Category Archives: Samuel Johnson

“Simplicity of the Authentick Narrative”

In Samuel Johnson’s biography of Abraham Cowley (1618-1667) one finds an interesting insight on the aesthetics of religious writing. Johnson is discussing the biblically-inspired poem Davideis (subtitled: “A Sacred Poem of the Troubles of David”) modeled on the epic works of Homer … Continue reading

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Friday Philosophizing

According to Socrates: “no one willingly errs.” It was a much repeated conviction of the Athenian philosopher that, with sufficient knowledge, people will invariably make the right choices. Insofar as individuals make bad choices, this is due to ignorance. Admittedly … Continue reading

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The Difference Between Profession and Reality

“Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature, nor is it pursued for the sake of self-advertisement. Its concern is not with words, but with facts. It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in … Continue reading

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Varieties of Opinion

“If you cannot make yourself as you wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?”—Thomas à Kempis In one of his essays Samuel Johnson examines the diversity of philosophical judgment. It should be noted here … Continue reading

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Johnson on Tour

In describing his 1773 tour of the Scottish Hebrides, Samuel Johnson traverses the topics of history, manners and religion, as well as geography. Discussing the Isle of Raasay, Johnson writes: “In the streams or fresh lakes of the Islands, I … Continue reading

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Lessons From Maximus, and Others

In the very first book of The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius offers some notes, with accompanying insights, on people that he grew up with, including family members, tutors and others. In recalling the moral qualities of someone named Maximus, he lists … Continue reading

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The Conscience of Mankind

“Johnson emerges for us as one of the great moralists of modern times—one of the handful of men, during the last three centuries, whose writing on human life and destiny has become a permanent part of the conscience of mankind.”—W. … Continue reading

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Refuting Idealism

There is a famous, oft-repeated, anecdote regarding the extreme idealism of English philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), as recounted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson: After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious … Continue reading

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More “John Bull” Philosophizing

Continuing my weekly perusal of Boswell’s Life, there are some passages which nicely illustrate Samuel Johnson’s “John Bull” philosophizing. The British sage often argued for effect, indulging in witty hyperbole. While discussing an aristocrat with intellectual pretensions, who disdained a … Continue reading

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Johnson’s Easter Message

James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, records a conversation with the famous author in the year 1778: “On Sunday, April 19, being Easter-day, after the solemnities of the festival in St. Paul’s Church, I visited him, but could not stay … Continue reading

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