The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

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"When He Leaves Our Houses, Let Us Count Our Spoons"

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Context: On the fourteenth of July, 1763, a Thursday, Boswell spent a quiet, rainy evening at the Miter, a tavern, with Dr. Johnson. By this time the friendship between the two had progressed to the point that Boswell could observe that he felt quite at ease with Johnson, though having "all possible reverence" for the great man. They talked of many things that evening: Boswell's father's wish that Boswell would become a lawyer, the excellence of rhyme over blank verse in English poetry, the greater ease of taking the negative side in an argument, Johnson's acceptance of a pension of three hundred pounds per annum from the crown, and the desirability of meeting people when traveling. Boswell tells how he mentioned to Johnson "an impudent fellow from Scotland [Boswell was himself a Scot], who affected to be a savage, and railed at all established systems." Johnson comments that such a person is seeking attention and will do anything to draw it to himself, even to tumbling about in a hog-sty. Johnson adds, "But let him alone, never mind him, and he'll soon give it over." Boswell proceeds to observe that this same man maintains that there is no difference or distinction between vice and virtue. This observation draws the following comment from Dr. Johnson:

. . . "Why, Sir, if the fellow does not think as he speaks, he is lying; and I see not what honour he can propose to himself from having the character of a lyar. But if he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, Sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons."

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"Whatever You Have, Spend Less"