Semicolon Author Celebration: Samuel Johnson


Today is the birthday of lexicographer, essayist, novelist, literary critic, and eighteenth century celebrity Samuel Johnson. He was born in 1709, so next year will mark the 300th anniversary of his birth. Commonly known as Dr. Johnson, he was the subject of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, one of the most famous biographies ever written in the English language.

More about Dr. Johnson.

Quoth Samuel Johnson:

“I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.”

“A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.”

A lady once asked him how he came to define pastern as the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”

“A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.”

“Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

“But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.”

“I hate a fellow whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as I do, and bark.”

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

“I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works.”
More quotations from Dr.Johnson.

Some of Dr. Johnson’s more creative definitions:

LEXICOGRAPHER: A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.

NETWORK: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.

OATS: A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

PATRON: n. One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is repaid in flattery.

Samuel Johnson, the critic:

Samuel Johnson on Lord Chesterfield: “This man I thought had been a Lord among wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among Lords!”

On Thomas Gray: “Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way and that made people think him great.”

On poet Christopher Smart: “Madness frequently discovers itself merely by unnecessary deviation from the usual modes of the world. My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place. Now although, rationally speaking, it is greater madness not to pray at all, than to pray as Smart did, I am afraid there are so many who do not pray, that their understanding is not called in question.”

On John Milton: “Scarcely any man ever wrote so much and praised so few.”

Do you have something to say about Dr. Johnson, his life, or his writings? If so, please leave a link to your post in the linky or leave a comment or both.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Johnson!

Semicolon’s September: Celebrations, Links and Birthdays

1 thought on “Semicolon Author Celebration: Samuel Johnson

  1. All I can say is–I feel the same way about cucumbers.

    I also like his advice on composition–good advice for us bloggers!



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