Sunday, June 7, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 82

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Associate Professor of Remedial Creative Writing, Assistant Canasta Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of Mrs. Cholmondeley’s Missing Jewels, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, and colors and lettering by roy dismas, assisted by eddie el greco); a penmarq studios™/bob’s bowery bar™ co-production in association with dumont enterprises™.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

{This chapter continues the reminiscences of the Rev. Dr. Maxwell, “for many years the social friend of Johnson, who spoke of him with a very kind regard”. – Editor}

'He was of opinion, that the English nation cultivated both their soil and their reason better than any other people: but admitted that the French, though not the highest, perhaps, in any department of literature, yet in every department were very high. Intellectual pre-eminence, he observed, was the highest superiority; and that every nation derived their highest reputation from the splendour and dignity of their writers. 

'Speaking of the French novels, compared with Richardson's, he said, they might be pretty baubles, but a wren was not an eagle.

'In a Latin conversation with the Père Boscovitch, at the house of Mrs. Cholmondeley, I heard him maintain the superiority of Sir Isaac Newton over all foreign philosophers, with a dignity and eloquence that surprized that learned foreigner. 

‘It being observed to him, that a rage for every thing English prevailed much in France after Lord Chatham's glorious war, he said, he did not wonder at it, for that we had drubbed those fellows into a proper reverence for us, and that their national petulance required periodical chastisement.

'Lord Lyttelton's Dialogues, he deemed a nugatory performance. "That man, (said he ,) sat down to write a book, to tell the world what the world had all his life been telling him."

'Being asked by a young nobleman, what was become of the gallantry and military spirit of the old English nobility, he replied, "Why, my Lord, I'll tell you what is become of it; it is gone into the city to look for a fortune."

'Speaking of a dull tiresome fellow, whom he chanced to meet, he said, "That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one."

'Much enquiry having been made concerning a gentleman, who had quitted a company where Johnson was, and no information being obtained; at last Johnson observed, that "he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney."

'He spoke with much contempt of the notice taken of Woodhouse, the poetical shoemaker. He said, it was all vanity and childishness: and that such objects were, to those who patronised them, mere mirrours of their own superiority.

"They had better (said he,) furnish the man with good implements for his trade, than raise subscriptions for his poems. He may make an excellent shoemaker, but can never make a good poet. A school-boy's exercise may be a pretty thing for a school-boy; but it is no treat for a man."

'Johnson observed, that so many objections might be made to every thing, that nothing could overcome them but the necessity of doing something. No man would be of any profession, as simply opposed to not being of it: but every one must do something.

'He remarked, that a London parish was a very comfortless thing; for the clergyman seldom knew the face of one out of ten of his parishioners.

'A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience.

'He observed, that a man of sense and education should meet a suitable companion in a wife. It was a miserable thing when the conversation could only be such as, whether the mutton should be boiled or roasted, and probably a dispute about that.

'He did not approve of late marriages, observing that more was lost in point of time, than compensated for by any possible advantages. Even ill assorted marriages were preferable to cheerless celibacy.

'He said, foppery was never cured; it was the bad stamina of the mind, which, like those of the body, were never rectified: once a coxcomb, and always a coxcomb.

'He observed, "it was a most mortifying reflexion for any man to consider, what he had done, compared with what he might have done."

'He said few people had intellectual resources sufficient to forego the pleasures of wine. They could not otherwise contrive how to fill the interval between dinner and supper.

'One evening at Mrs. Montagu's, where a splendid company was assembled, consisting of the most eminent literary characters, I thought he seemed highly pleased with the respect and attention that were shewn him, and asked him on our return home if he was not highly gratified by his visit: "No, Sir, (said he) not highly gratified; yet I do not recollect to have passed many evenings with fewer objections."

'Though of no high extraction himself, he had much respect for birth and family, especially among ladies. He said, "adventitious accomplishments may be possessed by all ranks; but one may easily distinguish the born gentlewoman."

'He said, "the poor in England were better provided for, than in any other country of the same extent: he did not mean little Cantons, or petty Republicks. Where a great proportion of the people (said he,) are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor, is the true test of civilization.— Gentlemen of education, he observed, were pretty much the same in all countries; the condition of the lower orders, the poor especially, was the true mark of national discrimination."

'He observed, a principal source of erroneous judgement was, viewing things partially and only on one side: as for instance, fortune-hunters, when they contemplated the fortunes singly and separately, it was a dazzling and tempting object; but when they came to possess the wives and their fortunes together, they began to suspect that they had not made quite so good a bargain.

'He advised me, if possible, to have a good orchard. He knew, he said, a clergyman of small income, who brought up a family very reputably which he chiefly fed with apple dumplings.

‘”Few have all kinds of merit belonging to their character. We must not examine matters too deeply — No, Sir, a fallible being will fail somewhere."

'We dined tête à tête at the Mitre, as I was preparing to return to Ireland, after an absence of many years. I regretted much leaving London, where I had formed many agreeable connexions:

‘"Sir, (said he,) I don't wonder at it; no man, fond of letters, leaves London without regret. But remember, Sir, you have seen and enjoyed a great deal;— you have seen life in its highest decorations, and the world has nothing new to exhibit. No man is so well qualifyed to leave publick life as he who has long tried it and known it well. We are always hankering after untried situations, and imagining greater felicity from them than they can afford. No, Sir, knowledge and virtue may be acquired in all countries, and your local consequence will make you some amends for the intellectual gratifications you relinquish."

'He then took a most affecting leave of me; said, he knew, it was a point of duty that called me away. "We shall all be sorry to lose you," said he.’

(To be continued. This series is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at Bleecker and the Bowery: “If a gun were put to my head and I were forced to choose a favorite from the Bob’s Bowery Bar ‘Late Nite Menu’ I daresay I would choose ‘Bob’s Mom’s Tripe ‘n’ Egg’: bock-braised grass-fed tripe on a bed of slow-simmered collard greens ‘n’ caramelized leeks and topped with a ‘cage-free’ egg scrambled with fresh-churned butter, served on a warm fresh-baked sourdough roll –

goes swell with a schooner of Bob’s internationally renowned ‘basement-brewed house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Poetry Hour, Sundays at 11am, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network: this week’s very special guest: Mr. T.S. Eliot.)

part 83

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