Treasure Island

gershon hepner

(5 3 38 / leipzig)

scholar's life

Mark what ills the scholar’s life assail,
toil, envy want, the garret and the jail,
and others Dr. Johnson has omitted,
like friends who think he ought to be committed
by men with licenses and long white coats
who do not care for all the things he quotes,
and patrons who have never gone to college,
who hope that words he uses to acknowledge
their help will make them so respectable
that they to higher office are electable,
and scholars who search carefully his writings
for their own names in small print in the citings
of footnotes, endnotes, all the apparatus
which basically for them is all that matters,
protected by their status and their tenure,
manure some pile on, some pile on womenure.
To toil and envy, garret and the jail,
add steps some make to make their rivals fail.
These are some ills befalling scholars’ lives;
survivors are the ones with lovely wives.

Frank Kermode reviews several books on Dr. Johnson in the NYR, June 22,2006:

When Johnson’s poem “The Vanity of Human Wishes” was first published in 1749, it contained this couplet:

…mark what ills the scholar’s life assail,
Toil, envy, want, the garret at the jail.

In the second edition of 1755, “garret” is changed to “patron.”


Submitted: Sunday, December 03, 2006
Edited: Thursday, December 02, 2010
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