Saturday, February 16, 2013

`The Want of a Closer Union'

The padded envelope was slender but inside I could feel something the size and shape of a silver dollar. It was a button with a pin on the back and the face of Dr. Johnson on the front. The image is black and white, shows Johnson from the neck up, with his wig and white collar, and was taken from the portrait painted in 1772 by Johnson’s friend, Sir Joshua Reynolds. The accompanying note is dated “Shrove Tuesday, 2013,” and was sent by a longtime reader of Anecdotal Evidence who lives in Dallas. His wife of thirty-three years died late last year: 

“I found this in my dresser drawer a day or two ago and thought you might like to have it. I bought a number of lapel badges of this sort (various individuals, not just Johnson) about thirty years ago for reasons I no longer recall. I don’t think I ever wore any of them around. At the moment I find that it’s easier to go through and dispose of [his wife’s] things if I get rid of some of my own as well.” 

Johnson married Elizabeth “Tetty” Porter in 1735, when she was forty-six and he was twenty-five. Johnson called their marriage “a love-match on both sides,” and grieved for the rest of his life after her death in 1752. In a letter dated Dec. 21, 1754, addressed to the poet Thomas Warton and reproduced by Boswell. Johnson writes: 

“I have ever since [his wife's death] seemed to myself broken off from mankind; a kind of solitary wanderer in the wild of life, without any direction, or fixed point of view: a gloomy gazer on the world to which I have little relation. Yet I would endeavor, by the help of you and your brother, to supply the want of a closer union, by friendship: and hope to have long the pleasure of being, dear Sir, most affectionately yours...”

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