Tag Archives: Samuel Johnson

James Boswell

[Johnson] bid me always remember this, that after a system is well settled upon positive evidence, a few objections ought not to shake it. “The human mind is so limited that it cannot take in all parts of a subject; so that there may be objections raised against anything. There are objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum. Yet one of them must certainly be true.”

James Boswell, London Journal, 22 July 1763

James Boswell

Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued. “ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch. ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years. ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.”

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London, 1791, vol. 1, p. 101

Henry Digby Beste

In early youth I knew Bennet Langton, of that ilk, as the Scotch say; with great personal claims to the respect of the public, he is known to that public chiefly as a friend of Johnson; he was a very tall, meagre, long-visaged man, much resembling, according to Richard Paget, a stork standing on one leg, near the shore, in Raphael’s cartoon of the miraculous draught of fishes. His manners were, in the highest degree, polished; his conversation mild, equable, and always pleasing. He had the uncommon faculty (’tis strange that it should be an uncommon faculty), of being a good reader[.] […]

I formed an intimacy with his son, George Langton, nearly of the same age as myself, and went to pay him a visit some years later, at Langton, where he resided with his family. and went to pay him a visit at Langton. […] After breakfast we walked to the top of a very steep hill behind the house. When we arrived at the summit, Mr. Langton said, “Poor, dear Dr. Johnson, when he came to this spot, turned back to look down the hill, and said he was determined ‘to take a roll down.’ When we understood what he meant to do, we endeavoured to dissuade him; but he was resolute, saying, ‘he had not had a roll for a long time;’ and taking out of his lesser pockets whatever might be in them–– keys, pencil, purse, or pen-knife, and laying himself parallel with the edge of the hill, he actually descended, turning himself over and over, till he came to the bottom.”

Henry Digby Beste, Personal and Literary Memorials, London, 1829, pp. 62, 64-65

James Boswell

My revered friend walked down with me to the beach, where we embraced and parted with tenderness, and engaged to correspond by letters. I said, “I hope, Sir, you will not forget me in my absence.” Johnson. “Nay, Sir, it is more likely you should forget me, than that I should forget you.” As the vessel put out to sea, I kept my eyes upon him for a considerable time, while he remained rolling his majestic frame in his usual manner; at last I perceived him walk back into the town, and he disappeared.

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London, 1791, vol. 1, p. 257

James Boswell

Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in every company: to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London, 1791, vol. 1, p. 109

Jorge Luis Borges

Durante años de oprobio y bobería, los métodos de la propaganda comercial y de la litérature pour concierges fueron aplicados al gobierno de la república. Hubo así dos historias: una, de índole criminal, hecha de cárceles, torturas, prostituciones, robos, muertes e incendios; otra, de carácter escénico, hecha de necedades y fábulas para consumo de patanes. […] Ya Coleridge habló de la willing suspension of disbelief (voluntaria suspensión de la incredulidad) que constituye la fe poética; ya Samuel Johnson observó en defensa de Shakespeare que los espectadores de una tragedia no creen que están en Alejandría durante el primer acto y en Roma durante el segundo pero condescienden al agrado de una ficción. Parejamente, las mentiras de la dictadura no eran creídas o descreídas; pertenecían a un plano intermedio y su propósito era encubrir o justificar sórdidas o atroces realidades.

Jorge Luis Borges, ‘L’illusion comique’, Sur, no. 237 (noviembre-diciembre, 1955), pp. 9-10