Saturday, September 19, 2009

Considerable ...

... The Powers of Dr. Johnson. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In his Dictionary of the English Language, Johnson does not yet recognize the power of "nice" as the catch-all term for British near-approval, but he produces one of his little gems in defining the word: "It is often used to express a culpable delicacy." It may be time to observe that Dr. Johnson, neither by his own definition nor by ours, could ever properly have been described as nice. He lacked culpable delicacy to the exact same degree that he lacked good manners, an easy disposition, a sunny outlook, a helpful quality, an open spirit, a selfless gene, a handsome gait, or a general willingness to put his best foot forward in greeting others. If niceness was the only category known to posterity, we would long since have lost Johnson to the scrofulous regions of inky squalor, for he could be alarmingly rude.

Apropos of nothing, occurred to me this morning for some reason that my introduction to Dr. Johnson came by way of the Omnibus TV series during the 1950s that was broadcast on Sunday afternoons and was hosted by Alastair Cooke. They did a series of episodes about Johnson starring Peter Ustinov as the good doctor. It was my introduction to Ustinov as well. (A Google search indicates it ran in 1957, that it was Ustinov's American television debut, and that he won an Emmy for it. I was probably 15.)

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