Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Samuel Johnson
by [?]

* * * Seven years, my Lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms and was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

The shepherd in Vergil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached the ground encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and can not enjoy it; till I am a solitary, and can not impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, should less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, my Lord.

Your Lordship’s most humble, most obedient servant,

—Sam Johnson

The critics, I believe, have made a distinction between large men and great men.

Samuel Johnson was both. He was massive in intellect, colossal in culture, prodigious in memory, weighed nigh three hundred pounds, and had prejudices to match. He was possessed of a giant’s strength, and occasionally used it like a giant–for instance, when he felled an offending bookseller with a folio.

Johnson was most unfortunate in his biographer. In picturing the great writer, Boswell writes more entertainingly than Johnson ever did, and thereby overtops his subject. And when in reply to the intimation that Boswell was going to write his life, Johnson answered, “If I really thought he was, I would take his,” he spoke a jest in earnest.

Walking along Market Street in the city of Saint Louis, with a friend, not long ago, my comrade suddenly stopped and excitedly pointed out a man across the way–“Look quick–there he goes!” exclaimed my friend, “that man with the derby and duster–see? That’s the husband of Mrs. Lease of Kansas!” And all I could say was, “God help him!”

Not but that Mrs. Lease is a most excellent and amiable lady; but the idea of a man, made in the image of his Maker, being reduced to the social state of a drone-bee is most depressing.

Among that worthy class of people referred to somewhat ironically as “the reading public,” Boswell is read, but Johnson never. And so sternly true is the fact that many critics, set on a hair-trigger, aver that were it not for Boswell no one would now know that a writer by the name of Johnson ever lived. Yet the fact is, Boswell ruined the literary reputation of Johnson by intimating that Johnson wrote Johnsonese; but that is a mistake.

Johnson never wrote Johnsonese. The piling up of reasons, the cumulation of argument–setting off epigram against epigram–that mark Johnson’s literary style are its distinguishing features. He is profound, but always lucid. And lucidity is just what modern Johnsonese lacks. The word was coined by a man who had neither the patience to read Johnson nor the ability to comprehend him. Only sophomores, and private secretaries who write speeches for able Congressmen, write Johnsonese.