Talking of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, it’s difficult – foolish even – to pick a favourite passage (like Thornton’s Continentals or the big red ball crashlandings on Total Wipeout, there are just too many good ones), but if you pointed the proverbial gun at my head I think it would have to be this one:
I have known [Johnson] at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without any reason that we could perceive, at our friend’s making his will; called him the TESTATOR, and added, ‘I dare say, he thinks he has done a mighty thing. He won’t stay till he gets home to his seat in the country, to produce this wonderful deed: he’ll call up the landlord of the first inn on the road; and, after a suitable preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him that he should not delay making his will; and here, Sir, will he say, is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he will read it to him (laughing all the time). He believes he has made this will; but he did not make it: you, Chambers, made it for him. I trust you have had more conscience than to make him say, “being of sound understanding;” ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I’d have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.’
Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a matter of which pars magna fuit, and seemed impatient till he got rid of us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it all the way till we got without the Temple-gate. He then burst into such a fit of laughter, that he appeared to be almost in a convulsion; and, in order to support himself, laid hold of one of the posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud, that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound from Temple-bar to Fleet-ditch.
It happens from time to time that one finds something which others consider to be ‘very small sport’ inordinately amusing, and the more your companions resist or object to the hilarity, the more hilarious it becomes.
I recall a dear University friend insisting with perfectly straight face that he had, in his childhood, improved upon the game of Rock-Scissors-Paper by the ingenious addition of an extra element, Water. I forget which of the other elements it beat or was beaten by, but he indicated it with a wave-like motion of the hand. I was immediately overcome by paroxysms, and the more the rest of the company’s gentle chuckles turned to bemusement at my paroxysms, and the more his good-natured tolerance turned to indignation, the more uncontrollable they became. I had to stagger weeping from the building for fresh air, and for weeks afterwards the mere thought of his wavy hand gesture was enough to have me giggling like a lunatic. Our friendship survived, fortunately; Lord knows he had plenty of opportunities for revenge.