Samuel Johnson – “On Spring” (essay from “The Rambler”)

This is an essay from one of the periodicals Johnson published and almost entirely wrote himself. The essay begins with the observation that people who have problems like to dream about a future in which their problems go away or whatever is missing in their lives will appear. Because it’s a general human tendency, it’s best when our hopes are pinned on something over which we have no power, so we do not waste our time on trying to make it happen. The best example is an acquaintance of Johnson who always had hopes that something good is going to happen to him in the spring, for instance that his health is going to improve. He kept on hoping almost until the mid-summer, and when that didn’t happen, he could hope for the next spring. Spring is generally a pleasant season both to men and animals, but there are still people who can find no delight in nature walks, but flee to find amusement in cards, assemblies, or “the prattle of the day”. “When a man cannot bear his own company, there is something wrong”, observes Johnson. He allows the people who need to take their minds off some present sorrow to take part in amusements “provided they are innocent”, and he advises those who worry about something bad that could happen in the future to endeavour to avoid it. But the rest, who are like inert objects in Newton’s mechanics and need some external force to be moved, should learn to read the book of nature. He quotes an unidentified (and perhaps fictitious) French author, who said that “very few men know how to take a walk”. This sounds a bit like mindfulness training, but Johnson means more like the study of nature, which can be both informative and profitable. Of course we cannot have a nation of naturalists, but nature can provide an inexhaustible source of enjoyment for the people who are bored with life. He ends his essay with a moral that just like we should make use of the spring of the year, young people should make use of the spring of their lives, because flowers are there in order to provide fruit.

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