Attention

We got into an argument whether the Judges who went to India might with propriety engage in trade. Johnson warmly maintained that they might.

‘For why (he urged,) should not Judges get riches, as well as those who deserve them less?’

I said, they should have sufficient salaries, and have nothing to take off their attention from the affairs of the publick.

JOHNSON. No Judge, Sir, can give his whole attention to his office; and it is very proper that he should employ what time he has to himself, to his own advantage, in the most profitable manner.

‘Then, Sir, (said Davies, who enlivened the dispute by making it somewhat dramatick,) he may become an insurer; and when he is going to the bench, he may be stopped,—”Your Lordship cannot go yet: here is a bunch of invoices: several ships are about to sail.”

JOHNSON. Sir, you may as well say a Judge should not have a house; for they may come and tell him, “Your Lordship’s house is on fire;” and so, instead of minding the business of his Court, he is to be occupied in getting the engine with the greatest speed. There is no end of this. Every Judge who has land, trades to a certain extent in corn or in cattle; and in the land itself, undoubtedly. His steward acts for him, and so do clerks for a great merchant. A Judge may be a farmer; but he is not to geld his own pigs. A Judge may play a little at cards for his amusement; but he is not to play at marbles, or at chuck-farthing in the Piazza. No, Sir; there is no profession to which a man gives a very great proportion of his time. It is wonderful, when a calculation is made, how little the mind is actually employed in the discharge of any profession. No man would be a Judge, upon the condition of being totally a Judge. The best employed lawyer has his mind at work but for a small proportion of his time; a great deal of his occupation is merely mechanical. I once wrote for a magazine: I made a calculation, that if I should write but a page a day, at the same rate, I should, in ten years, write nine volumes in folio, of an ordinary size and print.’

BOSWELL. Such as Carte’s History?

JOHNSON. Yes, Sir. When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book.

— Boswell’s Life of Johnson