More Wet Guitar
The Plight of Anglo-Catholics

A Very Fine Poem

Update: My apologies: I thought this poem was available to non-subscribers, but apparently it's not. I'll leave the post here because you can still enjoy the anecdote. It's even possible that you may run across a copy of the magazine somewhere. Thanks to Louise for pointing this out to me.


I don't find most of the poetry published in The New Criterion (or anywhere else, for that matter) very memorable. Well-crafted, always, and sometimes enjoyable, but rarely anything I would wish to read ten years from now. But there's one in the May issue which I've read several times with no lessening of the pleasure of the first reading. It's based on an incident in the life of Samuel Johnson:

After breakfast we walked to the top of a very steep hill behind the house. When we arrived at the summit, Mr. Langton said, 'Poor dear Dr. Johnson, when he came to this spot, turned back to look down the hill, and said he was determined "to take a roll down". When we understood what he meant to do, we endeavoured to dissuade him; but he was resolute, saying, "he had not had a roll for a long time"; and taking out of his lesser pockets whatever might be in them--keys, pencil, purse, or pen-knife--and laying himself parallel to the edge of the hill, he actually descended, turning himself over and over, till he came to the bottom.'

The poem is by Joseph Harrison, and it's called "Dr. Johnson Rolls Down A Hill". Read it when you're not in a hurry.

I read the anecdote upon which the poem is based many years ago in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (which by the way is a treasure). There it's attributed to Personal and Literary Memorials, published by Henry Digby Beste in 1829. But the speaker is not identified. Thanks to the web and Google, I find a very similar recounting in Leslie Stephens's 1900 biography. It's so similar to Beste's that I suppose Beste to have been Stephen's source. Beste, interestingly, was a Catholic convert, an early instance of what would become the Oxford Movement.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

It starts off well, but then I can read no more b/c I'm not a subscriber. :(

The anecdote is lovely though.

Oh heck. I am a subscriber, but I thought I had checked that I could still see it even when not logged in. Sorry! I could just lift it but that would be unsporting.


I'm ttempted to subscribe just to read the rest, but will sleep on it.

I wouldn't recommend that you do that without seeing a copy of the mag. Though I guess you can get a pretty good idea from browsing their site. They usually have several feature articles from each issue available to non-subscribers.

The comments to this entry are closed.