Monday, January 19, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 66

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Boswellian Studies, Assistant Rugby Coach; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Missing Bottle of Port, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq ; inks and coloring by eddie el greco, lettering by roy dismas; a penmarq studios™/sternwall ateliers™ co-production. 

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Another evening Dr. Goldsmith and I called on him, with the hope of prevailing on him to sup with us at the Mitre. We found him indisposed, and resolved not to go abroad.

'Come then, (said Goldsmith,) we will not go to the Mitre to-night, since we cannot have the big man with us.'

Johnson then called for a bottle of port, of which Goldsmith and I partook, while our friend, now a water-drinker, sat by us.

GOLDSMITH. 'I think, Mr. Johnson, you don't go near the theatres now. You give yourself no more concern about a new play, than if you had never had any thing to do with the stage.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, our tastes greatly alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does not care for the young man's whore.'

GOLDSMITH. 'Nay, Sir, but your Muse was not a whore.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I do not think she was. But as we advance in the journey of life, we drop some of the things which have pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued and don't choose to carry so many things any farther, or that we find other things which we like better.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, why don't you give us something in some other way?'

GOLDSMITH. 'Ay, Sir, we have a claim upon you.'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised long in a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town, and takes less practice. Now, Sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice of a physician, retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great city.'

BOSWELL. 'But I wonder, Sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not writing.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you may wonder.'

He talked of making verses, and observed, 'The great difficulty is to know when you have made good ones. When composing, I have generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my room; and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have written only half lines. I have written a hundred lines in a day. I remember I wrote a hundred lines of The Vanity of Human Wishes in a day.

Doctor, (turning to Goldsmith,) I am not quite idle; I have one line t'other day; but I made no more.'

GOLDSMITH. 'Let us hear it; we'll put a bad one to it..

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, I have forgot it.'

Such specimens of the easy and playful conversation of the great Dr. Samuel Johnson are, I think, to be prized; as exhibiting the little varieties of a mind so enlarged and so powerful when objects of consequence required its exertions, and as giving us a minute knowledge of his character and modes of thinking.

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for the Literary and Graphic Arts: “Help stave off those nasty winter flus and colds with a warming bowl of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s ‘Bob’s Mom’s Garlic ‘n’ Noodle Soup’ –

rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and mighty tasty too! Served with crispy Uneeda™ crackers, and a steal at 99¢ a bowl!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents the Horace P. Sternwall Fireside Chat Hour, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 2pm (EST) Sundays.)

part 67

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