Samuel Johnson claims in Rambler No. 172 that in cases of sudden acquisition of wealth, “a change of fortune causes a change of manners” (p.1). He explores the reasons behind and the effects of such alterations. In his explanation of his claim, Johnson makes several generalizations about human susceptibility to vice:
The common charge against those who rise above their original condition, is that of pride. It is certain that success naturally confirms us in a favourable opinion of our own abilities. Scarce any man is willing to allot to accident, friendship, and a thousand causes, which concur in every event without human contrivance or interposition, the part which they may justly claim in his advancement. We rate ourselves by our fortune rather than our virtues, and exorbitant claims are quickly produced by imaginary merit. But captiousness and jealousy are likewise easily offended, and to him who studiously looks for an affront, every mode of behaviour will supply it; freedom will be rudeness, and reserve sullenness; mirth will be negligence, and seriousness formality; when he is received with ceremony, distance and respect are inculcated; if he is treated with familiarity, he concludes himself insulted by condescensions.
Johnson’s claims about human nature are broad but lack personal observation and account — this is unlike the authors we have read so far.
1. Both Didion and Johnson make generalizations about human nature. Compare how the authors validate their claims with evidence in their essays.
2. How do these differences in the ways the authors provide substantiation for their generalizations contribute to the way we interpret or believe their claims?
3. How do the essays differ in tone? How do the authors contribute to these discrepancies?
Last modified 8 February 2011