Late Nights with Boswell

Unless I’m completely “knackered,” as the Brits put it, I like to get in 30-60 minutes of reading before I go to bed.  As noted before, when all else fails, Boswell’s biography of Samuel Johnson is the book that can be read “in pretty well any circumstances… save shipwreck” (Hilaire Belloc).

It’s not that I pick it up every day. The last time I pondered it at length was in August, when I reflected on the eighteenth century author’s political views. But in those moods when I’m feeling fastidious or simply in need of some good Johnsonisms, I have recourse to that massive tome. It is impossible to read more than a dozen pages without extracting impressive nuggets of wit and wisdom.

Johnson has this to say on old friendships:

When I came to Lichfield, I found my old friend Harry Jackson dead. It was a loss, and a loss not to be repaired, as he was one of the companions of my childhood. I hope we may long continue to gain friends, but the friends which merit or usefulness can procure us, are not able to supply the place of old acquaintance, with whom the days of youth may be retraced, and those images revived which gave the earliest delight.

Speaking of suspicion and despondency, especially when it concerns acquaintances:

That distrust which intrudes so often on your mind is a mode of melancholy, which, if it be the business of a wise man to be happy, it is foolish to indulge; and if it be a duty to preserve our faculties entire for their proper use, it is criminal. Suspicion is very often an useless pain.

Discussing accuracy in everyday speech (on the topic an earthquake):

Sir, it will be much exaggerated in popular talk: for, in the first place, the common people do not accurately adapt their thoughts to the objects; nor, secondly, do they accurately adapt their words to their thoughts: they do not mean to lie; but, taking no pains to be exact, they give you very false accounts. A great part of their language is proverbial.

This last saying is a reminder that good reportage is highly cherished because it is so hard to come by… at least as much as in Johnson’s day, if not more so.

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