To Be Happy at Home Is the Ultimate Result of All Ambition

Samuel Johnson? C. S. Lewis? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous English lexicographer Samuel Johnson apparently extolled domestic bliss. Did he write or say something like the following?

The chief aim of all human endeavors is to be happy at home.

Quote Investigator: In 1746 Samuel Johnson signed a contract to create “A Dictionary of the English Language”, and in 1755 the remarkable two volume product of his prodigious efforts appeared. He worked on other projects during this busy period including a periodical called “The Rambler”. His essay dated November 10, 1750 highlighted the importance of home life: 1

To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Here is a longer excerpt from the Johnson’s essay in “The Rambler”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

The great end of prudence is to give cheerfulness to those hours which splendour cannot gild, and acclamation cannot exhilarate; those soft intervals of unbended amusement, in which a man shrinks to his natural dimensions, and throws aside the ornaments or disguises, which he feels in privacy to be useless incumbrances, and to lose all effect when they become familiar.

To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution.

It is, indeed, at home that every man must be known by those who would make a just estimate either of his virtue or felicity; for smiles and embroidery are alike occasional, and the mind is often dressed for show in painted honour and fictitious benevolence.

In 1942 H. L. Mencken included the passage about home together with a precise citation in his massive compendium “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”: 2

To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labor tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution.
SAMUEL JOHNSON: The Rambler, Nov. 10, 1750

In 1949 the famous fantasy novelist and essayist C. S. Lewis published a collection titled “The Weight of Glory And Other Addresses” which included a speech he delivered previously to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius. Lewis credited a variant saying to Samuel Johnson although he did not employ quotation marks: 3

The secular community, since it exists for our natural good and not for our supernatural, has no higher end than to facilitate and safeguard the family, and friendship, and solitude. To be happy at home, said Johnson, is the end of all human endeavour.

In 1952 the influential newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams included in his collection titled “FPA Book of Quotations” the same excerpt that Mencken used. 4

In 1955 C. S. Lewis wrote a letter that contained the variant expression he employed in his 1949 collection. This time Lewis used quotation marks when he ascribed the words to Johnson: 5

As Dr Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”.

In 1994 “Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values through Stories” presented a discussion of Homer’s “Odyssey” which included another variant statement attributed to Johnson: 6

After all, it is Odysseus’s keen desire to get home that drives the plot. More than a simple adventure story, this prototype of all adventure stories is also about the restoration of family life. It anticipates by twenty-five hundred years Samuel Johnson’s observation that “the end of all endeavor is to be happy at home.”

In conclusion, Samuel Johnson did place the highest value on domestic happiness in a remark published in 1750. Paraphrases have been developed and disseminated. C. S. Lewis employed a variant expression which he attributed to Samuel Johnson during a speech which was later published in 1949. He also used the variant in a private letter that was later published.

Image Notes: Picture of a bust of Samuel Johnson sculpted by Joseph Nollekens circa 1777. Currently located in the Yale Center for British Art; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of the interior entrance of a home in London from RonPorter at Pixabay

(Great thanks to Linda Laird whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to C.S. Lewis quotation expert William O’Flaherty who told QI about the 1949 citation. O’Flaherty noted that the address was entitled “Membership” and was first published, according to Walter Hooper’s bibliography in “Sobornost, No 31, New Series (June 1945), pp. 4-9.” The address later appeared in the 1949 U.K. collection “Transpositions and Other Addresses” which was titled “The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses” in the U.S.)

Update History: On November 11, 2017 the 1949 citation was added. The body of the article and the conclusion were revised.

Notes:

  1. 1785, Harrison’s British Classicks, Volume 1, Containing Dr. Johnson’s Rambler and Lord Lyttelton’s Persian Letters, Issue Number LXVIII (68), Date: Saturday, November 10, 1750, Start Page 155, Quote Page 156, Column 1, Printed for Harrison and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Section: Home, Quote Page 542, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1949, The Weight of Glory And Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis, (Published in England under the title “Transposition and Other Addresses”), Chapter 3: Membership, (An address to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, Reprinted from Sobornost), Start Page 30, Quote Page 32, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1952, FPA Book of Quotations, Selected by Franklin Pierce Adams, Topic: Home, Quote Page 426, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1993 Copyright, Letters of C. S. Lewis: Edited and with a Memoir by W. H. Lewis, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Editor Walter Hooper, Letter to Mrs. Ashton from C. S. Lewis at Magdalene College, Date: March 16, 1955, Quote Page 447, A Harvest Original: Harcourt Inc., New York. (Google Books Preview)
  6. 1994, Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories by William Kilpatrick, Gregory Wolfe, and Suzanne M. Wolfe, Chapter 4: Worlds of Meaning, Quote Page 54, A Touchstone Book: Simon and Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview)