Samuel Johnson

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Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.
In Reason, Nature, Truth, he dares to trust:
Ye Fops, be silent: and ye Wits, be just.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [7 September O.S.] – 13 December 1784) was a British author, linguist and lexicographer. He is often referred to as simply Dr. Johnson in the history of literature and is regarded as the greatest man of letters in English history.


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.
It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say.
I am inclined to believe that few attacks either of ridicule or invective make much noise, but by the help of those they provoke.
I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.
The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.
  • By Numbers here from Shame or Censure free,
    All Crimes are safe, but hated Poverty.
    This, only this, the rigid Law persues,
    This, only this, provokes the snarling Muse.
  • Of all the Griefs that harrass the Distrest,
    Sure the most bitter is a scornful Jest
  • This mournful truth is ev'rywhere confessed —
    Slow rises worth, by poverty depressed.
  • 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.
    • The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Prologue
  • A thousand horrid Prodigies foretold it.
    A feeble government, eluded Laws,
    A factious Populace, luxurious Nobles,
    And all the maladies of stinking states.
    • The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Act I, Sc. 1
  • 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.
    • The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Act III, Sc. 2
  • There Poetry shall tune her sacred voice,
    And wake from ignorance the Western World.
    • The Tragedy of Irene (1749), Act IV, Sc. 1
  • It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say.
  • Liberty is, to the lowest rank of every nation, little more than the choice of working or starving.
  • Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.
    • Letter from Johnson to John Taylor, 18 August 1763. The Yale Book of Quotations edited by Fred R. Shapiro, pg 400.
  • I have always suspected that the reading is right, which requires many words to prove it wrong; and the emendation wrong, that cannot without so much labour appear to be right.
    • The Plays of William Shakespeare, Vol. I (1765), Preface
  • The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.
    • A Review of Soame Jenyns' A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, published in the first volume of Miscellaneous and Fugitive Pieces (London, 1774), p. 23
  • Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings.
  • That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.
    • A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), Inch Kenneth
  • There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good.
  • There is one writer, and, perhaps, many who do not write, to whom the contraction of these pernicious privileges appears very dangerous, and who startle at the thoughts of England free, and America in chains. Children fly from their own shadow, and rhetoricians are frighted by their own voices. Chains is, undoubtedly, a dreadful word; but, perhaps, the masters of civil wisdom may discover some gradations between chains and anarchy. Chains need not be put upon those who will be restrained without them. This contest may end in the softer phrase of English superiority and American obedience.
    We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties; an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
    • Taxation No Tyranny (1775)
  • There is no wisdom in useless and hopeless sorrow; but there is something in it so like virtue, that he who is wholly without it cannot be loved.
  • I am inclined to believe that few attacks either of ridicule or invective make much noise, but by the help of those they provoke.
  • Every man naturally persuades himself that he can keep his resolutions, nor is he convinced of his imbecility but by length of time and frequency of experiment.
    • Prayers and Meditations, No. 1770 (1785)
  • This world, where much is to be done and little to be known.
    • Prayers and Meditations, Against Inquisitive and Perplexing Thoughts (1785)
  • Here closed in death th' attentive eyes
    That saw the manners in the face.
    • Epitaph on Hogarth (1786)
  • Catch then, O! catch the transient hour,
    Improve each moment as it flies;
    Life's a short Summer — man a flower,
    He dies — alas! how soon he dies!
    • Winter, An Ode. The works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1787), p. 355
  • He who praises everybody praises nobody.
    • Johnson's Works (1787), vol. XI, p. 216; This set included the Life of Samuel Johnson by Sir John Hawkins
  • Books that you may carry to the fire, and hold readily in your hand, are the most useful after all.
  • Fly fishing may be a very pleasant amusement; but angling or float fishing I can only compare to a stick and a string, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.
    • Attributed in Instructions to Young Sportsmen (1824) by Colonel Peter Hawker
  • Round numbers are always false.
    • Quoted in the "Apophthegms, Sentiments, Opinions and Occasional Reflections" of Sir John Hawkins (1787-1789) in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 2, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
  • I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read.
    • Quoted in the "Apophthegms, Sentiments, Opinions and Occasional Reflections" of Sir John Hawkins (1787-1789) in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 6, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
  • A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek.
    • Quoted in the "Apophthegms, Sentiments, Opinions and Occasional Reflections" of Sir John Hawkins (1787-1789) in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 11, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
  • Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.
    • Quoted in Anecdotes of Johnson by Hannah More in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 197, edited by George Birkbeck Hill. More had quoted this remark in a letter to her sister (April 1782)
  • From Thee, great God: we spring, to Thee we tend,
    Path, motive, guide, original, and end.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 257
  • Let me rejoice in the light which Thou hast imparted; let me serve Thee with active zeal, humbled confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which the soul which Thou receivest shall be satisfied with knowledge.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 613
  • A desire for knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all he has to get knowledge.
    • Dr. Johnson’s Table Talk (London: 1807), p. 64
  • The richest author that ever grazed the common of literature.
    • Of John Campbell, as quoted by Joseph Wharton; reported in "John Campbell", Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)
  • There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.
  • The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.

Prologue at the Opening of Drury Lane Theatre (1747)

  • When learning's triumph o'er her barb'rous foes
    First reared the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose;
    Each change of many-colored life he drew,
    Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new:
    Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign,
    And panting Time toiled after him in vain.
  • Cold approbation gave the ling'ring bays,
    For those who durst not censure, scarce could praise.
  • Declamation roared, while Passion slept.
  • Ah! let not Censure term our fate our choice,
    The stage but echoes back the public's voice;
    The drama's laws the drama's patrons give,
    For we that live to please must please to live.

Vanity of Human Wishes (1749)

  • Let observation with extensive view
    Survey mankind, from China to Peru.
    • Line 1; comparable to: "All human race, from China to Peru, Pleasure, howe’er disguis’d by art, pursue", Thomas Warton, Universal Love of Pleasure
  • But, scarce observ'd, the knowing and the bold
    Fall in the gen'ral massacre of gold.
    • Line 21
  • Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes,
    And pause a while from learning to be wise.
    There mark what ills the scholar's life assail —
    Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.
    • Line 157
  • A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,
    No dangers fright him, and no labors tire.
    • Line 193
  • He left the name at which the world grew pale,
    To point a moral, or adorn a tale.
    • Line 221
  • "Enlarge my life with multitude of days!"
    In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays:
    Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know
    That life protracted is protracted woe.
    • Line 255
  • An age that melts in unperceiv'd decay,
    And glides in modest innocence away.
    • Line 293
  • Superfluous lags the vet'ran on the stage.
    • Line 308
  • Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise!
    From Marlb'rough's eyes the streams of dotage flow,
    And Swift expires, a driv'ler and a show.
    • Line 316
  • Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
    Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
    • Line 345
  • For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill.
    • Line 362
  • With these celestial Wisdom calms the mind,
    And makes the happiness she does not find.
    • Line 367

The Rambler (1750–1752)

Rambler texts (1750) - Rambler texts (1751 - 1752)
All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance...
Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
  • A transition from an author's book to his conversation, is too often like an entrance into a large city, after a distant prospect. Remotely, we see nothing but spires of temples and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendour, 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.
  • 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.
  • The student who would build his knowledge on solid foundations, and proceed by just degrees to the pinnacles of truth, is directed by the great philosopher of France to begin by doubting of his own existence. In like manner, whoever would complete any arduous and intricate enterprise, should, as soon as his imagination can cool after the first blaze of hope, place before his own eyes every possible embarrassment that may retard or defeat him. He should first question the probability of success, and then endeavour to remove the objections that he has raised.
    • No. 43 (14 August 1750)
  • He that would pass the latter part of life with honour and decency, must, when he is young, consider that he shall one day be old; and remember, when he is old, that he has once been young.
  • Frugality may be termed the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance and the parent of Liberty.
    • No. 57 (2 October 1750)
  • 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.
    • No. 67 (6 November 1750)
  • As it is necessary not to invite robbery by supineness, so it is our duty not to suppress tenderness by suspicion; it is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
    • No. 79 (18 December 1750)
  • There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed.
    • No. 86 (12 January 1751)
  • To convince any man against his will is hard, but to please him against his will is justly pronounced by Dryden to be above the reach of human abilities.
    • No. 93
  • In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.
    • No. 96 (16 February 1751)
  • Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
    • No. 103 (12 March 1751)
  • No man is much pleased with a companion, who does not increase, in some respect, his fondness for himself.
    • No. 104 (16 March 1751)
  • No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library.
    • No. 106 (23 March 1751)
  • Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.
    • No. 135 (2 July 1751)
  • No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.
    • No. 148 (17 August 1751)
  • That he delights in the misery of others no man will confess, and yet what other motive can make a father cruel?
    • No. 148 (17 August 1751)
  • The unjustifiable severity of a parent is loaded with this aggravation, that those whom he injures are always in his sight.
    • No. 148 (17 August 1751)
  • Avarice is generally the last passion of those lives of which the first part has been squandered in pleasure, and the second devoted to ambition.
  • 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.
    • No. 163 (8 October 1751)
  • But, perhaps, the excellence of aphorisms consists not so much in the expression of some rare or abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension of some obvious and useful truth in few words.
    • No. 175 (19 November 1751)
CLUB — An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions.
  • I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote.
  • Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.
  • It is the fate of those, who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward. Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries, whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.
  • CLUB — An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions.
  • ESSAY — A loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.
  • EXCISE — A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.
  • GRUBSTREET — The name of a street near Moorsfield, London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems.
  • LEXICOGRAPHER — A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.
  • NETWORK — Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.
  • OATS — A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
  • PATRON, n. One who countenances, supports or protects. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is repaid in flattery.
  • PENSION — An allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country.

The Idler (1758–1760)

Merriment is always the effect of a sudden impression. The jest which is expected is already destroyed.
Full text online
  • It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.
    • No. 11 (June 24, 1758)
  • Slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.
    • No. 11 (June 24, 1758)
  • Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.
    • No. 30 (November 11, 1758)
  • I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lies.
    • No. 30 (November 11, 1758)
  • The joy of life is variety; the tenderest love requires to be renewed by intervals of absence.
    • No. 39 (January 13, 1759)
  • 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.
    • No. 40 (January 20, 1759)
  • He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.
    • No. 57 (May 19, 1759)
  • Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. The flowers which scatter their odours from time to time in the paths of life, grow up without culture from seeds scattered by chance. Nothing is more hopeless than a scheme of merriment.
    • No. 58 (May 26, 1759)
  • Merriment is always the effect of a sudden impression. The jest which is expected is already destroyed.
    • No. 58 (May 26, 1759)
  • 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.
    • No. 58 (May 26, 1759)
  • He that thinks with more extent than another will want words of larger meaning; he that thinks with more subtilty will seek for terms of more nice discrimination; and where is the wonder, since words are but the images of things, that he who never knew the original should not know the copies?
    Yet vanity inclines us to find faults any where rather than in ourselves. He that reads and grows no wiser, seldom suspects his own deficiency; but complains of hard words and obscure sentences, and asks why books are written which cannot be understood?
    • No. 70 (August 18, 1759)
  • The act of writing itself distracts the thoughts, and what is read twice is commonly better remembered than what is transcribed.
    • No. 74 (September 15, 1759)
  • We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know, because they have never deceived us.
    • No. 80 (October 27, 1759)
Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.
Full text online
Nothing … will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.
Example is always more efficacious than precept.
There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed.
  • Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.
    • Chapter 1
  • "I fly from pleasure," said the prince, "because pleasure has ceased to please; I am lonely because I am miserable, and am unwilling to cloud with my presence the happiness of others."
    • Chapter 3
  • Nothing … will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.
    • Chapter 6
  • To a poet nothing can be useless.
    • Chapter 10
  • [The poet] must write as the interpreter of nature and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations, as a being superior to time and place.
    • Chapter 10
  • Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed.
    • Chapter 11
  • A man used to vicissitudes is not easily dejected.
    • Chapter 12
  • Few things are impossible to diligence and skill.
    • Chapter 12
  • Knowledge is more than equivalent to force. The master of mechanicks laughs at strength.
    • Chapter 13; variant with modernized spelling: Knowledge is more than equivalent to force. The master of mechanics laughs at strength.
  • I live in the crowd of jollity, not so much to enjoy company as to shun myself.
    • Chapter 26
  • Many things difficult to design prove easy to performance.
    • Chapter 26
  • Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.
    • Chapter 26
  • The first years of man must make provision for the last.
    • Chapter 27
  • But it is evident, that these bursts of universal distress are more dreaded than felt; thousands and ten thousands flourish in youth, and wither in age, without the knowledge of any other than domestic evils, and share the same pleasures and vexa­tions, whether their kings are mild or cruel, whether the armies of their country pursue their enemies or retreat before them.
    • Chapter 28
  • Example is always more efficacious than precept.
    • Chapter 29
  • Such is the common process of marriage. A youth and maiden meeting by chance, or brought together by artifice, exchange glances, reciprocate civilities, go home, and dream of one another. Having little to divert attention, or diversify thought, they find themselves uneasy when they are apart, and therefore conclude that they shall be happy together. They marry, and discover what nothing but voluntary blindness had before concealed; they wear out life in altercations, and charge nature with cruelty.
    • Chapter 29
  • 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?”
    • Chapter 31
  • The endearing elegance of female friendship.
    • Chapter 46
  • The world is not yet exhausted: let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before.
    • Chapter 47
  • "Some," answered Imlac, "have indeed said that the soul is material, but I can scarcely believe that any man has thought it, who knew how to think; for all the conclusions of reason enforce the immateriality of mind, and all the notices of sense and investigations of science, concur to prove the unconsciousness of matter.
    • Chapter 48
  • [Imlac continues] "It was never supposed that cogitation is inherent in matter, or that every particle is a thinking being. Yet, if any part of matter be devoid of thought, what part can we suppose to think? Matter can differ from matter only in form, density, bulk, motion, and direction of motion: to which of these, however varied or combined, can consciousness be annexed? To be round or square, to be solid or fluid, to be great or little, to be moved slowly or swiftly one way or another, are modes of material existence, all equally alien from the nature of cogitation. If matter be once without thought, it can only be made to think by some new modification, but all the modifications which it can admit are equally unconnected with cogitative powers."
    • Chapter 48

The Patriot (1774)

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  • 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.
  • Let us take a patriot, where we can meet him; and, that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain, from those which may deceive; for a man may have the external appearance of a patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.
  • Some claim a place in the list of patriots, by an acrimonious and unremitting opposition to the court. This mark is by no means infallible. Patriotism is not necessarily included in rebellion. A man may hate his king, yet not love his country.
  • The greater, far the greater number of those who rave and rail, and inquire and accuse, neither suspect nor fear, nor care for the publick; but hope to force their way to riches, by virulence and invective, and are vehement and clamorous, only that they may be sooner hired to be silent.
  • 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.

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775)

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  • The change of religion in Scotland, eager and vehement as it was, raised an epidemical enthusiasm, compounded of sullen scrupulousness and warlike ferocity, which, in a people whom idleness resigned to their own thoughts, and who conversing only with each other, suffered no dilution of their zeal from the gradual influx of new opinions, was long transmitted in its full strength from the old to the young, but by trade and intercourse with England, is now visibly abating, and giving way too fast to their laxity of practice and indifference of opinion, in which men, not sufficiently instructed to find the middle point, too easily shelter themselves from rigour and constraint.
  • Of the proportion, which the product of any region bears to the people, an estimate is commonly made according to the pecuniary price of the necessities of life; which is never certain, because it supposes what is far from truth, that the value of money is always the same, and so measures an unknown quantity by an uncertain standard. It is competent enough when the markets of the same country, at different times, and those times not too distant, are to be compared; but of very little use for the purpose of making one nation acquainted with the state of another.
  • The true Genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.
    • The Life of Cowley [3]
  • Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation.
    • The Life of Cowley
  • Language is the dress of thought.
    • The Life of Cowley
  • Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.
    • The Life of Pope [4]
  • New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new.
    • The Life of Pope
  • Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.
    • The Life of Addison
  • Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason.
    • The Life of Milton
  • 'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.
    • The Life of Milton
  • He that thinks himself capable of astonishing may write blank verse: but those that hope only to please must condescend to rhyme.
    • The Life of Milton
  • 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.
    • The Life of Dryden
  • He delighted to tread upon the brink of meaning.
    • The Life of Dryden
  • The Churchyard abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo.
    • The Life of Gray
  • His [David Garrick's] death has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.
    • The Life of Edmund Smith

Elegy on the Death of Mr. Robert Levet, A Practiser in Physic (1783)

Published in The British Magazine and Review, Volume 3 (August 1783), p. 136-137.
The magazine notes: This gentleman, who was patronized while living, and is so elegantly praised now dead, by Dr. Samuel Johnson, had for some years an apartment assigned him in the doctor's house, and a constant place at his table. He was a native of Hull, in Yorkshire; and, though not regularly bred to physic, had acquired a considerable degree of knowledge in the healing art. The nature of his practice, as well as it's success, may be gathered from the eulogium of his, benevolent patron. He died the 17th of January 1782.
  • Officious, innocent, sincere,
    Of every friendless name the friend.
    • Stanza 2
  • In misery's darkest cavern known,
    His useful care was ever nigh
    Where hopeless anguish pour'd his groan,
    And lonely want retir'd to die.
    • Stanza 5
  • And sure th' Eternal Master found
    His single talent well employ'd.
    • Stanza 7
  • Then with no throbs of fiery pain,
    No cold gradations of decay,
    Death broke at once the vital chain,
    And freed his soul the nearest way.
    • Stanza 9
No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell
A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
  • A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes, unless his client asks his opinion, and then he is bound to give it honestly. The justice or injustice of the cause is to be decided by the judge. Consider, sir; what is the purpose of courts of justice? It is, that every man may have his cause fairly tried, by men appointed to try causes. A lawyer is not to tell what he knows to be a lie: he is not to produce what he knows to be a false deed; but he is not to usurp the province of the jury and of the judge, and determine what shall be the effect of evidence — what shall be the result of legal argument.
    • August 15, 1773
  • If lawyers were to undertake no causes till they were sure they were just, a man might be precluded altogether from a trial of his claim, though, were it judicially examined, it might be found a very just claim.
    • August 15, 1773
  • 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.
    • August 16, 1773
  • A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly.
    • August 16, 1773
  • No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned ... A man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company.
    • August 31 and September 23, 1773
    • Also quoted in Boswell's Life of Johnson
  • I have, all my life long, been lying till noon; yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good.
    • September 14, 1773
  • Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to everything.
    • September 17, 1773
  • Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people.
    • September 20, 1773
  • A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
    • October 5, 1773
    • Recounted as a common saying of physicians at the time.
  • Come, let me know what it is that makes a Scotchman happy!
    • October 23, 1773
    • Ordering a glass of whisky for himself

Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson (1786)

Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, by Mrs. Piozzi (1786)
  • If the man who turnips cries,
    Cry not when his father dies,
    'Tis a proof that he had rather
    Have a turnip than his father.
    • p. 67
  • He was a very good hater.
    • p. 83
  • The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
    • p. 111
  • It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.
    • p. 206
  • I hate a fellow whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl. Let him come out as I do, and bark.
    • p. 252
  • There is in this world no real delight (excepting those of sensuality), but exchange of ideas in conversation.
    • p. 266

Letters to and from Dr. Samuel Johnson

  • 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.
    • 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.)

Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson, by Hester Lynch Piozzi (1788)

  • The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
    • Vol. I, p. 137
  • Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.
    • Vol. II, p. 406
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.
The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) by James Boswell. The following page numbers are taken from the Great Books edition (see Sources), which is fairly easy to find in U.S. public libraries.
Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords.

Vol I

  • Tom Birch is as brisk as a bee in conversation; but no sooner does he take a pen in his hand than it becomes a torpedo to him, and benumbs all his faculties.
    • 1743
  • I'll come no more behind your scenes, David [Garrick]; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.
    • 1750 Journal
  • Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.
    • February 7, 1754 (Letter to Lord Chesterfield)
  • [Of Lord Chesterfield] This man, I thought, had been a Lord among wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among Lords!
    • 1754
  • 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.
    • 1754, p. 72 (n. 4)
    • Referring to critics
  • A lady once asked him how he came to define 'pastern', the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as might be expected, he at once answered, "Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance."
    • 1755, p. 82
  • If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in a constant repair.
    • 1755, p. 83
  • Towering is the confidence of twenty-one.
    • January 9, 1758
  • No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.
    • March 1759, p. 97
  • Small debts are like small shot; they are rattling on every side, and can scarcely be escaped without a wound; great debts are like cannon, of loud noise but little danger.
    • Letter to Joseph Simpson, circa 1759
  • 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.
    • Letter, June 8, 1762 [to an unnamed recipient], p. 103
  • Nothing is little to him that feels it with great sensibility.
    • July 20, 1762
  • A man of genius has been seldom ruined but by himself.
    • December 21, 1762
  • Great abilities are not requisite for an Historian; for in historical composition, all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent. He has facts ready to his hand; so there is no exercise of invention. Imagination is not required in any high degree; only about as much as is used in the lower kinds of poetry.
    • July 6, 1763, p. 120
  • Norway, too, has noble wild prospects; and Lapland is remarkable for prodigious noble wild prospects. But, Sir, let me tell you, the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!
    • July 6, 1763, p. 120
  • A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.
    • July 14, 1763, p. 121
  • But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.
    • July 14, 1763, p. 123
  • I remember very well, when I was at Oxford, an old gentleman said to me, "Young man, ply your book diligently now, and acquire a stock of knowledge; for when years come upon you, you will find that poring upon books will be but an irksome task."
    • July 21, 1763, p. 126
  • 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.
  • Sherry is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, sir, is not in Nature.
  • Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.
    • July 31, 1763, p. 132. [Several editions have the variant "hind legs".]
  • I [Boswell] happened to say, it would be terrible if he should not find a speedy opportunity of returning to London, and be confined in so dull a place.
    JOHNSON: "Don't, Sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters. It would not be terrible, though I were to be detained some time here."
    • August 6, 1763, p. 134
  • I refute it thus.
    • August 6, 1763, p. 134
    • Said as he kicked a stone, speaking of Berkeley's "ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter".

Vol II

  • Why, Sir, it is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them.
  • So far is it from being true that men are naturally equal, that no two people can be half an hour together, but one shall acquire an evident superiority over the other.
    • Feb. 15, 1766, p. 145
  • Shakspeare never has six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven: but this does not refute my general assertion.
    • October 19, 1769, p. 170
  • It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.
    • October 26, 1769, p. 174
  • That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.
    • 1770, p. 181
  • Johnson observed, that "he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney."
    • 1770, p. 181
  • A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience.
    • 1770, p. 182
  • A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.
    • 1770, p. 182
  • A cow is a very good animal in the field; but we turn her out of a garden.
    • April 14, 1772, p. 201
  • Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
    • Recalling "what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils" April 30, 1773, p. 217
  • Attack is the reaction; I never think I have hit hard unless it rebounds.
    • April 2, 1775
  • The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.
    • April 6, 1775
  • Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
    • April 7, 1775, p. 253
    • Boswell's full mention of this statement reads:
Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest.
  • Hell is paved with good intentions.
    • April 14, 1775
    • Malone added a footnote indicating this is a "proverbial sentence", quoting an earlier 1651 source. At least two other sources appear prior to Johnson. John Ray, in 1670, cited as a proverb, "Hell is paved with good intentions." Even earlier than that, it has been attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), as "Hell is full of good intentions or desires."
      • Wilson, Robert. [alt.quotations "Earlier Attributions"]. UseNet. Retrieved on 2009-01-06. 
      • Note that "The road to Hell…" is not part of the quotation.
    • The Samuel Johnson web site suggests this entry is dated 16 April, but it appears to be part of the previous entry.
  • Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
    • April 18, 1775, p. 258
  • There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.
    • 1775, p. 273
  • There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.
    • March 21, 1776, p. 287
  • This is one of the disadvantages of wine, it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.


  • A man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen far above him. A man when he gets into a higher sphere, into other habits of life, cannot keep up all his former connections. Then, Sir, those who knew him formerly upon a level with themselves, may think that they ought still to be treated as on a level, which cannot be; and an acquaintance in a former situation may bring out things which it would be very disagreeable to have mentioned before higher company, though, perhaps, everybody knows of them.
    • March 28, 1776, p. 296
  • No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.
    • April 5, 1776, p. 302
  • While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.
    • April 10, 1776, p. 305
  • Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.
    • May 1776
  • Sir, you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of both.
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
  • Life admits not of delays; when pleasure can be had, it is fit to catch it. Every hour takes away part of the things that please us, and perhaps part of our disposition to be pleased.
    • September 1, 1777
  • I [Boswell] was somewhat disappointed in finding that the edition of The English Poets, for which he was to write Prefaces and Lives, was not an undertaking directed by him: but that he was to furnish a Preface and Life to any poet the booksellers pleased. I asked him if he would do this to any dunce's works, if they should ask him.
    JOHNSON: "Yes, Sir, and say he was a dunce."
    • September 14, 1777, p. 341
  • Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
    • September 19, 1777, p. 351, often misquoted as being hanged in the morning.
  • When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
    • September 20, 1777, p. 356
  • Here's to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies.
    • September 23, 1777, p. 363
    • A toast made by Johnson, as Boswell states, "when in company with some very grave men at Oxford".
  • It must be agreed that in most ages many countries have had part of their inhabitants in a state of slavery; yet it may be doubted whether slavery can ever be supposed the natural condition of man. It is impossible not to conceive that men in their original state were equal; and very difficult to imagine how one would be subjected to another but by violent compulsion. An individual may, indeed, forfeit his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty of his children.
    • September 23, 1777, p. 363
  • It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.
    • March 31, 1778, p. 372
  • All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.
    • On the subject of ghosts, March 31, 1778, p. 373
  • It is man's own fault, it is from want of use, if his mind grows torpid in old age.
    • April 9, 1778
  • Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.
    • April 10, 1778
  • Every state of society is as luxurious as it can be. Men always take the best they can get.
    • April 14, 1778
  • A country governed by a despot is an inverted cone.
    • April 14, 1778
  • I am willing to love all mankind, except an American.
    • April 15, 1778, p. 392
  • Pleasure of itself is not a vice.
    • April 15, 1778
  • All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.
    • April 15, 1778, p. 393
  • As the Spanish proverb says, "He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him." So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge.
    • April 17, 1778, p. 396
  • It is better to live rich, than to die rich.
    • April 17, 1778
  • The insolence of wealth will creep out.
    • April 18, 1778, p. 400
  • All censure of a man's self is oblique praise. It is in order to shew how much he can spare.
    • April 25, 1778, p. 403
  • Wine makes a man more pleased with himself. I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others.
    • April 28, 1778, p. 404
  • Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.
    • May 9, 1778, p. 409
  • I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works.
    • March 26, 1779
  • Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.
    • April 7, 1779
  • A man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated, has not the art of getting drunk.
    • April 24, 1779, p. 424
  • Worth seeing? yes; but not worth going to see.
  • If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.
    • Letter to James Boswell, October 27, 1779, p. 433

Vol IV

  • A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows anything of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing, when he has nothing to say.
    • 1780, p. 446
  • Greek, sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.
    • 1780
  • No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had.
  • The applause of a single human being is of great consequence.
    • 1780
  • Mrs. Montagu has dropt me. Now, Sir, there are people whom one should like very well to drop, but would not wish to be dropped by.
    • March 1781, p. 465
  • Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.
    • May 8, 1781
  • My friend was of opinion that when a man of rank appeared in that character [as an author], he deserved to have his merit handsomely allowed.
    • May 1781
  • A jest breaks no bones.
    • June 4, 1781
  • I have two very cogent reasons for not printing any list of subscribers; — one, that I have lost all the names, — the other, that I have spent all the money.
    • 1781, p. 477, Referring to subscribers to his edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare, with Notes (1765)
  • Always, Sir, set a high value on spontaneous kindness. He whose inclination prompts him to cultivate your friendship of his own accord, will love you more than one whom you have been at pains to attach to you.
    • 1781, p. 479
  • To let friendship die away by negligence and silence, is certainly not wise. It is voluntarily to throw away one of the greatest comforts of this weary pilgrimage.
    • March 20, 1782
  • Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult.
    • Letter to James Boswell, December 7, 1782, p. 494
  • A man may be so much of every thing, that he is nothing of any thing.
    • 1783, p. 500
  • There is a wicked inclination in most people to suppose an old man decayed in his intellects. If a young or middle-aged man, when leaving a company, does not remember where he laid his hat, it is nothing; but if the same inattention is discovered in an old man, people will shrug up their shoulders, and say, "His memory is going."
    • 1783, p. 501
  • A man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.
    • 1783, p. 501
  • Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.
    • When asked by Maurice Morgann whom he considered to be the better poet — Smart or Derrick, 1783, p. 504
  • I never have sought the world; the world was not to seek me.
    • March 23, 1783
  • It is strange that there should be so little reading in the world, and so much writing. People in general do not willingly read, if they can have any thing else to amuse them.
    • May 1, 1783, p. 513
  • As I know more of mankind, I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man, upon easier terms than I was formerly.
    • 1783, p. 519
  • It might as well be said, "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat."
    • In response to a line of a tragedy that went 'Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free." June 1784
  • It is as bad as bad can be: it is ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept, and ill-drest.
    • Of roast mutton served to him at an inn, June 3, 1784, p. 535
  • Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.
    • In response to Hannah More wondering why Milton could write Paradise Lost but only poor sonnets. June 13, 1784, p. 542
  • Courage is a quality so necessary for maintaining virtue that it is always respected, even when it is associated with vice.
    • June 1784, p. 526[5]
  • Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.
    • June 1784, p. 545
  • Sir, I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance.
    • November 1784, p. 566
  • I will be conquered; I will not capitulate.
    • On his final illness, 1784, p. 566
  • God bless you, my dear!
    • December 13, 1784 (Last words)

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove
    The pangs of guilty power and hapless love!
    Rest here, distress'd by poverty no more;
    Here find that calm thou gav'st so oft before;
    Sleep undisturb'd within this peaceful shrine,
    Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!
    • Epitaph on Claudius Philips, the Musician
  • A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian,
    Who left scarcely any style of writing untouched,
    And touched nothing that he did not adorn.
    • Epitaph on Goldsmith
  • How small of all that human hearts endure,
    That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
    Still to ourselves in every place consigned,
    Our own felicity we make or find.
    With secret course, which no loud storms annoy,
    Glides the smooth current of domestic joy.
    • Lines added to Goldsmith's Traveller
  • Trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay.
    • Line added to Goldsmith's Deserted Village
  • Words are men's daughters, but God's sons are things.
    • Boulter's Monument. (Supposed to have been inserted by Dr. Johnson, 1745.)
  • To be of no church is dangerous. Religion, of which the rewards are distant, and which is animated only by faith and hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example.
    • Life of Milton
  • The trappings of a monarchy would set up an ordinary commonwealth.
    • Life of Milton
  • He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.
    • The Idler, No. 57
  • A fellow that makes no figure in company, and has a mind as narrow as the neck of a vinegar-cruet.
    • Tour to the Hebrides, Sept. 30, 1773
  • The atrocious crime of being a young man, which the honourable gentleman has with such spirit and decency charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny; but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies may cease with their youth, and not of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience.
    • Pitt's Reply to Walpole, Speech, March 6, 1741. This is the composition of Johnson, founded on some note or statement of the actual speech. Johnson said, "That speech I wrote in a garret, in Exeter Street." Boswell: Life of Johnson, 1741
  • Gloomy calm of idle vacancy.
    • Letter to Boswell. Dec. 8, 1763

Life of Johnson (Boswell)

  • Wretched un-idea'd girls.
    • 1752
  • Sir, he [Bolingbroke] was a scoundrel and a coward: a scoundrel for charging a blunderbuss against religion and morality; a coward, because he had not resolution to fire it off himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman to draw the trigger at his death.
    • 1754
  • I am glad that he thanks God for anything.
    • 1755
  • Sir, I think all Christians, whether Papists or Protestants, agree in the essential articles, and that their differences are trivial, and rather political than religious.
    • 1763
  • Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves.
    • 1763
  • I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.
    • 1763
  • This was a good dinner enough, to be sure, but it was not a dinner to ask a man to.
    • 1763
  • A very unclubable man.
    • 1764
  • I do not know, sir, that the fellow is an infidel; but if he be an infidel, he is an infidel as a dog is an infidel; that is to say, he has never thought upon the subject.
    • 1769
  • I am a great friend to public amusements; for they keep people from vice.
    • 1772
  • Much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young.
    • 1772
  • Let him go abroad to a distant country; let him go to some place where he is not known. Don't let him go to the devil, where he is known.
    • 1773
  • Was ever poet so trusted before?
    • 1774
  • I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night; and then the nap takes me.
    • 1775
  • In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.
    • 1775
  • Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen.
    • 1776
  • Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking.
  • All this [wealth] excludes but one evil,—poverty.
    • 1777
  • Employment, sir, and hardships prevent melancholy.
    • 1777
  • He was so generally civil that nobody thanked him for it.
    • 1777
  • Goldsmith, however, was a man who whatever he wrote, did it better than any other man could do.
    • 1778
  • Johnson said that he could repeat a complete chapter of "The Natural History of Iceland" from the Danish of Horrebow, the whole of which was exactly thus: "There are no snakes to be met with throughout the whole island." 62 [Chap. lxxii.]
    • 1778
  • The true, strong, and sound mind is the mind that can embrace equally great things and small.
    • 1778
  • I remember a passage in Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield," which he was afterwards fool enough to expunge: "I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing."… There was another fine passage too which he struck out: "When I was a young man, being anxious to distinguish myself, I was perpetually starting new propositions. But I soon gave this over; for I found that generally what was new was false."
    • 1779
  • The potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
    • 1780?
  • He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.
    • 1784
  • You see they'd have fitted him to a T.
    • 1784
  • Blown about with every wind of criticism.
    • 1784


  • The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
    • Piozzi, 102
  • As with my hat upon my head
    I walk'd along the Strand,
    I there did meet another man
    With his hat in his hand.
    • George Steevens, 310
  • The limbs will quiver and move after the soul is gone.
    • Northcote, 487
  • Hawkesworth said of Johnson, "You have a memory that would convict any author of plagiarism in any court of literature in the world."
    • Kearsley, 600
  • His conversation does not show the minute-hand, but he strikes the hour very correctly.
    • Kearsley, 604
  • Hunting was the labour of the savages of North America, but the amusement of the gentlemen of England.
    • Kearsley, 606
  • I am very fond of the company of ladies. I like their beauty, I like their delicacy, I like their vivacity, and I like their silence.
    • Seward, 617


  • Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
    • "Many people believe Samuel Johnson said it, but no one seems to have found it anywhere in his works or letters, or, for that matter any of the biographies of him by his contemporaries. I'm basing that on what's been included in Primary Source Media's CD-ROM of Johnson and Boswell. The CD-ROM includes all of Johnson's writings in the canon, Boswell's Life of Johnson and Tour of the Hebrides, as well as accounts from Hester Thrale, Sir John Hawkins, Fanny Burney, plus O.M. Brack's 'Early Biographies.' In short, practically nothing from the 18th Century has been left out. In addition, I've also consulted 'The Beauties of Johnson,' an 18th Century collection of Johnson quotations."
  • The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things — the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit.
  • Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.
    • Actually said by Charles de Gaulle, on leaving his presidency, as quoted inLife' (9 May 1969)
  • Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it.
  • What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

Quotes about Johnson

  • Mrs. Digby told me that when she lived in London with her sister, Mrs. Brooke, they were every now and then honoured by the visits of Dr. Johnson. He called on them one day soon after the publication of his immortal dictionary. The two ladies paid him due compliments on the occasion. Amongst other topics of praise they very much commended the omission of all naughty words. 'What! my dears! then you have been looking for them?' said the moralist. The ladies, confused at being thus caught, dropped the subject of the dictionary.
    • H.D. Best, Personal and Literary Memorials, London, 1829, printed in Johnsonian Miscellanies, (1897) vol. II, page 390, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
  • ...I never knew any man who relished good eating more than he did. When at table, he was totally absorbed in the business of the moment; his looks seemed riveted to his plate; nor would he, unless when in very high company, say one word, or even pay the least attention to what was said by others, till he had satisfied his appetite; which was so fierce, and indulged with such intenseness, that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible. To those whose sensations were delicate, this could not but be disgusting; and it was doubtless not very suitable to the character of a philosopher, who should be distinguished by self-command.
  • Indeed, the freedom with which Dr. Johnson condemns whatever he disapproves of is astonishing.
    • Fanny Burney [Mme D’Arblay] (1752-1840), Diary, 23rd August 1778
  • Dr. Johnson was observed by a musical friend of his to be extremely inattentive at a concert, whilst a celebrated solo player was running up and down the divisions and subdivisions of notes upon his violin. His friend, to induce him to take greater notice of what was going on, told him how extremely difficult it was. 'Difficult, do you call it, Sir?' replied the Doctor; 'I wish it were impossible.'
    • Anecdotes by William Seward, F.R.S. printed in Johnsonian Miscellanies, (1897), vol. II, page 308, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
  • I called on Dr. Johnson one morning, when Mrs. Williams, the blind lady, was conversing with him. She was telling him where she had dined the day before. "There were several gentlemen there," said she, "and when some of them came to the tea-table, I found that there had been a good deal of hard drinking." She closed this observation with a common and trite moral reflection; which, indeed, is very ill-founded, and does great injustice to animals—"I wonder what pleasure men can take in making beasts of themselves." "I wonder, Madam," replied the Doctor, "that you have not penetration to see the strong inducement to this excess; for he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
    • Anecdotes of the Revd. Percival Stockdale; collected in "Johnsonian Miscellanies," edited by G.B. Hill Ballade of Soporific Absorption J.C. Squires
  • Dr Johnson is the only conversationalist who triumphs over time.
    • Harold Nicolson Diaries and Letters 1930 to 1939.(31st Jan.1934).Fontana books 1969. Page 158.


Boswell. Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Great Books of the Western World, vol. 44. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1952. (Reprinted in the 1990 edition as vol. 41)

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