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Page:Samuel Johnson (1911).djvu/17

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nature one of the unconscious and even agreeable contradictions loved by the true comedian. It is a contradiction not at all uncommon in men of fertile and forcible minds. I mean a strenuous and sincere belief in convention, combined with a huge natural inaptitude for observing it. Somebody might make a really entertaining stage-scene out of the inconsistency, while preserving a perfect unity in the character of Johnson. He would have innocently explained that a delicacy towards females is what chiefly separates us from barbarians with one foot on a lady's skirt and another through her tambour-frame. He would prove that mutual concessions are the charm of city life, while his huge body blocked the traffic of Fleet Street: and he would earnestly demonstrate the sophistry of affecting to ignore small things, with sweeping gestures that left them in fragments all over the drawing-room floor. Yet his preaching was perfectly sincere and very largely right. It was inconsistent with his practice; but it was not inconsistent with his soul, or with the truth of things.

In passing, it may be said that many sayings about Johnson have been too easily swallowed because they were mere sayings of his contemporaries and intimates. But most