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Samuel Johnson

Birthdate: 18. September 1709
Date of death: 13. December 1784

Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer. Religiously, he was a devout Anglican, and politically a committed Tory. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Johnson as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is the subject of James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, described by Walter Jackson Bate as "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature".Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, Johnson attended Pembroke College, Oxford, for just over a year, but a lack of funds forced him to leave. After working as a teacher, he moved to London, where he began to write for The Gentleman's Magazine. His early works include the biography Life of Mr Richard Savage, the poems London and The Vanity of Human Wishes, and the play Irene.

After nine years of work, Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755. It had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been acclaimed as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship". This work brought Johnson popularity and success. Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later, Johnson's was the pre-eminent British dictionary. His later works included essays, an influential annotated edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare, and the widely read tale The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. In 1763, he befriended James Boswell, with whom he later travelled to Scotland; Johnson described their travels in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. Towards the end of his life, he produced the massive and influential Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, a collection of biographies and evaluations of 17th- and 18th-century poets.

Johnson was a tall and robust man. His odd gestures and tics were disconcerting to some on first meeting him. Boswell's Life, along with other biographies, documented Johnson's behaviour and mannerisms in such detail that they have informed the posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome, a condition not defined or diagnosed in the 18th century. After a series of illnesses, he died on the evening of 13 December 1784, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. In the years following his death, Johnson began to be recognised as having had a lasting effect on literary criticism, and he was claimed by some to be the only truly great critic of English literature.

Works

The Idler
The Idler
Samuel Johnson
London
Samuel Johnson

Quotes Samuel Johnson

„Learn, that the present hour alone is man's.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Act III, Sc. 2
Context: To-morrow's action! Can that hoary wisdom,
Borne down with years, still doat upon tomorrow!
That fatal mistress of the young, the lazy,
The coward, and the fool, condemn'd to lose
A useless life in waiting for to-morrow,
To gaze with longing eyes upon to-morrow,
Till interposing death destroys the prospect
Strange! that this general fraud from day to day
Should fill the world with wretches undetected.
The soldier, labouring through a winter's march,
Still sees to-morrow drest in robes of triumph;
Still to the lover's long-expecting arms
To-morrow brings the visionary bride.
But thou, too old to hear another cheat,
Learn, that the present hour alone is man's.

„Sir, what is Poetry? Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is: but it is not easy to tell what it is.“

—  Samuel Johnson

Letter to James Macpherson, 20 June 1778. (Quotation used as epigram to Władysław Tatarkiewicz, "Dwa pojęcia poezji" ("Two Concepts of Poetry"), in Tatarkiewicz's book, Parerga, Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1978, pp. 20–38.)

„It ought to be deeply impressed on the minds of all who have voices in this national deliberation, that no man can deserve a seat in parliament, who is not a patriot.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Patriot (1774)
Context: It ought to be deeply impressed on the minds of all who have voices in this national deliberation, that no man can deserve a seat in parliament, who is not a patriot. No other man will protect our rights: no other man can merit our confidence.
A patriot is he whose publick conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has, for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers every thing to the common interest.

„I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed.“

—  Samuel Johnson, book The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

Source: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759), Chapter 31
Context: “That the dead are seen no more,” said Imlac, “I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those that never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence, and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.
“Yet I do not mean to add new terrors to those which have already seized upon Pekuah. There can be no reason why spectres should haunt the Pyramid more than other places, or why they should have power or will to hurt innocence and purity. Our entrance is no violation of their privileges: we can take nothing from them; how, then, can we offend them?”

„Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments“

—  Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

No. 163 (8 October 1751)
The Rambler (1750–1752)
Context: Every man is rich or poor according to the proportion between his desires and his enjoyments; any enlargement of wishes is therefore equally destructive to happiness with the diminution of possession, and he that teaches another to long for what he never shall obtain is no less an enemy to his quiet than if he had robbed him of part of his patrimony.

„A man sometimes starts up a patriot, only by disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to suspend publick happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unnecessarily disturbs its peace.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Patriot (1774)
Context: A man sometimes starts up a patriot, only by disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to suspend publick happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unnecessarily disturbs its peace. Few errours and few faults of government, can justify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot understand, and whose opinions are not propagated by reason, but caught by contagion. The fallaciousness of this note of patriotism is particularly apparent, when the clamour continues after the evil is past.

„Ye Fops, be silent: and ye Wits, be just.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Prologue
Context: Unmoved though Witlings sneer and Rivals rail,
Studious to please, yet not ashamed to fail.
He scorns the meek address, the suppliant strain.
With merit needless, and without it vain.
In Reason, Nature, Truth, he dares to trust:
Ye Fops, be silent: and ye Wits, be just.

„All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance: it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals.“

—  Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

No. 43 (14 August 1750) http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Joh1Ram.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=43&division=div1
The Rambler (1750–1752)
Context: All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance: it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals. If a man was to compare the effect of a single stroke of the pick-axe, or of one impression of the spade, with the general design and last result, he would be overwhelmed by the sense of their disproportion; yet those petty operations, incessantly continued, in time surmount the greatest difficulties, and mountains are levelled, and oceans bounded, by the slender force of human beings.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that those, who have any intention of deviating from the beaten roads of life, and acquiring a reputation superior to names hourly swept away by time among the refuse of fame, should add to their reason, and their spirit, the power of persisting in their purposes; acquire the art of sapping what they cannot batter, and the habit of vanquishing obstinate resistance by obstinate attacks.

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„Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords“

—  Samuel Johnson

Letter, June 8, 1762 [to an unnamed recipient], p. 103
Vol I
Context: Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.

„I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative“

—  Samuel Johnson

August 16, 1773
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)
Context: I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made.

„Hope is necessary in every condition.“

—  Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

No. 67 (6 November 1750)
The Rambler (1750–1752)
Context: Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, of sickness, or captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable; nor does it appear that the happiest lot of terrestrial existence can set us above the want of this general blessing; or that life, when the gifts of nature and of fortune are accumulated upon it, would not still be wretched, were it not elevated and delighted by the expectation of some new possession, of some enjoyment yet behind, by which the wish shall at last be satisfied, and the heart filled up to its utmost extent.

„Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.“

—  Samuel Johnson, The Idler

No. 40 (January 20, 1759)
The Idler (1758–1760)
Context: Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is, therefore, become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetick. Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.

„Strange! that this general fraud from day to day
Should fill the world with wretches undetected.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Act III, Sc. 2
Context: To-morrow's action! Can that hoary wisdom,
Borne down with years, still doat upon tomorrow!
That fatal mistress of the young, the lazy,
The coward, and the fool, condemn'd to lose
A useless life in waiting for to-morrow,
To gaze with longing eyes upon to-morrow,
Till interposing death destroys the prospect
Strange! that this general fraud from day to day
Should fill the world with wretches undetected.
The soldier, labouring through a winter's march,
Still sees to-morrow drest in robes of triumph;
Still to the lover's long-expecting arms
To-morrow brings the visionary bride.
But thou, too old to hear another cheat,
Learn, that the present hour alone is man's.

„Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.“

—  Samuel Johnson

July 21, 1763, p 514 http://books.google.com/books?id=JOseAAAAMAAJ&q="Truth+Sir+is+a+cow+which+will+yield+such+people+no+more+milk+and+so+they+are+gone+to+milk+the+bull1"&pg=PA514#v=onepage
Vol I
Context: Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expence. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to errour. Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull. If I could have allowed myself to gratify my vanity at the expence of truth, what fame might I have acquired.

„It is seldom that we find either men or places such as we expect them.“

—  Samuel Johnson, The Idler

No. 58 (May 26, 1759)
The Idler (1758–1760)
Context: It is seldom that we find either men or places such as we expect them.... Yet it is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded, for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are yet less dreadful than its extinction.

„That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence, and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.“

—  Samuel Johnson, book The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

Source: The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759), Chapter 31
Context: “That the dead are seen no more,” said Imlac, “I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those that never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence, and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.
“Yet I do not mean to add new terrors to those which have already seized upon Pekuah. There can be no reason why spectres should haunt the Pyramid more than other places, or why they should have power or will to hurt innocence and purity. Our entrance is no violation of their privileges: we can take nothing from them; how, then, can we offend them?”

„Unmoved though Witlings sneer and Rivals rail,
Studious to please, yet not ashamed to fail.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Prologue
Context: Unmoved though Witlings sneer and Rivals rail,
Studious to please, yet not ashamed to fail.
He scorns the meek address, the suppliant strain.
With merit needless, and without it vain.
In Reason, Nature, Truth, he dares to trust:
Ye Fops, be silent: and ye Wits, be just.

„That book is good in vain, which the reader throws away.“

—  Samuel Johnson

The Life of Dryden
Lives of the English Poets (1779–81)
Context: It is not by comparing line with line, that the merit of great works is to be estimated, but by their general effects and ultimate result. It is easy to note a weak line, and write one more vigorous in its place; to find a happiness of expression in the original, and transplant it by force into the version: but what is given to the parts may be subducted from the whole, and the reader may be weary, though the critick may commend. Works of imagination excel by their allurement and delight; by their power of attracting and detaining the attention. That book is good in vain, which the reader throws away. He only is the master, who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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