Saturday, November 11, 2006

Samuel Johnson, early blogger

I've been so busy, the only time I've had to read lately was in the doctor's office. I had my palm pilot and entertained myself with Samuel Johnson, upon whom I have a tremendous crush. It's a good thing I'll never know if he was bald, fat, and/or smelly.

I'm reading his essays collected as The Adventurer and then The Idler. I guess these were published on a regular basis, kind of like a blog. His informal manner seems very modern to me.

Here's today's tidbit. I particularly liked the bit about "the hopes excited in the fury of the performance." This is, I think, what leads people to do hundreds of takes of their songs in the recording studio: in your head there's a mostly perfect performance, the very best performance you could ever imagine giving if you were just - a little more gifted, a little better rehearsed, than you actually are. There's always the hope that the NEXT take will come closer to the platonic ideal.

A good recording engineer knows when this is a futile pursuit and gently reminds you that, in fact, monkeys cannot type Shakespeare.

Extracts from
The Adventurer #138, March 2, 1754
by Samuel Johnson

If we apply to authors themselves for an account of their state, it will appear very little to deserve envy; for they have in all ages been addicted to complaint. The neglect of learning, the ingratitude of the present age, and the absurd preference by which ignorance and dulness often obtain favour and rewards, have been from age to age topicks of invective; and few have left their names to posterity, without some appeal to future candour from the perverseness and malice of their own times.

I have, nevertheless, been often inclined to doubt, whether authors, however querulous, are in reality more miserable than their fellow mortals. The present life is to all a state of infelicity; every man, like an author, believes himself to merit more than he obtains, and solaces the present with the prospect of the future; others, indeed, suffer those disappointments in silence, of which the writer complains, to show how well he has learnt the art of lamentation.

To write is, indeed, no unpleasing employment, when one sentiment readily produces another, and both ideas and expressions present themselves at the first summons; but such happiness, the greatest genius does not always obtain; and common writers know it only to such a degree, as to credit its possibility. Composition is, for the most part, an effort of slow diligence and steady perseverance, to which the mind is dragged by necessity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amusements.

When thoughts and words are collected and adjusted, and the whole composition at last concluded, it seldom gratifies the author, when he comes coolly and deliberately to review it, with the hopes which had been excited in the fury of the performance: novelty always captivates the mind; as our thoughts rise fresh upon us, we readily believe them just and original, which, when the pleasure of production is over, we find to be mean and common, or borrowed from the works of others, and supplied by memory rather than invention.

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At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And thus, the lament of my students...''I hate to write!!!'' [Which seems to be a universal complaint whether the student is from China, Syria, Peru, or the United States.] Writing seems to be torture for students.~~~Susanlynn, trying to envision Samuel shirtless on a horse ....but the only image I get is FC....I wonder if he is a good writer....well, in truth, I don't care!

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Johansen Quijano-Cruz said...

According to Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, Samuel Johnson was a tall, fat man with scars all over his body. He had an incredibly volatile temper, and was often called jokingly 'Bear". I hope I haven't crushed your crush :)


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