Explanations and understandings

Posted by Mike McKinley on Facebook this morning:

Ah, I recognized this as a variant of a quotation I have long admired. From Boswell’s Life of Johnson, courtesy of the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page:

Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, “I don’t understand you, Sir;” upon which Johnson observed, “Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”

This is a passage that a great many people have quoted from memory, so that (memory being the fragile thing that it is) there are many variants of Dr. Johnson’s words around, most of them simplifying Johnson. Quite a few are of the form:

I   have given / can give   you …

an argument / an answer / an explanation / reasons …

but I can’t give you an understanding.

So the card above is in this tradition.

(Occasionally the passage is identified as having been addressed *to* Boswell. That at least gets Boswell into the picture, however incorrectly.)

Note the shift from Johnson’s formulation, in terms of obligation, to the recollections, which are framed as about ability.


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