Sunday, August 6, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 180

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Comic Book, Manga, and Graphic Novel Studies; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Odious Wench, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork personally supervised by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, organic fair-trade water-based paints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqtransgalaqtiq™ production.

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Talking of Miss ——, a literary lady, he said, 'I was obliged to speak to Miss Reynolds, to let her know that I desired she would not flatter me so much.' 

Somebody now observed, 'She flatters Garrick.' 

JOHNSON. 'She is in the right to flatter Garrick. She is in the right for two reasons; first, because she has the world with her, who have been praising Garrick these thirty years; and secondly, because she is rewarded for it by Garrick. Why should she flatter me? I can do nothing for her. Let her carry her praise to a better market. (Then turning to Mrs. Knowles). You, Madam, have been flattering me all the evening; I wish you would give Boswell a little now. If you knew his merit as well as I do, you would say a great deal; he is the best travelling companion in the world.'

Somebody mentioned the Reverend Mr. Mason's prosecution of Mr. Murray, the bookseller, for having inserted in a collection of Gray's Poems, only fifty lines, of which Mr. Mason had still the exclusive property, under the statute of Queen Anne; and that Mr. Mason had persevered, notwithstanding his being requested to name his own terms of compensation. Johnson signified his displeasure at Mr. Mason's conduct very strongly; but added, by way of shewing that he was not surprized at it, 'Mason's a Whig.' 

MRS. KNOWLES, (not hearing distinctly:) 'What! a Prig, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'Worse, Madam; a Whig! But he is both.'

I expressed a horrour at the thought of death. 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'Nay, thou should'st not have a horrour for what is the gate of life.' 

JOHNSON, (standing upon the hearth rolling about, with a serious, solemn, and somewhat gloomy air:) 'No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'The Scriptures tell us, "The righteous shall have hope in his death."' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Madam; that is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised that the mediation of our SAVIOUR shall be applied to us,— namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his obedience has been such, as he would approve of in another, or even in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'But divine intimation of acceptance may be made to the soul.' 

JOHNSON. 'Madam, it may; but I should not think the better of a man who should tell me on his death-bed he was sure of salvation. A man cannot be sure himself that he has divine intimation of acceptance; much less can he make others sure that he has it.' 

BOSWELL. 'Then, Sir, we must be contented to acknowledge that death is a terrible thing.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes , Sir. I have made no approaches to a state which can look on it as not terrible.' 

MRS. KNOWLES, (seeming to enjoy a pleasing serenity in the persuasion of benignant divine light :) 'Does not St. Paul say, "I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished my course; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life?"' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Madam; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been converted by supernatural interposition.' 

BOSWELL. 'In prospect death is dreadful; but in fact we find that people die easy.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, most people have not thought much of the matter, so cannot say much, and it is supposed they die easy. Few believe it certain they are then to die; and those who do, set themselves to behave with resolution, as a man does who is going to be hanged. He is not the less unwilling to be hanged.' 

MISS SEWARD. 'There is one mode of the fear of death, which is certainly absurd; and that is the dread of annihilation, which is only a pleasing sleep without a dream.' 

JOHNSON. 'It is neither pleasing, nor sleep; it is nothing. Now mere existence is so much better than nothing, that one would rather exist even in pain, than not exist. The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horrour of annihilation consists.'

Of John Wesley, he said, 'He can talk well on any subject.' 

BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, what has he made of his story of a ghost?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, he believes it; but not on sufficient authority. He did not take time enough to examine the girl. It was at Newcastle, where the ghost was said to have appeared to a young woman several times, mentioning something about the right to an old house, advising application to be made to an attorney, which was done; and, at the same time, saying the attorney would do nothing, which proved to be the fact. "This (says John) is a proof that a ghost knows our thoughts." Now (laughing) it is not necessary to know our thoughts, to tell that an attorney will sometimes do nothing. Charles Wesley, who is a more stationary man, does not believe the story. I am sorry that John did not take more pains to inquire into the evidence for it.' 

MISS SEWARD, (with an incredulous smile:) 'What, Sir! about a ghost?' 

JOHNSON, (with solemn vehemence:) 'Yes, Madam: this is a question which, after five thousand years, is yet undecided; a question, whether in theology or philosophy, one of the most important that can come before the human understanding.'

Mrs. Knowles mentioned, as a proselyte to Quakerism, Miss ——, a young lady well known to Dr. Johnson, for whom he had shewn much affection; while she ever had, and still retained, a great respect for him. Mrs. Knowles at the same time took an opportunity of letting him know 'that the amiable young creature was sorry at finding that he was offended at her leaving the Church of England and embracing a simpler faith;' and, in the gentlest and most persuasive manner, solicited his kind indulgence for what was sincerely a matter of conscience. 

JOHNSON, (frowning very angrily,) 'Madam, she is an odious wench. She could not have any proper conviction that it was her duty to change her religion, which is the most important of all subjects, and should be studied with all care, and with all the helps we can get. She knew no more of the Church which she left, and that which she embraced, than she did of the difference between the Copernican and Ptolemaick systems.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'She had the New Testament before her.' 

JOHNSON. 'Madam, she could not understand the New Testament, the most difficult book in the world, for which the study of a life is required.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'It is clear as to essentials.' 

JOHNSON. 'But not as to controversial points. The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up; but we ought not, without very strong conviction indeed, to desert the religion in which we have been educated. That is the religion given you, the religion in which it may be said Providence has placed you.

If you live conscientiously in that religion, you may be safe. But errour is dangerous indeed, if you err when you choose a religion for yourself.' 

MRS. KNOWLES. 'Must we then go by implicit faith?' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, the greatest part of our knowledge is implicit faith; and as to religion, have we heard all that a disciple of Confucius, all that a Mahometan, can say for himself?' 

He then rose again into passion, and attacked the young proselyte in the severest terms of reproach, so that both the ladies seemed to be much shocked. 

We remained together till it was pretty late. Notwithstanding occasional explosions of violence, we were all delighted upon the whole with Johnson. I compared him at this time to a warm West-Indian climate, where you have a bright sun, quick vegetation, luxuriant foliage, luscious fruits; but where the same heat sometimes produces thunder, lightning, earthquakes, in a terrible degree.

(classix comix™ is underwritten in part by the Bob’s Bowery Institute for Destitute Artists: “Have you ever awakened with a killing hangover on a sweltering August mid-afternoon in your un-airconditioned fourth-floor walk-up, realizing dimly that you haven’t eaten in forty-eight hours and yet still horrified at the very thought of eating? Join the club, and do what I so often do: make your way somehow to Bob’s Bowery Bar and order the eponymous ‘Horace Hangover Special 2-B’: an imperial pint of Bob’s justly renowned basement-brewed house bock with a large raw organic egg plopped into it, and on the side a jumbo house-baked sourdough pretzel. Drink down the pint-and-egg as quickly as you can, and then nibble on the pretzel while your friendly bartender draws you another pint of that delicious dark nectar, with or without an egg this time, depending on the state of your stomach. Drink this second pint in a leisurely fashion, whilst continuing to nibble upon the soft pretzel. When you have finished both bock and pretzel, go back home and collapse on your cot. I assure you that when you awaken sometime that evening you will be ready to conquer the world!”

– Horace P. Sternwall, host and narrator of Bob’s Bowery Bar Presents Philip Morris Commander’s “Blanche Weinberg: Lady Psychiatrist”, broadcast live Sundays at 8pm {EST} exclusively on the Dumont Television Network. This week’s play: The Kleptomaniacal Girl, by Hedy P. St. Vincent, starring Kitty Carlisle as “Dr. Blanche”, with special guest star Patty McCormick as “Gwendolyn”.)

part 181

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