Sunday, February 14, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 109

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Comic Book Studies; Assistant Women’s Track and Field Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Body of Wits, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, cgi, and colorization by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarq/hi-tone™ productions.

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I met him at Drury-lane play-house in the evening. Sir Joshua Reynolds, at Mrs. Abington's request, had promised to bring a body of wits to her benefit; and having secured forty places in the front boxes, had done me the honour to put me in the group. Johnson sat on the seat directly behind me; and as he could neither see nor hear at such a distance from the stage, he was wrapped up in grave abstraction, and seemed quite a cloud, amidst all the sunshine of glitter and gaiety.

I wondered at his patience in sitting out a play of five acts, and a farce of two. He said very little; but after the prologue to Bon Ton had been spoken, which he could hear pretty well from the more slow and distinct utterance, he talked of prologue-writing, and observed,

'Dryden has written prologues superiour to any that David Garrick has written; but David Garrick has written more good prologues than Dryden has done. It is wonderful that he has been able to write such variety of them.'

At Mr. Beauclerk's, where I supped, was Mr. Garrick, whom I made happy with Johnson's praise of his prologues. Garrick, however, when he pleased, could imitate Johnson very exactly; for that great actor, with his distinguished powers of expression which were so universally admired, possessed also an admirable talent of mimickry. He was always jealous that Johnson spoke lightly of him. I recollect his exhibiting him to me one day, saying, 'Davy has some convivial pleasantry about him, but 'tis a futile fellow;' which he uttered perfectly with the tone and air of Johnson.

Next day I dined with Johnson at Mr. Thrale's. He attacked Gray, calling him 'a dull fellow.'

BOSWELL. 'I understand he was reserved, and might appear dull in company; but surely he was not dull in poetry.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull every where. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him GREAT.'

He then repeated some ludicrous lines, which have escaped my memory.

'No, Sir, there are but two good stanzas in Gray's poetry, which are in his Elegy in a Country Church-yard.'

He then repeated the stanza, 'For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey,' &c. 

He added, 'The other stanza I forget.'

A young lady who had married a man much her inferiour in rank being mentioned, a question arose how a woman's relations should behave to her in such a situation. While I contended that she ought to be treated with an inflexible steadiness of displeasure, Mrs. Thrale was all for mildness and forgiveness, and, according to the vulgar phrase, 'making the best of a bad bargain.'

JOHNSON. 'Madam, we must distinguish. Were I a man of rank, I would not let a daughter starve who had made a mean marriage; but having voluntarily degraded herself from the station which she was originally entitled to hold, I would support her only in that which she herself had chosen; and would not put her on a level with my other daughters. You are to consider, Madam, that it is our duty to maintain the subordination of civilized society; and when there is a gross and shameful deviation from rank, it should be punished so as to deter others from the same perversion.'

On Friday, March 31, I supped with him and some friends at a tavern. One of the company attempted, with too much forwardness, to rally him on his late appearance at the theatre; but had reason to repent of his temerity. 

'Why, Sir , did you go to Mrs. Abington's benefit? Did you see?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 

'Did you hear?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 

'Why then, Sir, did you go?' 

JOHNSON. 'Because, Sir, she is a favourite of the publick; and when the publick cares the thousandth part for you that it does for her, I will go to your benefit too.'

Next morning I won a small bet from lady Diana Beauclerk, by asking him as to one of his particularities, which her Ladyship laid I durst not do. It seems he had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into the drink which he made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it to me, and seemed to think that he had a strange unwillingness to be discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this was the bold question to be put. I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding night, some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces.

'O, Sir, (said I,) I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you put into your pocket at the Club.'

JOHNSON. 'I have a great love for them.'

BOSWELL. 'And pray, Sir, what do you do with them? You scrape them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?'

JOHNSON. 'Let them dry, Sir.'

BOSWELL. 'And what next?'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.'

BOSWELL. 'Then the world must be left in the dark. It must be said (assuming a mock solemnity,) he scraped them, and let them dry, but what he did with them next, he never could be prevailed upon to tell.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically:— he could not be prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.'

He had this morning received his Diploma as Doctor of Laws from the University of Oxford. He did not vaunt of his new dignity, but I understood he was highly pleased with it.

I observed to him that there were very few of his friends so accurate as that I could venture to put down in writing what they told me as his sayings.

JOHNSON. 'Why should you write down my sayings?'

BOSWELL. 'I write them when they are good.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, you may as well write down the sayings of any one else that are good.'

But where, I might with great propriety have added, can I find such?


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part 110

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