Monday, February 22, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 110

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 21st Century Graphic Literature Studies; Assistant Women’s Field Hockey Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Poisoned Tea of Mrs. Williams, the Olney Community College Press.

Art and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (design, pencils, inks, oils, and gouache by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas ) for penmarqtronic™ productions.

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I visited him by appointment in the evening, and we drank tea with Mrs. Williams. He told me that he had been in the company of a gentleman whose extraordinary travels had been much the subject of conversation. But I found that he had not listened to him with that full confidence, without which there is little satisfaction in the society of travellers. I was curious to hear what opinion so able a judge as Johnson had formed of his abilities, and I asked if he was not a man of sense. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he is not a distinct relater; and I should say, he is neither abounding nor deficient in sense. I did not perceive any superiority of understanding.'

BOSWELL. 'But will you not allow him a nobleness of resolution, in penetrating into distant regions?'

JOHNSON. 'That, Sir, is not to the present purpose. We are talking of his sense. A fighting cock has a nobleness of resolution.'

Next day, Sunday, April 2, I dined with him at Mr. Hoole's. We talked of Pope. 

JOHNSON. 'He wrote his Dunciad for fame. That was his primary motive. Had it not been for that, the dunces might have railed against him till they were weary, without his troubling himself about them. He delighted to vex them, no doubt; but he had more delight in seeing how well he could vex them.'

BOSWELL. 'Surely, Sir, Mr. Mason's Elfrida is a fine Poem: at least you will allow there are some good passages in it.'

JOHNSON. 'There are now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner.'

His Taxation no Tyranny being mentioned, he said, 'I think I have not been attacked enough for it. Attack is the re-action; I never think I have hit hard, unless it rebounds.'

BOSWELL. 'I don't know, Sir, what you would be at. Five or six shots of small arms in every newspaper, and repeated cannonading in pamphlets, might, I think, satisfy you. But, Sir, you'll never make out this match, of which we have talked, with a certain, political lady, since you are so severe against her principles.'

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, I have the better chance for that. She is like the Amazons of old; she must be courted by the sword. But I have not been severe upon her.'

BOSWELL. 'Yes, Sir, you have made her ridiculous.'

JOHNSON. 'That was already done, Sir. To endeavour to make her ridiculous, is like blacking the chimney.'

I talked of the chearfulness of Fleet-street, owing to the constant quick succession of people which we perceive passing through it.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Fleet-street has a very animated appearance; but I think the full tide of human existence is at Charing-cross.'

He made the common remark on the unhappiness which men who have led a busy life experience, when they retire in expectation of enjoying themselves at ease, and that they generally languish for want of their habitual occupation, and wish to return to it. He mentioned as strong an instance of this as can well be imagined.

'An eminent tallow-chandler in London, who had acquired a considerable fortune, gave up the trade in favour of his foreman, and went to live at a country-house near town. He soon grew weary, and paid frequent visits to his old shop, where he desired they might let him know their melting-days, and he would come and assist them; which he accordingly did. Here, Sir, was a man, to whom the most disgusting circumstance in the business to which he had been used was a relief from idleness.'

On Wednesday, April 5, I dined with him at Messieurs Dilly's, with Mr. John Scott of Amwell, the Quaker, Mr. Langton, Mr. Miller, (now Sir John,) and Dr. Thomas Campbell, an Irish Clergyman, whom I took the liberty of inviting to Mr. Dilly's table, having seen him at Mr. Thrale's, and been told that he had come to England chiefly with a view to see Dr. Johnson, for whom he entertained the highest veneration.

We talked of publick speaking.—

JOHNSON. 'We must not estimate a man's powers by his being able or not able to deliver his sentiments in publick. Isaac Hawkins Browne, one of the first wits of this country, got into Parliament, and never opened his mouth. For my own part, I think it is more disgraceful never to try to speak, than to try it and fail; as it is more disgraceful not to fight, than to fight and be beaten.'

This argument appeared to me fallacious; for if a man has not spoken, it may be said that he would have done very well if he had tried; whereas, if he has tried and failed, there is nothing to be said for him.

'Why then, (I asked,) is it thought disgraceful for a man not to fight, and not disgraceful not to speak in publick?'

JOHNSON. 'Because there may be other reasons for a man's not speaking in publick than want of resolution: he may have nothing to say, (laughing.) Whereas, Sir, you know courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.'

He observed, that 'the statutes against bribery were intended to prevent upstarts with money from getting into Parliament;' adding, that 'if he were a gentleman of landed property, he would turn out all his tenants who did not vote for the candidate whom he supported.'

LANGTON. 'Would not that, Sir, be checking the freedom of election?'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, the law does not mean that the privilege of voting should be independent of old family interest; of the permanent property of the country.'

(This series is made possible in part through a a continuing grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar Foundation for the Cybernetic Arts: “Are you working a dreary job for low pay, or struggling to make ends meet on unemployment compensation or Welfare? Why not cash your meager checks at absolutely no fee at Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at Bleecker and the Bowery. Proper I.D. required, but there is no obligation to order anything at all on the bill of fare, although I should be remiss if I did not recommend Bob’s “Bowery Bum Meal”,

which for a mere buck will get you a filling hearty bowl of ‘beans ‘n’ backfat’ served with Uneeda biscuits and a pint of Bob’s justly-famed basement brewed house bock!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents the Philip Morris Commander Hot Jazz Showcase, broadcast live from the Prince Hal Room of the Hotel St Crispian, featuring Tony Winston & his Winstonians with Shirley De LaSalle and the Betty Baxter Dancers, Mondays at 8pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.)

part 111

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