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.

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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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