On Samuel Johnson, Music, and Emotion

In the evening our gentleman-farmer, and two others, entertained themselves and the company with a great number of tunes on the fiddle. Johnson desired to have ‘Let ambition fire thy mind,’ played over again, and appeared to give a patient attention to it; though he owned to me that he was very insensible to the power of musick. I told him, that it affected me to such a degree, as often to agitate my nerves painfully, producing in my mind alternate sensations of pathetick dejection, so that I was ready to shed tears; and of daring resolution, so that I was inclined to rush into the thickest part of the battle. ‘Sir, (said he,) I should never hear it, if it made me such a fool.’
– James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, 23 September 1777

The varying reactions that Boswell and Johnson had to the music may, in part, be explained by their training and expectations. A recent study finds that varying types of musical training (or the lack thereof) may influence brain responses. Read the rest here.

 

 

 

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