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Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)

JOHNSON, SAMUEL (17091784)

JOHNSON, SAMUEL (17091784), English writer, lexicographer, and critic. Known as "Dr. Johnson," Samuel Johnson was one of the most complex and important figures of eighteenth-century culture. Renowned particularly for his personality, his contribution to eighteenth-century writing is important both for his scholarly knowledge and for his insight into humanity in its moral and social complexity.

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

The son of Michael Johnson, a bookseller with intellectual ambitions in Lichfield, Staffordshire, Samuel Johnson was born in 1709. When he was three, he was taken to London to be touched by Queen Anne to cure his scrofula, which, along with smallpox, caused lasting disfiguration. Johnson was educated at Lichworth Grammar School and read prodigiously, enjoying Latin authors and Renaissance literature. While at school, he wrote several English and Latin poems and essays, and a distant cousin, the Reverend Cornelius Ford, whom he visited in Worcestershire, encouraged his interests in poetry and classical culture. As a student at Pembroke College, Oxford, Johnson translated Alexander Pope's "Messiah" into Latin verse, and the poem was published in 1731.

Due to the family's increasing poverty, Johnson completed only one year toward his degree at Oxford, a prevailing source of unhappiness throughout his life. Faced with unemployment, Johnson grudgingly helped in his father's bookshop for two years. The drudgery was compensated for by his friendship with the Reverend Gilbert Walmesley of Lichfield, who encouraged Johnson's literary ambitions. Johnson taught briefly at Market Bosworth Grammar School in Leicestershire but quarreled with his employer and moved to Birmingham in 1733. He lived with a former school friend, Edmund Hector, and earned money writing for the Birmingham Journal. He translated the Portuguese Jesuit Jeronymo Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia in 1735. In the same year he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow twenty-five years his senior, and opened a boarding school in Edial, near Lichfield; the school failed, perhaps as a result of the combination of Johnson's indifference to teaching and his physical deformity.

LONDON, JOURNALISM, AND BIOGRAPHY

In 1737 Johnson traveled with David Garrick (a former pupil who was to become the most famous actor of his time) to London, where Johnson was to spend the rest of his life. He found employment as a journalist with the printer Edward Cave, the founder of The Gentleman's Magazine, and later commented, "No one but a blockhead wrote except for money." Johnson almost certainly influenced the journal's development as an authoritative source of information. He contributed book reviews on several subjects and wrote reports of parliamentary debates (a forbidden practice) under the title of Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia, which was a blend of both fact and Johnson's own views presented in his own words. After writing satirical pamphlets that were critical of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Johnson went into hiding in Lambeth under a false name because his arrest had been ordered.

Johnson secured literary success with London, a satirically exuberant poem on the excesses and corruption of London life. Between 1738 and 1744 he also wrote short biographies of historical and naval figures. He helped to catalogue the Harleian library, a collection of books by the first earl of Oxford, writing an influential preface on cataloguing as essential in helping scholarly investigation. Johnson collated The Harleian Miscellany, a series of pamphlets on the political controversies in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, and wrote a preface to his collation. In 1744 he wrote an extended biography, A Life of Richard Savage, a passionately written defense of his friend, a struggling poet who had died in poverty in 1743.

LEXICOGRAPHER, LITERARY CRITIC, AND POET

Johnson's ambition to be an authority on language and literature is realized in his most important work. In 1747, he produced a plan for A Dictionary of the English Language addressed to statesman Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), who ignored Johnson and sent him £10. Johnson wished to provide a work of reference "for the use of such as aspire to exactness of criticism, or elegance of style" (Preface, 1756). His intention was to stabilize the language, for example in usage and pronunciation, but not to impose rigid rules like the dictionaries of the continental academies. Johnson's dictionary elucidates the different meanings of words through close examination of the use of quotations from celebrated and authoritative authors. The dictionary's diversity reflects Johnson's wide reading to find illustrative quotations, which were transcribed with the help of six amanuenses. In a famous letter to Lord Chesterfield, Johnson refused his offer of patronage after the dictionary was published to high critical acclaim in 1755 and an abridgment published in 1756. The abridged version became the standard dictionary until the publication of Noah Webster's in 1828.

The Vanity of Human Wishes, an imitation of the Latin poet Juvenal's tenth satire, was published in 1749; the tone and vision of the poem has been debated by critics as reflecting either pessimism at human vanity or hope for humanity's redemption. Although Johnson was disillusioned with the judgment of theater producers about its value as a tragedy, his play Irene was produced by David Garrick in 1749. It earned Johnson £300. Johnson also established a twice-weekly periodical, The Rambler (17501752), writing critical essays on many topics such as the English novel. Between 1758 and 1760, he produced for the Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette a series of essays called The Idler that were lighter in tone. He also edited and wrote reviews for The Literary Magazine. Opposed to the Seven Years' War, Johnson wrote sporadic pieces attacking the war. To pay the expenses of his mother's illness, Johnson rapidly wrote Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, (1759) a philosophical "Oriental" novella. Because of his scholarly successes, Johnson was awarded an honorary M.A. by Oxford University in 1755 and an LL.D. by Dublin University in 1765. The need to support himself by writing was relieved in 1762, when he (controversially) accepted an annual pension of £300 from Lord Bute's ministry.

JAMES BOSWELL AND LATER YEARS

In 1763, Johnson became acquainted with a young Scot named James Boswell, who became his friend and his biographer. Johnson's expanding social life saved him from the bouts of melancholia and depression he suffered. Acquainted with almost all the leading political and literary figures of the time, in 1764 he formed the Literary Club, whose members included Joseph Banks, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Edward Gibbon, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam Smith, and James Boswell, who recorded their conversations. Johnson befriended Robert Chambers, a lawyer, who asked his help in composing a course of lectures on common law to deliver to Oxford undergraduates. The degree to which Johnson helped write the fifty-six lectures remains undetermined. In the same year he met the Welsh writer Hester Lynch Thrale (later Piozzi), with whom he developed a close friendship, and traveled to Wales and to France with her family. Her Anecdotes of Johnson (1786) and Letters to and from Johnson (1788), as well as her diaries, have provided rich material for Johnson's biographers. In 1765, Johnson finally published an edition of Shakespeare's plays, which is the first variorum edition, providing the notes of previous editors to aid or sometimes correct interpretation. His preface to the edition demonstrates Johnson's excellence at close critical reading.

In 1773, Johnson traveled with Boswell to the Hebrides, recorded in his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and in Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785). At the urging of a number of London booksellers, Johnson agreed in 1777 to write Prefaces, Biographical and Critical to the Works of the English Poets (later known as The Lives of the Poets ), which was published 17791781. The monumental work discussed fifty-two of the most celebrated English writers and displayed Johnson's powers of literary criticism and insight.

Johnson died in December 1784 and was buried in poets' corner in Westminster Abbey. His fame followed him with the appearance of his letters and several biographies after his death, most notably James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).

See also Boswell, James ; Dictionaries and Encyclopedias ; English Literature and Language .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. London, 1755.

. Early Biographical Writings of Dr. Johnson. Edited by J. D. Fleeman. Farnborough, U.K., 1973.

. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssina. Edited by J. P. Hardy. Oxford, 1999.

. Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. Edited by J. D. Fleeman. Oxford, 1985.

. The Letters of Samuel Johnson. Edited by Bruce Redford. 5 vols. Princeton, 1992.

. Samuel Johnson: Political Writings. Edited by Donald J. Greene. New Haven, 2000.

. Samuel Johnson: The Major Works. Edited by Donald J. Greene. Oxford, 2000.

. The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. 16 vols. currently published. New Haven, 1958.

Secondary Sources

Boswell, James. Boswell's Life of Johnson, together with Boswell's Journey of a Tour of the Hebrides and Johnson's Diary of a Journey into North Wales. Edited by George Birkbeck Hill and revised by L. F. Powell. Oxford, 19341964. Important posthumous biographies of Johnson, invaluable for its detail.

Clingham, Greg. The Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson. Cambridge, U.K., 1997. Fifteen essays discussing politics, religion, travel, women, imperialism and many other topics.

Greene, Donald. Samuel Johnson. Boston, 1989. Useful introductory guide to the range of Johnson's work and influence. See also Greene's critical introduction to Samuel Johnson: A Critical Edition of the Major Works. Oxford, 1984.

Hart, Kevin. Samuel Johnson and the Culture of Property. Cambridge, U.K., 1999. Explores the critical emergence of "The Age of Johnson" in relation to Johnson's literary reputation as a public commodity.

Korshin, Paul J., and Jack Lynch, eds. The Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Annual. New York, 1987. Periodical published once a year focusing on Johnson and his influence.

Venturo, David F. Johnson the Poet: The Poetic Career of Samuel Johnson. Newark, N.J., 1999. First monograph focusing on all of Johnson's poetry.

Max Fincher

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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

The writings of the English author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) express a profound reverence for the past modified by an energetic independence of mind. The mid-18th century in England is often called the Age of Johnson.

Samuel Johnson was born in Litchfield, Staffordshire, on Sept. 18, 1709. His father was a bookseller—first successful, later a failure—and Johnson, whom Adam Smith described as the best-read man he had ever known, owed much of his education to the fact that he grew up in a bookstore. Though he lived to old age, from infancy Johnson was plagued by illness. He was afflicted with scrofula, smallpox, and partial deafness and blindness. One of his first memories was of being taken to London, where he was touched by Queen Anne, the touch of the sovereign then thought to be a cure for scrofula.

Johnson was educated at the Litchfield Grammar School, where he learned Latin and Greek under the threat of the rod. He later studied with a clergyman in a nearby village from whom he learned a lesson always central to his thinking—that, if one is to master any subject, one must first discover its general principles, or, as Johnson put it, "but grasp the Trunk hard only, and you will shake all the Branches." In 1728-1729 Johnson spent 14 months at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was poor, embarrassed by his poverty, and he could not complete the work for a degree. While at Oxford, Johnson became confirmed in his belief in Christianity and the Anglican Church, a belief to which he held throughout a life often troubled by religious doubts. His father died in 1731, and Johnson halfheartedly supported himself with academic odd jobs. In 1735 he married Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, a widow some 20 years older than he. Though Johnson's references to his "Tetty" were affectionate, the 17 years of their childless marriage were probably not very happy. Still casting about for a way to make a living, Johnson opened a boarding school. He had only three pupils, one of them being David Garrick— eventually to become the greatest actor of his day. In 1737 Johnson went to London to make a career as a man of letters.

Making His Name

Once in London, Johnson began to work for Edward Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine. Parliament did not then permit stenographic reports of its debates, and Cave published a column called "Debates in the Senate of Lilliput"—the name is taken, of course, from the first book of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels—for which Johnson, among others, wrote re-creations of actual parliamentary speeches. Years later, when someone quoted to him from a speech by William Pitt the Elder, Johnson remarked, "That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter Street."

Johnson worked at a variety of other literary tasks. He published two "imitations" of the Roman satirist Juvenal, London, a Poem (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), transposing the language and situations of the classical originals into those of his own day. In 1744 Johnson published a biography of his friend Richard Savage. A neurotic liar and sponger and a failed writer, Savage had been one of Johnson's friends when they were both down and out, and to such early friends Johnson was always loyal. The Life of Savage is a sympathetic study of a complex and initially unsympathetic man. In 1749 Johnson completed his rather lifeless tragedy in blank verse Irene; it was produced by Garrick and earned Johnson £300.

In the early 1750s Johnson, writing usually at the rate of two essays a week, published two series of periodical essays—The Rambler (1750-1752) and The Adventurer (1753-1754). The essays take various forms—allegories, sketches of representative human types, literary criticism, lay sermons. Johnson constantly lived in the presence of the literature of the past, and his essays refer to the classics as if they were the work of his contemporaries. He has a satirist's eye for discrepancies and contradictions in human life, yet he is always in search of the central and universal, for whatever is unchanging in man's experience. His prose is elaborate and richly orchestrated, and he seems to have tried to enlarge the language of moral philosophy by using scientific and technical terms.

Johnson's interest in specialized vocabularies can be easily explained. In 1746 he had, with the help of six assistants, begun work on a dictionary of the English language. The project was finally completed in 1755. Johnson had originally tried to interest Lord Chesterfield in becoming patron for this vast project, but he did little to help Johnson until help was no longer needed. Johnson wrote Chesterfield a public letter in which he declared the author's independence of noble patronage. Johnson's Dictionary is probably the most personal work of its kind that will ever be compiled; though Johnson received help from others, it was not the work of a committee. His own definition of lexicographer was a "writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge," yet the work bears his personal stamp: it is notable for the precision of its definitions, for its appreciation of the paramount importance of metaphor in use of language, and for its examples, which draw on Johnson's reading in 200 years of English literature.

Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia appeared in 1759, the year of the publication of Voltaire's Candide, a work which it somewhat resembles. Both are moral fables concerned with an innocent young man's search for the secret of happiness. The young Prince Rasselas, accompanied by his sister and the philosopher Imlac, leaves his home in the Happy Valley and interviews men of different kinds in the hope of discovering how life may best be lived. Disillusioned at last, Rasselas returns to his old home. Though Johnson was given to fits of idleness, he could at other times work with great facility; he wrote Rasselasin the evenings of one week to pay for the expenses of his mother's funeral. The work was immediately successful; six editions appeared during Johnson's lifetime and also a number of translations.

Years of Success and Fame

In 1762 Johnson, though he had been anti-Hanoverian in his politics, accepted a pension of £300 a year from George III. A year later he met James Boswell, the 22-year-old son of a Scottish judge. Boswell became Johnson's devoted companion; he observed him closely, made notes on his conversation, and eventually wrote the great biography of his hero. Boswell's Johnson is a formidable and yet endearing figure: bulky, personally untidy, given to many eccentricities and compulsions, in conversation often contentious and even pugnacious, a man of great kindness who delighted in society but was also the victim of frequent black moods and periods of religious disquiet. In 1773 Boswell persuaded Johnson, who pretended a stronger dislike of the Scots than he actually felt, to join him in a tour of Scotland, and there are records of the trip made by both men— Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and Boswell's journal.

In 1764 Johnson and the painter Joshua Reynolds founded a club whose members eventually numbered some of the most eminent men of the time; they included the writer Oliver Goldsmith, Johnson's old pupil David Garrick, the economist Adam Smith, the historian Edward Gibbon, and the politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox. In 1765 Johnson met Mr. and Mrs. Henry Thrale. He was a well-to-do brewer, and in the Thrales' home Johnson found a refuge from the solitude which had oppressed him since his wife's death in 1752. In 1765 Johnson published an eight-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare; in his "Preface" Johnson praises Shakespeare for his fidelity to nature and defends him against the charge that his failure to observe the three classical unities was a limitation on his achievement.

Last Years

Johnson's last great literary enterprise, a work in 10 volumes, was completed in his seventy-second year; it is the Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, better known as the Lives of the Poets. Itisa series of biographical and critical studies of 52 English poets, the earliest being Abraham Cowley; it is a magisterial revaluation of the course of English poetry from the early 17th century until his own time by a man whose taste had been formed by the poetry of John Dryden and Alexander Pope and who was thus in varying degrees out of sympathy with the metaphysicals and John Milton, as he was with the more "advanced" writers of his own time. Even when he deals with writers whom he does not much like, Johnson shows his genius for precise definition and for laying down fairly the terms of a critical argument.

Johnson's last years were saddened by the death of his old friend Dr. Robert Levett (to whom he addressed a beautiful short elegy), by the death of Thrale, and by a quarrel with Mrs. Thrale, who had remarried with what seemed to Johnson indecorous haste. In his last illness Johnson, always an amateur physician, made notes on the progress of his own disease. He died on Dec. 13, 1784, in his house in London, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Further Reading

The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, edited by Edward L. McAdam, Jr., and others (9 vols., 1958-1971, and still in progress), will eventually supersede all earlier editions. The Letters of Samuel Johnson was edited by R. W. Chapman (3 vols., 1952). The Poems of Samuel Johnson was edited by David Nichol Smith and Edward L. McAdam, Jr. (1941). The best edition of Lives of the Poets is by George B. Hill (3 vols., 1905). A convenient one-volume edition of James Boswell's Life of Johnson was edited by Robert William Chapman (1953). Joseph Wood Krutch, Samuel Johnson (1944), is a reliable modern biography. James Lowry Clifford, Young Sam Johnson (1955), is an account of Johnson's life before he met Boswell.

Critical studies particularly recommended are Walter Jackson Bate, The Achievement of Samuel Johnson (1955), and Matthew J. C. Hodgart, Samuel Johnson and His Times (1962). Aspects of Johnson's career and thought are examined in Donald Johnson Greene, The Politics of Samuel Johnson (1960); Maurice J. Quinlan, Samuel Johnson: A Layman's Religion (1964); Arieh Sachs, Passionate Intelligence: Imagination and Reason in the Work of Samuel Johnson (1967); Paul Kent Alkon, Samuel Johnson and Moral Discipline (1967); and Paul Fussell, Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing (1971). A useful guide to the literature on Johnson is James Lowry Clifford and Donald J. Greene, Samuel Johnson: A Survey and Bibliography of Critical Studies (1951; rev. ed. 1970). □

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Johnson, Samuel

Samuel Johnson

Born: September 18, 1709
Litchfield, Staffordshire, England
Died: December 13, 1784
London, England

English author and lexicographer

The writings of the English author and lexicographer (an author or editor of a dictionary) Samuel Johnson express a deep respect for the past combined with an energetic independence of mind. The mid-eighteenth century in England is often called the "Age of Johnson."

Early life

Samuel Johnson was born in Litchfield, Staffordshire, England, on September 18, 1709, the son of Michael Johnson and Sarah Ford. His father was a bookseller, and Johnson owed much of his education to the fact that he grew up in a bookstore. Johnson was plagued by illness all his life. As a child he suffered from scrofula (an infection of the face that causes scars), smallpox, and partial deafness and blindness. One of his first memories was of being taken to London, England, where he was touched by Queen Anne (16651714) (the touch of the ruler was then thought to be a cure for scrofula).

Johnson was educated at the Litchfield Grammar School, where he learned Latin and Greek. He later studied with a minister in a nearby village from whom he learned a valuable lessonthat if one is to master any subject, one must first discover its general principles, or, as Johnson put it, "but grasp the Trunk hard only, and you will shake all the Branches." In 1728 and 1729 Johnson spent fourteen months at Pembroke College, Oxford. Too poor and embarrassed by his poverty, Johnson could not complete the work for a degree. Johnson supported himself with teaching jobs after his father died in 1731. In 1735 he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow some twenty years older than him. Still trying to find a way to make a living, Johnson opened a boarding school, which had only three pupils. One of them was David Garrick (17171779), who would eventually become a famous actor.

Making his name

In 1737 Johnson went to London to work for Edward Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine. Parliament did not then permit reports of its debates, and Cave published a column called "Debates in the Senate of Lilliput"the name is taken from the first book of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels for which Johnson, among others, wrote re-creations of actual parliamentary speeches. Johnson also published London, a Poem (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), two "imitations" of the Roman writer Juvenal (c. 60c.140). In 1749 Johnson completed Irene, a play in verse, which was produced by Garrick and earned Johnson £300 (about $436).

In the early 1750s Johnson, writing at the rate of two essays a week, published two collections, The Rambler (175052) and The Adventurer (175354). He also continued work on a dictionary of the English language, a project he had begun in 1746 with the help of six assistants. The project was finally completed in 1755. Although he received help from others, Johnson's Dictionary is probably the most personal work of its kind that will ever be put together. His own definition of lexicographer was a "writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge," yet the work bears his personal stamp: it is notable for its precise definitions and for its examples, which draw on Johnson's reading of two hundred years of English literature.

Years of success and fame

Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, a moral fable (a mythical story that usually teaches a lesson about life) concerned with an innocent young man's search for the secret of happiness, appeared in 1759. The work was immediately successful; six editions and a number of translations appeared during Johnson's lifetime. In 1762 Johnson accepted a yearly pension of £300 from King George III (17381820). A year later he met James Boswell (17401795), the son of a Scottish judge. Boswell became Johnson's devoted companion and eventually wrote the great biography of his hero.

In 1765 Johnson met Henry Thrale, a well-to-do brewer, and in the Thrales' home Johnson found an escape from the solitude he had experienced since his wife's death in 1752. In 1765 Johnson published an eight-volume edition of the works of William Shakespeare (15641616). In 1773 James Boswell persuaded Johnson to join him in a tour of Scotland, and both men recorded their tripJohnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and Boswell's journal.

Johnson's last great work, the ten-volume Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets (better known as the Lives of the Poets ), was completed when he was seventy-two. It is a series of biographical and critical studies of fifty-two English poets. Johnson was saddened in his last years by the death of his old friend Dr. Robert Levett, by the death of Thrale, and by a quarrel with Thrale's widow, who had remarried with, what seemed to Johnson, inappropriate haste. Johnson died on December 13, 1784, in his house in London, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

For More Information

Bate, W. Jackson. Samuel Johnson. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. Reprint, Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998.

Clark, Jonathan, and Howard Erskine-Hill, eds. Samuel Johnson in Historical Context. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Clifford, James Lowry. Young Sam Johnson. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. Samuel Johnson. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1944.

Lipking, Lawrence I. Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson (1696-1772), American clergyman and educator, was the first Anglican minister in Connecticut and first president of King's College, later Columbia University.

Samuel Johnson was born in Guilford, Conn., on Oct. 14, 1696. His father was a deacon. A precocious student, Samuel acquired a fondness for Hebrew at the age of 6. He was unable to enter grammar school until the age of 11, but at 14 he was admitted to the Collegiate School (now Yale) at Saybrook, Conn. Even before graduating in 1714, he began teaching school at Guilford. When Yale moved to New Haven in 1716, he was made a tutor. For the first 2 years he taught the three lower classes alone, introducing students to the works of two prominent Englishmen—philosopher John Locke and scientist and philosopher lsaac Newton.

However, Johnson's relations with his students were unhappy. A student contingent presented a petition complaining of the "Public Expositions & Disputations & Managements of the Tutors" Johnson was singled out as the worst. Although the Yale Corporation found him guiltless, he tendered his resignation in September 1719 and accepted a call to the pulpit of neighboring West Haven.

Johnson continued to use the growing resources of the Yale library, which had recently acquired the latest English works, including several volumes of liberal Anglican theology. He read and discussed these works with his classmate Daniel Browne and with Yale's new president, Timothy Cutler, and the three developed doubts concerning the validity of the "Congregational Way." In September 1722 the three men announced their misgivings at commencement, launching the "Great Apostasy." Soon after, they sailed to England, where they obtained Anglican ordination. A year later Johnson returned to Stratford, Conn., as the first Anglican minister to the colony and remained the only one for 3 years. On Sept. 23, 1725, he married Charity Nicoll, a widow, and became guardian of her two sons.

The work of propagating and defending the Anglican persuasion in New England consumed 30 years of Johnson's life. As the acknowledged intellectual and ecclesiastical leader of the movement, he was asked to become the head of the new King's College in New York City in 1753. In 1754 he moved his family to New York and began a decade as president of the college.

In a colonial culture of rampant denominationalism, King's College was chartered as a nonsectarian institution with a mixed board of trustees. The only Anglican requirements were that the president always be of the Church of England and that the daily prayers be conducted from the Book of Common Prayer. On Sundays the students attended the church of their choice.

The enrollment was small—only eight boys graduated in the first class of 1758—and the fees were the highest in the Colonies. The boys' median age at entrance was 15, and the attrition rate was high. But this was fertile ground for Johnson. As he advertised in the New York Gazette in 1754, "the chief thing that is aimed at in this college is to teach and engage the children to know God in Jesus Christ, and to love and serve Him in all sobriety, godliness, and righteousness of life, with a perfect heart, and a willing mind."

Johnson taught the first-year class himself so that he might "carry them through the New Testament in its Greek original, and not only make them understand the words but the things, explaining all difficult passages, and giving them a clear understanding of the whole scheme of Christianity." And he ensured that his graduates would have a greater understanding of the "New Philosophy" than he had by devoting three-fourths of the sophomore and junior class curriculum to mathematics and science.

Unfortunately Johnson's personality and probably his well-known disparagement of colonial culture robbed him of success. "He did not figure greatly as a president," wrote President Ezra Stiles of Yale, "but it does not seem to have been for want of Learning. Dr. Johnson was an excellent Classical Scholar—he had few equals in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was good at the Sciences, easy and communicative, was eminent in Moral Philosophy," as he demonstrated in his book Elementa philosophica (1752). Nevertheless, Stiles concluded, "Some Geniuses, with half the Observation and Reading of Dr. Johnson, would make ten times greater Men."

When Johnson's second wife died of smallpox in 1763—a previous outbreak had carried off his first wife, son, and stepdaughter—he lost the heart to continue and retired to his parish in Stratford. He died on Jan. 6, 1772.

Further Reading

Herbert and Carol Schneider edited Samuel Johnson, President of King's College: His Career and Writings (4 vols., 1929). Johnson's work as president of King's College is recounted in Horace Coon, Columbia: Colossus on the Hudson (1947). His importance as a philosopher is ably discussed in Robert Clifton Whittemore, Makers of the American Mind (1964).

Additional Sources

Carroll, Peter N., The other Samuel Johnson: a psychohistory of early New England, Rutherford N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978. □

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Johnson, Samuel (English author)

Samuel Johnson, 1709–84, English author, b. Lichfield. The leading literary scholar and critic of his time, Johnson helped to shape and define the Augustan Age. He was equally celebrated for his brilliant and witty conversation. His rather gross appearance and manners were viewed tolerantly, if not with a certain admiration.

Early Life and Works

The son of a bookseller, Johnson excelled at school in spite of illness (he suffered the effects of scrofula throughout his life) and poverty. He entered Oxford in 1728 but was forced to leave after a year for lack of funds. He sustained himself as a bookseller and schoolmaster for the next six years, during which he continued his wide reading and published some translations. In 1735 he married Elizabeth Porter, a widow 20 years his senior, and remained devoted to her until her death in 1752.

Johnson settled in London in 1737 and began his literary career in earnest. At first he wrote primarily for Edward Cave's Gentleman's Magazine—poetry and prose on subjects literary and political. His poem "London," published anonymously in 1738, was praised by Pope and won Johnson recognition in literary circles. His Life of Savage (1744) is a bitter portrait of corruption in London and the miseries endured by writers. Also of note are his long poem The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) and his essays in the periodical The Rambler (1750–52).

Later Life and Works

Johnson's first work of lasting importance, and the one that permanently established his reputation in his own time, was his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), the first comprehensive lexicographical work on English ever undertaken. Rasselas, a moral romance, appeared in 1759, and The Idler, a collection of his essays, in 1761. Although Johnson enjoyed great literary acclaim, he remained close to poverty until a government pension was granted to him in 1762. The following year was marked by his meeting with James Boswell, whose famous biography presents Johnson in exhaustive and fascinating detail, often recreating his conversations verbatim.

In 1764 Johnson and Joshua Reynolds founded "The Club" (known later as The Literary Club). Its membership included Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, and Boswell. The brilliance of this intellectual elite was, reportedly, dazzling, and Dr. Johnson (he had received a degree in 1764) was its leading light. His witty remarks are remembered to this day. He was a master not only of the aphorism—e.g., his definition of angling as "a stick and a string, with a worm on one end and a fool on the other" —but also of the quick, unexpected retort, as when, while listening with displeasure to a violinist, he was told that the feat being performed was very difficult: "Difficult," replied Johnson, "I wish it had been impossible!"

In 1765 Johnson met Henry and Hester Thrale, whose friendship and hospitality he enjoyed until Thrale's death and Mrs. Thrale's remarriage. In that same year Johnson's long-heralded edition of Shakespeare appeared. Its editorial principles served as a model for future editions, and its preface and critical notes are still highly valued. In the 1770s Johnson wrote a series of Tory pamphlets. His political conservatism was based upon a profound skepticism as to the perfectibility of human nature. Although personally generous and compassionate, he held that a strict social order is necessary to save humanity from itself.

In 1773 he toured the Hebrides with Boswell and published his account of the tour in 1775. Johnson's Lives of the Poets (1779–1781), his last major work, comprises ten small volumes of acute criticism, characterized, as is all of Johnson's work, by both classical values and sensitive perception. Dr. Johnson, as he is universally known, was England's first full-dress man of letters, and his mind and personality helped to create the traditions that have guided English taste and criticism.

Bibliography

Besides the classic biography by Boswell, see biographies by Sir John Hawkins (1787; ed. by B. Davis, 1961; ed. by O. M. Brack, Jr., 2009), J. W. Krutch (1944), J. L. Clifford (1955), W. J. Bate (1977), D. Greene (upd. ed. 1989), R. DeMaria, Jr. (1993), P. Martin (2008), J. Meyers (2008), and D. Nokes (2009); critical studies by W. J. Bate (1955), R. B. Schwartz (1971), P. Quennell (1973), J. T. Boulton, ed. (1978), P. Fussell (1986), N. Hudson (1988), D. Greene (2d ed., 1990), and G. S. Gross (1992); H. Hitchings, Defining the World (2005); R. DeMaria, Jr., and G. J. Kolb, ed., Johnson on the English Language (2005); J. L. Clifford, Johnsonian Studies, 1887–1950 (1951; supplement, 1962); J. L. Clifford and D. J. Greene, A Survey and Bibliography of Critical Studies (1970); D. Greene and J. A. Vance, Bibliography of Johnsonian Studies, 1970–1985 (1987); J. Lynch, Bibliography of Johnsonian Studies, 1986–1998 (2000).

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JOHNSON, Samuel

JOHNSON, Samuel [1709–84]. English lexicographer, critic, poet, and moralist, who achieved through his Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and the model of his own writings pre-eminence in his lifetime as an authority on the language. Such comprehensive scholarly works as his edition of SHAKESPEARE (1765) and The Lives of the English Poets (1779–81) drew, like his DICTIONARY, on an encyclopedic knowledge of the authors of his age.

The Dictionary, commissioned by a group of London book-sellers, was in part a response to a widely felt need in the late 17c and early 18c for stability in the language and for canons of correctness in usage. As a language of scholarly communication, English was seen to lack the permanence and concision of LATIN, and the efforts of the French and Italian Academies in bringing about improvements in the vernacular were known and envied. Proposals, especially c.1660–1710, for establishing an English ACADEMY to ‘fix’ the language had come to nothing, and on publication of the Dictionary he was accorded the status of a one-man academy.

Work on the Dictionary took eight or nine years, and was carried out mainly in the large garret at Johnson's house in Gough Square, London. He is thought to have used an interleaved copy of Nathan Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum as a foundation word list and had the help of some half a dozen amanuenses, who copied out the quotations which he had chosen. Johnson's perception of his task as a lexicographer changed while the Dictionary was in hand. When he published the Plan of an English Dictionary (1747), he saw himself as a verbal critic, condemning barbarous words and expressions, and guarding the purity of the language. But in the Preface (1755), he disclaimed that intention, saying that all the stubborn uncertainties of usage were not to be blamed on him, since his task was not to form, but merely to record the language.

Johnson's influence

The influence of his work on the development of the language has been widely assumed but cannot be proved and is difficult to assess. In particular, it is often held to have fixed English, spelling; printers' spelling had, however, been established largely in the modern form before 1700, and where Johnson differed from it in his dictionary entries (as in words such as logick and errour) his recommended form has often failed to survive. It is nonetheless likely that, through the countless abbreviated and miniature editions running well into the 19c, the Dictionary played a role in propagating a standard spelling among the less literate and in forming and restraining the writings of the educated. Earlier monolingual dictionaries were mainly concerned with ‘hard’ words: the bookish, Latinate, and technical vocabulary of Renaissance English. Except sometimes in providing etymologies, they were non-historical and paid little regard to literary usage. Johnson differed in seeking to illustrate the meanings of words by literary quotation. He favoured the usage of the preceding century, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden alone accounting for a third of all quotations. The arrangement of his citations is chronological, and Johnson commonly surpasses his predecessors in the elegance of his definitions: enchant ‘to subdue by charms or spells’; graceful ‘beautiful with dignity’; insinuative ‘stealing on the affections’. It can be said that Johnson provided a powerful but conservative model of language usage for at least a century after his time. See ENGLISH IN ENGLAND, JOHNSONESE, JOHNSONIAN, JOURNALISM, PHILOLOGY, PHRASAL VERB, PROSE, SPELLING REFORM.

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Johnson, Samuel

Johnson, Samuel (1709–84). Johnson was the son of a bookseller in Lichfield (Staffs.). He attended local schools before spending just one year at Pembroke College, Oxford, 1728–9. His early attempts at teaching failed, but he married the widow Elizabeth Porter at this time (1735). The hard life of Grub Street in London beckoned him next, but it was some years before he was regularly commissioned by Edward Cave, proprietor of the Gentleman's Magazine, to report parliamentary debates and undertake book translations. Johnson wrote his fine poem London at this time (1738), containing the line, ‘Slow rises worth, by poverty depressed.’ In 1746–55 Johnson worked on his Dictionary, the first full collation of the English language and a masterpiece of prose. He composed The Vanity of Human Wishes in 1749 and lost his wife three years later. To pay for his mother's funeral, Johnson wrote Rasselas (1759) in one week; it is possibly his finest work, a profound novel upon ‘the choice of life’. Between the larger works Johnson composed periodical moral essays under the title of the Rambler, the Idler, and the Adventurer. In 1762, Lord Bute bestowed upon Johnson a pension of £300 a year, ending his financial difficulties. He met Boswell in the following year, received a doctorate from Dublin in 1765, and met George III in 1767. After receiving his pension Johnson's literary output was smaller, but he produced his masterly edition of Shakespeare (1765), Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), undertaken with Boswell, and Lives of the Poets (1779–81). In addition, he wrote a number of political pamphlets in defence of the government, most notably its policy towards the American revolutionaries. Johnson's religious writings were published posthumously as Prayers and Meditations (1785), underlining his reputation as a devout Christian.

Much of Johnson's fame comes from his personality and conversation. To list his friends is to list many of the leading cultural figures of the 18th cent., painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, novelist Oliver Goldsmith, politician Edmund Burke, and actor David Garrick. All of these were members of the celebrated Literary Club, of which Johnson was a founder; many of the splendid discussions that took place there were recorded by Boswell in his incomparable Life of Johnson (1791). Johnson was a ferocious opponent in debate, but kind and understanding in daily life, loyal to friends, and sympathetic to their shortcomings. His house in London was filled with the needy and upon his death he bequeathed it to his black servant Frank Barber. Johnson was plagued by depression, loneliness, and ill-health, but fought valiantly against them, aided by Hester Thrale, perhaps his closest friend. Politically, he was a Tory, but despite declaring, ‘the first Whig was the Devil,’ he had many Whig friends. To many Samuel Johnson has become the personification of the 18th cent.

Andrew Iain Lewer

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Johnson, Samuel (American clergyman, educator, and philosopher)

Samuel Johnson, 1696–1772, American clergyman, educator, and philosopher, b. Guilford, Conn., grad. Collegiate School (now Yale), 1714; father of William Samuel Johnson. He became a Congregationalist minister, but in 1722 joined the Church of England. In 1724 he opened the first Anglican church in Connecticut at Stratford, remaining its minister until 1754, when he became the first president of an Anglican institution, King's College (now Columbia), in New York City. He resigned in 1763 to return to Stratford. A friend and correspondent of the English philosopher George Berkeley, Johnson became the principal exponent in America of Berkeleian idealism. His chief work was Ethica (1746), republished in an enlarged edition by Benjamin Franklin as Elementa Philosophica (1752).

See H. and C. Schneider, ed., Samuel Johnson … His Career and His Writings (4 vol., 1929, repr. 1972); B. Redford, ed., The Letters of Samuel Johnson (2 vol., 1994); biography by E. L. Pennington (1938); study by J. J. Ellis (1973).

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Johnson, Dr Samuel

Johnson, Dr Samuel (1709–84) English lexicographer, poet, and critic. Most notable among his prolific array of works is the Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which established his reputation. He also produced a collection of essays, The Idler (1758–61), and an edition (1765) of the plays of Shakespeare. A discerning critic and trenchant conversationalist, he was co-founder with Joshua Reynolds of ‘The Club’ (1764), later known as ‘The Literary Club’. James Boswell's life of Johnson contains invaluable biographical detail.

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Johnson, Samuel

Samuel Johnson

BORN: 1709, Lichfield, Staffordshire, England

DIED: 1784, London, England

NATIONALITY: British

GENRE: Fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction, criticism

MAJOR WORKS:
Plan for a Dictionary of the English Language (1747)
The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749)
Preface to a Dictionary of the English Language (1755)
The Idler (1758–1760)
The Patriot (1774)

Overview

Perhaps the best-known and most often-quoted English writer after William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson ranks as England's major literary figure of the second half of the eighteenth century. He is remembered as a witty conversationalist who dominated the literary scene of London and the man immortalized by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791). Known in his day as the “Great Cham (sovereign or monarch) of Literature,”

Johnson displayed a vigorous reasoning intelligence, a keen understanding of human frailty, and a deep Christian morality.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Early Access to Books Born in Lichfield in 1709, Johnson was the son of Michael Johnson, a bookseller, and his wife, Sarah Ford. The family lived above the bookstore, and Johnson literally grew up among books. He loved to read from an early age and often neglected to help with the shop so he could read. Thus, Johnson grew up with an access to books greater than nearly anyone else at his time in Great Britain, as there were no public libraries in the modern, open, free sense of the word, and book collecting was the milieu of the wealthy.

Published First Translation As a child, Johnson suffered from scrofula (a skin disease which is often a symptom of tuberculosis, a contagious bacterial infection of the lungs). The condition seriously affected his eyesight and disfigured his face for life. Despite the scrofula, he was educated at Lichfield Grammar School and later at Pembroke College, Oxford, but a shortage of funding forced him to leave the latter institution without a degree in 1729, after a residence of only thirteen months. After his father's death in 1731, Johnson lived in Birmingham, where he translated into French A Voyage to Abyssinia, by

Father Jerome Lobo, which he published anonymously in 1735.

In that same year, Johnson married Elizabeth Porter, a widow twenty years his senior. After a failed attempt at running a boarding school, Johnson went to London to make a career as a man of letters. Once in London, he performed editorial work for Edward Cave's Gentleman's Magazine, to which he submitted essays, poems, reviews, and a series of brief biographies. His most notable contributions appeared between 1740 and 1743 and were titled “Debates in Magna Lilliputia.” These essays eloquently—perhaps too eloquently—re-created parliamentary proceedings and were widely accepted as authentic speeches of the great politicians of the day. At the time, Britain was ruled by the Germanic House of Hanover, whose kings left much of the governing to their ministers. Britain was in the midst of a time of rapid colonial and mercantile expansion abroad, and internal stability and literary and artistic achievement at home.

Successful Poet and Prose Writer In 1738, Johnson anonymously published his immediately successful London: A Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal, which contains protests against political corruption and the dangers of the London streets and describes the miseries of the unknown and impoverished author. His Account of the Life of Mr. Richard Savage, published anonymously in 1744, was the first of his prose works to captivate the public. Today, it is admired for its lively depiction of Grub Street life and is considered a milestone in the art of biography.

Shakespeare and the Dictionary Johnson next turned to Shakespeare's work, publishing his Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth in 1745. Miscellaneous Observations also contains a preliminary proposal for a new edition of Shakespeare's plays, but Johnson laid the project aside after it was suggested that he compile a dictionary of the English language.

In 1747, he published his Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language, dedicating the work to Lord Chesterfield—who, in fact, cared little about the project. In 1749, Johnson published his second Juvenalian imitation, “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” in which the personal vicissitudes of scholars, philosophers, and legislators from the modern and ancient worlds are used to illustrate the pitfalls of political ambition, the uselessness of military conquest, and the anguish that accompanies literary production.

Launched Rambler Beginning in 1750, Johnson published a semiweekly periodical, the Rambler, each issue of which comprised a single anonymous essay on contemporary literary and social conditions. Fervently believing that it is the writer's duty to make the world a better place, and to “redeem the time,” Johnson crafted these essays in various forms: allegories, sketches of archetypal humans, literary criticism, and lay sermons. A few days after the last issue of the Rambler appeared in 1752, Johnson's wife died.

Dictionary Acclaimed During the next few years Johnson confined his literary efforts to work on the dictionary and irregularly contributed to another weekly periodical, the Adventurer, published by John Hawkes-worth. In 1755, Johnson and his secretaries finally finished the forty-thousand-word dictionary, which surpassed earlier dictionaries of its kind, primarily in precision of definition. The dictionary firmly established Johnson's literary reputation and led to his receiving an honorary MA degree from Oxford University. Lord Chesterfield, striving to make amends for his previous lack of regard, hailed Johnson as the supreme dictator of the English language. This action only provoked what is perhaps the most famous of Johnson's letters: a scornful rebuke of Chesterfield's self-serving praise and a defense of his own initiative and industry without the assistance of a patron.

Soon thereafter, Johnson once again focused his attention on Shakespeare, formally issuing his Proposals for Printing the Dramatick Works of William Shakespeare in 1756. Despite the commercial success of his dictionary, which nevertheless failed to relieve his money problems, Johnson continued to write essays, reviews, and political articles for various periodicals.

Launched Universal Chronicle From 1758 to 1760, Johnson contributed a regular weekly essay to the Universal Chronicle. These essays, appearing under the heading “The Idler,” exhibit the moralist and social reformist perspectives of the Rambler pieces but also treat the lighter side of the human condition through comical character sketches. In 1759, informing his printer that he had “a thing he was preparing for the press” to defray the expense of his mother's impending funeral, Johnson wrote The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) in the evenings of one week.

The Literary Club In 1762, King George III conferred upon Johnson a pension of three hundred pounds Sterling a year, thereby relieving him of the drudgery of hackwork. The next year, his accidental meeting with Boswell in Thomas Davies's bookshop in Covent Garden inaugurated one of the most famous literary companionships in history. Boswell's diary entry recording the event noted that Johnson's “conversation is as great as his writing.” In 1764, Johnson gladly concurred with Joshua Reynolds's proposal for the founding of what still ranks as the most famous London dining club of all time. Simply called The Club, it was later known as the Literary Club.

Besides Johnson and Reynolds, the original members were Edmund Burke, Topham Beauclerk, Bennet Lang-ton, and Oliver Goldsmith. Eventually Boswell, Edward Gibbon, Charles James Fox, and several others were admitted as members. At meetings of the Club, Johnson uttered many of his renowned epigrams and opinions.

Indeed, Reynolds once admitted that the Club was formed primarily to give Johnson a forum to express himself verbally and in company.

The following year, Johnson's Plays of William Shakespeare appeared in eight volumes—eleven years after being proposed. A lifelong student of Shakespeare, Johnson corrected textual corruptions, elucidated obscurities of language, and examined Shakespeare's textual sources.

Beyond Literature Although he continued writing prologues and dedications for friends, Johnson no longer devoted his work exclusively to problems of literature and ethics. Instead, he expounded his essentially pragmatic political philosophy in a series of pamphlets on the power politics of English and French colonialism, most notably in The False Alarm (1770), The Patriot (1774), and Taxation No Tyranny; an Answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress (1775). The last-named polemic, perhaps his most vociferous outburst against colonial American claims, was written in reply to the resolutions passed by the American Continental Congress of 1774. In 1775, the American colonies official began revolting, marking the beginning of the American Revolution and the eventual loss of the North American colonies that would soon make up the United States of America.

Enjoying unprecedented leisure in the mid-1770s, Johnson extensively toured Great Britain and visited the Continent. Having traveled to Scotland and the Hebrides with Boswell in 1773, Johnson published his impressions two years later in A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), which describes the customs, religion, education, commerce, and agriculture of eighteenth-century Highland society. Johnson also traveled with his good friends Henry and Hester Thrale to North Wales in 1774 and to France in 1775.

Poet Biographies In 1777 Johnson agreed to write biographical prefaces for an “elegant and accurate” edition of the works of English poets, ranging from the time of John Milton onwards. Instead, his prefaces were separately issued as The Lives of the English Poets (1781). This ten-volume work contains fifty-two essays and a wealth of biographical material.

In 1783, Johnson had a paralytic stroke that left him seriously debilitated until the spring of the following year. After visiting his native Lichfield for the last time in the summer of 1784, he returned to London in November, and although his physical condition had considerably worsened, his mind remained alert. Johnson died on December 13, 1784.

Works in Literary Context

Johnson—poet, dramatist, journalist, satirist, biographer, essayist, lexicographer, editor, translator, critic, parliamentary reporter, political writer, story writer, sermon writer, travel writer, social anthropologist, prose stylist, conversationalist, Christian—dominates the eighteenth-century

English literary scene as his contemporary, the equally versatile and prolific Voltaire, dominates that of France. When Johnson's name began to be known, not long after the deaths of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, no challenger arose during the next forty years for the title of preeminent English man of letters. His work encompassed many ideas and themes, including the choice of life.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Johnson's famous contemporaries include:

Voltaire (1694–1778): Voltaire was a French Enlightenment writer and philosopher known for his wit and outspoken support of social reform. His works include the satire Candide (1759).

Edmund Burke (1729–1797): Burke was an Anglo-Irish author, philosopher, and statesman who contributed to the development of conservative political thought. His works include Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770).

David Hume (1711–1776): Hume was a Scottish philosopher and economist considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in Western philosophy. His books include Essays Moral and Political (1744).

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790): Franklin was a multi-talented American who contributed to science, politics, and publishing. He began publishing his annual Poor Richard's Almanack in 1733.

Henry Fielding (1707–1754): Fielding was an English author who wrote humorous and satirical novels. His novels include Joseph Andrews (1742).

Edward Gibbon (1737–1794): Gibbon was an English historian best known for his monumental work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766–1788).

James Boswell (1740–1795): Boswell was a Scottish author best known as Johnson's companion and biographer. Boswell published his Life of Samuel Johnson in 1791.

Choice of Life One theme that emerges in some of Johnson's early work is the inevitable unhappiness of human existence whatever choice in life is made. In “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” a verse satire based on the Roman poet Juvenal's tenth satire, Johnson considers mankind's yearnings for the various gifts of power, learning, military fame, long life, beauty, even virtue, and gives a melancholy account, with individual examples, of the misfortunes attendant upon each. The themes of the prose narrative The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, a moral tale set in Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) and

Egypt, focused on a princely young hero escaping with his sister and the poet Imlac from the secluded innocence of the Happy Valley and tries out various schemes of life.

Age of Johnson The eighteenth century has often been called “the Age of Johnson.” To be sure, he had notable contemporaries—Edmund Burke, David Hume, Edward Gibbon—but their literary abilities, formidable as they were, moved in a narrower circle of concerns. Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne received and deserve great acclaim as the founding fathers of the English novel, but their contributions to other areas of writing are less noteworthy.

Almost as prolific as Johnson and as varied in his interests was Horace Walpole, who sometimes expressed aristocratic disdain for the lowborn Johnson, though he never seems to have impinged greatly on Johnson's consciousness. Walpole might be argued to have made a greater impact than Johnson on the following century, in the legacy of the “Gothic” romance and Victorian pseudo-Gothic architecture. But no one has ever suggested calling the later eighteenth century “the Age of Horace Walpole.” It is not surprising that the standard bibliographies of studies in eighteenth-century English literature show Johnson to have been their most popular subject, followed at some distance by Swift and Pope, and at a longer one by Fielding, Daniel Defoe, John Dryden, and William Blake.

Though the phrase “the Age of Johnson” is less used than it once was, Samuel Johnson, whose life spanned most of the eighteenth century and whose writings embraced an astounding variety of genres, remains a central figure in the literary history of the time.

Works in Critical Context

Johnson's reputation as a man of letters rests as much on his life and personality as it does on his writings. This is evidenced by the scope, depth, and sheer bulk of the corpus of Johnsonian criticism, much of which is pure character analysis. Boswell's account of his life, particularly from the time of their meeting onwards, was perhaps most responsible for “Johnsonizing” England, and it fostered an image of Johnson as a gifted and original writer and masterly conversationalist.

Contemporary Criticism Johnson was revered by his contemporaries as a skilled poet, brilliant lexicographer, and sensitive moralist. Critics hailed him as the “new” Alexander Pope upon publication of “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” and Johnson's dictionary, initially well received, remained a standard until the appearance of the Oxford English Dictionary well over a century later. Equally, Rasselas supplemented the popular moral themes of Johnson's earlier Rambler and “Idler” essays while satisfying the tastes of eighteenth-century readers for what Pope termed “impressive truth in fashion drest.”

Critics continued to admire most of Johnson's works in the decade following his death, but in time commentators began to fault Johnson for what they considered his highly Latinate, formal, and overly balanced prose style, as well as for his wordiness and narrow critical method. Some critics singled out Lives of the Poets, chastising Johnson for his harsh appraisal of John Milton and his prejudicial assessments of other works and authors, notably Thomas Gray and his Odes.

Changing Reputation in the Nineteenth Century By the early nineteenth century, Johnson's folk image—the man of Boswell's Life—had come to dominate critical thinking, leaving little room for studies of the works themselves. William Hazlitt evidenced this approach when he wrote in 1818, “His good deeds were as many as his good sayings…. All these, and innumerable others, endear him to the reader, and must be remembered to his lasting honour.” Indeed, this sort of assessment was typical until the last years of the nineteenth century.

When critics did focus on Johnson's works, they generally turned to his dictionary and Lives of the Poets. Leslie Stephen favorably remarked that the dictionary “was a surprising achievement, and made an epoch in the study of language,” while Thomas Babington Macaulay mirrored the views of his contemporaries when he appraised Lives of the Poets: “They are the judgments of a mind trammelled by prejudice and deficient in sensibility, but vigorous and acute.” Similarly, the Rambler essays were dismissed as didactic lay sermons, and other prose works were labeled “unreadable.” Thus, by the turn of the century, interest in Johnson's literary works was at a low point, but the man himself continued to loom large in the minds of readers.

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Johnson often used satire to critique modern social and political conditions and to point out the weaknesses in human nature. Here are some other well-known satirical works:

Gulliver's Travels (1726), a novel by Jonathan Swift. This novel satirizes the foibles of the human condition through a parody of travel writing.

The Devil's Dictionary (1911), a nonfiction work by Ambrose Bierce. This book gives reinterpretations of English words and terms that are meant to satirize political doubletalk.

The Simpsons (1989–), an animated television series created by Matt Groening. This television show satirizes American culture and society through a parody of middle-class family life.

Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Assessment The bicentenary of Johnson's birth in 1909 sparked a

major revaluation of the Johnson canon. Throughout the twentieth century, critical emphasis shifted from the amusing idiosyncrasies and the pointed commentaries of the man to his ethical and moral standards, his appraisals of the human condition, and the breadth, strength, and method of his reasoning. Some scholars noted that Johnson's writings on morals closely anticipated the theories, if not the language, of Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, while others ranked Johnson just below Alexander Pope and John Dryden as masters of heroic-couplet verse. Even Lives of the Poets, the most favorably received of Johnson's works, was reconsidered. No longer perceiving Johnson as a strictly neoclassical critic, scholars contended that he employed an empirical approach in his criticism; some critics have even cited Johnson as the father of New Criticism.

Recently, commentators have turned to Johnson's Shakespearean work, countering a common nineteenth-century claim that, in the words of Heinrich Heine, “Garrick got a better hold of Shakespeare's thought than Dr. Johnson.” Likewise, Johnson's political tracts, long viewed as abusive expressions of his conservative prejudice against the rights of the people, are seen today as an extension of his lifelong concern with political morality and order.

Today, after a long eclipse, Johnson is once again preeminent in the history of English letters, and mention of his name commands reverence in the English-speaking world. According to Malcolm Muggeridge, “Dr. Johnson will go on being remembered, not so much for his achievements as a writer as for the mysterious quality of greatness that he exudes.”

Responses to Literature

  1. At one point in his career, Johnson was granted a pension by the king of England. How did this work-free source of income change Johnson's approach to writing? Does a writer like Johnson benefit from a pension or does it have a negative effect on his work? Write a paper that outlines your findings and conclusions.
  2. Johnson wrote in many different genres and had an extremely diverse literary output. Is it better for a writer to focus on only one or two types of writing, or does a more diverse career such as Johnson's produce better writing all around? If you were a writer, would you focus on one form or cast a wide net? Create a presentation that outlines your theories.
  3. Choose a favorite author and write a short literary and critical biography modeled after Johnson's style in Lives of the Poets.
  4. Write a story about a modern celebrity that uses satire to make a political or moral point.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Alkon, Paul K. Samuel Johnson and Moral Discipline. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1967.

Bate, W. Jackson. Samuel Johnson. New York: Harcourt, 1977.

Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.. London: Charles Dilly, 1791.

Chapin, Chester F. The Religious Thought of Samuel Johnson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

Folkenflik, Robert. Samuel Johnson, Biographer. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Gray, James. Johnson's Sermons: A Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

Greene, Donald. The Politics of Samuel Johnson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960.

Hagstrum, Jean H. Samuel Johnson's Literary Criticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1952.

Korshin, Paul J., ed. Johnson after Two Hundred Years. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. Samuel Johnson. New York: Holt, 1944.

Schwartz, Richard B. Samuel Johnson and the New Science. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971.

Voitle, Robert. Samuel Johnson the Moralist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961.

Wain, John. Samuel Johnson. New York: Viking, 1975.

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Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)

JOHNSON, SAMUEL
(17091784)

Samuel Johnson, the English man of letters, poet, lexicographer, moralist, and humanist, was born in Lichfield, the son of an indigent bookseller. After his early education at Lichfield Grammar School, he tried schoolmastering for a brief period. In 1728 he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, but was compelled to leave the following year because of lack of funds. As a child he had suffered from scrofula and later from melancholia, a mental illness that plagued him throughout life, at times pushing him to the brink of insanity. In 1735 he married Mrs. Henry Porter, a widow who was twenty years his senior. After more futile attempts at schoolmastering, Johnson set out for London on horseback in 1737, taking with him one of his pupils, David Garrick. A journalist and hack writer par excellence, Johnson wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine and in addition produced poetry, essays, biographies, translations, a play, a proposal for a new edition of William Shakespeare, and a proposal for a new dictionary. As a "harmless drudge" he labored from 1746 to 1755 on the Dictionary of the English Language, a work that established the practice of elucidating definition of words by quotations from leading authors. Its appearance brought him fame and belated honorary doctorates from Dublin (1765) and Oxford (1775), but little money. Johnson's famous letter of 1755 to Lord Chesterfield repudiated the system of personal patronage. In 1762, however, despite the fact that he had defined "pension" as "pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country," he set aside his scruples to accept a pension from George III.

The Rambler (17501752) and The Idler (17581760) essays, although acclaimed as literature and as statements on morality, were hardly successful financially. The novel Rasselas (1759) was well received, as were the edition of Shakespeare (1765), A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), and finally, The Lives of the English Poets (17791781). Johnson's political publications, The False Alarm (1770), Thoughts on The Late Transactions Respecting The Falkland Islands (1771), and Taxation No Tyranny (1775), were, on the contrary, mere diatribes and did him no credit. Yet the charge that they were written as repayment for his pension has no foundation in fact. His general theory of politics was close to that of Edmund Burke: conservative, traditional, and distrustful of all popular upheavals.

With a royal pension of £300 a year, poverty and Grubstreeting were over, and Johnson was able to indulge more freely his social proclivities and his desire to travel. The meetings with James Boswell in 1763, and with the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Henry Thrale in 1764, and the founding of "The Club" in the same year, were happy omens of the new life. Charter members of "The Club" included Joshua Reynolds (who originated the idea), Edmund Burke, and Oliver Goldsmith. Later members of note included Boswell, Garrick, Thomas Warton, Bishop Percy, Sheridan, Fox, Edward Gibbon, and Adam Smith.

Johnson has been immortalized by his great biographer Boswell in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson (1791), The Life of Samuel Johnson (1785), and in present times in the ever increasing number of volumes based upon Boswell's private journals and papers now in the archives of Yale University. Boswell's ability to draw Johnson out in conversation has presented posterity with a wide panorama of the latter's opinions and beliefs. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that more intimate details are known about both Johnson and Boswell than about any other persons of that or any previous age. As he grew older Johnson mellowed considerably; he was no longer the irascible, bitter, and not infrequently rude man of earlier years. Although he loved life, he feared deathdespite (or perhaps because of) a deep religious faith. As he once put it, life is everywhere "supported with impatience and quitted with reluctance." He died in 1784 after a prolonged and painful siege of the dropsy. His last words are said to have been, Iam moriturus, "I who am about to die." He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Religion and Morality

Johnson acknowledged an early predilection for becoming a metaphysician, but instead he became a philosopher, in the wider sense of a thinking man struggling with the problems of life, death, and immortality. A notable excursion into the realm of metaphysics, however, is his 10,000-word critical review of Soame Jenyns's Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil (1757). The rationalistic optimism inherent in the Great Chain of Beingan optimism wherein whatever is conceivable must exist (a concept justifying the necessity of evil)was to Johnson morally monstrous as well as metaphysically illogical. It is illogical because however many links there may be in the Chain, from the Godhead at the one extreme to the lowliest atom at the other, it is always possible to conceive of gaps between the links ad infinitum. The morality of justifying poverty and pain as cosmologically necessary was monstrous to a humanist who had personally suffered both poverty and pain. Although God may move in a mysterious way his wonders to perform, it is idle to be told by a metaphysician that in some mysterious way evil in reality is good. It is small comfort to be complacently informed that poverty is merely the want of riches, and that, just as man has animals for food and diversion, so beings superior to man may be privileged to deceive, torment, or destroy man simply for the sake of utility or pleasure. In short, it was Johnson's belief that "life must be seen, before it can be known." His philosophical novel Rasselas, a fictional assault on metaphysical optimism, again exemplifies Johnson's favorite admonition, "Clear your mind of cant."

Johnson never systematized his thinking on morality and religion and consequently exhibits many inconsistencies. An ardent Christian and Anglican high-churchman, although not a regular churchgoer, he was forever seeking further evidence and reasons that would bolster his will to believe. He held that every man is entitled to liberty of conscience, but not necessarily the liberty of talking, preaching, or publishing. It is the prerogative of the magistrate to prohibit what he deems politically injurious to the society over which he presides. If the magistrate is morally or theologically wrong in his prohibitions, then truth may suffer. Consequently, the only way in which religious truth can be established is by martyrdom. In the persecution of a martyr, the magistrate is right politically and the martyr is right morally and religiously.

Johnson was afraid of death not only because he was fond of life (even though he held a tragic sense of life), but also because he was acutely aware of the wages of sin. The occasional sermons that Johnson composed for clerical friends and acquaintances (frequently for a fee) are revealing as expressions of his views on specific theological issues. On a deeply intimate level, the "Prayers and Meditations" (begun in 1729 while he was still at Oxford and continued until a few days before his death) provide poignant evidence of repeated resolutions to reform his mode of living (that is, his habitual indolence), to steel himself against religious doubts, scruples, and fear of damnation, and to purge his mind of morbidity and the dread of recurring insanity.

Johnson claimed that we know the distinction between right and wrong by reason; from experience he also knew the difficulties that man encounters in trying to live the life of virtue. Accordingly, he felt the necessity of a mandate from Christian revelationbut never, to be sure, in the sense of the personal "enthusiasm" of seventeenth-century Puritans or eighteenth-century evangelists. He was thus both a rationalist and fideist, but the former tempered by a healthy empiricism and the latter by the requirement of "works." On the one hand, he had unbounded admiration for the Anglican rationalist theologian, Samuel Clarke (16751729), and on the other, for the nonjuring pietist and mystic, William Law (16861761), neither of whom qualify as orthodox. The sermons of Clarke provided Johnson with rational treatment of thorny theological problems; for example, Law's Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) augmented faith through a reason that provides spiritual light. Johnson was sufficiently the ethical rationalist (with the qualifications mentioned above) to oppose the nonrational moralists of sentiment or moral sense, such as the earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, Joseph Butler, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Johnson, like Thomas Hobbes, did not consider benevolence or the will to do good to others a natural instinct. Charity, however, as a requisite Christian virtue, Johnson practiced religiously throughout his life. The desire for fame, he maintained in a Rambler essay, is basically the desire of "filling" the minds of others. Johnson achieved fame as a didactic writer and moralist who regarded the end and the rites of religion as divinely instituted for "the perpetual renovation of the motives to virtue." This concept of religious need and Christian stoicism received its most memorable poetical statement in one of Johnson's earliest works, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749); it was a statement that was to be reaffirmed countless times throughout his life.

See also Burke, Edmund; Butler, Joseph; Clarke, Samuel; Fideism; Gibbon, Edward; Hobbes, Thomas; Hume, David; Hutcheson, Francis; Law, William; Rationalism; Shaftesbury, Third Earl of (Anthony Ashley Cooper); Smith, Adam.

Bibliography

works by johnson

The Letters of Samuel Johnson, 3 vols. Edited by R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.

The Poems of Samuel Johnson. Edited by D. N. Smith and E. L. McAdam. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941.

The Works of Samuel Johnson, 9 vols. Oxford: Talboys and Wheeler, 1825.

Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson. Edited by Allan T. Hazen et al. 13 vols. to date. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1958.

works by boswell

Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson. Edited by F. A. Pottle and C. H. Bennet. New York: Viking Press, 1936.

Boswell's Life of Johnson, 6 vols. Edited by G. B. Hill; revised by L. F. Powell. Oxford, 19341950.

modern studies

Bate, Walter J. The Achievement of Samuel Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Cairns, W. T. The Religion of Dr. Johnson and Other Essays. London: Oxford University Press, 1946.

Clifford, James L. Young Sam Johnson. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955.

Hinnant, Charles H. Samuel Johnson: An Analysis. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Hodgart, M. J. C. Samuel Johnson and His Times. London: B. T. Batsford, 1962.

Hudson, Nicholas. Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Krutch, Joseph W. Samuel Johnson. New York: Holt, 1944.

Quinlan, Maurice J. Samuel Johnson: A Layman's Religion. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964.

Schwartz, Richard B. Samuel Johnson and the New Science. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971.

Schwartz, Richard B. Samuel Johnson and the Problem of Evil. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975.

Sushko, S A. "Samuel Johnson as Moralist." Soviet Studies in Philosophy 25 (1986): 87104.

Temmer, Mark J. Samuel Johnson and Three Infidels: Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Voitle, Robert. Samuel Johnson the Moralist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961.

Wahba, Magdi, ed. Johnsonian Studies, 37113. Cairo: Socíeté orientale de publicité, 1962. Six essays treat Johnson's religion and morality.

Wilcox, Lance. "The Religious Psychology of Samuel Johnson." Ultimate Reality and Meaning 21 (3) (1998): 160176.

Ernest Campbell Mossner (1967)

Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)

Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)

Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784)

The writings of the English author and lexicographer express a profound reverence for the past modified by an energetic independence of mind. The mid-18th century in England is often called the Age of Johnson.

Samuel Johnson was born in Litchfield, Staffordshire, on September 18, 1709. His father was a bookseller—first successful, later a failure—and Johnson, whom Adam Smith described as the best-read man he had ever known, owed much of his education to the fact that he grew up in a bookstore. Though he lived to old age, from infancy Johnson was plagued by illness. He was afflicted with scrofula, smallpox, and partial deafness and blindness. One of his first memories was of being taken to London, where he was touched by Queen Anne, the touch of the sovereign then thought to be a cure for scrofula.

Johnson was educated at the Litchfield Grammar School, where he learned Latin and Greek under the threat of the rod. He later studied with a clergyman in a nearby village from whom he learned a lesson always central to his thinking that, if one is to master any subject, one must first discover its general principles, or, as Johnson put it, "but grasp the Trunk hard only, and you will shake all the Branches." In 1728–29 Johnson spent 14 months at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was poor, embarrassed by his poverty, and he could not complete the work for a degree. While at Oxford, Johnson became confirmed in his belief in Christianity and the Anglican Church, a belief to which he held throughout a life often troubled by religious doubts. His father died in 1731, and Johnson halfheartedly supported himself with academic odd jobs. In 1735 he married Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, a widow some 20 years older than he. Though Johnson's references to his "Tetty" were affectionate, the 17 years of their childless marriage were probably not very happy. Still casting about for a way to make a living, Johnson opened a boarding school. He had only three pupils, one of them being David Garrick—eventually to become the greatest actor of his day. In 1737 Johnson went to London to make a career as a man of letters.


Making His Name. Once in London, Johnson began to work for Edward Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine. Parliament did not then permit stenographic reports of its debates, and Cave published a column called "Debates in the Senate of Lilliput"—the name is taken, of course, from the first book of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels—for which Johnson, among others, wrote re-creations of actual parliamentary speeches. Years later, when someone quoted to him from a speech by William Pitt the Elder, Johnson remarked, "That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter Street."

Johnson worked at a variety of other literary tasks. He published two "imitations" of the Roman satirist Juvenal, London, a Poem (1738) and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), transposing the language and situations of the classical originals into those of his own day. In 1744 Johnson published a biography of his friend Richard Savage. A neurotic liar and sponger and a failed writer, Savage had been one of Johnson's friends when they were both down and out, and to such early friends Johnson was always loyal. The Life of Savage is a sympathetic study of a complex and initially unsympathetic man. In 1749 Johnson completed his rather lifeless tragedy in blank verse Irene; it was produced by Garrick and earned Johnson £300.

In the early 1750s Johnson, writing usually at the rate of two essays a week, published two series of periodical essays The Rambler (1750–1752) and The Adventurer (1753–1754). The essays take various forms—allegories, sketches of representative human types, literary criticism, lay sermons. Johnson constantly lived in the presence of the literature of the past, and his essays refer to the classics as if they were the work of his contemporaries. He has a satirist's eye for discrepancies and contradictions in human life, yet he is always in search of the central and universal, for whatever is unchanging in man's experience. His prose is elaborate and richly orchestrated, and he seems to have tried to enlarge the language of moral philosophy by using scientific and technical terms.

Johnson's interest in specialized vocabularies can be easily explained. In 1746 he had, with the help of six assistants, begun work on a dictionary of the English language. The project was finally completed in 1755. Johnson had originally tried to interest Lord Chesterfield in becoming patron for this vast project, but he did little to help Johnson until help was no longer needed. Johnson wrote Chesterfield a public letter in which he declared the author's independence of noble patronage. Johnson's Dictionary is probably the most personal work of its kind that will ever be compiled; though Johnson received help from others, it was not the work of a committee. His own definition of lexicographer was a "writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge," yet the work bears his personal stamp: it is notable for the precision of its definitions, for its appreciation of the paramount importance of metaphor in use of language, and for its examples, which draw on Johnson's reading in 200 years of English literature.

Johnson's Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia appeared in 1759, the year of the publication of Voltaire's Candide, a work which it somewhat resembles. Both are moral fables concerned with an innocent young man's search for the secret of happiness. The young Prince Rasselas, accompanied by his sister and the philosopher Imlac, leaves his home in the Happy Valley and interviews men of different kinds in the hope of discovering how life may best be lived. Disillusioned at last, Rasselas returns to his old home. Though Johnson was given to fits of idleness, he could at other times work with great facility; he wrote Rasselas in the evenings of one week to pay for the expenses of his mother's funeral. The work was immediately successful; six editions appeared during Johnson's lifetime and also a number of translations.


Years of Success and Fame. In 1762 Johnson, though he had been anti-Hanoverian in his politics, accepted a pension of £300 a year from George III. A year later he met James Boswell, the 22-year-old son of a Scottish judge. Boswell became Johnson's devoted companion; he observed him closely, made notes on his conversation, and eventually wrote the great biography of his hero. Boswell's Johnson is a formidable and yet endearing figure: bulky, personally untidy, given to many eccentricities and compulsions, in conversation often contentious and even pugnacious, a man of great kindness who delighted in society but was also the victim of frequent black moods and periods of religious disquiet. In 1773 Boswell persuaded Johnson, who pretended a stronger dislike of the Scots than he actually felt, to join him in a tour of Scotland, and there are records of the trip made by both men—Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and Boswell's journal.

In 1764 Johnson and the painter Joshua Reynolds founded a club whose members eventually numbered some of the most eminent men of the time; they included the writer Oliver Goldsmith, Johnson's old pupil David Garrick, the economist Adam Smith, the historian Edward Gibbon, and the politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox. In 1765 Johnson met Mr. and Mrs. Henry Thrale. He was a well-to-do brewer, and in the Thrales home Johnson found a refuge from the solitude which had oppressed him since his wife's death in 1752. In 1765 Johnson published an eight-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare; in his "Preface" Johnson praises Shakespeare for his fidelity to nature and defends him against the charge that his failure to observe the three classical unities was a limitation on his achievement.

Last Years. Johnson's last great literary enterprise, a work in 10 volumes, was completed in his seventy-second year; it is the Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, better known as the Lives of the Poets. It is a series of biographical and critical studies of 52 English poets, the earliest being Abraham Cowley; it is a magisterial revaluation of the course of English poetry from the early 17th century until his own time by a man whose taste had been formed by the poetry of John Dryden and Alexander Pope and who was thus in varying degrees out of sympathy with the metaphysicals and John Milton, as he was with the more "advanced" writers of his own time. Even when he deals with writers whom he does not much like, Johnson shows his genius for precise definition and for laying down fairly the terms of a critical argument.

Johnson's last years were saddened by the death of his old friend Dr. Robert Levett (to whom he addressed a beautiful short elegy), by the death of Thrale, and by a quarrel with Mrs. Thrale, who had remarried with what seemed to Johnson indecorous haste. In his last illness Johnson, always an amateur physician, made notes on the progress of his own disease. He died on December 13, 1784, in his house in London, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

EWB

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Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

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