The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

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"A Man, Sir, Should Keep His Friendship In Constant Repair"

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Context: In 1755, having completed the work of compiling his famous dictionary, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) went about the task of writing the "Preface" to it. Near the end, he tells of his despondence at having protracted his work so long that most of those whom he has hoped to please "have sunk into the grave. . . ." Years later, James Boswell, Johnson's biographer, reflects on the strangeness of such depression in a man then only forty-five years old. Johnson actually, however, lived thirty years longer and once admitted that he had more friends in later life than in his youth. Boswell's reflections, however, lead him to a principle he has long believed in: that since men like to live as long as they can, it is wise to "be continually adding to the number of our friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others." Boswell explains that Johnson himself, late in life, was of the same opinion. Expressing this idea,

. . . He said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, "If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair."

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