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date: 26 February 2020

Samuel Johnson 1709–84
English poet, critic, and lexicographer. See also Swift 

  1. Liberty is, to the lowest rank of every nation, little more than the choice of working or starving.
    ‘The Bravery of the English Common Soldier’ (1760)
  2. Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) preface; see Hooker
  3. 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.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) preface; see Madden
  4. Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.
    on citations of usage in a dictionary
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) preface
  5. Excise. A hateful tax levied upon commodities.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  6. Lexicographer. A writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  7. Network. Anything reticulated or decussated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  8. Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  9. Patron. Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.
    A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
  10. The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.
    A Free Enquiry (1757, ed. D. Greene, 1984)
  11. When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.
    in The Idler no. 11 (24 June 1758)
  12. Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.
    in The Idler no. 30 (11 November 1758); see Anonymous
  13. Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.
    The Idler no. 40 (20 January 1759)
  14. The true art of memory is the art of attention.
    in The Idler no. 74 (15 September 1759)
  15. At seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest.
    A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) ‘Col’
  16. 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.
    A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775)
  17. 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.
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Addison’
  18. Language is the dress of thought.
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Cowley’; see Pope, Wesley
  19. The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Cowley’
  20. I rejoice to concur with the common reader.
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Gray’
  21. An exotic and irrational entertainment, which has been always combated, and always has prevailed.
    of Italian opera
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Hughes’
  22. I am disappointed by that stroke of death, which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.
    on the death of Garrick
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Edmund Smith’
  23. He that runs against Time has an antagonist not subject to casualties.
    Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) ‘Pope’
  24. 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.
    Plays of William Shakespeare… (1765) preface
  25. It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
    in Rambler no. 79 (18 December 1750)
  26. There are minds so impatient of inferiority, that their gratitude is a species of revenge, and they return benefits, not because recompense is a pleasure, but because obligation is a pain.
    in The Rambler 15 January 1751
  27. No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes, than a public library.
    in The Rambler 23 March 1751
  28. He [the poet] must write as the interpreter of nature, and the legislator of mankind.
    Rasselas (1759) ch. 10; see Shelley
  29. Human life is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.
    Rasselas (1759) ch. 11
  30. Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.
    Rasselas (1759) ch. 26
  31. Example is always more efficacious than precept.
    Rasselas (1759) ch. 30
  32. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.
    Rasselas (1759) ch. 41
  33. He that overvalues himself will undervalue others, and he that undervalues others will oppress them.
    Sermons (1788) no. 6
  34. How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
    Taxation No Tyranny (1775)
  35. How small of all that human hearts endure,
    That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
     
    lines added to Oliver Goldsmith's The Traveller (1764) l. 429; see Goldsmith
  36. Let observation with extensive view,
    Survey mankind, from China to Peru.
     
    The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) l. 1
  37. He left the name, at which the world grew pale,
    To point a moral, or adorn a tale.
     
    of Charles XII of Sweden
    The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) l. 221
  38. 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.
    James Boswell Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) 15 August 1773
  39. I am always sorry when any language is lost, because languages are the pedigree of nations.
    James Boswell Tour to the Hebrides (1785) 18 September 1773
  40. A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
    James Boswell Tour to the Hebrides (1785) 5 October 1773
  41. I am sorry I have not learned to play at cards. It is very useful in life: it generates kindness and consolidates society.
    James Boswell Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) 21 November 1773
  42. I'll come no more behind your scenes, David; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1750
  43. A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) March 1750
  44. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1754
  45. They teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.
    of the Letters of Lord Chesterfield
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1754
  46. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
    letter to Lord Chesterfield, 7 February 1755
  47. 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?
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) letter to Lord Chesterfield, 7 February 1755
  48. Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.
    on being asked why he had defined pastern as the ‘knee’ of a horse
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1755
  49. 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 constant repair.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1755
  50. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 16 March 1759
  51. You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables.
    on literary criticism
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 25 June 1763
  52. The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 July 1763
  53. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 14 July 1763
  54. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 14 July 1763; see Emerson
  55. Truth, Sir, is a cow, that will yield such people [sceptics] no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 21 July 1763
  56. It is no matter what you teach them [children] first, any more than what leg you shall put into your breeches first.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 26 July 1763
  57. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 31 July 1763
  58. Don't, Sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 August 1763
  59. I refute it thus.
    on Boswell observing of Bishop Berkeley's theory of the non-existence of matter that though they were satisfied it was not true, they were unable to refute it, Johnson struck his foot against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, with these words
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 August 1763
  60. It is our first duty to serve society, and, after we have done that, we may attend wholly to the salvation of our own souls. A youthful passion for abstracted devotion should not be encouraged.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) February 1766
  61. Our tastes greatly alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does not care for the young man's whore.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) Spring 1766
  62. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 26 October 1769
  63. That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and that is a wrong one.
    of a chance-met acquaintance
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1770; see Disraeli
  64. The triumph of hope over experience.
    of a man who remarried immediately after the death of a wife with whom he had been unhappy
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1770
  65. Every man has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place.
    letter to Joshua Reynolds, 17 July 1771
  66. Nobody can write the life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 31 March 1772
  67. He has, indeed, done it very well; but it is a foolish thing well done.
    on Goldsmith's apology in the London Chronicle for assaulting Thomas Evans
    James Boswell Life of Johnson (1791) 3 April 1773
  68. I would not give half a guinea to live under one form of government rather than another. It is of no moment to the happiness of an individual.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 31 March 1772
  69. Grief is a species of idleness.
    letter to Mrs Thrale, 17 March 1773
  70. Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
    quoting a college tutor
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 30 April 1773
  71. There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 27 March 1775
  72. It is wonderful, when a calculation is made, how little the mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 April 1775
  73. A man will turn over half a library to make one book.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 April 1775
  74. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 7 April 1775
  75. Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 18 April 1775
  76. In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1775
  77. Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 20 March 1776
  78. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 21 March 1776; see Shenstone
  79. Questioning is not the mode of conversation among gentlemen. It is assuming a superiority.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 25 March 1776
  80. If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.
    House of Commons, 3 April 1776
  81. No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 5 April 1776
  82. A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 11 April 1776
  83. boswell: Sir, what is poetry?
    johnson: 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 12 April 1776
  84. Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
    on the execution of Dr Dodd for forgery, 27 June 1777
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 19 September 1777
  85. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 20 September 1777
  86. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.
    of the existence of ghosts
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 31 March 1778
  87. Though we cannot out-vote them we will out-argue them.
    on the practical value of speeches in the House of Commons
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 3 April 1778
  88. Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 10 April 1778
  89. So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him, if he would bring home knowledge.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 17 April 1778
  90. It is thus that mutual cowardice keeps us in peace. Were one half of mankind brave and one half cowards, the brave would be always beating the cowards. Were all brave, they would lead a very uneasy life; all would be continually fighting: but being all cowards, we go on very well.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 28 April 1778
  91. Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 9 May 1778
  92. Madam, before you flatter a man so grossly to his face, you should consider whether or not your flattery is worth his having.
    Fanny Burney's diary, August 1778
  93. Claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 7 April 1779
  94. A man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated, has not the art of getting drunk.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 24 April 1779
  95. Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.
    on the Giant's Causeway
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 12 October 1779
  96. If you are idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) letter to Boswell, 27 October 1779; see Burton
  97. Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1780
  98. Allow them [children] to be happy their own way, for what better way will they ever find?
    letter to Mrs Thrale, 4 July 1780
  99. We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich, beyond the dreams of avarice.
    at the sale of Thrale's brewery
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 6 April 1781; see Moore
  100. Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 8 May 1781
  101. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) May 1781
  102. 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.
    of Jeremiah Markland
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 10 October 1782
  103. 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.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) letter to Boswell, 7 December 1782
  104. Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea.
    on the relative merits of two minor poets
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1783
  105. When I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this’; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 1783
  106. Whatever may be the quantity that a man eats, it is plain that if he is too fat, he has eaten more than he should have done.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 28 April 1783
  107. The black dog I hope always to resist, and in time to drive, though I am deprived of almost all those that used to help me…When I rise my breakfast is solitary, the black dog waits to share it, from breakfast to dinner he continues barking, except that Dr Brocklesby for a little keeps him at a distance…Night comes at last, and some hours of restlessness and confusion bring me again to a day of solitude. What shall exclude the black dog from a habitation like this?
    on his attacks of melancholia; more recently associated with Winston Churchill, who used the phrase ‘black dog’ when alluding to his own periodic bouts of depression
    letter to Mrs Thrale, 28 June 1783
  108. Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) June 1784
  109. Milton, Madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock; but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.
    to Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet who had written Paradise Lost should write such poor sonnets
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) 13 June 1784
  110. Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.
    letter to Francesco Sastres, 21 August 1784
  111. Sir, I look upon every day to be lost, in which I do not make a new acquaintance.
    James Boswell Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) November 1784
  112. It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.
    Hester Lynch Piozzi Anecdotes of…Johnson (1786)
  113. Babies do not want to hear about babies; they like to be told of giants and castles, and of somewhat which can stretch and stimulate their little minds.
    Hester Lynch Piozzi Anecdotes of…Johnson (1786)
  114. Love is the wisdom of the fool and the folly of the wise.
    William Cooke Life of Samuel Foote (1805) vol. 2
  115. A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek.
    John Hawkins (ed.) The Works of Samuel Johnson (1787) ‘Apophthegms, Sentiments, Opinions, etc.’
  116. Of music Dr Johnson used to say that it was the only sensual pleasure without vice.
    in European Magazine (1795)
  117. What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
    William Seward Biographia (1799)
  118. 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; Hawker Instructions to Young Sportsmen (1859); also attributed to Jonathan Swift, in The Indicator 27 October 1819