Monday, March 16, 2015

`He Should Prescribe a Task for Himself'

“Dr. Johnson advised me to-day, to have as many books about me as I could; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time. `What you have read then (said he,) you will remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you again have a desire to study it.’ He added, `If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better if a man reads from immediate inclination.’” 

Of course, Dr. Johnson, an industrious and most eccentric reader, who confessed to reading few books in their entirety. From an early age, I followed his counsel to Boswell without knowing it. I was too dumb and naïve to know that you don’t necessarily have to read everything, the lousy with the good and great, the ephemeral with the essential. Dave Lull has sent me a link to My Sentimental Library, a blog by Jerry Morris who catalogued Johnson’s undergraduate library at Library Thing. Morris’ post is a nice piece of literary history and scholarly detection. He contributes a new name to my knowledge of Johnsoniana -- Julia Schomberg. A perfunctory online search reveals little about her – she was English and her life straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She numbers among those often anonymous friends of literature who read “from immediate inclination,” among many other reasons.

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