Part 11. Good Friday

Boswell is at the side of the stage. 

BOSWELL     I’ve another two days in London and then I must get back to Scotland.  Well, I have to earn a living, and Scotland is where I work.  But my free time, well, I spend that in London.  And the rest of my time?  I spend that in the stagecoach between here and Edinburgh. 

It is Easter now, and Easter is always an important time of the year for Johnson.  At Easter he makes resolutions, which he never manages to keep.  He’s always planning to turn over a new religious leaf.  This year it is re-reading the Bible.  But I’m afraid his religion doesn’t bring him much comfort.  ‘I ought to do this. I ought to do that.’ That’s how his mind works. The ‘oughts’ are a big part of his life. (Boswell makes the inverted commas gesture on ‘oughts’.) And even if he does manage to do what he ‘ought’, that brings him no joy either. Another ‘ought’ appears.

JOHNSON (He looks at the sky from the window.)  What a sky!  I love clouds and I love stars.  I love anything which lifts us and makes us look up rather than down.

“Two men looked from the prison bars.

One saw mud and one saw stars”.

You don’t need a hundred lines for a poem.  Sometimes two lines are enough to strike home!

Yes, we don’t look at the sky enough.  Everyone should have a good look at the sky twice a day, once at midday and once at midnight!  It would do them good!

Today is Good Friday.  Sunny, yes, though it rained during the night. And rain in the night makes the morning even more beautiful.  I have a suspicion there is nothing like an English spring.  I have never seen an Italian spring or a Spanish spring but I have a feeling that they don’t rate so highly.  Ha!  There’s nothing like an English winter either!

It’s Good Friday, so I must go to church.  “I must.  I must.  I must.”  Why is the Christian life a long list of musts?  I find it so difficult to pay attention in church. My mind wanders terribly. During the sermon I study the architecture, especially the ceiling.  I know every foot of that ceiling. Then I evaluate the sermon and find it faulty, in style and in content.  I have written sermons for John Taylor.  Yes, John Taylor who was at Christchurch when I was at Pembroke.  He used to bring me the notes from the lectures.  He is a country vicar now, and he is happy.  A nice parsonage, a pretty garden, and some services on Sunday.  Has he gone through all the doubts that I have gone through?  There he is, established!  His own sermons are wishy washy, yet God will judge his intentions, I suppose, and not the finished article. We must all just do what we can.  There you are.  “We must” again. 

And conscience is no guide! If I did all my conscience told me to do, it would still nag on for more.  And if I did that, it would nag on ad infinitum.  Or it would turn round and reproach me for being too pious.  You can’t win with a nagging conscience.  It’s always one step ahead of you. God grant that when the choices come, I may choose right.

BOSWELL (Shouting from the street below.)  Doctor Johnson!

JOHNSON (Not hearing him.)  To think that people imagine me, the writer of ‘The Rambler’ to be so composed, to have everything resolved!  Yet I know nothing!  Sometimes in the midst of prayer, and I do pray, I feel I am talking to nothing!  Then I feel guilty at having the thought.  But we must admit our thoughts and be honest with them.  Our actions we are accountable for, but our thoughts?

BOSWELL (Shouting again.)  It’s Boswell!

JOHNSON (Carrying on.)  “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.”  Whatever you are doing, Shakespeare has always had something to say about it.  Whatever occurs to you, you’ll find it already there in Shakespeare.  And better expressed too! We can’t think without words, can we? I don’t think so. And what words Shakespeare used! Whatever vague and cloudy ideas are floating around our heads, he pins them down. We could say that he has the last word! Ha!

But we can’t be here for nothing!  All our effort must be valid.  We can’t just be eating and drinking and getting nowhere. 

But don’t give in to your thoughts, Sam or they will capsize you.  Yes, let us be nautical for a moment!  Come on, Sam, you must keep an even keel!

(There is a knocking at the door.  Johnson opens it.)

Why Bozzy, it’s you!  Don’t knock the door down.  Why didn’t you shout up from the street?  I would have come down!

BOSWELL Why didn’t I… Oh, never mind.  But we will be late for church if we do not leave now.

JOHNSON Yes, let’s get off.  Let’s away to church.  Goodbye Miss Williams.  Goodbye, Levet.

MISS WILLIAMS          (Off) Levet’s out.  Mrs Whatsername’s boy has got pneumonia.

JOHNSON  Levet will do more good on this holy day then any of us will.  Still, each in his own way, each in his own way.  We can’t all be doctors.

BOSWELL Come on, Sir.  We’ll be late!  (He goes.)

JOHNSON  I’m coming, Bozzy.  Oh, these Scotsmen!  No patience!  Why can’t everyone be calm and composed like me?

(He picks up Hodge and, stroking him, puts him on a chair.  Then he goes out.)

 MISS WILIAMS (Shuffling in.)  Now, where’s my sewing?  Off that chair, Hodge!  That’s my chair.  (She moves the cat to the floor.)  Ah, here it is.  Hodge! You’ve been sitting on my sewing all the time! Now, for a quiet hour.