Category Archives: 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

Idle Wisdom

The following excerpts are from essays written by Samuel Johnson for The Idler. I perused them recently in the W. Jackson Bate edition of his works. It has been commonly remarked, that eminent men are least eminent at home, that … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Samuel Johnson

Ethics and Utility

The Stoic Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius writes that “what is good must, in a sense, be useful.” He then goes on to add: “Pleasure is therefore neither good nor useful” (Meditations, VIII. 10). That latter topic has been addressed in … Continue reading

Posted in Josef Pieper, Philosophy, Samuel Johnson

Drinking with Samuel Johnson

I just circulated copies of some readings by Samuel Johnson to members of my reading/drinking club, which has been meeting continuously since 2012. The selections comprise Idler essay No. 30 (“Corruption of news-writers”) and chapter 22 of Johnson’s moral fable … Continue reading

Posted in Literature, Samuel Johnson