Monthly Archives: May 2011

Patriotism

One of Johnson’s most well-known pronouncements, in its original context. 1775

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong, determined tone, an apothegm, 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 for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson,) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired. JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest. Were he to accept of a place from this ministry, he would lose that character of firmness which he has, and might be turned out of his place in a year. This ministry is neither stable, nor grateful to their friends, as Sir Robert Walpole was: so that he may think it more for his interest to take his chance of his party coming in.”

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On Writing and Reading

Samuel Johnson to Boswell, 1775.

“I once wrote for a magazine: I made a calculation, that if I should write but a page a day, at the same rate, I should, in ten years, write nine volumes in folio, of an ordinary size and print.” BOSWELL. “Such as Carte’s History?” JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir. When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. 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.”

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