Friday, December 24, 2010


December 25, 1753

A very Happy Christmas and Boxing Day, to everyone this weekend. Cold and sunny here, and I am home listening to public radio and preparing to make gingerbread to bring to our family lunch tomorrow. I'm also browsing in a facsimile reprint of the 1750s periodical The Adventurer (Garland 1978), to which Samuel Johnson contributed many essays, only signing them "T" - I discovered this while reading Boswell's Life of Johnson, Boswell saying, "...Johnson's energy of thought and and richness of language, are still more decisive marks than any signature." (p.167)

The Adventurer dated Tuesday, December 25, 1753 contains a sermon of sorts on the pursuit of happiness and its relation, or rather lack thereof, to possession of things. Its argument is persuasive, particularly viewed from a twenty-first century month known for its consumption and excess. The last page of this particular issue, signed with Johnson's "T":

The last two sentences read:

"There are few things which can much conduce to HAPPINESS, and, therefore, few things to be ardently desired. He that looks upon the business and bustle of the world, with the philosophy with which Socrates surveyed the fair at Athens, will turn away at last with his exclamation, 'How many things are here which I do not want!'" (p.294)

From spurning unnecessary possessions, to the fabulous accumulation of them: I also send along a Christmas greeting from the premier collectors of Johnson and Boswell. My copy of Donald and Mary Hyde's two-volume set Four Oaks Library and Four Oaks Farm (self-published in 1967) is a loving chronicle of their superlative book collection, formed over twenty-five years, and the beautiful home in which it was housed. My copy of this slipcased set has the following card laid in:

Would Johnson have approved? Boswell saw Johnson's own library, full of dusty unkempt books, with manuscripts and letters all over the floor, willy-nilly. So who can say. But, we approve. The Hydes collected for their own pleasure, and also for the sake of future scholarship and research, and their collection now resides at the Houghton Library at Harvard. The Hydes said, about their collection, that scholarship was their primary concern, but: "Emotionally, what the library means to us is a record of friendships..." (Four Oaks Library p. xxi); we know Johnson and Boswell would have approved of that.

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