The Life of Samuel Johnson (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob

The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell. Okay, so I’m only a third of the way through this behemoth, but after all the thing is 1243 pages long. Johnson was a towering figure in British letters during the 18th century. He published hundreds of essyas, more than fifty biographies, a complete annotated edition of Shakespeare’s works, and almost singlehandedly wrote the best and most complete English dictionary of its time. He also hobnobbed with Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, and he crossed (literary) swords with David Hume. And his friend James Boswell wrote this tremendous biography of his life, including numerous reports of the great man’s conversations. He comes across as a bit of a contrarian, more interested in getting off a good one-liner than in making a consistent argument. Just a third of the way in I have already come across these gems:

“Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

After an unknown gentleman left Johnson’s company, he remarked that “he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”

He was not an admirer of Americans. Once he remarked that failing to work for the spread of Christianity “is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, a race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.”

And his famous response when a woman asked him how he had come to make a certain mistake in his Dictionary: “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s