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The Riverside Press Cambridge

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"SIR, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him."1 So runs Johnson's version of a highly embellished popular anecdote of his prowess. To dispose of an insult by beating the offender is for some of us lesser men neither wise nor possible, yet we admire a man of such strength and courage. Johnson was a giant. He had a huge frame and immense strength; apparently he knew no bodily fear. At one time 2 he was attacked by four footpads, yet managed to beat them off and to hold them at bay until the arrival of the watch. On another occasion,2 Boswell tells us, Johnson, finding that courtesy failed, picked up the gentleman who had usurped his seat at the theater and tossed him and the chair in which he sat into the pit below. One thinks of the grim humor of the giant Thor.

In his earlier years Johnson was a very active man vigorous walker, a fearless swimmer, and a good horseman. Boswell tells us that Johnson "rode harder at a fox-chace than anybody" 3 and Mrs. Piozzi records that he would "follow the hounds fifty miles" and "would never own himself either tired or amused." The manly art of selfdefense was not beneath his interest even in his later years 4 "I am sorry," said Johnson, "that prize-fighting is gone out; every art should be preserved, and the art of defence is surely important." On foot or in the saddle Johnson could always give a good account of himself. We are not surprised that such a man retained in his later life much of his native vigor and power of endurance. Somewhere I have read that Johnson at the age of fifty-four took boyish delight in rolling down a hill, and at the age of sixty-six he writes 5 to Mr. Levett: "I ran a race in the rain this day, and beat Baretti." Until late in life he

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1 Hill's Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1, 178. 8 Hill's Life, 1, 517, n. 1.

4 lbid., v, 260.

2 See p. 138.

5 Ibid., 11, 442.


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