Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Dr Johnson, equality and friendship

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.....MRS. KNOWLES. 'I cannot agree with him, that friendship is not a Christian virtue.' JOHNSON. 'Why, Madam, strictly speaking, he is right. All friendship is preferring the interest of a friend, to the neglect, or, perhaps, against the interest of others; so that an old Greek said, "He that has FRIENDS has NO FRIEND." Now Christianity recommends universal benevolence, to consider all men as our brethren, which is contrary to the virtue of friendship, as described by the ancient philosophers. Surely, Madam, your sect must approve of this; for, you call all men FRIENDS.' MRS. KNOWLES. 'We are commanded to do good to all men, "but especially to them who are of the household of Faith."' JOHNSON. 'Well, Madam. The household of Faith is wide enough.' MRS. KNOWLES. 'But, Doctor, our Saviour had twelve Apostles, yet there was ONE whom he LOVED. John was called "the disciple whom JESUS loved."' JOHNSON. (with eyes sparkling benignantly,) 'Very well, indeed, Madam. You have said very well.' BOSWELL. 'A fine application. Pray, Sir, had you ever thought of it?' JOHNSON. 'I had not, Sir.'

Immediately before this passage, a favourite of mine, Boswell had said this. (I am not convinced that Dr. Johnson, who had enormous respect for women, genuinely agrees with Boswell here. His 'probably not' may have been politeness.)
MRS. KNOWLES. 'Well, I hope that in another world the sexes will be equal.' BOSWELL. 'That is being too ambitious, Madam. WE might as well desire to be equal with the angels. We shall all, I hope, be happy in a future state, but we must not expect to be all happy in the same degree. It is enough if we be happy according to our several capacities. A worthy carman will get to heaven as well as Sir Isaac Newton. Yet, though equally good, they will not have the same degrees of happiness.' JOHNSON. 'Probably not.'BOSWELL. 'YOU should like his book, Mrs. Knowles, as it maintains, as you FRIENDS do, that courage is not a Christian virtue.' MRS. KNOWLES. 'Well, I hope that in another world the sexes will be equal.' BOSWELL. 'That is being too ambitious, Madam. WE might as well desire to be equal with the angels. We shall all, I hope, be happy in a future state, but we must not expect to be all happy in the same degree. It is enough if we be happy according to our several capacities. A worthy carman will get to heaven as well as Sir Isaac Newton. Yet, though equally good, they will not have the same degrees of happiness.' JOHNSON. 'Probably not.'

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