Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 64

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. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

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

while enjoying Bob’s New Year’s ‘prix-fixe’ dinner of slow-roasted free range suckling pig and ‘hoppin’ john’, with your choice of stewed collard greens or creamed corn – a bargain at only $4.95 plus tax!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar New Year’s Special: The Three Wise Bums and the Little Beggar Boy, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 9pm (EST) New Year’s Day.)

part 65

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