Category Archives: Samuel Johnson

An Instance of Fortitude

In his “Essay on Epitaphs,” Samuel Johnson recalls the lines inscribed on the tomb of the Greek Stoic teacher: “Epictetus, who lies here, was a slave and a cripple, poor as the beggar in the proverb, and the favourite of … Continue reading

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson, Stoicism

Wherever Human Nature is to Be Found

“The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his reader with no romantic absurdities or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

A Page of Boswell

In one page of Boswell’s Life of Johnson (687 in the Oxford edition) perused at random I find two very interesting observations by Johnson during the course of a conversation with his biographer for March 16, 1776. The first deals … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Religion, Samuel Johnson

Johnson’s Existential Quest

“Happiness… must be something solid and permanent, without fear and without uncertainty.”—Samuel Johnson, Rasselas I am returning to the roots of my journal with a discussion of Samuel Johnson’s novel Rasselas (1759), an exotic imaginary travelogue in which the characters … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

The Uncertainty of Good and Evil

“All fear is in itself painful, and when it conduces not to safety is painful without use.”—Samuel Johnson My latest meditation is based on Johnson’s Rambler essay “The folly of anticipating misfortunes” (No. 29). Few things in life are so … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Samuel Johnson

Memento Mori

“A frequent and attentive prospect of that moment, which must put a period to all our schemes, and deprive us of all our acquisitions, is indeed of the utmost efficacy to the just and rational regulation of our lives; nor … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

The Motives Behind Our Actions

“The recollection of the past is only useful by way of provision for the future.”—Samuel Johnson Picking up my old copy of the Yale edition of Johnson’s essays, I perused the entry for The Rambler No. 8 titled “The thoughts to be … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

Can We Be Stoics?

In discussing the sources of philosophy Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) quotes the Stoic Epictetus: “Philosophy arises when we become aware of our own weakness and helplessness.” But later Jaspers points to what he considers Stoicism’s shortcomings: The advice of the Stoic, … Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Samuel Johnson, Stoicism

The Love of Retirement

“The love of retirement has, in all ages, adhered closely to those minds, which have been most enlarged by knowledge, or elevated by genius.”—Johnson, Rambler, No. 7 (10 April 1750) For most people, to be too much in the world … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Samuel Johnson

Johnson on Milton

Taking time out to meditate on Samuel Johnson’s “Life of Milton” (Lives of the English Poets, 1779-81) was a well-earned holiday treat. This particular biography is rich in Johnsonian wisdom. Consider this comment on the poet’s mercurial religious allegiances: From … Continue reading

Posted in History, Literature, Politics, Samuel Johnson