Quotes by Samuel Johnson
The reciprocal civility of authors is one of the most risible scenes in the farce of life.
I am inclined to believe that few attacks either of ridicule or invective make much noise, but by the help of those they provoke.
That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.
Round numbers are always false.
This mournful truth is everywhere confessed —
Slow rises worth‚ by poverty depressed.
I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.
Every man naturally persuades himself that he can keep his resolutions, nor is he convinced of his imbecility but by length of time and frequency of experiment.
Of all the Griefs that harrass the Distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful Jest
Here closed in death th' attentive eyes
That saw the manners in the face.
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.
There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good.
He who praises everybody praises nobody.
Fly fishing may be a very pleasant amusement; but angling or float fishing I can only compare to a stick and a string, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.
What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say.
A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek.
Books that you may carry to the fire, and hold readily in your hand, are the most useful after all.
From Thee, great God: we spring, to Thee we tend,
Path, motive, guide, original, and end.
He who makes a 'beast' of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
This world, where much is to be done and little to be known.
Samuel Johnson's Biography
English poet‚ essayist‚ critic‚ journalist‚ lexicographer‚ conversationalist‚ regarded as one of the outstanding figures of 18th-century life and letters. Johnson's literary reputation is part dependent on James Boswell's (1740-1795) biography The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (1791)‚ with whom he formed one of the most famous friendships in literary history. The writer Ford Madox Ford has considered Johnson the most tragic figures of English literature‚ "whose still living writings are always ignored‚ a great honest man who will remain forever a figure of half fun because of the leechlike adoration of the greatest and most ridiculous of all biographers. For it is impossible not to believe that‚ without Boswell‚ Johnson for us today would shine like a sun in the heavens whilst Addison sat forgotten in coffee houses." (from The March of Literature‚ 1938) ? Johnson became Doctor Johnson when Dublin University gave him the honorary degree in 1765. He had a huge‚ strong athletic build‚ his appetite was legendary and it is said that he often drank over 25 cups of tea at one sitting.

Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfeld‚ the son of a bookseller. His childhood was marred by ill health: a tubercular infection affected both his sight and hearing and his face was scarred by scrofula. Johnson was educated at Pembroke College‚ Oxford. His father died in 1731 and left the family in poverty. Johnson's studies were cut short and he returned to Lichfield‚ affected by depression which haunted him for his life. He worked as a teacher at the grammar school in Market Bosworth and published his first essays in the Birmingham Journal. In 1735 he married Mrs Elisabeth Porter‚ a widow 20 years his senior. They started a school at Edial‚ near Lichfeld‚ but the school did not prosper. Johnson's lack of degree and convulsive mannerisms hindered his success as a teacher. Two years later they moved to London where Johnson worked for Edward Cave‚ the founder of The Gentleman's Magazine. When he applied to a publisher for employment‚ he was found unfit for the job. "You had better get a porter's knot and carry trunks‚" he was advised.

The death of the poet Richard Savage‚ who was Johnson friend‚ gave rise in 1743 to his first biographical work. He addressed to Lord Chesterfield his Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language in 1747 and worked for eight years with the project. Lord Chesterfield refused to support Johnson while he was at work on his dictionary and later Johnson wrote: "This man I thought had been a Lord among wits; but I find‚ he is only a wit among Lords." A patron was in his Dictionary "one who countenances‚ supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence‚ and is paid with flattery." Johnson's longest poem‚ THE VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES‚ appeared in 1749. On that same year his tragedy IRENE was staged and appeared at Drury Lane. Between the years 1750 and 1752 he edited Cave's magazine The Rambler‚ writing nearly all of its numbers. When Cave died in 1754 Johnson wrote a life of the bookseller for The Gentleman's Magazine. Johnson's working method was complex: he first made a rough draft‚ then "turned over in his mind all the Latin words into which the sentence could be formed. Finally‚ he made up Latin-derived English words to convey his sense." (from The March of the Literature)

A DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE was published finally in 1755‚ and the abridged edition in 1756. Johnson's financial situation was weak‚ although the work as a whole remained without rival until the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (1884-1928)‚ initially compiled by James Murray (1837-1915). Johnson wrote the definitions of over 40 000 words‚ illustrating them with about 114 000 quotations drawn from every field of learning. On the lines laid down by earlier French and Italian dictionaries‚ Johnson selected a 'golden age' from which he would work. For him this was the century that ran from the later sixteenth century until the English Restoration of 1660. It was not that Johnson did not understand that language changed. But he regarded most of the changes as degenerate. Johnson was not afraid of vulgar expressions in his dictionary:

to fart. To break wind behind.
As when we gun discharge‚
Although the bore be ne're so large‚
Before the flame from muzzle burst‚
Just at the breech it flashes first;
So from my lord his passion broke‚
He farted first‚ and then he spoke - Swift

In addition to his Dictionary and the philosophical romance of THE PRINCE OF ABYSSINIA (1759‚ later known as RASSELAS)‚ Johnson published essays in The Adventurer (1752-54) and The Idler (1758-60). He produced a number of political articles‚ biographies of Sir Thomas Browne and Roger Ascham‚ and contributed to the Universal Chronicle.

The new monarch George III awarded Johnson in 1762 an annual pension‚ which improved his circumstances. He spent his time in coffee houses in conversation and in idleness; in the 1770s‚ after Johnson was widowed‚ he had a close relationship with the society hostess Hester Thrale. In 1763 Johnson met at Tom Davies's book shop the young Scot James Boswell‚ who became later his biographer. With Boswell he traveled in 1773 in Scotland and published his observations in A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND (1775). One of Johnson's motives to embark on the tour was to investigate the authenticity of Macpherson's Ossian poems; he was sure that they were fakes. Boswell's own account‚ The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson‚ LL.D.‚ appeared ten years later‚ after the death of Johnson. Of Johnson's many remarks about Scotchmen perhaps the most famous was his reply when Boswell told him at their first meeting‚ "I do indeed come from Scotland‚ but I cannot help it..." Johnson replied: "That‚ sir‚ I find‚ is what a very good many of your countrymen cannot help." He continued his travels and went to Wales with Hester Lynch Thrale‚ a wealthy brewer‚ and accompanied him to Paris in 1775‚ Johnson's only visit to the Continent. Johnson's biographical essays of English poets were published in 1781 as THE LIVES OF THE POETS. The idea for the work came in 1777 from London booksellers and others. In this work Johnson abandoned his distinctive style full of long abstract words‚ which was already considered old-fashioned by his contemporaries. He wrote in short enough words‚ with a style that was sufficiently learned but comprehensible. Years he had practiced his conversational skills marked his rhythm and vocabulary.

Johnson spent the summer of 1784 visiting Lichfield‚ Birmingham‚ and Oxford and returned to London depressed and exhausted. He died of pneumonia during the night of 13 December and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Before his death‚ Johnson threw into the fire a number of his manuscripts‚ letters‚ and personal papers. The bulk of his estate was left in trust for his black manservant‚ Francis Barber‚ a former slave from Jamaica. Although Johnson's celebrity at that time was phenomenal‚ views about him as a witty but pedantic and pompous writer came to dominate the 19th century. Walter Raleigh's Six Essays on Johnson in 1910 and T.S. Eliot's essay Johnson as Critic and Poet (1944) made evident the need for a thorough revaluation of Johnson's work. In 1944 Joseph Wood Krutch produced the first modern biography of the rigorous and eloquent author.
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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