Sunday, February 19, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 157

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Basic Remedial Spelling Skills; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Return of the Hanged Man’s Ghost, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, oils, steel engravings by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas ) for the penmarqtropiq™ studios.

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I ventured to mention a person who was as violent a Scotsman as he was an Englishman; and literally had the same contempt for an Englishman compared with a Scotsman, that he had for a Scotsman compared with an Englishman; and that he would say of Dr. Johnson, 'Damned rascal! to talk as he does, of the Scotch.' This seemed, for a moment, 'to give him pause.' It, perhaps, presented his extreme prejudice against the Scotch in a point of view somewhat new to him, by the effect of contrast.

By the time when we returned to Ashbourne, Dr. Taylor was gone to bed. 

Johnson and I sat up a long time by ourselves.

He was much diverted with an article which I shewed him in the Critical Review of this year, giving an account of a curious publication, entitled, A Spiritual Diary and Soliloquies, by John Rutty, M.D.

Dr. Rutty was one of the people called Quakers, a physician of some eminence in Dublin, and authour of several works. This Diary, which was kept from 1753 to 1775, the year in which he died, and was now published in two volumes octavo, exhibited, in the simplicity of his heart, a minute and honest register of the state of his mind; which, though frequently laughable enough, was not more so than the history of many men would be, if recorded with equal fairness.

The following specimens were extracted by the Reviewers:—

Tenth month, 1753. 23. Indulgence in bed an hour too long.

Twelfth month, 17. An hypochondriack obnubilation from wind and indigestion. 

Ninth month, 28. An over-dose of whisky. 

29. A dull, cross, cholerick day. 

First month, 1757— 22. A little swinish at dinner and repast. 

31. Dogged on provocation. 

Second month, 5. Very dogged or snappish. 

14. Snappish on fasting. 

26. Cursed snappishness to those under me, on a bodily indisposition. 

Third month, 11. On a provocation, exercised a dumb resentment for two days, instead of scolding. 

22. Scolded too vehemently. 

23. Dogged again. 

Fourth month, 29. Mechanically and sinfully dogged.

Johnson laughed heartily at this good Quietist's self-condemning minutes; particularly at his mentioning, with such a serious regret, occasional instances of 'swinishness in eating, and doggedness of temper.' He thought the observations of the Critical Reviewers upon the importance of a man to himself so ingenious and so well expressed, that I shall here introduce them.

After observing, that 'There are few writers who have gained any reputation by recording their own actions,' they say:—

'We may reduce the egotists to four classes. In the first we have Julius Caesar: he relates his own transactions; but he relates them with peculiar grace and dignity, and his narrative is supported by the greatness of his character and atchievements. 

‘In the second class we have Marcus Antoninus: this writer has given us a series of reflections on his own life; but his sentiments are so noble, his morality so sublime, that his meditations are universally admired. 

‘In the third class we have some others of tolerable credit, who have given importance to their own private history by an intermixture of literary anecdotes, and the occurrences of their own times: the celebrated Huetius has published an entertaining volume upon this plan. 

In the fourth class we have the journalists, temporal and spiritual: Elias Ashmole, William Lilly, George Whitefield, John Wesley, and a thousand other old women and fanatick writers of memoirs and meditations.'

I mentioned to him that Dr. Hugh Blair, in his lectures on Rhetorick and Belles Lettres, which I heard him deliver at Edinburgh, had animadverted on the Johnsonian style as too pompous; and attempted to imitate it, by giving a sentence of Addison in The Spectator, No. 411, in the manner of Johnson. When treating of the utility of the pleasures of imagination in preserving us from vice, it is observed of those 'who know not how to be idle and innocent,' that 'their very first step out of business is into vice or folly;' which Dr. Blair supposed would have been expressed in The Rambler thus: 'Their very first step out of the regions of business is into the perturbation of vice, or the vacuity of folly.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, these are not the words I should have used. No, Sir; the imitators of my style have not hit it. Miss Aikin has done it the best; for she has imitated the sentiment as well as the diction.'

I intend, before this work is concluded, to exhibit specimens of imitation of my friend's style in various modes; some caricaturing or mimicking it, and some formed upon it, whether intentionally or with a degree of similarity to it, of which, perhaps, the writers were not conscious.

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part 158

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