Friday, February 21, 2014

Samuel Johnson gets silly

At the end of a too-long, too-busy work week, what better than to share too instances of Samuel Johnson being utterly silly? In case you haven't realized it from my Twitter feed, I've been immersed in Johnson the past ten days or so, going from Boswell to W. Jackson Bate's 1975 biography, and both are a reminder that Johnson is always more varied, more multifarious, than whatever impression is most recent in your mind.

And one of the ways he surprises is by being silly--physically silly. To wit, a moment at the top of a hill during his tour of the Hebrides with Boswell, as related by Bate, via the years-later memories of Johnson's companion that day, Bennet Langton:
Johnson, delighted by its steepness, said he wanted to "take a roll down." They tried to stop him. But he said he "had not had a roll for a long time," and taking out of his pockets his keys, a pencil, a purse, and other objects, lay down parallel at the edge of the hill, and rolled down its full length, "turning himself over and over till he came to the bottom."
Johnson was fifty-five at the time.

This one is even better. At conversation with the Reverend Alexander Grant, Johnson mentioned that Joseph Banks had recently sent back reports of a strange animal called a kangaroo. Then,
In order to render his description more vivid, Johnson rose from his chair and [in the words of Grant], "volunteered an imitation of the animal. The company stared . . . nothing could be more ludicrous than the appearance of a tall, heavy, grave-looking man, like Dr. Johnson, standing up to mimic the shape and motions of a kangaroo. He stood erect, put out his hands like feelers, and, gathering up the tails of his huge brown coat so as to resemble the pouch of the animal, made two or three vigorous bounds across the room.
May your weekend be suitably bouncy.

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