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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
The Greeks Us / Greece in West  

Samuel Johnson, Prepare for eternity

From J. Boswell, Life of S. Johnson

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT

Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

On Saturday, July 30, Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education.

JOHNSON: "Most certainly, Sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, Sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with it."

JOHNSON: It has been maintained that this superfetation, this teeming of the press in modern times, is prejudicial to good literature, because it obliges us to read so much of what is of inferiour value, in order to be in the fashion; so that better works are neglected for want of time, because a man will have more gratification of his vanity in conversation, from having read modern books, than from having read the best works of antiquity. (...) Greece appears to be the fountain of knowledge; Rome of elegance." RAMSAY. "I suppose Homer's 'Iliad' to be a collection of pieces which had been written before his time. I should like to see a translation of it in poetical prose, like the book of Ruth or Job." ROBERTSON. "Would you, Dr. Johnson, who are master of the English language, but try your hand upon a part of it." JOHNSON. "Sir, you could not read it without the pleasure of verse."

- "And yet, (said I) people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning."

JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, that may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors." He then called to the boy, "What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?" "Sir, (said the boy) I would give what I have." Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare. Dr. Johnson then turning to me, "Sir, (said he) a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has, to get knowledge." ...

He (Johnson) roused me by manly and spirited conversation. He advised me, when settled in any place abroad, to study with an eagerness after knowledge, and to apply to Greek an hour every day; and when I was moving about, to read diligently the great book of mankind (the New Testament). ...

I observed upon the dial-plate of his watch a short Greek inscription, taken from the New Testament, Ἔρχεται νύξ, being the first words of our Saviour's solemn admonition to the improvement of that time which is allowed us to prepare for eternity; "the night cometh when no man can work." He sometime afterwards laid aside this dial-plate; and when I asked him the reason, he said, "It might do very well upon a clock which a man keeps in his closet; but to have it upon his watch which he carries about with him, and which is often looked at by others, might be censured as ostentatious."

   Cf.  Hobbes, Faith needs freedom and counseling, Papatsonis, Scheme, Symeon, When shall the Day of the Lord come?   Papacy

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