Call it the Writer’s Lament. Among words, we are benign tyrants. We call the dance. We do the bullying. Insubordination will not be tolerated. How tempting to remain among our faithful subjects. But when we rejoin humanity, our word hardly counts. We mingle with other pawns. It’s all give and take; sometimes, mostly give. In the sentence quoted above, John Wain in Samuel Johnson (1974) describes the great man’s nine years of labor on his Dictionary of the English Language. Johnson couldn’t afford to work fulltime on his masterwork. No blockhead, he was a pen-for-hire, a professional writer before the age of grants, fellowships and tenure. Wain goes on:
“Somehow, round the edges of the huge commitment, he kept his mind, and his pen, so active that a record of his activities during these years would read like a normal working schedule for most writers.”
Consider Johnson’s entries for writer: 1.) “One who practices the art of writing.” 2.) “An author.” Plain-spoken, unadorned, concise, commonsensical. Definition as near-tautology. Writing, you’ll note, is an art, which Johnson defines in his Dictionary as “The power of doing something not taught by nature and instinct; as, to walk is natural; to dance is an art.”.
Johnson published his Dictionary on this date, April 15, 1755.