Ex Libris Kirkland

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First Written 1780
Genre Essays
Origin US
Publisher Penguin Classics
ISBN-10 0140436278
ISBN-13 978-0140436273
My Copy cheap paperback
First Read July 13, 2011

Selected Essays

Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) was an influential English poet, critic, author of the first English dictionary, and essayist.

Johnson's best writing is contained in the essays he wrote for London newspapers, The Idler, The Rambler, and The Adventurer. He varied his topic every week, and wrote about nearly anything he pleased, which resulted in some very good and some very bad work.

In short, Samuel Johnson would have a written a great blog.

You can still read Johnson's essays in book forms - there are countless collections available for your pleasure, and they're available at any local library that still carries, you know, books. But sitting down to read his essays straight through in book form is really sub-optimal - he jumps from literary criticism of Milton to a fictional story about a landowner to a political rant about Parliament &tc; but the essays are perfect for occasional blog reading. It worked as a semi-frequent newspaper column, but it's terrible as a book.

So: I made a website to post Johnson's essays in the same way his original readers found him - in a semi-frequent way, posted 260 years after Johnson wrote them. Read along!

Noted on August 11, 2011

I just got around to reading Samuel Johnson, and he's as good as advertised. Johnson is one of those famous writers whose work seems to only exist on 'quotation' websites or as references in older books. For a guy who was all the rage for hundreds of years, I've never met anyone who claims to have read the guy. Maybe Boswell's /Life/, but not much of Johnson himself.

My hypothesis here is that because his best works aren't a book at all - they're his essays. And these are really great, although I don't love the 'collected essays' format. They really read better when doled out in small doses, as originally written. Someone should start a blog and release them!

Noted on August 11, 2011

When the tenderness or virtue of their parents has preserved them from forced marriage, and left them at large to chuse their own path in the labyrinth of life, they have made any great advantage of their liberty: they commonly take the opportunity of independance to trifle away youth and lose their bloom in a hurry of diversions, recurring in a succession too quick to leave room for any settled reflection.

From Rambler No. 39. The unhappiness of women whether single or married.

Quoted on November 30, 2016

“It is imagined by many, that whenever they aspire to please, they are required to be merry, and to shew the gladness of their souls by flights of pleasantry, and bursts of laughter. But though these men may be for a time heard with applause and admiration, they seldom delight us long. We enjoy them a little, and then retire to easiness and good-humour, as the eye gazes awhile on eminences glittering with the sun, but soon turns aching away to verdure and to flowers.”

From Rambler No. 72. The necessity of good humour.

Quoted on November 30, 2016

To dread no eye, and to suspect no tongue, is the great prerogative of innocence; an exemption granted only to invariable virtue. But guilt has always its horrours and solicitudes; and to make it yet more shameful and detestable, it is doomed often to stand in awe of those, to whom nothing could give influence or weight, but their power of betraying.

- from Rambler No. 68

Quoted on November 21, 2016

Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his youth was passed; a happy age, which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.

from - The Rambler No. 50. A virtuous old age always reverenced.

Quoted on September 29, 2016

Every man is obliged by the Supreme Master of the universe to improve all the opportunities of good which are afforded him, and to keep in continual activity such abilities as are bestowed upon him. But he has no reason to repine, though his abilities are small and his opportunities few. He that has improved the virtue, or advanced the happiness of one fellow-creature, he that has ascertained a single moral proposition, or added one useful experiment to natural knowledge, may be contented with his own performance, and, with respect to mortals like himself, may demand, like Augustus, to be dismissed at his departure with applause.

Quoted on December 28, 2015

To find the nearest way from truth to truth, or from purpose to effect, not to use more instruments where fewer will be sufficient; not to move by wheels and levers what will give way to the naked hand, is the great proof of a healthful and vigorous mind, neither feeble with helpless ignorance, nor overburdened with unwieldy knowledge.

Quoted on March 23, 2015

There are others to whom idleness dictates another expedient, by which life may be passed unprofitably away without the tediousness of many vacant hours. The art is, to fill the day with petty business, to have always something in hand which may raise curiosity, but not solicitude, and keep the mind in a state of action, but not of labour.

Quoted on November 18, 2014

The mind is seldom quickened to very vigorous operations but by pain, or the dread of pain. We do not disturb ourselves with the detection of fallacies which do us no harm, nor willingly decline a pleasing effect to investigate its cause. He that is happy, by whatever means, desires nothing but the continuance of happiness, and is no more solicitous to distribute his sensations into their proper species, than the common gazer on the beauties of the spring to separate light into its original rays.

Quoted on August 29, 2014

Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour or the weather.

- From The Adventurer #137

Quoted on April 8, 2014

If I could dine all my life, I should be happy; I eat not because I am hungry, but because I am idle.

- FromThe Adventurer #102.

Quoted on November 3, 2013

To vanity may justly be imputed most of the falsehoods which every man perceives hourly playing upon his ear, and, perhaps, most of those that are propagated with success. To the lie of commerce, and the lie of malice, the motive is so apparent, that they are seldom negligently or implicitly received; suspicion is always watchful over the practices of interest; and whatever the hope of gain, or desire of mischief, can prompt one man to assert, another is by reasons equally cogent incited to refute. But vanity pleases herself with such slight gratifications, and looks forward to pleasure so remotely consequential, that her practices raise no alarm, and her stratagems are not easily discovered.

Quoted on July 28, 2013

This diffidence is never more reasonable than in the perusal of the authors of antiquity; of those whose works have been the delight of ages, and transmitted as the great inheritance of mankind from one generation to another: surely, no man can, without the utmost arrogance, imagine that he brings any superiority of understanding to the perusal of these books which have been preserved in the devastation of cities, and snatched up from the wreck of nations; which those who fled before barbarians have been careful to carry off in the hurry of migration, and of which barbarians have repented the destruction. If in books thus made venerable by the uniform attestation of successive ages, any passages shall appear unworthy of that praise which they have formerly received, let us not immediately determine, that they owed their reputation to dulness or bigotry; but suspect at least that our ancestors had some reasons for their opinions, and that our ignorance of those reasons makes us differ from them.

Quoted on June 28, 2013

Sleep, therefore, as the chief of all earthly blessings, is justly appropriated to industry and temperance; the refreshing rest, and the peaceful night, are the portion only of him who lies down weary with honest labour, and free from the fumes of indigested luxury; it is the just doom of laziness and gluttony, to be inactive without ease, and drowsy without tranquillity.

Quoted on March 20, 2012

This precept may be justly extended to the series of life: nothing is ended with honour, which does not conclude better than it began.

From Rambler #207, The folly of continuing too long upon the stage

Quoted on March 13, 2012

He that too much refines his delicacy will always endanger his quiet.

From The Rambler, No. 200. Asper’s complaint of the insolence of Prospero.

Quoted on March 5, 2012

Envy is almost the only vice which is practicable at all times, and in every place; the only passion which can never lie quiet for want of irritation: its effects therefore are every where discoverable, and its attempts always to be dreaded.

From The Rambler, No. 183. The influence of envy and interest compared.

Quoted on March 5, 2012

Those who are oppressed by their own reputation, will, perhaps, not be comforted by hearing that their cares are unnecessary. But the truth is, that no man is much regarded by the rest of the world. He that considers how little he dwells upon the condition of others, will learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself. While we see multitudes passing before us, of whom, perhaps, not one appears to deserve our notice, or excite our sympathy, we should remember, that we likewise are lost in the same throng; that the eye which happens to glance upon us is turned in a moment on him that follows us, and that the utmost which we can reasonably hope or fear is, to fill a vacant hour with prattle, and be forgotten.

From the Rambler, #159

Quoted on October 26, 2011

It is well known, that many things appear plausible in speculation, which can never be reduced to practice; and that of the numberless projects that have flattered mankind with theoretical speciousness, few have served any other purpose than to show the ingenuity of their contrivers. A voyage to the moon, however romantick and absurd the scheme may now appear, since the properties of air have been better understood, seemed highly probable to many of the aspiring wits in the last century, who began to dote upon their glossy plumes, and fluttered with impatience for the hour of their departure:

--_Pereunt vestigia mille
Ante fugam, absentemque ferit gravis ungula campum._

Hills, vales and floods appear already crost;
And, ere he starts, a thousand steps are lost.

From The Adventurer, No. 45 - 10 April 1753.

Quoted on August 11, 2011

Virtue is sufficiently difficult with any circumstances, but the difficulty is increased when reproof and advice are frighted away. In common life, reason and conscience have only the appetites and passions to encounter; but in higher stations, they must oppose artifice and adulation. He, therefore, that yields to such temptations, cannot give those who look upon his miscarriage much reason for exultation, since few can justly presume that from the same snare they should have been able to escape.

From The Rambler, No. 172. The effect of sudden riches upon the manners

Quoted on November 11, 2011

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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