Sunday, March 21, 2010

No Escape, Part Two: Samuel Johnson

When it comes to obtaining wise, no-nonsense, eloquent, and entertaining counsel on Life and/or How to Live, I am more than willing to rely solely upon Montaigne and Samuel Johnson.  As far as the quiddities of human nature and human behavior are concerned, one can be fairly certain that the two of them have been there before we have.

Hence, we should not be astonished that Samuel Johnson has visited the "wherever you go, there you are" territory and has reached the same conclusions as Montaigne (but in his own delightful fashion, of course):
     The general remedy of those, who are uneasy without knowing the cause, is change of place; they are willing to imagine that their pain is the consequence of some local inconvenience, and endeavour to fly from it, as children from their shadows; always hoping for more satisfactory delight from every new scene, and always returning home with disappointments and complaints. 
     [Johnson then describes Abraham Cowley's plan - as expressed by Cowley in the preface to his poems - to abandon England for America in order to gain peace of mind.]  Surely no stronger instance can be given of a persuasion that content was the inhabitant of particular regions, and that a man might set sail with a fair wind, and leave behind him all his cares, incumbrances, and calamities. . . .
     [Cowley] never suspected that the cause of his unhappiness was within, that his own passions were not sufficiently regulated, and that he was harrassed by his own impatience, which could never be without something to awaken it, would accompany him over the sea, and find its way to his American elysium.  He would, upon the trial, have been soon convinced, that the fountain of content must spring up in the mind; and that he, who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing, but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, Number 6 (April 7, 1750).   
      Claude Lorrain, "Imaginary View of Delphi, with a Procession"

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