Domestick Privacies

Domestick Privacies: Samuel Johnson and the Art of Biography

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Domestick Privacies
    Book Description:

    Biography was Samuel Johnson's favorite among literary genres, and hisLives of the Poetsis often regarded as the capstone of his career. The central place of biography in his oeuvre is explored in this collection of nine original essays by leading Johnson scholars. Varied in their focus and approach, the essays range from a philosophical overview of Johnson's notion of the relation between life and art, to a detailed reading of theLife of Milton, to a speculation on the value of theLivesin the classroom.

    Emerging clearly in the essays are the dual concerns -- artistic and intellectual -- that can be pursued in Johnson's biographical writings. On the one hand, they are complex creative works that reward literary analysis, traditional and modern. On the other, with their wide range, they offer a special insight into Johnson's eighteenth-century world -- the state of biography at the time, the tradition of English poetry, literary criticism and its philosophical values, and, of course, Johnson himself with his powers and failings.

    Domestick Privaciesthus offers important new perspectives not only to professed Johnsonians but to all who study biography, criticism, and the eighteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5916-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Uses of Johnson’s Biographies
    (pp. 1-12)

    John J. Burke, Jr., begins the introduction to his recent collection of essays on Johnson,The Unknown Samuel Johnson,with a series of worthy questions: “How can we speak of an ‘unknown’ Johnson? Is he not one of the best-known names in English literature? Would it not make more sense to speak of an ‘unknown’ Chaucer? Or, even better, of an ‘unknown’ Shakespeare?”¹ Clearly all three of these writers are “known” by just about every educated reader of English. Burke’s questions are worth asking, however, because of the different way in which these authors are known. The general reader knows...

  5. Johnson’s Beginnings
    (pp. 13-25)

    The earliest surviving work by Johnson is a poem, written probably at fifteen,On a Daffodil, the First Flower the Author Had Seen That Year.Critics have noted the influence of Herrick and amusing anticipation of Wordsworth. But they have not remarked, I think, what makes these lines interesting.On a Daffodilis not only a beginner’s poem but a poem about beginning: the beginning of a flower, a season of life, a career.

    Hail lovely flower, first honour of the year!

    Hail beautious earnest of approaching spring!

    Whose early buds unusual glories wear.

    And of a fruitfull year fair...

  6. Life, Art, and the Lives of the Poets
    (pp. 26-56)

    In a recent discussion of the enduring popularity of biographical literature, Denis Donoghue has suggested that biography is “the genre most congenial to an unassertive humanism,” the one that from its inception to its latest incarnation is unashamedly attached to a “vocabulary of selfhood, identity, personality, individuality,” as well as to all those notions implicated in its foundational terms (independent action, choice, will, etc.), and depends on and assumes an “unembarrassed sense of character.”¹ With the concepts, if not with the terms, of this vocabulary, Johnson, of course, would be comfortable, and perhaps no biographer has exhibited a greater capacity...

  7. Dr. Johnson’s Solemn Response to Beneficence
    (pp. 57-69)

    One of the most eloquent testimonies of human behavior anywhere in Johnson’s writing appears in hisAccount of the Life of Mr. Richard Savage(1744), after the narrative of the murder trial, when Savage finds begging in the street the very woman who had perjured herself against him and divides his last guinea with her: “This is an Action which in some Ages would have made a Saint, and perhaps in others a Hero, and which, without any hyperbolical Encomiums, must be allowed to be an Instance of uncommon Generosity, an Act of complicated Virtue; by which he at once...

  8. Johnson’s Portraits of Charles XII of Sweden
    (pp. 70-84)

    What was it in the character and personality of Charles XII of Sweden that both attracted and repelled Samuel Johnson? Was it his peculiar brand of Stoicism, his invincible stubborn-ness, his extraordinary ability to exact every ounce of loyalty from his subordinates, his magnanimity towards the vanquished, or his vindictive punishment of an obstinate foe? Perhaps a combination of these qualities. More particularly, Charles’s almost superhuman courage, his self-effacement, his piety—his dominant characteristics, in short—were the components that Johnson saw as potential raw materials for a tragedy or a biography. At a deeper level, the Swedish leader’s much-discussed...

  9. Johnson, Imlac, and Biographical Thinking
    (pp. 85-106)

    In theLife of DrydenJohnson offers the following image to characterize the author of genius: “He only is the master who keeps the mind in pleasing captivity; whose pages are perused with eagerness, and in hope of new pleasure are perused again; and whose conclusion is perceived with an eye of sorrow, such as the traveller casts upon departing day.”¹ The larger Johnsonian territory onto which this image of pleasing captivity opens and for which it serves as a figure is the area of his hope for ongoing education throughout life: for the possibility of associating both learning and...

  10. The Contexts and Motives of Johnson’s Life of Milton
    (pp. 107-132)

    Edgy. Petulant. Defensive. Contentious. Antagonistic. Critics of Samuel Johnson have often turned to these words when discussing the tone and substance of hisLife of Milton.Such words do indeed aptly describe the rhetoric of Johnson’s argument at certain points; but at what target is the rhetoric aimed? From Johnson’s time to our own, readers have been quick to deduce from Johnson’s aggressiveness that his primary purpose was to attack Milton’s character, and to lower the level of critical esteem Milton’s works enjoyed. But the first of these views of Johnson’s motives, I wish to argue, has been overstated, and...

  11. Johnson’s Lives and Modern Students
    (pp. 133-151)

    Modern students get little or no exposure to Johnson in high school or in college introductory courses, but it was not always thus. As the countless English and American school editions of Rasselas andMacaulay’s Johnsoneloquently attest, for well over a hundred years after his death Johnson was something of an institution in secondary school curricula. Simplified, stereotyped, with selective emphasis given to the moral dimension of his work, vivified indelibly (and many would argue inaccurately) by Boswell, Johnson used to be part of the common imagination to a degree scarcely approximated by any comparable literary figure, living or...

  12. Johnson and Biography: Recent Critical Directions
    (pp. 152-166)

    Coming to grips in a few pages with the past fifteen years of Johnson studies can seem a little too much like wrestling Antaeus: balancing the opponent overhead can quickly prove to be a tiring proposition, but going to ground with him is likely only to produce new complications. Perhaps the major difficulty, not surprisingly, is the abundance of available materials; as the MLA’s annual bibliography continues along the road to corpulence, letting out its belt several notches each year, the section devoted to Johnson swells happily along with it, perhaps putting cynics in mind of Johnson’s trenchant remarks concerning...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 167-184)
    (pp. 185-186)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 187-194)