Echo of Johnson

I’ve noticed Patrick O’Brian doing the following a couple times. Here’s H.M.S. Surprise, p. 258:

   ‘Certainly. I feel much for the gentleman. But he seems to be of a sanguine humour, and Pullings tells me the captains of Indiamen become exceedingly rich — they shake the pagoda-tree like true British tars.’
   ‘Rich? Oh, yes, they wallow in gold. But he will never hoist his flag! No, no, poor fellow, he will never hoist his flag.’

This reminds me of an account which Boswell gives us of Samuel Johnson:

Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he shewed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a
cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I
frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same
Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying ‘why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.’ And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, ‘But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.’

I’ve never read Boswell, but that last paragraph is employed by Nabokov as the epigraph to Pale Fire. It hit me hard when I read that book, and has stuck in my head since.

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