Samuel Johnson

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Samuel Johnson

• 1709 -1784
• often referred to as Dr Johnson
• Perhaps because his works are little read today, we tend to see Samuel Johnson (through the medium of Boswell's great 1791 biography, Life of Johnson) primarily as a personality, as a conversationalist, as a great and eccentric character.
• first and foremost a poet, a great moralist and critic, a remarkable lexicographer, a novelist, a journalist, a biographer, a playwright, an essayist, a satirist, a bibliographer, an autobiographer, a diarist, a journalist, a book reviewer, an editor, a scholar, a translator, a sermon writer, and a writer on travel and politics
• he wrote philosophical poems, essays, and classical tragedies, satires in the classical tradition, fiction and criticism in a style which was at once polished, witty, urbane, heavy, Latinate, and ponderous
• He was the literary dictator of his era, and he remains the central figure of what is still called the Age of Johnson — the period between 1750 and 1798 when a still-dominant Neoclassicism and Enlightenment belief in the rule of reason was slowly giving way before the incipient Romantic movement.
• 1775: a portrait by Joshua Reynolds

An Account of the Life of Mr. Richard Savage

o published anonymously in 1744
o The poet Richard Savage (1698-1743) was famous for his disputed claims of aristocratic birth. In 1727 he had killed a man in a tavern brawl, and in 1743, after years of precarious living, he had died in a debtor's prison.
o these sensational materials are used in the Life of Savage for far more serious purposes
o one of the first masterpieces of its author, Savage's friend Samuel Johnson
o Johnson would later insert it into The Lives of the Poets in 1779. It was immediately popular, and, along with its narrative command and power quickly established ...

1744

An Account of the Life of Mr. Richard Savage

The Gentleman's Magazine

o founded in London by Edward Cave in January, 1731
o it ran uninterrupted for almost 200 years, until 1922
o It was the first to use the term "magazine" (meaning "storehouse") for a periodical.
o Samuel Johnson's first regular employment as a writer was with The Gentleman's Magazine.

Debates in the Senate of Lilliput (1741-1744)

o Samuel Johnson's retellings of the debates in Parliament
o Because it was against the law to print transcriptions of the proceedings, The Gentleman's Magazine hired someone to hide in the shadows and jot down skeletal notes, which Johnson transformed into Debates in the Senate of Lilliput.
o The sparse nature of the notes meant that Johnson had to imagine what the speakers actually said, and drape the notes with the rhetoric which politicians might use. Johnson's imagination came into play through his efforts to give each speaker a unique voice.

1741 - 1744

Debates in the Senate of Lilliput

The Rambler

o published on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1750 to 1752 and totals 208 articles
o Johnson's most consistent and sustained work in the English language
o Though similar in name to preceding publications such as The Spectator and The Tatler, Johnson made his periodical unique by using a style of prose which differed from that of the time period. The most popular publications of the day were written in the common or colloquial language of the people whereas The Rambler was written in elevated prose.
o As was then common for the type of publication, the subject matter was confined only to the imagination of the author (and the sale of the publication)
o The Rambler discussed subjects such as morality, literature, society, politics, and religion
o Johnson included quotes and ideas in his publication from Renaissance humanists such as Erasmus and Descartes.
o his writings in The Rambler are considered to be neoclassical

1750 - 1752

The Rambler

Published on 15 April 1755 and written by Samuel Johnson

• English dictionaries were available, but none could compare to the products of the two great continental academies: the Accademia della Crusca, who in 1612 issued its Vocabulario degli Accademici della crusca , and the French Royal Academy, whose members worked fifty-five years in compiling Le dictionnaire de l'Academie francaise (1694), and spent another eighteen years revising it.
A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.
Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary, 173 years later, Johnson's was viewed as the pre-eminent English dictionary. According to Walter Jackson Bate, the Dictionary "easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who labored under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time".

Johnson's Dictionary

15 April 1755

1759

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

o often abbreviated to Rasselas
o published 1759
o is an apologue about happiness by Samuel Johnson
o The book is thematically similar to Candide by Voltaire — both concern young men traveling in the company of honored teachers, encountering and examining human suffering in an attempt to determine the root of happiness.
o Johnson was influenced by the vogue for exotic locations. It was considered by early readers as a work of philosophical and practical importance and critics often remark on the difficulty of classifying Rasselas as a novel. Johnson was a staunch opponent of slavery, revered by abolitionists, and Rasselas became a name adopted by emancipated slaves.

Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets

o 1779-81
o a work by Samuel Johnson comprising short biographies and critical appraisals of 52 poets, most of whom lived during the eighteenth century. It is arranged, approximately, by date of death
o Six of the Lives have been singled out as the most "important": John Milton, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, and Thomas Gray.

1779 - 1781

Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets

Literary Club, 1764

• Johnson presided over and dominated the famous Literary Club, formed in 1764, which created or influenced contemporary literary tastes and styles: its members included Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Bishop Percy, David Garrick, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell, all important figures in themselves.

James Boswell (1740 - 1795)

o a Scottish man of letters, and biographer of Dr Johnson
o born in Edinburgh
o educated to become a lawyer
o Boswell met Samuel Johnson in 1763 and later published an account of a their trip to the Hebrides in 'The Journal of the Tour of the Hebrides'. The book was such a success that he undertook to write Johnson's biography, the 'Life of Samuel Johnson', before he was called to the English bar in 1786.

Hester Lynch Thrale (Hester Lynch Piozzi )

o 1741 - 1821
o was a British diarist, author, and patron of the arts
o Her diaries and correspondence are an important source of information about Samuel Johnson and 18th-century life.

John Wolcot

• Johnson's many lives became the subject of pointed satire. Writing under a pseudonym, John Wolcot penned one of many satires of Johnson's several biographers. Here Sir John Hawkins presides over a lawsuit between Piozzi and Boswell. As the caption, deriding Piozzi's "anecdotic itch," makes clear, the anecdotal style of Boswell's and Piozzi's lives of Johnson was not uncontroversial.

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