Monday, January 5, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 65

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Comic Book Studies, Assistant Volley Ball Coach; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Man with Good Intentions, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq ; coloring by eddie el greco, lettering by roy dismas; a penmarq studios™/bob’s bowery bar™ production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Our next meeting at the Mitre was on Saturday the 15th of February, when I presented to him my old and most intimate friend, the Reverend Mr. Temple, then of Cambridge.

I having mentioned that I had passed some time with Rousseau in his wild retreat, and having quoted some remark made by Mr. Wilkes, with whom I had spent many pleasant hours in Italy, Johnson said (sarcastically,)

'It seems, Sir, you have kept very good company abroad, Rousseau and Wilkes!'

Thinking it enough to defend one at a time, I said nothing as to my gay friend, but answered with a smile,

'My dear Sir, you don't call Rousseau bad company. Do you really think him a bad man?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, if you are talking jestingly of this, I don't talk with you. If you mean to be serious, I think him one of the worst of men; a rascal who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. Three or four nations have expelled him; and it is a shame that he is protected in this country.' 

BOSWELL. 'I don't deny, Sir, but that his novel may, perhaps, do harm; but I cannot think his intention was bad.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, that will not do. We cannot prove any man's intention to be bad. You may shoot a man through the head, and say you intended to miss him; but the Judge will order you to be hanged. An alleged want of intention, when evil is committed, will not be allowed in a court of justice. Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in the plantations.'

BOSWELL. 'Sir, do you think him as bad a man as Voltaire?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them.'

This violence seemed very strange to me, who had read many of Rousseau's animated writings with great pleasure, and even edification, had been much pleased with his society, and was just come from the Continent, where he was very generally admired. Nor can I yet allow that he deserves the very severe censure which Johnson pronounced upon him. His absurd preference of savage to civilised life, and other singularities, are proofs rather of a defect in his understanding, than of any depravity in his heart. And notwithstanding the unfavourable opinion which many worthy men have expressed of his 'Profession de Foi du Vicaire Savoyard', I cannot help admiring it as the performance of a man full of sincere reverential submission to Divine Mystery, though beset with perplexing doubts; a state of mind to be viewed with pity rather than with anger.

On his favourite subject of subordination, Johnson said, 'So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.'

I mentioned the advice given us by philosophers, to console ourselves, when distressed or embarrassed, by thinking of those who are in a worse situation than ourselves. This, I observed, could not apply to all, for there must be some who have nobody worse than they are.

JOHNSON. 'Why, to be sure, Sir, there are; but they don't know it. There is no being so poor and so contemptible, who does not think there is somebody still poorer, and still more contemptible.'

As my stay in London at this time was very short, I had not many opportunities of being with Dr. Johnson; but I felt my veneration for him in no degree lessened. On the contrary , by having it in my power to compare him with many of the most celebrated persons of other countries, my admiration of his extraordinary mind was increased and confirmed.

The roughness, indeed, which sometimes appeared in his manners, was more striking to me now, from my having been accustomed to the studied smooth complying habits of the Continent; and I clearly recognised in him, not without respect for his honest conscientious zeal, the same indignant and sarcastical mode of treating every attempt to unhinge or weaken good principles.

One evening when a young gentleman teized him with an account of the infidelity of his servant, who, he said, would not believe the scriptures, because he could not read them in the original tongues, and be sure that they were not invented.

‘Why, foolish fellow, (said Johnson,) has he any better authority for almost every thing that he believes?'

BOSWELL. 'Then the vulgar, Sir, never can know they are right, but must submit themselves to the learned.'

JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir. The vulgar are the children of the State, and must be taught like children.'

BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, a poor Turk must be a Mahometan, just as a poor Englishman must be a Christian?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir; and what then? This now is such stuff as I used to talk to my mother, when I first began to think myself a clever fellow; and she ought to have whipt me for it.'

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Why not stave off that post-holidays depression with a visit to Bob’s Bowery Bar™, this month featuring the ‘happy-hour’ special of a bowl of Bob’s Mom’s Homemade Lima Bean ‘n’ Bacon Soup,

served with Uneeda™  Biscuits and a schooner of Bob’s world-famous ‘basement-brewed’ bock – all for only $1.99! Offer good from 4 to 6pm Monday to Friday, or until supplies last.” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Horace P. Sternwall Presents Bob’s Bowery Bar’s Blood Curdling Tales, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 10pm (EST) Tuesdays.)

part 66

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