24 August: Johnson’s melancholy and his remedy

He mentioned to me now, for the first time, that he had been distrest by melancholy, and for that reason had been obliged to fly from study and meditation, to the dissipating variety of life. Against melancholy he recommended constant occupation of mind, a great deal of exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, and especially to shun drinking at night. He said melancholy people were apt to fly to intemperance for relief, but that it sunk them much deeper in misery. He observed, that labouring men who work hard, and live sparingly, are seldom or never troubled with low spirits.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765″ by James Boswell

Doctor Johnson was a depressive. He seems to have taken a robust approach to combatting the condition, or learning to live with it. Constant occupation of mind does not mean spending your time thinking about your problems! He was always thinking, reading, writing, an approach that quite a few bloggers seem to follow. He did like his drink though, so must have observed at first hand that over-indulgence was not always the wisest way of spending an evening.

It would seem that Johnson was able to present a brave face to the world, if he had to choose to confess his melancholy to James Boswell. Hope is a virtue that believes that the world is good even when it feels the opposite of that. At such times, endeavour to do what you would do if everything was alright!

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