In Samuel Johnson's Rambler No. 87, he argues that in the act of giving advice, the advisor inevitably makeshimself seem superior to the advisee. This annoys the advisee who ceases to listen to the advice, regardless of whether or not it is prudent. Johnson notes that advice given in books is sometimes more readily accepted because it is disembodied from the author, who is placed at a distance from the reader either by his/her death or inaccessibility. However, Johnson argues that when an author is alive or known it is more difficult for his reader to accept his advice or argument.

But though truth and virtue are thus frequently defeated by pride, obstinacy, or folly, we are not allowed to desert them; for whoever can furnish arms which they hitherto have not employed, may enable them to gain some hearts which would have resisted any other method of attack. Every man of genius has some arts of fixing the attention peculiar to himself, by which, honestly exerted, he may benefit mankind; for the arguments for purity of life fail of their due influence, not because they have been considered and confuted, but because they have been passed over without consideration. To the position of Tully, that if Virtue could be seen, she must be loved, may be added, that if Truth could be heard, she must be obeyed.

Johnson seems to be saying that good writers must overcome the aforementioned perils of giving advice by "furnish[ing] arms which they hitherto have not employed" in order to convince their readers of their argument. What "arms" does Johnson use to make his advice/argument more powerful? What literary techniques does he employ to make his reader more willing to accept his point of view? Do you think Johnson believes it is possible for truth to be heard and thus obeyed? How might he go about accomplishing this task?


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15 February 2002