Samuel Johnson frequently describes character flaws and their destructive effects on society. In this passage, Johnson outlines the detriments of untruthfulness and the inherant moral weakenesses of liars. Liars, according to Johnson, draw their power from the trust of good people, only to betray both he who is lied to, and the very notion of integrity.
Others there are that amuse themselves with the dissemination of falsehood, at greater hazard of detection and disgrace; men marked out by some lucky planet for universal confidence and friendship, who have been consulted in every difficulty, intrusted with every secret, and summoned to every transaction: it is the supreme felicity of these men, to stun all companies with noisy information; to still doubt, and overbear opposition, with certain knowledge or authentick intelligence. A liar of this kind, with a strong memory or brisk imagination, is often the oracle of an obscure club, and, till time discovers his impostures, dictates to his hearers with uncontrouled authority; for if a publick question be started, he was present at the debate; if a new fashion be mentioned, he was at court the first day of its appearance; if a new performance of literature draws the attention of the publick, he has patronized the author, and seen his work in manuscript; if a criminal of eminence be condemned to die, he often predicted his fate, and endeavoured his reformation: and who that lives at a distance from the scene of action, will dare to contradict a man, who reports from his own eyes and ears, and to whom all persons and affairs are thus intimately known? ([On Lying] Adventurer No. 50. Saturday, April 18, 1753)
Johnson writes in an authoritative, forceful manner: the same manner which he criticizes liars for utilizing. Unlike Didion, who uses her own flaws to give her credibility and a softer, human quality, Johnson writes from a moral high ground that he never steps off from. Like the liars he describes, Johnson is the "oracle of an obscure club."
1. Does Johnson need to provide reasons for why he is a credible source for such rough critique? Hows does the reader know to trust him?
2. Clearly, Johnson would not believe that truth is what people believe. So then, what is the source of truth?
3. How much sarcasm is intenentionally employed in this piece?
4. What would Johnson say of a writer, such a Didion or Wolfe, who interjects much of their own personal truths into their work? Are they liars?
Last modified 24 September 2007