I am willing to love all mankind, except an American


With a few exceptions – Walt Whitman called him an “old Octopus” – Americans have been decidedly tolerant of Johnson’s bile, rarely taking his invective at face value. Instead we have looked past the bluster to the character of the man behind it. Without Johnson, America wouldn’t have had its own great dictionary – his collection of moral essays, “The Rambler,” inspired a young Noah Webster to dedicate his life to pursuing “a most exact course of integrity and virtue,” and to compiling his massive American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828. Two hundred and twenty-five years after Johnson’s death, it’s hard not to wonder if the great man’s eloquent venom was actually a case of “protesting too much.” The man whose own fortune was so closely tied to the burgeoning British empire, who roared in defense of the establishment even while charting his own enterprising course, may well have noticed a touch of himself in those ambitious rebels 3,000 miles away.

more from Joshua Kendall at The Boston Globe here.