quotes, writing

one long escape from myself

There was no cure for the human condition, he thought, not least his own. He [Samuel Johnson] was a prisoner of compulsions. A monster of a man, with a huge and powerful frame, and a blunt bulldog head set above it, he could pick up warring street dogs and toss them aside like kittens, and once beat an insolent publisher senseless with a folio volume. Yet since his youth he had suffered from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even Tourette’s syndrome, which became aggravated with the years. Walking down a London alley, he had to touch every post with his cane, and, if he missed one, would go back and start over; he constantly spoke to himself, repeating half-audible incantations under his breath, and would sit in a reverie for hours, muttering and whistling; when he peeled an orange, he always had to keep the peel in his pocket.

Still, the pill of life could be sweetened – above all, with friendship. Johnson made a religion of social life: he ate with friends every night, adored his small circle of intimates […] “My life is one long escape from myself,” he said, and he ran to the table to get away.

– Critic Adam Gopnik, from “Man of Fetters: Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale,” an article on Samuel Johnson and the new biographies of him, in the 12/8/08 New Yorker.