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"There is nothing, I think, in which the power of art is shown so
much as in playing on the fiddle. In all other things we can do
something at first. Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you
give him a hammer; not so well as a smith, but tolerably. A man
will saw a piece of wood, and make a box, though a clumsy one;
but give him a fiddle and a fiddle-stick, and he can do
257. Diversion; Music
"It must be born with a man to be contented to take up with
little things. Women have a great advantage that they may take
up with little things, without disgracing themselves: a man
cannot, except with fiddling. Had I learned to fiddle I should
have done nothing else."
[After a parlor performance of music, one which Johnson paid
absolutely no attention to, perhaps because of his
deafness and paying greater attention to books on the shelves]
Mrs. Thrale, in a laughing manner, said "Pray, Dr. Burney, can
you tell me what that song was and whose, which Savoi sung last
night at [J.C., not J.S.] Bach's Concert, and which you did not
hear?" ...wishing to draw Dr. Johnson into some conversation,
[Dr. Burney] told him the question. The Doctor, seeing his
drift, good-naturedly put away his book, and said very drolly,
"And pray, Sir, who is Bach? Is he a piper?" Many
exclamations of surprise, you will believe, followed this
question. "Why you have read his name often in the papers," said
Mrs. Thrale; and then she gave him some account of his Concert,
and the number of performances she had heard at it.
"Pray," said he, gravely, "Madam, what is the expense?"
"Oh!" answered she, "much trouble and solicitation, to get a
Subscriber's ticket; or else, half a Guinea."
"Trouble and solicitation," said he, "I will have nothing to do
with; but I would be willing to give eighteen pence."
Anecdote from Fanny Burney, in C.B. Tinker, Dr. Johnson
and Fanny Burney (1912)
1,510. Music; Ouch!!
Dr. Johnson was observed by a musical friend of his to be
extremely inattentive at a concert, whilst a celebrated solo
player was running up the divisions and subdivisions of notes
upon his violin. His friend, to induce him to take greater notice
of what was going on, told him how extremely difficult it was.
"Difficult do you call it, Sir?" replied the Doctor; "I wish it
Anecdotes by William Seward, in Johnsonian Miscellanies,
edited by G. B. Hill
"OF music Dr. Johnson used to say that it was the only sensual
pleasure without vice."
Johnson: quoted in Anecdotes of William Seward,
reprinted in "Johnsonian Miscellanies," edited by George Birkbeck