Sunday, September 24, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 187

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Basic Remedial Reading Skills for Native English Speakers, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Impudent Guttersnipe, the Olney Community College Press.

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On Wednesday, April 29, I dined with him at Mr. Allan Ramsay's, where were Lord Binning, Dr. Robertson the historian, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen, widow of the Admiral, and mother of the present Viscount Falmouth; of whom, if it be not presumptuous in me to praise her, I would say, that her manners are the most agreeable, and her conversation the best, of any lady with whom I ever had the happiness to be acquainted. 

Before Johnson came we talked a good deal of him; Ramsay said he had always found him a very polite man, and that he treated him with great respect, which he did very sincerely. 

I said I worshipped him. 

ROBERTSON. 'But some of you spoil him; you should not worship him; you should worship no man.' 

BOSWELL. 'I cannot help worshipping him, he is so much superiour to other men.' 

ROBERTSON. 'In criticism, and in wit in conversation, he is no doubt very excellent; but in other respects he is not above other men; he will believe any thing, and will strenuously defend the most minute circumstance connected with the Church of England.' 

BOSWELL. 'Believe me, Doctor, you are much mistaken as to this; for when you talk with him calmly in private, he is very liberal in his way of thinking.' 

ROBERTSON. 'He and I have been always very gracious; the first time I met him was one evening at Strahan's, when he had just had an unlucky altercation with Adam Smith, to whom he had been so rough, that Strahan, after Smith was gone, had remonstrated with him, and told him that I was coming soon, and that he was uneasy to think that he might behave in the same manner to me. "No, no, Sir, (said Johnson) I warrant you Robertson and I shall do very well." Accordingly he was gentle and good-humoured, and courteous with me the whole evening; and he has been so upon every occasion that we have met since. I have often said (laughing) that I have been in a great measure indebted to Smith for my good reception.' 

BOSWELL. 'His power of reasoning is very strong, and he has a peculiar art of drawing characters, which is as rare as good portrait painting.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'He is undoubtedly admirable in this; but, in order to mark the characters which he draws, he overcharges them, and gives people more than they really have, whether of good or bad.' 

No sooner did he, of whom we had been thus talking so easily, arrive, than we were all as quiet as a school upon the entrance of the head-master; and were very soon set down to a table covered with such variety of good things, as contributed not a little to dispose him to be pleased.

RAMSAY. 'I am old enough to have been a contemporary of Pope. His poetry was highly admired in his life-time, more a great deal than after his death.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, it has not been less admired since his death; no authours ever had so much fame in their own life-time as Pope and Voltaire; and Pope's poetry has been as much admired since his death as during his life; it has only not been as much talked of, but that is owing to its being now more distant, and people having other writings to talk of. Virgil is less talked of than Pope, and Homer is less talked of than Virgil; but they are not less admired. We must read what the world reads at the moment. It has been maintained that this superfoetation, this teeming of the press in modern times, is prejudicial to good literature, because it obliges us to read so much of what is of inferiour value, in order to be in the fashion; so that better works are neglected for want of time, because a man will have more gratification of his vanity in conversation, from having read modern books, than from having read the best works of antiquity.

But it must be considered, that we have now more knowledge generally diffused; all our ladies read now, which is a great extension. Modern writers are the moons of literature; they shine with reflected light, with light borrowed from the ancients. Greece appears to me to be the fountain of knowledge; Rome of elegance.' 

RAMSAY. 'I suppose Homer's Iliad to be a collection of pieces which had been written before his time. I should like to see a translation of it in poetical prose like the book of Ruth or Job.' 

ROBERTSON. 'Would you, Dr. Johnson, who are master of the English language, but try your hand upon a part of it.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, you could not read it without the pleasure of verse.'

We talked of antiquarian researches. 

JOHNSON. 'All that is really known of the ancient state of Britain is contained in a few pages. We can know no more than what the old writers have told us; yet what large books have we upon it, the whole of which, excepting such parts as are taken from those old writers, is all a dream.

I have heard Henry's History of Britain well spoken of: I am told it is carried on in separate divisions, as the civil, the military, the religious history: I wish much to have one branch well done, and that is the history of manners, of common life.' 

ROBERTSON. 'Henry should have applied his attention to that alone, which is enough for any man; and he might have found a great deal scattered in various books, had he read solely with that view. Henry erred in not selling his first volume at a moderate price to the booksellers, that they might have pushed him on till he had got reputation.

I sold my History of Scotland at a moderate price, as a work by which the booksellers might either gain or not; and Cadell has told me that Millar and he have got six thousand pounds by it. I afterwards received a much higher price for my writings. An authour should sell his first work for what the booksellers will give, till it shall appear whether he is an authour of merit, or, which is the same thing as to purchase-money, an authour who pleases the publick.'

Dr. Robertson expatiated on the character of a certain nobleman; that he was one of the strongest-minded men that ever lived; that he would sit in company quite sluggish, while there was nothing to call forth his intellectual vigour; but the moment that any important subject was started, for instance, how this country is to be defended against a French invasion, he would rouse himself, and shew his extraordinary talents with the most powerful ability and animation. 

JOHNSON. 'Yet this man cut his own throat. The true strong and sound mind is the mind that can embrace equally great things and small. Now I am told the King of Prussia will say to a servant, "Bring me a bottle of such a wine, which came in such a year; it lies in such a corner of the cellars." I would have a man great in great things, and elegant in little things.' 

He said to me afterwards, when we were by ourselves, 'Robertson was in a mighty romantick humour, he talked of one whom he did not know; but I downed him with the King of Prussia.' 

'Yes, Sir, (said I,) you threw a bottle at his head.'

An ingenious gentleman was mentioned, concerning whom both Robertson and Ramsay agreed that he had a constant firmness of mind; for after a laborious day, and amidst a multiplicity of cares and anxieties, he would sit down with his sisters and be quite cheerful and good-humoured. Such a disposition, it was observed, was a happy gift of nature. 

JOHNSON. 'I do not think so; a man has from nature a certain portion of mind; the use he makes of it depends upon his own free will. That a man has always the same firmness of mind I do not say; because every man feels his mind less firm at one time than another; but I think a man's being in a good or bad humour depends upon his will.' 

I, however, could not help thinking that a man's humour is often uncontroulable by his will.

Johnson harangued against drinking wine. 

'A man (said he) may choose whether he will have abstemiousness and knowledge, or claret and ignorance.' 

Dr. Robertson, (who is very companionable,) was beginning to dissent as to the proscription of claret. 

JOHNSON: (with a placid smile.) 'Nay, Sir, you shall not differ with me; as I have said that the man is most perfect who takes in the most things, I am for knowledge and claret.' 

ROBERTSON: (holding a glass of generous claret in his hand.) 'Sir, I can only drink your health.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, I should be sorry if you should be ever in such a state as to be able to do nothing more.' 

ROBERTSON. 'Dr. Johnson, allow me to say, that in one respect I have the advantage of you; when you were in Scotland you would not come to hear any of our preachers, whereas, when I am here, I attend your publick worship without scruple, and indeed, with great satisfaction.' 

JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, that is not so extraordinary: the King of Siam sent ambassadors to Louis the Fourteenth; but Louis the Fourteenth sent none to the King of Siam.'

Here my friend for once discovered a want of knowledge or forgetfulness; for Louis the Fourteenth did send an embassy to the King of Siam, and the Abbé Choisi, who was employed in it, published an account of it in two volumes. 

(classix comix™ is brought to you by Bob’s Bowery Bar™: “A word to my friends who work at a dreaded ‘day job’ – why drag your weary body and tedium-numbed brain back to your lonely sixth-floor walk-up after work when you can make a soul-satisfying stop at my favorite fine drinking and eating establishment Bob’s Bowery Bar – conveniently located at Bleecker and the Bowery and within easy stumbling distance of subway or bus stop? Between the hours of 4pm and 7pm, Monday through Friday, Bob’s famous basement-brewed house bock will set you back a mere fifty cents for an Imperial pint, and a pint of bock and a shot of the well liquor of your choice will lighten your wallet by only one dollar! Help yourself to complimentary pretzels ‘n’ chips and a rotating choice of bar snacks, including fresh-baked hot cross buns, pickled eggs, pig’s feet, and hardtack nuggets. Get there early before the place fills up!”

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part 188

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 186

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

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, colorization by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarqdetriomphe™ production.

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here

At General Paoli's were Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Langton, Marchese Gherardi of Lombardy, and Mr. John Spottiswoode the younger, of Spottiswoode, the solicitor. At this time fears of an invasion were circulated; to obviate which, Mr. Spottiswoode observed, that Mr. Fraser the engineer, who had lately come from Dunkirk, said, that the French had the same fears of us. 

JOHNSON. 'It is thus that mutual cowardice keeps us in peace. Were one half of mankind brave, and one half cowards, the brave would be always beating the cowards. Were all brave, they would lead a very uneasy life; all would be continually fighting: but being all cowards, we go on very well.'

We talked of drinking wine. 

JOHNSON. 'I require wine, only when I am alone. I have then often wished for it, and often taken it.' 

SPOTTISWOODE. 'What, by way of a companion, Sir?' 

JOHNSON. 'To get rid of myself, to send myself away. Wine gives great pleasure; and every pleasure is of itself a good. It is a good, unless counterbalanced by evil. A man may have a strong reason not to drink wine; and that may be greater than the pleasure. Wine makes a man better pleased with himself. I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others. Sometimes it does. But the danger is, that while a man grows better pleased with himself, he may be growing less pleasing to others.

Wine gives a man nothing. It neither gives him knowledge nor wit; it only animates a man, and enables him to bring out what a dread of the company has repressed. It only puts in motion what has been locked up in frost. But this may be good, or it may be bad.' 

SPOTTISWOODE. 'So, Sir, wine is a key which opens a box; but this box may be either full or empty.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, conversation is the key: wine is a pick-lock, which forces open the box and injures it. A man should cultivate his mind so as to have that confidence and readiness without wine, which wine gives.' 

BOSWELL. 'The great difficulty of resisting wine is from benevolence. For instance, a good worthy man asks you to taste his wine, which he has had twenty years in his cellar.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, all this notion about benevolence arises from a man's imagining himself to be of more importance to others, than he really is. They don't care a farthing whether he drinks wine or not.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'Yes, they do for the time.' 

JOHNSON. 'For the time!— If they care this minute, they forget it the next. And as for the good worthy man; how do you know he is good and worthy? No good and worthy man will insist upon another man's drinking wine. As to the wine twenty years in the cellar,— of ten men, three say this, merely because they must say something;— three are telling a lie, when they say they have had the wine twenty years;— three would rather save the wine;— one, perhaps, cares. I allow it is something to please one's company: and people are always pleased with those who partake pleasure with them. But after a man has brought himself to relinquish the great personal pleasure which arises from drinking wine, any other consideration is a trifle. To please others by drinking wine, is something only, if there be nothing against it. I should, however, be sorry to offend worthy men:—

"Curst be the verse, how well so e'er it flow,  That tends to make one worthy man my foe."'

'But let us consider what a sad thing it would be, if we were obliged to drink or do any thing else that may happen to be agreeable to the company where we are.' 

LANGTON. 'By the same rule you must join with a gang of cut-purses.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir: but yet we must do justice to wine; we must allow it the power it possesses. To make a man pleased with himself, let me tell you, is doing a very great thing;

"Si patriæ volumus, si Nobis vivere cari. {“if we desire to be of use to our country or dear to ourselves” – Editor}'"

I was at this time myself a water-drinker, upon trial, by Johnson's recommendation. 

JOHNSON. 'Boswell is a bolder combatant than Sir Joshua: he argues for wine without the help of wine; but Sir Joshua with it.' 

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS. 'But to please one's company is a strong motive.' 

JOHNSON. (who, from drinking only water, supposed every body who drank wine to be elevated,) 'I won't argue any more with you, Sir. You are too far gone.'  

SIR JOSHUA. 'I should have thought so indeed, Sir, had I made such a speech as you have now done.' 

JOHNSON (drawing himself in, and, I really thought blushing,) 'Nay, don't be angry. I did not mean to offend you.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'At first the taste of wine was disagreeable to me; but I brought myself to drink it, that I might be like other people. The pleasure of drinking wine is so connected with pleasing your company, that altogether there is something of social goodness in it.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, this is only saying the same thing over again.' 

SIR JOSHUA. 'No, this is new.' 

JOHNSON. 'You put it in new words, but it is an old thought. This is one of the disadvantages of wine. It makes a man mistake words for thoughts.' 

BOSWELL. 'I think it is a new thought; at least, it is in a new attitude.' 

JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, it is only in a new coat; or an old coat with a new facing. (Then laughing heartily) It is the old dog in a new doublet.— An extraordinary instance however may occur where a man's patron will do nothing for him, unless he will drink: there may be a good reason for drinking.'

I mentioned a nobleman, who I believed was really uneasy if his company would not drink hard. 

JOHNSON. 'That is from having had people about him whom he has been accustomed to command.' 

BOSWELL. 'Supposing I should be tête-à-tête with him at table.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no more reason for your drinking with him, than his being sober with you.' 

BOSWELL. 'Why that is true; for it would do him less hurt to be sober, than it would do me to get drunk.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; and from what I have heard of him, one would not wish to sacrifice himself to such a man. If he must always have somebody to drink with him, he should buy a slave, and then he would be sure to have it. They who submit to drink as another pleases, make themselves his slaves.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, you will surely make allowance for the duty of hospitality. A gentleman who loves drinking, comes to visit me.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, a man knows whom he visits; he comes to the table of a sober man.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, you and I should not have been so well received in the Highlands and Hebrides, if I had not drunk with our worthy friends. Had I drunk water only as you did, they would not have been so cordial.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir William Temple mentions that in his travels through the Netherlands he had two or three gentlemen with him; and when a bumper was necessary, he put it on them. Were I to travel again through the islands, I would have Sir Joshua with me to take the bumpers.' 

BOSWELL. 'But, Sir, let me put a case. Suppose Sir Joshua should take a jaunt into Scotland; he does me the honour to pay me a visit at my house in the country; I am overjoyed at seeing him; we are quite by ourselves, shall I unsociably and churlishly let him sit drinking by himself? No, no, my dear Sir Joshua, you shall not be treated so, I will take a bottle with you.'

The celebrated Mrs. Rudd being mentioned. 

JOHNSON. 'Fifteen years ago I should have gone to see her.'

"(classix comix™ is made possible in part through the continuing support of the Bob’s Bowery Bar Foundation for Illustrated Literature: “I should like to remind our viewers that every Wednesday night is ‘Ring-a-Ding-Wings Night’ at my favorite watering hole Bob’s Bowery Bar, featuring ‘Bob’s Mom’s’ fat juicy free-range backyard chicken wings, slathered in our house ‘Hellfire Sauce’, stir-fried to a cripsy turn and served with garden-fresh carrots ‘n’ celery – at the low, low price of two bits a wing! {Offer good while supplies last.} Goes swell with Bob’s world-renowned basement-brewed house bock, but, gee, what doesn’t?”

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part 187

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 185

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of 18th Century Oral History Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Importunate Guttersnipe, the Olney Community College Press.

Art direction by rhoda penmarq (pencils, inks, automotive spraypaints by eddie el greco; lettering by roy dismas); a penmarq™/sternwall™ joint.

to begin at the beginning, click here

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We went to the drawing-room, where was a considerable increase of company. Several of us got round Dr. Johnson, and complained that he would not give us an exact catalogue of his works, that there might be a complete edition. He smiled, and evaded our entreaties. 

That he intended to do it, I have no doubt, because I have heard him say so; and I have in my possession an imperfect list, fairly written out, which he entitles Historia Studiorum. I once got from one of his friends a list, which there was pretty good reason to suppose was accurate, for it was written down in his presence by this friend, who enumerated each article aloud, and had some of them mentioned to him by Mr. Levett, in concert with whom it was made out; and Johnson, who heard all this, did not contradict it.

But when I shewed a copy of this list to him, and mentioned the evidence for its exactness, he laughed, and said, 'I was willing to let them go on as they pleased, and never interfered.' 

Upon which I read it to him, article by article, and got him positively to own or refuse; and then, having obtained certainty so far, I got some other articles confirmed by him directly; and afterwards, from time to time, made additions under his sanction.


His friend Edward Cave having been mentioned, he told us, 'Cave used to sell ten thousand of The Gentleman's Magazine; yet such was then his minute attention and anxiety that the sale should not suffer the smallest decrease, that he would name a particular person who he heard had talked of leaving off the Magazine, and would say, 'Let us have something good next month.'

It was observed, that avarice was inherent in some dispositions. 

JOHNSON. 'No man was born a miser, because no man was born to possession. Every man is born cupidus — desirous of getting; but not avarus, — desirous of keeping.' 

BOSWELL. 'I have heard old Mr. Sheridan maintain, with much ingenuity, that a complete miser is a happy man; a miser who gives himself wholly to the one passion of saving.' 

JOHNSON. 'That is flying in the face of all the world, who have called an avaricious man a miser, because he is miserable. No, Sir; a man who both spends and saves money is the happiest man, because he has both enjoyments.' 

The conversation having turned on Bon-Mots, he quoted, from one of the Ana, an exquisite instance of flattery in a maid of honour in France, who being asked by the Queen what o'clock it was, answered, 'What your Majesty pleases.' 

He observed, 'A man cannot with propriety speak of himself, except he relates simple facts; as, "I was at Richmond:" or what depends on mensuration; as, "I am six feet high." He is sure he has been at Richmond; he is sure he is six feet high: but he cannot be sure he is wise, or that he has any other excellence. Then, all censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to shew how much he can spare. It has all the invidiousness of self-praise, and all the reproach of falsehood.' 

BOSWELL. 'Sometimes it may proceed from a man's strong consciousness of his faults being observed. He knows that others would throw him down, and therefore he had better lye down softly of his own accord.'

On Tuesday, April 28, he was engaged to dine at General Paoli's, where, as I have already observed, I was still entertained in elegant hospitality, and with all the ease and comfort of a home. I called on him, and accompanied him in a hackney-coach. We stopped first at the bottom of Hedge-lane, into which he went to leave a letter, 'with good news for a poor man in distress,' as he told me. I did not question him particularly as to this. 

He himself often resembled Lady Bolingbroke's lively description of Pope; that 'he was un politique aux choux et aux raves.' He would say, 'I dine to-day in Grosvenor-square;' this might be with a Duke: or, perhaps, 'I dine to-day at the other end of the town:' or, 'A gentleman of great eminence called on me yesterday.' 

He loved thus to keep things floating in conjecture: Omne ignotum pro magnifico est {“Everything unknown appears magnificent.” – Editor}. 

I believe I ventured to dissipate the cloud, to unveil the mystery, more freely and frequently than any of his friends. 

We stopped again at Wirgman's, the well-known toy-shop, in St. James's-street, at the corner of St. James's-place, to which he had been directed, but not clearly, for he searched about some time, and could not find it at first; and said, 'To direct one only to a corner shop is toying with one.' 

I suppose he meant this as a play upon the word toy: it was the first time that I knew him stoop to such sport. 

After he had been some time in the shop, he sent for me to come out of the coach, and help him to choose a pair of silver buckles, as those he had were too small. Probably this alteration in dress had been suggested by Mrs. Thrale, by associating with whom, his external appearance was much improved. He got better cloaths; and the dark colour, from which he never deviated, was enlivened by metal buttons. His wigs, too, were much better; and during their travels in France, he was furnished with a Paris-made wig, of handsome construction. 

This choosing of silver buckles was a negociation: 'Sir (said he), I will not have the ridiculous large ones now in fashion; and I will give no more than a guinea for a pair.' 

Such were the principles of the business; and, after some examination, he was fitted. As we drove along, I found him in a talking humour, of which I availed myself. 

BOSWELL. 'I was this morning in Ridley's shop, Sir; and was told, that the collection called Johnsoniana has sold very much.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yet the Journey to the Hebrides has not had a great sale.' 

BOSWELL. 'That is strange.' 

JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; for in that book I have told the world a great deal that they did not know before.'

BOSWELL. 'I drank chocolate, Sir, this morning with Mr. Eld; and, to my no small surprize, found him to be a Staffordshire Whig, a being which I did not believe had existed.' 

JOHNSON. 'Sir, there are rascals in all countries.' 

BOSWELL. 'Eld said, a Tory was a creature generated between a non-juring parson and one's grandmother.'{In British history, non-jurors refused to swear allegiance to William and Mary. – Editor}

JOHNSON. 'And I have always said, the first Whig was the Devil.' 

BOSWELL. 'He certainly was, Sir. The Devil was impatient of subordination; he was the first who resisted power:— "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."'

(classix comix™ is sponsored by Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Yes, September is here, and with it the new fall menu at my favorite urban oasis Bob’s Bowery Bar! Allow me to recommend a returning personal ‘fave’ – ‘Bob’s Mom’s Mulligan Stew’: a soul-satisfying slow-simmered mélange of beef ‘n’ pork parts, potatoes and ‘garden vegetables’, served with your choice of Mom’s crusty sourdough rolls or hot cross buns (sorry, only two rolls or buns per order) – goes swell with a tall beaded imperial pint schooner of Bob’s world-renowned basement-brewed house bock!”

- 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: A Cactus Grows in the Lower East Side, by Herb P. Schump, starring Kitty Carlisle as “Dr. Blanche”, with special guest star Arnold Stang as “Moxie”.)  

part 186