James Boswell (essay date 1776)
SOURCE: Boswell, James. In Boswell: The Ominous Years, 1774-1776, edited by Charles Ryskamp and Frederick A. Pottle, pp. 276-77. 1931. Reprint. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.
[In this excerpt originally recorded in his journal in 1776, Boswell relates an anecdote which demonstrates the value that Samuel Johnson placed upon The Anatomy of Melancholy.]
Either this night or the one after he spoke to me of the melancholy to which I am subject, said that I had a very ticklish mind, and that I must divert distressing thoughts, and not combat with them. “Remember always,” said he, “———.”1 I said I sometimes tried to think them down. He said I was wrong. He bid me have a lamp burning in my bedchamber, and take a book and read and so compose myself to rest. This I supposed was his own method. But I told him I seldom waked in the night. When I do at home, my excellent spouse consoles me with easy, sensible talk. He said to have the management of one's mind was a great art, and that it might be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise. His sage counsel I treasured up. He commended Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and said there was great spirit and great power in what Burton said when he wrote from his own mind. I fancied tonight that I was prepared by my revered friend for conducting myself through any future gloom.
Boswell left the greater part of a line blank, intending to write down Johnson's counsel when he recalled it. What he cannot remember is what Johnson tells him he must never forget!