Samuel Johnson's Parliamentary Reporting

Samuel Johnson's Parliamentary Reporting

Samuel Johnson's Parliamentary Reporting

Samuel Johnson's Parliamentary Reporting

Excerpt

The Debates in the Senate of Lilliput have always been treated as poor relations of the better known writings of Samuel Johnson. They have never achieved the dignity of completely independent publication or the equality of wholehearted acceptance among the collected writings; under Johnson name the Debates have been printed only as supplementary volumes added to three editions of the Works. It seems probable that a misleading title has, at least in part, accounted for the neglect--a title under which the work did not appear during Johnson's life. Debates in Parliament has, perhaps, too political a sound to engage the interest of the Johnson enthusiast whose concern is chiefly literary history. But even the traditional title may arouse a flicker of interest in the uninitiated: "Was Johnson, then, a member of Parliament?" When it is explained that the Debates are magazine reports of parliamentary proceedings written up by Johnson to alleviate the poverty of his youth, the interest vanishes: mere journalism, at best an adaptation of the words of others rather than an independently creative work. The original title, Debates in the Senate of Lilliput, brings up literary associations, dispels the prospective reader's assumption that this is simple reporting, suggests the curious circumstances of composition and original publication--in short, conveys more fully the work's interest and its nature.

Nevertheless, the restoration of a more promising title does not justify the reopening of a forgotten book. There is the obvious and irrefutable objection that this is apprentice work. But is it not all the more absorbing for being early Johnson? This is the first large single body of prose that we have from his hand, and therefore worthy of reading and of investigation if Johnson is thus worthy. This study was undertaken, then, with . . .

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