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Samuel Johnson
(18 Sep 1709 - 13 Dec 1784)

English essayist whose enormous literary output included the first great critique of Shakespeare (1765), and his Dictionary of the English Language (1755). From the scope of his work, he has been various described as poet, dramatist, journalist, satirist, biographer, essayist, lexicographer, editor, translator, critic, parliamentary reporter, political writer, story writer, sermon writer, travel writer and social anthropologist, prose stylist and conversationalist. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the memorial to Shakespeare.

Science Quotes by Samuel Johnson (24 quotes)

...a man estimable for his learning, amiable for his life, and venerable for his piety. Arbuthnot was a man of great comprehension, skilful in his profession, versed in the sciences, acquainted with ancient literature, and able to animate his mass of knowledge by a bright and active imagination; a scholar with great brilliance of wit; a wit who, in the crowd of life, retained and discovered a noble ardour of religious zeal.
— Samuel Johnson
The Lives of the English Poets (1826), vol. 2, 257.
Science quotes on:  |  John Arbuthnot (12)  |  Biography (199)

Hoc age ['do this'] is the great rule, whether you are serious or merry; whether ... learning science or duty from a folio, or floating on the Thames. Intentions must be gathered from acts.
— Samuel Johnson
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1821), 139.
Science quotes on:  |  Act (22)  |  Duty (26)  |  Float (8)  |  Gather (7)  |  Intention (20)  |  Learn (23)  |  Merry (2)  |  Rule (52)  |  Science (875)  |  Serious (13)

Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
— Samuel Johnson
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
Science quotes on:  |  Chemistry (143)  |  Cold (24)  |  Colour (32)  |  Dexterity (3)  |  Dust (20)  |  Effect (72)  |  Electricity (82)  |  Energy (103)  |  Enquiry (72)  |  Experiment (369)  |  Eye (67)  |  Heat (48)  |  Idleness (4)  |  Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (15)  |  Liquid (12)  |  Lodestone (4)  |  Magnetism (20)  |  Meteorology (15)  |  Microscope (47)  |  Mingle (2)  |  Observation (264)  |  Persuade (3)  |  Physics (156)  |  Pollen (3)  |  Profound (23)  |  Reaction (48)  |  Repeat (11)  |  Research (360)  |  Sleep (25)  |  Spider (6)  |  Strange (17)  |  Wind (28)

Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas; he that reads books of science, thogh without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing…
— Samuel Johnson
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Adventurer, No. 137, Tuesday, 26 Febraury 1754.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 273.
Science quotes on:  |  Book (100)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Understanding (231)

Criticism, though dignified from the earliest ages by the labours of men eminent for knowledge and sagacity, has not yet attained the certainty and stability of science.
— Samuel Johnson
In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 151.
Science quotes on:  |  Certainty (59)  |  Criticism (34)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Sagacity (2)  |  Stability (6)

Even those to whom Providence has allotted greater strength of understanding, can expect only to improve a single science. In every other part of learning, they must be content to follow opinions, which they are not able to examine; and, even in that which they claim as peculiarly their own, can seldom add more than some small particle of knowledge, to the hereditary stock devolved to them from ancient times, the collective labour of a thousand intellects.
— Samuel Johnson
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Rambler, No. 121, Tuesday, 14 May 1751.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 172.
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Men Of Science (90)

I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of the earth, and that things are the sons of heaven. Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas: I wish, however, that the instrument might be less apt to decay, and that signs might be permanent, like the things which they denote.
— Samuel Johnson
'Preface', A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Vol. 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Language (71)  |  Word (97)

I will venture to say there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit [in London], than in all the rest of the kingdom.
— Samuel Johnson
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1820), Vol. 1, 267.
Science quotes on:  |  Circumference (5)  |  Kingdom (18)  |  Learning (130)  |  London (4)  |  French Saying (51)  |  Science (875)  |  Venture (5)

If a man has a science to learn he must regularly and resolutely advance.
— Samuel Johnson
Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1826), Vol. 3, 35.
Science quotes on:  |  Progress (200)  |  Science (875)

Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas.
— Samuel Johnson
In 'Preface to the English Dictionary', The Works of Samuel Johnson (1810), Vol. 2, 37.
Science quotes on:  |  Idea (226)  |  Instrument (40)  |  Language (71)  |  Science (875)  |  Sign (18)  |  Word (97)

Learn the leading precognita of all things—no need to turn over leaf by leaf, but grasp the trunk hard and you will shake all the branches.
Advice cherished by Samuel Johnson that that, if one is to master any subject, one must first discover its general principles.
— Samuel Johnson
Advice from Rev. Cornelius Ford, a distant cousin, quoted in John P. Hardy, Samuel Johnson: A Critical Study (1979), 29.
Science quotes on:  |  Education (177)  |  Knowledge (679)

No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a publick library; for who can see the wall crouded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditation, and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to encrease the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavours, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists, and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power.
Non unquam dedit
Documenta fors majora, quam fragili loco
Starent superbi.

Seneca, Troades, II, 4-6
Insulting chance ne'er call'd with louder voice,
On swelling mortals to be proud no more.
Of the innumerable authors whose performances are thus treasured up in magnificent obscurity, most are forgotten, because they never deserved to be remembered, and owed the honours which they have once obtained, not to judgment or to genius, to labour or to art, but to the prejudice of faction, the stratagem of intrigue, or the servility of adulation.
Nothing is more common than to find men whose works are now totally neglected, mentioned with praises by their contemporaries, as the oracles of their age, and the legislators of science. Curiosity is naturally excited, their volumes after long enquiry are found, but seldom reward the labour of the search. Every period of time has produced these bubbles of artificial fame, which are kept up a while by the breath of fashion and then break at once and are annihilated. The learned often bewail the loss of ancient writers whose characters have survived their works; but perhaps if we could now retrieve them we should find them only the Granvilles, Montagus, Stepneys, and Sheffields of their time, and wonder by what infatuation or caprice they could be raised to notice.
It cannot, however, be denied, that many have sunk into oblivion, whom it were unjust to number with this despicable class. Various kinds of literary fame seem destined to various measures of duration. Some spread into exuberance with a very speedy growth, but soon wither and decay; some rise more slowly, but last long. Parnassus has its flowers of transient fragrance as well as its oaks of towering height, and its laurels of eternal verdure.
— Samuel Johnson
The Rambler, Number 106, 23 Mar 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 2, 200-1.
Science quotes on:  |  Fame (21)  |  Imagination (130)  |  Library (22)  |  Oblivion (3)  |  Writer (14)

No, Sir, I am not a botanist; and (alluding, no doubt, to his near sightedness) should I wish to become a botanist, I must first turn myself into a reptile.
— Samuel Johnson
Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1820), Vol. 1, 177.
Science quotes on:  |  Botanist (10)  |  Reptile (14)

Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.
— Samuel Johnson
The Rambler, Number 117, 30 Apr 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Stranss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 2, 258-9.
Science quotes on:  |  Comprehension (30)  |  Learning (130)  |  Ridicule (9)

Nothing has tended more to retard the advancement of science than the disposition in vulgar minds to vilify what they cannot comprehend.
— Samuel Johnson
In Maturin Murray Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1894), 459.
Science quotes on:  |  Comprehend (4)  |  Progress (200)  |  Science (875)

People have now a-days got a strange opinion that every thing should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do as much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken.
— Samuel Johnson
Entry for Feb 1776. In George Birkbeck-Hill (ed.), Boswell's Life of Johnson (1934-50), Vol. 2, 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Book (100)  |  Lecture (31)  |  Reading (25)

Sir, the reason is very plain; knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
— Samuel Johnson
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1820), Vol. 1, 418.
Science quotes on:  |  Find (50)  |  Information (56)  |  Kind (27)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Plain (11)  |  Reason (173)

The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.
— Samuel Johnson
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
Science quotes on:  |  Learning (130)  |  John Locke (31)

The mathematicians are well acquainted with the difference between pure science, which has only to do with ideas, and the application of its laws to the use of life, in which they are constrained to submit to the imperfections of matter and the influence of accidents.
— Samuel Johnson
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Rambler, No. 14, Saturday, 5 May 1750.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 40.
Science quotes on:  |  Accident (25)  |  Law (273)  |  Mathematician (110)

The roads of science are narrow, so that they who travel them, must wither follow or meet one another…
— Samuel Johnson
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Rambler, No. 121, Tuesday, 14 May 1751.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 172.
Science quotes on:  |  Men Of Science (90)

There prevails among men of letters, an opinion, that all appearance of science is particularly hateful to Women; and that therefore whoever desires to be well received in female assemblies, 'must qualify himself by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important; must consider argument or criticism as perpetually interdicted; and devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to compliment.
— Samuel Johnson
The Rambler, Number 173, 12 Nov 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 3, 152-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Argument (26)  |  Criticism (34)  |  Science (875)  |  Trifle (5)  |  Woman (36)

To expect that the intricacies of science will be pierced by a careless glance, or the eminences of fame ascended without labour, is to expect a peculiar privilege, a power denied to the rest of mankind; but to suppose that the maze is inscrutable to diligence, or the heights inaccessible to perseverance, is to submit tamely to the tyranny of fancy, and enchain the mind in voluntary shackles.
— Samuel Johnson
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
Science quotes on:  |  Perseverance (10)

You may translate books of science exactly. ... The beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written.
— Samuel Johnson
Quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1826), Vol. 3, 29.
Science quotes on:  |  Beauty (88)  |  Language (71)  |  Original (13)  |  Poetry (63)  |  Preservation (14)  |  Science And Art (58)  |  Translation (10)  |  Writing (50)

[Boswell]: Sir Alexander Dick tells me, that he remembers having a thousand people in a year to dine at his house: that is, reckoning each person as one, each time that he dined there. [Johnson]: That, Sir, is about three a day. [Boswell]: How your statement lessens the idea. [Johnson]: That, Sir, is the good of counting. It brings every thing to a certainty, which before floated in the mind indefinitely.
— Samuel Johnson
Entry for Fri 18 Apr 1783. In George Birkbeck-Hill (ed.), Boswell's Life of Johnson (1934-50), Vol. 4, 204.
Science quotes on:  |  Arithmetic (38)  |  Certainty (59)  |  Number (90)



Quotes by others about Samuel Johnson (2)

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”
In Boswell's Life of Johnson (1820), Vol. 1, 218.
Science quotes on:  |  George Berkeley (6)  |  Matter (135)  |  Philosophy (132)

The stone that Dr. Johnson once kicked to demonstrate the reality of matter has become dissipated in a diffuse distribution of mathematical probabilities. The ladder that Descartes, Galileo, Newton, and Leibniz erected in order to scale the heavens rests upon a continually shifting, unstable foundation.
Mathematics in Western Culture (1953), 382.
Science quotes on:  |  Renι Descartes (32)  |  Foundation (31)  |  Galileo Galilei (64)  |  Ladder (3)  |  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (24)  |  Matter (135)  |  Sir Isaac Newton (176)


Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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