Samuel Johnson.

Lately, I’ve been reading all about Samuel Johnson (a.k.a. Dr. Johnson), one of the most quotable and scholarly men of the 18th Century. He’s gotten some press lately for having said that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Which it is.

The guy’s breadth of knowledge and endeavor is amazing.

[Incidentally, I really have to stop comparing myself to these “best of their kind” types of people. Last week, I felt dejected that I could never write prose as sparkling and witty as that of Mr. Charles Dickens. This week, I realize that I could read for the rest of my life without approaching Johnson’s erudition. Using words like erudition doesn’t seem to help.]

But he wasn’t just some loner smart guy who spent years perfecting the first great dictionary of the English language. Forget about his Latin and Greek. People also admired and wrote about his glittering conversation. He would hold a room rapt with his voice, and quote-books today still bulge with his off-the-cuff remarks.

Dr. Johnson was sought for his conversation and writings in a way that only people who look pretty or play sports can relate to today. Things are better now, of course, with all the raw sewage no longer flowing in London’s streets. But it would be nice to think that someone like him could exist now, and that regular people would hear about him and admire him.

Defining the World, by Henry Hitchings

Life of Johnson, by James Boswell (published in 1791 and available for download)

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