Sunday, April 07, 2013
A Niceness of Touch
No sooner had I asked Burke for some encouragement about reading THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON than here it came, through the ether: "I just flipped through it now" (wrote Burke) "and I couldn't remember why I loved every page - and just today I got the unabridged copy in the mail. No kidding! But here's one thing: I see it as a comedy of hero worship. Johnson IS a pill!" Burke goes on to praise "the funny formal way [Boswell] tries to rationalize Johnson's shortcomings. So that's one of the main things I liked about it... I also liked anything having to do with Johnson's blind female roommate/best friend. That's all the encouragement I have!" And sure enough, just after receiving Burke's email, I reached a point in the book where Boswell is really excited to have tea with Samuel Johnson and Samuel Johnson's friend Mrs. Williams, but then he (Boswell) is grossed out when blind Mrs. Williams, who is serving, appears to stick her finger in his tea to make sure the cup is properly filled. (A footnote informs me that Boswell was mistaken on that point: "She had acquired... such a niceness of touch, as to know, by the feeling of the outside of the cup, how near it was to being full." The same footnote says that Johnson could drink 12 cups of tea in a sitting and claimed to have once enjoyed 25.) And Burke was right: the lift I received from Mrs. Williams propelled me through 22 more pages but I'm slowing down again - Samuel Johnson keeps being a sour old jerk. It's like looking in a mirror! Maybe that's the problem.