Sunday, March 29, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 74

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Instructor of Graphic Novel and Comic Book Studies, Associate Life Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Zombies of Grub Street, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq, with the assistance by roy dismas (layout, pencils, inks, colors) and eddie el greco (lettering); a rhoda penmarq™/horace p. sternwall™ co-production in association with Bob’s Bowery Bar, Ltd.™.

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Talking of a London life, he said, 'The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom.'

BOSWELL. 'The only disadvantage is the great distance at which people live from one another.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but that is occasioned by the largeness of it, which is the cause of all the other advantages.'

BOSWELL. 'Sometimes I have been in the humour of wishing to retire to a desert.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have desert enough in Scotland.'

Although I had promised myself a great deal of instructive conversation with him on the conduct of the married state, of which I had then a near prospect, he did not say much upon that topick. Mr. Seward heard him once say, that 'a man has a very bad chance for happiness in that state, unless he marries a woman of very strong and fixed principles of religion.'

He maintained to me, contrary to the common notion, that a woman would not be the worse wife for being learned; in which I humbly differed from him. That a woman should be sensible and well informed, I allow to be a great advantage; and think that Sir Thomas Overbury, in his rude versification, has very judiciously pointed out that degree of intelligence which is to be desired in a female companion:

'Give me, next good, an understanding wife,
By Nature wise, not learned by much art…”

When I censured a gentleman of my acquaintance for marrying a second time, as it shewed a disregard of his first wife, he said, 

'Not at all, Sir. On the contrary, were he not to marry again, it might be concluded that his first wife had given him a disgust to marriage; but by taking a second wife he pays the highest compliment to the first, by shewing that she made him so happy as a married man, that he wishes to be so a second time.'

So ingenious a turn did he give to this delicate question. And yet, on another occasion, he owned that he once had almost asked a promise of Mrs. Johnson that she would not marry again, but had checked himself. Indeed, I cannot help thinking, that in his case the request would have been unreasonable; for if Mrs. Johnson forgot, or thought it no injury to the memory of her first love,— the husband of her youth and the father of her children ,— to make a second marriage, why should she be precluded from a third, should she be so inclined? 

In Johnson's persevering fond appropriation of his Tetty, even after her decease, he seems totally to have overlooked the prior claim of the honest Birmingham trader.

I presume that her having been married before had, at times, given him some uneasiness; for I remember his observing upon the marriage of one of our common friends, 

'He has done a very foolish thing, Sir; he has married a widow, when he might have had a maid.'

We drank tea with Mrs. Williams. I had last year the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson's one morning, and had conversation enough with her to admire her talents, and to shew her that I was as Johnsonian as herself. Dr. Johnson had probably been kind enough to speak well of me, for this evening he delivered me a very polite card from Mr. Thrale and her, inviting me to Streatham.

On the 6th of October I complied with this obliging invitation, and found, at an elegant villa, six miles from town, every circumstance that can make society pleasing. Johnson, though quite at home, was yet looked up to with an awe, tempered by affection, and seemed to be equally the care of his host and hostess. I rejoiced at seeing him so happy.

He played off his wit against Scotland with a good humoured pleasantry, which gave me, though no bigot to national prejudices, an opportunity for a little contest with him. I having said that England was obliged to us for gardeners, almost all their good gardeners being Scotchmen.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is because gardening is much more necessary amongst you than with us, which makes so many of your people learn it. It is all gardening with you. Things which grow wild here, must be cultivated with great care in Scotland. Pray now (throwing himself back in his chair, and laughing,) are you ever able to bring the sloe to perfection?'

I boasted that we had the honour of being the first to abolish the unhospitable, troublesome, and ungracious custom of giving vails to servants. {“Vails” were the tips expected to be given by guests to the servants of a household. – Editor}

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you abolished vails, because you were too poor to be able to give them.'

Mrs. Thrale disputed with him on the merit of Prior. He attacked him powerfully; said he wrote of love like a man who had never felt it: his love verses were college verses; and he repeated the song 'Alexis shunn'd his fellow swains,' &c., in so ludicrous a manner, as to make us all wonder how any one could have been pleased with such fantastical stuff.

Mrs. Thrale stood to her gun with great courage, in defence of amorous ditties, which Johnson despised, till he at last silenced her by saying,

'My dear Lady, talk no more of this. Nonsense can be defended but by nonsense.'

Mrs. Thrale then praised Garrick's talent for light gay poetry; and, as a specimen, repeated his song in Florizel and Perdita, and dwelt with peculiar pleasure on this line:

'I'd smile with the simple, and feed with the poor.’

JOHNSON. 'Nay, my dear Lady, this will never do. Poor David! Smile with the simple;— What folly is that? And who would feed with the poor that can help it? No, no; let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich.'

I repeated this sally to Garrick, and wondered to find his sensibility as a writer not a little irritated by it.

Talking of history, Johnson said,

'We may know historical facts to be true, as we may know facts in common life to be true. Motives are generally unknown. We cannot trust to the characters we find in history, unless when they are drawn by those who knew the persons.'

He would not allow much merit to Whitefield's oratory.

'His popularity, Sir (said he,) is chiefly owing to the peculiarity of his manner. He would be followed by crowds were he to wear a night-cap in the pulpit, or were he to preach from a tree.'

I know not from what spirit of contradiction he burst out into a violent declamation against the Corsicans, of whose heroism I talked in high terms.

'Sir (said he,) what is all this rout about the Corsicans? They have been at war with the Genoese for upwards of twenty years, and have never yet taken their fortified towns. They might have battered down their walls, and reduced them to powder in twenty years. They might have pulled the walls in pieces, and cracked the stones with their teeth in twenty years.'

It was in vain to argue with him upon the want of artillery: he was not to be resisted for the moment.

On the evening of October 10, I presented Dr. Johnson to General Paoli. I had greatly wished that two men, for whom I had the highest esteem, should meet. They met with a manly ease, mutually conscious of their own abilities, and of the abilities of each other. The General spoke Italian, and Dr. Johnson English, and understood one another very well, with a little aid of interpretation from me, in which I compared myself to an isthmus which joins two great continents.

Upon Johnson's approach, the General said, 'From what I have read of your works, Sir, and from what Mr. Boswell has told me of you, I have long held you in great veneration.'

The General talked of languages being formed on the particular notions and manners of a people, without knowing which, we cannot know the language. We may know the direct signification of single words; but by these no beauty of expression, no sally of genius, no wit is conveyed to the mind. All this must be by allusion to other ideas.

'Sir, (said Johnson,) you talk of language, as if you had never done any thing else but study it, instead of governing a nation.'

The General said, 'Questo e un troppo gran complimento;' this is too great a compliment.

Johnson answered. 'I should have thought so, Sir, if I had not heard you talk.'

The General asked him, what he thought of the spirit of infidelity which was so prevalent.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, this gloom of infidelity, I hope, is only a transient cloud passing through the hemisphere, which will soon be dissipated, and the sun break forth with his usual splendour.' 

'You think then, (said the General,) that they will change their principles like their clothes.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if they bestow no more thought on principles than on dress, it must be so.'

The General said, that 'a great part of the fashionable infidelity was owing to a desire of shewing courage. Men who have no opportunities of shewing it as to things in this life, take death and futurity as objects on which to display it.'

JOHNSON. 'That is mighty foolish affectation. Fear is one of the passions of human nature, of which it is impossible to divest it. You remember that the Emperour Charles V, when he read upon the tomb-stone of a Spanish nobleman, "Here lies one who never knew fear," wittily said, "Then he never snuffed a candle with his fingers."'

(To be continued. Sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Don’t be alone and lonely on Easter Sunday! Come join me and the usual merry crew of reprobates for Bob’s Bowery Bar’s special prix-fixe Easter dinner: Bob’s Mom’s Home-Cured Fried Slab o’ Ham with Red-Eye Gravy, served with Slow-Baked Beans, Stewed Pearl Onions, ‘Bob’s Thrice-Fried ‘Taters’, and Groat-Cakes ‘au poivre’

– a bargain at $2.50 a plate! Served all day Easter Sunday from noon ‘til 2am or until supplies last.” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales from the New Testament, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 2pm (EST) Sundays.)

part 75

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 73

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor of Rarely-Read Classic English Literature, Associate Women’s Roller Derby Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Vice-Ridden Viscount, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq; color-co√∂rdination by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco; a penmarq™/bob’s bowery bar™ production. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

The late Alexander, Earl of Eglintoune, who loved wit more than wine, and men of genius more than sycophants, had a great admiration of Johnson; but from the remarkable elegance of his own manners, was, perhaps, too delicately sensible of the roughness which sometimes appeared in Johnson's behaviour. One evening about this time, when his Lordship did me the honour to sup at my lodgings with Dr. Robertson and several other men of literary distinction, he regretted that Johnson had not been educated with more refinement, and lived more in polished society. 

'No, no, my Lord, (said Signor Baretti,) do with him what you would, he would always have been a bear.' 

'True, (answered the Earl, with a smile,) but he would have been a dancing bear.'

To obviate all the reflections which have gone round the world to Johnson's prejudice, by applying to him the epithet of a bear, let me impress upon my readers a just and happy saying of my friend Goldsmith, who knew him well:

'Johnson, to be sure, has a roughness in his manner; but no man alive has a more tender heart. He has nothing of the bear but his skin.'

In 1769, so far as I can discover, the publick was favoured with nothing of Johnson's composition, either for himself or any of his friends. His Meditations too strongly prove that he suffered much both in body and mind; yet was he perpetually striving against evil, and nobly endeavouring to advance his intellectual and devotional improvement. Every generous and grateful heart must feel for the distresses of so eminent a benefactor to mankind; and now that his unhappiness is certainly known, must respect that dignity of character which prevented him from complaining.

His Majesty having the preceding year instituted the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Johnson had now the honour of being appointed Professor in Ancient Literature. 

I came to London in the autumn, and having informed him that I was going to be married in a few months, I wished to have as much of his conversation as I could before engaging in a state of life which would probably keep me more in Scotland, and prevent me seeing him so often as when I was a single man; but I found he was at Brighthelmstone with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. 

From Brighthelmstone Dr. Johnson wrote me the following letter, which they who may think that I ought to have suppressed, must have less ardent feelings than I have always avowed.



'Why do you charge me with unkindness? I have omitted nothing that could do you good, or give you pleasure, unless it be that I have forborne to tell you my opinion of your Account of Corsica. I believe my opinion, if you think well of my judgement, might have given you pleasure; but when it is considered how much vanity is excited by praise, I am not sure that it would have done you good.

Your History is like other histories, but your Journal is in a very high degree curious and delightful. There is between the History and the Journal that difference which there will always be found between notions borrowed from without, and notions generated within. Your History was copied from books; your Journal rose out of your own experience and observation. You express images which operated strongly upon yourself, and you have impressed them with great force upon your readers. I know not whether I could name any narrative by which curiosity is better excited, or better gratified. 

'I am glad that you are going to be married; and as I wish you well in things of less importance, wish you well with proportionate ardour in this crisis of your life. What I can contribute to your happiness, I should be very unwilling to with-hold; for I have always loved and valued you, and shall love you and value you still more, as you become more regular and useful: effects which a happy marriage will hardly fail to produce.

'I do not find that I am likely to come back very soon from this place. I shall, perhaps, stay a fortnight longer; and a fortnight is a long time to a lover absent from his mistress. Would a fortnight ever have an end?

'I am, dear Sir,  'Your most affectionate humble servant,  'SAM. JOHNSON.' 

Sept. 9, 1769.'

After his return to town, we met frequently , and I continued the practice of making notes of his conversation, though not with so much assiduity as I wish I had done. At this time, indeed, I had a sufficient excuse for not being able to appropriate so much time to my Journal; for General Paoli, after Corsica had been overpowered by the monarchy of France, was now no longer at the head of his brave countrymen, but having with difficulty escaped from his native island, had sought an asylum in Great Britain; and it was my duty, as well as my pleasure, to attend much upon him.

Such particulars of Johnson's conversation at this period as I have committed to writing, I shall here introduce, without any strict attention to methodical arrangement. Sometimes short notes of different days shall be blended together, and sometimes a day may seem important enough to be separately distinguished.

On the 30th of September we dined together at the Mitre.

I attempted to argue for the superior happiness of the savage life, upon the usual fanciful topicks.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there can be nothing more false. The savages have no bodily advantages beyond those of civilised men. They have not better health; and as to care or mental uneasiness, they are not above it, but below it, like bears. No, Sir; you are not to talk such paradox: let me have no more on't. It cannot entertain, far less can it instruct. Lord Monboddo, one of your Scotch Judges, talked a great deal of such nonsense. I suffered him; but I will not suffer you.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not Rousseau talk such nonsense?'

JOHNSON. 'True, Sir, but Rousseau knows he is talking nonsense, and laughs at the world for staring at him.'

BOSWELL. 'How so, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man who talks nonsense so well, must know that he is talking nonsense. But I am afraid, (chuckling and laughing,) Monboddo does not know that he is talking nonsense.'

BOSWELL. 'Is it wrong then, Sir, to affect singularity, in order to make people stare?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, if you do it by propagating errour: and, indeed, it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a general inclination to make people stare; and every wise man has himself to cure of it, and does cure himself. If you wish to make people stare by doing better than others, why, make them stare till they stare their eyes out. But consider how easy it is to make people stare by being absurd. I may do it by going into a drawing-room without my shoes. You remember the gentleman in The Spectator, who had a commission of lunacy taken out against him for his extreme singularity, such as never wearing a wig, but a night-cap. Now, Sir, abstractedly, the night-cap was best; but, relatively, the advantage was overbalanced by his making the boys run after him.  

(To be continued. This week’s chapter was made possible in part by a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for Continuing Education: “Observant Jewish friends, please take note: once again Bob’s Bowery Bar has brewed its proprietary Kosher-for-Passover ‘basement brewed’ draft Buckwheat Bock

- bring in an empty gallon jug and take some home for the family!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of the Old Testament, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, 3pm (EST) Sundays.)

part 74

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “N”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Remedial English Composition, Women’s Volleyball Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Day-Trip to Tyburn; the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout personally directed by rhoda penmarq; pencils, inks, and coloring by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco; a penmarq™/desilu™ 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

Nail. The hard crust or horny substance at the ends of the fingers and toes.

My nails can reach unto thine eyes. Shakespeare.


Naked. Wanting cloaths; uncovered; bare.

A philosopher being asked in what a wise man differed from a fool? answered, send them both naked to those who know them not, and you shall perceive. Bacon, Apophth. 242.


Name. The discriminative appellation of an individual.
What is thy name?

Thou'lt be afraid to hear it.

No: though thou call'st thyself a hotter name

Than any is in hell.

My name's Macbeth.  Shakespeare's Macbeth.


Naumachy.  A mock sea fight.


Necromancer. One who by charms can converse with the ghosts of the dead; a conjurer; an inchanter.

I am employed like the general who was forced to kill his enemies twice over, whom a necromancer had raised to life.
Swift's Miscellanies.


Nincompoop. A fool; a trifler.

An old ninnyhammer, a dotard, a nincompoop, is the best language she can afford me.  Addison.


Nipple. The teat; the dug; that which the suckling young take into their mouths.

Tho' tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluckt my nipple from his boneless gums.  Shakesp.


No. The word of refusal.

If you will not consider these things now, the time will shortly come when you shall consider them whether you will or no.
Calamy's Serm.


Noctambulo. One who walks in his sleep.


Nomenclator. One who calls things or persons by their proper names.

There were a set of men in old Rome called nomenclators; that is, men who could call every man by his name.  Addison's Guardian, №. 107.


Nonnaturals. Physicians reckon these to be six, viz. air, meat and drink, sleep and watching, motion and rest, retention and excretion, and the passions of the mind.

The six nonnaturals are such as neither naturally constitutive, nor merely destructive, do preserve or destroy according unto circumstance.  Brown's V. Err.


To nonplus. To be confound; to puzzle; to put to a stand; to stop.

        His parts were so accomplisht,

That right or wrong he ne'er was nonplustHudibras.


Novice. One not acquainted with any thing; a fresh-man; one in the rudiments of any knowledge.

Triple-win’d whore! ‘tis thou
Hast sold me to this novice.   Shakesp. Ant. ann Cleopat.  


Nullibiety. The state of being nowhere.


Nuzzle. To go with the nose down like a hog.

He charged through an army of lawyers, sometimes with sword in hand, at other times nuzzling like an eel in the mud.   Arbuthnot's John Bull.


Nymph. A goddess of the woods, meadows, or waters.

And as the moisture which the thirsty earth

Sucks from the sea, to fill her empty veins,

From out her womb at last doth take a birth,

And runs a nymph along the grassy plains.   Davies.


(Our illustrated adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. Classix Comix is sponsored in part through a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for the Furtherance of Excellence in the Visual and Literary Arts: “Yes, spring is just around the corner, and what better way to refresh oneself after a cracking good walk along the avenue than a visit to Bob’s Bowery Bar (conveniently located at Bleecker and the Bowery)

and a schooner or two of Bob’s justly-famed ‘basement-brewed’ house bock? This week’s lunch special: ‘Bob’s Mom’s Oyster Stew’(served with complimentary Uneeda Biscuits™), only .99¢ a bowl!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Campfire Yarns, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, Mondays at 11pm, EST.)