The Works of Samuel Johnson: With an Essay on His Life and Genius, by Arthur Murphy. Volume 4 (1792), another entry on Harold Bloom's Western Canon list, did not disappoint.
This volume is particularly fun -- it is made up of the first 70 entries in The Rambler, a bi-weekly periodical written and published by Johnson from 1750-1752. The essays, each about 5-10 pages long, are easily digestible comments on modern society and tidbits of advice on how to best live ones life. Some of the most amusing entries are written in the guise of devoted readers asking Mr. Johnson for some of his sage advice. Like much of Johnson, there is a combination of confidence, humor, and observation that make these moral essays not only fun to read, but, with some exceptions, still pretty good life advice.
Take this, for example, from No. 68 "Every man chiefly happy or miserable at home. The opinion of servants not to be despised.":
"This remark may be extended to all parts of life. Nothing is to
be estimated by its effect upon common eyes and common ears. A
thousand miseries make silent and invisible inroads on mankind, and
the heart feels innumerable throbs, which never break into complaint.
Perhaps, likewise, our pleasures are for the most part equally secret,
and most are borne up by some private satisfaction, some internal
consciousness, some latent hope, some peculiar prospect, which they
never communicate, but reserve for solitary hours, and clandestine
The main of life is, indeed, composed of
small incidents and petty occurrences; of wishes for objects not
remote, and grief for disappointments of no fatal consequence; of
insect vexations which sting us and fly away, impertinences which buzz
awhile about us, and are heard no more; of meteorous pleasures which
dance before us and are dissipated; of compliments which glide off the
soul like other musick, and are forgotten by him that gave, and him
that received them....
The great end of prudence is to give cheerfulness to those hours, which
splendour cannot gild, and acclamation cannot exhilarate; those soft
intervals of unbended amusement, in which a man shrinks to his natural
dimensions, and throws aside the ornaments or disguises, which he
feels in privacy to be useless incumbrances, and to lose all effect
when they became familiar. To be happy at home is the ultimate result
of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends,
and of which every desire prompts the prosecution."
Pretty spot on for something written 250 years ago....
Or look at this one, which is almost a perfect description of certain politicians that I can't wait to stop hearing about (from No. 11 "The folly of anger. The misery of a peevish old age."):
"There is in the world a certain class of mortals, known, and
contentedly known, by the appellation of passionate men, who imagine
themselves entitled by that distinction to be provoked on every slight
occasion, and to vent their rage in vehement and fierce vociferations,
in furious menaces and licentious reproaches. Their rage, indeed, for
the most part, fumes away in outcries of injury, and protestations of
vengeance, and seldom proceeds to actual violence, unless a drawer or
linkboy falls in their way; but they interrupt the quiet of those that
happen to be within the reach of their clamours, obstruct the course of conversation, and disturb the enjoyment of society.
of this kind are sometimes not without understanding or virtue, and
are, therefore, not always treated with the severity which their
neglect of the ease of all about them might justly provoke; they have
obtained a kind of prescription for their folly, and are considered by
their companions as under a predominant influence that leaves them not
masters of their conduct or language, as acting without consciousness,
and rushing into mischief with a mist before their eyes; they are
therefore pitied rather than censured, and their sallies are passed
over as the involuntary blows of a man agitated by the spasms of a
I could go on quoting all day, because Samuel Johnson is nothing if he is not deliciously quotable, but instead I'll leave you with a few more of my favorite entries worth reading in their entirety:
No. 16 "The dangers and miseries of literary eminence"
No. 34 "The uneasiness and disgust of female cowardice"
No. 39 "The unhappiness of women whether single or married"
No. 45 "The causes of disagreement in marriage"
No. 50 "A virtuous old age always reverenced"
No 59. "An account of Suspirius the human screech-owl"
Lucky for me, the next volume is even more of The Rambler! Slow and steady gonna win this race...