Samuel Johnson, 1709 - 1784
1772 portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Born: 18 September 1709, Lichfield, England
Died: 14 December 1784, London, England
Johnson was given over to a wet nurse with tuberculosis shortly after birth and was infected through her milk, losing most of his eyesight and the hearing in one ear as a result. In fact, he was rarely physically healthy and suffered with depression throughout his life. He used his time at home to read volumes from his father's book store. As parlor entertainment his mother had him memorize and recite passages from the Book of Common Prayer at three years. He attended Litchfield Grammar School, where he excelled in Latin but first exhibited the tics that some now believe to have been Tourette syndrome. At several times during his youth, Johnson boarded with teachers, he not only regularly attended school but was routinely tutored outside his school work. A small inheritance allowed the family to send him to Pembroke College, Oxford, but only for one year. He taught school briefly, but opportunities were limited without a degree. At age 25 Johnson married a wealthy widow, 21 years his senior. Unable to be employed as a teacher, he used a good portion of his wife's assets to start a school of his own, when it failed he devoted himself to writing. In 1756 a group of publishers engaged Johnson to create an authoritative English dictionary which took him a decade. It was the best regarded, and most copied, dictionary of 150 years, until the Oxford dictionary was released in 1928. It also inspired Oxford to give him an honorary Masters degree. (He later received honorary doctoral degrees from Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin.) He wrote many essays and published magazines, his next major project was editing the complete works of Shakespeare. He finally was relieved of constant financial problems (he was arrested for debts on three occasions) when King George III granted him a pension in recognition of the value of the dictionary. Due to his keen insight, great command of language, and the sheer bulk of his work, Johnson is believed to be the second most quoted author in the English language.
Additional quotes from Wikiquote. Wikiquote entries are "sourced" and may include items longer than those included here, particularly for poets, lyricists, and dramatists.
Samuel Johnson quotes:
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- A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden. permalink
- A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing. permalink
- A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. permalink
- A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still. permalink
on critics and authors, quoted by Boswell in Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1791)
- A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosity. permalink
- A hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant, whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning. permalink
describing himself in The Literary Magazine, Vol. II, No. XIII (1757)
- A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek. permalink
- A man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. permalink
- A man may be so much of every thing, that he is nothing of any thing. permalink
- A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it. permalink
- A man of genius has been seldom ruined but by himself. permalink
- A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. permalink
- A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority. permalink
- A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair. permalink
- A transition from an author's book to his conversation, is too often like an entrance into a large city, after distant prospect. Remotely, we see nothing but spires of temples and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendor, grandeur, and magnificence; but, when we have passed the gates, we find it perplexed with narrow passages, disgraced with despicable cottages, embarrassed with obstructions and clouded with smoke. permalink
The Rambler (5 May 1784)
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