Every half-decent tercentennial profile of Samuel Johnson will remark upon the fact that he is seldom read, and best known through the writing of another. Most will choose a sample of his work to share with the reader: perhaps Rasselas, or the Life of Savage, or ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’.
My affections lie with the periodical essays, whose moral subject matter is generally even more off-putting to potential readers. I’m always moved by the sheer humanity of his writing; the prose is architectural, grave and measured, but glows like cut sandstone at sunset. Thus, from Rambler 134 on the perennial topic of procrastination and idleness:
Among all who sacrifice future advantage to present inclination, scarcely any gain so little as those that suffer themselves to freeze in idleness. Others are corrupted by some enjoyment of more or less power to gratify the passions; but to neglect our duties merely to avoid the labour of performing them, a labour which is always punctually rewarded, is surely to sink under weak temptations. Idleness never can secure tranquillity; the call of reason and of conscience will pierce the closest pavilion of the sluggard, and, though it may not have force to drive him from his down, will be loud enough to hinder him from sleep. Those moments which he cannot resolve to make useful, by devoting them to the great business of his being, will still be usurped by powers that will not leave them to his disposal; remorse and vexation will seize upon them, and forbid him to enjoy what he is so desirous to appropriate.