A Pensive Occasion for Those Who Love Both the English Language and Human Intelligence

Died 13 December 1784 – Samuel Johnson, English poet, essayist, literary critic, biographer, and lexicographer. Johnson was the author of the first definitive dictionary in the history of the English language, and his contributions to our literary heritage are immense. One does not read Johnson merely to learn his opinions on various subjects, but rather to appreciate the stylistic elegance with which he expresses them. At a time when twitter is helping to accelerate the pace at which Americans are becoming a nation of inarticulate twits, Johnson’s prose, with its abundance of wit, irony, and complexity, provides a model for us to emulate and an antidote to stupidity. Whether we like it or not, our writing is the shadow of our thinking, and anyone who spends time reading what passes for discourse on the Internet knows that some people’s shadows are very pale, indeed. Finally, Johnson is the subject of what is arguably the greatest literary biography in history – “The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.,” by James Boswell, a book which has been at my bedside for decades and one that I heartily recommend people read in addition to Johnson’s publications.
Here are a few quotations from Dr. Samuel Johnson:
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”
“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.”
“Allow children to be happy in their own way, for what better way will they find?”
“Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments.”
“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.”
“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
“Getting money is not all a man’s business: to cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life.”
“He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.”
“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”
“Life cannot subsist in society but by reciprocal concessions.”
“Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.”
“Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable.”
“The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
“What is easy is seldom excellent.”
“Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.”

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