Sunday, September 17, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 186

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of 18th Century Alocholic Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Purloined Hogshead, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, colorization by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqdetriomphe™ production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

At General Paoli's were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Marchese Gherardi of Lombardy, and Mr. John Spottiswoode the younger, of Spottiswoode, the solicitor. At this time fears of an invasion were circulated; to obviate which, Mr. Spottiswoode observed, that Mr. Fraser the engineer, who had lately come from Dunkirk, said, that the French had the same fears of us. 

JOHNSON. 'It is thus that mutual cowardice keeps us in peace. Were one half of mankind brave, and one half cowards, the brave would be always beating the cowards. Were all brave, they would lead a very uneasy life; all would be continually fighting: but being all cowards, we go on very well.'

We talked of drinking wine. 

JOHNSON. 'I require wine, only when I am alone. I have then often wished for it, and often taken it.' 

SPOTTISWOODE. 'What, by way of a companion, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'To get rid of myself, to send myself away. Wine gives great pleasure; and every pleasure is of itself a good. It is a good, unless counterbalanced by evil. A man may have a strong reason not to drink wine; and that may be greater than the pleasure. Wine makes a man better pleased with himself. I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others. Sometimes it does. But the danger is, that while a man grows better pleased with himself, he may be growing less pleasing to others.

Wine gives a man nothing. It neither gives him knowledge nor wit; it only animates a man, and enables him to bring out what a dread of the company has repressed. It only puts in motion what has been locked up in frost. But this may be good, or it may be bad.' 

SPOTTISWOODE. 'So, Sir, wine is a key which opens a box; but this box may be either full or empty.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, conversation is the key: wine is a pick-lock, which forces open the box and injures it. A man should cultivate his mind so as to have that confidence and readiness without wine, which wine gives.' 

BOSWELL. 'The great difficulty of resisting wine is from benevolence. For instance, a good worthy man asks you to taste his wine, which he has had twenty years in his cellar.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, all this notion about benevolence arises from a man's imagining himself to be of more importance to others, than he really is. They don't care a farthing whether he drinks wine or not.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Yes, they do for the time.' 

JOHNSON. 'For the time!— If they care this minute, they forget it the next. And as for the good worthy man; how do you know he is good and worthy? No good and worthy man will insist upon another man's drinking wine. As to the wine twenty years in the cellar,— of ten men, three say this, merely because they must say something;— three are telling a lie, when they say they have had the wine twenty years;— three would rather save the wine;— one, perhaps, cares. I allow it is something to please one's company: and people are always pleased with those who partake pleasure with them. But after a man has brought himself to relinquish the great personal pleasure which arises from drinking wine, any other consideration is a trifle. To please others by drinking wine, is something only, if there be nothing against it. I should, however, be sorry to offend worthy men:—

"Curst be the verse, how well so e'er it flow,  That tends to make one worthy man my foe."'

'But let us consider what a sad thing it would be, if we were obliged to drink or do any thing else that may happen to be agreeable to the company where we are.' 

LANGTON. 'By the same rule you must join with a gang of cut-purses.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir: but yet we must do justice to wine; we must allow it the power it possesses. To make a man pleased with himself, let me tell you, is doing a very great thing;

"Si patriæ volumus, si Nobis vivere cari. {“if we desire to be of use to our country or dear to ourselves” – Editor}'"

I was at this time myself a water-drinker, upon trial, by Johnson's recommendation. 

JOHNSON. 'Boswell is a bolder combatant than Sir Joshua: he argues for wine without the help of wine; but Sir Joshua with it.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'But to please one's company is a strong motive.' 

JOHNSON. (who, from drinking only water, supposed every body who drank wine to be elevated,) 'I won't argue any more with you, Sir. You are too far gone.'  

SIR JOSHUA. 'I should have thought so indeed, Sir, had I made such a speech as you have now done.' 

JOHNSON (drawing himself in, and, I really thought blushing,) 'Nay, don't be angry. I did not mean to offend you.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'At first the taste of wine was disagreeable to me; but I brought myself to drink it, that I might be like other people. The pleasure of drinking wine is so connected with pleasing your company, that altogether there is something of social goodness in it.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, this is only saying the same thing over again.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'No, this is new.' 

JOHNSON. 'You put it in new words, but it is an old thought. This is one of the disadvantages of wine. It makes a man mistake words for thoughts.' 

BOSWELL. 'I think it is a new thought; at least, it is in a new attitude.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, it is only in a new coat; or an old coat with a new facing. (Then laughing heartily) It is the old dog in a new doublet.— An extraordinary instance however may occur where a man's patron will do nothing for him, unless he will drink: there may be a good reason for drinking.'

I mentioned a nobleman, who I believed was really uneasy if his company would not drink hard. 

JOHNSON. 'That is from having had people about him whom he has been accustomed to command.' 

BOSWELL. 'Supposing I should be tête-à-tête with him at table.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no more reason for your drinking with him, than his being sober with you.' 

BOSWELL. 'Why that is true; for it would do him less hurt to be sober, than it would do me to get drunk.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; and from what I have heard of him, one would not wish to sacrifice himself to such a man. If he must always have somebody to drink with him, he should buy a slave, and then he would be sure to have it. They who submit to drink as another pleases, make themselves his slaves.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, you will surely make allowance for the duty of hospitality. A gentleman who loves drinking, comes to visit me.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, a man knows whom he visits; he comes to the table of a sober man.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, you and I should not have been so well received in the Highlands and Hebrides, if I had not drunk with our worthy friends. Had I drunk water only as you did, they would not have been so cordial.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir William Temple mentions that in his travels through the Netherlands he had two or three gentlemen with him; and when a bumper was necessary, he put it on them. Were I to travel again through the islands, I would have Sir Joshua with me to take the bumpers.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, let me put a case. Suppose Sir Joshua should take a jaunt into Scotland; he does me the honour to pay me a visit at my house in the country; I am overjoyed at seeing him; we are quite by ourselves, shall I unsociably and churlishly let him sit drinking by himself? No, no, my dear Sir Joshua, you shall not be treated so, I will take a bottle with you.'

The celebrated Mrs. Rudd being mentioned. 

JOHNSON. 'Fifteen years ago I should have gone to see her.'

"(classix comix™ is made possible in part through the continuing support of the Bob’s Bowery Bar Foundation for Illustrated Literature: “I should like to remind our viewers that every Wednesday night is ‘Ring-a-Ding-Wings Night’ at my favorite watering hole Bob’s Bowery Bar, featuring ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ fat juicy free-range backyard chicken wings, slathered in our house ‘Hellfire Sauce’, stir-fried to a cripsy turn and served with garden-fresh carrots ‘n’ celery – at the low, low price of two bits a wing! {Offer good while supplies last.} Goes swell with Bob’s world-renowned basement-brewed house bock, but, gee, what doesn’t?”

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 185

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of 18th Century Oral History Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Importunate Guttersnipe, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, automotive spraypaints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq™/sternwall™ joint.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

We went to the drawing-room, where was a considerable increase of company. Several of us got round Dr. Johnson, and complained that he would not give us an exact catalogue of his works, that there might be a complete edition. He smiled, and evaded our entreaties. 

That he intended to do it, I have no doubt, because I have heard him say so; and I have in my possession an imperfect list, fairly written out, which he entitles Historia Studiorum. I once got from one of his friends a list, which there was pretty good reason to suppose was accurate, for it was written down in his presence by this friend, who enumerated each article aloud, and had some of them mentioned to him by Mr. Levett, in concert with whom it was made out; and Johnson, who heard all this, did not contradict it.

But when I shewed a copy of this list to him, and mentioned the evidence for its exactness, he laughed, and said, 'I was willing to let them go on as they pleased, and never interfered.' 

Upon which I read it to him, article by article, and got him positively to own or refuse; and then, having obtained certainty so far, I got some other articles confirmed by him directly; and afterwards, from time to time, made additions under his sanction.


His friend Edward Cave having been mentioned, he told us, 'Cave used to sell ten thousand of The Gentleman's Magazine; yet such was then his minute attention and anxiety that the sale should not suffer the smallest decrease, that he would name a particular person who he heard had talked of leaving off the Magazine, and would say, 'Let us have something good next month.'

It was observed, that avarice was inherent in some dispositions. 

JOHNSON. 'No man was born a miser, because no man was born to possession. Every man is born cupidus — desirous of getting; but not avarus, — desirous of keeping.' 

BOSWELL. 'I have heard old Mr. Sheridan maintain, with much ingenuity, that a complete miser is a happy man; a miser who gives himself wholly to the one passion of saving.' 

JOHNSON. 'That is flying in the face of all the world, who have called an avaricious man a miser, because he is miserable. No, Sir; a man who both spends and saves money is the happiest man, because he has both enjoyments.' 

The conversation having turned on Bon-Mots, he quoted, from one of the Ana, an exquisite instance of flattery in a maid of honour in France, who being asked by the Queen what o'clock it was, answered, 'What your Majesty pleases.' 

He observed, 'A man cannot with propriety speak of himself, except he relates simple facts; as, "I was at Richmond:" or what depends on mensuration; as, "I am six feet high." He is sure he has been at Richmond; he is sure he is six feet high: but he cannot be sure he is wise, or that he has any other excellence. Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to shew how much he can spare. It has all the invidiousness of self-praise, and all the reproach of falsehood.' 

BOSWELL. 'Sometimes it may proceed from a man's strong consciousness of his faults being observed. He knows that others would throw him down, and therefore he had better lye down softly of his own accord.'

On Tuesday, April 28, he was engaged to dine at General Paoli's, where, as I have already observed, I was still entertained in elegant hospitality, and with all the ease and comfort of a home. I called on him, and accompanied him in a hackney-coach. We stopped first at the bottom of Hedge-lane, into which he went to leave a letter, 'with good news for a poor man in distress,' as he told me. I did not question him particularly as to this. 

He himself often resembled Lady Bolingbroke's lively description of Pope; that 'he was un politique aux choux et aux raves.' He would say, 'I dine to-day in Grosvenor-square;' this might be with a Duke: or, perhaps, 'I dine to-day at the other end of the town:' or, 'A gentleman of great eminence called on me yesterday.' 

He loved thus to keep things floating in conjecture: Omne ignotum pro magnifico est {“Everything unknown appears magnificent.” – Editor}. 

I believe I ventured to dissipate the cloud, to unveil the mystery, more freely and frequently than any of his friends. 

We stopped again at Wirgman's, the well-known toy-shop, in St. James's-street, at the corner of St. James's-place, to which he had been directed, but not clearly, for he searched about some time, and could not find it at first; and said, 'To direct one only to a corner shop is toying with one.' 

I suppose he meant this as a play upon the word toy: it was the first time that I knew him stoop to such sport. 

After he had been some time in the shop, he sent for me to come out of the coach, and help him to choose a pair of silver buckles, as those he had were too small. Probably this alteration in dress had been suggested by Mrs. Thrale, by associating with whom, his external appearance was much improved. He got better cloaths; and the dark colour, from which he never deviated, was enlivened by metal buttons. His wigs, too, were much better; and during their travels in France, he was furnished with a Paris-made wig, of handsome construction. 

This choosing of silver buckles was a negociation: 'Sir (said he), I will not have the ridiculous large ones now in fashion; and I will give no more than a guinea for a pair.' 

Such were the principles of the business; and, after some examination, he was fitted. As we drove along, I found him in a talking humour, of which I availed myself. 

BOSWELL. 'I was this morning in Ridley's shop, Sir; and was told, that the collection called Johnsoniana has sold very much.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yet the Journey to the Hebrides has not had a great sale.' 

BOSWELL. 'That is strange.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; for in that book I have told the world a great deal that they did not know before.'

BOSWELL. 'I drank chocolate, Sir, this morning with Mr. Eld; and, to my no small surprize, found him to be a Staffordshire Whig, a being which I did not believe had existed.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there are rascals in all countries.' 

BOSWELL. 'Eld said, a Tory was a creature generated between a non-juring parson and one's grandmother.'{In British history, non-jurors refused to swear allegiance to William and Mary. – Editor}

JOHNSON. 'And I have always said, the first Whig was the Devil.' 

BOSWELL. 'He certainly was, Sir. The Devil was impatient of subordination; he was the first who resisted power:— "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."'

(classix comix™ is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Yes, September is here, and with it the new fall menu at my favorite urban oasis Bob’s Bowery Bar! Allow me to recommend a returning personal ‘fave’ – ‘Bob’s Mom’s Mulligan Stew’: a soul-satisfying slow-simmered mélange of beef ‘n’ pork parts, potatoes and ‘garden vegetables’, served with your choice of Mom’s crusty sourdough rolls or hot cross buns (sorry, only two rolls or buns per order) – goes swell with a tall beaded imperial pint schooner of Bob’s world-renowned basement-brewed house bock!”

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part 186

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 184

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Remedial Basic Geographical Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Bawd From Battersea’s Bequest, the Olney Community College Press.

Art and layout supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, computer-generated coloration and découpage by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqhaus™/sternwallmart™ co-production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

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On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, after the solemnities of the festival in St. Paul's Church, I visited him, but could not stay to dinner. I expressed a wish to have the arguments for Christianity always in readiness, that my religious faith might be as firm and clear as any proposition whatever, so that I need not be under the least uneasiness, when it should be attacked. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you cannot answer all objections. You have demonstration for a First Cause: you see he must be good as well as powerful, because there is nothing to make him otherwise, and goodness of itself is preferable.

Yet you have against this, what is very certain, the unhappiness of human life. This, however, gives us reason to hope for a future state of compensation, that there may be a perfect system. But of that we were not sure, till we had a positive revelation.' 

I told him, that his Rasselas had often made me unhappy; for it represented the misery of human life so well, and so convincingly to a thinking mind, that if at any time the impression wore off, and I felt myself easy, I began to suspect some delusion.

On Monday, April 20, I found him at home in the morning. We talked of a gentleman who we apprehended was gradually involving his circumstances by bad management. 

JOHNSON. 'Wasting a fortune is evaporation by a thousand imperceptible means. If it were a stream, they'd stop it. You must speak to him. It is really miserable. Were he a gamester, it could be said he had hopes of winning. Were he a bankrupt in trade, he might have grown rich; but he has neither spirit to spend nor resolution to spare. He does not spend fast enough to have pleasure from it. He has the crime of prodigality, and the wretchedness of parsimony.

If a man is killed in a duel, he is killed as many a one has been killed; but it is a sad thing for a man to lie down and die; to bleed to death, because he has not fortitude enough to sear the wound, or even to stitch it up.' 

I cannot but pause a moment to admire the fecundity of fancy, and choice of language, which in this instance, and, indeed, on almost all occasions, he displayed. It was well observed by Dr. Percy, now Bishop of Dromore, 'The conversation of Johnson is strong and clear, and may be compared to an antique statue, where every vein and muscle is distinct and bold. Ordinary conversation resembles an inferiour cast.'

On Saturday, April 25, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with the learned Dr. Musgrave, Counsellor Leland of Ireland, son to the historian, Mrs. Cholmondeley, and some more ladies. The Project, a new poem, was read to the company by Dr. Musgrave. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it has no power. Were it not for the well-known names with which it is filled, it would be nothing: the names carry the poet, not the poet the names.' 

MUSGRAVE. 'A temporary poem always entertains us.' 

JOHNSON. 'So does an account of the criminals hanged yesterday entertain us.'

He proceeded: —'Demosthenes Taylor, as he was called, (that is, the Editor of Demosthenes) was the most silent man, the merest statue of a man that I have ever seen. I once dined in company with him, and all he said during the whole time was no more than Richard. How a man should say only Richard, it is not easy to imagine. But it was thus: Dr. Douglas was talking of Dr. Zachary Grey, and ascribing to him something that was written by Dr. Richard Grey. So, to correct him, Taylor said, (imitating his affected sententious emphasis and nod,) "Richard."'

Mrs. Cholmondeley, in a high flow of spirits, exhibited some lively sallies of hyperbolical compliment to Johnson, with whom she had been long acquainted, and was very easy. He was quick in catching the manner of the moment, and answered her somewhat in the style of the hero of a romance, 'Madam, you crown me with unfading laurels.'

I happened, I know not how, to say that a pamphlet meant a prose piece. 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir. A few sheets of poetry unbound are a pamphlet, as much as a few sheets of prose.' 

MUSGRAVE. 'A pamphlet may be understood to mean a poetical piece in Westminster-Hall, that is, in formal language; but in common language it is understood to mean prose.' 

JOHNSON. (and here was one of the many instances of his knowing clearly and telling exactly how a thing is) 'A pamphlet is understood in common language to mean prose, only from this, that there is so much more prose written than poetry; as when we say a book, prose is understood for the same reason, though a book may as well be in poetry as in prose. We understand what is most general, and we name what is less frequent.'

We talked of a lady's verses on Ireland. 

MISS REYNOLDS. 'Have you seen them, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Madam. I have seen a translation from Horace, by one of her daughters. She shewed it me.' 

MISS REYNOLDS. 'And how was it, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, very well for a young Miss's verses;— that is to say, compared with excellence, nothing; but, very well, for the person who wrote them. I am vexed at being shewn verses in that manner.' 

MISS REYNOLDS. 'But if they should be good, why not give them hearty praise?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, because I have not then got the better of my bad humour from having been shewn them. You must consider, Madam; beforehand they may be bad, as well as good. Nobody has a right to put another under such a difficulty, that he must either hurt the person by telling the truth, or hurt himself by telling what is not true.'

BOSWELL. 'A man often shews his writings to people of eminence, to obtain from them, either from their good-nature, or from their not being able to tell the truth firmly, a commendation, of which he may afterwards avail himself.' 

JOHNSON. 'Very true, Sir. Therefore the man, who is asked by an authour, what he thinks of his work, is put to the torture, and is not obliged to speak the truth; so that what he says is not considered as his opinion; yet he has said it, and cannot retract it; and this authour, when mankind are hunting him with a cannister at his tail, can say, "I would not have published, had not Johnson, or Reynolds, or Musgrave, or some other good judge commended the work." Yet I consider it as a very difficult question in conscience, whether one should advise a man not to publish a work, if profit be his object; for the man may say, "Had it not been for you, I should have had the money." Now you cannot be sure; for you have only your own opinion, and the publick may think very differently.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'You must upon such an occasion have two judgments; one as to the real value of the work, the other as to what may please the general taste at the time.' 

JOHNSON. 'But you can be sure of neither; and therefore I should scruple much to give a suppressive vote. Both Goldsmith's comedies were once refused; his first by Garrick, his second by Colman, who was prevailed on at last by much solicitation, nay, a kind of force, to bring it on. His Vicar of Wakefield I myself did not think would have had much success.

It was written and sold to a bookseller before his Traveller; but published after; so little expectation had the bookseller from it. Had it been sold after the Traveller, he might have had twice as much money for it, though sixty guineas was no mean price. The bookseller had the advantage of Goldsmith's reputation from The Traveller in the sale, though Goldsmith had it not in selling the copy.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'The Beggar's Opera affords a proof how strangely people will differ in opinion about a literary performance. Burke thinks it has no merit.' 

JOHNSON. 'It was refused by one of the houses; but I should have thought it would succeed, not from any great excellence in the writing, but from the novelty, and the general spirit and gaiety of the piece, which keeps the audience always attentive, and dismisses them in good humour.'

(classix comix™ is underwritten in part by a continuing grant from the Bob’s Bowery Bar Fund for Indigent Artists: “Can’t afford to head to the beach for Labor Day? Why not join me at Bob’s Bowery Bar – conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery – and take advantage of Bob’s traditional Labor Day Barbecue Special: a ‘mixed grill’ of baby back beef ribs, chicken parts, and Kosher wieners, slow-cooked over mesquite coals in the great big oil drum in the alley out back! Sides (two per platter) include your choice of corn on the cob, ‘Mom’s old-fashioned potato salad’, buttery hot cross buns, crunchy groat cakes, kimchee, Jersey tomatoes ‘n’ onions vinaigrette, or three-bean salad.”

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part 185