Johnson’s Life of Boswell.
BY Teddy Wayne
Nov. 17, 1764.
Boswell persists in tracking my every Movement. I have not yet detected his Motive, but he often beseeches me to “say something memorably wise and pithy,” or “discourse on the Immorality of your fellow Man.” When I do, or even refrain and tell him I’m too fatigued, he scratches down Notes on a Parchment. To-day I looked up from my Broadsheet whilst sipping a Mug of Ale in the Spotted Pig to find him at the End of the Table, observing me as a Scientist does his Microscopic Specimen. We made Contact of the Eyes and he furiously scribbled something before departing with Alacrity. Can you pronounce the Adjective “bizarre”?
Dec. 2, 1764.
At first the Attention was flattering, but now it is verging on pathetick; Boswell seems to have no Life other than documenting mine. The other Day I asked him if he would not prefer to follow around some attractive aristocratick Lady closer to his own Age, and he replied, with an Expression of utter Sobriety, “Why pursue the Capricious Follies of our Age when I have an Eternal Soul in you?” Then he asked for my Thoughts on Petticoats as a Symbol of engulfing Vanity.
Dec. 19, 1764.
We were picking Names out of a tri-cornered Hat at the Spotted Pig for the traditional Clandestine Gift-Exchange. Unfortunate Event, Number the First: I picked Boswell. Unfortunate Event, Number the Second: Boswell frowned when he read the Name he had picked, then entreated Oliver Goldsmith to switch Names with him, and once the Transaction was completed, skipped away whilst giggling to himself.
Dec. 24, 1764.
Christmas Eve at the Spotted Pig, and Boswell presents me with a Fountain-Pen carved of African Ivory that definitely cost more than the maximum Allowance of 10 Pence. “Happy Clandestine Gift-Exchange!” he beamed. “Now your Pen shall be as liquid and infinite as your Mind as you complete Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets!” I had to thank him in front of everyone, then hand over my Gift. “Oh, Dr. Johnson, how fortuitous that we are each other’s Clandestine Gift-Exchangers!” he shouted so everyone could hear. “It is as if Destiny itself had a Hand in the Selection!” When he opened his Present—a Parchment requesting he physically restrain himself from drawing within two Furlongs of me—he howled, “I love Gifts that play Gags on the Recipient!” and slapped me much too hard on the Back.
Dec. 25, 1764.
A quiet Christmas at Home, savouring Virgil in front of my Hearth, when I heard a Knock at my Door. I wish there were some Way of identifying who was calling before I opened the Door, because there stood Boswell, with a Pot of Stew and a Smile across his Face as if he were consuming Excrement and thoroughly enjoying it. We have absolutely nothing to talk about, but we did so nonetheless for five Interminable Hours.
Jan. 1, 1765.
Here is a Riddle: what is prying, parasitick, and makes a Perfect Ass of himself at your New Year’s Party? The Answer on all three Accounts is, irrefutably, Boswell! After he arrived uninvited (under the Pretense that his Friend “John, whose family Name I cannot recall,” told him to come) and had a few Goblets, he paraded around with a Candelabrum atop his Head whilst singing bawdy Songs from The Beggar’s Opera. I saw him buttonholing Edmund Burke at the End of the Night—poor Man. When he asked me if he could “partake of my Sofa for the Remainder of the Evening and Morn” and I replied that “a Man of Prudence takes neither Compliments nor House-Guests without Suspicion,” he seemed just as happy as if I’d let him stay.
Jan. 7, 1765.
To-night at the Spotted Pig I was eating my customary Sunday Supper when I espied Boswell entering. I groaned, thinking my Meal ruined, but he merely extended his Greetings to me and went off to converse with Burke at his Table. Have I finally rid myself of this noxious Pest?
Feb. 10, 1765.
It has been two Fortnights since Boswell last talked to me. I saw him at the Spotted Pig last Week with Burke, and I am fairly assured he noticed me before they rapidly exited. In his Haste, he left behind a Scrap of Parchment; it read “Notes for Life of Burke.” To-night I shall immolate it in my Hearth.
Feb. 14, 1765.
Valentine’s Day. Alone. I sent him a Parchment with several new Witticisms and Axioms of mine two Days ago, but have received no Reply. Here is one I came up with to-day: One is not aware of what one possessed until the Moment that which was formerly possessed has become absent. Oh, but when did my treasured Fountain-Pen start inking such stilted Prose? I need to forget about him. Perhaps find another Biographer. But where—the Spotted Pig? No Biographers of his Calibre spend their Time there. Stop—this is Weakness and Fear speaking; first I must be contented with myself, in Solitude, before I meet another Biographer. I must acclimate to my Life without Boswell.
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