The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

Start Free Trial

"Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions"

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Context: James Boswell, in The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., tells how Johnson (1709-1784) instructs his Negro servant, Francis Barber, in his religious duties and aids him in reviewing his life and in inciting him to mend his conduct. Johnson's humility and piety on such an occasion are truly edifying, but he is constantly aware of the frequent failure of good resolutions. This type of failure has inspired a number of writers to reflect upon Hell and good intentions. For example, Edward Hellowes, in Guevara's Familiar Epistles (1574), writes: "Hell is full of good desires"; George Herbert records in Jacula Prudentum (1640): "Hell is full of good meanings and wishings"; and Sir Walter Scott says in The Bride of Lammermoor (1819): "Hell is paved with good intentions–as much as to say, they are more often formed than executed." Johnson, however, was the one who gave the expression its now accepted form; Boswell writes:

. . . No saint, however, in the course of his religious warfare, was more sensible of the unhappy failure of pious resolves, than Johnson. He said one day, talking to an acquaintance on this subject, "Sir, Hell is paved with good intentions."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

"A Woman's Preaching Is Like A Dog's Walking On His Hind Legs"


"If You Were To Make Little Fishes Talk, They Would Talk Like WHALES"