Monday, June 27, 2011

Telling nonsense

An early and important insight gained as a teacher was the importance of being willing to admit error. A review by James V. Schall of Johnsonian Miscellanies [1897], includes this account of the great man:
.... In one of the short accounts, a niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds, a Miss Johnson, no less, was dining with her uncle, Johnson, and a large crowd. This young lady loved music. The conversation turned to music. “Johnson spoke very contemptuously of that art.” He added: “No man of talent, or whose mind was capable of better things, ever would or could devote his time and attention to so idle and frivolous a pursuit.”

At this view, Miss Johnson whispered to her neighbor: “I wonder what Dr. Johnson thinks of King David?” So it helps to know Scripture to understand conversations of our culture. Johnson overheard this whisper. He responded with “good humor and complacency.” He said to the young lady: “Madam, I thank you; I stand rebuked before you, and promise that, on one subject at least, you shall never hear me tell nonsense again."

The time probably will never come when great men do not sometimes “tell nonsense.” But it is the mark of a gentleman also to accept rebukes, especially literary ones from young ladies. King David sang and danced before the Lord. Johnson’s disparagement of music needed correction. He thanked the young lady and promised not to “tell such nonsense again.” ....
The University Bookman: Memories of Johnson