Archive for December 8th, 2012

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The Great Grebe

I had posted this earlier. Sorry if I felt nostalgic to see my ‘children’ every now and then.

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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson
(1709-1784) Lexicographer, Author

When Johnson undertook to complete a dictionary he had no training in lexicography. Yet he had agreed to do the job within three years. His friends doubted whether he had not undertaken a project much beyond him. Dr. Adams of Pembroke an admirer gently reminded him that the French Academy of forty members had taken forty years to complete their dictionary. Johnson replied, ‘Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years,’ and he broke off the topic by making a show of calculating how many Frenchmen could be said to equal one Englishman.

Dr. Johnson, however odds were stacked against him- his humble circumstances, Academic neglect notwithstanding, did make a name with his Rambler and the Dictionary of course silenced every critic. He was a literary genius to be reckoned as the glory of his age. At first his essays caused little stir and by degrees his continued distillation of life -experience, common sense, moral precepts and philosophy made impact on the public that there were ten collected editions of his essays in his lifetime.
His essays appeared twice a week for two years at a stretch and anonymously but in that small London literary world no one was left with doubt as to the identity of the essayist. At the same time he was toiling away at his magnum opus without let up.
It was his dictionary that made his name. In the wake of his success many paid him generous compliments for his achievement. Two ladies were all praises for his leaving out naughty words.
“What my dears!” Johnson said, “then you have been looking for them?”
Johnson had to discontinue his term in Christ Church, Oxford for want of finance and returned to Lichfield where his father, as a bookseller struggling as usual was on the verge of bankruptcy. Cut off from any hope of intellectual achievement, obsessed by secret fears and misery he was a more a burden to his father than a help. Johnson was twenty and one day his father feeling sick stayed in bed asking his son to go to Uttoxeter in his place to attend the bookstall. Johnson refused, feeling it beneath his dignity to sell goods from a barrow in the open market. So painful was his memory of the incident, that on an impulse fifty years later he ‘went to Uttoxeter in very bad weather, and stood bareheaded in the rain, on the spot where my father’s stall used to stand…’ His feeling of guilt over the years was made even more distressing by the fact that within a few weeks of the incident his father died suddenly.
(Samuel Johnson and his World- Margaret Lane/Hamish Hamilton, London )

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