Samuel Johnson

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Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.

Dr Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709 [7 September O.S.] – December 13, 1784) was a British author, linguist and lexicographer. He is often referred to as simply Dr. Johnson.

Sourced quotes

  • 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.
Simple: The longer there is a silence, there harder it is for that silence to be broken.
  • 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.
Simple: There will always be a large part of any community that care only about their own needs, and those needs often reach further then impatience of immediate pain.
  • How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
    • Taxation No Tyranny (1775)
Simple: How is it that we hear the loudest crys for freedom from the slavers of blacks?


He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
  • Here closed in death th' attentive eyes
    That saw the manners in the face.
    • Epitaph on Hogarth (1786)
  • 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
Simple: If you praise everyone, you are really praising noone.
  • 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
Simple: Anything that fits to well is false.
  • 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
Simple: I never want to talk to someone who has talked more than he has listened.
  • What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
    • Quoted in "Anecdotes by William Seward, F.R.S." in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 309, edited by George Birkbeck Hill
Simple: What is written without effort is usually not enjoyable to read.

The Rambler (1750-1752)

All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance...
  • Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.
    • No. 2 (March 24, 1750) [1]
Simple: Men will forget things more often then learn new things.
  • 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.
    • No. 43 (August 14,1750) [2]
Simple: The human art which we look at with praise, are examples of perseverence. It is continueing on indefinately that problems are overcome, and continued resistance can only be beaten by continued attacks.


  • 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.


  • 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 (November 6, 1750)
Simple: Hope is always needed to keep people trying, and living, be they rich or poor without this comfort life would be unlivable. Without the expectation of some new joy, item, a wish granted, or a heart filled.
Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
  • It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.
    • No. 79 (December 18, 1750)
Simple: Although you will take hurts, and be cheated, it is better then commiting those acts.
  • There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed.
    • No. 86 (January 12, 1751)
Simple: In any time of history, there are new falts to be fixed, and new prejudices to be faught.
  • Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.
    • No. 103 (March 12, 1751)
Simple: A sign of a smart person is constant curiousity.


The Idler (1758-1760)

Merriment is always the effect of a sudden impression. The jest which is expected is already destroyed.
Full text online


  • Slavery is now no where more patiently endured, than in countries once inhabited by the zealots of liberty.
    • No. 11 (June 24, 1758)
Simple: Slavery is now no where more used, than in countries who once called the loudest for liberty.


  • Merriment is always the effect of a sudden impression. The jest which is expected is already destroyed.
    • No. 58 (May 26, 1759)
Simple: Happiness is found in surprises, and when it is expected, it is ruined.


  • We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know, because they have never deceived us.
    • No. 80 (October 27, 1759)
Simple: We tend to believe strangers, because they have never lied to us before.

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759)

Full text online


  • To a poet nothing can be useless.
    • Ch. 10
  • Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.
    • Ch. 26
  • The world is not yet exhausted: let me see something to-morrow which I never saw before.
    • Ch. 47
Simple: The world is not yet used up: let me see something tomorrow that I have never seen before.

Lives of the English Poets (1781)

  • 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 [3]
Simple: Writers who try and create something new, have little chance at greatness; for something great must have been noticed before.
  • Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.
    • The Life of Pope [4]
Simple: You need to believe in yourself before you do something great.
  • His [David Garrick's] death has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.
    • The Life of Edmund Smith
Simple: David Garrick's death has ruined the happiness of nations, and reduced the amount of public pleasure.

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785)

The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell

  • 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
Simple: If lawyers were to refuse to defend someone unless they were sure he was no guilty, although if looked at closely in a courtroom it might be found he is not guilty in truth.
  • Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to everything.
    • September 17, 1773
Simple: It is easier to be evil/bad than to be good; for being bad takes the short cut to everything.
  • 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 Samuel Johnson, by Mrs. Piozzi (1786)
  • There is in this world no real delight (excepting those of sensuality), but exchange of ideas in conversation.
Simple: In this world there is no real happiness (expept from those of sexuality) but the trading of ideas in talk.
  • He was a very good hater.
  • The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
  • Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.
Simple: Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is still better than having none, and the best are not perfect.

Sources

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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