A Biographer at Work: Samuel Johnson's Notes for the "Life of Pope"

A Biographer at Work: Samuel Johnson's Notes for the "Life of Pope"

A Biographer at Work: Samuel Johnson's Notes for the "Life of Pope"

A Biographer at Work: Samuel Johnson's Notes for the "Life of Pope"

Synopsis

"A Biographer at Work: Johnson's Notes for the "Life of Pope" contains an edition of hitherto unpublished notes. Samuel Johnson made them as he prepared to write the text of his biographical preface to Pope for the London booksellers' volumes, The English Poets. About one half of the total study is devoted to an edition of the notes, the usual questions about dating, systems of abbreviation and so on, plus the annotations required to illumine his brief, often cryptic, notes. The Annotations, taken as a whole, establish that Johnson's main source in writing this life, and in constructing his interpretation of Pope's life and character, was Pope's published letters in the texts available to him. The notes also highlight Johnson's hitherto unrecognized original and very important contributions to Pope biography, primarily by their omissions, the topics in which they do not anticipate the manuscript text." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The purpose of this volume is to provide a text of a group of working notes that Samuel Johnson used to record his reading in preparation to write the work we know as the Life of Pope. Since he used a shorthand for recording, and also used the notes as he composed his ms text, it has been necessary to describe the systems of notation that he used to organize them, those that mark intermediate stages in the process of making a preface, and finally the cancellations he used in the actual composition of the ms text. I provide a full working and annotated text of Add. ms. 5994, fols. 159–77. the text of the related set of notes in the Dyce ms collection of the National Art Library appears as an appendix.

We learn from the Add. ms notes that Johnson read more carefully and systematically in the 1751 edition of Pope’s Works (and, incidentally, in the Newcastle ms of Spence) than we have assumed, that Pope’s published letters are the main printed source for “Pope,” and that the lacunae in the Add. ms. 5994 notes direct us to his most important contributions to the already large body of Pope biography. the theoretical models which correspond most closely to his methods of reading, as we infer them from these notes, are those of John Locke and a brief model that Johnson himself sketched in “Pope.” Combined, and read in conjunction with Francis Bacon’s model of how empirical data generate new knowledge, Locke’s model of reading as inferential reasoning and Johnson’s accumulative and combinative model, the two models probably come as close as I at any rate can get to understanding how Johnson wrote this extensive life, working with printed texts and in collaborations with people like Isaac Reed and John Nichols.

The brevity of the Add. ms notes, and especially the large amount of material they bring into play when traced back to particular sources, requires a unique definition of the editor’s province in this volume. the main part of the edition, including annotations, appears as Part I of the volume. As an edition, it has been designed to be complete in itself, so that a reader in search of an edition only need ven-

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