Sunday, June 28, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 84

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D,Associate Professor of 18th Century Gender Studies, Assistant Fencing Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Letter Never Sent, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, colors and lettering by roy dismas; proofreading by eddie el greco) for rhoda penmarq intercosmic studios™.

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'It is hard that I cannot prevail on you to write to me oftener. But I am convinced that it is in vain to expect from you a private correspondence with any regularity. I must, therefore, look upon you as a fountain of wisdom, from whence few rills are communicated to a distance, and which must be approached at its source, to partake fully of its virtues.

'I am coming to London soon, and am to appear in an appeal from the Court of Session in the House of Lords. A schoolmaster in Scotland was, by a court of inferiour jurisdiction, deprived of his office, for being somewhat severe in the chastisement of his scholars.

The Court of Session, considering it to be dangerous to the interest of learning and education, to lessen the dignity of teachers, and make them afraid of too indulgent parents, instigated by the complaints of their children, restored him. His enemies have appealed to the House of Lords, though the salary is only twenty pounds a year. I was Counsel for him here. I hope there will be little fear of a reversal; but I must beg to have your aid in my plan of supporting the decree. It is a general question, and not a point of particular law.

'I am, &c.,




'That you are coming so soon to town I am very glad; and still more glad that you are coming as an advocate. I think nothing more likely to make your life pass happily away, than that consciousness of your own value, which eminence in your profession will certainly confer. If I can give you any collateral help, I hope you do not suspect that it will be wanting. My kindness for you has neither the merit of singular virtue, nor the reproach of singular prejudice. Whether to love you be right or wrong, I have many on my side: Mrs. Thrale loves you, and Mrs. Williams loves you, and what would have inclined me to love you, if I had been neutral before, you are a great favourite of Dr. Beattie.

'The ejection which you come hither to oppose, appears very cruel, unreasonable, and oppressive. I should think there could not be much doubt of your success.

'My health grows better, yet I am not fully recovered. I believe it is held, that men do not recover very fast after threescore. I hope yet to see Beattie's College: and have not given up the western voyage. But however all this may be or not, let us try to make each other happy when we meet, and not refer our pleasure to distant times or distant places.

'How comes it that you tell me nothing of your lady? I hope to see her some time, and till then shall be glad to hear of her.

'I am, dear Sir, &c.


On the 21st of March, I was happy to find myself again in my friend's study, and was glad to see my old acquaintance, Mr. Francis Barber, who was now returned home.

Dr. Johnson received me with a hearty welcome; saying, 'I am glad you are come, and glad you are come upon such an errand:' (alluding to the cause of the schoolmaster.)

BOSWELL. 'I hope, Sir, he will be in no danger. It is a very delicate matter to interfere between a master and his scholars: nor do I see how you can fix the degree of severity that a master may use.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, till you can fix the degree of obstinacy and negligence of the scholars, you cannot fix the degree of severity of the master. Severity must be continued until obstinacy be subdued, and negligence be cured.'

He mentioned the severity of Hunter, his own Master.

'Sir, (said I,) Hunter is a Scotch name: so it should seem this schoolmaster who beat you so severely was a Scotchman. I can now account for your prejudice against the Scotch.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, he was not Scotch; and abating his brutality, he was a very good master.'

JOHNSON.  ‘Well, how does Lord Monboddo?'

BOSWELL. 'Very well, Sir. Lord Monboddo still maintains the superiority of the savage life.'

JOHNSON. 'What strange narrowness of mind now is that, to think the things we have not known, are better than the things which we have known.'

BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, that is a common prejudice.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes , Sir, but a common prejudice should not be found in one whose trade it is to rectify errour.'

A gentleman having come in who was to go as a mate in the ship along with Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander, Dr. Johnson asked what were the names of the ships destined for the expedition. The gentleman answered, they were once to be called the Drake and the Ralegh, but now they were to be called the Resolution and the Adventure.

JOHNSON. 'Much better; for had the Ralegh returned without going round the world, it would have been ridiculous. To give them the names of the Drake and the Ralegh was laying a trap for satire.'

BOSWELL. 'Had not you some desire to go upon this expedition, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Why yes, but I soon laid it aside. Sir, there is very little of intellectual, in the course. Besides, I see but at a small distance. So it was not worth my while to go to see birds fly, which I should not have seen fly; and fishes swim, which I should not have seen swim.'

He then spoke of St. Kilda, the most remote of the Hebrides. I told him, I thought of buying it. 

JOHNSON. 'Pray do, Sir. We will go and pass a winter amid the blasts there. We shall have fine fish, and we will take some dried tongues with us, and some books. We will have a strong built vessel, and some Orkney men to navigate her. We must build a tolerable house: but we may carry with us a wooden house ready made, and requiring nothing but to be put up. Consider, Sir, by buying St. Kilda, you may keep the people from falling into worse hands. We must give them a clergyman, and he shall be one of Beattie's choosing. He shall be educated at Marischal College. I'll be your Lord Chancellor, or what you please.'

BOSWELL. 'Are you serious, Sir, in advising me to buy St. Kilda? for if you should advise me to go to Japan, I believe I should do it.'

JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir , I am serious.'

BOSWELL. 'Why then, I'll see what can be done.'

He was engaged to dine abroad, and asked me to return to him in the evening, at nine, which I accordingly did.

We drank tea with Mrs. Williams, who told us a story of second sight, which happened in Wales where she was born. He listened to it very attentively, and said he should be glad to have some instances of that faculty well authenticated.

His elevated wish for more and more evidence for spirit, in opposition to the groveling belief of materialism, led him to a love of such mysterious disquisitions. 

He again justly observed, that we could have no certainty of the truth of supernatural appearances, unless something was told us which we could not know by ordinary means, or something done which could not be done but by supernatural power; that Pharaoh in reason and justice required such evidence from Moses; nay, that our Saviour said, 'If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.'

He had said in the morning, that Macaulay's History of St. Kilda, was very well written, except some foppery about liberty and slavery. I mentioned to him that Macaulay told me, he was advised to leave out of his book the wonderful story that upon the approach of a stranger all the inhabitants catch cold; but that it had been so well authenticated, he determined to retain it.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, to leave things out of a book, merely because people tell you they will not be believed, is meanness. Macaulay acted with more magnanimity.'

We talked of the Roman Catholick religion, and how little difference there was in essential matters between ours and it.

JOHNSON. 'True, Sir; all denominations of Christians have really little difference in point of doctrine, though they may differ widely in external forms. There is a prodigious difference between the external form of one of your Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and a church in Italy; yet the doctrine taught is essentially the same.'

In the morning we had talked of old families, and the respect due to them.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have a right to that kind of respect, and are arguing for yourself. I am for supporting the principle, and am disinterested in doing it, as I have no such right.'

BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, it is one more incitement to a man to do well.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, and it is a matter of opinion, very necessary to keep society together. What is it but opinion, by which we have a respect for authority, that prevents us, who are the rabble, from rising up and pulling down you who are gentlemen from your places, and saying, "We will be gentlemen in our turn"? Now, Sir, that respect for authority is much more easily granted to a man whose father has had it, than to an upstart, and so Society is more easily supported.'

BOSWELL. 'Perhaps, Sir, it might be done by the respect belonging to office, as among the Romans, where the dress, the toga, inspired reverence.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, we know very little about the Romans. But, surely, it is much easier to respect a man who has always had respect, than to respect a man who we know was last year no better than ourselves, and will be no better next year. In republicks there is not a respect for authority, but a fear of power.'

BOSWELL. 'At present, Sir, I think riches seem to gain most respect.'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, riches do not gain hearty respect; they only procure external attention. A very rich man, from low beginnings, may buy his election in a borough; but, caeteris paribus, a man of family will be preferred. People will prefer a man for whose father their fathers have voted, though they should get no more money, or even less. That shows that the respect for family is not merely fanciful, but has an actual operation. If gentlemen of family would allow the rich upstarts to spend their money profusely, which they are ready enough to do, and not vie with them in expence, the upstarts would soon be at an end, and the gentlemen would remain: but if the gentlemen will vie in expence with the upstarts, which is very foolish, they must be ruined.'

I gave him an account of the excellent mimickry of a friend of mine in Scotland; observing, at the same time, that some people thought it a very mean thing.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is making a very mean use of a man's powers. But to be a good mimick, requires great powers; great acuteness of observation, great retention of what is observed, and great pliancy of organs, to represent what is observed. I remember a lady of quality in this town, Lady —— ——, who was a wonderful mimick, and used to make me laugh immoderately. I have heard she is now gone mad.'  

(To be continued. This series is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at Bleecker and the Bowery: “All false modesty aside, I know of no better cure for a ‘morning-after head’ than Bob’s Bowery Bar’s ‘Sternwall Brunch Special’, consisting of organic corned-beef hash topped with two fried eggs {from Bob’s mom’s own backyard coop, of course!} and a basket of whole-grain groatcakes dripping with farm-fresh butter and generously slathered with ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ strawberry preserves,

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part 85

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 83

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Physical Education, Assistant Bocce Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of Mrs. Cholmondeley’s Missing Poodle, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and colors by roy dismas, lettering by eddie el greco) for rhoda penmarq productions™ in association with bob’s bowery bar™ productions, ltd.

to begin at the beginning, click here

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In 1771 he published another political pamphlet, entitled Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's Islands, in which, upon materials furnished to him by ministry, and upon general topicks expanded in his richest style, he successfully endeavoured to persuade the nation that it was wise and laudable to suffer the question of right to remain undecided, rather than involve our country in another war.

It has been suggested by some, with what truth I shall not take upon me to decide, that he rated the consequence of those islands to Great-Britain too low.

But however this may be, every humane mind must surely applaud the earnestness with which he averted the calamity of war; a calamity so dreadful, that it is astonishing how civilised, nay, Christian nations, can deliberately continue to renew it. His description of its miseries in this pamphlet, is one of the finest pieces of eloquence in the English language. 

Upon this occasion, too, we find Johnson lashing the party in opposition with unbounded severity, and making the fullest use of what he ever reckoned a most effectual argumentative instrument,— contempt.

Mr. Strahan, the printer, who had been long in intimacy with Johnson, in the course of his literary labours, who was at once his friendly agent in receiving his pension for him, and his banker in supplying him with money when he wanted it; who was himself now a Member of Parliament, and who loved much to be employed in political negociation; thought he should do eminent service both to government and Johnson, if he could be the means of his getting a seat in the House of Commons. With this view, he wrote a letter to one of the Secretaries of the Treasury , of which he gave me a copy in his own hand-writing, which is as follows:—


'You will easily recollect, when I had the honour of waiting upon you some time ago, I took the liberty to observe to you, that Dr. Johnson would make an excellent figure in the House of Commons, and heartily wished he had a seat there. My reasons are briefly these:

'I know his perfect good affection to his Majesty, and his government, which I am certain he wishes to support by every means in his power.

'He possesses a great share of manly, nervous, and ready eloquence; is quick in discerning the strength and weakness of an argument; can express himself with clearness and precision, and fears the face of no man alive.

'His known character, as a man of extraordinary sense and unimpeached virtue, would secure him the attention of the House, and could not fail to give him a proper weight there. 

'He is capable of the greatest application, and can undergo any degree of labour, where he sees it necessary, and where his heart and affections are strongly engaged. His Majesty's ministers might therefore securely depend on his doing, upon every proper occasion, the utmost that could be expected from him. They would find him ready to vindicate such measures as tended to promote the stability of government, and resolute and steady in carrying them into execution. Nor is any thing to be apprehended from the supposed impetuosity of his temper. To the friends of the King you will find him a lamb, to his enemies a lion.

'For these reasons, I humbly apprehend that he would be a very able and useful member. And I will venture to say, the employment would not be disagreeable to him; and knowing, as I do, his strong affection to the King, his ability to serve him in that capacity, and the extreme ardour with which I am convinced he would engage in that service, I must repeat, that I wish most heartily to see him in the House.

'If you think this worthy of attention, you will be pleased to take a convenient opportunity of mentioning it to Lord North. If his Lordship should happily approve of it, I shall have the satisfaction of having been, in some degree, the humble instrument of doing my country, in my opinion, a very essential service. I am, with the greatest respect, Sir, '

Your most obedient and humble servant, '


'New-street, March 30, 1771.'

This recommendation, we know, was not effectual; but how, or for what reason, can only be conjectured. It is not to be believed that Mr. Strahan would have applied, unless Johnson had approved of it. I never heard him mention the subject; but at a later period of his life, when Sir Joshua Reynolds told him that Mr. Edmund Burke had said, that if he had come early into parliament, he certainly would have been the greatest speaker that ever was there, Johnson exclaimed, 

'I should like to try my hand now.'

It has been much agitated among his friends and others, whether he would have been a powerful speaker in Parliament, had he been brought in when advanced in life. I am inclined to think that his extensive knowledge, his quickness and force of mind, his vivacity and richness of expression, his wit and humour, and above all his poignancy of sarcasm, would have had great effect in a popular assembly; and that the magnitude of his figure, and striking peculiarity of his manner, would have aided the effect. But I remember it was observed by Mr. Flood, that Johnson, having been long used to sententious brevity and the short flights of conversation, might have failed in that continued and expanded kind of argument, which is requisite in stating complicated matters in publick speaking.

The opinion of one who was himself so eminent an orator, must be allowed to have great weight. It was confirmed by Sir William Scott, who mentioned that Johnson had told him that he had several times tried to speak in the Society of Arts and Sciences, but 'had found he could not get on.'

From Mr. William Gerrard Hamilton I have heard that Johnson, when observing to him that it was prudent for a man who had not been accustomed to speak in publick, to begin his speech in as simple a manner as possible, acknowledged that he rose in that society to deliver a speech which he had prepared; 'but (said he), all my flowers of oratory forsook me.'

I however cannot help wishing, that he had 'tried his hand' in Parliament; and I wonder that ministry did not make the experiment.

I at length renewed a correspondence which had been too long discontinued:—


'Edinburgh, April 18, 1771.


'I can now fully understand those intervals of silence in your correspondence with me, which have often given me anxiety and uneasiness;

for although I am conscious that my veneration and love for Mr. Johnson have never in the least abated, yet I have deferred for almost a year and a half to write to him.' 

In the subsequent part of this letter, I gave him an account of my comfortable life as a married man, and a lawyer in practice at the Scotch bar; invited him to Scotland, and promised to attend him to the Highlands, and Hebrides.



'If you are now able to comprehend that I might neglect to write without diminution of affection, you have taught me, likewise, how that neglect may be uneasily felt without resentment. I wished for your letter a long time, and when it came, it amply recompensed the delay. I never was so much pleased as now with your account of yourself; and sincerely hope, that between publick business, improving studies, and domestick pleasures, neither melancholy nor caprice will find any place for entrance. Whatever philosophy may determine of material nature, it is certainly true of intellectual nature, that it abhors a vacuum: our minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them, if they are not pre-occupied by good. 

‘My dear Sir, mind your studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian. 

'If we perform our duty, we shall be safe and steady, whether we climb the Highlands, or are tost among the Hebrides; and I hope the time will come when we may try our powers both with cliffs and water.

'I am, dear Sir, 
'Your most affectionate, 
‘And most humble servant, 
'London, June 20, 1771.'

In his religious record of this year, we observe that he was better than usual, both in body and mind, and better satisfied with the regularity of his conduct. But he is still 'trying his ways' too rigorously.

He charges himself with not rising early enough; yet he mentions what was surely a sufficient excuse for this, supposing it to be a duty seriously required, as he all his life appears to have thought it. 

'One great hindrance is want of rest; my nocturnal complaints grow less troublesome towards morning; and I am tempted to repair the deficiencies of the night.' 

Alas! how hard would it be if this indulgence were to be imputed to a sick man as a crime. 

In his retrospect on the following Easter-Eve, he says, 

'When I review the last year, I am able to recollect so little done, that shame and sorrow, though perhaps too weakly, come upon me.' 

Had he been judging of any one else in the same circumstances, how clear would he have been on the favourable side. How very difficult, and in my opinion almost constitutionally impossible it was for him to be raised early, even by the strongest resolutions, appears from a note in one of his little paper-books, (containing words arranged for his Dictionary,) written, I suppose, about 1753:

'I do not remember that since I left Oxford I ever rose early by mere choice, but once or twice.'

I think he had fair ground enough to have quieted his mind on this subject, by concluding that he was physically incapable of what is at best but a commodious regulation. 

In 1772 he was altogether quiescent as an authour; but it will be found from the various evidences which I shall bring together that his mind was acute, lively, and vigorous.

(To be continued. This project is made possible by the continuing generosity of the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Foundation for the Impossible Arts: “Why not escape the oppressive city heat in that delightfully dim and air-conditioned caravansary known as Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently close to the subway at Bleecker and the Bowery?

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part 84

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “Q”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Young Adult Fiction, Assistant Scrabble Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Scolding Quean; the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks and colors by roy dismas; lettering by eddie el greco); a penmarq productions™/bob’s bowery bar productions™ 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

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Quab. A sort of fish.


Quack.  A vain boastful pretender to physick; one who proclaims his own medical abilities in publick places.

At the first appearance that a French quack made in Paris: a little boy walked before him, publishing with a shrill voice, "My father cures all sorts of distempers;" to which the doctor added in a grave manner, "The child says true."  Addison.


Quadrivial.  Having four ways meeting in a point.


Quadruped.  An animal that goes on four legs, as perhaps all beasts.

Most quadrupeds, that live upon herbs, have incisor teeth to pluck and divide them.  Arbuthnot.


Quaff.  To drink; to swallow in large draughts.

He calls for wine; a health, quoth he, as if
H'ad been abroad carousing to his mates
After a storm, quafft off the muscadel,
And threw the sops all in the sexton's face.  Shakesp.


Quagmire.  A shaking marsh; a bog that trembles under the feet.

Your hearts I'll stamp out with my horse's heels,
And make a quagmire of your mingled brains.  Shakesp.


To Quake.  To shake with cold or fear; to tremble.

In fields they dare not fight where honour calls,
The very noise of war their souls does wound,
They quake but hearing their own trumpets sound.  Dryden


Quality.  Disposition; temper.

To-night we'll wander through the streets, and note

The qualities of people.  Shakesp. Ant. and Cleopatra.


Quean.  A worthless woman, generally a strumpet.

As fit as the nail to his hole, or as a scolding quean to a wrangling knave.  Shakesp.


Queen.  A woman who is sovereign of a kingdom.

That queen Elizabeth lived sixty-nine, and reigned forty-five years, means no more than, that the duration of her existence was equal to sixty-nine, and the duration of her government to forty-five revolutions of the sun.  Locke.


Queen-Apple.  A species of apple.

The queen-apple is of the summer kind, and a good cyder apple mixed with others.  Mortimer's Husbandry.


To Queme.  To please. An old word.


Quidam.  Somebody.


To Quob.  To move as the embryo does in the womb; to move as the heart does when throbbing.


Quodlibetarian.  One who talks or disputes on any subject.


Quondam.  Having been formerly. A ludicrous word.

This is the quondam king, let's seize upon him. Shakesp.


Quotidian.  Daily; happening every day.

Nor was this a short fit of shaking, as an ague, but a quotidian fever, always increasing to higher inflammation.  King Charles.


(Our illustrated adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. Classix Comix is made possible through a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Endowment for the Cybernetic Arts: “One of my perennial favorites on the Bob’s Bowery Bar menu is ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ House-Cured Pickled Pig’s Feet,

served with Mom’s special stoneground spicy mustard and Uneeda Biscuits – goes superbly with Bob’s famous basement-brewed bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of the Bizarre, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, Tuesdays at 10pm, EST.)