Samuel Johnson tells of his socially stringent travels in an attempt to show similarity in the social follies of all men, even the English. The witty anecdote makes Johnson part of the society he critiques which only aids his argument. While any reader could relate to his silent encounters with the other coach passengers, Johnson uses both silence and speech to create more distance between the travelers. It is Johnson's implementation of this space that creates a fluidity of character between those riding in the coach in Adventurer No. 84.

On the day of our departure, in the twilight of the morning, I ascended the vehicle with three men and two women, my fellow travelers. It was easy to observe the affected elevation of mien with which every one entered, and the supercilious servility with which they paid their compliments to each other. When the first ceremony was dispatched, we sat silent for a long time, all employed in collecting importance into our faces, and endeavouring to strike reverence and submission into our companions.

It is always observable that silence propagates itself, and that the longer talk has been suspended, the more difficult it is to find any thing to say. We began now to wish for conversation; but no one seemed inclined to descend from his dignity, or first propose a topick of discourse. At last a corpulent gentleman, who had equipped himself for this expedition with a scarlet surtout and a large hat with a broad lace, drew out his watch, looked on it in silence, and then held it dangling at his finger. This was, I suppose, understood by all the company as an invitation to ask the time of the day, but nobody appeared to heed his overture; and his desire to be talking so far overcame his resentment, that he let us know of his own accord it was past five, and that in two hours we should be at breakfast.

His condescension was thrown away: we continued all obdurate; the ladies held up their heads; I amused myself with watching their behaviour; and of the two, one seemed to employ himself in counting the trees as we drove by them, the other drew his hat over his eyes, and counterfeited a slumber. The man of benevolence, to shew that he was not depressed by our neglect, hummed a tune, and beat time upon his snuff-box. [2]

The social hierarchy that Johnson sets up in these paragraphs is centered on the breaking of silence with sound, though there is no noise, or dialogue, present. Johnson's language hints that there is something more that the travelers require than a desire to speak to convince others to separate themselves enough from the collective group to respond. The characters drift farther apart and are completely separate entities by then end of this selection despite their group mentality throughout the journey. His efforts to both show little variety in the English and that many social practices are fraud are both carried through this selection with success that can be debated.


1. Why does Johnson give dignity to silence? Why does silence require or create such a hierarchy among the travelers?

2. Johnson writes that the travelers began to "wish for conversation," but the man who tells them the time is said to be unable to overcome his "desire to be talking." Does the change from a need for interaction and one for making noise show a difference between the narrator and the timely passenger? Does the man's need to speak explain why no one did?

3. In the first two paragraphs, the travelers are referred to as a collective group. In the third paragraph they are split and each is described separately. Is Johnson's use of speech to create space and separation in the group effective? Does this attempt include the use of all sounds to create space or is speech alone given that power (tapping the snuff-box)?

4. Johnson opens this essay, "It has been observed, I think, by Sir William Temple, and after him by almost every other writer, that England affords a greater variety of characters than the rest of the world." How does Johnson's example of speechless travel disprove this point?

5. Johnson includes dialogue of his travel companions later on in the essay, but does not use a direct quote from the male passenger referred to in the above selection. What does this do to his argument?

Last modified 21 September 2007