Sunday, August 30, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 91

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Hard Boiled Fiction, Assistant Craps Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Drunken Judge and the Sober Lord, the Olney Community College Press.

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At this time it appears from his Prayers and Meditations, that he had been more than commonly diligent in religious duties, particularly in reading the Holy Scriptures. It was Passion Week, that solemn season which the Christian world has appropriated to the commemoration of the mysteries of our redemption, and during which, whatever embers of religion are in our breasts, will be kindled into pious warmth.

I paid him short visits both on Friday and Saturday, and seeing his large folio Greek Testament before him, beheld him with a reverential awe, and would not intrude upon his time. 

While he was thus employed to such good purpose, and while his friends in their intercourse with him constantly found a vigorous intellect and a lively imagination, it is melancholy to read in his private register,

'My mind is unsettled and my memory confused. I have of late turned my thoughts with a very useless earnestness upon past incidents. I have yet got no command over my thoughts; an unpleasing incident is almost certain to hinder my rest.'

What philosophick heroism was it in him to appear with such manly fortitude to the world, while he was inwardly so distressed! We may surely believe that the mysterious principle of being 'made perfect through suffering' was to be strongly exemplified in him.

On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, General Paoli and I paid him a visit before dinner. We talked of the notion that blind persons can distinguish colours by the touch.

Johnson said, that Professor Sanderson mentions his having attempted to do it, but that he found he was aiming at an impossibility; that to be sure a difference in the surface makes the difference of colours; but that difference is so fine, that it is not sensible to the touch.

The General mentioned jugglers and fraudulent gamesters, who could know cards by the touch. Dr. Johnson said, 'the cards used by such persons must be less polished than ours commonly are.'

We talked of sounds. The General said, there was no beauty in a simple sound, but only in an harmonious composition of sounds. I presumed to differ from this opinion, and mentioned the soft and sweet sound of a fine woman's voice. 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, if a serpent or a toad uttered it, you would think it ugly.'

BOSWELL. 'So you would think, Sir, were a beautiful tune to be uttered by one of those animals.'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it would be admired. We have seen fine fiddlers whom we liked as little as toads.' (laughing.)


Talking on the subject of taste in the arts, he said, that difference of taste was, in truth, difference of skill.

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, is there not a quality called taste, which consists merely in perception or in liking? For instance, we find people differ much as to what is the best style of English composition. Some think Swift's the best; others prefer a fuller and grander way of writing.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must first define what you mean by style, before you can judge who has a good taste in style, and who has a bad. The two classes of persons whom you have mentioned don't differ as to good and bad. They both agree that Swift has a good neat style; but one loves a neat style, another loves a style of more splendour.

In like manner, one loves a plain coat, another loves a laced coat; but neither will deny that each is good in its kind.'

While I remained in London this spring, I was with him at several other times, both by himself and in company. Without specifying each particular day, I have preserved the following memorable things.

I regretted the reflection in his Preface to Shakspeare against Garrick, to whom we cannot but apply the following passage: 'I collated such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, but have not found the collectors of these rarities very communicative.'

I told him, that Garrick had complained to me of it, and had vindicated himself by assuring me, that Johnson was made welcome to the full use of his collection, and that he left the key of it with a servant, with orders to have a fire and every convenience for him.

I found Johnson's notion was, that Garrick wanted to be courted for them, and that, on the contrary, Garrick should have courted him, and sent him the plays of his own accord. But, indeed, considering the slovenly and careless manner in which books were treated by Johnson, it could not be expected that scarce and valuable editions should have been lent to him.

A gentleman having to some of the usual arguments for drinking added this: 'You know, Sir, drinking drives away care, and makes us forget whatever is disagreeable. Would not you allow a man to drink for that reason?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, if he sat next you.'

I expressed a liking for Mr. Francis Osborne's works, and asked him what he thought of that writer. He answered, 'A conceited fellow. Were a man to write so now, the boys would throw stones at him.'

When one of his friends endeavoured to maintain that a country gentleman might contrive to pass his life very agreeably,

'Sir (said he,) you cannot give me an instance of any man who is permitted to lay out his own time, contriving not to have tedious hours.'

He said, 'there is no permanent national character; it varies according to circumstances. Alexander the Great swept India: now the Turks sweep Greece.'

A learned gentleman who in the course of conversation wished to inform us of this simple fact, that the Counsel upon the circuit at Shrewsbury were much bitten by fleas, took, I suppose, seven or eight minutes in relating it circumstantially. He in a plenitude of phrase told us, that large bales of woollen cloth were lodged in the town-hall;

— that by reason of this, fleas nestled there in prodigious numbers; that the lodgings of the counsel were near to the town-hall;— and that those little animals moved from place to place with wonderful agility.

Johnson sat in great impatience till the gentleman had finished his tedious narrative, and then burst out (playfully however,)

'It is a pity, Sir, that you have not seen a lion; for a flea has taken you such a time, that a lion must have served you a twelve-month.'

He would not allow Scotland to derive any credit from Lord Mansfield; for he was educated in England.

'Much (said he,) may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.'

He said, 'I am very unwilling to read the manuscripts of authours, and give them my opinion. If the authours who apply to me have money, I bid them boldly print without a name; if they have written in order to get money, I tell them to go to the booksellers, and make the best bargain they can.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, if a bookseller should bring you a manuscript to look at?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I would desire the bookseller to take it away.'

I mentioned a friend of mine who had resided long in Spain, and was unwilling to return to Britain.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, he is attached to some woman.'

BOSWELL. 'I rather believe, Sir, it is the fine climate which keeps him there.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, how can you talk so? What is climate to happiness?


(To be continued. This series is made possible through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Feeling the pinch of the recent ‘correction’ in the stock markets? Why not get your load on at Bob’s Bowery Bar where a ‘Bob’s Special’ –

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part 92

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Selections from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary: “S”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D.,Associate Professor of Remedial Spelling, Assistant Bocce Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Sophistical Slubberdegullion; the Olney Community College Press.

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S. has in English the same hissing sound as in other languages, and unhappily prevails in so many of our words that it produces in the ear of a foreigner a continued sibilation.


Sabbath.  A day appointed by God among the Jews, and from them established among Christians for publick worship; the seventh day set apart from works of labour to be employed in piety.


Sable.  Fur.

Sable is worn of great personages, and brought out of Russia, being the fur of a little beast of that name, esteemed for the perfectness of the colour of the hairs, which are very black. Hence sable, in heraldry, signifies the black colour in gentlemen’s arms.  Peacham on Blazoning.


Saccade.  A violent check the rider gives his horse, by drawing both the reins very suddenly: a correction used when the horse bears heavy on the hand.


Sack.  A kind of sweet wine, now brought chiefly from the Canaries.

Please you drink a cup of sackShakespeare.  


Sackcloath.   Cloath of which sacks are made; coarse cloath sometimes worn in mortification.

To augment her painful penance more,

Thrice every week in ashes she did sit
And next her wrinkled skin rough sackcloath wore.  F. Queen.


Slubberdegullion.   A paltry, dirty, sorry wretch.

Quoth she, although thou hast deserv'd,
Base slubberdegullion, to be serv'd
As thou did'st vow to deal with me,
If thou had'st got the victory.  Hudibras.


To snuggle. To lie close; to lie warm.


Something.  Not nothing, though it appears not what; a thing or matter indeterminate.

You'll say the whole world has something to do, something to talk of, something to wish for, and something to be employed about; but pray put all these somethings together, and what is the sum total but just nothing.  Pope's Letters.


Sonorous.  High sounding; magnificent of sound.

The Italian opera, amidst all the meanness and familiarity of the thoughts, has something beautiful and sonorous in the expression.  Addison on Italy.


Sophistry.  Fallacious ratiocination.

His sophistry prevailed; his father believed.  Sidney.


Sordid.  Foul; gross; filthy; dirty.

There Charon stands

A sordid god, down from his hoary chin

A length of beard descends, uncomb’d, unclean.  Dryden


Sororicide.  The murder of a sister.


Stentorophonick. [from Stentor, the Homerical herald, whose voice was as loud as that of fifty men]  Loudly speaking or sounding.


To Suggilate.  To beat black and blue; to make livid by a bruise.


Sword.   A weapon used either in cutting or thrusting; the usual weapon of fights hand to hand.

Old unhappy traitor, the sword is out

That must destroy thee.  Shakesp. King Lear.


(Our illustrated version of Boswell’s Life of Johnson will resume next week. Classix Comix is made possible in part through a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Charitable Trust: “Feeling the pinch of the recent stock market downturn? Allow me to recommend Bob’s Bowery Bar’s ‘Bob’s Mom’s Free-Range Squirrel Stew’,

served with crispy Uneeda Biscuits, and a ‘steal’ at .99¢ a bowl! Goes swell with Bob’s world-renowned ‘basement-brewed’ house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar’s Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of the Bowery, exclusively on the Dumont Television Network, Wednesdays at 9pm, EST.)


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 90

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Associate Professor of English as a Third Language, Assistant Pinochle Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Contretemps at the Mitre, the Olney Community College Press.

Art and layout by rhoda penmarq (with the assistance of eddie el greco and roy dismas) for rhoda penmarq omniversal™ productions in association with jack webb.

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On Saturday, April 11, he appointed me to come to him in the evening, when he should be at leisure to give me some assistance for the defence of Hastie, the schoolmaster of Campbelltown, for whom I was to appear in the House of Lords. When I came, I found him unwilling to exert himself. I pressed him to write down his thoughts upon the subject. He said, 'There's no occasion for my writing. I'll talk to you.' He was, however, at last prevailed on to dictate to me, while I wrote as follows:—

'The charge is, that he has used immoderate and cruel correction. Correction, in itself, is not cruel; children, being not reasonable, can be governed only by fear.

To impress this fear, is therefore one of the first duties of those who have the care of children. It is the duty of a parent; and has never been thought inconsistent with parental tenderness. It is the duty of a master, who is in his highest exaltation when he is loco parentis. Yet, as good things become evil by excess, correction, by being immoderate, may become cruel.

‘But when is correction immoderate? When it is more frequent or more severe than is required for reformation and instruction. No severity is cruel which obstinacy makes necessary; for the greatest cruelty would be to desist, and leave the scholar too careless for instruction, and too much hardened for reproof.

‘Locke, in his treatise of Education>, mentions a mother, with applause, who whipped an infant eight times before she had subdued it; for had she stopped at the seventh act of correction, her daughter, says he, would have been ruined.

‘The degrees of obstinacy in young minds, are very different; as different must be the degrees of persevering severity. A stubborn scholar must be corrected till he is subdued.

‘The discipline of a school is military. There must be either unbounded licence or absolute authority. The master, who punishes, not only consults the future happiness of him who is the immediate subject of correction; but he propagates obedience through the whole school; and establishes regularity by exemplary justice.

The victorious obstinacy of a single boy would make his future endeavours of reformation or instruction totally ineffectual. 

‘Obstinacy, therefore, must never be victorious. Yet, it is well known, that there sometimes occurs a sullen and hardy resolution, that laughs at all common punishment, and bids defiance to all common degrees of pain. Correction must be proportioned to occasions. The flexible will be reformed by gentle discipline, and the refractory must be subdued by harsher methods. The degrees of scholastick, as of military punishment, no stated rules can ascertain. It must be enforced till it overpowers temptation; till stubbornness becomes flexible, and perverseness regular. 

‘Custom and reason have, indeed, set some bounds to scholastick penalties. The schoolmaster inflicts no capital punishments; nor enforces his edicts by either death or mutilation. The civil law has wisely determined, that a master who strikes at a scholar's eye shall be considered as criminal. But punishments, however severe, that produce no lasting evil, may be just and reasonable, because they may be necessary. Such have been the punishments used by the respondent. No scholar has gone from him either blind or lame, or with any of his limbs or powers injured or impaired. They were irregular, and he punished them: they were obstinate, and he enforced his punishment. But, however provoked, he never exceeded the limits of moderation.'

'This, Sir, (said he,) you are to turn in your mind, and make the best use of it you can in your speech.'

Of our friend, Goldsmith, he said, 'Sir, he is so much afraid of being unnoticed, that he often talks merely lest you should forget that he is in the company.'

BOSWELL. 'Yes, he stands forward.'

JOHNSON. 'True, Sir; but if a man is to stand forward, he should wish to do it not in an aukward posture, not in rags, not so as that he shall only be exposed to ridicule.'

BOSWELL. 'For my part, I like very well to hear honest Goldsmith talk away carelessly.'

JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; but he should not like to hear himself.'

On Tuesday, April 14, the decree of the Court of Session in the schoolmaster's cause was reversed in the House of Lords, after a very eloquent speech by Lord Mansfield, who shewed himself an adept in school discipline, but I thought was too rigorous towards my client.

On the evening of the next day I supped with Dr. Johnson, at the Crown and Anchor tavern, in the Strand, in company with Mr. Langton and his brother-in-law, Lord Binning. I repeated a sentence of Lord Mansfield's speech: 'My Lords, severity is not the way to govern either boys or men.'

'Nay, (said Johnson,) it is the way to govern them. I know not whether it be the way to mend them.'

I talked of the recent expulsion of six students from the University of Oxford, who were methodists and would not desist from publickly praying and exhorting.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, that expulsion was extremely just and proper. What have they to do at an University who are not willing to be taught, but will presume to teach? Where is religion to be learnt but at an University? Sir, they were examined, and found to be mighty ignorant fellows.'

BOSWELL. 'But, was it not hard, Sir, to expel them, for I am told they were good beings?'

JOHNSON. 'I believe they might be good beings; but they were not fit to be in the University of Oxford. A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden.' 

Desirous of calling Johnson forth to talk, and exercise his wit, though I should myself be the object of it, I resolutely ventured to undertake the defence of convivial indulgence in wine, though he was not to-night in the most genial humour. After urging the common plausible topicks, I at last had recourse to the maxim, in vino veritas, a man who is well warmed with wine will speak truth.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that may be an argument for drinking, if you suppose men in general to be liars. But, Sir, I would not keep company with a fellow, who lyes as long as he is sober, and whom you must make drunk before you can get a word of truth out of him.'

Mr. Langton told us he was about to establish a school upon his estate, but it had been suggested to him, that it might have a tendency to make the people less industrious.

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. While learning to read and write is a distinction, the few who have that distinction may be the less inclined to work; but when every body learns to read and write, it is no longer a distinction.

A man who has a laced waistcoat is too fine a man to work; but if every body had laced waistcoats, we should have people working in laced waistcoats. Sir, you must not neglect doing a thing immediately good, from fear of remote evil;— from fear of its being abused. A man who has candles may sit up too late, which he would not do if he had not candles; but nobody will deny that the art of making candles, by which light is continued to us beyond the time that the sun gives us light, is a valuable art, and ought to be preserved.'

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, would it not be better to follow Nature; and go to bed and rise just as nature gives us light or with-holds it?'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; for then we should have no kind of equality in the partition of our time between sleeping and waking. It would be very different in different seasons and in different places. In some of the northern parts of Scotland how little light is there in the depth of winter!'


(To be continued. This series is made possible in part through a generous endowment from the Bob’s Bowery Bar™ Charitable Trust: “Yes, alas, the oppressive dog days of summer are once again upon us, but what better way to beat the heat than to while away a convivial hour or two in the cool and dark confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar – conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery –

with its now completely-repaired central air-conditioning system. And – good news, fellow devotĂ©s of the weed – at Bob’s Bowery bar smoking is not only allowed, but encouraged!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Stories of the Unemployed, broadcast live on Wednesdays at 8pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 91

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 89

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Fantastic Literature, Assistant Canasta Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Dr. Johnson Impersonator, the Olney Community College Press.

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On Thursday, April 9, I called on him to beg he would go and dine with me at the Mitre tavern. He had resolved not to dine at all this day, I know not for what reason; and I was so unwilling to be deprived of his company, that I was content to submit to suffer a want, which was at first somewhat painful, but he soon made me forget it; and a man is always pleased with himself when he finds his intellectual inclinations predominate.

He observed, that to reason philosophically on the nature of prayer, was very unprofitable.

Talking of ghosts, he said, he knew one friend, who was an honest man and a sensible man, who told him he had seen a ghost, old Mr. Edward Cave, the printer at St. John's Gate. He said, Mr. Cave did not like to talk of it, and seemed to be in great horrour whenever it was mentioned.

BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, what did he say was the appearance?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, something of a shadowy being.'

I mentioned witches, and asked him what they properly meant.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, they properly mean those who make use of the aid of evil spirits.'

BOSWELL. 'There is no doubt, Sir, a general report and belief of their having existed.'

JOHNSON. 'You have not only the general report and belief, but you have many voluntary solemn confessions.'

He did not affirm anything positively upon a subject which it is the fashion of the times to laugh at as a matter of absurd credulity. He only seemed willing, as a candid enquirer after truth, however strange and inexplicable, to shew that he understood what might be urged for it. 

On Friday, April 10, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, where we found Dr. Goldsmith.

I started the question whether duelling was consistent with moral duty.

The brave old General fired at this, and said, with a lofty air, 'Undoubtedly a man has a right to defend his honour.'

GOLDSMITH, (turning to me.) 'I ask you first, Sir, what would you do if you were affronted?'

I answered I should think it necessary to fight. 

'Why then, (replied Goldsmith,) that solves the question.'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir, it does not solve the question. It does not follow that what a man would do is therefore right.'

I said, I wished to have it settled, whether duelling was contrary to the laws of Christianity.

Johnson immediately entered on the subject, and treated it in a masterly manner; and so far as I have been able to recollect, his thoughts were these:

'Sir, as men become in a high degree refined, various causes of offence arise; which are considered to be of such importance, that life must be staked to atone for them, though in reality they are not so. A body that has received a very fine polish may be easily hurt.

Before men arrive at this artificial refinement, if one tells his neighbour he lies, his neighbour tells him he lies; if one gives his neighbour a blow, his neighbour gives him a blow: but in a state of highly polished society, an affront is held to be a serious injury. It must therefore be resented, or rather a duel must be fought upon it; as men have agreed to banish from their society one who puts up with an affront without fighting a duel. Now, Sir, it is never unlawful to fight in self-defence. He, then, who fights a duel, does not fight from passion against his antagonist, but out of self-defence; to avert the stigma of the world, and to prevent himself from being driven out of society. I could wish there was not that superfluity of refinement; but while such notions prevail, no doubt a man may lawfully fight a duel.'

Let it be remembered, that this justification is applicable only to the person who receives an affront. All mankind must condemn the aggressor.

The General told us, that when he was a very young man, I think only fifteen, serving under Prince Eugene of Savoy, he was sitting in a company at table with a Prince of Wirtemberg, The Prince took up a glass of wine, and, by a fillip, made some of it fly in Oglethorpe's face. Here was a nice dilemma. To have challenged him instantly, might have fixed a quarrelsome character upon the young soldier: to have taken no notice of it might have been considered as cowardice. Oglethorpe, therefore, keeping his eye upon the Prince, and smiling all the time, as if he took what his Highness had done in jest, said 'Mon Prince,—'(I forget the French words he used, the purport however was.) 'That's a good joke; but we do it much better in England;' and threw a whole glass of wine in the Prince's face. An old General who sat by, said, 'Il a bien fait, mon Prince, vous l'avez commencĂ©,' and thus all ended in good humour.'

Dr. Johnson said, 'Pray, General, give us an account of the siege of Belgrade.' 

Upon which the General, pouring a little wine upon the table, described every thing with a wet finger: 'Here we were, here were the Turks,' &c. &c. 

Johnson listened with the closest attention.

A question was started, how far people who disagree in a capital point can live in friendship together. Johnson said they might. Goldsmith said they could not, as they had not the idem velle atque idem nolle — the same likings and the same aversions.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, you must shun the subject as to which you disagree. For instance, I can live very well with Burke: I love his knowledge, his genius, his diffusion, and affluence of conversation; but I would not talk to him of the Rockingham party.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'But, Sir, when people live together who have something as to which they disagree, and which they want to shun, they will be in the situation mentioned in the story of Bluebeard: "You may look into all the chambers but one." But we should have the greatest inclination to look into that chamber, to talk of that subject.' 

JOHNSON, (with a loud voice.) 'Sir, I am not saying that you could live in friendship with a man from whom you differ as to some point: I am only saying that I could do it.'

The subject of ghosts being introduced, Johnson repeated what he had told me of a friend of his, an honest man, and a man of sense, having asserted to him, that he had seen an apparition. Goldsmith told us, he was assured by his brother, the Reverend Mr. Goldsmith, that he also had seen one. 

General Oglethorpe told us, that Prendergast, an officer in the Duke of Marlborough's army, had mentioned to many of his friends, that he should die on a particular day. That upon that day a battle took place with the French; that after it was over, and Prendergast was still alive, his brother officers, while they were yet in the field, jestingly asked him, where was his prophecy now. Prendergast gravely answered. 'I shall die, notwithstanding what you see.' 

Soon afterwards, there came a shot from a French battery, to which the orders for a cessation of arms had not yet reached, and he was killed upon the spot. 

General Oglethorpe said, he was with Colonel Cecil when Pope came and enquired into the truth of this story, which made a great noise at the time, and was then confirmed by the Colonel.


(To be continued. This illustrated adaptation of Boswell’s Life of Johnson is made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ on the northwest corner of Bleecker Street and the Bowery: “May I recommend one of my favorites from the ever-changing seasonal menu at Bob’s Bowery Bar? ‘Bob’s Bucket o’ Crabs’

– a gallon bucket of extra-spicy hard-shell crabs steamed in Bob’s own basement-brewed house bock and served with your choice of organic corn on the cob or ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ deep-fried groat cakes – sorry, only one bucket per customer!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Tales of of the Little People, broadcast live on Tuesdays at 8pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 90