Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Dangers of the Doctor

{Photo by rocketlass.}

I spent last week reading Peter Martin's new biography of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell's old one on alternating halves of my daily commute. As I flagged pages and noted passages, I quickly discovered that it would be very easy to accidentally turn this blog into Apposite or Amusing Things Said or Written by Dr. Johnson that I've Been Reading Lately. Such as this:
It is laudable in a man to wish to live by his labours; but hs should write so as he may live by them, not so as he may be knocked on the head.
Or, speaking of a "dull tiresome fellow":
That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.
Or, from a letter to Joseph Baretti, this apology for not having written sooner:
Yet it must be remembered, that he who continues the same course of life in the same place, will have little to tell. One week and one year are very like another. The silent changes made by time are not always perceived; and if they are not perceived, cannot be recounted.
Those lines alone would be sufficient to make the letter memorable, but Johnson outdoes himself later:
Those who have endeavoured to teach us to die well, have taught few to die willingly; yet I cannot but hope that a good life might end at last in a contented death
Fortunately--because, however domineering the great man's mind and personality may have been, this blog is not supposed to be all about Dr. Johnson--those lines about death reminded me of a couple of thoughts from Jules Renard. In his journal, Renard takes death less seriously than Johnson, though this first jotting could be read as at least half-lament:
Please, God, don't make me die too quickly! I wouldn't mind seeing how I die.
This last one, however, is little more than an amusing thought, simultaneously a wry acknowledgment of Renard's age and a smirk at the fashionable fatalism of youth:
I am no longer capable of dying young.
A fine thought with which to escape the shadow of Johnson for a few hours, and on which to end a Halloween weekend. Back to your graves, ghoulies. See you next year.

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