, and things. Shakesp.

Fashionist. A follower of the mode; a fop; a coxcomb.

Fawn. To court by frisking before one: as a dog.

Felo-de-se. He that committeth felony by murdering himself.

Fopdoodle. A fool; an insignificant wretch.

Friend. One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy: opposed to foe or enemy.

God's benison go with you, and with those

That would make good of bad, and friends of foes. Shakes.

Frog. A small animal with four feet, living both by land and water, and placed by naturalists among mixed animals, as partaking of beast and fish. There is likewise a small green frog that porches on trees, said to be venomous.

Poor Tom, that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the todpole. Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Fub. A plump chubby boy.

Fuddle. To make drunk.

Earnest brimming bowls

Leave every soul the table floating round,

And pavement faithless to the fuddled feet. Thoms. Autumn.

Fugh. An expression of abhorrence.

A very filthy fellow: how odiously he smells of his country garlick! fugh how he stinks of Spain! Dryd. Don Sebastian.

(Our illustrated abridgment of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will continue next week. This project is sponsored in part by the good folks at Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Bob’s Bowery Bar – what my old friend Fredric Brown used to call ‘a good stop’. Be sure to try Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, which I find a superb accompaniment to Bob’s ‘kosher dog ‘n’ kraut’ with ‘Bob’s Mom’s horseradish sauce’.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author and motivational speaker .)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 46

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Ignored Classics, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Ghost of Cock Lane, the Olney Community College Press.

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

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

I acknowledged, that though educated very strictly in the principles of religion, I had for some time been misled into a certain degree of infidelity; but that I was come now to a better way of thinking, and was fully satisfied of the truth of the Christian revelation, though I was not clear as to every point considered to be orthodox.

Being at all times a curious examiner of the human mind, and pleased with an undisguised display of what had passed in it, he called to me with warmth,

'Give me your hand; I have taken a liking to you.'

He then began to descant upon the force of testimony, and the little we could know of final causes; so that the objections of, why was it so? or why was it not so? ought not to disturb us: adding, that he himself had at one period been guilty of a temporary neglect of religion, but that it was not the result of argument, but mere absence of thought.

After having given credit to reports of his bigotry, I was agreeably surprized when he expressed the following very liberal sentiment, which has the additional value of obviating an objection to our holy religion, founded upon the discordant tenets of Christians themselves: 

'For my part, Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and rather political than religious. 

We talked of belief in ghosts.

He said, 'Sir, I make a distinction between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his imagination, and what imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose I should think that I saw a form, and heard a voice cry, "Johnson, you are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be punished;" my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that I might imagine I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not believe that an external communication had been made to me. But if a form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.'

Here it is proper, once for all, to give a true and fair statement of Johnson's way of thinking upon the question, whether departed spirits are ever permitted to appear in this world, or in any way to operate upon human life.

He has been ignorantly misrepresented as weakly credulous upon that subject; and, therefore, though I feel an inclination to disdain and treat with silent contempt so foolish a notion concerning my illustrious friend, yet as I find it has gained ground, it is necessary to refute it. The real fact then is, that Johnson had a very philosophical mind, and such a rational respect for testimony, as to make him submit his understanding to what was authentically proved, though he could not comprehend why it was so.

Being thus disposed, he was willing to inquire into the truth of any relation of supernatural agency, a general belief of which has prevailed in all nations and ages. But so far was he from being the dupe of implicit faith, that he examined the matter with a jealous attention, and no man was more ready to refute its falsehood when he had discovered it.

Churchill, in his poem entitled The Ghost, availed himself of the absurd credulity imputed to Johnson, and drew a caricature of him under the name of 'POMPOSO,' representing him as one of the believers of the story of a Ghost in Cock-lane, which, in the year 1762, had gained very general credit in London. 

Many of my readers, I am convinced, are to this hour under an impression that Johnson was thus foolishly deceived. It will therefore surprise them a good deal when they are informed upon undoubted authority, that Johnson was one of those by whom the imposture was detected. 

The story had become so popular, that he thought it should be investigated; and in this research he was assisted by the Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury, the great detector of impostures; who informs me, that after the gentlemen who went and examined into the evidence were satisfied of its falsity, Johnson wrote in their presence an account of it, which was published in the newspapers and Gentleman's Magazine, and undeceived the world.

Our conversation proceeded. 'Sir, (said he) I am a friend to subordination, as most conducive to the happiness of society. There is a reciprocal pleasure in governing and being governed.'

'Dr. Goldsmith is one of the first men we now have as an authour, and he is a very worthy man too. He has been loose in his principles, but he is coming right.'

I mentioned Mallet's tragedy of Elvira, which had been acted the preceding winter at Drury-lane, and that the Honourable Andrew Erskine, Mr. Dempster, and myself, had joined in writing a pamphlet, entitled, Critical Strictures, against it. That the mildness of Dempster's disposition had, however, relented; and he had candidly said, 'We have hardly a right to abuse this tragedy: for bad as it is, how vain should either of us be to write one not near so good.'

JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; this is not just reasoning. You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.'

When I talked to him of the paternal estate to which I was heir, he said,

'Sir, let me tell you, that to be a Scotch landlord, where you have a number of families dependent upon you, and attached to you, is, perhaps, as high a situation as humanity can arrive at. A merchant upon the 'Change of London, with a hundred thousand pounds, is nothing; an English Duke, with an immense fortune, is nothing; he has no tenants who consider themselves as under his patriarchal care, and who will follow him to the field upon an emergency.'

He proceeded:

'Your going abroad, Sir, and breaking off idle habits, may be of great importance to you. I would go where there are courts and learned men. There is a good deal of Spain that has not been perambulated. I would have you go thither. A man of inferiour talents to yours may furnish us with useful observations upon that country.'

His supposing me, at that period of life, capable of writing an account of my travels that would deserve to be read, elated me not a little.

I appeal to every impartial reader whether this faithful detail of his frankness, complacency, and kindness to a young man, a stranger and a Scotchman, does not refute the unjust opinion of the harshness of his general demeanour.

His occasional reproofs of folly, impudence, or impiety, and even the sudden sallies of his constitutional irritability of temper, which have been preserved for the poignancy of their wit, have produced that opinion among those who have not considered that such instances, though collected by Mrs. Piozzi into a small volume, and read over in a few hours, were, in fact, scattered through a long series of years; years, in which his time was chiefly spent in instructing and delighting mankind by his writings and conversation, in acts of piety to GOD, and good-will to men.

I complained to him that I had not yet acquired much knowledge, and asked his advice as to my studies.

He said, 'Don't talk of study now. I will give you a plan; but it will require some time to consider of it.'

'It is very good in you (I replied,) to allow me to be with you thus. Had it been foretold to me some years ago that I should pass an evening with the authour of The Rambler, how should I have exulted!'

What I then expressed, was sincerely from the heart.

He was satisfied that it was, and cordially answered,

'Sir, I am glad we have met. I hope we shall pass many evenings and mornings too, together.'

We finished a couple of bottles of port, and sat till between one and two in the morning.

(To be continued. This week’s chapter sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Drown your worries and your cares with a quiet mug of Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, and if you’re hungry try Bob’s famous house-cured beef-tongue sandwich with 'Bob's Mom's horseradish sauce'. Now accepting food stamps.”)

part 47

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 45

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Obscurantism; Whist Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of The Voluptuous Vampyre, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq for penmarq™/horace p. sternwall™ productions.  

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

I did not visit him again till Monday, June 13, at which time I recollect no part of his conversation, except that when I told him I had been to see Johnson ride upon three horses, he said,

'Such a man, Sir, should be encouraged; for his performances shew the extent of the human powers in one instance, and thus tend to raise our opinion of the faculties of man. He shews what may be attained by persevering application; so that every man may hope, that by giving as much application, although perhaps he may never ride three horses at a time, or dance upon a wire, yet he may be equally expert in whatever profession he has chosen to pursue.'

He again shook me by the hand at parting, and asked me why I did not come oftener to him. Trusting that I was now in his good graces, I answered, that he had not given me much encouragement, and reminded him of the check I had received from him at our first interview.

'Poh, poh! (said he, with a complacent smile,) never mind these things. Come to me as often as you can. I shall be glad to see you.'

I had learnt that his place of frequent resort was the Mitre tavern in Fleet-street, where he loved to sit up late, and I begged I might be allowed to pass an evening with him there soon, which he promised I should. A few days afterwards I met him near Temple-bar, about one o'clock in the morning, and asked if he would then go to the Mitre.

'Sir, (said he) it is too late; they won't let us in. But I'll go with you another night with all my heart.'

A revolution of some importance in my plan of life had just taken place; for instead of procuring a commission in the footguards, which was my own inclination, I had, in compliance with my father's wishes, agreed to study the law; and was soon to set out for Utrecht, to hear the lectures of an excellent Civilian in that University, and then to proceed on my travels.

Though very desirous of obtaining Dr. Johnson's advice and instructions on the mode of pursuing my studies, I was at this time so occupied, shall I call it? or so dissipated, by the amusements of London, that our next meeting was not till Saturday, June 25, when happening to dine at Clifton's eating-house, in Butcher-row, I was surprized to perceive Johnson come in and take his seat at another table.

The mode of dining, or rather being fed, at such houses in London, is well known to many to be particularly unsocial, as there is no Ordinary, or united company, but each person has his own mess, and is under no obligation to hold any intercourse with any one. A liberal and full-minded man, however, who loves to talk, will break through this churlish and unsocial restraint.

Johnson and an Irish gentleman got into a dispute concerning the cause of some part of mankind being black.

'Why, Sir, said (Johnson,) it has been accounted for in three ways: either by supposing that they are the posterity of Ham, who was cursed; or that GOD at first created two kinds of men, one black and another white; or that by the heat of the sun the skin is scorched, and so acquires a sooty hue. This matter has been much canvassed among naturalists, but has never been brought to any certain issue.'

What the Irishman said is totally obliterated from my mind; but I remember that he became very warm and intemperate in his expressions; upon which Johnson rose, and quietly walked away.

Johnson had not observed that I was in the room. I followed him, however, and he agreed to meet me in the evening at the Mitre. I called on him, and we went thither at nine. We had a good supper, and port wine, of which he then sometimes drank a bottle.

The orthodox high-church sound of the MITRE, — the figure and manner of the celebrated SAMUEL JOHNSON, — the extraordinary power and precision of his conversation, and the pride arising from finding myself admitted as his companion, produced a variety of sensations, and a pleasing elevation of mind beyond what I had ever before experienced. 

I find in my journal the following minute of our conversation, which, though it will give but a very faint notion of what passed, is in some degree a valuable record; and it will be curious in this view, as shewing how habitual to his mind were some opinions which appear in his works.

'Colley Cibber, Sir, was by no means a blockhead; but by arrogating to himself too much, he was in danger of losing that degree of estimation to which he was entitled. His friends gave out that he intended his birth-day Odes should be bad: but that was not the case, Sir; for he kept them many months by him, and a few years before he died he shewed me one of them, with great solicitude to render it as perfect as might be, and I made some corrections, to which he was not very willing to submit.”

'Sir, I do not think Gray a first-rate poet. He has not a bold imagination, nor much command of words. The obscurity in which he has involved himself will not persuade us that he is sublime. His Elegy in a Church-yard has a happy selection of images, but I don't like what are called his great things.

"Ruin seize thee, ruthless King,/Confusion on thy banners wait!" has been celebrated for its abruptness, and plunging into the subject all at once. But such arts as these have no merit, unless when they are original. We admire them only once; and this abruptness has nothing new in it.

We have had it often before. Nay, we have it in the old song of Johnny Armstrong: "Yes, there is a man in Westmoreland,/ And Johnny Armstrong they do him call."’

Here let it be observed, that although his opinion of Gray's poetry was widely different from mine, and I believe from that of most men of taste, by whom it is with justice highly admired, there is certainly much absurdity in the clamour which has been raised, as if he had been culpably injurious to the merit of that bard, and had been actuated by envy. 

Alas! ye little short-sighted criticks, could JOHNSON be envious of the talents of any of his contemporaries? 

That his opinion on this subject was what in private and in publick he uniformly expressed, regardless of what others might think, we may wonder, and perhaps regret; but it is shallow and unjust to charge him with expressing what he did not think.

Finding him in a placid humour, and wishing to avail myself of the opportunity which I fortunately had of consulting a sage, to hear whose wisdom, I conceived in the ardour of youthful imagination, that men filled with a noble enthusiasm for intellectual improvement would gladly have resorted from distant lands; — I opened my mind to him ingenuously, and gave him a little sketch of my life, to which he was pleased to listen with great attention.


(To be continued. This week’s chapter made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Escape the oppressive heat with a cold, beaded mug of Bob’s basement-brewed house bock – goes great with Bob’s home-made kosher dog ‘n’ kraut, served on Bob’s mom’s own 'fresh-baked' buns!”)

part 46