During part of the time when I was writing My Sam Johnson, I maintained a blog and a podcast, partly about the process, but mostly with anecdotes from Sam’s life. I put both on hiatus in 2021 for a very practical purpose: so that I could have more time to finish the book.
Well, now that the book is finished and is actually in the process of being edited, I’m now reviving the blog and podcast to talk about the current stage of what it takes to write and publish a book. I also plan to recount a few more anecdotes. If there is anything that Sam’s life has, it’s an abundance of stories of all kinds, from the hilarious to the absolutely tragic.
I’ll embed the podcast at the bottom of these blog posts, but you can also subscribe to the podcast wherever you normally subscribe to podcasts. Look for My Sam Johnson or search by my name.
So, two anecdotes about Sam, one from each end of the continuum:
- During the 1740s and early 1750s, Sam’s marriage to Tetty wasn’t going very well, and he was also doing all sorts of writing work to earn money. He and Tetty often lived apart, sometimes even when both of them were in London. She wasted away basically, becoming addicted to opium. There was a bright spot in 1750 after she’d read some issues of Sam’s new series of periodical essays, the Rambler. Tetty said of him: “I thought very well of you before; but I did not imagine you could have written any thing equal to this.”
- An exchange between Sam, James Boswell, and Oliver Goldsmith:
SAM: As we advance in the journey of life, we drop some of the things which have pleased us; whether it be that we are fatigued and don’t choose to carry so many things any farther, or that we find other things which we like better.
BOSWELL: But, Sir, why don’t you give us something in some other way?
GOLDSMITH: Ay, Sir, we have a claim upon you.
SAM: No, Sir, I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself. If a soldier has fought a good many campaigns, he is not to be blamed if he retires to ease and tranquillity. A physician, who has practised long in a great city, may be excused if he retires to a small town, and takes less practice. Now, Sir, the good I can do by my conversation bears the same proportion to the good I can do by my writings, that the practice of a physician, retired to a small town, does to his practice in a great city.
BOSWELL: But I wonder, Sir, you have not more pleasure in writing than in not writing
SAM: Sir, you may wonder.
I’ve always read that “you may wonder” as something along the lines of: “I think I’ve just explained myself. I can write or I can choose not to write, and you can wonder about it all you want.”