Petty Human Nature and Adventurer No. 84

Natasha N. Bronn '07, English 171, Brown University, 2003

[Home —> Nonfiction —> Authors —> Samuel Johnson —>Works—>Leading Questions]

In his essay, Adventurer No.84, which is written in the form of a letter, Samuel Johnson questions how people perceive one another and how they attempt to be perceived. His essay opens broadly, discussing the variety of people that can be found in England, and people whose liberty has allowed them to develop into individuals, but then Samuel quickly shrinks the scope of the essay to the small window of a ride on a stage coach. In his stage coach there are a group of strangers riding together on a four day journey. Johnson dissects their each and every move and attempt toward interacting with one another, and by doing so, creates a rather pessimistic view of human nature.

It seems that on the hours of the trip none of the group could find anything to say to one another, as Johnson states "the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say." This is an awkwardness that we all (although living two centuries later) can relate too, having surely experienced our selves on a cab, or a subway ride. One of the brilliant aspects Adventurer No.84 is the amount of real, seldom noticed detail of human interaction that Johnson has in his essay. For example, he describes the way in which the coach-riders pretended to pass the time, in order to make the silence more bearable "one seemed to employ himself in counting the trees . . . , another drew his hat over his eyes, and counterfeited slumber." This is paints the scene of the stage coach ride in colors that we have all seen.

The real statement of the essay comes when the passengers do begin to converse. In the vein of polite conversation they all interject impressive details about them selves, one man that he has just invested twenty-thousand pounds in stocks, another that his three most intimate friends are all judges. Johnson, who writes the essay in the first person as Viator, a man who was apparently in the stage coach, speaks very poorly of the passengers petty attempts to both impress each other, and to act as though they are not impressed with one another's accolades.

Perhaps the best way to categorize Adventurer No.84 is as a social commentary. It vividly, though bitterly, paints a picture of human interaction and insecurity,


1. Throughout the first three paragraphs of his essay, Johnson mentions a number of other authors from the cannon, and learned men. Do Johnson's allusions to other works add to or take away from his essay?

2. On the last page of the essay, in the third to last paragraph, Johnson gives a final inventory of those who were on the coach and their actual professions, from a nobleman's butler (who said that he was "the intimate of nobles"), a clerk of a broker (who professed to deal heavily in funds), to a woman who never claimed any honor or distinction. Which of the passengers is the most impressive, and with which does Viator seem most impressed?

3. In the last paragraph, Johnson writes "Every man deceives himself while he thinks he is deceiving others." Which is the greater disappointment? Which is the greater crime?

main sitemap Creative Nonfiction

Last modified 3 December 2006