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The Life of Samuel Johnson (Penguin Classics) Paperback – Abridged, August 30, 1979
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Samuel Johnson was born in 1709 and died in 1784--a long life, though one marred by depression and fear of death. On April 20, 1764, for example, he declared, "I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits." Many of the quotes Boswell includes are a sort of greatest hits: Johnson's definitions of oats and lexicographer, his love for his cat Hodge, as well as thousands of bon, and mal, mots. ("Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"; "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.") But there are also many unfamiliar pleasures--Boswell's accounts of Johnson's literary industry, including the Dictionary, The Rambler and Lives of the Poets; Johnson's singular loathing for Scotland and France; and the surprising hints of revelry. Awakened at 3 AM by friends, he greets them with, "What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with you." This at age 42. Johnson's final years were marked by pain and loneliness but certainly no loss of wit.
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Top Customer Reviews
I must have really burned him or her because I've deleted this review and re-posted it and within an hour, I had a "not helpful" vote. Give me a break. That person's faith must be very fragile, indeed. Oh, well.
I'm trying to be "helpful," and you can see that it took some work to put this review together.
So, your "helpful" votes are appreciated. Thanks, and I hope you find some enjoyable quotations (below) from Boswell's wonderful book, but first a little history.
Samuel Johnson, the irascible but generous lexicographer of the eighteenth century, is mostly remembered because of Boswell, and Boswell is remembered because he wrote Johnson's biography.
At the time, Johnson was already famous for his "Dictionary of the English Language," an impressive work for the year 1755. Among many other writings, Johnson put out an edition of Shakespeare's works (1765), with valuable notes that are still referred to today.
Johnson published a "series of grave and moral discourses" in the periodical called the Rambler, but when it was translated into Italian, it came out as the ludicrous "El Vagabondo," something far from Johnson's pious intentions. And of good intentions, it was Johnson who said, "Sir, Hell is paved with good intentions."
"(Johnson's) defense of tea against Mr. Jonas Hanway's violent attack upon that elegant and popular beverage, shows how very well a man of genius can write upon the slightest subject, when he writes, as the Italians say, con amore.Read more ›
There are of course many positives, or I wouldn't have given it 5 stars two years ago. Boswell had a strong talent for recording Johnson's conversations, and they are wonderful. Some of them are down right hilarious! Boswell was also a bit of a dramatist, setting up situations such as Johnson's meeting with Wilkes, placing bets over whether he would challenge Johnson on his habit of hiding orange peels. And Boswell could tell a story very dramatically - - it's his dramatic skills and memory which have been the basis on which his champions have defended him.
However, as a 'biography' this leaves much to be desired. Not just the issue of scope, with some 80% of the pages being on 20 years of Johnson's life. Boswell just wasn't a biographer, his story is too personal, he inadequately integrates important opinions, and he suppresses important information that's inconsistent with his rather simple view of Johnson. As Richard Schwartz has excellently pointed out, Boswell has presented us with an unshaped series of details, where data do not converge to a whole, and remain undigested.
Inaccuracies: Boswell tells us early on that he sometimes scurried across London to verify a date, but he apparently wouldn't consult a perpetual calendar; there are a number of occasions where his dates don't align with the day of week, yet his certainty in dating events make it all sound so true.Read more ›
Sorry, it is a hobby.
Samuel Johnson the writer of the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, which was a very big deal in his day as the elite felt the English language was in decline due to it being influenced by so many foreign influences and the marvel of Samuel Johnson's efforts and method of writing made him, according to Lord Chesterfield Lord Chesterfield's Letters (Oxford World's Classics), as someone to be deferred to as the "Caesar" of the English language. Samuel Johnson, along with his friend and former pupil David Garrick, helped place Shakespeare as the permanent king of the English language; further, Johnson was a great and singular essayist and has an eternal place as a minor poet of the English language. His dictionary shot Johnson into the inner circle of elite in English society.
Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" is a fascinating read as Boswell traces Johnson's life story. Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, a friend of his, and together the center of English political and cultural life with the 'Literary Club' that they had both started were big players in forming the English reaction to the major liberal events going on in their day and could be said to be the fathers of modern conservatism. They were alive to face the genesis of modern liberalism, in the form of Jean Jacque Rousseau along with the American Revolution, theirs was the conservative response. 'What hypocrites are the drivers of negroes to be demanding liberty,' Johnson in reference to the Americans.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Boswell writes in the grand style of the 18th Century and his subject is fascinating. Because of this book I became a great fan of Samuel Johnson. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Robert C. Berring
This is the seminal work for Boswell, "his life of Samuel Johnson. It was the very first true biography written by someone who lived with the subject, and knew him over a... Read morePublished 3 months ago by D. J. Singer
Every one should read this book I read it in college and missed being able to do so until I found this hardback edition. It's almost an instruction on how to live honorably. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mary K.
A must read I finally got around to plunging into. What an incredible autodidact Johnson was.Published 9 months ago by Bernhard A. Asen
I should have read this as a university class assignment back in 1965, but did not because of other course demands. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Michael B.
This book is just too full of trivial information about Johnson and Boswell to make it a good read for a busy person. If I were a Johnson scholar it would be worth more to me. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Harold W Thompson