Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cats, Oysters and Dr. Johnson

Commander K., Hodge and Oyster
The American Conservative tour of London continues with a stop at the 300 year old Dr Johnson House ( in London near Gunpowder square.  It was Dr Johnson who famously said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’.  Johnson was a committed Tory and a bit of a curmudgeon.  Like all conservatives, he believed that words have definite meanings and should be used with care.

During the English Civil War
Parliament kept its powder dry here 
Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) wrote a celebrated dictionary of the English language.  In it he defined "Lexicographer" meaning himself, as "A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words," but he did more than any man, with the exception of Shakespeare, to shape the English language.

Dr. Johnson also told his biographer James Boswell, "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn."

Here is Johnson's definition the word "oats": "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

Johnson's definition of "Politician":  "1One versed in the arts of government; one skilled in politicks. 2. A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance."

Compare his definitions of Tory and Whig...

"Tory" ("Conservative" in USA, CK): "One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig."

"Whig" ("Liberal" in USA, CK): "The name of a faction."

Samuel Johnson had a cat named Hodge (  Johnson loved his cat and oysters were as cheap in 18th century London as French Fries are today; Hodge lived on a diet of oysters (see photo above).  Samuel Boswell wrote this about Johnson and his fondness for his cat Hodge...

"Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, 'Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;' and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.'

This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. 'Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.' And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, 'But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.'"

James Boswell, Life of

Vladimir Nabokov, the brilliant novelist, lepidopterist and chess player, used this second quote as an epigraph in his novel Pale Fire (  Nabokov thereby saluted his fellow curmudgeon and sesquipedalian.

Do you, dear reader, like cats?  You might be surprised to know that cats are under attack today by lefty environmentalists in New Zealand  Gareth Morgan says "That little ball of fluff you own is a natural born killer."  He is proposing that his fellow Kiwis neuter and not replace their cats in order to protect the native bird population.  Mr. Gareth Morgan is also presumably a "Gentleman of good family," but Hodge shall not be shot, no, no!

Commander K and Oyster / Pearl Diving Friend
SeaWorld, Orlando, FL
Do you, dear reader, enjoy oysters?  Here are three of Commander Kelly's favourite haunts in London for a repast of tasty bivalves.  Not as cheap as French fries, but still delicious...

Sweetings in the City of London only for weekday lunch:

Scotts in Mayfair:

The Cow pub and restaturant in Notting Hill:

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's 
first book, America Invades or on

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