1. Another disappointing week as far as job prospects are concerned. A job I really wanted and would love to do turns out to have a relocation requirement that’s likely to make it impractical. Meaning I’m once again back to square one. My life feels a lot like that board game I mentioned a while back.
2. Flipped through a bit of Life of Johnson this past week. This was my first time revisiting it after reading some of Dr. Johnson’s political tracts, including The False Alarm, where he gave it with both barrels to the radical Whig MP John Wilkes (the guy was popular on the other side of the pond, hence why certain families chose to name their children after him). Short version was that Parliament had voted to expel Wilkes multiple times, who simply ran again and got re-elected, and there was a big controversy over whether they could exclude him from the body, or whether this was ‘depriving the people of their representation’. Johnson took the side of Parliament, though as often happened his side ultimately lost (logic and practicality being very weak weapons in politics then as now).
So I find that, some ten years later, Johnson and Wilkes are guests at the same dinner party and proceed to spend the evening in happy conversation, roasting the Scots (Johnson loved to tease Boswell with Scottish jokes) and talking politics.
At one point, they were talking about a particular issue of coinage, and Wilkes pointed to Parliamentary precedence for his position. To which Johnson answered “But surely, sir, you don’t think an act of Parliament equivalent to the law of the land?” Much laughter from Wilkes and company. Johnson subsequently arranged to have a complimentary copy of his then-recent Lives of the Poets sent to Wilkes, who had lamented that he wished to read it but was, “only a poor civil servant.”
This is the sort of thing I like reading: having given the controversy their all, the two political opponents sit down to mutually respectful and cheerful conversation and gentle ribbing.
3. Speaking of which, I have discovered the Holy Grail (or at least the Ark of the Covenant): G.K. Chesterton writes on Samuel Johnson! Something I suppose I knew must exist, as Newton knew that stellar parallaxes must exist, but which I’d never tracked down before. Put those two minds on the same page and you just know you’re in for good times: it’s the literary cross-over event of the century!
Johnson, it may be repeated, was a splendidly sane man who knew he was a little mad. He was the exact opposite of the literary man of proverbial satire; the poet of Punch and “the artistic temperament.” He was the very opposite of the man who rejoices with the skylark and quarrels with the dinner; who is an optimist to his publisher, and a pessimist to his wife. Johnson was melancholy by physical and mental trend; and grew sad in hours of mere expansion and idleness. But his unconquerable courage and commonsense led him to defy his own temperament in every detail of daily life; so that he was cheerful in his conversation and sad only in his books. Had Johnson been in the place of the minor poet of modern satire, his wife and his cook would have had all his happiness. The skylark would have had to bear all his depression; and would probably have borne it pretty well.
4. Further examination: Oh, my God, Chesterton actually wrote a whole play about Johnson! How is this the first I’m hearing of it?! This is the Holy Grail for sure!
(And apparently very hard to find. We’ll have to do something about that…)
UPDATE: Only place I’ve found it is included in Vol. 11 of Ignatius Press’s Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton.
5. I’ve mostly been having a break from working these past couple weeks, except for some light projects and housekeeping. However, I’m now reviving a couple projects that I had been working on, but had more or less set aside. One of them should be ready for prime-time soon (depending on a couple factors), so keep an eye out for that.
6. Whig history is pretty much just “history is written by the winners” turned into a principle.
7. A particular popular slogan could be rephrased: “Those who live rationally and well will probably not have works they will never read written about them by people they will never know.”