Sunday, November 6, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 144

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century Cisgender Male-Bonding Studies; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Return of the Drunken Lord, the Olney Community College Press.

Art and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, oils, collages by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq studios™/bobsbowerybar™ co-production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

Foote {Samuel Foote, an actor, wit, and playwright – Editor} being mentioned, Johnson said. 'He is not a good mimick.'

One of the company added, 'A merry Andrew, a buffoon.'

JOHNSON. 'But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he's gone, Sir, when you think you have got him — like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is under many restraints from which Foote is free.'

WILKES. 'Garrick's wit is more like Lord Chesterfield's.'

JOHNSON. 'The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir, he was irresistible. 

‘He upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small-beer brewer, and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small-beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of offending their master, who they knew liked Foote much as a companion.

At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote's small-beer no longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote's stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs, he told them, "This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small-beer."'

Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this.

WILKES. 'Garrick would have made the small-beer still smaller. He is now leaving the stage; but he will play Scrub {a servant in George Farquhar’s comedy The Beaux' Stratagem – Editor} all his life.'

I knew that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as Garrick once said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, 'I have heard Garrick is liberal.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, I know that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have money, he probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he could; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him.'

Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information for biography, Johnson told us, 'When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the Life of Dryden, and in order to get materials, I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old Swinney and old Cibber.

‘Swinney's information was no more than this, "That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter-chair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-chair."

‘Cibber could tell no more but "That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's."

‘You are to consider that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other.'

BOSWELL. 'Yet Cibber was a man of observation?'

JOHNSON. 'I think not.'

BOSWELL. 'You will allow his Apology to be well done.'

JOHNSON. 'Very well done, to be sure, Sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:

"Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand."

BOSWELL. 'And his plays are good.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes; but that was his trade; l'esprit du corps; he had been all his life among players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then shewed me an Ode of his own, with an absurd couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle's wing. I told him that when the ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real.'

Mr. Wilkes remarked, that 'among all the bold flights of Shakspeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnamwood march to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland! ha! ha! ha!'

And he also observed, that 'the clannish slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of "The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty," being worshipped in all hilly countries.'

'When I was at Inverary (said he,) on a visit to my old friend, Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, "It is then, gentlemen, truely lucky for me; for if I had displeased the Duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to him in a charger.’

Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's Art of Poetry, 'Difficile est propriè communia dicere.'

Mr. Wilkes gave the interpretation thus: 'It is difficult to speak with propriety of common things; as, if a poet had to speak of Queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the vulgarity of cups and saucers.'

JOHNSON. 'He means that it is difficult to appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all mankind, as Homer has done.'

Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it.

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.'

BOSWELL. 'Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.'

JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.'

All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him; and that a seizure of the person, before judgement is obtained, can take place only, if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fugae:

WILKES. 'That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation.'

JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes) 'You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell and shewed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.'

WILKES. 'Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me.'

JOHNSON, (smiling) 'And we ashamed of him.'

They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story of his asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, 'You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced.'

After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady, well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. Amidst some patriotick groans, somebody (I think the Alderman) said, 'Poor old England is lost.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that Old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it.'

Mr. Wilkes held a candle to shew a fine print of a beautiful female figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour of the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He afterwards, in a conversation with me, waggishly insisted, that all the time Johnson shewed visible signs of a fervent admiration of the corresponding charms of the fair Quaker.

This record, though by no means so perfect as I could wish, will serve to give a notion of a very curious interview, which was not only pleasing at the time, but had the agreeable and benignant effect of reconciling any animosity, and sweetening any acidity, which in the various bustle of political contest, had been produced in the minds of two men, who though widely different, had so many things in common — classical learning, modern literature, wit, and humour, and ready repartee — that it would have been much to be regretted if they had been for ever at a distance from each other. 

Mr. Burke gave me much credit for this successful negociation; and pleasantly said, that 'there was nothing to equal it in the whole history of the Corps Diplomatique'.

I attended Dr. Johnson home, and had the satisfaction to hear him tell Mrs . Williams how much he had been pleased with Mr. Wilkes's company, and what an agreeable day he had passed.

classix comix™ is underwritten by the Bob’s Bowery Bar Endowment for the Impecuniary Arts: “I know of no better way to dispel the debilitating effects of a late Saturday night than to stagger over to Bob’s Bowery Bar and order the ‘Mom’s Fry-Up’ brunch special: a massive plate loaded with fried scrapple, blood pudding, head cheese, six thick rashers of home-cured bacon, breaded mushroom ‘n’ onion slices, home fries, and three free-range eggs ‘any style’

– wash it all down with a ‘bottomless cup’ of java and a schooner or two of Bob’s basement-brewed house bock and you’ll be, as my young friends say, ‘good to go’!” – Horace P. Sternwall, host of The Bob’s Bowery Bar/Philip Morris Commander Election Day Special, Tuesday at 8pm (EST), broadcast live from the Prince Hal Room of the Hotel St Crispian, featuring Joe E. Lewis, Lord Buckley, Oscar Levant, Ayn Rand, and Kitty Carlisle; special musical guests: Tony Winston & his Winstonians, featuring Shirley De LaSalle, with the lovely Betty Baxter Dancers.)

part 145

No comments:

Post a Comment