In 1911, A.C. Bradley, a Shakespearean scholar, presented ‘‘Jane Austen: A Lecture.’’ In it, Bradley praised Austen’s narrative skill and compared her to Samuel Johnson.
At the beginning of his career, Beckett spent his time in Dublin reading, in his own word, ‘‘wildly.’’ From Johann Goethe to Franz Grillparzer to Giovanni Guarini, he finally settled into a single-minded concentration upon the life and work of Samuel Johnson.
The Life of Johnson (1791), is a biography by James Boswell. Boswell’s biography of his close friend and English poet, Samuel Johnson, was revolutionary in his use of quoted material and vivid details to paint the picture of a living, breathing human rather than a dry historical figure.
Well, Samuel Johnson is still popular for his crushing critique of Donne’s poetry in his ‘‘Life of Cowley’’ (1779). In this famous essay, Johnson used the term ‘‘metaphysical’’ as a term of abuse to describe poets whose aim, he believed, was to show off their own cleverness and learning and to construct paradoxes so outlandish and pretentious as to be ludicrous, indecent, or both.
Again, it was Samuel Johnson, who first called Dryden the Father of English criticism, considered him the English poet who crystallized the potential for beauty and majesty in the English language: According to Johnson, ‘‘he found it brick, and he left it marble.’’
Moral issues dominated critical discussion of Restoration comedy. Critics such as Samuel Johnson and Thomas Macaulay took the high moral road in condemning Etherege’s work, fearing the dangers of ‘‘mixed characters’’ on impressionable young minds. Indeed, this was a view that was common up to the early twentieth century.
Goldsmith furnished The Bee with miscellaneous essays, short pieces of fiction, and book and play reviews for its eight-issue run. One such essay by Goldsmith praising the works of Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett came to Smollett’s attention, and he invited Goldsmith to contribute to his Critical Review.
Goldsmith had a wonderful rendezvous with a coterie of well-known intellectuals led by Samuel Johnson who called themselves The Club (later the Literary Club), a group that included the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, writers James Boswell, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Percy, and actor and theater manager David Garrick.
Goldsmith died at the Temple on April 4, 1774. His death occasioned widespread grief. ‘‘Epigrams, epitaphs and monodies to his memory were without end,’’ wrote Sir Joshua Reynolds in his character sketch. ‘‘Let not his frailties be remembered,’’ *Samuel Johnson declared,* ‘‘he was a very great man.’’
On his Life and Work
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.
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.
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.
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 Langton, 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.
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.
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.
Well, to sum it all up, Samuel Johnson is cited as the most quoted English writer after William Shakespeare.
Citation thanks to - Routledge/Britannica/Gale
Image Courtesy - Bodleian.Ox.Uk