Instruction from Dr. Johnson

While I’ve not yet been ambitious enough to crack Boswell’s “Life of Johnson,” languishing on my shelves, I did pick up a bargain copy of Johnson’s “A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland” published together with Boswell’s “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides.” Each man published separate journals of the tour they took together in the autumn of 1773.  Dr. Johnson’s is presented first.  It is humbling that at that time our own country was not yet established, Dr. Johnson was visiting cathedral ruins and lamenting universities falling into decline.  Johnson covers less lofty topics as well, though.  While commenting on the lack of ventilation in Scottish houses, he frets that such observations may “take something away from the dignity of writing.”  He then continues:

But it must be remembered, that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease, as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption.  The true state of every nation is the state of common life.

I know my husband would agree that I would do well to heed Dr. Johnson’s words on this point.  Too often I hurry over the necessities and daily duties of life, with my mind on the next big adventure or “elegant enjoyment.”  To do so can breed frustration or boredom with the quotidian when, as Dr. Johnson reminds us, that is the stuff of life.  While I’m sure I won’t do an about-face, I am going to try to keep these words with me for the next few days and try to better enjoy “the state of common life.”

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