Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 55

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of English-Language Literature, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Who Stole the Laird of Fitzhugh’s Golf Clubs?, the Olney Community College Press.

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

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

On Tuesday, July 26, I found Mr. Johnson alone. It was a very wet day, and I again complained of the disagreeable effects of such weather.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, this is all imagination, which physicians encourage; for man lives in air, as a fish lives in water; so that if the atmosphere press heavy from above, there is an equal resistance from below. To be sure, bad weather is hard upon people who are obliged to be abroad; and men cannot labour so well in the open air in bad weather, as in good: but, Sir, a smith or a taylor, whose work is within doors, will surely do as much in rainy weather, as in fair. Some very delicate frames, indeed, may be affected by wet weather; but not common constitutions.'

We talked of the education of children; and I asked him what he thought was best to teach them first.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is no matter what you teach them first, any more than what leg you shall put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the mean time your breech is bare. Sir, while you are considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt them both.'

On Thursday, July 28, we again supped in private at the Turk's Head coffee-house.

JOHNSON. 'Swift has a higher reputation than he deserves. His excellence is strong sense; for his humour, though very well, is not remarkably good. I doubt whether The Tale of a Tub be his; for he never owned it, and it is much above his usual manner.

'Has not ---- a great deal of wit, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'I do not think so, Sir. He is, indeed, continually attempting wit, but he fails. And I have no more pleasure in hearing a man attempting wit and failing, than in seeing a man trying to leap over a ditch and tumbling into it.'

He laughed heartily, when I mentioned to him a saying of his concerning Mr. Thomas Sheridan, which Foote took a wicked pleasure to circulate.

'Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, Sir, is not in Nature.' 'So (said he,) I allowed him all his own merit.'

He now added, 'Sheridan cannot bear me. I bring his declamation to a point. I ask him a plain question, “What do you mean to teach?”

‘Besides, Sir, what influence can Mr. Sheridan have upon the language of this great country, by his narrow exertions? Sir, it is burning a farthing candle at Dover, to shew light at Calais.'

Talking of a young man who was uneasy from thinking that he was very deficient in learning and knowledge, he said, 

'Time will do for him all that is wanting.'

The conversation then took a philosophical turn.

JOHNSON. 'Human experience, which is constantly contradicting theory, is the great test of truth. A system, built upon the discoveries of a great many minds, is always of more strength, than what is produced by the mere workings of any one mind, which, of itself, can do little. There is not so poor a book in the world that would not be a prodigious effort were it wrought out entirely by a single mind, without the aid of prior investigators.

The French writers are superficial; because they are not scholars, and so proceed upon the mere power of their own minds; and we see how very little power they have.'

'As to the Christian religion, Sir, besides the strong evidence which we have for it, there is a balance in its favour from the number of great men who have been convinced of its truth, after a serious consideration of the question. Grotius was an acute man, a lawyer, a man accustomed to examine evidence, and he was convinced. Grotius was not a recluse, but a man of the world, who certainly had no bias to the side of religion. Sir Isaac Newton set out an infidel, and came to be a very firm believer.'

He this evening again recommended to me to perambulate Spain. I said it would amuse him to get a letter from me dated at Salamancha. 

JOHNSON. 'I love the University of Salamancha; for when the Spaniards were in doubt as to the lawfulness of their conquering America, the University of Salamancha gave it as their opinion that it was not lawful.' 

He spoke this with great emotion, and with that generous warmth which dictated the lines in his London, against Spanish encroachment.

I expressed my opinion of my friend Derrick as but a poor writer.

JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir, he is; but you are to consider that his being a literary man has got for him all that he has. Sir, he has nothing to say for himself but that he is a writer. Had he not been a writer, he must have been sweeping the crossings in the streets, and asking halfpence from every body that past.'

Poor Derrick! I remember him with kindness. Johnson said once to me,

'Sir, I honour Derrick for his presence of mind. One night, when Floyd, another poor authour, was wandering about the streets in the night, he found Derrick fast asleep upon a bulk; upon being suddenly waked, Derrick started up, "My dear Floyd, I am sorry to see you in this destitute state; will you go home with me to my lodgings?"'

I again begged his advice as to my method of study at Utrecht.

'Come, (said he) let us make a day of it. Let us go down to Greenwich and dine, and talk of it there.'

The following Saturday was fixed for this excursion.

As we walked along the Strand to-night, arm in arm, a woman of the town accosted us, in the usual enticing manner.

'No, no, my girl, (said Johnson) it won't do.'

He, however, did not treat her with harshness, and we talked of the wretched life of such women; and agreed, that much more misery than happiness, upon the whole, is produced by illicit commerce between the sexes.

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at Bleecker and the Bowery: “Ah, the carefree days of youth, when I, a fresh-faced young naïf from the provinces first came to the fabled metropolis with the express purpose of becoming a writer –

would I have survived those lean early years had I not discovered Bob’s Bowery Bar™ with its welcoming atmosphere and it famous lunch special of Bob’s Mom’s Grilled Cheese ‘n’ Ham and a pint of Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ bock, all for the price of a mere two bits?” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of “The Horace P. Sternwall Classics Theatre”, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network (check your local paper for listings).

part 56

No comments:

Post a Comment