Sunday, July 12, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 86

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Professor Emeritus of Alchemical Studies, Assistant Lawn Tennis Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Return of the Drunken Lord, 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™ international enterprises, inc.

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BOSWELL. 'It may be of use, Sir, to have a Dictionary to ascertain the pronunciation.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, my Dictionary shows you the accents of words, if you can but remember them.'

BOSWELL. 'But , Sir, we want marks to ascertain the pronunciation of the vowels. Sheridan, I believe, has finished such a work.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, consider how much easier it is to learn a language by the ear, than by any marks. Sheridan's Dictionary may do very well; but you cannot always carry it about with you: and, when you want the word, you have not the Dictionary. It is like a man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword, to be sure: but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable to use it.

Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an Irishman: and if he says he will fix it after the example of the best company, why they differ among themselves. I remember an instance: when I published the Plan for my Dictionary, Lord Chesterfield told me that the word great should be pronounced so as to rhyme to state; and Sir William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme to seat, and that none but an Irishman would pronounce it trait. Now here were two men of the highest rank, the one, the best speaker in the House of Lords, the other, the best speaker in the House of Commons, differing entirely.'

I again visited him at night. Finding him in a very good humour, I ventured to lead him to the subject of our situation in a future state, having much curiosity to know his notions on that point.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the happiness of an unembodied spirit will consist in a consciousness of the favour of GOD, in the contemplation of truth, and in the possession of felicitating ideas.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is there any harm in our forming to ourselves conjectures as to the particulars of our happiness, though the scripture has said but very little on the subject? "We know not what we shall be."'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no harm. What philosophy suggests to us on this topick is probable: what scripture tells us is certain. Dr. Henry More has carried it as far as philosophy can. You may buy both his theological and philosophical works in two volumes folio, for about eight shillings.'

BOSWELL. 'One of the most pleasing thoughts is, that we shall see our friends again.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but you must consider, that when we are become purely rational, many of our friendships will be cut off. Many friendships are formed by a community of sensual pleasures: all these will be cut off. We form many friendships with bad men, because they have agreeable qualities, and they can be useful to us; but, after death, they can no longer be of use to us.

We form many friendships by mistake, imagining people to be different from what they really are. After death, we shall see every one in a true light. Then, Sir, they talk of our meeting our relations: but then all relationship is dissolved; and we shall have no regard for one person more than another, but for their real value. However, we shall either have the satisfaction of meeting our friends, or be satisfied without meeting them.' 

BOSWELL. 'Yet, Sir, we see in scripture, that Dives still retained an anxious concern about his brethren.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, we must either suppose that passage to be metaphorical, or hold with many divines, and all the Purgatorians that departed souls do not all at once arrive at the utmost perfection of which they are capable.'

BOSWELL. 'I think, Sir, that is a very rational supposition.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir; but we do not know it is a true one. There is no harm in believing it: but you must not compel others to make it an article of faith; for it is not revealed.'

BOSWELL. 'Do you think, Sir, it is wrong in a man who holds the doctrine of purgatory, to pray for the souls of his deceased friends?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, no, Sir.'

BOSWELL. 'I have been told, that in the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, there was a form of prayer for the dead.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not in the liturgy which Laud framed for the Episcopal Church of Scotland: if there is a liturgy older than that, I should be glad to see it.'

BOSWELL. 'As to our employment in a future state, the sacred writings say little. The Revelation, however, of St. John gives us many ideas, and particularly mentions musick.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, ideas must be given you by means of something which you know: and as to musick there are some philosophers and divines who have maintained that we shall not be spiritualized to such a degree, but that something of matter, very much refined, will remain. In that case, musick may make a part of our future felicity.'

BOSWELL. 'This objection is made against the truth of ghosts appearing: that if they are in a state of happiness, it would be a punishment to them to return to this world; and if they are in a state of misery, it would be giving them a respite.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, as the happiness or misery of embodied spirits does not depend upon place, but is intellectual, we cannot say that they are less happy or less miserable by appearing upon earth.'

We went down between twelve and one to Mrs. Williams's room, and drank tea. I mentioned that we were to have the remains of Mr. Gray, in prose and verse, published by Mr. Mason.

JOHNSON. 'I think we have had enough of Gray. I see they have published a splendid edition of Akenside's works. One bad ode may be suffered; but a number of them together makes one sick.'

BOSWELL. 'Akenside's distinguished poem is his Pleasures of Imagination: but for my part, I never could admire it so much as most people do.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I could not read it through.' 

I mentioned Elwal, the heretick, whose trial Sir John Pringle had given me to read.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, Mr. Elwal was, I think, an ironmonger at Wolverhampton; and he had a mind to make himself famous, by being the founder of a new sect, which he wished much should be called Elwallians. He held, that every thing in the Old Testament that was not typical, was to be of perpetual observance; and so he wore a ribband in the plaits of his coat, and he also wore a beard. I remember I had the honour of dining in company with Mr. Elwal. There was one Barter, a miller, who wrote against him; and you had the controversy between Mr. ELWAL and Mr. BARTER. To try to make himself distinguished, he wrote a letter to King George the Second, challenging him to dispute with him, in which he said,

"George, if you be afraid to come by yourself, to dispute with a poor old man, you may bring a thousand of your black-guards with you; and if you should still be afraid, you may bring a thousand of your red-guards." The letter had something of the impudence of Junius to our present King. But the men of Wolverhampton were not so inflammable as the Common-Council of London; so Mr. Elwal failed in his scheme of making himself a man of great consequence.' 

(To be continued. This episode of “classix comix” was sponsored in part by the good people at Bob’s Bowery Bar: “Ever get one of those hankerings for some good old-fashioned ‘comfort food’? I sure know I do, and when I get that yen I often find myself at Bob’s Bowery Bar – conveniently located at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery –

ordering up a soul-soothing big bowl of Bob’s ‘Baked Beans, Bangers ‘n’ Bacon’ – available also without the bangers and bacon for those of you of the vegetarian persuasion!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Dramatic Showcase, broadcast live Saturdays at 8pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 87

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