Sunday, November 13, 2016

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 145

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Illustrated Literature Studies; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Missing Cask of Sack, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, oils, water colors, lithographs by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for the penmarq™ qonsortium, ltd.

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I talked a good deal to him of the celebrated Margaret Caroline Rudd {a notorious forger – Editor}, whom I had visited, induced by the fame of her talents, address, and irresistible power of fascination.

To a lady who disapproved of my visiting her, he said on a former occasion, 'Nay, Madam, Boswell is in the right; I should have visited her myself, were it not that they have now a trick of putting every thing into the news-papers.'

This evening he exclaimed, 'I envy him his acquaintance with Mrs. Rudd.'

I mentioned a scheme which I had of making a tour to the Isle of Man, and giving a full account of it; and that Mr. Burke had playfully suggested as a motto,

'The proper study of mankind is MAN.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you will get more by the book than the jaunt will cost you; so you will have your diversion for nothing, and add to your reputation.'

On the evening of the next day I took leave of him, being to set out for Scotland. I thanked him with great warmth for all his kindness.

'Sir, (said he,) you are very welcome. Nobody repays it with more.'

How very false is the notion which has gone round the world of the rough, and passionate, and harsh manners of this great and good man. That he had occasional sallies of heat of temper, and that he was sometimes, perhaps, too 'easily provoked' by absurdity and folly, and sometimes too desirous of triumph in colloquial contest, must be allowed. The quickness both of his perception and sensibility disposed him to sudden explosions of satire; to which his extraordinary readiness of wit was a strong and almost irresistible incitement.

To adopt one of the finest images in Mr. Home's Douglas,

'On each glance of thought
Decision followed, as the thunderbolt
Pursues the flash!'

I admit that the beadle within him was often so eager to apply the lash, that the Judge had not time to consider the case with sufficient deliberation.

That he was occasionally remarkable for violence of temper may be granted: but let us ascertain the degree, and not let it be supposed that he was in a perpetual rage, and never without a club in his hand, to knock down every one who approached him.

On the contrary, the truth is, that by much the greatest part of his time he was civil, obliging, nay, polite in the true sense of the word; so much so, that many gentlemen, who were long acquainted with him, never received, or even heard a strong expression from him.



'You must not think me uncivil in omitting to answer the letter with which you favoured me some time ago. I imagined it to have been written without Mr. Boswell's knowledge, and therefore supposed the answer to require, what I could not find, a private conveyance.

'The difference with Lord Auchinleck is now over; and since young Alexander has appeared, I hope no more difficulties will arise among you; for I sincerely wish

You will now have Mr. Boswell home; it is well that you have him; he has led a wild life. I have taken him to Lichfield, and he has followed Mr. Thrale to Bath. Pray take care of him, and tame him. The only thing in which I have the honour to agree with you is, in loving him; and while we are so much of a mind in a matter of so much importance, our other quarrels will, I hope, produce no great bitterness. I am, Madam,

'Your most humble servant,


'May 16, 1776.'


'Edinburgh, June 25, 1776.

'You have formerly complained that my letters were too long. There is no danger of that complaint being made at present; for I find it difficult for me to write to you at all.

[Here an account of having been afflicted with a return of melancholy or bad spirits.]

'The boxes of books which you sent to me are arrived; but I have not yet examined the contents.


'Dear Sir,

'These black fits, of which you complain, perhaps hurt your memory as well as your imagination. When did I complain that your letters were too long? Your last letter, after a very long delay, brought very bad news.

[Here a series of reflections upon melancholy, and — what I could not help thinking strangely unreasonable in him who had suffered so much from it himself,— a good deal of severity and reproof, as if it were owing to my own fault, or that I was, perhaps, affecting it from a desire of distinction.] 'Read Cheyne's English Malady; but do not let him teach you a foolish notion that melancholy is a proof of acuteness.

'To hear that you have not opened your boxes of books is very offensive. The examination and arrangement of so many volumes might have afforded you an amusement very seasonable at present, and useful for the whole of life. I am, I confess, very angry that you manage yourself so ill.

'I do not now say any more, than that I am, with great kindness, and sincerity, dear Sir,

'Your humble servant,

'SAM. JOHNSON.' 'July 2, 1776.'



'I make haste to write again, lest my last letter should give you too much pain. If you are really oppressed with overpowering and involuntary melancholy, you are to be pitied rather than reproached.

 * * * * *

'Now, my dear Bozzy, let us have done with quarrels and with censure. Let me know whether I have not sent you a pretty library. There are, perhaps, many books among them which you never need read through; but there are none which it is not proper for you to know, and sometimes to consult.

'Of these books, of which the use is only occasional, it is often sufficient to know the contents, that, when any question arises, you may know where to look for information.

'Langton's lady has brought him a girl, and both are well; I dined with him the other day.

'It vexes me to tell you, that on the evening of the 29th of May I was seized by the gout, and am not quite well. The pain has not been violent, but the weakness and tenderness were very troublesome, and what is said to be very uncommon, it has not alleviated my other disorders. Make use of youth and health while you have them; make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell. I am, my dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate

'July 6, 1776.'


'Edinburgh, July 18, 1776.


'Your letter of the second of this month was rather a harsh medicine; but I was delighted with that spontaneous tenderness, which, a few days afterwards, sent forth such balsam as your next brought me. I found myself for some time so ill that all I could do was to preserve a decent appearance, while all within was weakness and distress.

'Like a reduced garrison that has some spirit left, I hung out flags, and planted all the force I could muster, upon the walls. I am now much better, and I sincerely thank you for your kind attention and friendly counsel.

'Count Manucci came here last week from travelling in Ireland. I have shewn him what civilities I could on his own account, on yours, and on that of Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. He has had a fall from his horse, and been much hurt. I regret this unlucky accident, for he seems to be a very amiable man.'

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part 146

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