Detectives Beyond Borders' life of Johnson
|Dr. Samuel Johnson (aka Blinking |
Sam), by Sir Joshua Reynolds,
Vacation: 1. Intermission of juridical proceedings, or any other stated employments; recess of courts or senates. ...
2. Leisure, freedom from trouble or perplexity.
— Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English LanguageI consulted my copy of Johnson's dictionary for terms related to law and murder (you know, to crime fiction), and I found the above — apt, since I bought the book during my most recent respite from trouble and perplexity.
Johnson was a man of words, but I bought the book because of a picture. I'd always associated Sir Joshua Reynolds with those endless English eighteenth-century society portraits by him, George Romney, and others, but this dynamic, loosely executed picture made me realize that Reynolds could do a fine job when he got hold of a worthwhile subject. And what the hell; the society pictures probably earned Reynolds and the others a nice living.
(Henry E. Huntington, who founded the collection where the Johnson picture hangs, loved eighteenth-century English portraits, and the Huntington has a room full of them. It's probably no accident that the most congenial portrait in the room to my eyes was Reynolds' of the celebrated English actress Sarah Siddons portraying the dramatic muse. It was about the only painting in the room whose subject is pictured doing something other than showing off his or her era's new attitudes to leisure. The same room, by the way, includes this impressive young man.)
Henry Raeburn's portrait of James Watt (left). Can you imagine a scientist as a celebrity today? Suddenly the eighteenth century's painting seems more like the century's literature, which included men like Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau writing for an educated public as well as for themselves and one another. It's still not my favorite period in art, but it's a lot more interesting to me than it was before this week.
(Detectives Beyond Borders readers may soon read more about Dr. Johnson. The preface to his dictionary includes an assessment of the dictionary maker's place in the public esteem that, with the substitution of one job title for another, would describe perfectly the lot of a modern-day newspaper copy editor in America.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2013