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An academic reader writes quoting from “Cultivating Our Garden”:
”Johnson, whose attitudes towards slavery proved a prickly embarrassment to his biographers”? The guy who shocked the table at Oxford by offering a toast to the next rebellion of the slaves and who freed Frank Barber stands up pretty well.
The point is correct. The statement given at the dinner party, as reported in the third volume of Boswell’s Life of Johnson is this:
“Upon one occasion, when in company with some very grave men at Oxford, his toast was, ‘here’s to the next insurrection of the Negroes in the West Indies.’”
Moreover, Johnson treated his Black manservant, Frank Barber as a friend, leaving him a significant inheritance and his freedom, and allowing Barber the free use of his house as a meeting place for London’s growing African community during his lifetime. So the passage in my review-essay is correctly criticized. In fact it was Johnson’s fervent anti-slavery attitudes that gave his biographer, James Boswell, trouble–I misread a discussion of this point several weeks ago and discovered my mistake under the prompting of the reader. One of my Columbia colleagues, James Basker, recently gave a wonderful talk on this subject at Dr. Johnson’s house in London. Here are his prepared remarks (PDF).
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations:
A fertility scientist named Panayiotis Zavos announced that he had created human-cow embryos that were theoretically viable, but denied that he planned to allow such a hybrid to be implanted in a woman’s womb. “We are not trying to create monsters,” he said.
A statistician determined that the five most common first names among New York City taxi drivers are Md, Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammad, and Mohamed.
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”