Saturday, September 12, 2009

`He Still Walks About My Mind'

Charles E. Pierce Jr. has a fine appreciation of Samuel Johnson, in particular his moral fable Rasselas, in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s a sample:

“I was introduced to Johnson—and read `Rasselas’ for the first time—almost 50 years ago in an undergraduate course at Harvard taught by Walter Jackson Bate, the great Johnson scholar. I was moved by the struggles of Johnson's personal life, especially his fears of madness and death, and I was fascinated by his moral thought. A year after I took this course, I was walking to class one day and saw a billboard on the top of the Cambridge Trust Company that read `Life is very uncertain; let us spend it as well as we can.’ And it was signed `Samuel Johnson.’ I smiled to myself as I wondered what the directors of the bank meant by "spend" and what Johnson meant. I shall never know, and it scarcely matters. What does matter, as I continue my own journey, is that I encountered the moral example of Johnson many years ago and that he still walks about my mind.”

1 comment:

Donald said...

The most staggering misuse of Johnson I have seen is the following "quotation" on a company's banner: "Free your mind of can't." Yes, there was an apostrophe, and yes, the quotation was explicitly attributed to Samuel Johnson. As an example of the cant Johnson was warning against, that is hard to beat, even if it was (which I doubt) a deliberate witticism. More likely, I think, an American heard the sentence spoken once and attached precisely the wrong meaning to it. It wouldn't have happened with an Australian accent!