Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 59

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Boswellology, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Dagenham Drabs, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq , with the assistance of eddie el greco and roy dismas; a penmarq studios™/david susskind productions™ co-production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Early in 1764 Johnson paid a visit to the Langton family, at their seat of Langton, in Lincolnshire, where he passed some time, much to his satisfaction. His friend Bennet Langton, it will not be doubted, did every thing in his power to make the place agreeable to so illustrious a guest; and the elder Mr. Langton and his lady, being fully capable of understanding his value, were not wanting in attention. He, however, told me, that old Mr. Langton, though a man of considerable learning, had so little allowance to make for his occasional 'laxity of talk,' that because in the course of discussion he sometimes mentioned what might be said in favour of the peculiar tenets of the Romish church, he went to his grave believing him to be of that communion. 

Johnson, during his stay at Langton, had the advantage of a good library, and saw several gentlemen of the neighbourhood. I have obtained from Mr. Langton the following particulars of this period.

He was now fully convinced that he could not have been satisfied with a country living; for, talking of a respectable clergyman in Lincolnshire, he observed, 'This man, Sir, fills up the duties of his life well. I approve of him, but could not imitate him.'

To a lady who endeavoured to vindicate herself from blame for neglecting social attention to worthy neighbours, by saying, 'I would go to them if it would do them any good,' he said, 'What good, Madam, do you expect to have in your power to do them? It is shewing them respect, and that is doing them good.'

So socially accommodating was he, that once when Mr. Langton and he were driving together in a coach, and Mr. Langton complained of being sick, he insisted that they should go out and sit on the back of it in the open air, which they did. And being sensible how strange the appearance must be, observed, that a countryman whom they saw in a field, would probably be thinking, 'If these two madmen should come down, what would become of me.’

Soon after his return to London, which was in February, was founded that CLUB which existed long without a name, but at Mr. Garrick's funeral became distinguished by the title of THE LITERARY CLUB.

Sir Joshua Reynolds had the merit of being the first proposer of it, to which Johnson acceded, and the original members were, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Edmund Burke, Dr. Nugent, Mr. Beauclerk, Mr. Langton, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Chamier, and Sir John Hawkins. They met at the Turk's Head, in Gerrard-street, Soho, one evening in every week, at seven, and generally continued their conversation till a pretty late hour.

Sir John Hawkins represents himself as a 'seceder' from this society, and assigns as the reason of his 'withdrawing' himself from it, that its late hours were inconsistent with his domestick arrangements. In this he is not accurate;

for the fact was, that he one evening attacked Mr. Burke, in so rude a manner, that all the company testified their displeasure; and at their next meeting his reception was such, that he never came again.

He is equally inaccurate with respect to Mr. Garrick, of whom he says, 'he trusted that the least intimation of a desire to come among us, would procure him a ready admission; but in this he was mistaken. Johnson consulted me upon it; and when I could find no objection to receiving him, exclaimed,—"He will disturb us by his buffoonery;"—and afterwards so managed matters that he was never formally proposed, and, by consequence, never admitted.'

In justice both to Mr. Garrick and Dr. Johnson, I think it necessary to rectify this mis-statement. The truth is, that not very long after the institution of our club, Sir Joshua Reynolds was speaking of it to Garrick. 'I like it much, (said he,) I think I shall be of you.'

When Sir Joshua mentioned this to Dr. Johnson, he was much displeased with the actor's conceit.

'He'll be of us, (said Johnson) how does he know we will permit him? The first Duke in England has no right to hold such language.'

However, when Garrick was regularly proposed some time afterwards, Johnson, though he had taken a momentary offence at his arrogance, warmly and kindly supported him, and he was accordingly elected, was a most agreeable member, and continued to attend our meetings to the time of his death.

Mrs. Piozzi has also given a similar misrepresentation of Johnson's treatment of Garrick in this particular, as if he had used these contemptuous expressions: 'If Garrick does apply, I'll black-ball him. Surely, one ought to sit in a society like ours,

'Unelbow'd by a gamester, pimp, or player.'

I am happy to be enabled by such unquestionable authority as that of Sir Joshua Reynolds, as well as from my own knowledge, to vindicate at once the heart of Johnson and the social merit of Garrick.

In this year, except what he may have done in revising Shakspeare, we do not find that he laboured much in literature.

The ease and independence to which he had at last attained by royal munificence, increased his natural indolence. In his Meditations he thus accuses himself:—

'Good Friday, April 20, 1764.—I have made no reformation; I have lived totally useless, more sensual in thought, and more addicted to wine and meat.'

And next morning he thus feelingly complains:—

'My indolence, since my last reception of the sacrament, has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wilder negligence. My thoughts have been clouded with sensuality; and, except that from the beginning of this year I have, in some measure, forborne excess of strong drink, my appetites have predominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year; and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me, without leaving any impression.'

He then solemnly says,

'This is not the life to which heaven is promised;'

and he earnestly resolves an amendment. 

It was his custom to observe certain days with a pious abstraction; viz. New-year's-day, the day of his wife's death, Good Friday, Easter-day, and his own birth-day. He this year says:—

'I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. 0 GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.' 

Such a tenderness of conscience, such a fervent desire of improvement, will rarely be found. It is, surely, not decent in those who are hardened in indifference to spiritual improvement, to treat this pious anxiety of Johnson with contempt.

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “How well I remember my younger days as a struggling scribe, when after a hard day of pounding out stories for the penny-dreadfuls I would stagger bleary-eyed into Bob’s Bowery Bar™,

and without a word Bob would draw and serve me my ‘usual’: a refreshing schooner of his justly-famous ‘basement-brewed house bock’, and quite suddenly all was right with the world and its poor confused inhabitants.” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Bock Beer Theatre, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, Saturdays at midnight, EST.)

part 60

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