Sunday, May 15, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 121

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Remedial English Reading Skills, Assistant Women’s Rowing Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Francis Solves a Murder, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks and oils by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarqroniq™ studios.

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'Sat. Oct. 28. I visited the Grand Chartreux built by St. Louis.— It is built for forty, but contains only twenty-four, and will not maintain more. The friar that spoke to us had a pretty apartment.— His garden was neat; he gave me grapes.— We saw the Place de Victoire, with the statues of the King, and the captive nations.

We saw the palace and gardens of Luxembourg, but the gallery was shut.— We climbed to the top stairs.— Called on the Prior, and found him in bed.

Sunday, Oct. 29. We saw the boarding-school.— The Enfants trouvés.— A room with about eighty-six children in cradles, as sweet as a parlour.— They lose a third; take in to perhaps more than seven; put them to trades; pin to them the papers sent with them.

'Went to St. Eustatia; saw an innumerable company of girls catechised, in many bodies, perhaps 100 to a catechist.— Boys taught at one time, girls at another.— The sermon; the preacher wears a cap, which he takes off at the name:— his action uniform, not very violent.

'Oct. 31. Tuesday. I lived at the Benedictines; meagre day; soup meagre, herrings, eels, both with sauce; fryed fish; lentils, tasteless in themselves. I parted very tenderly from the Prior and Friar Wilkes.

'Nov. 1. Wednesday. We left Paris.— St. Denis, a large town; the church not very large, but the middle aisle is very lofty and aweful. The organ is higher above the pavement than any I have ever seen.— The gates are of brass.— On the middle gate is the history of our Lord.— The painted windows are historical, and said to be eminently beautiful.

'Nov. 2. Thursday. We came this day to Chantilly, a seat belonging to the Prince of Condé.— This place is eminently beautified by all varieties of waters starting up in fountains, falling in cascades, running in streams, and spread in lakes.—The water seems to be too near the house.— All this water is brought from a source or river three leagues off, by an artificial canal, which for one league is carried under ground.— The house is magnificent.— The cabinet seems well stocked: what I remember was, the jaws of a hippopotamus, and a young hippopotamus preserved, which, however, is so small, that I doubt its reality.—

It seems too hairy for an abortion, and too small for a mature birth. — Nothing was in spirits; all was dry.— The dog, the deer; the ant-bear with long snout.— The toucan, long broad beak.— The stables were of very great length.— The kennel had no scents.— The Menagerie had few animals. Two faussans, or Brasilian weasels, spotted, very wild.— There is a forest, and, I think, a park.— I walked till I was very weary, and next morning felt my feet battered, and with pains in the toes.

Here his Journal ends abruptly. Whether he wrote any more after this time, I know not; but probably not much, as he arrived in England about the 12th of November. These short notes of his tour, though they may seem minute taken singly, make together a considerable mass of information, and exhibit such an ardour of enquiry and acuteness of examination, as, I believe, are found in but few travellers, especially at an advanced age. They completely refute the idle notion which has been propagated, that he could not see; and, if he had taken the trouble to revise and digest them, he undoubtedly could have expanded them into a very entertaining narrative.

When I met him in London the following year, the account which he gave me of his French tour, was, 'Sir, I have seen all the visibilities of Paris, and around it; but to have formed an acquaintance with the people there, would have required more time than I could stay. I was just beginning to creep into acquaintance by means of Colonel Drumgold, a very high man, Sir, head of L'École Militaire, a most complete character, for he had first been a professor of rhetorick, and then became a soldier. And, Sir, I was very kindly treated by the English Benedictines, and have a cell appropriated to me in their convent.'

He observed, 'The great in France live very magnificently, but the rest very miserably. There is no happy middle state as in England. The shops of Paris are mean; the meat in the markets is such as would be sent to a gaol in England: and Mr. Thrale justly observed, that the cookery of the French was forced upon them by necessity; for they could not eat their meat, unless they added some taste to it. The French are an indelicate people; they will spit upon any place. At Madame ——' s, a literary lady of rank, the footman took the sugar in his fingers, and threw it into my coffee. I was going to put it aside; but hearing it was made on purpose for me, I e'en tasted Tom's fingers.

The same lady would needs make tea à l'Angloise. The spout of the tea-pot did not pour freely; she bade the footman blow into it. France is worse than Scotland in every thing but climate. Nature has done more for the French; but they have done less for themselves than the Scotch have done.'

It happened that Foote was at Paris at the same time with Dr. Johnson, and his description of my friend while there, was abundantly ludicrous. He told me, that the French were quite astonished at his figure and manner, and at his dress, which he obstinately continued exactly as in London;— his brown clothes, black stockings, and plain shirt.

He mentioned, that an Irish gentleman said to Johnson, 'Sir, you have not seen the best French players.'

JOHNSON. 'Players, Sir! I look on them as no better than creatures set upon tables and joint-stools to make faces and produce laughter, like dancing dogs.'

'But, Sir, you will allow that some players are better than others?'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, as some dogs dance better than others.'

While Johnson was in France, he was generally very resolute in speaking Latin. It was a maxim with him that a man should not let himself down, by speaking a language which he speaks imperfectly. Indeed, we must have often observed how inferiour, how much like a child a man appears, who speaks a broken tongue. When Sir Joshua Reynolds, at one of the dinners of the Royal Academy, presented him to a Frenchman of great distinction, he would not deign to speak French, but talked Latin, though his Excellency did not understand it, owing, perhaps, to Johnson's English pronunciation: yet upon another occasion he was observed to speak French to a Frenchman of high rank, who spoke English; and being asked the reason, with some  expression of surprise,— he answered, 'because I think my French is as good as his English.'

Though Johnson understood French perfectly, he could not speak it readily, as I have observed at his first interview with General Paoli, in 1769.

Here let me not forget a curious anecdote, as related to me by Mr. Beauclerk, which I shall endeavour to exhibit as well as I can in that gentleman's lively manner; and in justice to him it is proper to add, that Dr. Johnson told me I might rely both on the correctness of his memory, and the fidelity of his narrative.

'When Madame de Boufflers was first in England, (said Beauclerk,) she was desirous to see Johnson. I accordingly went with her to his chambers in the Temple, where she was entertained with his conversation for some time. When our visit was over, she and I left him, and were got into Inner Temple-lane, when all at once I heard a noise like thunder. This was occasioned by Johnson, who it seems, upon a little recollection, had taken it into his head that he ought to have done the honours of his literary residence to a foreign lady of quality, and eager to shew himself a man of gallantry, was hurrying down the stair-case in violent agitation.

He overtook us before we reached the Temple-gate, and brushing in between me and Madame de Boufflers, seized her hand, and conducted her to her coach. His dress was a rusty brown morning suit, a pair of old shoes by way of slippers, a little shrivelled wig sticking on the top of his head, and the sleeves of his shirt and the knees of his breeches hanging loose. A considerable crowd of people gathered round, and were not a little struck by this singular appearance.'

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part 122

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