Samuel Johnson and the Essay

Samuel Johnson and the Essay

Samuel Johnson and the Essay

Samuel Johnson and the Essay

Synopsis

This is the first study to assess the effect of Johnson's essayistic talents on the entirety of his writing.

Excerpt

In the 1750s, Johnson produced his Dictionary, edited and wrote for the Literary Magazine, struggled with his edition of Shakespeare, and brought forth Rasselas, his little prose masterpiece. Amid this hectic activity that involved some of the most significant projects of his literary career, Johnson still managed to find the ideal vehicle for his essayistic talents -- the periodical essay form that Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele had brought to the pinnacle of its popularity early in the century. At a time when the genre had gone into decline, Johnson gave it new life and added dimensions -- particularly in his Rambler -- that it had not really known before and that bore the stamp of his special interests and genius.

Perhaps responding to his reading of Francis Bacon for the Dictionary and surely reflecting his familiarity with Michel Eyquen Montaigne, let alone his thorough familiarity with the early century periodicals, Johnson found the form attractive. He presented the Rambler to the public as an independent essay-sheet from 1750 to 1752. in 1753 and 1754, he contributed some 29 numbers to the Adventurer, a periodical apparently conducted by him in conjunction with such friends as John Hawkesworth, Joseph Warton, and Bonnell Thornton. His Idler ran as a weekly feature from 1758 to 1760 in the Universal Chronicle, a newspaper. As a result of the circumstances of their appearance, the three efforts strike the reader as different. Appearing by itself and having the distinct voice of the moralist running heavily throughout, the Rambler, in its own time and subsequently, always has conveyed a seriousness and breadth not as evident in the other two. Although the Adventurer contains some of Johnson's best . . .

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