Sunday, February 09, 2014

`The Best State for a Man in General'

Friends married on Saturday, in a church formerly a movie theater, on the stage in front of the screen. Pews have never replaced plush theater seats. With lighting and a sound system, the sense of witnessing a solemn ceremony mingled with memories of Saturday matinees. It’s a second marriage for both and their four children stood beside them, prompting an involuntary memory of Dr. Johnson’s tart observation regarding second marriages: “The triumph of hope over experience.” I don’t think that applies in this case. The parties impress me as sensible people, seasoned by loss and recovery. 

Johnson’s experience of marriage was as unconventional as almost everything else about him. In 1735, at the age of twenty-five, Johnson married Elizabeth Jervis Porter, a 46-year-old widow with three children. Johnson called her “Tetty” and described their marriage as “a love-match on both sides.” Contemporaries, even among Johnson’s friends, made jokes at the couple’s expense and cruelly mocked Tetty, who drank to excess and indulged in opiates. Later, Macaulay savaged her. Johnson published his final Rambler essay on March 14, 1752, three days before her death. He was disconsolate and observed the anniversary of her death for the rest of his life. Johnson composed her epitaph: Formosae, cultae, ingeniosae, piae – beautiful, elegant, talented, dutiful.” 

Elsewhere in Boswell’s Life, Johnson is reported as saying: “Marriage is the best state for a man in general; and every man is a worse man, in proportion as he is unfit for the married state.”

1 comment:

George said...

Yet Johnson says somewhere that monogamy is so contrary to nature that it is all that society and its laws can do to enforce it.

Macaulay is a hostile witness on Johnson (let alone Boswell). He something of Francis Parkman's prissiness, and unwashed geniuses such as Johnson and Swift do not please him; whether he would have forgiven Whigs of comparable messiness, who knows?