Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Basic Reading Comprehension, Assistant Cricket Team Coach; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Bawd from Battersea, the Olney Community College Press.
Illustrations by rhoda penmarq ; inks by eddie el greco, lettering by roy dismas ; a penmarq studios™/poverty row™ production.
I returned to London in February, and found Dr. Johnson in a good house in Johnson's Court, Fleet-street, in which he had accommodated Miss Williams with an apartment on the ground floor, while Mr. Levett occupied his post in the garret: his faithful Francis was still attending upon him.
He received me with much kindness. The fragments of our first conversation, which I have preserved, are these:
I told him that Voltaire, in a conversation with me, had distinguished Pope and Dryden thus: — 'Pope drives a handsome chariot, with a couple of neat trim nags; Dryden a coach, and six stately horses.'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the truth is, they both drive coaches and six; but Dryden's horses are either galloping or stumbling: Pope's go at a steady even trot.'
Talking of education, 'People have now a days, (said he,) got a strange opinion that every thing should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach chymistry by lectures. — You might teach making of shoes by lectures!'
At night I supped with him at the Mitre tavern, that we might renew our social intimacy at the original place of meeting. But there was now a considerable difference in his way of living. Having had an illness, in which he was advised to leave off wine, he had, from that period, continued to abstain from it, and drank only water, or lemonade.
I told him that a foreign friend of his, whom I had met with abroad, was so wretchedly perverted to infidelity, that he treated the hopes of immortality with brutal levity; and said, 'As man dies like a dog, let him lie like a dog.'
JOHNSON. 'If he dies like a dog, let him lie like a dog.'
I added, that this man said to me, 'I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, he must be very singular in his opinion, if he thinks himself one of the best of men; for none of his friends think him so.'
— He said, 'no honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair examination of the proofs of Christianity.'
I named Hume.
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; Hume owned to a clergyman in the bishoprick of Durham, that he had never read the New Testament with attention.'
I mentioned Hume's notion, that all who are happy are equally happy; a little miss with a new gown at a dancing school ball, a general at the head of a victorious army, and an orator, after having made an eloquent speech in a great assembly.
JOHNSON. 'Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher.'
I remember this very question very happily illustrated in opposition to Hume, by the Reverend Mr. Robert Brown, at Utrecht.
'A small drinking-glass and a large one, (said he,) may be equally full; but the large one holds more than the small.'
Dr. Johnson was very kind this evening, and said to me,
'You have now lived five-and-twenty years, and you have employed them well.'
'Alas, Sir, (said I,) I fear not. Do I know history? Do I know mathematicks? Do I know law?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, though you may know no science so well as to be able to teach it, and no profession so well as to be able to follow it, your general mass of knowledge of books and men renders you very capable to make yourself master of any science, or fit yourself for any profession.'
I mentioned that a gay friend had advised me against being a lawyer, because I should be excelled by plodding block-heads.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in the formulary and statutory part of law, a plodding block-head may excel; but in the ingenious and rational part of it a plodding block-head can never excel.’
I talked of the mode adopted by some to rise in the world, by courting great men, and asked him whether he had ever submitted to it.
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I never was near enough to great men, to court them. You may be prudently attached to great men and yet independent. You are not to do what you think wrong; and, Sir, you are to calculate, and not pay too dear for what you get. You must not give a shilling's worth of court for six-pence worth of good. But if you can get a shilling's worth of good for six-pence worth of court, you are a fool if you do not pay court.'
He said, 'If convents should be allowed at all, they should only be retreats for persons unable to serve the publick, or who have served it. It is our first duty to serve society, and, after we have done that, we may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged.'
I introduced the subject of second sight, and other mysterious manifestations; the fulfilment of which, I suggested, might happen by chance.
JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but they have happened so often, that mankind have agreed to think them not fortuitous.'
I talked to him a great deal of what I had seen in Corsica, and of my intention to publish an account of it. He encouraged me by saying,
'You cannot go to the bottom of the subject; but all that you tell us will be new to us. Give us as many anecdotes as you can.'
(To be continued. This week’s chapter was made possible in part through a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation: “I know where I’ll be this New Year’s Eve – at Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, ringing in the new year with a a schooner or three of Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock
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Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Remedial Basic English Composition, Assistant Mah Jongg Club Moderator; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Dagenham Drab, the Olney Community College Press.
Illustrations by rhoda penmarq ; assisted by eddie el greco and roy dismas; a penmarq studios™/gower gulch™ co-production.
In the October of this year he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare, which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface, in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain.
A blind indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the British nation to the ridicule of foreigners. Johnson, by candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was, like that of a counsel, upon his own side of the cause:
Johnson's was like the grave, well-considered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though his researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute as they might have been, which we now certainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious criticks who have followed him. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristick excellence. Many of his notes have illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has in general exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors.
His Shakespeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch University, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches. Though he certainly was not without considerable merit, he wrote with so little regard to decency and principles, and decorum, and in so hasty a manner, that his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening, when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said, he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed,
'Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known.'
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review of Johnson's Shakspeare. Johnson was at first angry that Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, considering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died.
In his Preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks,
'These are the petty criticisms of petty wits.'
Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies, which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver when the money was paid, he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his Preface to Shakspeare; which, although it excited much clamour against him at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter Johnson returned the following answer:—
'To CHARLES BURNEY ESQ. IN POLAND-STREET.
'I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticism in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist.
'Be pleased to make my compliments to your family.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
'Oct. 16, 1765'
From one of his journals I transcribed what follows:
'At church, Oct. —65.
'To avoid all singularity.
'To come in before service, and compose my mind by meditation, or by reading some portions of scriptures.
'If I can hear the sermon, to attend it, unless attention be more troublesome than useful.
'To consider the act of prayer as a reposal of myself upon God, and a resignation of 'all into his holy hand.'
In 1764 and 1765 it should seem that Dr. Johnson was so busily employed with his edition of Shakspeare, as to have had little leisure for any other literary exertion, or, indeed, even for private correspondence. He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years, for which it will appear that he afterwards apologised.
He was, however, at all times ready to give assistance to his friends, and others, in revising their works, and in writing for them, or greatly improving their Dedications. In that courtly species of composition no man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of his mind prevented him from ever dedicating in his own person, he wrote a very great number of Dedications for others.
Some of these, the persons who were favoured with them are unwilling should be mentioned, from a too anxious apprehension, as I think, that they might be suspected of having received larger assistance; and some, after all the diligence I have bestowed, have escaped my enquiries.
He told me, a great many years ago, 'he believed he had dedicated to all the Royal Family round;' and it was indifferent to him what was the subject of the work dedicated, provided it were innocent. He once dedicated some Musick for the German Flute to Edward, Duke of York. In writing Dedications for others, he considered himself as by no means speaking his own sentiments.
Notwithstanding his long silence, I never omitted to write to him when I had any thing worthy of communicating. I generally kept copies of my letters to him, that I might have a full view of our correspondence, and never be at a loss to understand any reference in his letters. He kept the greater part of mine very carefully; and a short time before his death was attentive enough to seal them up in bundles, and order them to be delivered to me, which was accordingly done. Amongst them I found one, of which I had not made a copy, and which I own I read with pleasure at the distance of almost twenty years. It is dated November, 1765, at the palace of Pascal Paoli, in Corte, the capital of Corsica, and is full of generous enthusiasm. After giving a sketch of what I had seen and heard in that island, it proceeded thus: 'I dare to call this a spirited tour. I dare, to challenge your approbation.'
This letter produced the following answer, which I found on my arrival at Paris.
À Mr. BOSWELL, chez Mr. WATERS, Banquier, Ã Paris.
'Apologies are seldom of any use. We will delay till your arrival the reasons, good or bad, which have made me such a sparing and ungrateful correspondent. Be assured, for the present, that nothing has lessened either the esteem or love with which I dismissed you at Harwich. Both have been increased by all that I have been told of you by yourself or others; and when you return, you will return to an unaltered, and, I hope, unalterable friend.
'All that you have to fear from me is the vexation of disappointing me. No man loves to frustrate expectations which have been formed in his favour; and the pleasure which I promise myself from your journals and remarks is so great, that perhaps no degree of attention or discernment will be sufficient to afford it.
'Come home, however, and take your chance. I long to see you, and to hear you; and hope that we shall not be so long separated again. Come home, and expect such a welcome as is due to him whom a wise and noble curiosity has led, where perhaps no native of this country ever was before.
'I have no news to tell you that can deserve your notice; nor would I willingly lessen the pleasure that any novelty may give you at your return. I am afraid we shall find it difficult to keep among us a mind which has been so long feasted with variety. But let us try what esteem and kindness can effect.
'As your father's liberality has indulged you with so long a ramble, I doubt not but you will think his sickness, or even his desire to see you, a sufficient reason for hastening your return. The longer we live, and the more we think, the higher value we learn to put on the friendship and tenderness of parents and of friends. Parents we can have but once; and he promises himself too much, who enters life with the expectation of finding many friends. Upon some motive, I hope, that you will be here soon; and am willing to think that it will be an inducement to your return, that it is sincerely desired by, dear Sir, '
Your affectionate humble servant,
'Johnson's Court, Fleet-street, January 14, 1766.'
(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Alone in the big city for the holidays? Why not stop in at Bob’s Bowery Bar for ‘Bob’s Mom’s Free-Range Turkey Dinner with all the ‘Trimmin’s’ – only $5.95 (exclusive of tax),
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