19 February 2016

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (10)

‘Art is long, and life is short’ … a saddleback tomb in Saint Michael’s churchyard, Lichfield, where generations of Samuel Johnson’s family are buried (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

In his biography, James Boswell recalls how Johnson said famously and wittily:

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

But Johnson also wrote in the Rambler (No 17), on 15 May 1750:

The uncertainty of our duration ought at once to set bounds to our designs, and add incitements to our industry; and when we find ourselves inclined either to immensity in our schemes, or sluggishness in our endeavours, we may either check or animate ourselves, by recollecting, with the father of physic, that art is long, and life is short.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

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