Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Adventurer

‘He now relieved the drudgery of his Dictionary, and the melancholy
of his grief, by taking an active part in the composition of The
Adventurer, in which he began to write April 10 [1753].’

The snippet above comes from James Boswell’s “Life of Johnson”.   To give a flavor of Johnson’s “The Adventurer”, here is a portion of Adventurer #137: 


What have I been doing?
As man is a being very sparingly furnished with the power of prescience, he can provide for the future only by considering the past; and as futurity is all in which he has any real interest, he ought very diligently to use the only means by which he can be enabled to enjoy it, and frequently to revolve the experiments which he has hitherto made upon life, that he may gain wisdom from his mistakes, and caution from his miscarriages.
Though I do not so exactly conform to the precepts of Pythagoras, as to practise every night this solemn recollection, yet I am not so lost in dissipation as wholly to omit it; nor can I forbear sometimes to enquire of myself, in what employment my life has passed away. Much of my time has sunk into nothing, and left no trace by which it can be distinguished; and of this I now only know, that it was once in my power, and might once have been improved.
Of other parts of life, memory can give some account; at some hours I have been gay, and at others serious; I have sometimes mingled in conversation, and sometimes meditated in solitude; one day has been spent in consulting the ancient sages, and another in writing Adventurers…’

Walter Scott wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson, which is published as part of his “Miscellaneous Prose Works”.  It begins:

Of all the men distinguished in this or any other age, Dr. JOHNSON has left upon posterity the strongest and most vivid impression, so far as person, manners, disposition, and conversation, are concerned. We do but name him, or open a book which he has written, and the sound and action recall to the imagination at once, his form, his merits, his peculiarities, nay, the very uncouthness of his gestures, and the deep impressive tone of his voice. We learn not only what he said, but form an idea how he said it; and have, at the same time, a shrewd guess of the secret motive why he did so, and whether he spoke in sport or in anger, in the desire of conviction, or for the love of debate. It was said of a noted wag, that his bon-mots did not give full satisfaction when published, because he could not print his face. But with respect to Dr. Johnson, this has been in some degree accomplished; and, although the greater part of the present generation never saw him, yet he is, in our eye, a personification as lively, as that of Siddons in Lady Macbeth, or Kemble in Cardinal Wolsey…’

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