Sir Thomas Malory: The Critical Heritage

By Marylyn Parins | Go to book overview

7.

Samuel Johnson

1765

Samuel Johnson (1709-84) was said by Bishop Percy to have been ‘immoderately fond of reading Romances of Chivalry’, and, added Percy, ‘he retained this fondness through Life’ (Boswell’s Life of Johnson, cf. Everyman’s Library edition, London, 1906, I, 20). Johnson also defended the reading of romances by students of history and literature. However, he refers directly to the Morte Darthur rarely in his works.

The first passage below, from the preface to Johnson’s Shakespeare, explains why Shakespeare was obliged to include fabulous or fantastic events in his plots. The second is a note to the line in Henry IV, Part 2, where Shallow refers to taking the part of Sir Dagonet in ‘Arthur’s Show’. Extracts are from the Yale edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, VII, Johnson on Shakespeare (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 81-2 and 506-7.

(a)

The English nation, in the time of Shakespeare, was yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philology of Italy had been transplanted hither in the reign of Henry the Eighth; and the learned languages had been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacer, and More; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner; and afterwards by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was now taught to boys in the principal schools; and those who united elegance with learning, read, with great diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets. But literature was yet confined to professed scholars, or to men and women of high rank. The publick was gross and dark; and to be able to read and write, was an accomplishment still valued for its rarity.

Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. A people newly awakened to literary curiosity, being yet unacquainted with the true state of things, knows not how to judge of that which is proposed as its resemblance. Whatever is remote from common appearances is always welcome to vulgar, as to childish credulity;

-66-

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Sir Thomas Malory: The Critical Heritage
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • General Editor’s Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Caxton’s Preface 47
  • 2 - Wynkyn de Worde Interpolation 51
  • 3 - Tudor Historians on Malory 52
  • 4 - Renaissance Views 56
  • 5 - Two Seventeenth-Century Comments 61
  • 6 - Biographia Britannica 64
  • 7 - Samuel Johnson 66
  • 10 - Early Nineteenth-Century Scholars and Bibliographers 81
  • 13 - Robert Southey 95
  • 17 - Unsigned Review of Wright’s Edition, Christian Examiner 114
  • 18 - David Masson 117
  • 19 - Unsigned Review of Wright’s Edition, Blackwood’s Magazine 120
  • 21 - James T. Knowles 152
  • 24 - Herbert Coleridge 157
  • 25 - F.J. Furnivall 165
  • 26 - Samuel Cheetham 170
  • 27 - Edward Conybeare 173
  • 28 - Edward Strachey 175
  • 30 - A.C. Swinburne and R.H. Hutton 189
  • 32 - Harriet W. Preston 202
  • 34 - George W. Cox 211
  • 37 - Brief References 233
  • 38 - Edward R. Russell 240
  • 39 - Frederick Ryland 252
  • 42 - Andrew Lang 292
  • 43 - Reviews of Sommer’s Edition of Malory 303
  • 44 - ‘An Arthurian Journey’, Unsigned Essay, Atlantic Monthly 314
  • 46 - Other Nineteenth-Century Editors after Sommer 329
  • 48 - Mungo Maccallum 347
  • 50 - G.H. Maynadier 379
  • Index 403
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