Sunday, February 22, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 70

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Johnsonian and Boswellian Studies, Assistant Women’s Field Hockey Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Sad Solicitor, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq for the penmarq/sternwall enterprises™ (inks and colors by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco). 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

I asked him whether, as a moralist, he did not think that the practice of the law, in some degree, hurt the nice feeling of honesty.

JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir, if you act properly. You are not to deceive your clients with false representations of your opinion: you are not to tell lies to a judge.'

BOSWELL. 'But what do you think of supporting a cause which you know to be bad?' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you do not know it to be good or bad till the Judge determines it. I have said that you are to state facts fairly; so that your thinking, or what you call knowing, a cause to be bad, must be from reasoning, must be from your supposing your arguments to be weak and inconclusive.

But, Sir, that is not enough. An argument which does not convince yourself, may convince the Judge to whom you urge it: and if it does convince him, why, then, Sir, you are wrong , and he is right. It is his business to judge; and you are not to be confident in your own opinion that a cause is bad, but to say all you can for your client, and then hear the Judge's opinion.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not affecting a warmth when you have no warmth, and appearing to be clearly of one opinion when you are in reality of another opinion, does not such dissimulation impair one's honesty? Is there not some danger that a lawyer may put on the same mask in common life, in the intercourse with his friends?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir. Everybody knows you are paid for affecting warmth for your client; and it is, therefore, properly no dissimulation: the moment you come from the bar you resume your usual behaviour. Sir, a man will no more carry the artifice of the bar into the common intercourse of society, than a man who is paid for tumbling upon his hands will continue to tumble upon his hands when he should walk on his feet.’

It always appeared to me that he estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly, and that he had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding.

In comparing those two writers, he used this expression: 'that there was as great a difference between them as between a man who knew how a watch was made, and a man who could tell the hour by looking on the dial-plate.' This was a short and figurative state of his distinction between drawing characters of nature and characters only of manners. But I cannot help being of opinion, that the neat watches of Fielding are as well constructed as the large clocks of Richardson, and that his dial-plates are brighter. Fielding's characters, though they do not expand themselves so widely in dissertation, are as just pictures of human nature, and I will venture to say, have more striking features, and nicer touches of the pencil;

and though Johnson used to quote with approbation a saying of Richardson's, 'that the virtues of Fielding's heroes were the vices of a truly good man,' I will venture to add, that the moral tendency of Fielding's writings, though it does not encourage a strained and rarely possible virtue, is ever favourable to honour and honesty, and cherishes the benevolent and generous affections. He who is as good as Fielding would make him, is an amiable member of society, and may be led on by more regulated instructors, to a higher state of ethical perfection.

The great Douglas Cause was at this time a very general subject of discussion. I found he had not studied it with much attention, but had only heard parts of it occasionally. He, however, talked of it, and said, 'I am of opinion that positive proof of fraud should not be required of the plaintiff, but that the Judges should decide according as probability shall appear to preponderate, granting to the defendant the presumption of filiation to be strong in his favour. And I think too, that a good deal of weight should be allowed to the dying declarations, because they were spontaneous. There is a great difference between what is said without our being urged to it, and what is said from a kind of compulsion. If I praise a man's book without being asked my opinion of it, that is honest praise, to which one may trust. But if an authour asks me if I like his book, and I give him something like praise, it must not be taken as my real opinion.'

'I have not been troubled for a long time with authours desiring my opinion of their works. I used once to be sadly plagued with a man who wrote verses, but who literally had no other notion of a verse, but that it consisted of ten syllables. Lay your knife and your fork, across your plate, was to him a verse:

'Lay your knife and your fork, across your plate.

'As he wrote a great number of verses, he sometimes by chance made good ones, though he did not know it.'

He renewed his promise of coming to Scotland, and going with me to the Hebrides, but said he would now content himself with seeing one or two of the most curious of them. He said, 

'Macaulay, who writes the account of St. Kilda, set out with a prejudice against prejudices, and wanted to be a smart modern thinker; and yet he affirms for a truth, that when a ship arrives there, all the inhabitants are seized with a cold.'

Dr. John Campbell, the celebrated writer, took a great deal of pains to ascertain this fact, and attempted to account for it on physical principles, from the effect of effluvia from human bodies.

Johnson, at another time, praised Macaulay for his 'magnanimity' in asserting this wonderful story, because it was well attested.

A Lady of Norfolk, by a letter to my friend Dr. Burney, has favoured me with the following solution: 'Now for the explication of this seeming mystery, which is so very obvious as, for that reason, to have escaped the penetration of Dr. Johnson and his friend, as well as that of the authour. Reading the book with my ingenious friend, the late Reverend Mr. Christian, of Docking — after ruminating a little, "The cause, (says he,) is a natural one. The situation of St. Kilda renders a North-East Wind indispensably necessary before a stranger can land. The wind, not the stranger, occasions an epidemic cold ." If I am not mistaken, Mr. Macaulay is dead; if living, this solution might please him, as I hope it will Mr. Boswell, in return for the many agreeable hours his works have afforded us.'

Johnson expatiated on the advantages of Oxford for learning. 

'There is here, Sir, (said he,) such a progressive emulation. The students are anxious to appear well to their tutors; the tutors are anxious to have their pupils appear well in the college; the colleges are anxious to have their students appear well in the University; and there are excellent rules of discipline in every college. That the rules are sometimes ill observed, may be true; but is nothing against the system. The members of an University may, for a season, be unmindful of their duty. I am arguing for the excellency of the institution.'

He said he had lately been a long while at Lichfield, but had grown very weary before he left it.

BOSWELL. 'I wonder at that, Sir; it is your native place.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, so is Scotland your native place.'

His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time. When I talked of our advancement in literature,

'Sir, (said he,) you have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men. Hume would never have written History, had not Voltaire written it before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, we have Lord Kames.'

JOHNSON. 'You have Lord Kames. Keep him; ha, ha, ha! We don't envy you him. Do you ever see Dr. Robertson?'

BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir.'

JOHNSON. 'Does the dog talk of me?'

BOSWELL. 'Indeed, Sir, he does, and loves you.'

Thinking that I now had him in a corner, and being solicitous for the literary fame of my country, I pressed him for his opinion on the merit of Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland. But, to my surprize, he escaped.

—'Sir, I love Robertson, and I won't talk of his book.'

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “How many times over the years have I availed myself of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s justly-famous prix-fixe ‘Sunday Hangover Brunch?’? Allow me if I may to recommend the eponymous ‘Sternwall Special’:

thick-cut manly rashers of bacon served with ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ fresh-baked oatmeal rolls and dairy-fresh butter, stewed apples ‘n’ prunes, and two eggs ‘any style’, all of it washed down with several restorative schooners of Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s Tales of the Bowery, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 10pm (EST) Tuesdays.)

part 71

Monday, February 16, 2015

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “M”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Pre-Post-Modern Literary Criticism, Pep Rally Coördinator, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Missing Macaroon; the Olney Community College Press.

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

to begin selections from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, click here

for previous selection from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, click here

to begin at the beginning of Boswell's Life of Johnson, click here

for previous chapter of Boswell's Life of Johnson, click here

Macaroon. A coarse, rude, low fellow; whence macaronick poetry, in which the language is purposely corrupted.

Like a big wife, at sight of lothed meat,

Ready to travail; so I sigh and sweat,

To hear this macaroon talk on in vain.  Donne.


Macaw. A bird in the West-Indies.



The macaw-tree is a species of the palm-tree, and is very common in the Caribbee islands, where the negroes pierce the tender fruit, whence issues a pleasant liquor, which they are very fond of; and the body of the tree affords a solid timber, with which they make javelins, arrows, &c. and is supposed by some to be a sort of ebony.  Miller.


Mace. A heavy blunt weapon; a club of metal.

O murth'rous slumber!
Lay'st thou thy leaden mace upon my boy
That plays thee musick?  Shakesp. Julius Cæsar.


Man. Not a woman.

Bring forth men children only!

For thy undaunted metal should compose

Nothing but males.  Shakespeare's King Lear.


Miscreant. A vile wretch.

  Now by Apollo, king,
Thou swear'st thy gods in vain.
— O vassal! miscreantShakespeare's King Lear.


Monkey. An ape; a baboon; a jackanapes. An animal bearing some resemblance of man.

Other creatures, as well as monkeys, destroy their young ones by senseless fondness.  Locke on Education.


Monsieur. A term of reproach for a Frenchman.

                A Frenchman his companion;

An eminent monsieur, that, it seems, much loves

A Gallian girl.  Shakespeare's Cymbeline.


Monster. Something horrible for deformity, wickedness, or mischief.

            If she live long,
And, in the end, meet the old course of death,
Women will all turn monstersShakesp. King Lear.


Month’s mind. Longing desire.

  For if a trumpet sound, or drum beat,
Who has not a month’s mind to combat?  Hudibras.


Moon-calf. A dolt; a stupid fellow.

The potion works not on the part design'd,

But turns his brain, and stupifies his mind;

The sotted moon-calf gapes.  Dryden's Juvenal.


Muttonfist. A hand large and red.

Will he who saw the soldiers muttonfist,
And saw thee maul'd appear within the list
To witness truth.   Dryden's Juvenal, sat. 16.


My. Belonging to me.

Her feet she in my neck doth place.  Spenser.


Myrtle. A fragrant tree sacred to Venus.

  There I will make thee beds of roses,
With a thousand fragrant posies;
A cap of flowers, and a girdle
Imbroider’d all with leaves of myrtle. Shakespeare.



Mystick. Sacredly obscure.

Let God himself that made me, let not man that knows not himself, be my instructor concerning the mystickal way to heaven.  Hooker.


Mythology. System of fables; explication of the fabulous history of the heathen world.

The modesty of mythology deserves to be commended: the scenes there are laid at a distance; it is once upon a time, in the days of yore, and in the land of Utopia.  Bentley.


(Our illustrated version of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. Classix Comix is made possible in part through a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Project: “When my good friend T.S. Eliot scribed (in that most excellent poem The Waste Land) ‘April is the cruellest month’, I daresay he was forgetting New York City in February; however, even in the midst of the most grey and oppressive winter I can think of no surer way to fend off that urge for what the ‘bawdy Bard’ referred to as ‘self slaughter’ than a pleasant hour or three in the cozy confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar,

conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. Allow me to recommend ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ Homemade Oyster Stew, only .99¢ a bowl (served with complimentary Uneeda Biscuits) – goes swell with a schooner of Bob’s justly famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock!”  – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s Tales from the Bible, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, Sundays at 3 pm, EST.)


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 69

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Remedial English Composition, Assistant Boxing Team Trainer; Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Purloined Periwig, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq for the penmarq multimedia corporation™ (layout and inks by roy dismas; lettering and colors by eddie el greco). 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

I received no letter from Johnson this year. His diary affords no light as to his employment at this time. He passed three months at Lichfield; and I cannot omit an affecting and solemn scene there, as related by himself:

'Sunday, Oct. 18, 1767 . Yesterday, Oct. 17, at about ten in the morning, I took my leave for ever of my dear old friend, Catharine Chambers, who came to live with my mother about 1724, and has been but little parted from us since. She buried my father, my brother, and my mother. She is now fifty-eight years old.

'I desired all to withdraw, then told her that we were to part for ever; that as Christians, we should part with prayer; and that I would, if she was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire to hear me; and held up her poor hands, as she lay in bed, with great fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, nearly in the following words:

'Almighty and most merciful Father, whose loving kindness is over all thy works, behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is grieved with sickness. Grant that the sense of her weakness may add strength to her faith, and seriousness to her repentance. And grant that by the help of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and labours of this short life, we may all obtain everlasting happiness, through JESUS CHRIST our Lord; for whose sake hear our prayers. Amen. Our Father, &c.

'I then kissed her. She told me, that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt, and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place. I expressed, with swelled eyes, and great emotion of tenderness, the same hopes. We kissed, and parted. I humbly hope to meet again, and to part no more.'

By those who have been taught to look upon Johnson as a man of a harsh and stern character, let this tender and affectionate scene be candidly read; and let them then judge whether more warmth of heart, and grateful kindness, is often found in human nature.

We have the following notice in his devotional record:

'August 2, 1767. I have been disturbed and unsettled for a long time, and have been without resolution to apply to study or to business, being hindered by sudden snatches.'

It appears from his notes of the state of his mind, that he suffered great perturbation and distraction in 1768. Nothing of his writing was given to the publick this year, except the Prologue to his friend Goldsmith's comedy of The Good-natured Man. The first lines of this Prologue are strongly characteristical of the dismal gloom of his mind; which in his case, as in the case of all who are distressed with the same malady of imagination, transfers to others its own feelings. Who could suppose it was to introduce a comedy, when Mr. Bensley solemnly began,

'Press'd with the load of life, the weary mind
Surveys the general toil of human kind.'

But this dark ground might make Goldsmith's humour shine the more.

In the spring of this year, having published my Account of Corsica, with the Journal of a Tour to that Island, I returned to London, very desirous to see Dr. Johnson, and hear him upon the subject. I found he was at Oxford, with his friend Mr. Chambers, who was now Vinerian Professor, and lived in New Inn Hall.

Having had no letter from him since that in which he criticised the Latinity of my Thesis, and having been told by somebody that he was offended at my having put into my Book an extract of his letter to me at Paris, I was impatient to be with him, and therefore followed him to Oxford,where I was entertained by Mr. Chambers, with a civility which I shall ever gratefully remember.

I found that Dr. Johnson had sent a letter to me to Scotland, and that I had nothing to complain of but his being more indifferent to my anxiety than I wished him to be. Instead of giving, with the circumstances of time and place, such fragments of his conversation as I preserved during this visit to Oxford,

I shall throw them together in continuation.

(To be continued. This week’s project is made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Sunday noon will generally find me, bleary-eyed and dazed, enjoying the justly-renowned Bob’s Bowery Bar Brunch Special: Bob’s Mom’s Corned Beef Hash ‘n’ Hash Browns,

with two eggs ‘any style’ and whole-grain toast, washed down with Bob’s Bottomless Cup o’ Joe and several schooners’ of Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents “Book Chat” with Horace P. Sternwall, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 3pm (EST) Sundays. This week’s guests; Fredric Brown, W. Somerset Maugham, and Arnold Schnabel.)

part 70

Wednesday, February 4, 2015