Johnson's England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age - Vol. 1

Johnson's England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age - Vol. 1

Johnson's England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age - Vol. 1

Johnson's England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age - Vol. 1

Excerpt

The object of this work is to depict the tile of the period in English history which may legitimately be described as the Age of Johnson. Johnson lived from 1709 to 1784; as a small child he was 'touched for the evil' by Queen Anne, and he lived into the third decade of the reign of George III, to see, a few months before his death, the triumphal election which established the Younger Pitt in power. It is clear that the term the Age of Johnson cannot properly be applied to the whole of the Doctor's lifetime: no one in using it has in mind the period which may be appropriately designated the Age of Addison or of Pope; nor yet the Doctor's early years, when he was an undergraduate at Oxford or an unsuccessful schoolmaster at Edial. It was not until the spring of 1737 that, accompanied by his former pupil, David Garrick, he went up from Lichfield to London in order to try his fortunes in the city with which he is perhaps more closely associated than any other Englishman; and not till ten years after that did he start upon the Dictionary, which brought the fame that his play, his poems, and even The Rambler had failed to win. It seems proper to characterize as the Age of Johnson the last fifty years of his lifetime, though it would obviously be pedantic to tie oneself down to any particular year for its commencement, and it is sometimes necessary for a full appreciation of the aspects of the national life portrayed in the following pages to refer back to the earlier decades of the eighteenth century.

The purpose of the book is descriptive rather than critical or expository. Perhaps the commonest temptation to one surveying a past epoch is to view it too much from the standpoint of present conditions and in the light of later knowledge, to judge it by modern standards--not so much ethical and aesthetic standards as the mere criterion of modern notions of comfort and convenience--and so to bring out unduly the strangeness, the oddity, or even the uncouthness of the habits and arrangements of our ancestors. Were we to be suddenly whirled back into the middle of the eighteenth century we should no doubt discover a good deal that was jarring and disagreeable to us. Those who have become habituated to the noise, bustle, and speed of the twentieth century . . .

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