Tag Archives: Samuel Johnson

Seek And Ye Shall Find

 

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Today is Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday

Today is the distinguished Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England on 18 September 1709, Johnson is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. He is undoubtedly a key figure in the Enlightenment and the development of the modern English language.

When I was pondering the remarkable work of Johnson, I recalled a story within an oration by Christopher Hitchens. Addressing the issue of free speech, Hitchens describes a curious exchange shortly after the publication of Johnson’s first dictionary. The following short passage is from a transcript of Hitchens’ speech, made at Toronto’s Hart House Debating Club in November 2006.

When it was complete, Dr. Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, of the nobility, of the quality, of the Commons, of the Lords — and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London, who tended on him at his Fleet Street lodgings, and congratulated him.

“Dr. Johnson,” they said, “we are delighted to find that you have not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies,” said Dr. Johnson, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

To be clear, we undoubtedly live in a world in which there is great injustice, hatred and bigotry. But we spend far too much time arguing about trivialities, rather than focusing on what really matters. If you actively seek offence, then you shall surely find it.

Aidan

Related podcast

#16 – On Liberty and Free Speech

Further reading

‘The Skeptical Libertarian’, Christopher Hitchens: “Freedom of speech means freedom to hate.”, https://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2014/09/30/christopher-hitchens-freedom-of-speech-means-freedom-to-hate/ [accessed 18 September 2017]

‘Who was Samuel Johnson? The father of the modern dictionary’s funniest entries’, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/samuel-johnson-father-modern-dictionary-funniest-entries/ [accessed 18 September 2017]

 

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