Tuesday, 6 October 2009

On patrons and sponsors - some handy hints from the good Dr Sam Johnson

18th Century patronage and the modern sponsor.
I have been doing some more book reviewing for Idealog Magazine. As part of this  I was musing on the link between 18th century patronage and the modern sponsor.  And as part of that, I remembered the wonderful story of Dr Sam Johnson, who got very miffed with Lord Chesterfield deigning to notice him after his Dictionary was published and he was the talk of the town.

Dr Johnson's Dictionary
Given that  the Dictionary had taken him the best part of nine years to write - and he had long since spend the advance from his publisher, his irritation is hardly surprising.  This is his [slightly edited]  response. I love it - especially as it applies equally well to the art of reviewing!

My Lord,
" I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre;—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it.
When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

Is not a patron my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?

The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.
I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which providence has enabled me to do for myself.."

original [unedited] source - here
Dr Johnson's dictionary entry for porridge
'Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people'


Craig McCullough said...

Paul, nice post.
You will no doubt also be aware that Dr Johnson, in a further dig at Lord Chesterfield, defined "patron" in his dictionary as follows: "Patron: One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery."
Pure genius.

Paul Reynolds said...

Oh - nice one - love it.
I also came acorss this reference [ good old Google!]

It contains this little nugget.

"There is a curious minute circumstance which struck me, in comparing the various editions of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal. In the tenth Satire, one of the couplets upon the vanity of wishes even for literary distinction stood thus:

'Yet think what ills the scholar's life assail,
Pride, envy, want, the GARRET, and the jail.'

But after experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield's fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word garret from the sad group, and in all the subsequent editions the line stands

'Pride, envy, want, the PATRON, and the jail.'

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