Dr Johnson on private affluence and public squalor

It is surely not without just reproach, that a nation, of which the commerce is hourly extending, and the wealth encreasing, denies any participation of its prosperity to its literary societies; and while its merchants or its nobles are raising palaces, suffers its universities to moulder into dust.

A JOURNEY TO THE WESTERN ISLANDS OF SCOTLAND by Samuel Johnson
(ST. ANDREWS)

4 thoughts on “Dr Johnson on private affluence and public squalor

  1. Dear Prof Quiggin, are you trying to tell us that Universities have been mouldering to dust ever since Johnson’s time? Surely not! I like the proposition, though, quote Dr Johnson, discuss. In any event while Universities are mouldering, and they surely are in Australia with casualization of labour, as I have personally experienced, the students, as ever, are free of rot. For example, and I think this is heartening, the students of Glagow University elected Edward Snowden as their rector; he said he was ‘humbled’ by this. Not all is lost 🙂

  2. UQ isn’t exactly mouldering into dust (I take that this is an entirely justified attack on the State Tory’s defunding of arts and other politically unfavoured communities) though of course funding has been redistributed from annoying faculties like History towards the far less critical Engineers. Learn your place, not how to think.

  3. Universities which Johnson, of course, attended for only a year and which never hired him. If you could get Johnson’s dictionary through the wholly benign operations of free enterprise, did we really have to tax everybody in England to pay for the OED?

  4. So much to discuss here. Johnson attended Oxford for a bit more than a year and always venerated Oxford. However, he disagreed strongly with Adam Smith about dons. J held that they should be tenured and paid regardless of attendance at their lectures etc., whereas S thought lecturers should be paid according to the attendance at their lectures. There are arguments for both positions (tenure and independence vs utility) but J’s comments on Scottish universities need to be read with this conflict in mind. And remember that Scotland had at the time J & S were writing 4 universities, England only 2. (And let’s not think about the Test Acts etc.)
    Lessons for today: J was ultra-conservative but loved his fellow man and gave his money to poor people whenever he had any; he had been poor, and he understood poverty: how many of our ultra-conservatives today emulate J?

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