Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 50

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Business English, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Whither Mrs. Piozzi’s Poodle?, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq, colors by eddie el greco, inks and lettering by roy dismas; “a penmarq studios™/Bob’s Bowery Bar™ production”.  

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

On the 14th we had another evening by ourselves at the Mitre.

It happening to be a very rainy night, I made some common-place observations on the relaxation of nerves and depression of spirits which such weather occasioned; adding, however, that it was good for the vegetable creation. Johnson, who, as we have already seen, denied that the temperature of the air had any influence on the human frame, answered, with a smile of ridicule,

'Why yes, Sir, it is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals.'

This observation of his aptly enough introduced a good supper; and I soon forgot, in Johnson's company, the influence of a moist atmosphere.

Feeling myself now quite at ease as his companion, though I had all possible reverence for him, I expressed a regret that I could not be so easy with my father, though he was not much older than Johnson. I asked him the reason of this. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I am a man of the world. I live in the world, and I take, in some degree, the colour of the world as it moves along. Your father is a Judge in a remote part of the island, and all his notions are taken from the old world. Besides, Sir, there must always be a struggle between a father and son, while one aims at power and the other at independence.' 

I said, I was afraid my father would force me to be a lawyer. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you need not be afraid of his forcing you to be a laborious practising lawyer; that is not in his power. For as the proverb says, "One man may lead a horse to the water, but twenty cannot make him drink." He may be displeased that you are not what he wishes you to be; but that displeasure will not go far. If he insists only on your having as much law as is necessary for a man of property, and then endeavours to get you into Parliament, he is quite in the right.'

He enlarged very convincingly upon the excellence of rhyme over blank verse in English poetry. I mentioned to him that Dr. Adam Smith, in his lectures upon composition, when I studied under him in the College of Glasgow, had maintained the same opinion strenuously, and I repeated some of his arguments. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I was once in company with Smith, and we did not take to each other; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have HUGGED him.'

Talking of those who denied the truth of Christianity, he said, 

'It is always easy to be on the negative side. If a man were now to deny that there is salt upon the table, you could not reduce him to an absurdity. Come, let us try this a little further. 

‘I deny that Canada is taken, and I can support my denial by pretty good arguments. The French are a much more numerous people than we; and it is not likely that they would allow us to take it. 

‘"But the ministry have assured us, in all the formality of The Gazette, that it is taken." 

‘— Very true. But the ministry have put us to an enormous expence by the war in America, and it is their interest to persuade us that we have got something for our money. 

‘"But the fact is confirmed by thousands of men who were at the taking of it."

‘— Ay, but these men have still more interest in deceiving us. They don't want that you should think the French have beat them, but that they have beat the French. 

‘Now suppose you should go over and find that it is really taken, that would only satisfy yourself; for when you come home we will not believe you. We will say, you have been bribed.

‘— Yet, Sir, notwithstanding all these plausible objections, we have no doubt that Canada is really ours. 

‘Such is the weight of common testimony. How much stronger are the evidences of the Christian religion!' 

'Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge.’

To such a degree of unrestrained frankness had he now accustomed me, that in the course of this evening I talked of the numerous reflections which had been thrown out against him on account of his having accepted a pension from his present Majesty. 

'Why, Sir, (said he, with a hearty laugh,) it is a mighty foolish noise that they make. I have accepted of a pension as a reward which has been thought due to my literary merit; and now that I have this pension, I am the same man in every respect that I have ever been; I retain the same principles. It is true, that I cannot now curse (smiling) the House of Hanover; nor would it be decent for me to drink King James's health in the wine that King George gives me money to pay for. But, Sir, I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of Hanover, and drinking King James's health, are amply overbalanced by three hundred pounds a year.'

(To be continued. This project is made possible in part by a generous grant from Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Allow me to recommend ‘Bob’s Happy Hour Special’– a cold beaded pint of Bob’s justifiably famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock and a shot of Heaven Sent bonded bourbon:

only $2.00 for this delightful collation. (Offer good from 4 to 6pm, Mondays through Fridays).” – Horace P. Sternwall, best-selling author and host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Radio Theatre, Sunday nights at 9pm (EST), on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

part 51

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