Happy birthday to Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell enjoying Edinburgh

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell enjoying Edinburgh

… about whom I once wrote a little poem.

By the way, did you hear the apocryphal story about when Johnson was asked by a Scot what he thought of Scotland (that land ‘where there is nothing to be got’ and there exists ‘a diffusion of learning’)?

His reply: ‘That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir’.

To which the young Scot rejoined, ‘Well, Sir! God made it’.

‘Certainly he did’, quipped Johnson, ‘but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S——; but God made hell’.

Ouch! Of course, the Londoner had himself made a pleasant enough journey to Scotland once, in 1773 with James Boswell, very much enjoying the women and the ‘little Highland steed[s]’, but concluding from their three-month holiday (their twin accounts were subsequently published as The Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides) that ‘the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!’

Scottifying the Palate from ‘Picturesque Beauties of Boswell, Part the First’, etched by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786 (etching) Samuel Collings—Read

‘Scottifying the Palate’, from Picturesque Beauties of Boswell, Part the First. Etching by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786.

3 thoughts on “Happy birthday to Samuel Johnson

  1. Haha, great portrait. There are so many paintings of him- who painted this one? Reminds me of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s sculptures.

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  2. @Tamara: I deleted the portrait (because as humorous as it was, I wasn’t 100% certain that it was Johnson rather than, say, J. S. Bach) and replaced it with these two etchings. Hope you enjoy these as well.

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  3. I do like those etchings. The opinion of the artist in a portrait painting is usually a bit more subtle. Etchings are quintessentially editorial! It is so rare to see a portrait artist of that time period venture into the realm of silly or absurd which is why I am so curious about that painting (and also why it brought Messerschmidt to mind).

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