I read this abridgment of the text. I think I'll leave it with the abridged version and not go into the unabridged version. It's easy to see why this work is considered the biography, but it does also get a bit overly-specific. Boswell's love for his subject generally saves the day, but I'm not sure how well that would hold up in the unabridged version. I think this work has persuaded me to spend my time reading some of Dr Johnson's actual writing. I look forward to doing so.
In a sense, this book can be summed up in the following exchange between Boswell on Johnson:
JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; I have done more good as I am. Obscenity and Impiety have always been repressed in my company.'
BOSWELL. 'True, Sir; and that is more than can be said of every Bishop. Greater liberties have been taken in the presence of a Bishop, though a very good man, from his being milder, and therefore not commanding such awe. Yet, Sir, many people who might have been benefited by your conversation, have been frightened away. A worthy friend of ours has told me, that he has often been afraid to talk to you.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, he need not have been afraid, if he had any thing rational to say. If he had not, it was better he did not talk.'
It's fair, I think, to say that Dr Johnson is an asshole. I mean this as a compliment. He's an extreme version of the crusty old man who actually says what he thinks (unfortunately, I dying breed). In other words, he's an extreme version of the man described in the Trollope quote I have on the side of the blog:
England has died as this type of man has disappeared.
Much of Boswell's work consists of presenting exchanges between Johnson and other distinguished persons. Johnson inevitably triumphs in the exchanges, says something funny and offends his antagonist. Boswell hastens to show the reader that Johnson is, in fact, a very sweet person (something I believe readily, as this type of man always is).
Johnson also is a Jacobin. He's a reactionary (part of Mr Moldbug's reactionary triumvirate: Carlyle, Johnson and Shakespeare). As Boswell says, "that he [Johnson] had a tenderness for that unfortunate House [the House of Stuart], is well known." He was fanatically anti-Whig.
If you allow to suggest that Mencius Moldbug has coined several laws of history, I would suggest that the Moldbug's first law of history is that in any political dispute, the reactionary's (extreme right's) predictions for the future are always correct, on a long enough time scale. For example, Johnson says:
This topic of natural subordination (also a favorite of Carlyle's) is a recurring theme for Johnson: "On his favourite subject of subordination, Johnson said, 'So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.'"
I can't resist one anti-Whig quote (also reminiscent of Carlyle):
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, I reconcile my principles very well, because mankind are happier in a state of inequality and subordination. Were they to be in this pretty state of equality, they would soon degenerate into brutes;–they would become Monboddo's nation;–their tails would grow. Sir, all would be losers were all to work for all–they would have no intellectual improvement. All intellectual improvement arises from leisure; all leisure arises from one working for another.'
And his wit:
The utmost importance of truth is also a common theme for the Great Reactionaries:
A thought to ponder:
On the sexes:
JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, women have all the liberty they should wish to have. We have all the labour and the danger, and the women all the advantage. We go to sea, we build houses, we do everything, in short, to pay our court to the women.'
MRS. KNOWLES. 'The Doctor reasons very wittily, but not convincingly. Now, take the instance of building; the mason's wife, if she is ever seen in liquor, is ruined; the mason may get himself drunk as often as he pleases, with little loss of character; nay, may let his wife and children starve.'
JOHNSON. 'Madam, you must consider, if the mason does get himself drunk, and let his wife and children starve, the parish will oblige him to find security for their maintenance. We have different modes of restraining evil. Stocks for the men, a ducking-stool for women, and a pound for beasts. If we require more perfection from women than from ourselves, it is doing them honour. And women have not the same temptations that we have: they may always live in virtuous company; men must mix in the world indiscriminately. If a woman has no inclination to do what is wrong being secured from it is no restraint to her. I am at liberty to walk into the Thames; but if I were to try it, my friends would restrain me in Bedlam, and I should be obliged to them.'
MRS. KNOWLES. 'Still, Doctor, I cannot help thinking it a hardship that more indulgence is allowed to men than to women. It gives a superiority to men, to which I do not see how they are entitled.'
JOHNSON. 'It is plain, Madam, one or other must have the superiority. As Shakespeare says, "If two men ride on a horse, one must ride behind."'
DILLY. 'I suppose, Sir, Mrs. Knowles would have them to ride in panniers, one on each side.'
JOHNSON. 'Then, Sir, the horse would throw them both.'
MRS. KNOWLES. 'Well, I hope that in another world the sexes will be equal.'
BOSWELL. 'That is being too ambitious, Madam. WE might as well desire to be equal with the angels. We shall all, I hope, be happy in a future state, but we must not expect to be all happy in the same degree. It is enough if we be happy according to our several capacities. A worthy carman will get to heaven as well as Sir Isaac Newton. Yet, though equally good, they will not have the same degrees of happiness.'
JOHNSON. 'Probably not.'
Another two that I can't resist:
Here's to curmudgeonry!