Sunday, January 22, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 153

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Illustrated 18th Century British Literature; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Hangman’s Comely Wife, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (layout, pencils, inks, oils, lithography by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqoniq production™.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

To conclude this interesting episode with an useful application, let us now attend to the reflections of Johnson at the end of the Occasional Papers, concerning the unfortunate Dr. Dodd: 

'Such were the last thoughts of a man whom we have seen exulting in popularity, and sunk in shame. For his reputation, which no man can give to himself, those who conferred it are to answer. Of his publick ministry the means of judging were sufficiently attainable. He must be allowed to preach well, whose sermons strike his audience with forcible conviction. He was at first what he endeavoured to make others; but the world broke down his resolution, and he in time ceased to exemplify his own instructions. 

'Let those who are tempted to his faults, tremble at his punishment; and those whom he impressed from the pulpit with religious sentiments, endeavour to confirm them, by considering the regret and self-abhorrence with which he reviewed in prison his deviations from rectitude.'

Johnson gave us this evening, in his happy discriminative manner, a portrait of the late Mr. Fitzherbert, of Derbyshire. 'There was (said he) no sparkle, no brilliancy in Fitzherbert; but I never knew a man who was so generally acceptable. He made every body quite easy, overpowered nobody by the superiority of his talents, made no man think worse of himself by being his rival, seemed always to listen, did not oblige you to hear much from him, and did not oppose what you said.

Every body liked him; but he had no friend, as I understand the word, nobody with whom he exchanged intimate thoughts. People were willing to think well of every thing about him. A gentleman was making an affected rant, as many people do, of great feelings about "his dear son," who was at school near London; how anxious he was lest he might be ill, and what he would give to see him. "Can't you (said Fitzherbert,) take a post-chaise and go to him." This, to be sure, finished the affected man, but there was not much in it. However, this was circulated as wit for a whole winter, and I believe part of a summer too; a proof that he was no very witty man.

He was an instance of the truth of the observation, that a man will please more upon the whole by negative qualities than by positive; by never offending, than by giving a great deal of delight. In the first place, men hate more steadily than they love; and if I have said something to hurt a man once, I shall not get the better of this, by saying many things to please him.'

Tuesday, September 16, Dr. Johnson having mentioned to me the extraordinary size and price of some cattle reared by Dr. Taylor, I rode out with our host, surveyed his farm, and was shown one cow which he had sold for a hundred and twenty guineas, and another for which he had been offered a hundred and thirty.

Taylor thus described to me his old schoolfellow and friend, Johnson: 'He is a man of a very clear head, great power of words, and a very gay imagination; but there is no disputing with him. He will not hear you, and having a louder voice than you, must roar you down.'

In the afternoon I tried to get Dr. Johnson to like the Poems of Mr. Hamilton of Bangour, which I had brought with me: I had been much pleased with them at a very early age; the impression still remained on my mind. Johnson, upon repeated occasions, while I was at Ashbourne, talked slightingly of Hamilton. He said there was no power of thinking in his verses, nothing that strikes one, nothing better than what you generally find in magazines; and that the highest praise they deserved was, that they were very well for a gentleman to hand about among his friends.

He read the Inscription in a Summer-house, and a little of the imitations of Horace's Epistles; but said he found nothing to make him desire to read on.

I was struck with the uncertainty of taste, and somewhat sorry that a poet whom I had long read with fondness, was not approved by Dr. Johnson. I comforted myself with thinking that the beauties were too delicate for his robust perceptions. Garrick maintained that he had not a taste for the finest productions of genius: but I was sensible, that when he took the trouble to analyse critically, he generally convinced us that he was right.

In the evening, the Reverend Mr. Seward, of Lichfield, who was passing through Ashbourne in his way home, drank tea with us. Johnson described him thus:—' Sir, his ambition is to be a fine talker; so he goes to Buxton, and such places, where he may find companies to listen to him. And, Sir, he is valetudinarian, one of those who are always mending themselves. I do not know a more disagreeable character than a valetudinarian, who thinks he may do any thing that is for his ease, and indulges himself in the grossest freedoms: Sir, he brings himself to the state of a hog in a stye.'

Dr. Taylor's nose happening to bleed, he said, it was because he had omitted to have himself blooded four days after a quarter of a year's interval. Dr. Johnson, who was a great dabbler in physick, disapproved much of periodical bleeding.

'For (said he) you accustom yourself to an evacuation which Nature cannot perform of herself, and therefore she cannot help you, should you, from forgetfulness or any other cause, omit it; so you may be suddenly suffocated. You may accustom yourself to other periodical evacuations, because should you omit them, Nature can supply the omission; but Nature cannot open a vein to blood you.'

—'I do not like to take an emetick, (said Taylor,) for fear of breaking some small vessels.'

—' Poh! (said Johnson,) if you have so many things that will break, you had better break your neck at once, and there's an end on't. You will break no small vessels' (blowing with high derision).

 I mentioned to Dr. Johnson, that David Hume's persisting in his infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much.

JOHNSON. 'Why should it shock you, Sir? Hume owned he had never read the New Testament with attention. Here then was a man, who had been at no pains to inquire into the truth of religion, and had continually turned his mind the other way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of death would alter his way of thinking, unless GOD should send an angel to set him right.'

I said, I had reason to believe that the thought of annihilation gave Hume no pain.

JOHNSON. 'It was not so, Sir. He had a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he should assume an appearance of ease, than that so very improbable a thing should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive theory, he cannot be sure but he may go,) into an unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving all he knew.'

The horrour of death which I had always observed in Dr. Johnson, appeared strong to-night. I ventured to tell him, that I had been, for moments in my life, not afraid of death; therefore I could suppose another man in that state of mind for a considerable space of time.

He said, 'he never had a moment in which death was not terrible to him.'

He added, that it had been observed, that scarce any man dies in publick, but with apparent resolution; from that desire of praise which never quits us.

I said, Dr. Dodd seemed to be willing to die, and full of hopes of happiness. 

'Sir, (said he,) Dr. Dodd would have given both his hands and both his legs to have lived. The better a man is, the more afraid he is of death, having a clearer view of infinite purity.'

He owned, that our being in an unhappy uncertainty as to our salvation, was mysterious; and said, 'Ah! we must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things explained to us.'

Even the powerful mind of Johnson seemed foiled by futurity. But I thought, that the gloom of uncertainty in solemn religious speculation, being mingled with hope, was yet more consolatory than the emptiness of infidelity.  


(classix comix™ is brought to you by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “I think it’s safe to say that now more than ever folks feel the need for some small oasis of relief from the horrors of quotidian life, and all I have to say is thank the god Bacchus for my own favorite watering hole, Bob’s Bowery Bar! And this week only tell your friendly server that ‘Horace sent me’ and get your first schooner of Bob’s basement-brewed house bock absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing!”

– Horace P. Sternwall, host of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Philip Morris Commander’s Monday Night Theatre, broadcast live Mondays at 8pm (EST) exclusively on the Dumont Television Network. This week’s play: Love Song of the Damned by Harold Sternhagen, starring Hyacinth Wilde and Biff Elliot, featuring Wally Cox and Kitty Carlisle as “Mr. and Mrs. Rottweiler”.)

part 154

No comments:

Post a Comment