Sunday, June 18, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 174


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor of Remedial Basic Reading Skills (English); author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: A Murder at the Mitre, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, c.g.i, industrial spray paints by "eddie el greco; lettering by "roy dismas) for penmarqiqoniq™ productions.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here






On Friday, April 10, I found Johnson at home in the morning. We resumed the conversation of yesterday. He put me in mind of some of it which had escaped my memory, and enabled me to record it more perfectly than I otherwise could have done. He was much pleased with my paying so great attention to his recommendation in 1763, the period when our acquaintance began, that I should keep a journal; and I could perceive he was secretly pleased to find so much of the fruit of his mind preserved; and as he had been used to imagine and say that he always laboured when he said a good thing – it delighted him, on a review, to find that his conversation teemed with point and imagery. 


I said to him, 'You were yesterday, Sir, in remarkably good humour: but there was nothing to offend you, nothing to produce irritation or violence. There was no bold offender. There was not one capital conviction. You had on your white gloves.'

I reminded him of a gentleman, who, Mrs. Cholmondeley said, was first talkative from affectation, and then silent from the same cause; that he first thought, 'I shall be celebrated as the liveliest man in every company;' and then, all at once, 'O! it is much more respectable to be grave and look wise.'


'He has reversed the Pythagorean discipline, by being first talkative, and then silent. He reverses the course of Nature too: he was first the gay butterfly, and then the creeping worm.'

We dined together with Mr. Scott at his chambers in the Temple, nobody else there. The company being small, Johnson was not in such spirits as he had been the preceding day, and for a considerable time little was said.


At last he burst forth, 'Subordination is sadly broken down in this age. No man, now, has the same authority which his father had,— except a gaoler. No master has it over his servants: it is diminished in our colleges; nay, in our grammar-schools.'

BOSWELL. 'What is the cause of this, Sir?'

JOHNSON. 'Why the coming in of the Scotch,' (laughing sarcastically).

BOSWELL. 'That is to say, things have been turned topsy turvey.— But your serious cause.'


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there are many causes, the chief of which is, I think, the great increase of money. No man now depends upon the Lord of a Manour, when he can send to another country, and fetch provisions. The shoe-black at the entry of my court does not depend on me. I can deprive him but of a penny a day, which he hopes somebody else will bring him; and that penny I must carry to another shoe-black, so the trade suffers nothing. I have explained, in my Journey to the Hebrides, how gold and silver destroy feudal subordination. But, besides, there is a general relaxation of reverence. No son now depends upon his father as in former times. Paternity used to be considered as of itself a great thing, which had a right to many claims. That is, in general, reduced to very small bounds. My hope is, that as anarchy produces tyranny, this extreme relaxation will produce freni strictio [“a tight rein – Editor].'


Talking of fame, for which there is so great a desire, I observed how little there is of it in reality, compared with the other objects of human attention.

'Let every man recollect, and he will be sensible how small a part of his time is employed in talking or thinking of Shakspeare, Voltaire, or any of the most celebrated men that have ever lived, or are now supposed to occupy the attention and admiration of the world. Let this be extracted and compressed; into what a narrow space will it go'


I then slily introduced Mr. Garrick's fame, and his assuming the airs of a great man.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is wonderful how little Garrick assumes. Consider, Sir: celebrated men, such as you have mentioned, have had their applause at a distance; but Garrick had it dashed in his face, sounded in his ears, and went home every night with the plaudits of a thousand in his cranium. Then, Sir, Garrick did not find, but made his way to the tables, the levees, and almost the bed-chambers of the great.


Then, Sir, Garrick had under him a numerous body of people; who, from fear of his power, and hopes of his favour, and admiration of his talents, were constantly submissive to him. And here is a man who has advanced the dignity of his profession. Garrick has made a player a higher character.'

SCOTT. 'And he is a very sprightly writer too.'

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; and all this supported by great wealth of his own acquisition.


If all this had happened to me, I should have had a couple of fellows with long poles walking before me, to knock down every body that stood in the way. Consider, if all this had happened to Cibber or Quin they'd have jumped over the moon.— Yet Garrick speaks to us.' (smiling.)

BOSWELL. 'And Garrick is a very good man, a charitable man.'

JOHNSON. 'Sir, a liberal man. He has given away more money than any man in England. There may be a little vanity mixed; but he has shewn, that money is not his first object.'


BOSWELL. 'Yet Foote used to say of him, that he walked out with an intention to do a generous action; but, turning the corner of a street, he met with the ghost of a halfpenny, which frightened him.'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is very true, too; for I never knew a man of whom it could be said with less certainty to-day, what he will do to-morrow, than Garrick; it depends so much on his humour at the time.'

SCOTT. 'I am glad to hear of his liberality. He has been represented as very saving.'


JOHNSON. 'With his domestick saving we have nothing to do. I remember drinking tea with him long ago, when Peg Woffington made it, and he grumbled at her for making it too strong. He had then begun to feel money in his purse, and did not know when he should have enough of it.'

On the subject of wealth, the proper use of it, and the effects of that art which is called oeconomy, he observed:


'It is wonderful to think how men of very large estates not only spend their yearly incomes, but are often actually in want of money. It is clear, they have not value for what they spend. Lord Shelburne told me, that a man of high rank, who looks into his own affairs, may have all that he ought to have, all that can be of any use, or appear with any advantage, for five thousand pounds a year. Therefore, a great proportion must go in waste; and, indeed, this is the case with most people, whatever their fortune is.'

BOSWELL. 'I have no doubt, Sir, of this. But how is it? What is waste?'


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, breaking bottles, and a thousand other things. Waste cannot be accurately told, though we are sensible how destructive it is. Oeconomy on the one hand, by which a certain income is made to maintain a man genteely, and waste on the other, by which, on the same income, another man lives shabbily, cannot be defined. It is a very nice thing: as one man wears his coat out much sooner than another, we cannot tell how.'



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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 173


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of Commonly Ignored 18th Century British Literature; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Contumacious Constable, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by "rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, finger paints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarqastiq™ productions.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here






We talked of old age.

Johnson (now in his seventieth year,) said, 'It is a man's own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age.'

The Bishop asked, if an old man does not lose faster than he gets.

JOHNSON. 'I think not, my Lord, if he exerts himself.'

One of the company rashly observed, that he thought it was happy for an old man that insensibility comes upon him.


JOHNSON: (with a noble elevation and disdain,) 'No, Sir, I should never be happy by being less rational.'

His Lordship mentioned a charitable establishment in Wales, where people were maintained, and supplied with every thing, upon the condition of their contributing the weekly produce of their labour; and he said, they grew quite torpid for want of property.

JOHNSON. 'They have no object for hope. Their condition cannot be better. It is rowing without a port.'


When we went to the drawing-room there was a rich assemblage. Besides the company who had been at dinner, there were Mr. Garrick, Mr. Harris of Salisbury, Dr. Percy, Dr. Burney, Honourable Mrs. Cholmondeley, Miss Hannah More, &c. &c.

After wandering about in a kind of pleasing distraction for some time, I got into a corner, with Johnson, Garrick, and Harris.

GARRICK: (to Harris.) 'Pray, Sir, have you read Potter's Aeschylus?'


HARRIS. 'Yes; and think it pretty.'

GARRICK. (to Johnson.) 'And what think you, Sir, of it?'

JOHNSON. 'I thought what I read of it verbiage: but upon Mr. Harris's recommendation, I will read a play. (To Mr. Harris.) Don't prescribe two.'  

JOHNSON. 'We must try its effect as an English poem; that is the way to judge of the merit of a translation. Translations are, in general, for people who cannot read the original.'


I mentioned the vulgar saying, that Pope's Homer was not a good representation of the original.

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it is the greatest work of the kind that has ever been produced.'

BOSWELL. 'The truth is, it is impossible perfectly to translate poetry. In a different language it may be the same tune, but it has not the same tone. Homer plays it on a bassoon; Pope on a flagelet.'

HARRIS. 'I think Heroick poetry is best in blank verse; yet it appears that rhyme is essential to English poetry, from our deficiency in metrical quantities. In my opinion, the chief excellence of our language is numerous prose.'


JOHNSON. 'Sir William Temple was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose. Before his time they were careless of arrangement, and did not mind whether a sentence ended with an important word or an insignificant word, or with what part of speech it was concluded.'

  GARRICK. 'Of all the translations that ever were attempted, I think Elphinston's Martial the most extraordinary. He consulted me upon it, who am a little of an epigrammatist myself, you know. I told him freely, "You don't seem to have that turn." I asked him if he was serious; and finding he was, I advised him against publishing. Why, his translation is more difficult to understand than the original. I thought him a man of some talents; but he seems crazy in this.'


JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have done what I had not courage to do. But he did not ask my advice, and I did not force it upon him, to make him angry with me.'

GARRICK. 'But as a friend, Sir—'

JOHNSON. 'Why, such a friend as I am with him — no.'

GARRICK. 'But if you see a friend going to tumble over a precipice?'

JOHNSON. 'That is an extravagant case, Sir. You are sure a friend will thank you for hindering him from tumbling over a precipice; but, in the other case, I should hurt his vanity, and do him no good. He would not take my advice.


His brother-in-law, Strahan, sent him a subscription of fifty pounds, and said he would send him fifty more, if he would not publish.'

GARRICK. 'What! Is Strahan a good judge of an Epigram? Is not he rather an obtuse man, eh?'

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he may not be a judge of an Epigram: but you see he is a judge of what is not an Epigram.'


BOSWELL. 'It is easy for you, Mr. Garrick, to talk to an authour as you talked to Elphinston; you, who have been so long the manager of a theatre, rejecting the plays of poor authours. You are an old Judge, who have often pronounced sentence of death. You are a practiced surgeon, who have often amputated limbs; and though this may have been for the good of your patients, they cannot like you. Those who have undergone a dreadful operation, are not very fond of seeing the operator again.'


GARRICK. 'Yes, I know enough of that. There was a reverend gentleman, (Mr. Hawkins,) who wrote a tragedy, the SIEGE of something, which I refused.'

HARRIS. 'So, the siege was raised.'

JOHNSON. 'Ay, he came to me and complained.'

GARRICK. 'He wrote to me in violent wrath, for having refused his play: "Sir, this is growing a very serious and terrible affair. I am resolved to publish my play. I will appeal to the world; and how will your judgement appear?" I answered, "Sir, notwithstanding all the seriousness, and all the terrours, I have no objection to your publishing your play; and as you live at a great distance, (Devonshire, I believe,) if you will send it to me, I will convey it to the press." I never heard more of it, ha! ha! ha!'



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part 174


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 172


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

Artwork and layout personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, lead-based paints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas) for penmarqaïq™ productions.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here







Soon after our arrival at Thrale's, I heard one of the maids calling eagerly on another, to go to Dr. Johnson. I wondered what this could mean. I afterwards learnt, that it was to give her a Bible, which he had brought from London as a present to her.

He was for a considerable time occupied in reading Mémoires de Fontenelle, leaning and swinging upon the low gate into the court, without his hat.

I looked into Lord Kames's Sketches of the History of Man; and mentioned to Dr. Johnson his censure of Charles the Fifth, for celebrating his funeral obsequies in his life-time, which, I told him, I had been used to think a solemn and affecting act. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, a man may dispose his mind to think so of that act of Charles; but it is so liable to ridicule, that if one man out of ten thousand laughs at it, he'll make the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine laugh too.'

I could not agree with him in this.

Sir John Pringle had expressed a wish that I would ask Dr. Johnson's opinion what were the best English sermons for style. BOSWELL. 'What I wish to know is, what sermons afford the best specimen of English pulpit eloquence.'

JOHNSON. 'We have no sermons addressed to the passions that are good for any thing; if you mean that kind of eloquence.'

A CLERGYMAN: (whose name I do not recollect.) 'Were not Dodd's sermons addressed to the passions?'

JOHNSON. 'They were nothing, Sir, be they addressed to what they may.'

At dinner, Mrs. Thrale expressed a wish to go and see Scotland.

JOHNSON. 'Seeing Scotland, Madam, is only seeing a worse England. It is seeing the flower gradually fade away to the naked stalk. Seeing the Hebrides, indeed, is seeing quite a different scene.'

He and I returned to town in the evening. Upon the road, I endeavoured to maintain, in argument, that a landed gentleman is not under any obligation to reside upon his estate; and that by living in London he does no injury to his country.


JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he does no injury to his country in general, because the money which he draws from it gets back again in circulation; but to his particular district, his particular parish, he does an injury. All that he has to give away is not given to those who have the first claim to it. And though I have said that the money circulates back, it is a long time before that happens. Then, Sir, a man of family and estate ought to consider himself as having the charge of a district, over which he is to diffuse civility and happiness.'

Next day I found him at home in the morning.


Talking of a man's resolving to deny himself the use of wine, from moral and religious considerations, he said,

'He must not doubt about it. When one doubts as to pleasure, we know what will be the conclusion. I now no more think of drinking wine, than a horse does. The wine upon the table is no more for me, than for the dog that is under the table.'

On Thursday, April 9, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, with the Bishop of St. Asaph, (Dr. Shipley,) Mr. Allan Ramsay, Mr. Gibbon, Mr. Cambridge, and Mr. Langton.


Mr. Ramsay had lately returned from Italy, and entertained us with his observations upon Horace's villa, which he had examined with great care. I relished this much, as it brought fresh into my mind what I had viewed with great pleasure thirteen years before. The Bishop, Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Cambridge, joined with Mr. Ramsay, in recollecting the various lines in Horace relating to the subject.


Horace's journey to Brundusium being mentioned, Johnson observed, that the brook which he describes is to be seen now, exactly as at that time, and that he had often wondered how it happened, that small brooks, such as this, kept the same situation for ages, notwithstanding earthquakes, by which even mountains have been changed, and agriculture, which produces such a variation upon the surface of the earth.

The Bishop said, it appeared from Horace's writings that he was a cheerful contented man. 


JOHNSON. 'We have no reason to believe that, my Lord. Are we to think Pope was happy, because he says so in his writings? We see in his writings what he wished the state of his mind to appear. Dr. Young, who pined for preferment, talks with contempt of it in his writings, and affects to despise every thing that he did not despise.' 

BISHOP OF ST. ASAPH. 'He was like other chaplains, looking for vacancies: but that is not peculiar to the clergy. I remember when I was with the army, after the battle of Lafeldt, the officers seriously grumbled that no general was killed.'


BOSWELL. 'How hard is it that man can never be at rest.'

RAMSAY. 'It is not in his nature to be at rest. When he is at rest, he is in the worst state that he can be in; for he has nothing to agitate him. He is then like the man in the Irish song,

"There liv'd a young man in Ballinacrazy. Who wanted a wife for to make him un-ai-sy."'

Goldsmith being mentioned, Johnson observed, that it was long before his merit came to be acknowledged. That he once complained to him, in ludicrous terms of distress, 'Whenever I write any thing, the publick make a point to know nothing about it:' but that his Traveller brought him into high reputation. 


SIR JOSHUA. 'I was glad to hear Charles Fox say, it was one of the finest poems in the English language.'

LANGTON. 'Why was you glad? You surely had no doubt of this before.'

JOHNSON. 'No; the merit of The Traveller is so well established, that Mr. Fox's praise cannot augment it, nor his censure diminish it.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'But his friends may suspect they had too great a partiality for him.' 


JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, the partiality of his friends was always against him. It was with difficulty we could give him a hearing. Goldsmith had no settled notions upon any subject; so he talked always at random. It seemed to be his intention to blurt out whatever was in his mind, and see what would become of it. He was angry too, when catched in an absurdity; but it did not prevent him from falling into another the next minute. I remember Chamier, after talking with him for some time, said, "Well, I do believe he wrote this poem himself: and, let me tell you, that is believing a great deal." 


'Chamier once asked him, what he meant by slow, the last word in the first line of The Traveller,

'"Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow."

'Did he mean tardiness of locomotion? 

'Goldsmith, who would say something without consideration, answered, "Yes." 

'I was sitting by, and said, "No, Sir; you do not mean tardiness of locomotion; you mean, that sluggishness of mind which comes upon a man in solitude." 


'Chamier believed then that I had written the line as much as if he had seen me write it.

'Goldsmith, however, was a man, who, whatever he wrote, did it better than any other man could do. He deserved a place in Westminster-Abbey, and every year he lived, would have deserved it better. He had, indeed, been at no pains to fill his mind with knowledge. He transplanted it from one place to another; and it did not settle in his mind; so he could not tell what was in his own books.'

We talked of living in the country.


JOHNSON. 'No wise man will go to live in the country, unless he has something to do which can be better done in the country. For instance: if he is to shut himself up for a year to study a science, it is better to look out to the fields, than to an opposite wall. Then, if a man walks out in the country, there is nobody to keep him from walking in again: but if a man walks out in London, he is not sure when he shall walk in again. A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life; and "The proper study of mankind is man," as Pope observes.'


BOSWELL. 'I fancy London is the best place for society; though I have heard that the very first society of Paris is still beyond any thing that we have here.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I question if in Paris such a company as is sitting round this table could be got together in less than half a year. They talk in France of the felicity of men and women living together: the truth is, that there the men are not higher than the women, they know no more than the women do, and they are not held down in their conversation by the presence of women.' 

RAMSAY. 'Literature is upon the growth, it is in its spring in France. Here it is rather passée.


JOHNSON. 'Literature was in France long before we had it. Paris was the second city for the revival of letters: Italy had it first, to be sure. Our literature came to us through France.  No, Sir, if literature be in its spring in France, it is a second spring; it is after a winter. We are now before the French in literature; but we had it long after them. In England, any man who wears a sword and a powdered wig is ashamed to be illiterate. I believe it is not so in France. Yet there is, probably, a great deal of learning in France, because they have such a number of religious establishments; so many men who have nothing else to do but to study.

I do not know this; but I take it upon the common principles of chance. Where there are many shooters, some will hit.'


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part 173