In response to:
Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1917–2008 from the March 26, 2009 issue
To the Editors:
Conor Cruise O’Brien might have appreciated Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s sentiments [NYR, March 26] but as a historian would surely have raised an eyebrow at an article with two misquotations, including one that spoiled one of his own jokes. He did not say that he would be persuaded that Charles Haughey’s political career was over only if he saw him buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart. He said that even if he had seen Haughey so buried—politically speaking—he would continue to wear garlic around his neck, just in case.
And Johnson did not suggest that Burke might impress a stranger as the greatest man he had ever seen. What he said, according to Boswell, was “if a man were to go by chance at the same time with Burke under a shed, to shun a shower, he would say—’this is an extraordinary man.'”
Cruise O’Brien was pleased and honored to have been elected president of the Johnson Society following publication of The Great Melody, but tickled by a friend’s comment that his election was understandable in light of Goldsmith saying (as also quoted in Boswell), “There is no arguing with Johnson: for if his pistol misses fire he will knock you down with the butt end of it.”