Thursday, October 08, 2009

Offending with compliments

I can’t let the nose of the mind discussion go by without sharing with you the rest of Boswell’s story. This is one to wheel out in a gloomy kill-joy tone the next time you see a luvvie award ceremony, or worse, are unfortunate enough to find yourself in the proximity of the Green Room immediately post-performance, when the actors are all in a state of highly-strung backslappery.

[Johnson] entered upon a curious discussion of the difference between intuition and sagacity ; one being immediate in its effect, the other requiring a circuitous process ; one, he observed, was the eye of the mind, the other the nose of the mind.

[….]A young gentleman present took up the argument against [Johnson], and maintained that no man ever thinks of the NOSE OF THE MIND, not adverting that though that figurative sense seems strange to us, as very unusual, it is truly not more forced than Hamlet’s ‘In my MIND’S EYE, Horatio.’ He persisted much too long, and appeared to Johnson as putting himself forward as his antagonist with too much presumption; upon which he called to him in a loud tone, ‘What is it you are contending for, if you BE contending?’

And afterwards imagining that the gentleman retorted upon him with a kind of smart drollery, he said, ‘Mr. —— it does not become you to talk so to me. Besides, ridicule is not your talent; you have THERE neither intuition nor sagacity.’ The gentleman protested that he had intended no improper freedom, but had the greatest respect for Dr. Johnson. After a short pause, during which we were somewhat uneasy,—JOHNSON. ‘Give me your hand, Sir. You were too tedious, and I was too short.’ Mr. ——. ‘Sir, I am honoured by your attention in any way.’ JOHNSON. ‘Come, Sir, let’s have no more of it. We offended one another by our contention; let us not offend the company by our compliments.’


Gaw said...

Dr J was a real silverback alpha male, wasn't he? A majestic bit of evisceration.

Peter Burnet said...

‘What is it you are contending for, if you BE contending?’

Of course, that dates from pre-Enlightenment days, when life was rude and violent and men were beholden to ignorance and superstition. Two hundred and fifty years of progressive, humanist political and social developement have cleared our heads of much nonsense and made us pithier and less linguistically wasteful. Were Johnson blogging today, he would no doubt just exclaim: "F*#king Troll!"

Brit said...

That is a corker, isn't it Peter? I think the literal modern British translation would be "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough".

But it also reminds me of Alex de Large's magnificent challenge in A Clockwork Orange:

Come and get one in the yarbles, if ya have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou!

worm said...

This Johnson chap sounds like a right misery guts

Brit said...

Not all the time, Worm.

martpol said...


So Brit - is Boswell the only place to start if you want to get the measure of Johnson?

Brit said...

Well it's the only place I started.

I don't want to set myself up as some sort of Johnsonian scholar here, it's just that I seem to find almost every line of the Life Of has a useful application.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Mr Brit, did you not know that quoting Dr Johnson is the last refuge of a scoundrel??