Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 61

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of 18th Century Epistemology, Assistant Squash Team Coach; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Mr. Mudge’s Dilemma, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq and the team at penmarq studios™ worldwide productions. 

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He was for some time in the summer at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, on a visit to the Reverend Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore. Whatever dissatisfaction he felt at what he considered as a slow progress in intellectual improvement, we find that his heart was tender, and his affections warm, as appears from the following very kind letter:



'I did not hear of your sickness till I heard likewise of your recovery, and therefore escaped that part of your pain, which every man must feel, to whom you are known as you are known to me. 

'Having had no particular account of your disorder, I know not in what state it has left you. If the amusement of my company can exhilarate the languor of a slow recovery, I will not delay a day to come to you; for I know not how I can so effectually promote my own pleasure as by pleasing you, or my own interest as by preserving you, in whom, if I should lose you, I should lose almost the only man whom I call a friend.

'Pray let me hear of you from yourself, or from dear Miss Reynolds]. Make my compliments to Mr. Mudge. I am, dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate

'And most humble servant,


'At the Rev. Mr. Percy's, at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, (by Castle Ashby,) Aug. 19, 1764.'

Early in the year 1765 he paid a short visit to the University of Cambridge, with his friend Mr. Beauclerk. There is a lively picturesque account of his behaviour on this visit, in The Gentleman's Magazine for March 1785, being an extract of a letter from the late Dr. John Sharp. The two following sentences are very characteristical:—

'He drank his large potations of tea with me, interrupted by many an indignant contradiction, and many a noble sentiment,'—'Several persons got into his company the last evening at Trinity, where, about twelve, he began to be very great; stripped poor Mrs. Macaulay to the very skin, then gave her for his toast, and drank her in two bumpers.’

The strictness of his self-examination and scrupulous Christian humility appear in his pious meditation on Easter-day this year.

'I purpose again to partake of the blessed sacrament; yet when I consider how vainly I have hitherto resolved at this annual commemoration of my Saviour's death, to regulate my life by his laws, I am almost afraid to renew my resolutions.'

The concluding words are very remarkable, and shew that he laboured under a severe depression of spirits.

'Since the last Easter I have reformed no evil habit, my time has been unprofitably spent, and seems as a dream that has left nothing behind. My memory grows confused, and I know not how the days pass over me. Good Lord deliver me.’

No man was more gratefully sensible of any kindness done to him than Johnson. There is a little circumstance in his diary this year, which shews him in a very amiable light.

'July 2.—I paid Mr. Simpson ten guineas, which he had formerly lent me in my necessity and for which Tetty expressed her gratitude.'

'July 8.—I lent Mr. Simpson ten guineas more.'

Here he had a pleasing opportunity of doing the same kindness to an old friend, which he had formerly received from him. Indeed his liberality as to money was very remarkable. The next article in his diary is,

'July 16.—I received seventy-five pounds. Lent Mr. Davis twenty-five.'

Trinity College, Dublin, at this time surprised Johnson with a spontaneous compliment of the highest academical honours, by creating him Doctor of Laws.

This unsolicited mark of distinction, conferred on so great a literary character, did much honour to the judgement and liberal spirit of that learned body. Johnson acknowledged the favour in a letter to Dr. Leland, one of their number; but I have not been able to obtain a copy of it.

He appears this year to have been seized with a temporary fit of ambition, for he had thoughts both of studying law and of engaging in politics. His 'Prayer before the Study of Law' is truly admirable:—

'Sept. 26, 1765.

'Almighty GOD, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are vain, without whose blessing study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.'

His prayer in the view of becoming a politician is entitled, 'Engaging in POLITICKS with H——n,' no doubt his friend, the Right Honourable William Gerard Hamilton, for whom, during a long acquaintance, he had a great esteem, and to whose conversation he once paid this high compliment:

'I am very unwilling to be left alone, Sir, and therefore I go with my company down the first pair of stairs, in some hopes that they may, perhaps, return again. I go with you, Sir, as far as the street-door.'

In what particular department he intended to engage does not appear, nor can Mr. Hamilton explain. His prayer is in general terms:—

'Enlighten my understanding with knowledge of right, and govern my will by thy laws, that no deceit may mislead me, nor temptation corrupt me; that I may always endeavour to do good, and hinder evil.'

There is nothing upon the subject in his diary.

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Take the chill out of your bones this winter with Bob’s Bowery Bar’s ‘House Special’ hot buttered grog – a steal at only a dollar a pint!”

– Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Award Theatre, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, Saturdays at midnight, EST.)

part 62

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