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. 

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

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

No comments:

Post a Comment