The Honesty of Samuel Johnson

Prior to reading “Life of Johnson” by James Boswell, I knew very little of Samuel Johnson, and this text was very informative.  Johnson was an honest fellow, it was quite clear.  He spoke his mind and was very blunt about many things, such as his negative attitude for Americans.  Another example of this candor is when “he accepted of an offer to be employed as usher in the school of Market-Bosworth, in Leicestershire,” (Boswell, 60).  According to Johnson’s letters to Mr. Hector, “[t]his employment was very irksome to him in every respect,” (60).  Moreover, the lines I enjoyed the most from this section were, “…he did not know whether it was more disagreeable for him to teach, or the boys to learn… His general aversion to this painful drudgery was greatly enhanced by a disagreement between him and Sir Wolstan Dixey…” (60-61).  Johnson soon resigned.

The reason I am enthusiastic about these few lines of Johnson’s biography is that they are inspiring to individuals such as myself who are studying education, with aspirations to enlighten the minds of the youth.  As someone who is pursing an education to be a teacher, it is always motivating to read heartwarming stories from those who have teacher experience, such as Johnson has.  I am being sarcastic of course, because Johnson’s experience with teaching was not a heartwarming story.  Although this biography does not go into further detail of his employment of an usher, it is obvious he did not have a positive experience.  He did not enjoy teaching, nor did he enjoy the boys he taught.  This is not inspiring to an education student at all.  Being informed that someone quit their job as a teacher because they were not enthusiastic about the students they interacted with, or that they did not enjoy the job is not motivating.  Will this be me six months into my teaching profession?  I certainly hope not.  Nonetheless, it has been 200-plus years since Johnson had his go around with the employment of a teacher, and I shall not steer my career goals based off of his opinion of working with such individuals.  I wouldn’t say I have a personality that comes even close to Samuel Johnson’s.  When it comes to the job, it is all in how you make it, and Johnson didn’t bother to make the best of his experience as the usher of Market-Bosworth.  It takes a confident individual to be an educator, and Johnson was not cut out for the job.  At least this was early in his life, giving him the chance to find a new career.

Work Cited:

Boswell, James.  Life of Johnson Unabridged.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.  Print 19-1401.

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2 thoughts on “The Honesty of Samuel Johnson

  1. Hi Dusty – I found Samuel Johnson’s candor interesting as well; I’m really glad you discussed the rather biting comments he shared with Mr. Hector about his position as a teacher at Market-Bosworth. The lines convey his repugnance as you wrote, most definitely, and for me they also help to solidify the raw emotion and feeling that letters can help to contain. I was thinking about what “Life of Johnson” would be like if we didn’t have access to these letters… Boswell descriptions would be interesting and informative, but with letters like these (marked by Johnson’s sharp tongue, his reflections on the present conditions he’s grappling with) I’m able to hear Johnson himself. They inform Boswell’s life writing; he is given moments to show and not to simply tell. And for an Education major like you, as you said, you’re able to draw deeper conclusions and comparisons between Boswell and yourself — because, in some sense, we’re given the chance to engage directly with this character. I agree that Boswell seemed like an ill-prepared teacher, carrying the wrong attitude. Just his employment of the word “irksome” in that first letter to Mr. Hector, as he describes his teaching role, sets me squirming like you; he seems bitter, tired — a teacher who might bring a level of darkness and negativity to the minds of his youth rather than enlightenment, as you aim to do.

  2. Hi dusty! I love that you chose to write about Samuel Johnson because of your passion for education. You do a great job writing about the pieces you quoted, and I love that you tied a little bit of yourself into the blog. It is interesting that he did not enjoy teaching or the boys he taught, do you think maybe he hated teaching because he hated the boys he taught? I wonder if liking his students would have made a difference in his additude toward teaching. I agree, everything in life is how you make it and that includes work!

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