Friday, May 16, 2008

Book Passage/Life Is Meals

245 years ago today.


Life is Meals
A Food Lover's Book of Days
by James and Kay Salter

Boswell Meets Johnson

On this spring evening in 1763, James Boswell had just finished tea at a bookshop near Covent Garden when Samuel Johnson, the most famous literary figure of London, whom Boswell had been eager to meet, arrived unexpectedly. Boswell, nervously remembering Johnson's reputed prejudice against the Scots and hoping to deflect it, lightly apologized. "Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it."

"That, sir," replied Johnson, "I find, is what a great many of your countrymen cannot help."

Others might have been flattened, but Boswell persevered, and on that day and many that followed, they took meals, tea, and stronger drink together. As different temperamentally as men could be and despite more than thirty years' difference in age, they nevertheless forged a friendship that carried them both into immortality.

Over the next two decades they walked, talked, and often raised a glass together. Johnson held forth on the subject of drink, saying of claret that it was so weak "a man would be drowned by it before it made him drunk....Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men, but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy."

Boswell reminded him of their early drinking days together, saying that he used to have a headache afterward.

"Nay, Sir," replied Johnson. "It was not the wine that made your head ache, but the sense I put into it."

"What, Sir! Will sense make the head ache?"

"Yes, Sir," answered Johnson with a smile, "when it is not used to it."

Johnson occasionally gave up liquor altogether, explaining, "Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult." At other times he indulged himself, saying, "Wine makes a man better pleased with himself. I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others."

Seven years after Johnson's death in 1784, Boswell published his Life of Johnson, still considered perhaps the greatest biography ever written, the perfect match of subject and author.

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