You know what, I doubt whether he’d even get a column in today’s newspapers. No one would dare hire him. If Dr Johnson were writing in modern Fleet Street, his views would be denounced as utterly outrageous. Foreign ambassadors would be constantly on the Today programme, demanding apologies for the insult done to their country.
Polly Toynbee would be in a state of permanent apoplexy. Any newspaper that dared to print his views would face the wrath of the Equalities Commission. It must be admitted – 300 years after the birth of one of the greatest figures of English literature – that some of his stuff can seem outré to the point of unacceptability.
He is not just sexist. He is not just xenophobic. He is a free-market, monarchy-loving advocate of the necessity of human inequality.
Listen to him bashing the Americans. “Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.”
Ireland? Worth seeing, but not worth going to see. The French – a dirty bunch, blowing into the spouts of teapots to make them pour properly.
As for the Scots, they are mainly liars who had no cabbage until Cromwell introduced it. They subsist on horse-food, and the finest sight a Scottish person can see is the high road leading to England. Not even Simon Heffer would get away with that kind of Jock-bashing, tongue in cheek
Samuel Johnson thought the decline in the use of the cane would harm educational attainment. It wasn’t just that he was opposed to women having jobs. He thought it was a bit off for them even to paint or draw. “Public practice of any art, and staring in men’s faces, is very indelicate in a female,” he said; and as for a woman preaching, it “was like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done
You might find some Daily Telegraph columnists who still think like that – but not in print. And no matter how odd some of us look in our picture bylines, Dr Johnson was positively bizarre.