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.

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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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– Horace P. Sternwall, host and narrator of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Philip Morris Commander’s “Blanche Weinberg: Lady Psychiatrist”, broadcast liveSundays at 8pm {EST} exclusively on the Dumont Television Network. This week’s play: The Prayer of the Passionate Priest, by H. P. Stumpf, starring Kitty Carlisle as “Dr. Blanche”, with special guest star Ralph Meeker as “Father Fahey”.)

part 174

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