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Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson: Selected Poetry and Prose

Copyright Date: 1977
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    Samuel Johnson
    Book Description:

    This is a major new selection of Samuel Johnson's best work, delightfully introduced by W. K. Wimsatt and scrupulously annotated by Frank Brady and Mr. Wimsatt. Samuel Johnson, the only writer in English since the Renaissance to give his name to a literary period, was the center of English letters in his time. He was Dictionary Johnson, the lexicographer who had single-handedly settled the English language (it was hoped) on a firm basis; he was the author of a handful of fine poems, including two of the most remarkable satires of the century; he was a moralist whoseRamblerandIdleressays, and novel-of-ideasRasselas,provided a searching view of men and matters. And in his final years he produced his greatest work, that extraordinary combination of biography and criticism which came to be known as theLives of the Poets.This first extensive anthology of Johnson's writings to be published in many years emphasizes Johnson the writer. It responds to those aspects of Johnson's work of special interest to modern readers. It comprises a selection of Johnson's letters, all of his major poems (includingLondon),Rasselas,twenty-oneRambler,nineteenIdlers,the Prefaces to theDictionaryand to the edition of Shakespeare, and the followingLives of the Poets:Cowley, Milton, Swift, Pope, Savage, Collins, and Gray. All these works are extensively annotated and printed complete. Mr. Wimsatt, one of the outstanding Johnsonians of this century, provides in his Introduction a clear, connected biographical account of Johnson, stressing his writings. An up-to-date bibliography is also included. Johnson's varied accomplishments-as poet, as moralist, as biographer, as critic-are all amply represented.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90599-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    F. B. and W. K. W.
  4. Introduction: Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) A Calendar Of His Career
    (pp. 1-27)

    Michael johnson, a bookseller and stationer at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, having late in life married Sarah Ford, a lady of somewhat better origins but smaller learning than he, they became on 18 September 1709 the parents of a first child, baptized on the same day Samuel. A younger brother, Nathaniel, would die in his twenty-fifth year. Samuel Johnson, despite handicaps of physical constitution and of temperament and the narrow circumstances of his family, lived to become “the illustrious character … whose various excellence” the biographer James Boswell would record for posterity.

    A large body, an active mind, and a species...

  5. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 28-30)
  6. Letters
    (pp. 31-46)

    Lichfield, 31 January 1740

    Dearest Tetty,

    After hearing that you are in so much danger, as I apprehend from a hurt on a tendon, I shall be very uneasy till I know that you are recovered, and beg that you will omit nothing that can contribute to it, nor deny yourself anything that may make confinement less melancholy. You have already suffered more than I can bear to reflect upon, and I hope more than either of us shall suffer again. One part at least I have often flattered myself we shall avoid for the future, our troubles will surely...

  7. POEMS

    • London A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal
      (pp. 47-54)
    • Prologue to Garrick’s Lethe
      (pp. 54-55)
    • Prologue Spoken at the Opening of the Theater in Drury Lane, 1747
      (pp. 55-57)
    • The Vanity of Human Wishes The Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated
      (pp. 57-67)
    • A New Prologue Spoken at the Representation of Comus
      (pp. 68-69)
    • Prologue to The Good-Natured Man
      (pp. 69-70)
    • A Short Song of Congratulation
      (pp. 70-71)
    • On the Death of Dr. Robert Levett
      (pp. 71-72)
  8. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia
    (pp. 73-154)

    Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas¹ prince of Abyssinia.

    Rasselas was the fourth son of the mighty emperor in whose dominions the Father of Waters² begins his course; whose bounty pours down the streams of plenty, and scatters over half the world the harvests of Egypt.

    According to the custom which has descended from age to age among...

  9. Selections from The Rambler
    (pp. 155-232)

    The works of fiction, with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in its true state, diversified only by accidents that daily happen in the world, and influenced by passions and qualities which are really to be found in conversing with mankind.

    This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comic poetry. Its province is to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder: it is therefore precluded from the...

  10. Selections from The Idler
    (pp. 233-276)

    It has long been the complaint of those who frequent the theaters that all the dramatic art has been long exhausted, and that the vicissitudes of fortune and accidents of life have been shown in every possible combination, till the first scene informs us of the last, and the play no sooner opens than every auditor knows how it will conclude. When a conspiracy is formed in a tragedy, we guess by whom it will be detected; when a letter is dropped in a comedy, we can tell by whom it will be found. Nothing is now left for the...

  11. Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language
    (pp. 277-298)
  12. Preface to The Plays of William Shakespeare
    (pp. 299-336)

    • Abraham Cowley 1618–1667
      (pp. 337-384)

      The life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat,¹ an author whose pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have deservedly set him high in the ranks of literature; but his zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has produced a funeral oration rather than a history: he has given the character, not the life of Cowley; for he writes with so little detail that scarcely anything is distinctly known, but all is shown confused and enlarged through the mist of panegyric.

      Abraham Cowley was born in the year one thousand six hundred...

    • John Milton 1608–1674
      (pp. 385-444)

      The life of Milton has been already written in so many forms, and with such minute inquiry, that I might perhaps more properly have contented myself with the addition of a few notes to Mr. Fenton’s elegant abridgment,¹ but that a new narrative was thought necessary to the uniformity of this edition.

      John Milton was by birth a gentleman, descended from the proprietors of Milton near Thame in Oxfordshire, one of whom forfeited his estate in the times of York and Lancaster. Which side he took I know not; his descendant inherited no veneration for the White Rose.²

      His grandfather...

    • Jonathan Swift 1667–1745
      (pp. 445-472)

      An account of Dr. Swift has been already collected, with great diligence and acuteness, by Dr. Hawkesworth, according to a scheme which I laid before him in the intimacy of our friendship. I cannot therefore be expected to say much of a life concerning which I had long since communicated my thoughts to a man capable of dignifying his narration with so much elegance of language and force of sentiment.¹

      Jonathan Swift was, according to an account said to be written by himself, the son of Jonathan Swift, an attorney, and was born at Dublin on St. Andrew’s Day,² 1667:...

    • Alexander Pope 1688–1744
      (pp. 473-560)

      Alexander Pope was born in London, May 22,¹ 1688, of parents whose rank or station was never ascertained: we are informed that they were of “gentle blood”;² that his father was of a family of which the Earl of Downe was the head,³ and that his mother was the daughter of William Turner, Esquire, of York, who had likewise three sons, one of whom had the honor of being killed, and the other of dying, in the service of Charles the First; the third was made a general officer in Spain, from whom the sister inherited what sequestrations and forfeitures...

    • Richard Savage ?1697–1742
      (pp. 561-628)

      It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendor of their rank, or the extent of their capacity, have placed upon the summits of human life have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station. Whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages, or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose...

    • William Collins 1721–1759
      (pp. 629-632)

      William Collins was born at Chichester on the twenty-fifth of December, about 1720.¹ His father was a hatter of good reputation. He was in 1733, as Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester College,² where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His English exercises were better than his Latin.

      He first courted the notice of the public by some verses “To a Lady Weeping,” published inThe Gentleman’s Magazine

      In 1740 he stood first in the list of the scholars to be received in succession at New College, but unhappily there was no vacancy. This was the...

    • Thomas Gray 1716–1771
      (pp. 633-642)

      Thomas Gray, the son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener¹ of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother’s brother, then assistant to Dr. George; and when he left school, in 1734, entered a pensioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge.²

      The transition from the school to the college is, to most young scholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray seems to have been very little delighted with academical gratifications; he liked at Cambridge neither the mode of...