Posts filed under ‘Dr. Samuel Johnson’

a Paltry trick

“…it is a Paltry trick indeed to deny women the cultivation of their mental powers, and I think it is partly a proof we are afraid of them.”

-Samuel Johnson, letter to Mrs. Thrale

Plausible, but I think it’s just more likely that’s just not what they want from women.


14 March 2012 at 10:00 Leave a comment

A neutral being

“But according to Johnson himself, when he considered the problem of women, he released his body from the fetters of gender and became ‘a neutral being between the sexes’.”

A very awkward review of Kate Chisholm’s book Wits and Wives, but I can’t tell if it’s inchoate because of the reviewer or the reviewed.

13 March 2012 at 06:31 Leave a comment

A new Samuel Johnson biography goes unreviewed…

Kathryn Hughes has written an arrogant, abrasive, self-important, and self-aggrandizing review about David Nokes’s new biography of Samuel Johnson.

She tells me that if I read (and certainly if I liked) Boswell’s life of Johnson then I would think of him as consisting of “an odd assemblage of convulsive tics, roaring voice and bar-room philosophising”.

Wow, what a superficial reading that would be.

And she seems to think Samuel Johnson suffered from nothing more than obsessive-compulsive disorder, when it is generally understood that he suffered from Tourette Syndrome, which was undescribed at the time.

She also says he “managed to get through a long and trying life mostly sober, addicted to nothing stronger than endless cups of tea”, when his prayers and personal notes indicate he felt he went through significant parts of his life drinking too much. And what an odd thing to find praise-worthy…

Interestingly, the Noyes biography (barely an addenda to all this soliloquizing) sounds measured and reasonable.

It’s a surprisingly ignorant review.

Sloppy.  Sounds like she just revised her GCSE exam paper.

5 October 2009 at 18:31 Leave a comment


James Boswell talking with Samuel Johnson, 3 June 1781:

“Being in a frame of mind which I hope, for the felicity of human nature, many experience, in fine weather, at the country-house of a friend, consoled and elevated by pious exercises, I expressed myself with an unrestrained fervour to my ‘Guide, Philosopher, and Friend’: ‘My dear sir, I would fain be a good man; and I am very good now. I fear God, and honour the King; I wish to do no ill, and to be benevolent to all mankind.’ He looked at me with benignant indulgence; but too occasion to give me wise and salutory caution. ‘Do not, sir, accustom yourself to trust to impressions. There is a middle state of mind between conviction and hypocrisy, of which many are unconscious. By trusting to impressions, a man may gradually come to yield to them, and at length be subject to them, so as not to be a free agent, or, what is the same thing in effect, to suppose that he is not a free agent. A man who is in that state should not be suffered to live; if he declares he cannot help acting in a particular way, and is irresistibly impelled, there can be no confidence in him, no more than in a tiger. But, sir, no man believes himself to be impelled irresistibly; we know that he who says he believes it, lies…’

from James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.

2 August 2006 at 15:02 Leave a comment

Cloudy, cloudy

This is the only bit of poetry I have ever managed to memorize,
Richard Wilbur’s Epistemology:

Kick at the rock, Sam Johnson, break your bones:
But cloudy, cloudy is the stuff of stones.

There’s more to it that I didn’t manage to hold onto, but how fun was it while (finally) enjoying Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson to find the context:

After we came out of church, we stood
talking for some time together of Bishop Berke-
ley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-exist-
ence of matter, and that everything in the uni-
verse is merely ideal. I observed that though
we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is
impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the
alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking
his foot with a mighty force against a large stone,
till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus!”

If you want to dig into the philosophy, read this excellent discussion by Katherine Hunt.

1 March 2006 at 09:17 Leave a comment

Johnson’s Griffith

“After my death I wish no other herald,
no other speaker of my living actions
to keep mine honour from corruption,
but such an honest chronicler as Griffith.”
-Shakespeare, Henry VIII

I forgot to mention that bb picked up a book for me while he was in Cambridge: Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, L.L.D. A neat 1876 edition with lots of notes.

And I’m looking forward to digging in after the holidays.

My parents owned The Great Books of the Western World with matching volumes (coordinated colored skiver labels) and its proper bookcase, and for some reason the one I kept picking up and trying to read and then putting back down was Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

I still don’t know what about it drew my attention. It would mesmerize me and then I would get bogged down and put it away.

“Boswell writes a regular Journal of our Travels, which I think contains so much of what I say and do, as of all other occurrences together; ‘for such a faithful chronicler is Griffith’.”
-Samuel Johnson, Letter to Mrs. Thrale, September 30, 1773

This time I will read it.

1 November 2005 at 10:07 Leave a comment

What I’ve been reading:

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T. Anderson Painter

I am a misanthrope. No one ever believes me, but this seems to prove my point.



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