10 Great Quotes from Samuel Johnson

What follows are ten of the wittiest and most interesting quotes (or, if you prefer, quotations) by the great Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Also known as Dr Johnson, he has often been praised for his wit and wisdom (and outspokenness) on all manner of subjects. He wrote only one novel, Rasselas (which he wrote rapidly to pay for his mother’s funeral expenses), and is now better remembered, not as a poet or a critic (though he was praised as both), but as a lexicographer (he composed the first detailed dictionary of the English language) and as a great conversationalist. Here are ten of our favourite quotes from the great Doctor, on a wide variety of topics. Most of these quotes come to us via his trusty biographer, James Boswell (1740-1795), whose Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) is often called one of the great literary biographies.

On life: ‘Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.’

On reading: ‘A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.’

On money: ‘Whatever you have, spend less.’

On free speech: ‘Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.’


On pubs: ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’

On getting drunk: ‘A man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated, has not the art of getting drunk.’

On hard work: ‘What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.’

On writing: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’

On bedtime: ‘Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.’

And some culinary advice: ‘A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out as good for nothing.’

Image: Detail of a portrait of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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