April 27, 2018

RIchard Cohen on Samuel Johnson and the Attractions of the Law @laphamsquart

Here, for Lapham's Quarterly, Richard Cohen examines Samuel Johnson's unfulfilled desire to become a lawyer. Writes Mr. Cohen in part:

He had great respect for the place of law and a reverence for good lawyers, although he could be merciless about bad ones. In the dictionary, he created 178 new legal definitions and took from other sources a further 154, but his definitions are often with a curve to them. Choosing an authority for the word attorney, he quotes Alexander Pope: “vile attorneys, now an useless race”; he defines lawgiver as a “legislator, one who makes laws,” and this time the authority is Jonathan Swift: “A law may be very reasonable in itself, although one does not know the reason of the lawgivers.” He had a sense of humor and a sense of outrage.

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