Sunday, August 13, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 181

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor of 18th Century Spelling and Orthographical Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: Another Night, Another Mêlée at the Mitre, the Olney Community College Press.

Artwork direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, organic sustainable plant-based paints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq studios™/sternwall enterprises™ co-production.

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April 17, being Good Friday, I waited on Johnson, as usual. I observed at breakfast that although it was a part of his abstemious discipline on this most solemn fast, to take no milk in his tea, yet when Mrs. Desmoulins inadvertently poured it in, he did not reject it. 

I talked of the strange indecision of mind, and imbecility in the common occurrences of life, which we may observe in some people. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I am in the habit of getting others to do things for me.' 

BOSWELL. 'What, Sir! have you that weakness?' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir. But I always think afterwards I should have done better for myself.' 

I told him that at a gentleman's house where there was thought to be such extravagance or bad management, that he was living much beyond his income, his lady had objected to the cutting of a pickled mango, and that I had taken an opportunity to ask the price of it, and found it was only two shillings; so here was a very poor saving. 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, that is the blundering oeconomy of a narrow understanding. It is stopping one hole in a sieve.'

I expressed some inclination to publish an account of my Travels upon the continent of Europe, for which I had a variety of materials collected. 

JOHNSON. 'I do not say, Sir, you may not publish your travels; but I give you my opinion, that you would lessen yourself by it. What can you tell of countries so well known as those upon the continent of Europe, which you have visited?' 

BOSWELL. 'But I can give an entertaining narrative, with many incidents, anecdotes, jeux d'esprit, and remarks, so as to make very pleasant reading.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, most modern travellers in Europe who have published their travels, have been laughed at: I would not have you added to the number. The world is now not contented to be merely entertained by a traveller's narrative; they want to learn something. Now some of my friends asked me, why I did not give some account of my travels in France. The reason is plain; intelligent readers had seen more of France than I had. You might have liked my travels in France, and THE CLUB might have liked them; but, upon the whole, there would have been more ridicule than good produced by them.' 

BOSWELL. 'I cannot agree with you, Sir. People would like to read what you say of any thing. Suppose a face has been painted by fifty painters before; still we love to see it done by Sir Joshua.' 

JOHNSON. 'True, Sir, but Sir Joshua cannot paint a face when he has not time to look on it.' 

BOSWELL. 'Sir, a sketch of any sort by him is valuable. And, Sir, to talk to you in your own style (raising my voice, and shaking my head,) you should have given us your travels in France. I am sure I am right, and there's an end on't.'

I said to him that it was certainly true, as my friend Dempster had observed in his letter to me upon the subject, that a great part of what was in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland had been in his mind before he left London. 

JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir, the topicks were; and books of travels will be good in proportion to what a man has previously in his mind; his knowing what to observe; his power of contrasting one mode of life with another. As the Spanish proverb says, "He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him." So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge.' 

BOSWELL. 'The proverb, I suppose, Sir, means, he must carry a large stock with him to trade with.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir.'

It was a delightful day: as we walked to St. Clement's church, I again remarked that Fleet-street was the most cheerful scene in the world. 

There was a very numerous congregation to-day at St. Clement's church, which Dr. Johnson said he observed with pleasure.

And now I am to give a pretty full account of one of the most curious incidents in Johnson's life, of which he himself has made the following minute on this day: 'In my return from church, I was accosted by Edwards, an old fellow-collegian, who had not seen me since 1729. He knew me, and asked if I remembered one Edwards; I did not at first recollect the name, but gradually as we walked along, recovered it, and told him a conversation that had passed at an alehouse between us. My purpose is to continue our acquaintance.'

It was in Butcher-row that this meeting happened. Mr. Edwards, who was a decent-looking elderly man in grey clothes, and a wig of many curls, accosted Johnson with familiar confidence, knowing who he was, while Johnson returned his salutation with a courteous formality, as to a stranger. But as soon as Edwards had brought to his recollection their having been at Pembroke-College together nine-and-forty years ago, he seemed much pleased, asked where he lived, and said he should be glad to see him in Bolt-court. 

EDWARDS. 'Ah, Sir! we are old men now.' 

JOHNSON, (who never liked to think of being old:) 'Don't let us discourage one another.' 

EDWARDS. 'Why, Doctor, you look stout and hearty, I am happy to see you so; for the newspapers told us you were very ill.' 

JOHNSON, 'Ay, Sir, they are always telling lies of us old fellows.'

Wishing to be present at more of so singular a conversation as that between two fellow-collegians, who had lived forty years in London without ever having chanced to meet, I whispered to Mr. Edwards that Dr. Johnson was going home, and that he had better accompany him now. So Edwards walked along with us, I eagerly assisting to keep up the conversation. 

Mr. Edwards informed Dr. Johnson that he had practised long as a solicitor in Chancery, but that he now lived in the country upon a little farm, about sixty acres, just by Stevenage in Hertfordshire, and that he came to London (to Barnard's Inn, No. 6), generally twice a week. Johnson appearing to me in a reverie, Mr. Edwards addressed himself to me, and expatiated on the pleasure of living in the country. 

BOSWELL. 'I have no notion of this, Sir. What you have to entertain you, is, I think, exhausted in half an hour.' 

EDWARDS. 'What? don't you love to have hope realized? I see my grass, and my corn, and my trees growing. Now, for instance, I am curious to see if this frost has not nipped my fruit-trees.' 

JOHNSON, (who we did not imagine was attending:) 'You find, Sir, you have fears as well as hopes.'

— So well did he see the whole, when another saw but the half of a subject. 

When we got to Dr. Johnson's house, and were seated in his library, the dialogue went on admirably. 

EDWARDS. 'Sir, I remember you would not let us say prodigious at College. For even then, Sir, (turning to me,) he was delicate in language, and we all feared him.' 

JOHNSON, (to Edwards:) 'From your having practised the law long, Sir, I presume you must be rich.' 

EDWARDS. 'No, Sir; I got a good deal of money; but I had a number of poor relations to whom I gave a great part of it.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have been rich in the most valuable sense of the word.' 

EDWARDS. 'But I shall not die rich.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, sure , Sir, it is better to live rich than to die rich.' 

EDWARDS. 'I wish I had continued at College.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why do you wish that, Sir?' 

EDWARDS. 'Because I think I should have had a much easier life than mine has been. I should have been a parson, and had a good living, like Bloxam and several others, and lived comfortably.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, the life of a parson, of a conscientious clergyman, is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. I would rather have Chancery suits upon my hands than the cure of souls. No, Sir, I do not envy a clergyman's life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.' Here taking himself up all of a sudden, he exclaimed, 'O! Mr. Edwards! I'll convince you that I recollect you. Do you remember our drinking together at an alehouse near Pembroke gate. At that time, you told me of the Eton boy, who, when verses on our Saviour's turning water into wine were prescribed as an exercise, brought up a single line, which was highly admired,—

"Vidit et erubuit lympha pudica Deum," {The modest water saw its God and blushed. – Editor} 

and I told you of another fine line in Camden's Remains, an eulogy upon one of our Kings, who was succeeded by his son, a prince of equal merit:— 

"Mira cano, Sol occubuit, nox nulla secuta est." {"Wonders I sing; the sun has set, no night has ensued." – Editor}'

EDWARDS. 'You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.' 

Mr. Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Courtenay, Mr. Malone, and, indeed, all the eminent men to whom I have mentioned this, have thought it an exquisite trait of character. The truth is, that philosophy, like religion, is too generally supposed to be hard and severe, at least so grave as to exclude all gaiety.

EDWARDS. 'I have been twice married, Doctor. You, I suppose, have never known what it was to have a wife.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I have known what it was to have a wife, and (in a solemn tender faultering tone) I have known what it was to lose a wife.— It had almost broke my heart.'

EDWARDS. 'How do you live, Sir? For my part, I must have my regular meals, and a glass of good wine. I find I require it.' 

JOHNSON. 'I now drink no wine, Sir. Early in life I drank wine: for many years I drank none. I then for some years drank a great deal.' 

EDWARDS. 'Some hogsheads, I warrant you.' 

JOHNSON. 'I then had a severe illness, and left it off, and I have never begun it again. I never felt any difference upon myself from eating one thing rather than another, nor from one kind of weather rather than another. There are people. I believe, who feel a difference; but I am not one of them. And as to regular meals, I have fasted from the Sunday's dinner to the Tuesday's dinner, without any inconvenience. I believe it is best to eat just as one is hungry: but a man who is in business, or a man who has a family, must have stated meals. I am a straggler. I may leave this town and go to Grand Cairo, without being missed here or observed there.' 

EDWARDS. 'Don't you eat supper, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'No, Sir.' 

EDWARDS. 'For my part, now, I consider supper as a turnpike through which one must pass, in order to get to bed.'

JOHNSON. 'You are a lawyer, Mr. Edwards. Lawyers know life practically. A bookish man should always have them to converse with. They have what he wants.' 

EDWARDS. 'I am grown old: I am sixty-five.' 

JOHNSON. 'I shall be sixty-eight next birth-day. Come, Sir, drink water, and put in for a hundred.'

Mr. Edwards mentioned a gentleman who had left his whole fortune to Pembroke College. 

JOHNSON. 'Whether to leave one's whole fortune to a College be right, must depend upon circumstances. I would leave the interest of the fortune I bequeathed to a College to my relations or my friends, for their lives. It is the same thing to a College, which is a permanent society, whether it gets the money now or twenty years hence; and I would wish to make my relations or friends feel the benefit of it.'

This interview confirmed my opinion of Johnson's most humane and benevolent heart. His cordial and placid behaviour to an old fellow-collegian, a man so different from himself; and his telling him that he would go down to his farm and visit him, showed a kindness of disposition very rare at an advanced age. 

He observed, 'how wonderful it was that they had both been in London forty years, without having ever once met, and both walkers in the street too!' 

Mr. Edwards, when going away, again recurred to his consciousness of senility, and looking full in Johnson's face, said to him, 'You'll find in Dr. Young,

"O my coevals! remnants of yourselves!"' 

Johnson did not relish this at all; but shook his head with impatience. Edwards walked off, seemingly highly pleased with the honour of having been thus noticed by Dr. Johnson. When he was gone, I said to Johnson, I thought him but a weak man. 

JOHNSON. 'Why, yes, Sir. Here is a man who has passed through life without experience: yet I would rather have him with me than a more sensible man who will not talk readily. This man is always willing to say what he has to say.' 

Yet Dr. Johnson had himself by no means that willingness which he praised so much, and I think so justly; for who has not felt the painful effect of the dreary void, when there is a total silence in a company, for any length of time; or, which is as bad, or perhaps worse, when the conversation is with difficulty kept up by a perpetual effort?

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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 live Sundays at 8pm {EST} exclusively on the Dumont Television Network. This week’s play: The Dog Days Make People Crazy, by Hilaire P. St. Jacques, starring Kitty Carlisle as “Dr. Blanche”, with special guest star Pat O’Brien as “Mr. McGillicuddy”.)

part 182

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