Thursday, February 18, 2016

Author Unknown

Last night, while looking into Boswell's The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, I noticed in the entry for Friday, 27th August (1773)
Mr. Grant having prayed, Dr. Johnson said, his prayer was a very good one;  but objected to his not having introduced the Lord's Prayer. He told us, that an Italian of some note in London said once to him, 'We have in our service a prayer called the Pater Noster, which is a very fine composition. I wonder who is the author of it.'--A singular instance of ignorance in a man of some literature and general inquiry.
This sounded familiar. In his memoirs, in an entry for 1707, Saint-Simon writes of the Comte de Gramont
When he was 85 and mortally ill his wife tried to speak to him of God; but the complete oblivion in which he had lived all his life made him regard the mysteries with utter incredulity, and when she had finished he said, 'But, Madame, is what you say really true?' When he heard her recite the Paternoster he said, 'I think that is a beautiful prayer, who wrote it?'
 I certainly don't doubt Johnson's word. Saint-Simon is a bit too fond of a good story, but apparently Gramont's obliviousness to religion is well attested.

(And while I'm not on the subject, why doesn't Oxford University Press bring back into print R.W. Chapman's handy volume containing both Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and Boswell's Journey? If Chapman's work is superseded, then why not a few pages of notes?)

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