Sunday, July 5, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 85

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Graphic Novels and “Comic” Books, Assistant Jai-Alai Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Incident of the Purloined Port , the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally coördinated by rhoda penmarq (design, drawing, colors by roy dismas ; lettering by eddie el greco ) for rhoda penmarq hyperbolic productions™.

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On Monday, March 23, I found him busy, preparing a fourth edition of his folio Dictionary. Mr. Peyton, one of his original amanuenses, was writing for him.

I put him in mind of a meaning of the word side, which he had omitted, viz. relationship; as father's side, mother's side. He inserted it. I asked him if humiliating was a good word. He said, he had seen it frequently used, but he did not know it to be legitimate English. He would not admit civilization, but only civility. With great deference to him, I thought civilization, from to civilize better in the sense opposed to barbarity, than civility; as it is better to have a distinct word for each sense, than one word with two senses, which civility is, in his way of using it.

He seemed also to be intent on some sort of chymical operation. I was entertained by observing how he contrived to send Mr. Peyton on an errand, without seeming to degrade him. 

'Mr. Peyton,— Mr. Peyton, will you be so good as to take a walk to Temple-Bar? You will there see a chymist's shop; at which you will be pleased to buy for me an ounce of oil of vitriol; not spirit of vitriol, but oil of vitriol. It will cost three half-pence.' 

Peyton immediately went, and returned with it, and told him it cost but a penny.

I then reminded him of the schoolmaster's cause, and proposed to read to him the printed papers concerning it. 

'No, Sir, (said he,) I can read quicker than I can hear.'

So he read them to himself.

After he had read for some time, we were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Kristrom, a Swede, who was tutor to some young gentlemen in the city.

We talked of languages. Johnson observed, that Leibnitz had made some progress in a work, tracing all languages up to the Hebrew.

'Why, Sir, (said he,) you would not imagine that the French jour, day, is derived from the Latin dies, and yet nothing is more certain; and the intermediate steps are very clear. From dies, comes diurnus. Diu is, by inaccurate ears, or inaccurate pronunciation, easily confounded with giu; then the Italians form a substantive of the ablative of an adjective, and thence giurno, or, as they make it, giorno; which is readily contracted into giour, or jour.'

He observed, that the Bohemian language was true Sclavonick. The Swede said, it had some similarity with the German.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, to be sure, such parts of Sclavonia as confine with Germany, will borrow German words; and such parts as confine with Tartary will borrow Tartar words.'

He said, he never had it properly ascertained that the Scotch Highlanders and the Irish understood each other. I told him that my cousin Colonel Graham, of the Royal Highlanders, whom I met at Drogheda, told me they did.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, if the Highlanders understood Irish, why translate the New Testament into Erse, as was done lately at Edinburgh, when there is an Irish translation?' 

BOSWELL. 'Although the Erse and Irish are both dialects of the same language, there may be a good deal of diversity between them, as between the different dialects in Italy.'

— The Swede went away, and Mr. Johnson continued his reading of the papers. 

I said, 'I am afraid, Sir, it is troublesome.' 

'Why, Sir, (said he,) I do not take much delight in it; but I'll go through it.'

We went to the Mitre, and dined in the room where he and I first supped together. He gave me great hopes of my cause. 

'Sir, (said he ,) the government of a schoolmaster is somewhat of the nature of military government; that is to say, it must be arbitrary, it must be exercised by the will of one man, according to particular circumstances. You must shew some learning upon this occasion. You must shew, that a schoolmaster has a prescriptive right to beat; and that an action of assault and battery cannot be admitted against him, unless there is some great excess, some barbarity. This man has maimed none of his boys. They are all left with the full exercise of their corporeal faculties. In our schools in England, many boys have been maimed; yet I never heard of an action against a schoolmaster on that account. Puffendorf, I think, maintains the right of a schoolmaster to beat his scholars.’

On Saturday, March 27, I introduced to him Sir Alexander Macdonald, with whom he had expressed a wish to be acquainted. He received him very courteously. 

Sir Alexander observed, that the Chancellors in England are chosen from views much inferiour to the office, being chosen from temporary political views.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, in such a government as ours, no man is appointed to an office because he is the fittest for it, nor hardly in any other government; because there are so many connections and dependencies to be studied. A despotick prince may choose a man to an office, merely because he is the fittest for it. The King of Prussia may do it.'

SIR A. 'I think, Sir, almost all great lawyers, such at least as have written upon law, have known only law, and nothing else.'

JOHNSON. 'Why no, Sir; Judge Hale was a great lawyer, and wrote upon law; and yet he knew a great many other things, and has written upon other things. Selden too.'

SIR A. 'Very true, Sir; and Lord Bacon. But was not Lord Coke a mere lawyer?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, I am afraid he was; but he would have taken it very ill if you had told him so. He would have prosecuted you for scandal.'

BOSWELL. 'Lord Mansfield is not a mere lawyer.'

JOHNSON. 'No , Sir. I never was in Lord Mansfield's company; but Lord Mansfield was distinguished at the University. Lord Mansfield, when he first came to town, "drank champagne with the wits," as Prior says. He was the friend of Pope.' 

SIR A. 'Barristers, I believe, are not so abusive now as they were formerly. I fancy they had less law long ago, and so were obliged to take to abuse, to fill up the time. Now they have such a number of precedents, they have no occasion for abuse.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, they had more law long ago than they have now. As to precedents, to be sure they will increase in course of time; but the more precedents there are, the less occasion is there for law; that is to say, the less occasion is there for investigating principles.'

SIR A. 'I have been correcting several Scotch accents in my friend Boswell. I doubt, Sir, if any Scotchman ever attains to a perfect English pronunciation.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, few of them do, because they do not persevere after acquiring a certain degree of it. But, Sir, there can be no doubt that they may attain to a perfect English pronunciation, if they will. We find how near they come to it; and certainly, a man who conquers nineteen parts of the Scottish accent, may conquer the twentieth.

But, Sir, when a man has got the better of nine tenths he grows weary, he relaxes his diligence, he finds he has corrected his accent so far as not to be disagreeable, and he no longer desires his friends to tell him when he is wrong; nor does he choose to be told. Sir, when people watch me narrowly, and I do not watch myself, they will find me out to be of a particular county. In the same manner, Dunning may be found out to be a Devonshire man. So most Scotchmen may be found out. But, Sir, little aberrations are of no disadvantage. I never catched Mallet in a Scotch accent; and yet Mallet, I suppose, was past five-and-twenty before he came to London.'

Upon another occasion I talked to him on this subject, having myself taken some pains to improve my pronunciation, by the aid of the late Mr. Love, of Drury-lane theatre, when he was a player at Edinburgh, and also of old Mr. Sheridan.

Johnson said to me, 'Sir , your pronunciation is not offensive.'

With this concession I was pretty well satisfied; and let me give my countrymen of North-Britain an advice not to aim at absolute perfection in this respect; not to speak High English, as we are apt to call what is far removed from the Scotch, but which is by no means good English, and makes, 'the fools who use it,' truly ridiculous.

Good English is plain, easy, and smooth in the mouth of an unaffected English Gentleman. A studied and factitious pronunciation, which requires perpetual attention and imposes perpetual constraint, is exceedingly disgusting. A small intermixture of provincial peculiarities may, perhaps, have an agreeable effect, as the notes of different birds concur in the harmony of the grove, and please more than if they were all exactly alike. I could name some gentlemen of Ireland, to whom a slight proportion of the accent and recitative of that country is an advantage. The same observation will apply to the gentlemen of Scotland. I do not mean that we should speak as broad as a certain prosperous member of Parliament from that country.

I would give as an instance of what I mean to recommend to my countrymen, the pronunciation of the late Sir Gilbert Elliot; and may I presume to add that of the present Earl of Marchmont, who told me, with great good humour, that the master of a shop in London, where he was not known, said to him,

'I suppose, Sir, you are an American.'

'Why so, Sir?' (said his Lordship .)

'Because, Sir, (replied the shopkeeper,) you speak neither English nor Scotch, but something different from both, which I conclude is the language of America.'

(To be continued. “classix comix” is made possible in part through a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar Foundation for the Literary and Graphic Arts: “Be sure to take advantage of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s ‘Summer BBQ’ Menu, featuring my own favorite, the Pit-Roasted Wild-Hog Special:

deeply flavorful pulled wild-hog pork slathered with ‘special’ spicy chutney on one of ‘Mom’s Own’ sourdough rolls, served with your choice of organic corn on the cob or coleslaw!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of Bob’s Bowery Bar, Wednesdays at 10pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 86

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