The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

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"Patriotism Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel"

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Context: On April 7, 1775, Boswell and Johnson dined at a tavern in London with a group of friends. During the evening a wide variety of topics was discussed, ranging from classical literature to wolves to politics to the theater. Of the observations about politics, Boswell writes: Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged, (not by Johnson) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired.


JOHNSON. "Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest. . . ."

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