instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 09, 2010

Rich in the most valuable sense of the word

On Good Friday in 1778, Samuel Johnson ran into Oliver Edwards, whom he had last seen at Oxford in 1729. Edwards left college after a year, and later became a solicitor. Upon their chance meeting, the two old acquaintances spent the afternoon together, and the following is part of the conversation Boswell recorded:

JOHNSON: From your having practised the law long, Sir, I presume you must be rich.

EDWARDS: No, Sir; I got a good deal of money; but I had a number of poor relations to whom I gave a great part of it.

JOHNSON: Sir, you have been rich in the most valuable sense of the word.

EDWARDS: But I shall not die rich.

JOHNSON: Nay, sure, Sir, it is better to live rich than to die rich.
Though he had a respectable pension from the government in recognition of his achievements, Johnson himself was never rich. He was firmly in favor of living as luxuriously and comfortably as possible, but he also preached (and lived) the importance of helping those in need.*
EDWARDS: I wish I had continued at College.

JOHNSON: Why do you wish that, Sir?

EDWARDS: Because I think I should have had a much easier life than mine has been. I should have been a parson, and had a good living, like Bloxam and several others, and lived comfortably.

JOHNSON: Sir, the life of a parson, of a conscientious clergyman, is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. I would rather have Chancery suits upon my hands than the cure of souls. No, Sir, I do not envy a clergyman's life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.
The clergyman who makes his life easy is certainly not to be envied. I wonder if, in light of the Great Commission, we can generalize Johnson's statement and say that the Christian who makes it an easy life is not to be envied.

* Here is one statement by Johnson, on both luxury and charity: "A man gives half a guinea for a dish of green peas. How much gardening does this occasion? how many labourers must the competition to have such things early in the market, keep in employment? You will hear it said, very gravely, Why was not the half-guinea, thus spent in luxury, given to the poor? To how many might it have afforded a good meal. Alas! has it not gone to the industrious poor, whom it is better to support than the idle poor? You are much surer that you are doing good when you pay money to those who work, as the recompence of their labour, than when you give money merely in charity."

Nevertheless, Johnson did give a good bit of money to people who needed it, and even begged others for further aid on their behalf.