Sunday, September 19, 2010


Brave Samuel Johnson

George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (Summer, XIV):
Brave Samuel Johnson! One such truth-teller is worth all the moralists and preachers who ever laboured to humanise mankind. Had he withdrawn into solitude, it would have been a national loss. Every one of his blunt, fearless words had more value than a whole evangel on the lips of a timidly good man. It is thus that the commonalty, however well clad, should be treated. So seldom does the fool or the ruffian in broadcloth hear his just designation; so seldom is the man found who has a right to address him by it. By the bandying of insults we profit nothing; there can be no useful rebuke which is exposed to a tu quoque. But, as the world is, an honest and wise man should have a rough tongue. Let him speak and spare not!

William Cowper, letter to William Unwin (Sunday, March 21, 1784):
Last night I made an end of reading Johnson's Prefaces....I am very much the Biographer's humble admirer. His uncommon share of good sense, and his forcible expression, secure to him that tribute from all his readers. He has a penetrating insight into character, and a happy talent of correcting the popular opinion upon all occasions where it is erroneous. And this he does with the boldness of a man who will think for himself but at the same time with a justness of sentiment that convinces us he does not differ from others through affectation, but because he has a sounder judgment.
Johnson's Prefaces are of course his Lives of the Poets.

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