Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 54

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Adjunct Professor of Penmanship Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Obstreperous Black Dog, 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™ co-production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

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This account of his reading, given by himself in plain words, sufficiently confirms what I have already advanced upon the disputed question as to his application. It reconciles any seeming inconsistency in his way of talking upon it at different times; and shews that idleness and reading hard were with him relative terms, the import of which, as used by him, must be gathered from a comparison with what scholars of different degrees of ardour and assiduity have been known to do. And let it be remembered, that he was now talking spontaneously, and expressing his genuine sentiments; whereas at other times he might be induced from his spirit of contradiction, or more properly from his love of argumentative contest, to speak lightly of his own application to study. It is pleasing to consider that the old gentleman's gloomy prophecy as to the irksomeness of books to men of an advanced age, which is too often fulfilled, was so far from being verified in Johnson, that his ardour for literature never failed, and his last writings had more ease and vivacity than any of his earlier productions.

He mentioned to me now, for the first time, that he had been distrest by melancholy, and for that reason had been obliged to fly from study and meditation, to the dissipating variety of life.

Against melancholy he recommended constant occupation of mind, a great deal of exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, and especially to shun drinking at night. He said melancholy people were apt to fly to intemperance for relief, but that it sunk them much deeper in misery. He observed, that labouring men who work hard, and live sparingly, are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.

He again insisted on the duty of maintaining subordination of rank.

'Sir, I would no more deprive a nobleman of his respect, than of his money. I consider myself as acting a part in the great system of society, and I do to others as I would have them to do to me. I would behave to a nobleman as I should expect he would behave to me, were I a nobleman and he Sam. Johnson. 

‘Sir, there is one Mrs. Macaulay in this town, a great republican. One day when I was at her house, I put on a very grave countenance, and said to her, "Madam, I am now become a convert to your way of thinking. I am convinced that all mankind are upon an equal footing; and to give you an unquestionable proof, Madam, that I am in earnest, here is a very sensible, civil, well-behaved fellow-citizen, your footman; I desire that he may be allowed to sit down and dine with us." I thus, Sir, shewed her the absurdity of the levelling doctrine. She has never liked me since. 

‘Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves. They would all have some people under them; why not then have some people above them?' 

I mentioned a certain authour who disgusted me by his forwardness, and by shewing no deference to noblemen into whose company he was admitted. 

JOHNSON. 'Suppose a shoemaker should claim an equality with him, as he does with a Lord; how he would stare. "Why, Sir, do you stare? (says the shoemaker,) I do great service to society. 'Tis true I am paid for doing it; but so are you, Sir: and I am sorry to say it, paid better than I am, for doing something not so necessary. For mankind could do better without your books, than without my shoes." 

‘Thus, Sir, there would be a perpetual struggle for precedence, were there no fixed invariable rules for the distinction of rank, which creates no jealousy, as it is allowed to be accidental.'

A writer of deserved eminence being mentioned, Johnson said, 

'Why, Sir, he is a man of good parts, but being originally poor, he has got a love of mean company and low jocularity; a very bad thing, Sir. To laugh is good, as to talk is good. But you ought no more to think it enough if you laugh, than you are to think it enough if you talk. You may laugh in as many ways as you talk; and surely every way of talking that is practised cannot be esteemed.'

I spoke of Sir James Macdonald as a young man of most distinguished merit, who united the highest reputation at Eton and Oxford, with the patriarchal spirit of a great Highland Chieftain. I mentioned that Sir James had said to me, that he had never seen Mr. Johnson, but he had a great respect for him, though at the same time it was mixed with some degree of terrour. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, if he were to be acquainted with me, it might lessen both.'

The mention of this gentleman led us to talk of the Western Islands of Scotland, to visit which he expressed a wish that then appeared to me a very romantick fancy, which I little thought would be afterwards realised. He told me, that his father had put Martin's account of those islands into his hands when he was very young, and that he was highly pleased with it;

that he was particularly struck with the St. Kilda man's notion that the high church of Glasgow had been hollowed out of a rock; a circumstance to which old Mr. Johnson had directed his attention.

He said he would go to the Hebrides with me, when I returned from my travels, unless some very good companion should offer when I was absent, which he did not think probable; adding, 'There are few people to whom I take so much to as you.' And when I talked of my leaving England, he said with a very affectionate air, 'My dear Boswell, I should be very unhappy at parting, did I think we were not to meet again.'

I cannot too often remind my readers, that although such instances of his kindness are doubtless very flattering to me, yet I hope my recording them will be ascribed to a better motive than to vanity; for they afford unquestionable evidence of his tenderness and complacency, which some, while they were forced to acknowledge his great powers, have been so strenuous to deny.

He maintained that a boy at school was the happiest of human beings. I supported a different opinion, from which I have never yet varied, that a man is happier; and I enlarged upon the anxiety and sufferings which are endured at school.

JOHNSON. 'Ah! Sir, a boy's being flogged is not so severe as a man's having the hiss of the world against him. Men have a solicitude about fame; and the greater share they have of it, the more afraid they are of losing it.' 

I silently asked myself, 'Is it possible that the great SAMUEL JOHNSON really entertains any such apprehension, and is not confident that his exalted fame is established upon a foundation never to be shaken?' 

(To be continued. This week’s episode was made possible in part though a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for the Encouragement of the Graphic Arts. “’Be of Good Cheer’ says the sign above the door,

and I know of no more likely a guarantee of earthly felicity than the passing of an hour or two in Bob’s Bowery Bar™; be sure to try Bob’s justly famous basement-brewed house bock, and tell them Horace sent you!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of “Horace P. Sternwall’s Thriller Theatre”, 9pm (EST) Tuesdays, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.

part 55

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 53

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Basic English Composition, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Judge Who Was Not Sober, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq, inks by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas ; a rhoda penmarq™/horace p. sternwall™/aaron spellchek™ co-production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Mr. Dempster having endeavoured to maintain that intrinsick merit ought to make the only distinction amongst mankind.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, mankind have found that this cannot be. How shall we determine the proportion of intrinsick merit? Were that to be the only distinction amongst mankind, we should soon quarrel about the degrees of it. Were all distinctions abolished, the strongest would not long acquiesce, but would endeavour to obtain a superiority by their bodily strength. But, Sir, as subordination is very necessary for society, and contensions for superiority very dangerous, mankind, that is to say, all civilized nations, have settled it upon a plain invariable principle. A man is born to hereditary rank; or his being appointed to certain offices, gives him a certain rank. Subordination tends greatly to human happiness. Were we all upon an equality, we should have no other enjoyment than mere animal pleasure.”

I said, I considered distinction of rank to be of so much importance in civilised society, that if I were asked on the same day to dine with the first Duke in England, and with the first man in Britain for genius, I should hesitate which to prefer.

JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir, if you were to dine only once, and it were never to be known where you dined, you would choose rather to dine with the first man for genius; but to gain most respect, you should dine with the first Duke in England. For nine people in ten that you meet with, would have a higher opinion of you for having dined with a Duke; and the great genius himself would receive you better, because you had been with the great Duke.' 

He took care to guard himself against any possible suspicion that his settled principles of reverence for rank and respect for wealth were at all owing to mean or interested motives; for he asserted his own independence as a literary man. 

'No man (said he) who ever lived by literature, has lived more independently than I have done.' 

He said he had taken longer time than he needed to have done in composing his Dictionary. He received our compliments upon that great work with complacency, and told us that the Academy della Crusca could scarcely believe that it was done by one man.

Next morning I found him alone, and have preserved the following fragments of his conversation.

Of a gentleman who was mentioned, he said, 'I have not met with any man for a long time who has given me such general displeasure. He is totally unfixed in his principles, and wants to puzzle other people.’

I said his principles had been poisoned by a noted infidel writer, but that he was, nevertheless, a benevolent good man.’

JOHNSON. 'We can have no dependance upon that instinctive, that constitutional goodness which is not founded upon principle. I grant you that such a man may be a very amiable member of society. I can conceive him placed in such a situation that he is not much tempted to deviate from what is right; and as every man prefers virtue, when there is not some strong incitement to transgress its precepts, I can conceive him doing nothing wrong.

But if such a man stood in need of money, I should not like to trust him; and I should certainly not trust him with young ladies, for there there is always temptation. Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expence. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to errour. 

‘Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull. 

‘If I could have allowed myself to gratify my vanity at the expence of truth, what fame might I have acquired. Every thing which Hume has advanced against Christianity had passed through my mind long before he wrote. 

‘Always remember this, that after a system is well settled upon positive evidence, a few partial objections ought not to shake it. The human mind is so limited, that it cannot take in all the parts of a subject, so that there may be objections raised against any thing. There are objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum; yet one of them must certainly be true.’

I mentioned Hume's argument against the belief of miracles, that it is more probable that the witnesses to the truth of them are mistaken, or speak falsely, than that the miracles should be true. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the great difficulty of proving miracles should make us very cautious in believing them. But let us consider; although GOD has made Nature to operate by certain fixed laws, yet it is not unreasonable to think that he may suspend those laws, in order to establish a system highly advantageous to mankind. 

‘Now the Christian religion is a most beneficial system, as it gives us light and certainty where we were before in darkness and doubt. The miracles which prove it are attested by men who had no interest in deceiving us; but who, on the contrary, were told that they should suffer persecution, and did actually lay down their lives in confirmation of the truth of the facts which they asserted. Indeed, for some centuries the heathens did not pretend to deny the miracles; but said they were performed by the aid of evil spirits. This is a circumstance of great weight. 

‘Then, Sir, when we take the proofs derived from prophecies which have been so exactly fulfilled, we have most satisfactory evidence. Supposing a miracle possible, as to which, in my opinion, there can be no doubt, we have as strong evidence for the miracles in support of Christianity, as the nature of the thing admits.'

At night Mr. Johnson and I supped in a private room at the Turk's Head coffee-house, in the Strand. 

'I encourage this house (said he;) for the mistress of it is a good civil woman, and has not much business.'

'Sir, I love the acquaintance of young people; because, in the first place, I don't like to think myself growing old. In the next place, young acquaintances must last longest, if they do last; and then, Sir, young men have more virtue than old men; they have more generous sentiments in every respect. 

‘I love the young dogs of this age: they have more wit and humour and knowledge of life than we had; but then the dogs are not so good scholars. Sir, in my early years I read very hard. It is a sad reflection, but a true one, that I knew almost as much at eighteen as I do now. My judgement, to be sure, was not so good; but I had all the facts. I remember very well, when I was at Oxford, an old gentleman said to me,

"Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task."'

(To be continued. This week’s episode was sponsored in part by the good people of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “I know of no finer cure for a brutal hangover than two or possibly three cold mugs of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s justly famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock and a plate of ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ corned-beef hash and organic scrambled eggs.

Stagger back to your room for a good long nap and when you awaken you will find yourself as ready as you’ll ever be to face what’s left of another day.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of “Alleyways of Doom” and Other Poems of Urban Life and Death.

part 54

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “H”

Edited by Dan Leo, Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Unread Classics, Canasta Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Return of the Inebriate Lord; the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by the rhoda penmarq conglomerated™ studios.

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

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H is in English, as in other languages, a note of aspiration, sounded only by a strong emission of the breath, without any conformation of the organs of speech, and is therefore by many grammarians accounted no letter. The h in English is scarcely ever mute at the beginning of a word, or where it immediately precedes a vowel; as house, behaviour: where it is followed by a consonant it has no sound, according to the present pronunciation: but anciently, as now in Scotland, it made the syllable guttural; as right, bought.

To Haggle. To be tedious in a bargain; to be long in coming to the price.

To Hang. To choak and kill by suspending by the neck, so as that the ligature intercepts the breath and circulation.

He hath commission from thy wife and me
To Hang Cordelia in the prison
.  Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Happiness. Felicity; state in which the desires are satisfied.

The various and contrary choices that men make in the world, argue that the same thing is not good to every man alike: this variety of pursuits shews, that every one does not place his happiness in the same thing. Locke.

Hell. The place of the devil and wicked souls.

For it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.
Shakes. Macbeth.

Hell-black. Black as hell.

The sea, which such a storm as his bare head 
In hell-black night endur'd, would have boil'd up,
 And quench'd the stelled fires.    Shakesp. King Lear.

Helminthick. Relating to worms.

Here. In this place.

Before thy here approach, 
Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men, 
All ready at appoint, was setting forth.  Shakesp. Macbeth.

Heretick. One who propagates his private opinions in opposition to the Catholick church.

When a Papist uses the word hereticks, he generally means Protestants; when a Protestant uses the word, he means any persons willfully and contentiously obstinate in fundamental errours.   Watt’s Logick.

Heteroscians.Those whose shadows fall only one way, as the shadows of us who live north of the Tropick fall at noon always to the North.

Hiation. The act of gaping.

Hog. The general name of swine.

This will raise the price of hogs, if we grow all to be porkeaters.   Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

Horse. A neighing quadruped, used in war, and draught and carriage.

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!   Shak. R. III.

To Humectate. To wet; to moisten.

The Nile and Niger do not only moisten and contemperate the air by their exhalations, but refresh and humectate the earth by their annual inundations.    Brown's Vulgar Errours.

Hysterical. Troubled with fits; disordered in the regions of the womb.

Many hysterical women are sensible of wind passing from the womb.  Floyer on the Humours.

(Our adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. We wish to acknowledge the continuing sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “How often, in those early days of my writing career, did I gladly respond to the siren call of Bob’s Bowery Bar,

where a couple of dollars could fill my stomach with Bob’s famous basement-brewed bock and generous lashings of 'Bob’s Mom’s' soul-warming corned-beef hash?” – from Horace P. Sternwall’s A Cold-Water Flat on the Bowery: Memories of a World Now Sadly Gone.)


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 52

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Comic Book Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Dead Drunken Lord, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq, inks and coloring by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas; a penmarq™ studios/horace p. sternwall productions™ co-production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Mr. Temple, now vicar of St. Gluvias, Cornwall, who had been my intimate friend for many years, had at this time chambers in Farrar's-buildings, at the bottom of Inner Temple-lane, which he kindly lent me upon my quitting my lodgings, he being to return to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. I found them particularly convenient for me, as they were so near Dr. Johnson's.

On Wednesday, July 20, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Dempster, and my uncle Dr. Boswell, who happened to be now in London, supped with me at these Chambers.

JOHNSON. 'Pity is not natural to man. Children are always cruel. Savages are always cruel. Pity is acquired and improved by the cultivation of reason. We may have uneasy sensations from seeing a creature in distress, without pity; for we have not pity unless we wish to relieve them. When I am on my way to dine with a friend, and finding it late, have bid the coachman make haste, if I happen to attend when he whips his horses, I may feel unpleasantly that the animals are put to pain, but I do not wish him to desist. No, Sir, I wish him to drive on.'

Mr. Alexander Donaldson, bookseller of Edinburgh, had for some time opened a shop in London, and sold his cheap editions of the most popular English books, in defiance of the supposed common-law right of Literary Property. Johnson, though he concurred in the opinion which was afterwards sanctioned by a judgement of the House of Lords, that there was no such right, was at this time very angry that the Booksellers of London, for whom he uniformly professed much regard, should suffer from an invasion of what they had ever considered to be secure: and he was loud and violent against Mr. Donaldson.

'He is a fellow who takes advantage of the law to injure his brethren; for, notwithstanding that the statute secures only fourteen years of exclusive right, it has always been understood by the trade, that he, who buys the copyright of a book from the authour, obtains a perpetual property; and upon that belief, numberless bargains are made to transfer that property after the expiration of the statutory term. Now Donaldson, I say, takes advantage here, of people who have really an equitable title from usage; and if we consider how few of the books, of which they buy the property, succeed so well as to bring profit, we should be of opinion that the term of fourteen years is too short; it should be sixty years.'

DEMPSTER. 'Donaldson, Sir, is anxious for the encouragement of literature. He reduces the price of books, so that poor students may buy them.'

JOHNSON, (laughing) 'Well, Sir, allowing that to be his motive, he is no better than Robin Hood, who robbed the rich in order to give to the poor.'

Rousseau's treatise on the inequality of mankind was at this time a fashionable topick. It gave rise to an observation by Mr. Dempster, that the advantages of fortune and rank were nothing to a wise man, who ought to value only merit.

JOHNSON. 'If man were a savage, living in the woods by himself, this might be true; but in civilized society we all depend upon each other, and our happiness is very much owing to the good opinion of mankind. Now, Sir, in civilized society, external advantages make us more respected. A man with a good coat upon his back meets with a better reception than he who has a bad one.

‘Sir, you may analyse this, and say what is there in it? But that will avail you nothing, for it is a part of a general system. Pound St. Paul's Church into atoms, and consider any single atom; it is, to be sure, good for nothing: but, put all these atoms together, and you have St. Paul's Church. So it is with human felicity, which is made up of many ingredients, each of which may be shewn to be very insignificant. 

‘In civilized society, personal merit will not serve you so much as money will. Sir, you may make the experiment. Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which will respect you most. 

‘If you wish only to support nature, Sir William Petty fixes your allowance at three pounds a year but as times are much altered, let us call it six pounds. This sum will fill your belly, shelter you from the weather, and even get you a strong lasting coat, supposing it to be made of good bull's hide. Now, Sir, all beyond this is artificial, and is desired in order to obtain a greater degree of respect from our fellow-creatures. And, Sir, if six hundred pounds a year procure a man more consequence, and, of course, more happiness than six pounds a year, the same proportion will hold as to six thousand, and so on as far as opulence can be carried.

Perhaps he who has a large fortune may not be so happy as he who has a small one; but that must proceed from other causes than from his having the large fortune: for, caeteris paribus, he who is rich in a civilized society, must be happier than he who is poor; as riches, if properly used, (and it is a man's own fault if they are not,) must be productive of the highest advantages. 

‘Money, to be sure, of itself is of no use; for its only use is to part with it. Rousseau, and all those who deal in paradoxes, are led away by a childish desire of novelty. When I was a boy, I used always to choose the wrong side of a debate, because most ingenious things, that is to say, most new things, could be said upon it. Sir, there is nothing for which you may not muster up more plausible arguments, than those which are urged against wealth and other external advantages. 

'Why, now, there is stealing; why should it be thought a crime? When we consider by what unjust methods property has been often acquired, and that what was unjustly got it must be unjust to keep, where is the harm in one man's taking the property of another from him?

Besides, Sir, when we consider the bad use that many people make of their property, and how much better use the thief may make of it, it may be defended as a very allowable practice. Yet, Sir, the experience of mankind has discovered stealing to be so very bad a thing, that they make no scruple to hang a man for it. 

‘When I was running about this town a very poor fellow, I was a great arguer for the advantages of poverty; but I was, at the same time, very sorry to be poor. 

‘Sir, all the arguments which are brought to represent poverty as no evil, shew it to be evidently a great evil. You never find people labouring to convince you that you may live very happily upon a plentiful fortune. — So you hear people talking how miserable a King must be; and yet they all wish to be in his place.'

(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™ – possibly the last watering hole in New York City in which smoking is not only permitted but encouraged!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of “The Jolly Six Bums” and Other Poems of the Open Road.

part 53