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Johnsonian Address

.“Let observation with extensive view
“Survey mankind from China to Peru”—
(And whence—permit me in parenthesis
To ask—on such historic night as this
Could one more fitly, seasonably, quote
Than from some page that Samuel Johnson wrote,
Our Godsire, in the honoured name of whom
This feast we spread, this temple we illume,
These long church wardens we)—but to resume—
“Let observation with extensive view
“Survey mankind from China to Peru,”
And judgment following observation try
Those countless multitudes to classify.
Camper, and Blumenbach, and Cuvier too,
Surveyed mankind from China to Peru,
And many a savant of more modern fame
With the same end in view has done the same
Seeking some formula that should embrace
The thousandfold divisions of the race—
And yet the theme grows more and more occult,
For each presents a different result.

Let us essay the task.—Imprimis, quit
Their uncouth jargon that but darkens wit.
What least pretence of light can mortal see
In “Dioscurian Mongolidae?”
What help in “Xanthochroic” can be found?
Is “Hyperborean Samoeid” aught but sound?
“Dolichocephalic” 's a wild guffaw,
“Orthognathous” and “Prognathous”—mere jaw.
Not ours to come to grief upon the rocks
Of groups and families and unplaced stocks,
Branches, varieties and sub-varieties
That only swell their total of dubieties—
But, as of old the Gentile and the Jew
Made up the whole world in the Hebrew view,
So we (to-night at least) will hold it true
That all mankind divides itself in two—
Two classes only form the race of man—
 
JOHN-SO-NI-AN and NON-JOHN-SO-NI-AN.

 And we, the Hebrews of this later day—
“The Chosen People,” one might fitlier say—
We, too, have wandered in the wilderness
For many a year without a fixed address—
(I do not say “the Wilderness of Sin;”
The cases are sufficiently akin
Without that detail being counted in)—
We, too, from shifting stage to shifting stage
Have plodded through our thirsty pilgrimage,
A tabernacular existence led
(As our sonorous godsire would have said);
From well to well—at least from pub. to pub.—
We've humped the sacred Lares of the Club,
Still keeping, like the Jew, a hopeful eye
Upon the Promised Land of by-and-by.

And now, when twenty homeless years have passed,
Behold us in that Promised Land at last,
Vagrants no more, but making jubilee
Under our own vine and our own figtree.
But here the parallel fails.—Unlike the Jew,
We have not played the privative cuckoo;
We've turned no Gentile fledgling from its nest,
No Non-Johnsonian fowl have dispossessed;
We have ourselves the twigs and mosses laid—
In point of fact, our home is pure home-made.

But “twigs and mosses!” What a sorry trope
For this grand culmination of our hope—
This lordly pleasure-house that we have built—
This brave o'erhanging wonderment of gilt—
This spacious hall, where festival is graced
With all the garniture of art and taste,
Rich with pictorial treasures that display
Whatever portraiture can well portray,
From grisly Johnson in his suit of snuff
To simpering Chloe in her native buff—
Those cloisters, in whose tesselated aisles
Sits Nicotina wreathed in vaporous smiles—
This billiard-chamber where our privileged ears
May hear all night the music of the spheres—
This salle de lecture, this ideal bar,
Where shipwreck lurks not, where no sirens are—
This whole substantial fabric of no dream
But solid brick and perdurable beam!
 
  But what if, sloughing off the things that were,
We shed the old Johnsonian character?
If this migration to a home delectable
Should land us in the groove of the Respectable?
Oh, never may we shame our godsire thus!
Still let his golden words appeal to us,
“I'm with you, boys,” when in the midnight dark
His roystering comrades roused him for a lark;
“I'm with you, boys,” he answered with delight,
And Heaven alone knows what they did that night!
Still may these royal words define the true
Johnsonian temperament and point of view;
Still walk we in the old Johnsonian road,
“I'm with you, boys,” our motto and our code;
Still be our virtues in this order reckoned—
Fellowship first, Decorum a bad second.

Nor fear that moral poison lurks herein—
Desipere in loco isn't Sin;
Take him for type who, Wisdom's hierarch,
Retained the relish of the midnight lark;
Take this for counsel, keep it to the letter—
Be good as Johnson—but, oh, don't be better!

So walking in the light his spirit sheds,
This gilded splendour will not turn our heads
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:49 min read
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James Brunton Stephens

James Brunton Stephens was a Scottish-born Australian poet, author of Convict Once. more…

All James Brunton Stephens poems | James Brunton Stephens Books

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