Samuel Johnson: New Contexts for a New Century

By Carter, Grayson | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Samuel Johnson: New Contexts for a New Century


Carter, Grayson, Anglican and Episcopal History


Samuel Johnson: New Contexts for a New Century. Edited by Howard D. Weinbrot. (San Marino: Hundngton Library Press, 2014, Pp. xi, 386. $55.00.)

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was one of the most distinguished figures in English literary history. Celebrated as a writer, poet, critic, biographer, moralist, dramatist, conversationalist and lexicographer (among much else), he was at the center of London's rich intellectual life during the mid to late-eighteenth century. Johnson wrote extensively across an astonishing range of genres. He was also the subject of perhaps the most celebrated biography in English history, James Boswell's Life of Johnson (London: Dearborn, 1791).

Since the time of his death, Johnson and his writings have attracted extensive scholarly attention. The present volume, a collection of seventeen essays delivered at a conference on Johnson held at the Huntington Library in California in 2011 and which aims to ide_168.tify some of the still unexplored regions located on the vast Johnsonian canvas, is divided into six overlapping sections: (i) Johnson and the arts of thought; (ii) Johnson the writer; (iii) Johnson and the dull duties; (iv) Johnson and politics; (v) Johnson, religion, and philosophy; and, (vi) Johnson after Johnson. While Johnson's views on religion and the church (broadly defined) are never far from the surface at any point in these discussions, readers of this review will be most interested in William Gibson's essay on Johnson's churchmanship-the only chapter devoted specifically to his religious views.

Consideration of Johnson's churchmanship and religious views has provoked widespread disagreement over the years. At one end of the spectrum (which includes Gibson and Weinbrot), "Johnson was an inclusive figure capable of holding both high church and Latitudinarian views" (235); at the other end, Johnson was an ideological Tory high churchman, non-juror, and Jacobite sympathizer. The essay therefore aims to examine the sources of presumed ambiguity in Johnson's churchmanship, to trace the principal divisions that have developed in recent Johnsonian scholarship, to clear up some issues that have proved confusing in past treatments, to provide some consideration of the wider religious context in which Johnson lived and worked, and to offer suggestions for achieving greater future consensus among Johnson scholars. …

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