English Lexicographer, Essayist, Poet, Conversationalist
Samuel Johnson, aka Doctor Johnson
English Lexicographer, Essayist, Poet, Conversationalist
Little would be wanting to the happiness of life, if every man could conform to the right as soon as he was shown it.
Johnson: This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party -- Society; and, if it be considered as a vow -- GOD: and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone. Laws are not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another's property with his own hand. Boswell: But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia. Johnson: This lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel.
Johnson: Why should it shock you, Sir? Hume owned he had never read the New Testament with attention. Here then was a man, who had been at no pains to inquire into the truth of religion, and had continually turned his mind the other way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of death would alter his way of thinking, unless God should send an angel to set him right. I said, I had no reason to believe that the thought of annihilation gave Hume no pain. Johnson: It was not so, Sir. He had a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he should assume an appearance of ease, than that so very probable a thing should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive theory, he cannot be sure but he may go,) into an unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving all he knew. And you are to consider, that upon his own principle of annihilation he had no motive to speak the truth.
Junius burst into notice with a blaze of impudence which has rarely glared upon the world before, and drew the rabble after him, as a monster makes a show. When he had provided for his safety, by impenetrable secrecy, he had nothing to combat but truth and justice, enemies whom he knows to be feeble in the dark. Being then at liberty to indulge himself in all the immunities of invisibility; out of reach of danger, he has been bold; out of the reach of shame, he has been confident.
It is, I believe, a very just observation that men's ambition is, generally, proportioned to their capacity. Providence seldom sends any into the world with an inclination to attempt great things, who have not abilities, likewise, to perform them.
It must be born with a man to be contented to take up with little things. Women have a great advantage that they may take up with little things, without disgracing themselves: a man cannot, except with fiddling. Had I learned to fiddle I should have done nothing else.
Johnson (Boswell: Life of Johnson)
Johnson: Colley Cibber once consulted me as to one of his birth-day Odes, a long time before it was wanted. I objected very freely to several passages. Cibber lost patience, and would not read his Ode to an end. When we had done with criticism, we walked over to Richardson's, the author of Clarissa, and I wondered to find Richardson displeased that I 'did not treat Cibber with more respect.' Now, Sir, to talk of respect for a player! (smiling disdainfully.) Boswell: There, Sir, you are always heretical: you never will allow merit to a player. Johnson: Merit, Sir! what merit? Do you respect a rope-dancer, or a ballad singer? Boswell: No, Sir, but we respect a great player, as a man who can conceive lofty sentiments, and can express them gracefully. Johnson: What, Sir, a fellow who claps a lump on his back, and a lump on his leg, and cries 'I am Richard the Third'? Nay, Sir, a ballad singer is a higher man, for he does two things; he repeats and he sings: there is both recitation and musick in his performance: the player only recites. Boswell: My dear, Sir! you may turn anything into ridicule. I allow, that a player of farce is not entitled to respect; he does a little thing: but he who can represent exalted characters, and touch the noblest passions, has very respectable powers; and mankind have agreed in admiring great talents for the stage. We must consider, too, that a great player does what very few are capable to do: his art is a very rare faculty. Who can repeat Hamlet's soliloquy, 'To be, or not to be,' as Garrick does it? Johnson: Any body may. Jemmy (a boy about eight years old, who was in the room,) will do it as well in a week. Boswell: No, no, Sir: and as a proof of the merit of great acting, and of the value which mankind has set upon it, Garrick has got a hundred thousand pounds. Johnson: Is getting a hundred thousand pounds a proof of excellence? That has been done by a scoundrel commissary.
Johnson: If Charles the Second had bent all his mind to it, had made it his sole object, he might have been as absolute as Louis the Fourteenth. A gentleman observed he would have done no harm if he had. Johnson: Why, Sir, absolute princes seldom do any harm. But they who are governed by them are governed by chance. There is no security for good government. Cambridge: There have been many sad victims to absolute government. Johnson: So, Sir, have there been to popular factions.
Johnson: Sir, this is all imagination, which physicians encourage; for man lives in air, as a fish lives in water, so that if the atmosphere press heavy from above, there is an equal resistance from below. To be sure, weather is hard upon people who are obliged to go abroad; and men cannot labour so well in the open air in bad weather, as in good: but, Sir, a smith or taylor, whose work is done within doors, will surely do as much in rainy weather, as in fair. Some very delicate frames, indeed, may be affected by wet weather; but not common constitutions.
Johnson: That he is infinitely good, as far as the perfection of his nature will allow, I certainly believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole, that individuals should be punished. As to an individual, therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned (looking dismally). Dr. Adams: What do you mean by damned? Johnson: (passionately and loudly) Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly. Dr. Adams: I don't believe that doctrine. Johnson: Hold, Sir; do you believe that some will be punished at all? Dr. Adams: Being excluded from Heaven will be a punishment; yet there may be no great positive suffering. Johnson: Well, Sir; but if you admit any degree of punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict no punishment whatever. There is not infinite goodness physically considered; morally there is. Boswell: But may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of death? Johnson: A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair. Mrs. Adams: You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer. Johnson: Madam, I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some on his right hand and some on his left. He was in gloomy agitation, and said, I'll have no more on't.
It is one of the innumerable absurdities of pride, that we are never more impatient of direction than in the part of life when we need it most; we are in haste to meet enemies whom we have not strength to overcome, and to undertake tasks which we cannot perform.
It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities...
It is too common for those who have been bred to scholastic professions, and passed much of their time in academies where nothing but learning confers honours, to disregard every other qualification, and to imagine that they shall find mankind ready to pay homage to their knowledge, and to crowd about them for instruction. They therefore step out from their cells into the open world with all the confidence of authority and dignity of importance; they look round about them at once with ignorance and scorn, on a race of beings to whom they are equally unknown and equally contemptible, but whose manners they must imitate, and with whose opinions they must comply, if they desire to pass their time happily among them.
It is true ... that many have neglected opportunities of raising themselves to honour and to wealth, and rejected the kindest offers of fortune; but, however their moderation may be boasted by themselves, or admired by such as only view them at a distance, it will be, perhaps, seldom found that they value riches less, but they dread labour or danger more than others; they are unable to rouse themselves to action, to strain in the race of competition, or to stand the shock of conquest; but though they, therefore, decline the toil of climbing, they nevertheless wish themselves aloft, and would willingly enjoy what they dare not seize.
It is unpleasing to represent our affairs to our own disadvantage; yet it is necessary to shew the evils which we desire to be removed.
It is very natural for young men to be vehement, acrimonious, and severe. For as they seldom comprehend at once all the consequences of a position, or perceive the difficulties by which cooler and more experienced reasoners are restrained from confidence, they form their conclusions with great precipitance. Seeing nothing that can darken or embarrass the question, they expect to find their own opinion universally prevalent, and are inclined to impute uncertainty and hesitation to want of honesty rather than of knowledge.
It is not often that any man can have so much knowledge of another as is necessary to make instruction useful. We are sometimes not ourselves conscious of the original motives of our actions; and when we know them, our first care is to hide them from the sight of others, and often from those most diligently, whose superiority either of power or understanding may entitle them to inspect our lives; it is, therefore, very probable, that he who endeavours to cure our intellectual maladies, mistakes their cause; and that his prescriptions avail nothing, because he knows not which of the passions or desires is vitiated.
It is not uncommon for those who have grown wise by the labour of others to add a little of their own, and overlook their masters.
It is always necessary to be loved, but not always necessary to be reverenced.
It is by affliction chiefly that the heart of man is purified. Prosperity, allayed and imperfect as it is, has power to intoxicate the imagination, to fix the mind upon the present scene, to produce confidence and elation, and to make him who enjoys affluence and honours forget the hand by which they were bestowed. It is seldom that we are otherwise, than by affliction, awakened to a sense of our own imbecility, or taught to know how little all our acquisitions can conduce to safety or to quiet; and how justly we may ascribe to the superintendence of a higher Power, those blessings which in the wantonness of success we considered as the attainments of our policy or courage.
It is certain that, with or without our consent, many of the few moments allotted us will slide imperceptibly away, and that the mind will break from confinement to its stated task, into sudden excursions. Severe and connected attention is preserved but for a short time; and when a man shuts himself up in his closet, and bends his thoughts to the discussion of any abstruse question, he will find his faculties continually stealing away to more pleasing entertainments. He often perceives himself transported, he knows not how, to distant tracts of thought, and returns to his first object as from a dream, without knowing when he forsook it, or how long he has been abstracted from it.
It is common for controversists, in the heat of disputation, to add one position to another till they reach the extremities of knowledge, where truth and falsehood lose their distinction.
It is common for those who have never accustomed themselves to the labour of inquiry, nor invigorated their confidence by conquests over difficulty, to sleep in the gloomy quiescence of astonishment, without any effort to animate inquiry or dispel obscurity. What they cannot immediately conceive they consider as too high to be reached, or too extensive to be comprehended; they therefore content themselves with the gaze of folly, forbear to attempt what they have no hopes of performing; and resign the pleasure of rational contemplation to more pertinacious study or more active faculties.
It is decreed by Providence, that nothing truly valuable shall be obtained in our present state, but with difficulty and danger. He that hopes for that advantage which is to be gained from unrestrained communication must sometimes hazard, by unpleasing truths, that friendship which he aspires to merit. The chief rule to observed in the exercise of this dangerous office, is to preserve it pure from all mixture of interest or vanity; to forbear admonition or reproof, when our consciences tell us that they are incited, not by the hopes of reforming faults, but the desire of showing our discrenment, or gratifying our pride by the mortification of another.