No. 308: "Praise With Faint Damns"

No. 308: "Praise With Faint Damns"

No. 308: "Praise With Faint Damns"

Testing your knowledge of what happened this week
Sept. 23 1999 3:30 AM

No. 308: "Praise With Faint Damns"

According to remarks made Tuesday, it is characterized "by greed and lust for power, by hot-blooded hatreds, and stone-cold hearts." Who was describing what?


Send your answer by noon ET Thursday to

Tuesday's Question (No. 307)--"Scotch and So ...?":

Alexander Graham Bell, Mary Queen of Scots, Andrew Carnegie, William Wallace--what's the connection?

"They're examples of the kind of 'good immigrant' Pat Buchanan is looking for."--Alex Balk (Tom Reynolds had a similar answer.)


"All appear as characters in Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan."--MarkGreenberg

"They all invented the telephone."--Al Cloutier (all but identically, David Finkle)

"OK, so they didn't break the chain, and I did--what's your point?"--Julie Anderson

"Because of an ancient Scottish curse, anyone who writes a life of these four historical personages ends up reproducing, word for word and comma for comma, a long-out-of-print biography that they have never even read!"--Katha Pollitt


Click for more answers.

Randy's Wrap-Up

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Johnson was the first of the great Scot-bashers, elevating a common anti-immigrant prejudice to a wittier sort of anti-immigrant prejudice and a way to tweak his great friend James Boswell. Some examples, taken from the delightful Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page maintained by Frank Lynch.

  • When Boswell boasted about his country's landscape, saying it had many noble prospects, Johnson replied: "The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!"

  • "What enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got?"

  • At dinner, Mrs. Thrale expressed a wish to go and see Scotland. Johnson: "Seeing Scotland, Madam, is only seeing a worse England. It is seeing the flower gradually fade away to the naked stalk. "

  • "Knowledge was divided among the Scots, like bread in a besieged town, to every man a mouthful, to no man a bellyful."--Hester Thrale Piozzi: Anecdotes

  • Asked by a Scot what Johnson thought of Scotland: "That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir" "Well, Sir! (replies the Scot, somewhat mortified) God made it." Johnson: "Certainly he did; but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S, but God made hell."--Piozzi: Anecdotes

  • "Your country consists of two things, stone and water. There is, indeed, a little earth above the stone in some places, but a very little; and the stone is always appearing. It is like a man in rags; the naked skin is still peeping out."--Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

  • Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they would choose it. Johnson: "Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren." Boswell: "Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there." Johnson: "Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home."

  • I having said that England was obliged to us for gardeners, almost all their gardeners being Scotchmen; Johnson: "Why, Sir, that is because gardening is much more necessary amongst you than with us, which makes so many of your people learn it. It is all gardening with you. Things which grow wild here, must be cultivated with great care in Scotland. Pray now," throwing himself back in his chair, and laughing, "are you ever able to bring the sloe to perfection?"


(All taken from Boswell's Life of Johnson unless otherwise noted.)

Déjà Vu Answer

Each was the subject of a biography by James Mackay that faced charges of plagiarism.

The prolific Scottish author of more than 100 books, Mackay is accused of cribbing passages of his newest work, I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight: A Life of John Paul Jones. Publication of this biography of another Scottish-born subject, set for next month by the Atlantic Monthly Press, has been put off.


"I am holding back distribution and getting an independent evaluation," said publisher Morgan Entrekin. "Like I should have done with that Jay McInerney rubbish," he did not add.

While Mackay acknowledges similarities between his books and those from which he is accused of copying, he denies wrongdoing, pointing out that "there are only a certain number of words in the English language."

He does admit stealing valuable proofs of stamps belonging to the crown when he worked at the British Museum but notes that this was a long time ago. "This is something that happened when I was a young man. I've surely paid my price for youthful folly."

Ongoing Help the Sloganless Extra

Shallow catch phrases still sought for Al Gore, John McCain, Dan Quayle, and Elizabeth Dole. Answers to run Thursday. Some early entries:

Al Gore:

"Hi. I'm Al Gore."--Dave Gaffen

John McCain:

"I was locked up in a dank prison for five #$%^&* years ... oh, and I'll cut your taxes."--Erin H. Murphy

Dan Quayle:

"Prosperity With a Purpos."--Bill McDermott

Elizabeth Dole:

"The other ED!"--Andrew Solovay

The New Yorker Cartoons Without the Drawings Extra

Pete Seeger? I said, "Hire Peter Singer!"

Common Denominator

Mocking Mel Gibson's career, reciting Mike Myers' routines.