Reading Note:
4 June 2019

¶ Leo Damrosch’s The Club continues to beguile me, because its tale of a group of well-intentioned but foible-riddled great men is deeply encouraging. But I do wince with impatience when the author makes such mistakes as claiming that George I was George III’s grandfather, when it is far from occult knowledge that America’s Favorite King was George I’s great-grandson. It is also not true that George I couldn’t speak English. Why not just say that he didn’t speak it very well? Are these points too minor to matter? As far as I’m concerned, such absolute errors, in a printed text, are never minor. What’s really objectionable, though, is the insidious implication that the first Hanoverian kings were unworthy of close attention, because they were, well, German. In reality, of course, George I and George II (George III’s actual grandfather) were sophisticated and cosmopolitan magnates of the Holy Roman Empire, inclined to regard Britain as semi-barbarous and mercenary outlier on the European scene. It was their luck — good or bad, I leave it to you to decide — that this general assessment was about to be displaced, even among the English. 

I feel better now.

I do thank Damrosch, though, for including a remark of Johnson’s that I had never heard. It is so brief and annihilating that it sounds more like Oscar Wilde, who is really Johnson’s only rival at this sort of pyrotechnics. Bored by a violin recital, Johnson, who was “not musical,” was urged by a companion to attend to the difficulty of the piece, as if that were somehow interesting in itself. “Difficult do you call it, Sir”? retorted Johnson. “I wish it were impossible.” (214)

PS: More mistakes! On page 344: 

Something that reformers deplored was the way clergymen were appointed to parishes, known as “livings.” Those were in the gift of individual country gentlemen, who were free to make appointments entirely on their own with no outside consultation.

This is doubly wrong. The owner of the right to present a living, which was known to the law as an advowson, was (and is) limited to nominating an ordained clergyman of good character for the bishop’s approval. The line between the rights of realty owners and the proper conduct of ecclesiastical affairs was ingeniously clear. 

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