The Works of Samuel Johnson: With an Essay on His Life and Genius, by Arthur Murphy. Volume 3 (1792). One thing to know about Samuel Johnson is if you have decided to read his complete works, there are going to be a lot of words to read. Luckily for this reader, Johnson is a pretty amazing writer and this third volume of his collected works continues to demonstrate the wide-ranging nature of his interests.
In this volume we get a couple of pieces on Greek theater, some extensive notes on Shakespeare's Macbeth (and some well-placed jabs at other editors of Shakespeare), an extended series of essays from The Adventurer, and the philosophical novella, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.
While all these works have something to offer, the writing that is most accessible to the modern reader can be found in Johnson's contributions to The Adventurer, a bi-weekly newspaper to which he contributed a number of pieces, both signed, anonymous, and under the names of various characters. These brief essays hit on innumerable topics, contemporary, historical, and literary, but the most fun of all are when Johnson takes his pen out of its sabre and points it at various irritating types of the day. Consider, if you will, the essay from Tuesday, December 11, 1753 in The Adventurer Number 115. You can read the whole essay here (and you should!), but here's a taste:
Some indeed there are, of both sexes,
who are authors only in desire, but have not yet attained the power of
executing their intentions; whose performances have not arrived at bulk
sufficient to form a volume, or who have not the confidence, however
impatient of nameless obscurity, to solicit openly the assistance of the
printer. Among these are the innumerable correspondents of publick
papers, who are always offering assistance which no man will receive,
and suggesting hints that are never taken; and who complain loudly of
the perverseness and arrogance of authors, lament their insensibility of
their own interest, and fill the coffee-houses with dark stories of
performances by eminent hands, which have been offered and rejected.
It's amazing to me that Johnson can still be so relevant (or, I guess, that humanity is so consistent) that 261 years later, these same words could be written about innumerable tweets, facebook posts, and blog comments.
And how about this section from The Adventurer Number 137:
It is difficult to enumerate the several motives which procure
to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity,
hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to
any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a
Some are fond to take a celebrated volume into their hands,
because they hope to distinguish their penetration, by finding
faults which have escaped the publick; others eagerly buy it in
the first bloom of reputation, that they may join the chorus
of praise, and not lag, as Falstaff terms it, in "the reward
of the fashion."
Some read for style, and some for argument: one has little
care about the sentiment, he observes only how it is expressed;
another regards not the conclusion, but is diligent to mark how
it is inferred; they read for other purposes than the
attainment of practical knowledge; and are no more likely to
grow wise by an examination of a treatise of moral prudence, than
an architect to inflame his devotion by considering attentively
the proportions of a temple.
Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine
in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or
want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most
general and prevalent reason of study is the impossibility of
finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally
independent on the hour or the weather. He that wants money to
follow the chase of pleasure through her yearly circuit, and is
left at home when the gay world rolls to Bath or Tunbridge; he
whose gout compels him to hear from his chamber the rattle of
chariots transporting happier beings to plays and assemblies,
will be forced to seek in books a refuge from himself.
Don't let the old-timey language dissuade you, folks, this is amazing stuff.
Volume 4: here I come!