At last, I have realized a justification for having been an English major (actually I was a music major, but got a master’s in English so I could teach high school). It was so I could use this wonderful Samuel Johnson quote to comment on Susan Collins’s belated decision to speak out in favor of marriage equality, only after the seven-year struggle to achieve it in Maine was over.

Johnson was the author of the world’s first English dictionary (1755), an effort of nine years during which he struggled to find support in the form of patronage for subscriptions to be filled after the dictionary was complete. Like Collins, Lord Chesterfield refrained from offering help when it would have made a difference, jumping in only after Johnson’s work was complete. Here, then, was Johnson’s reply:

“Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known and do not want it.”

I also took four years of Latin, and know that “Dirigo,” our state’s motto, means “I lead.” Of course, leading takes vision and courage, both of which are included in Johnson’s dictionary but seem ill-defined in Collins’ book.

Bernie Huebner


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