Sunday, May 17, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 79

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of English as a First Language Studies, Assistant Women’s Field Hockey Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Lion Tamer Whose Head Was Bitten Off by the Lion, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, and colors by roy dismas; lettering and inks by eddie el greco); a penmarq studios™/david susskind co-production

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Next morning I sent him a note, stating, that I might have been in the wrong, but it was not intentionally; he was therefore, I could not help thinking, too severe upon me. That notwithstanding our agreement not to meet that day, I would call on him in my way to the city, and stay five minutes by my watch. 

'You are, (said I,) in my mind, since last night, surrounded with cloud and storm. Let me have a glimpse of sunshine, and go about my affairs in serenity and chearfulness.'

Upon entering his study, I was glad that he was not alone, which would have made our meeting more awkward. There were with him, Mr. Steevens and Mr. Tyers, both of whom I now saw for the first time. My note had, on his own reflection, softened him, for he received me very complacently; so that I unexpectedly found myself at ease, and joined in the conversation.

He said, the criticks had done too much honour to Sir Richard Blackmore, by writing so much against him. That in his Creation he had been helped by various wits, a line by Phillips and a line by Tickell; so that by their aid, and that of others, the poem had been made out.

I defended Blackmore's supposed lines, which have been ridiculed as absolute nonsense:—

'A painted vest Prince Voltiger had on, Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won.’

I maintained it to be a poetical conceit. A Pict being painted, if he is slain in battle, and a vest is made of his skin, it is a painted vest won from him, though he was naked.

Johnson spoke unfavourably of a certain pretty voluminous authour, saying, 'He used to write anonymous books, and then other books commending those books, in which there was something of rascality.'

I whispered him, 'Well, Sir, you are now in good humour.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir.' 

I was going to leave him, and had got as far as the staircase. He stopped me, and smiling, said, 'Get you gone in;' a curious mode of inviting me to stay, which I accordingly did for some time longer.

This little incidental quarrel and reconciliation, which, perhaps, I may be thought to have detailed too minutely , must be esteemed as one of many proofs which his friends had, that though he might be charged with bad humour at times, he was always a good-natured man; and I have heard Sir Joshua Reynolds, a nice and delicate observer of manners, particularly remark, that when upon any occasion Johnson had been rough to any person in company, he took the first opportunity of reconciliation, by drinking to him, or addressing his discourse to him;

but if he found his dignified indirect overtures sullenly neglected, he was quite indifferent, and considered himself as having done all that he ought to do, and the other as now in the wrong.

Being to set out for Scotland on the 10th of November, I wrote to him at Streatham, begging that he would meet me in town on the 9th; but if this should be very inconvenient to him, I would go thither. His answer was as follows:—



'Upon balancing the inconveniences of both parties, I find it will less incommode you to spend your night here, than me to come to town. I wish to see you, and am ordered by the lady of this house to invite you hither. Whether you can come or not, I shall not have any occasion of writing to you again before your marriage, and therefore tell you now, that with great sincerity I wish you happiness. 

'I am, dear Sir, 

'Your most affectionate humble servant, 


'Nov. 9, 1769.'

I was detained in town till it was too late on the ninth, so went to him early on the morning of the tenth of November. 

'Now (said he,) that you are going to marry, do not expect more from life, than life will afford. You may often find yourself out of humour, and you may often think your wife not studious enough to please you; and yet you may have reason to consider yourself as upon the whole very happily married.'

Talking of marriage in general, he observed, 'Our marriage service is too refined. It is calculated only for the best kind of marriages; whereas, we should have a form for matches of convenience, of which there are many.' 

He agreed with me that there was no absolute necessity for having the marriage ceremony performed by a regular clergyman, for this was not commanded in scripture.

I was volatile enough to repeat to him a little epigrammatick song of mine, on matrimony, which Mr. Garrick had a few days before procured to be set to musick by the very ingenious Mr. Dibden.


'In the blithe days of honey-moon, 
With Kate's allurements smitten, 
I lov'd her late, I lov'd her soon, 
And call'd her dearest kitten. 
But now my kitten's grown a cat, 
And cross like other wives, 
O! by my soul, my honest Mat, 
I fear she has nine lives.'

My illustrious friend said, 'It is very well, Sir; but you should not swear.' Upon which I altered 'O! by my soul,' to 'alas, alas!'

He was so good as to accompany me to London, and see me into the post-chaise which was to carry me on my road to Scotland. And sure I am, that, however inconsiderable many of the particulars recorded at this time may appear to some, they will be esteemed by the best part of my readers as genuine traits of his character, contributing together to give a full, fair, and distinct view of it.


(To be continued. This project is brought to you through the generosity of the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for Uncommercial Art and Literature: “Another delightful new addition to the ‘Summer Menu’ at Bob’s Bowery Bar is ‘Bob’s Mom’s “Own”’ Tripe Sandwich: bock-braised tripe served with thick tangy tomato sauce and “long hots” on a fresh-baked eight-inch sourdough roll –

I always wind up eating two (or three!) and they go swell with Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Classic Book Club Hour, Saturdays at 5pm, exclusively on the Dumont radio network – broadcast live from Bob’s Bowery Bar at Bleecker and the Bowery. This week’s guests: Edmund Wilson, Sax Rohmer, and James Branch Cabell.)

part 80

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