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A Little Boswell

In his fine book, The Unseriousness of Human Affairs, James Schall recounts a dinner attended by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell. The occasion: the first gathering of a small group of friends with Mrs. Violette Garrick since the death of her husband, the actor David Garrick. The group dined in Mrs. Garrick's elegant home, drank fine ale, and talked of her husband and his death–but with no morbidity, Mrs. Garrick at one point commenting that “death was now the most agreeable object to her.” Boswell was overcome by the whole evening, saying it was the one of the happiest days in his life.

Schall explains this odd combination of death, friendship, ale, and joy: "We might, on reading Boswell's comment that this was one of the happiest days of his life, wonder about the appropriateness of the sentiment. And yet, as we read on, we realize that here we hear spoken of the ultimate, the fine, and the ordinary things of our human lot. 'We were all in fine spirits,' Boswell continued, for the death of their friend was now put into place in their lives, its mystery accepted. Boswell next turned to Mrs. Boscawen and whispered, 'I believe this is as much as can be made of life.' Was Boswell wrong that no more can be made of life? Ought we be perturbed that on this happy day, a widow spoke complacently of her late husband? Ought we be scandalized by the ale? No, I think here Boswell is right. He had sensed civilization at its best, where elegant things are served and the ends of life and transcendence have their place in the delight and joy we are allotted in this vale of tears."