Before Depression
1660 - 1800

"The true culprit is the mind which can never run away from itself" (Horace): Samuel Johnson and Depression

Professor Serge Soupel University of Paris 3 (Sorbonne Nouvelle)

Nearly deaf and extremely short-sighted, among other infirmities, Samuel Johnson was at a definite physical disadvantage in a world easily impressed by appearances. Some observers of his personality have reached the conclusion that much of his notorious mental unbalance was owing to his bodily imperfections. Whether or not this is the case, it remains that, especially in his later years, he was heavily handicapped by all sorts of ailments. His correspondence, which will be heavily relied upon, shows to what extent he was psychologically affected, i.e., depressed by this condition. He considered his constitutional melancholy, made worse by serious physical discomfort, to be sheer insanity. He regarded himself as 'mad': it will be necessary to look into his appraisal of his own mental states, especially in the face of bereavement, ageing, death. Following this, a survey of Johnson as a provider of mental solace to others by him deemed equally 'mad' will be in order. Consolation of the depressed or dejected was one of his strong points. The mind is ever the enemy: "Let [the man so afflicted] contrive to have as many retreats for his mind as he can, as many things to fly from itself." In the process of the foregoing reflections, a number of questions are addressed regarding the role of imagination, idleness, solitude, etc., and more specifically religion.

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