Doctor Johnson: A Study in Eighteenth Century Humanism

By Percy Hazen Houston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
An Account of Dr. Johnson's Reading

THE most salient fact to strike the attention of anyone who considers the nature of Johnson's contribution to critical thought is his position as the last of a long line of classical scholars, who received their initial impulse in the revival of learning and represented unbroken the neo-classic tradition during the three centuries of its rise and its gradual decline in the latter part of the eighteenth century. For this reason it is essential, before we can enter upon any study of his critical ideas and their application to literature, that we know something of his background of scholarship and the extent to which he accepted the great body of critical doctrine which had been built up before his time. No man can be studied quite free from his environment, least of all such a one as Johnson, who contains in himself so much of the past and upon that past has built the foundation of his thinking and his faith.

With the great humanists who followed in the wake of the revival of learning Johnson found himself in thoroughly congenial company. The immense impulse given to critical and textual scholarship by the rediscovery of classical literature had not yet exhausted itself by the time he was forming his scholarly tastes. The work of the sixteenth-century scholars not only laid the foundation of all subsequent criticism of the neo-classic type, but remained the basis of the great number of textual and exegetical commentaries which followed them. The Renaissance scholar-in-us had come to be known as a man of great learning in many branches of knowledge, who

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