On Studies: A Review

The essay ‘On studies’, by Samuel Johnson was first published in The Adventurer in 1753. It was an effort by the author to introduce to his audience the importance of reading, writing and conversation in the make up of an individual’s personality. The main argument focused on the reference from Bacon which states that: “reading makes a full man, conversation a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

The structure of the essay is simple and organized, with mostly small paragraphs often starting with a topic sentence. However, the sentence structure remains complex throughout the essay. The sentences are very long, with extensive use of strong vocabulary. This not only depicts that the author is very learned, but also that he is trying to create an impression upon the readers. The steady flow of ideas is evident in the writing, as the author talks about reading, writing and conversation, one after the other. This helps the reader into a better understanding of the point of view of the author. The tone of the essay is serious, and also critical at some points, as the writer criticizes the behavior of the intellects and learned people. The author adopts a very evocative way of writing the essay. The overall impact of rhetoric in the essay is persuasive and convincing to the readers.

From the very first paragraph of the essay it is quite evident that the author is being critical of his contemporaries. He does regard them as ‘ingenious’, but suggests them to be considerate about the significance of reading, and the value of considering others opinions and ideas. He is in a way advising his contemporaries to acknowledge the work of earlier people and learn from it, rather than having a stiff approach towards them. An interesting phenomenon to be noticed here is that the author provides a self-example, of following the work of predecessors, as he is referring to Francis Bacon. It can also be interpreted that Samuel Johnson considers Bacon as his role model, as in the essay he justifies the need of reading, writing and conversation among the people, as stated by Bacon. As indicated by the essay text the target audience of the author are his contemporaries, and the people who are in some way or the other related to the work of reading and writing, as well as teachers. It can also be established that the author has targeted learned audience as in a number of places he refers to famous people like; Persius and Boerhaave, about whom the general people must unaware.

There is no general conflict to be observed in the essay, it has a simple orientation that goes about the main theme; of considering general opinions. There is a touch a mild irony when the author talks about the assumed state of libraries; “…filled only with useless lumber…” He suggests that this idea is somehow propagated, and tells about the situation of people who are far from the need of libraries and books. In the very next paragraph the author intelligibly argues that learning from the former generations is essential. He talks about people who tend to say that they learned nothing from the writings of their predecessors. The author considers them prejudiced, and says that such people are unlikely to excel themselves as they can’t ever evaluate their own work, when they never consider any other.

Further in text the author signifies that there are very few people granted with knowledge, and that these people should consider it their responsibility to impart, share and transfer this knowledge, or at least a part of it, to the rest of the mankind. The author becomes critical when he says that people who keep knowledge just stuffed in their heads are useless, “…and he is by no means to be accounted useless or idle who has stored his mind with acquired knowledge…” The author argues that anyone who has accumulated learning should next consider ways to impart it. The author has also with very clear examples, explained the state of people who have reclined to solitude in order to study, learn and write. He thinks these people no matter how intellectual have deprived themselves of the art of conversation. Giving the example of the chemistry teacher who considers his students as clear in mind about chemistry as his own, he tells that actually the teacher himself has forgotten the difference of sate of minds and abilities to learn of different age groups. In another interesting illustration he narrates one of his experiences of attending a lecture of a renowned philosopher, who though well learned, only with much hesitation was able to distinguish two terms.

As the writer says, “Such was the dexterity with which this learned reader facilitated to his auditors the intricacies of science; and so true is it that a man may know what he cannot teach.” The author with much concern is trying to draw attention of his readers to the fact that not only learning, but the ability of expressing one’s knowledge is very important.

Towards the end of the essay the author reconciles the significance of writing and conversation attained through reading. He tells that writing helps determining thoughts, while conversation helps elaborate and diversify them, and this is only achievable through rigorous reading.

The essay by Samuel Johnson with much clarity indulges the readers into considering that success in literary fields largely depends, on reading, writing, conversing and most of all upon being considerate of the opinions and ideas of others. The writer concludes the essay by saying that it should be the aim of every person to attain command over the abilities of reading, writing and conversing, even though it might be bit difficult, but one should keep striving for perfection.