Sunday, July 26, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 87

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Young Adult Literature, Assistant Croquet Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: General Paoli’s Problem, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork by rhoda penmarq (with the assistance of roy dismas and eddie el greco) for rhoda penmarq unlimited productions™.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

On Tuesday, March 31, he and I dined at General Paoli's. 

A question was started, whether the state of marriage was natural to man. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is so far from being natural for a man and woman to live in a state of marriage, that we find all the motives which they have for remaining in that connection, and the restraints which civilized society imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to keep them together.'

The General said, that in a state of nature a man and woman uniting together, would form a strong and constant affection, by the mutual pleasure each would receive; and that the same causes of dissention would not arise between them, as occur between husband and wife in a civilized state.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, they would have dissentions enough, though of another kind. One would choose to go a hunting in this wood, the other in that; one would choose to go a fishing in this lake, the other in that; or, perhaps, one would choose to go a hunting, when the other would choose to go a fishing; and so they would part. Besides, Sir, a savage man and a savage woman meet by chance; and when the man sees another woman that pleases him better, he will leave the first.'

We then fell into a disquisition whether there is any beauty independent of utility. The General maintained there was not. Dr. Johnson maintained that there was; and he instanced a coffee-cup which he held in his hand, the painting of which was of no real use, as the cup would hold the coffee equally well if plain; yet the painting was beautiful.

We talked of the strange custom of swearing in conversation. The General said, that all barbarous nations swore from a certain violence of temper, that could not be confined to earth, but was always reaching at the powers above. He said, too, that there was greater variety of swearing, in proportion as there was a greater variety of religious ceremonies.

Dr. Johnson went home with me to my lodgings in Conduit-street and drank tea, previous to our going to the Pantheon, which neither of us had seen before.

He said, 'Goldsmith's Life of Parnell is poor; not that it is poorly written, but that he had poor materials; for nobody can write the life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him.'

I said, that if it was not troublesome and presuming too much, I would request him to tell me all the little circumstances of his life; what schools he attended, when he came to Oxford, when he came to London, &c. &c. He did not disapprove of my curiosity as to these particulars; but said, 'They'll come out by degrees as we talk together.'

We talked of the proper use of riches.

JOHNSON. 'If I were a man of a great estate, I would drive all the rascals whom I did not like out of the county at an election.’

I asked him how far he thought wealth should be employed in hospitality.

JOHNSON. 'You are to consider that ancient hospitality, of which we hear so much, was in an uncommercial country, when men being idle, were glad to be entertained at rich men's tables. But in a commercial country, a busy country, time becomes precious, and therefore hospitality is not so much valued. No doubt there is still room for a certain degree of it; and a man has a satisfaction in seeing his friends eating and drinking around him.

But promiscuous hospitality is not the way to gain real influence. You must help some people at table before others; you must ask some people how they like their wine oftener than others. You therefore offend more people than you please.

You are like the French statesman, who said, when he granted a favour, 'J'ai fait dix mécontents et un ingrat.' Besides, Sir, being entertained ever so well at a man's table, impresses no lasting regard or esteem. No, Sir, the way to make sure of power and influence is, by lending money confidentially to your neighbours at a small interest, or, perhaps, at no interest at all, and having their bonds in your possession.' 

BOSWELL. 'May not a man, Sir, employ his riches to advantage in educating young men of merit?' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, if they fall in your way; but if it be understood that you patronize young men of merit, you will be harassed with solicitations. You will have numbers forced upon you who have no merit; some will force them upon you from mistaken partiality; and some from downright interested motives, without scruple; and you will be disgraced.'

'Were I a rich man, I would propagate all kinds of trees that will grow in the open air. A greenhouse is childish. I would introduce foreign animals into the country; for instance the reindeer.'

We then walked to the Pantheon.

The first view of it did not strike us so much as Ranelagh, of which he said, the 'coup d'oeil was the finest thing he had ever seen.' 

I said there was not half a guinea's worth of pleasure in seeing this place.

JOHNSON. 'But, Sir, there is half a guinea's worth of inferiority to other people in not having seen it.'

BOSWELL. 'I doubt, Sir, whether there are many happy people here.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, there are many happy people here. There are many people here who are watching hundreds, and who think hundreds are watching them.'

Happening to meet Sir Adam Fergusson, I presented him to Dr. Johnson. Sir Adam expressed some apprehension that the Pantheon would encourage luxury.

'Sir, (said Johnson,) I am a great friend to publick amusements; for they keep people from vice. You now (addressing himself to me,) would have been with a wench, had you not been here.— O! I forgot you were married.'

Sir Adam suggested, that luxury corrupts a people, and destroys the spirit of liberty.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is all visionary. I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual. Sir, the danger of the abuse of power is nothing to a private man. What Frenchman is prevented from passing his life as he pleases?'

SIR ADAM. 'But, Sir, in the British constitution it is surely of importance to keep up a spirit in the people, so as to preserve a balance against the crown.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig. Why all this childish jealousy of the power of the crown? The crown has not power enough. When I say that all governments are alike, I consider that in no government power can be abused long. Mankind will not bear it. If a sovereign oppresses his people to a great degree, they will rise and cut off his head. There is a remedy in human nature against tyranny, that will keep us safe under every form of government. Had not the people of France thought themselves honoured as sharing in the brilliant actions of Lewis XIV, they would not have endured him; and we may say the same of the King of Prussia's people.' 

Sir Adam introduced the ancient Greeks and Romans. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, the mass of both of them were barbarians. The mass of every people must be barbarous where there is no printing, and consequently knowledge is not generally diffused . Knowledge is diffused among our people by the news-papers.'

Sir Adam mentioned the orators, poets, and artists of Greece.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I am talking of the mass of the people. We see even what the boasted Athenians were. The little effect which Demosthenes's orations had upon them, shews that they were barbarians.'

Sir Adam was unlucky in his topicks; for he suggested a doubt of the propriety of Bishops having seats in the House of Lords.

JOHNSON. 'How so, Sir? Who is more proper for having the dignity of a peer, than a Bishop, provided a Bishop be what he ought to be; and if improper Bishops be made, that is not the fault of the Bishops, but of those who make them.'

(To be continued. This adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson is made possible through a generous grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar Endowment for the Unpopular Arts: “Eschewing false modesty, allow me to recommend ‘The Sternwall Summer Brunch Special’ at Bob’s Bowery Bar: ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ homemade cornmeal mush, fried to perfection and topped with two ‘sunny-side fried’ free-range eggs, with two hearty slabs of fried organic scrapple, lightly-breaded and fried Jersey tomato slices,

and fresh-baked ‘n’ fried sourdough rolls served with ‘Mom’s peach preserves’, all of it washed down with lashings of strong Assam tea and finished off with a tall schooner of Bob’s famous ‘basement brewed’ house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents The Horace P. Sternwall Mystery Hour, broadcast live on Tuesdays at 8pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 88

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