Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds When I was in my early teens, I saw a production in Zulu of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I don’t remember a great deal about it except one impression that it made on me, namely, that literature can transcend time and differences in culture. It was the first time that I had realised this. Afterwards, I came to work as a doctor in different parts of the world and travelled widely. I never encountered a country or a culture which the literature of another country could not, in some way, illuminate, because humanity, although very various, is also one. Dr. Johnson, the great English writer of the 18th century, was a ruthlessly honest observer of himself and a clear-sighted observer of others.
Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds In his philosophical fable, Rasselas, he used his accumulated observation of himself and others to ask the question, what is the good life for man? How should we best live? His answers are simultaneously surprising and obvious, as well as conciliatory to all who are disappointed by the imperfections of human existence. It is testimony to Dr. Johnson’s greatness that a book written in a week more than 260 years ago to pay for his mother’s funeral has never been out of print since. Every page, every paragraph, almost every sentence contains rich material for reflection. I hope you will join me for an exploration of this astoundingly rich work. I think it will repay the effort.