No wonder Dr Johnson is not in fashion

Engraving from James Barry’s portrait (1778-80)

An incomparably greater psychologist than Freud, having no axe to grind and no sect to found

Samuel Johnson, writes Dalrymple,

  • contrived to be a moralist without moralising
  • was humane and charitable without sentimentality

This is a contrast to today, Dalrymple points out, for

we prefer mental contortions, self-justifications, evasions, rationalisations, and all the other methods of avoiding the truth about ourselves, to Dr Johnson’s discomfiting clarity of mind.

Johnson had a gift, Dalrymple notes, for saying things that were

both startling and obvious. As he himself put it, we have more often to be reminded than informed.

Johnson’s prose style

would no doubt strike many people (if they read it) as formal—we prefer expletives and the demotic now.

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  • WOOF! Watchdogs of Our Freedom  On July 22, 2017 at 23:44

    Always a pleasure to see Dr. Johnson’s genius praised by those who prefer sagacity to “expletives and the demotic.” We confess, nobody at WOOF, including those of us who are psychologists, had thought of Samuel Johnson heretofore in that respect; but why not? He understood the human condition far more comprehensively than Freud–and was a lot more fun to read! Given Boswell’s departure from this mortal coil, who will evince the insight and temerity requisite to producing “Sam Johnson’s Quotable Self-Help Guide?” The world awaits!

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