Brit Jnr’s education/trial by Samuel Johnson continues apace. The reading of Boswell’s justly-revered Life Of is proving testing for me, however, since at every turn I cannot help but compare my own character and actions to those of the Great Man and, inevitably, I find myself wanting. The following pair of anecdotes (one mine, one Johnson) illustrates the point.
I was once involved in a conversation with a middle-aged accountant, in a room full of middle-aged accountants. I have met a lot of middle-aged accountants and generally they fall into one of two categories: the nice, sensible ones; and the ones who constantly want to prove that they are ‘more than’ an accountant. This chap was a prime example of the latter type, and was attempting to prove his street-credentials by explaining that he was the bass guitarist in a band.
“Oh really, what kind of thing do you play?” I asked, dutifully.
“Rock, indie,” he said, with a forced-casual Mockney twang. “Coldplay, James Morrison, Snow Patrol…All that kind of shit.”
My reaction, once I had finished shuddering, cringing and swallowing a brief surge of vomit, was merely to smile politely and make small noises of enthusiasm.
Compare, then, my craven response to the response of Johnson in a similar situation, and you’ll see the true scale of my shortcomings:
Johnson and his friend, Beauclerk, were once together in company with several clergymen, who thought that they should appear to advantage, by assuming the lax jollity of men of the world; which, as it may be observed in similar cases, they carried to noisy excess. Johnson, who they expected would be ENTERTAINED, sat grave and silent for some time; at last, turning to Beauclerk, he said, by no means in a whisper, 'This merriment of parsons is mighty offensive.'