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Samuel Johnson by Jeffery Meyers

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Samuel Johnson: The Struggle
by Jeffery Meyers
Rating: 5/10

Three five-word summaries:
Sam feels lot of guilt.
Poor writer envies rich publishers.
Johnson equal to forty Frenchmen.

While this book is exemplary as a biography, I lost interest half way through. Johnson’s character and relationships are what shine through, rather than the actual course of his life, so while this was a worthwhile read, diminishing returns set in very quickly. Feel free to skip around rather than stick to the chronological ordering.

New York : Basic Books, 2008. xiv+528 pp.

* * *

Excerpts:
p. 22 — “He devoured books with deadly seriousness, in the same way that he devoured food. He’d often keep a book on his lap while dining, a habit that Boswell cheekily compared to a dog holding a bone in its paws while chewing on scraps.”
p. 24 — “Johnson believed, like that other uneasy wanderer D.H. Lawrence, ‘When in doubt, move.’ ”
p. 29 — “In Johnson’s time, when the average height of an Englishman was five feet, five inches, only three men in a thousand reached his impressive height of five feet, eleven.”
p. 40 — “Aware that he’d wasted time during his first year, he promised in his diary of October 1729, the beginning of his second, to ‘bid farewell to Sloth, being resolved henceforth not to listen to her syren strains.’ But he cast this resolution in mythological rather than personal terms and, like many a vow made throughout his life, was unable to keep it.”
p.  46 — “In a famous pronouncement in Rasselas, he declared, ‘of the uncertainties of our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason.’ Johnson — renowned, ironically, for his uncommon sense, sound judgment and rational thought — was terrified that his rational faculty would weaken and he would lapse into permanent darkness.
p. 48 — “The direst danger was solitude, which made his mind stagnant and morbid. His great aim in life was to escape from himself, and he tried to prevent mental disease by constant company.”

Written by blakeriley

2010.02.5 at 11:38

Posted in books, reviews