Selected Poetry and Prose
Selected Poetry and Prose
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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 whose Rambler and Idler essays, and novel-of-ideas Rasselas, 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 the Lives 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 (including London), Rasselas, twenty-one Rambler, nineteen Idlers, the Prefaces to the Dictionary and to the edition of Shakespeare, and the following Lives 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.
that thy former state was better than this. Whatever be the consequence of my experiment, I am resolved to judge with my own eyes of the various conditions of men, and then to make deliberately my choice of life." "I am afraid," said Imlac, "you are hindered by stronger restraints than my persuasions; yet, if your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to diligence and skill." XIII Rasselas Discovers the Means of Escape The prince now dismissed his
instance, a short-lived journal which he superintended during 1756-57: his judicious estimate of his friend Joseph Warton's "pre-romantic" Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, and his passionately bitter dissection (in three numbers) of the "male blue-stocking" Soame Jenyns's deistic Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil. Or the writing of dedications and prefaces. 1756 was a characteristic year: he supplied a dedication to the Earl of Rochford for the mathematician William Payne's
the enticements of hope, the solicitations of affection, the importunities of appetite, or the depressions of fear, and is in the same state with him that teaches upon land the art of navigation, to whom the sea is always smooth and the wind always prosperous.6 The mathematicians are well acquainted with the difference between pure science, which has to do only with ideas, and the application of its laws to the use of life, in which they are constrained to submit to the imperfection of matter and
severest contemplation. Our inclination to stillness and tranquillity is seldom much lessened by long knowledge of the busy and tumultuary part of the world. In childhood we turn our thoughts to the country, as to the region of pleasure; we recur to it in old age as a port of rest, and perhaps with that secondary and adventitious5 gladness, which every man feels on reviewing those places, or recollecting those occurrences, that contributed to his youthful enjoyments, and bring him back to the
lay down other principles, not very consistent with their general plan; for they tell us that, to support the character of the shepherd, it is proper that all refinement should be avoided, and that some slight instances of ignorance should be interspersed. Thus the shepherd in Virgil is supposed to have forgot the name of Anaximander,6 and in Pope the term "Zodiac" is too hard for a rustic apprehension.7 But if we place our shepherds in their primitive condition, we may give them learning among