I have begun reading Samuel Johnson’s The Lives of the Poets, a work I have been intending for some time to read.
I think reading gives me the greatest pleasure of all. Here is Johnson on the metaphysical poets:
Their attempts were always analytick; they broke every image into fragments and could no more represent by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature or the scenes of life than he, who dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.” — “Cowley”
Like a biologist or physician examining a tissue under a microscope, I can detect great writing (and tell good from mediocre or bad); can recognize, appreciate, and delight in power and subtlety of exposition, when happily seen, from a sentence or two.
Reading gives me the greatest pleasure imaginable. The above sentence shows why Samuel Johnson is so admired and why he has few rivals as a writer of expository prose.
— Roger W. Smith