Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 471 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
BIBLIOGRA PH Y.—The splendid example of his style which Macaulay contributed in the article on Johnson to the 8th edition of this encyclopaedia has become classic, and has therefore been retained above with a few trifling modifications in those places in which his invincible love of the picturesque has drawn him demonstrably aside from the dull line of veracity. Macaulay, it must be noted, exaggerated persistently the poverty of Johnson's pedigree, the squalor of his early married life, the grotesqueness of his entourage in Fleet Street, the decline and fall from complete virtue of Mrs Thrale, the novelty and success of the Dictionary, the complete failure of the Shakespeare and the political tracts. Yet this contribution is far more mellow than the article contributed on Johnson twenty-five years before to the Edinburgh Review in correction of Croker. Matthew Arnold, who edited six selected Lives of the poets, regarded it as one of Macaulay's happiest and ripest efforts. It was written out of friend-ship for Adam Black, and " payment was not so much as mentioned." The big reviews, especially the quarterlies, have always been thenatural home of Johnsonian study. Sir Walter Scott, Croker, Hay-ward, Macaulay, Thomas Carlyle (whose famous Fraser article was reprinted in 1853) and Whitwell Elwin have done as much as any-body perhaps to sustain the zest for Johnsonian studies. Macaulay's prediction that the interest in the man would supersede that in his " Works " seemed and seems likely enough to justify itself ; but his theory that the man alone mattered and that a portrait painted by the hand of an inspired idiot was a true measure of the man has not worn better than the common run of literary propositions. Johnson's prose is not extensively read. But the same is true of nearly all the great prose masters of the 18th century. As in the case of all great men, Johnson has suffered a good deal at the hands of his imitators and admirers. His prose, though not nearly so uniformly monotonous or polysyllabic as the parodists would have us believe, was at one time greatly overpraised. From the " Life of Savage " to the " Life of Pope " it developed a great deal, and in the main improved. To the last he sacrificed expression rather too much to style, and he was perhaps over conscious of the balanced epithet. But he contributed both dignity and dialectical force to the prose movement of his period. The best edition of his works is still the Oxford edition of 1825 in 9 vols. At the present day, however, his periodical writings are neglected, and all that can be said to excite interest are, first the Lives of the Poets (best edition by Birkbeck Hill and H. S. Scott, 3 vols., 1905), and then the Letters,.the Prayers and Meditations, and the Poems, to which may doubtfully be added the once idolized Rasselas. The Poems and Rasselas have been reprinted times without number. The others have been re-edited with scrupulous care for the Oxford University Press by the pious diligence of that most enthusiastic of all Johnsonians, Dr Birkbeck Hill. But the tendency at the present day is undoubtedly to prize Johnson's personality and sayings more than any of his works. These are preserved to us in a body of biographical writing, the efficiency of which is unequalled in the whole range of literature. The chief constituents are Johnson's own Letters and Account of his Life from his Birth to his Eleventh Year (1805), a fragment saved from papers burned in 1784 and not seen by Boswell; the life by his old but not very sympathetic friend and club-fellow, Sir John Hawkins (1787); Mrs Thrale-Piozzi's Anecdotes (1785) and Letters; the Diary and Letters of Fanny Burney (D'Arblay) (1841); the shorter Lives of Arthur Murphy, T. Tyers, &c.; far above all, of course, the unique Life by James Boswell, first published in 1791, and subsequently encrusted with vast masses of Johnsoniana in the successive editions of Malone, Croker, Napier, Fitzgerald, Mowbray Morris (Globe), Birrell, Ingpen (copiously illustrated) and Dr Birkbeck Hill (the most exhaustive). The sayings and Johnsoniana have been reprinted in very many and various forms. Valuable work has been done in Johnsonian genealogy and topography by Aleyn Lyell Reade in his Johnsonian Gleanings, &c., and in the Memorials of Old Staffordshire (ed. W. Beresford). The most excellent short Lives are those by F. Grant (Eng. Writers) and Sir Leslie Stephen (Eng. Men of Letters). Professor W. Raleigh's essay (Stephen Lecture), Lord Rosebery's estimate (1909), and Sir Leslie Stephen's article in the Dictionary of National Biography, with bibliography and list of portraits, should be consulted. Johnson's " Club " (" The Club ") still exists, and has contained ever since his time a large proportion of the public celebrities of its day. A " Johnson Club," which has included many Johnson scholars and has published papers, was founded in 1885. Lichfield has taken an active part in the commemoration of Johnson since 1887, when Johnson's birthplace was secured as a municipal museum, and Lichfield was the chief scene of the Bicentenary Celebrations of September 1909 (fully described in A. M. Broadley's Dr Johnson and Mrs Thrale, 1909), containing, together with new materials and portraits, an essay dealing with Macaulay's treatment of the Johnson-Thrale episodes by T. Seccombe). Statues both of Johnson and Boswell are in the market-place at Lichfield. A statue was erected in St Paul's in 1825, and there are commemorative tablets in Lichfield Cathedral, St Nicholas (Brighton), Uttoxeter, St Clement Danes (London), Gwaynynog and elsewhere. (T. SE.)
End of Article: BIBLIOGRA PH Y

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.