Proportions

ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies?

JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch.

ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years?

JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years.

ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary.

JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.—

— Boswell

This is the 4th or 5th time I’ve looked up this quote, so I thought I’d better save it.

The context is that Johnson agreed to compile an authoritative dictionary of English by himself, and estimated it would take only three years to complete. In fact it took about 9 years, and he had some assistants to help track down literary usage examples. So, even counting his 11 assistants as full contributors, the proportion is more like 180 to 1600, which is still mighty impressive.