The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

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"Such An Excess Of Stupidity, Sir, Is Not In Nature"

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Context: Late in 1762 Boswell learned that "an irreconcileable difference had taken place between" Dr. Johnson and Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788), the father of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Sheridan had received a pension of two hundred pounds a year; Johnson had received nothing. Enraged, and not knowing that Sheridan's pension had resulted from political activities in an earlier year, Johnson from then on had little good to say for Sheridan. In addition, Sheridan was a popular lecturer on the English language and on public speaking, and Johnson was disturbed at the thought that such a man could influence the public in its attitudes toward language. On a later occasion, Boswell and Johnson are discussing Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and James Thomson (1700-1748) and Boswell inquires whether Johnson does not think that Sheridan had "a great deal of wit." Johnson thinks not: "He is, indeed, continually attempting wit, but he fails." Boswell remembers a remark by Johnson about Sheridan which has been widely circulated among their acquaintances:

"Why, Sir, Sherry is dull, naturally dull, but it must have taken him a great deal of pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, Sir, is not in Nature."–"So (said he,) I allowed him all his own merit."

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