Sunday, June 19, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 125

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Johnsoniana Studies, Assistant Women’s Wrestling Team Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Missing Case of Scotch, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction and design by rhoda penmarq (computer-generated imagery and certain free-hand drawings by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for the penmarq qonsortium™.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

He thus discoursed upon supposed obligation in settling estates:

—'Where a man gets the unlimited property of an estate, there is no obligation upon him in justice to leave it to one person rather than to another. There is a motive of preference from kindness, and this kindness is generally entertained for the nearest relation. If I owe a particular man a sum of money, I am obliged to let that man have the next money I get, and cannot in justice let another have it: but if I owe money to no man, I may dispose of what I get as I please. There is not a debitum justitice to a man's next heir; there is only a debitum caritatis. It is plain, then, that I have morally a choice, according to my liking. If I have a brother in want, he has a claim from affection to my assistance; but if I have also a brother in want, whom I like better, he has a preferable claim.'

We got into a boat to cross over to Black-friars; and as we moved along the Thames, I talked to him of a little volume, which, altogether unknown to him, was advertised to be published in a few days, under the title of Johnsoniana, or Bon-Mots of Dr. Johnson.

JOHNSON, 'Sir, it is a mighty impudent thing.'

BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, could you have no redress if you were to prosecute a publisher for bringing out, under your name, what you never said, and ascribing to you dull stupid nonsense, or making you swear profanely, as many ignorant relaters of your bon-mots do?'

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; there will always be some truth mixed with the falsehood, and how can it be ascertained how much is true and how much is false? Besides, Sir, what damages would a jury give me for having been represented as swearing?'

BOSWELL. 'I think, Sir, you should at least disavow such a publication, because the world and posterity might with much plausible foundation say, "Here is a volume which was publickly advertised and came out in Dr. Johnson's own time, and, by his silence, was admitted by him to be genuine."'

JOHNSON. 'I shall give myself no trouble about the matter.'

He was, perhaps, above suffering from such spurious publications; but I could not help thinking, that many men would be much injured in their reputation, by having absurd and vicious sayings imputed to them; and that redress ought in such cases to be given.

He said, 'The value of every story depends on its being true. A story is a picture either of an individual or of human nature in general: if it be false, it is a picture of nothing. For instance: suppose a man should tell that Johnson, before setting out for Italy, as he had to cross the Alps, sat down to make himself wings. This many people would believe; but it would be a picture of nothing.'

I observed, that Foote entertained us with stories which were not true; but that, indeed, it was properly not as narratives that Foote's stories pleased us, but as collections of ludicrous images.

JOHNSON. 'Foote is quite impartial, for he tells lies of every body.'

The importance of strict and scrupulous veracity cannot be too often inculcated. Johnson was known to be so rigidly attentive to it, that even in his common conversation the slightest circumstance was mentioned with exact precision. The knowledge of his having such a principle and habit made his friends have a perfect reliance on the truth of every thing that he told, however it might have been doubted if told by many others. As an instance of this, I may mention an odd incident which he related as having happened to him one night in Fleet-street.

'A gentlewoman (said he) begged I would give her my arm to assist her in crossing the street, which I accordingly did; upon which she offered me a shilling, supposing me to be the watchman. I perceived that she was somewhat in liquor.'

This, if told by most people, would have been thought an invention; when told by Johnson, it was believed by his friends as much as if they had seen what passed.

We landed at the Temple-stairs, where we parted.

I found him in the evening in Mrs. Williams's room. We talked of religious orders.

He said, 'It is as unreasonable for a man to go into a Carthusian convent for fear of being immoral, as for a man to cut off his hands for fear he should steal. There is, indeed, great resolution in the immediate act of dismembering himself; but when that is once done, he has no longer any merit: for though it is out of his power to steal, yet he may all his life be a thief in his heart. So when a man has once become a Carthusian, he is obliged to continue so, whether he chooses it or not. Their silence, too, is absurd. We read in the Gospel of the apostles being sent to preach, but not to hold their tongues. All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.

‘I said to the Lady Abbess of a convent, "Madam, you are here, not for the love of virtue, but the fear of vice."

‘She said, "She should remember this as long as she lived."’

I thought it hard to give her this view of her situation, when she could not help it; and, indeed, I wondered at the whole of what he now said; because, both in his Rambler and Idler, he treats religious austerities with much solemnity of respect.

Finding him still persevering in his abstinence from wine, I ventured to speak to him of it.

— JOHNSON. 'Sir, I have no objection to a man's drinking wine, if he can do it in moderation. I found myself apt to go to excess in it, and therefore, after having been for some time without it, on account of illness, I thought it better not to return to it. Every man is to judge for himself, according to the effects which he experiences. One of the fathers tells us, he found fasting made him so peevish that he did not practise it.'


(classix comix™ is made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar: “Finding yourself on a pinched budget? Join the club! But don’t despair, because you can still enjoy a filling and nutritious meal at a reasonable price at Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery! May I recommend a personal favorite: ‘Bob’s Mom’s Fatback ‘n’ Beans’ served with your choice of Uneeda Biscuits or Ritz Crackers, a ‘steal’ at only .75¢ a bowl!”

– Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents the Philip Morris Commander Sunday Matinée, broadcast live Sundays at 2pm (EST) exclusively on the Dumont Television Network; this week’s play: A Ha’p’orth of Pity by Heloise Petersborough St. Stephen, directed by Angus Strongbow, with Hyacinth Wilde, Lawrence Harvey, and Sir Cedrick Hardwick, co-starring Miss Kitty Carlisle as “The Mayoress”.)

part 126

No comments:

Post a Comment