Two things happened this week.
One is that as a welcome of two friends to the same condo complex that I live in in Ottawa, I visited their place and brought rosé champagne and some homemade pecan shortbread cookies. I also gave them a card — specifically this one from the line of greeting cards I designed based on quotations from Sam and art by artists, friends, and family:
One of my friends read the quotation and wasn’t sure she agreed with the sentiment. We talked about that a little, and didn’t come to any final conclusions — which reminds me of the title of the final chapter from the one novella, Rasselas, which Sam published, in 1759: “The Conclusion, in Which Nothing Is Concluded” — but she thought it might be the categoricalness of it that didn’t sit right with her. That is, that being happy at home was “the ultimate result of all ambition.”
It never occurred to me at the time, though it did for the word prosecution when I was making the card, that part of the issue might have to do with the meaning of ultimate. So, I’ve just looked up that word in Sam’s own dictionary, and it reads: “Intended in the last resort; being the last in the train of consequences.” That definition doesn’t have the same categoricalness about it as the word has for us today. If someone said “Being happy at home is my ultimate goal,” it has more the sense of only than simply final or last. It doesn’t feel as absolute. So that might be what my friend was reacting to.
The other thing has to do with something you will read more about in this blog (and hopefully listen to on my podcast) some time in August.
I heard back from a query I’d sent to writer Gretchen Rubin about doing an interview of her. I was interested because the book she published in 2012, called Happier at Home, has this for a subtitle:
Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life
There aren’t many books about Sam Johnson, or that mention him prominently, that end up being New York Times bestsellers, so I wanted to talk to her about how Sam fits in with her daily living. I was thrilled to hear back “yes,” and so I’ll be interviewing her by phone mid-August. I’ve started reading her book, and apart from the epigraph (which is a quotation from one of Sam’s Rambler essays), I haven’t come across any references, direct or otherwise, yet. But it’s early going.
Apart from the rarity of seeing Sam’s name on a popular book, the other thing that intrigues me — and one of the things I’ll be asking her about — is that it’s surprising to see him linked to a project that has to do with happiness. It’s not that he was perpetually unhappy, but it’s just not the first thing I think about when I think about him. Perhaps it’s just that I happen to be writing about his death right now, and so perhaps that is influencing me. But overall, when I think of Sam, though, I always see him as someone who wrote and knew about happiness, and certainly had joy in his life, but not as someone who lived a life awash in it.
There’s an interesting coincidence in that the epigraph from Gretchen’s book and the quotation from my greeting card are from the same Rambler essay, published November 10, 1750. In my podcast this week, I’ll be reading from and commenting on that essay …