Samuel Johnson Biography Life and Literature

Samuel Johnson Biography Life and Literature


Life and Literature of Samuel Johnson[Samuel Johnson Biography]

Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709. He was the son of a book-seller, with little means. He was educated first at a Lichfield Grammar School and thereafter went to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he spent a little more than a year, but took no degree. Infact, the early days of Samuel’s education were marred by acute poverty. His father died soon after he left Oxford in 1731. At that time he had to suffer extreme mental stress caused by hardship and want. He translated and abridged from French an account of a book-Father Lobo’s Voyage to Abyssinia, published anonymously in 1735. In the same year, he, however, got married to Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, a widow, considerably older than Samuel. To run his domestic life, he started a private school in Edial in Lichfield. That project, however, could not prove successful. In 1737, he set up with one of his few dear pupils Garrick to try his fortune in London. He got a job in The Gentleman’s Magazine, run by Edward Cave, as a regular writer. He contributed there poems, essays, scripts, reports and so on.

Samuel started to write his own verses and his poem London was published in 1744. He also planned to write a dictionary to be dedicated to Chesterfield. That project was a big one and Johnson required some patron, but lacked any real patronisation in his need. However, his dictionary-A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755. That was a monumental work to give him an immortality in the world of English writings. Of course, in the meantime, he published another poem, supposed to have been taken as his best poem The Vanity of Human Wishes in 1749. He produced also a tragic play Irene that was staged by his pupil Garrick in 1750. His play was, however, not a very successful one.

In 1750, Johnson started a periodical under title The Rambler. The periodical was almost his individual work and most of the contributions were made by Johnson himself.

Johnson’s wife died in 1752, much to his shock and grief. But he continued his effort to write ceaselessly. During 1758-1760, he contributed the Idler series of papers to the Universal Chronicle. In 1759 appeared his Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. A yearly pension of 300 pounds was granted in his favour from the Crown.

Johnson got acquainted with Boswell in the very next year in the bookshop of his friend Thomas Davis. Johnson’s best of life resided in his intimacy with Boswell who wrote his biography. He travelled with Boswell to different parts of Scotland and many other places. The last important work from Johnson, The Life of the English Poets came in 1781. Johnson died in 1784 in his own house in Boltcourt and was burried in the Westminster Abbey.

Dr. Johnson is a formidable name in English literature not because he is the author of bulky and valuable works, but because of his tremendous influence on the literature and the literary men of his age. He is remembered as a literary personality due to his extraordinary vigour of utterances. In him is seen the operation of a formidable literary mind that represents his age and speaks, in many respects, for it. His importance and reputation in history of English literature actually lie herein. His greatness as literary influence is sufficiently evident in the very fact that his age is known after his name.

Dr. Johnson as a Literary master

Johnson’s literary achievements, though quite voluminous, are, of course, not highly commendable. Except his Dictionary and Lives of the Poets, his other literary works, his poems, plays and novels are, however, scantily admired. Even the above two works are recognized as valuable not as literature, but as the study of literature and literary attainments.

As a literary man, Johnson is found versatile, though not brilliant. As a poet, critic, novelist, essayist, biographer, journalist, and editor, he is unmistakably a literary figure much significant in his age. The bulk and variety of his literary works are well indicative of the range as well as representative character of his writings.

Dr. Johnson’s first significant publication is his poem London which appeared anonymously in 1738. His next important work is also a poem The Vanity of Human Wishes which appeared in his own name some eleven years after. Both the poems are, however, not very remarkable literary productions.

The Dictionary, Dr. Johnson’s most ambitous venture, published in 1755, is a great endeavour at English lexicon and stands out as an extremelly valuable work, although some of the devivations are found rather faulty here. This is not a pioneering work, but an ambitious one, and the first effort to stabilize and standardize the English language.

The Lives of the Poets is a clear and forceful study of different poets, although Dr. Johnson’s observations on the literary attainments of several poets are quite controversial. Despite its inconclusive and occasionally logical treatment, as evident in Johnson’s observations on Gray and Milton, the work contains some admirable critical appreciations. Moreover, as biographies, the Lives are excellent, and offer some of the characteristic features of the early English poets that have remained all through interesting. Dr. Johnson’s approach is not philosophical, but there is much that is human and wise in his sayings. The Lives of the Poets constitutes truly an important influence on the critical works of literature in English.

Dr. Johnson is also noted as an editor of Shakespearean plays. His observations and commentaries on them are learned treatises on Shakespeare. His Preface is a quite restraint and logical appreciation of Shakespeare’s dramatic genius and constitutes an important addition to Shakespearean criticism.

Johnson’s literary career is found to cover the sphere of the periodical essay, so much popular in his age. The Rambler, organized by him, appeared twice weekly, for 208 numbers, between 1750 to 1752. This is, no doubt, didactic in approach, but the morality propagated here is practical, not theoretical, and contains the plain advices on the cultivation of a proper stage of mind and the right employment of one’s time and energies. A series of weekly essays, under the title The Idler, published between 1758 and 1760, also marks his literary achievement as an essayist. His treatment here is, however, made in a lighter vein and entertains some satirical strokes here and there.

Dr. Johnson is usually honoured with the title of the ‘Literary Dictator’ of his age. The emphasis here is not on his literary output but on his potential influence on the literary acitvities of his age. His voluminous works are, indeed, tiresome, but his influence, that is found to have shaped the literature of his time, proves a quite engaging record. In the sphere of lexicon and the illuminating critical style, Dr. Johnson stands out remarkably as a ‘literary dictator’ , planning and directing the literary activities of the literary men of his times.


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