Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 77

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Unpopular Literature, Assistant Ping Pong Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Haughty Highwayman, the Olney Community College Press.

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Next day, October 20, he appeared, for the only time I suppose in his life, as a witness in a Court of Justice, being called to give evidence to the character of Mr. Baretti, who having stabbed a man in the street, was arraigned at the Old Bailey for murder.

Never did such a constellation of genius enlighten the aweful Sessions-House, emphatically called JUSTICE HALL; Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Beauclerk, and Dr. Johnson; and undoubtedly their favourable testimony had due weight with the Court and Jury.

Johnson gave his evidence in a slow, deliberate, and distinct manner, which was uncommonly impressive.

It is well known that Mr. Baretti was acquitted.

On the 26th of October, we dined together at the Mitre tavern. I found fault with Foote for indulging his talent of ridicule at the expence of his visitors, which I colloquially termed making fools of his company.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, when you go to see Foote, you do not go to see a saint: you go to see a man who will be entertained at your house, and then bring you on a publick stage; who will entertain you at his house, for the very purpose of bringing you on a publick stage. Sir, he does not make fools of his company; they whom he exposes are fools already: he only brings them into action.'

Talking of trade, he observed, 'It is a mistaken notion that a vast deal of money is brought into a nation by trade. It is not so. Commodities come from commodities; but trade produces no capital accession of wealth. However, though there should be little profit in money, there is a considerable profit in pleasure, as it gives to one nation the productions of another; as we have wines and fruits, and many other foreign articles, brought to us.' 

BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, and there is a profit in pleasure, by its furnishing occupation to such numbers of mankind.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you cannot call that pleasure to which all are averse, and which none begin but with the hope of leaving off; a thing which men dislike before they have tried it, and when they have tried it.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, the mind must be employed, and we grow weary when idle.' 

JOHNSON. 'That is, Sir, because, others being busy, we want company; but if we were all idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another. There is, indeed, this in trade:— it gives men an opportunity of improving their situation. If there were no trade, many who are poor would always remain poor. But no man loves labour for itself.'

BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, I know a person who does. He is a very laborious Judge, and he loves the labour.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is because he loves respect and distinction. Could he have them without labour, he would like it less.'

BOSWELL. 'He tells me he likes it for itself.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he fancies so, because he is not accustomed to abstract.'

We went home to his house to tea.

Mrs. Williams made it with sufficient dexterity, notwithstanding her blindness, though her manner of satisfying herself that the cups were full enough appeared to me a little aukward; for I fancied she put her finger down a certain way, till she felt the tea touch it.

In my first elation at being allowed the privilege of attending Dr. Johnson at his late visits to this lady I willingly drank cup after cup, as if it had been the Heliconian spring. But as the charm of novelty went off, I grew more fastidious; and besides, I discovered that she was of a peevish temper.

There was a pretty large circle this evening. Dr. Johnson was in very good humour, lively, and ready to talk upon all subjects.

Mr. Fergusson, the self-taught philosopher, told him of a new-invented machine which went without horses: a man who sat in it turned a handle, which worked a spring that drove it forward.

'Then, Sir, (said Johnson,) what is gained is, the man has his choice whether he will move himself alone, or himself and the machine too.'

Dominicetti {“an Italian quack, who made a considerable noise about this time, by the use of medicated baths” – J.W. Croker} being mentioned, he would not allow him any merit.

'There is nothing in all this boasted system. No, Sir; medicated baths can be no better than warm water: their only effect can be that of tepid moisture.'

One of the company took the other side, maintaining that medicines of various sorts, and some too of most powerful effect, are introduced into the human frame by the medium of the pores; and, therefore, when warm water is impregnated with salutiferous substances, it may produce great effects as a bath.

This appeared to me very satisfactory. Johnson did not answer it; but talking for victory, and determined to be master of the field, he had recourse to the device which Goldsmith imputed to him in the witty words of one of Cibber's comedies:

‘There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.' 

He turned to the gentleman, 

'Well, Sir, go to Dominicetti, and get thyself fumigated; but be sure that the steam be directed to thy head, for that is the peccant part. 

This produced a triumphant roar of laughter from the motley assembly of philosophers, printers, and dependents, male and female.

I know not how so whimsical a thought came into my mind, but I asked, 

'If, Sir, you were shut up in a castle, and a newborn child with you, what would you do?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I should not much like my company.'

BOSWELL. 'But would you take the trouble of rearing it?' 

He seemed, as may well be supposed, unwilling to pursue the subject: but upon my persevering in my question, replied, 

'Why yes, Sir, I would; but I must have all conveniencies. If I had no garden, I would make a shed on the roof, and take it there for fresh air. I should feed it, and wash it much, and with warm water to please it, not with cold water to give it pain.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, does not heat relax?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are not to imagine the water is to be very hot. I would not coddle the child. No, Sir, the hardy method of treating children does no good. I'll take you five children from London, who shall cuff five Highland children. Sir, a man bred in London will carry a burthen, or run, or wrestle, as well as a man brought up in the hardiest manner in the country.'

BOSWELL. 'Good living, I suppose, makes the Londoners strong.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I don't know that it does. Our Chairmen from Ireland, who are as strong men as any, have been brought up upon potatoes. Quantity makes up for quality.'

BOSWELL. 'Would you teach this child that I have furnished you with, any thing?'

JOHNSON. 'No, I should not be apt to teach it.'

BOSWELL. 'Would not you have a pleasure in teaching it?'

JOHNSON. 'No , Sir, I should not have a pleasure in teaching it.'

BOSWELL. 'Have you not a pleasure in teaching men?— There I have you. You have the same pleasure in teaching men, that I should have in teaching children.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, something about that.'

BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, that what is called natural affection is born with us? It seems to me to be the effect of habit, or of gratitude for kindness. No child has it for a parent whom it has not seen.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I think there is an instinctive natural affection in parents towards their children.'

Russia being mentioned as likely to become a great empire, by the rapid increase of population:—

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I see no prospect of their propagating more. They can have no more children than they can get. I know of no way to make them breed more than they do. It is not from reason and prudence that people marry, but from inclination. A man is poor; he thinks, "I cannot be worse, and so I'll e'en take Peggy."'

BOSWELL. 'But have not nations been more populous at one period than another?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but that has been owing to the people being less thinned at one period than another, whether by emigrations, war, or pestilence, not by their being more or less prolifick. Births at all times bear the same proportion to the same number of people.'

BOSWELL. 'But, to consider the state of our own country;—does not throwing a number of farms into one hand hurt population?'

JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; the same quantity of food being produced, will be consumed by the same number of mouths, though the people may be disposed of in different ways.

We see, if corn be dear, and butchers' meat cheap, the farmers all apply themselves to the raising of corn, till it becomes plentiful and cheap, and then butchers' meat becomes dear; so that an equality is always preserved. No, Sir , let fanciful men do as they will, depend upon it, it is difficult to disturb the system of life.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is it not a very bad thing for landlords to oppress their tenants, by raising their rents?'

JOHNSON. 'Very bad. But, Sir, it never can have any general influence; it may distress some individuals. For, consider this: landlords cannot do without tenants. Now tenants will not give more for land, than land is worth.

If they can make more of their money by keeping a shop, or any other way, they'll do it, and so oblige landlords to let land come back to a reasonable rent, in order that they may get tenants. Land, in England, is an article of commerce. A tenant who pays his landlord his rent, thinks himself no more obliged to him than you think yourself obliged to a man in whose shop you buy a piece of goods. He knows the landlord does not let him have his land for less than he can get from others, in the same manner as the shopkeeper sells his goods. No shopkeeper sells a yard of ribband for sixpence when seven-pence is the current price.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is it not better that tenants should be dependant on landlords?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as there are many more tenants than landlords, perhaps, strictly speaking, we should wish not. But if you please you may let your lands cheap, and so get the value, part in money and part in homage. I should agree with you in that.'

BOSWELL. 'So, Sir, you laugh at schemes of political improvement.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things.'

(To be continued. This series is brought to you by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Why not join me for Sunday brunch at Bob’s Bowery Bar? And false modesty shall not prevent me from recommending the eponymous ‘Sternwall Special’:

two fried eggs, four thick rashers of ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ home-cured bacon, hash browns slathered with bĂ©arnaise, fried tomatoes au gratin, fresh-baked brioche, black coffee, and a tall schooner of Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock – all for the low, low price of $2.95!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Radio Book Club, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, 4pm (EST) Sundays; this week’s guests: Ngaio Marsh, Mickey Spillane and Ayn Rand.)

part 78

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 76

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Remedial Basic English Composition, Assistant Glee Club Moderator, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Sodden Scotchman, the Olney Community College Press.

Artistic direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, colors by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco; a penmarq ateliers™/bobsbowerybar™ co-production. 

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On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house.

He advised me to complete a Dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which I shewed him a specimen.

'Sir, (said he,) Ray has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language.'

He bade me also go on with collections which I was making upon the antiquities of Scotland.

'Make a large book; a folio.'

BOSWELL. 'But of what use will it be, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Never mind the use; do it.'

I complained that he had not mentioned Garrick in his Preface to Shakspeare; and asked him if he did not admire him.

JOHNSON. 'Yes, as "a poor player, who frets and struts his hour upon the stage;"— as a shadow.'

BOSWELL, 'But has he not brought Shakspeare into notice?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, to allow that, would be to lampoon the age. Many of Shakspeare's plays are the worse for being acted: Macbeth, for instance.'

BOSWELL. 'What, Sir, is nothing gained by decoration and action? Indeed, I do wish that you had mentioned Garrick.'

JOHNSON. 'My dear Sir, had I mentioned him, I must have mentioned many more: Mrs. Pritchard, Mrs. Cibber,— nay, and Mr. Cibber too; he too altered Shakspeare.'

BOSWELL. 'You have read his apology, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, it is very entertaining. But as for Cibber himself, taking from his conversation all that he ought not to have said, he was a poor creature. I remember when he brought me one of his Odes to have my opinion of it; I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him read it to the end; so little respect had I for that great man! (laughing.) Yet I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat him with familiarity.'

I mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several convicts at Tyburn, two days before, and that none of them seemed to be under any concern.

JOHNSON. 'Most of them, Sir, have never thought at all.'

BOSWELL. 'But is not the fear of death natural to man?'

JOHNSON. 'So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it.'

He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the aweful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that occasion:

'I know not (said he,) whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between GOD and myself.'

Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others;—

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated. No, Sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good: more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no purpose.'

BOSWELL. 'But suppose now, Sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.'

JOHNSON. 'I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.'

BOSWELL. 'Would you eat your dinner that day, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; and eat it as if he were eating it with me. Why, there's Baretti {Baretti had stabbed and killed a man who had assaulted him, but he was to be acquitted of the charge of murder. – Ed.}, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow, friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plumb-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind.'

I told him that I had dined lately at Foote's, who shewed me a letter which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he had not been able to sleep from the concern which he felt on account of 'This sad affair of Baretti,' begging of him to try if he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a pickle-shop. 

JOHNSON. 'Ay, Sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept Davies from sleep; nor does he know himself. And as to his not sleeping, Sir; Tom Davies is a very great man; Tom has been upon the stage, and knows how to do those things. I have not been upon the stage, and cannot do those things.'

BOSWELL. 'I have often blamed myself, Sir, for not feeling for others as sensibly as many say they do.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, don't be duped by them any more. You will find these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They pay you by feeling.'

BOSWELL. 'Foote has a great deal of humour?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir.'

BOSWELL. 'He has a singular talent of exhibiting character.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not a talent; it is a vice; it is what others abstain from. It is not comedy, which exhibits the character of a species, as that of a miser gathered from many misers: it is farce, which exhibits individuals.'

BOSWELL. 'Did not he think of exhibiting you, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, fear restrained him; he knew I would have broken his bones. I would have saved him the trouble of cutting off a leg; I would not have left him a leg to cut off.'{Samuel Foote was an actor and dramatist who had lost a leg in a riding accident. – Ed.}

BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, is not Foote an infidel?'

JOHNSON. 'I do not know, Sir, that the fellow is an infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject.' 

BOSWELL. 'I suppose, Sir, he has thought superficially, and seized the first notions which occurred to his mind.'

JOHNSON. 'Why then, Sir, still he is like a dog, that snatches the piece next him. Did you never observe that dogs have not the power of comparing? A dog will take a small bit of meat as readily as a large, when both are before him.'

He again talked of the passage in Congreve with high commendation, and said,

'Shakspeare never has six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion. If I come to an orchard, and say there's no fruit here, and then comes a poring man, who finds two apples and three pears, and tells me, "Sir, you are mistaken, I have found both apples and pears," I should laugh at him: what would that be to the purpose?'

BOSWELL. 'Is there not less religion in the nation now, Sir, than there was formerly?'

JOHNSON. 'I don't know, Sir, that there is.'

BOSWELL. 'For instance, there used to be a chaplain in every great family, which we do not find now.'

JOHNSON. 'Neither do you find any of the state servants which great families used formerly to have. There is a change of modes in the whole department of life.'


(To be continued. This chapter was sponsored in part by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Don’t forget to check out the enticing breakfast menu at Bob’s Bowery Bar, served daily from 7am to noon! My particular favorite is ‘Bob’s Mom’s Hangover Special’:

homemade sausages (blood, spicy pork, and duck liver), house-cured bacon, three free-range eggs ‘any style’, hash browns ‘n’ tomatoes, and your choice of homemade pumpernickel or 4-grain toast – goes swell washed down with two or three schooners of Bob’s justly-famous basement-brewed house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of the Bowery exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, 10pm (EST) Wednesdays.)

part 77

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “O”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Horace P. Sternwall Professor of Lexicographical Studies, Associate Life Coach Program Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Bawd from Battersea; the Olney Community College Press.

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

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

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1. O is used as an interjection of wishing or exclamation.

O that we, who have resisted all the designs of his love,
would now try to defeat that of his anger! Decay of Piety.

2. O is used with no great elegance by Shakespeare for a circle or oval.


          Can this cockpit hold

The vasty field of France? or may we cram

Within this wooden O, the very casks

That did affright the air at Agincourt? Shakesp.


Oaf. A dolt; a blockhead; an idiot.


Obeisance. A bow; a courtesy; an act of reverence made by inclination of the body or knee.


        Bartholomew my page,

See drest in a suits like a lady;

Then call him Madam, do him all obeisanceShakespeare.


Obequitation. The act of riding about.


Obese. Fat; loaden with flesh.


Obmutescence. Loss of speech.

A vehement fear often produceth obmutescence. Bacon.


Obstreperous. Loud; clamorous; noisy; turbulent; vociferous.

These obstreperous villains shout, and know not for what they make a noise.  Dryden.


Obstupefaction. The act of inducing stupidity, or interruption of the mental powers.


Odontalgick. Pertaining to the tooth-ach.



Past the middle part of life; not young.

He wooes high and low, rich and poor, young and old.  Shakesp. Merry Wives of Wind.


Oneirocritick. An interpreter of dreams.

Having surveyed all ranks and professions, I do not find in any quarter of the town an oneirocritick, or an interpreter of dreams.  Addison's Spectator, No. 505.


Ostrich. Ostrich is ranged among birds. It is very large, its wings very short, and the neck about four or five spans. The feathers of its wings are in great esteem, and are used as an ornament for hats, beds, canopies: they are stained of several colours, and made into pretty tufts. They are hunted by way of course, for they never fly; but use their wings to assist them in running more swiftly.

The ostrich swallows bits of iron or brass, in the same manner as other birds will swallow small stones or gravel, to assist in digesting or comminuting their food. It lays its eggs upon the ground, hides them under the sand, and the sun hatches them.

I'll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword like a great pin, ere thou and I part. Shakesp.


Own. This is a word of no other use than as it is added to the possessive pronouns, my, thy, his, our, your, their. It seems to be a substantive; as, my own, my peculiar: but is, in reality, the participle passive of the verb owe, in the participle owen or own: my own; the thing owned by, or belonging to me.

            Inachus in his cave alone,

Wept not another's losses, but his own. Dryden.


Oyes. Is the introduction to any proclamation or advertisement given by the publick criers both in both England and Scotland. It is thrice repeated.

Fairies, black, grey, green, and white,

Attend your office and your quality.

Crier hobgoblin make the fairy O yes. Shakesp.


Oysterwench. A woman whose business is to sell oysters.
Proverbially. A low woman.

Off goes his bonnet to an oysterwench.Shakesp.


Ozaena. An ulcer in the inside of the nostrils that gives an ill stench.


(Our illustrated adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. Classix Comix is made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Allow me to recommend the justly famous ‘Bob’s Mom’s Organic Mulligan Stew, made with free-range squirrel and truck garden vegetables du jour’,

both filling and nutritious – and a bargain at $2.95 a bowl! Goes swell, as nearly everything does, with Bob’s own basement-brewed house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Mystery Hour, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, Tuesdays at 10pm, EST.)