Night

James Boswell, from The Life of Samuel Johnson

Topham Beauclerk (pronounced boclare) and Bennet Langton were young men about town whom Johnson befriended when they were in their early twenties and he in his fifties. Although Boswell, in his Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), places this escapade in 1752, it must have happened after 1760, when Johnson took rooms in Inner Temple Lane, near the old law courts.

[A Night Ramble]

[Click on image to enlarge] One night when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go and Knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig on the top of his head, instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him. When he discovered who they were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and with great good humour agreed to their proposal: ' What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with you.' He was soon drest, and they sallied forth together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers were beginning to arrange their hampers, just come in from the country. Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his services were not relished. They then repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called Bishop, >> note 1 which Johnson had always liked; while in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,

'Short, O short then be thy reign,
And give us to the world again!' >> note 2

They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk and Johnson were so well pleased with their amusement, that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the rest of the day: but Langton deserted them, being engaged to breakfast with some young Ladies. Johnson scolded him for 'leaving his social friends, to go and sit with a set of wretched un-idea'd girls.' Garrick being told of this ramble, said to him smartly, 'I heard of your frolick t'other night. You'll be in the Chronicle.' Upon which Johnson afterwards observed, 'He durst not do such a thing. His wife would not let him!'


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