Sunday, February 28, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 111

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Illustrated Literature Studies; Assistant Women’s Water Polo Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Genteel Rake, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (design, pencils, inks, oils, watercolors and cgi by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas ) for penmarqarble™ productions.

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On Thursday, April 6, I dined with him at Mr. Thomas Davies's, with Mr. Hicky, the painter, and my old acquaintance Mr. Moody, the player. 

Dr. Johnson, as usual, spoke contemptuously of Colley Cibber.

'It is wonderful that a man, who for forty years had lived with the great and the witty, should have acquired so ill the talents of conversation: and he had but half to furnish; for one half of what he said was oaths.'

He, however, allowed considerable merit to some of his comedies, and said there was no reason to believe that the Careless Husband was not written by himself.

Davies said, he was the first dramatick writer who introduced genteel ladies upon the stage. Johnson refuted this observation by instancing several such characters in comedies before his time.

DAVIES (trying to defend himself from a charge of ignorance,) 'I mean genteel moral characters.'

'I think (said Hicky,) gentility and morality are inseparable.'

BOSWELL. 'By no means, Sir. The genteelest characters are often the most immoral. Does not Lord Chesterfield give precepts for uniting wickedness and the graces? A man, indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very genteelly: a man may debauch his friend's wife genteely: he may cheat at cards genteelly.'

HICKY. 'I do not think that is genteel.'

BOSWELL. 'Sir, it may not be like a gentleman, but it may be genteel.'

JOHNSON. 'You are meaning two different things. One means exteriour grace; the other honour. It is certain that a man may be very immoral with exteriour grace. Lovelace, in Clarissa, is a very genteel and a very wicked character. Tom Hervey, who died t'other day, though a vicious man, was one of the genteelest men that ever lived.'

Tom Davies instanced Charles the Second.

JOHNSON, (taking fire at any attack upon that Prince, for whom he had an extraordinary partiality,) 'Charles the Second was licentious in his practice; but he always had a reverence for what was good. Charles the Second knew his people, and rewarded merit. The Church was at no time better filled than in his reign. He was the best King we have had from his time till the reign of his present Majesty, except James the Second, who was a very good King, but unhappily believed that it was necessary for the salvation of his subjects that they should be Roman Catholicks. He had the merit of endeavouring to do what he thought was for the salvation of the souls of his subjects, till he lost a great Empire. We, who thought that we should not be saved if we were Roman Catholicks, had the merit of maintaining our religion, at the experience of submitting ourselves to the government of King William, (for it could not be done otherwise,)— to the government of one of the most worthless scoundrels that ever existed.

No; Charles the Second was not such a man as ——, (naming another King). He did not destroy his father's will. He took money, indeed, from France: but he did not betray those over whom he ruled: He did not let the French fleet pass ours. George the First knew nothing, and desired to know nothing; did nothing, and desired to do nothing: and the only good thing that is told of him is, that he wished to restore the crown to its hereditary successor.'

He roared with prodigious violence against George the Second. When he ceased, Moody interjected, in an Irish tone, and with a comick look, 'Ah! poor George the Second.'


I mentioned that Dr. Thomas Campbell had come from Ireland to London, principally to see Dr. Johnson. He seemed angry at this observation.

DAVIES. 'Why, you know, Sir, there came a man from Spain to see Livy; and Corelli came to England to see Purcell, and when he heard he was dead, went directly back again to Italy.' 

JOHNSON. 'I should not have wished to be dead to disappoint Campbell, had he been so foolish as you represent him; but I should have wished to have been a hundred miles off.'

This was apparently perverse; and I do believe it was not his real way of thinking: he could not but like a man who came so far to see him. He laughed with some complacency, when I told him Campbell's odd expression to me concerning him: 'That having seen such a man, was a thing to talk of a century hence,'— as if he could live so long.

We got into an argument whether the Judges who went to India might with propriety engage in trade. Johnson warmly maintained that they might.

'For why (he urged) should not Judges get riches, as well as those who deserve them less?'

I said, they should have sufficient salaries, and have nothing to take off their attention from the affairs of the publick.

JOHNSON. 'No Judge, Sir, can give his whole attention to his office; and it is very proper that he should employ what time he has to himself, to his own advantage, in the most profitable manner.'

'Then, Sir, (said Davies, who enlivened the dispute by making it somewhat dramatick,) he may become an insurer; and when he is going to the bench, he may be stopped,—" Your Lordship cannot go yet: here is a bunch of invoices: several ships are about to sail."'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you may as well say a Judge should not have a house; for they may come and tell him, "Your Lordship's house is on fire;" and so, instead of minding the business of his Court, he is to be occupied in getting the engine with the greatest speed. There is no end of this. Every Judge who has land, trades to a certain extent in corn or in cattle; and in the land itself, undoubtedly. His steward acts for him, and so do clerks for a great merchant. A Judge may be a farmer; but he is not to geld his own pigs. A Judge may play a little at cards for his amusement; but he is not to play at marbles, or at chuck-farthing in the Piazza.

No, Sir; there is no profession to which a man gives a very great proportion of his time. It is wonderful, when a calculation is made, how little the mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession. No man would be a Judge, upon the condition of being totally a Judge. The best employed lawyer has his mind at work but for a small proportion of his time: a great deal of his occupation is merely mechanical. I once wrote for a magazine: I made a calculation, that if I should write but a page a day, at the same rate, I should, in ten years, write nine volumes in folio, of an ordinary size and print.' 

BOSWELL. 'Such as Carte's History?' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.'

I argued warmly against the Judges trading, and mentioned Hale as an instance of a perfect Judge, who devoted himself entirely to his office. 

JOHNSON. 'Hale, Sir, attended to other things besides law: he left a great estate.' 

BOSWELL. 'That was, because what he got, accumulated without any exertion and anxiety on his part.'

While the dispute went on, Moody once tried to say something upon our side. Tom Davies clapped him on the back, to encourage him. Beauclerk, to whom I mentioned this circumstance, said, 'that he could not conceive a more humiliating situation than to be clapped on the back by Tom Davies.'

JOHNSON. 'Old Gardner the bookseller employed Rolt and Smart to write a monthly miscellany, called The Universal Visitor. There was a formal written contract, which Allen the printer saw.  They were bound to write nothing else; they were to have, I think, a third of the profits of this sixpenny pamphlet; and the contract was for ninety-nine years. I wrote for some months in The Universal Visitor, for poor Smart, while he was mad, not then knowing the terms on which he was engaged to write, and thinking I was doing him good. I hoped his wits would soon return to him. Mine returned to me, and I wrote in The Universal Visitor no longer.'

(This project is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located on the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Allow me to recommend one of my favorite Sunday brunch choices at Bob’s Bowery Bar, the ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down Special’:

a tall stack of ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ proprietary oatmeal groatcakes, blood pudding, homemade scrapple, two cage-free eggs ‘any style’, stewed Jersey tomatoes, and your choice of ‘fresh-baked’ challah or multi-grain toast – wash it all down with a schooner or three of Bob’s justly-renowned basement-brewed house bock and you’ll be ready for the kind of Sunday nap that kings dream of!”

– Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar Poetry Hour, broadcast live from Bob’s Bowery Bar, Mondays at 3pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network. This week’s special guest: Seamas McSeamas, reading selections from his latest volume, Ballads of a Blathering Boyo.)

part 112

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