Johnson and the Argonauts

Saturday 30 July [1763].  Mr. Johnson and I took a boat and sailed down the silver Thames.  I asked him if a knowledge of Greek and Roman languages was necessary.  He said, ‘By all means; for they who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not.  Nay, it is surprising what a difference it makes upon people in the intercourse of life which does not appear to be much connected to it.’  ‘And yet,’ said I, ‘people will go through the world very well and do their business very well without them.’  ‘Why’, said he, ‘that may be true where they could not possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us well without literature as if he could sing the Song which Orpheus sung to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors in the world.’  He then said to the boy, ‘What would you give, sir, to know about the Argonauts?’  ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I would give what I have.’  The reply pleased Mr. Johnson much, and we gave him a double fare.  ‘Sir,’ said Mr. Johnson, ‘a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every man who is not debauched would give all that he has to get knowledge.’

James Boswell. Boswell’s London Journal. ed. Frederick A. Pottle. London: Futura, 1982. p353-4.

~ by thebicyclops on September 11, 2010.

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