Friday, May 28, 2010

Samuel Johnson: "But All These Things, David, Make Death Very Terrible"

As the world lurches from one "financial crisis" to the next, who better to turn to than Samuel Johnson in order to put money and wealth into perspective?  Although it is a fool's errand to try to identify one's "favorite" Johnsonian anecdotes, I have long been fond of the one that follows.  (Or, perhaps, it is simply one that remains in my rapidly failing memory.)

The anecdote arises out of a visit made by Johnson to the new villa of David Garrick (1717-1779) at Hampton Court.  Garrick started out as a student of Johnson's in Lichfield.  The two then became friends, and they left Lichfield together for London in 1737.  Garrick eventually became the most celebrated actor in England, and made a fortune. 

"Soon after Garrick's purchase at Hampton Court he was showing Dr. Johnson the grounds, the house, Shakespeare's temple, etc.; and concluded by asking him, 'Well, Doctor, how do you like all this?'  'Why, it is pleasant enough,' growled the Doctor, 'for the present; but all these things, David, make death very terrible.'"

William Cooke, Life of Samuel Foote, quoted in George Birkbeck Hill (editor), Johnsonian Miscellanies, Volume II (1897), page 394. 

                                            Garrick's Villa  

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