Professional Imaginative Writing in England, 1670-1740: Hackney for Bread

By Brean S. Hammond | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The conclusion to this book has to be of the Johnsonian kind, following Rasselas, in which nothing is concluded. Johnson's name is in many respects an appropriate one to invoke at this stage, because my book's allotted timespan just reaches the point of departure of his career and because recent work on Johnson has constructed him as the first hero of the age of print.1 Johnson's letter to Chesterfield on the occasion of the latter's post- publication interest in the Dictionary, reminding him that he was never interested in it pre-publication, is very frequently cited as sounding the death-knell to the patronage system: 'Is not a Patron, My Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a Man struggling for Life in the water, and, when he has reached ground encumbers him with help?'2 In this book's argument, Johnson would be part of the process that I have used the term 'novelization' to designate rather than the revolutionary herald of a new age. Novelization is the set of material, cultural, and institutional changes responsible for the promotion of prose narrative to its undisputed preeminence as the most widely consumed form of imaginative writing, a process that extinguished the long poem, marginalized all other poetic forms, and rendered the theatre a minority interest. Novelization brings about, if the reader will pardon the bathos, the novel. Its energies continued well into our own century and, arguably, can only be spoken of in the past tense when print comes to be replaced by visual image media as the primary forms in which products of the imagination are received. We are familiar with its effects on school and university students of literature, many of whom evince a reluctance to engage with forms of imaginative writing not expressed in prose.

Such a process cannot be given chronological boundaries. The time-frame into which this book is set is not invested with the

____________________
1
Alvin Kernan, Samuel Johnson and the Impact of Print ( Princeton University Press, 1987; repr. 1989).
2
The Letters of Samuel Johnson, ed. Bruce Redford, 5 vols. ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), i. 96.

-303-

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