Boswell tells us in Volume V of his Life of Johnson that, ‘Dr Erskine and Mr Robert Walker, two very respectable ministers of Edinburgh, supped with us,’ meaning Dr Johnson and himself. This was on Wednesday November 10th, 1773, shortly before Johnson returned to London after his tour of Scotland including the Hebrides, but not forgetting Edinburgh, home of the Scottish Enlightenment.
In his collected works appears the following verse, in French, followed by Johnson’s translations, firstly the ‘considered’ version followed by an impromptu version, already scanning and rhyming.
I like the image of lightly skimming over pleasures, enjoying them for a while, then hasting away from what could be a dangerous abyss for the less wary. Not a bad ideal for Lent or any time.
Translation of the Following Lines, written under a print representing persons skating.
Sur un mince cristal l'hiver conduit leurs pas,
Le précipice est sous la glace:
Telle est de nos plaisirs la légère surface:
Glissez, mortels; n'appuyez pas.
O'er ice the rapid skater flies,
With sport above, and death below;
Where mischief lurks in gay disguise,
Thus lightly touch and quickly go.
Impromptu Translation of the same.
O'er crackling ice, o'er gulfs profound,
With nimble glide the skaters play;
O'er treach'rous pleasure's flow'ry ground
Thus lightly skim, and haste away."
(from Volume 1, The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes)