Sunday, October 18, 2015

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 97

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D, Assistant Professor of Remedial Creative Writing, Fencing Club Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Murder in the Literary Club, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout by rhoda penmarq (color-coding by eddie el greco; inks and lettering by roy dismas) for rhoda penmarq superlative™ studios, inc.

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On Thursday, April 29, I dined with him at General Oglethorpe's, where were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Dr. Goldsmith, and Mr. Thrale. I was very desirous to get Dr. Johnson absolutely fixed in his resolution to go with me to the Hebrides this year; and I told him that I had received a letter from Dr. Robertson the historian, upon the subject, with which he was much pleased; and now talked in such a manner of his long-intended tour, that I was satisfied he meant to fulfill his engagement.

The custom of eating dogs at Otaheite being mentioned, Goldsmith observed, that this was also a custom in China; that a dog-butcher is as common there as any other butcher; and that when he walks abroad all the dogs fall on him.

JOHNSON. 'That is not owing to his killing dogs, Sir. I remember a butcher at Lichfield, whom a dog that was in the house where I lived, always attacked. It is the smell of carnage which provokes this, let the animals he has killed be what they may.' 

GOLDSMITH. 'Yes, there is a general abhorrence in animals at the signs of massacre. If you put a tub full of blood into a stable, the horses are like to go mad.'

JOHNSON. 'I doubt that.'

GOLDSMITH. 'Nay, Sir, it is a fact well authenticated.'

THRALE. 'You had better prove it before you put it into your book on natural history. You may do it in my stable if you will.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I would not have him prove it. If he is content to take his information from others, he may get through his book with little trouble, and without much endangering his reputation. But if he makes experiments for so comprehensive a book as his, there would be no end to them: his erroneous assertions would then fall upon himself, and he might be blamed for not having made experiments as to every particular.'

The character of Mallet having been introduced, and spoken of slightingly by Goldsmith;

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Mallet had talents enough to keep his literary reputation alive as long as he himself lived; and that, let me tell you, is a good deal.'

GOLDSMITH. 'But I cannot agree that it was so. His literary reputation was dead long before his natural death. I consider an authour's literary reputation to be alive only while his name will ensure a good price for his copy from the booksellers. I will get you (to Johnson,) a hundred guineas for any thing whatever that you shall write, if you put your name to it.'

Dr. Goldsmith's new play, She Stoops to Conquer, being mentioned;

JOHNSON. 'I know of no comedy for many years that has so much exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of comedy — making an audience merry.'

Goldsmith having said, that Garrick's compliment to the Queen, which he introduced into the play of The Chances, which he had altered and revised this year, was mean and gross flattery;—  

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I would not write, I would not give solemnly under my hand, a character beyond what I thought really true; but a speech on the stage, let it flatter ever so extravagantly, is formular. It has always been formular to flatter Kings and Queens; so much so, that even in our church-service we have "our most religious King," used indiscriminately, whoever is King. Nay, they even flatter themselves;— "we have been graciously pleased to grant." And as to meanness, (rising into warmth,) how is it mean in a player,— a showman,— a fellow who exhibits himself for a shilling, to flatter his Queen? The attempt, indeed, was dangerous; for if it had missed, what became of Garrick, and what became of the Queen? As Sir William Temple says of a great General, it is necessary not only that his designs be formed in a masterly manner, but that they should be attended with success. Sir, it is right, at a time when the Royal Family is not generally liked, to let it be seen that the people like at least one of them.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'I do not perceive why the profession of a player should be despised; for the great and ultimate end of all the employments of mankind is to produce amusement. Garrick produces more amusement than any body.' 

BOSWELL. 'You say, Dr. Johnson, that Garrick exhibits himself for a shilling. In this respect he is only on a footing with a lawyer who exhibits himself for his fee, and even will maintain any nonsense or absurdity, if the case requires it. Garrick refuses a play or a part which he does not like; a lawyer never refuses.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, what does this prove? only that a lawyer is worse. Boswell is now like Jack in The Tale of a Tub, who, when he is puzzled by an argument, hangs himself. He thinks I shall cut him down, but I'll let him hang' (laughing vociferously).

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Mr. Boswell thinks that the profession of a lawyer being unquestionably honourable, if he can show the profession of a player to be more honourable, he proves his argument.'

On Friday, April 30, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk's, where were Lord Charlemont, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and some more members of the LITERARY CLUB, whom he had obligingly invited to meet me, as I was this evening to be balloted for as candidate for admission into that distinguished society. Johnson had done me the honour to propose me, and Beauclerk was very zealous for me.

Goldsmith being mentioned;

JOHNSON. 'It is amazing how little Goldsmith knows. He seldom comes where he is not more ignorant than any one else.'

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Yet there is no man whose company is more liked.'

JOHNSON. 'To be sure, Sir. When people find a man of the most distinguished abilities as a writer, their inferiour while he is with them, it must be highly gratifying to them. What Goldsmith comically says of himself is very true,— he always gets the better when he argues alone; meaning, that he is master of a subject in his study, and can write well upon it; but when he comes into company, grows confused, and unable to talk.

Take him as a poet, his Traveller is a very fine performance; ay, and so is his Deserted Village, were it not sometimes too much the echo of his Traveller. Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet,— as a comick writer,— or as an historian, he stands in the first class.' 

BOSWELL. 'An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of this age?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, who are before him?' 

BOSWELL. 'Hume,— Robertson,— Lord Lyttelton.' 

JOHNSON (his antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise). 'I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's History is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple.'

BOSWELL. 'Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose History we find such penetration — such painting?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw, draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces in a history-piece: he imagines an heroic countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, Sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his History. Now Robertson might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, Sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight,— would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please again and again. 

‘I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils:

"Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." 

‘Goldsmith has the art of compiling, and of saying every thing he has to say in a pleasing manner. He is now writing a Natural History and will make it as entertaining as a Persian Tale.'

I cannot dismiss the present topick without observing, that it is probable that Dr. Johnson, who owned that he often 'talked for victory,' rather urged plausible objections to Dr. Robertson's excellent historical works, in the ardour of contest, than expressed his real and decided opinion; for it is not easy to suppose, that he should so widely differ from the rest of the literary world. 

(This week’s chapter was sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at Bleecker and the Bowery: “Whenever I’m in the neighborhood I often find myself drawn helplessly to Bob’s Bowery Bar – not only for the justly-renowned ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, but also for its delightful array of house-pickled delicacies ranged so enticingly in gallon jars on shelves behind the bar:

pig’s trotters, quail’s eggs, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, and – perhaps my personal favorite – the tangy ‘East River’ eel!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Horace P. Sternwall’s Yarns of the Old Ranchero, Wednesdays at 9pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network.)

part 98

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