Samuel Johnson and the Rambler Essays


Samuel Johnson believed that “a man may write at any time if he set himself doggedly to it.” And in 1750 he did just that, agreeing to write andpublished two periodic papers each week while he was in the midst of composing his Dictionary of the English Language. The son of a bookseller, a voracious and thoughtful reader, and a close observer of life around him, Johnson was well-suited to the task. From his active mind, fertile memory and his uncommon common sense come many of the ideas and subjects he clothed in an extraordinary flow of precise language, always balanced and often
poetic. (Later in life he thought he was a failed poet. Not so; he smuggled poetry into his writing, as you will soon see.)

Boswell reveals in his biography of Johnson that he kept a small book with notes and jottings, topics for further development. A few examples:

Youth to be taught the piety of age—age to retain the honour of youth.

Every great work, the work of one man.

Common danger unites by crushing other passions—but they remain.

In his first Rambler essay, March 20, 1750, he wrote that his hope was “…not much to tire those I shall not happen to please, and if I am not commended for the beauty of my works, to be at least pardoned for their brevity.” Two years later, in the final Rimagehandler.phpambler essay, he confesses, “Nothing is ended with honour which does not conclude better than it began. He that is himself weary will soon weary the public. Let him, therefore, not obstinately infest the stage until the general hiss demands him to depart.”

In the 208 “Rambler” essays may be found Johnson’s timeless observations, sound wisdom, and excellent advice. Here are a few:

 he is young, consider that he shall one day be old and remember when he is old that he had once been young.
He that would pass the latter part of his life with honour and decency must, when

A wise man is never surprised.

Whom does not constant flattery intoxicate?

He whose fortune is endangered by litigation will not refuse to augment the wealth of his lawyer.

Most authors are forgotten because they never deserved to be remembered.

The disturbers of our happiness in this world are our desires, our griefs, and our fears.

We rate ourselves by our fortune rather than by our virtue. Men who share in the highest ranks of society seldom hear their faults.

Knowledge of the world will be found much more frequently to make men cunning than good.

He who would know himself should consult his enemies.

Love only can soften life.

There are countless more. Years ago, I thought of assembling a group large enough for a small book, to be titled, Rambling in the Rambler: The Wit and Wisdom of Samuel Johnson. Maybe, someday.

–Joe DeSalvo, Owner, Faulkner House Books

One thought on “Samuel Johnson and the Rambler Essays

  1. Hi Joe, Brian Grimes here. Delighted to see you focusing on SJ in your blog. Thought you might be interested in a web page that I launched recently:
    A question: do I recall that you had a web page location with the Faulkner House Books inventory related to Johnson? All the best. Brian

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