The Age of Johnson:
A Scholarly Annual

Preface to Volume 14 (2003)

Last year, in the Preface to The Age of Johnson, Volume 13 (2002), we noted a momentous change in the scholarship that we publish: "We are now publishing fewer essays specifically about Samuel Johnson or his works and more about the wider circle of writers, thinkers, and intellectuals around Johnson." Students of eighteenth-century England, we observed, were more concerned with topics ancillary to literature than with interpretations of literary works themselves. Johnson as central topic was declining; we would now be encountering more essays in which Johnson is only a subtopic, a solitary oak in a forest of cultural studies. A glance at the table of contents of this volume will show how premature this judgment was. Volume 14 — which, in its newly enlarged format, is the most substantial volume we have published since this annual began — contains ten essays on different aspects of Johnson and his circle, plus a lengthy review essay on recent trends in Johnsonian studies, the largest number of essays on Johnson and Johnsoniana we have ever collected in a single year.

Among the contributions in this volume are substantial reconfigurations of Johnson's writings, starting with the inaugural essay by Christine Rees on Johnson's reading of Milton's Areopagitica. Timothy Erwin, studying The Life of Savage anew, has located some previously unknown Johnsonian marginalia. Michael Bundock contributes the first dedicated interpretation of Johnson's Prayers and Meditations in half a century. And we include two innovative essays on The Rambler, Johnson's longest, most anthologized, but least read work: Sarah Morrison reinterprets the role of women in her "Samuel Johnson, Mr. Rambler and Women," and Iona d'Italia reviews the moralism of The Rambler for the first time since the books of Robert Voitle (1961) and Paul K. Alkon (1967). We continue our series of essays on Johnson and his contemporaries with Stephen Clarke's essay on Johnson and Horace Walpole and Lyle Larsen's on Johnson's friend Topham Beauclerk, a man whose intellectual contribution to Johnsonian studies was small but whose personal library, Bibliotheca Beauclerkiana, was one of the largest book collections of eighteenth-century England. In a landmark essay on Johnson and Hester Thrale-Piozzi, Gay Hughes offers a unique revisionist view of their famous estrangement, for which Johnson's male friends, editors, and commentators have hitherto blamed her. In giving us another view, Hughes has changed our attitude toward Johnson in the Thrale years.

In the first volume of The Age of Johnson, Paul Korshin noted that 1987 was the centenary of the publication of George Birkbeck Hill's legendary edition of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, but the anniversary passed without further notice. In 2003, the centenary of Hill's death, we publish the first critique of Hill's work on Johnson, another strikingly fresh study, Catherine Dille's "Johnson, Hill, and the 'Good Old Cause': Liberal Interpretation in the Editions of George Birkbeck Hill." In a continuation of the examination of Johnson's lifetime economy which Korshin began with "Samuel Johnson's Life Experience with Poverty" in Volume 11, Aaron Stavisky contributes "Johnson's Poverty: The Uses of Adversity." Finally, with this year's Johnsonian review essay, Howard Weinbrot's monumental "Johnson and Jacobite Wars XLV," we publish the longest book review in our history. The book in this case is a collection of essays, Samuel Johnson in Historical Context, edited by Jonathan Clark and Howard Erskine-Hill; Weinbrot's review essay is thus our latest comment on Johnson's Jacobite propensities, real or imaginary.

In The Age of Johnson, we try to pay significant attention to topics Johnson himself specialized in but with which he is not exclusively identified. Hence we include two essays on Defoe in Volume 14, James's Cruise's commentary on Defoe and game theory, "Childhood, Play, and the Contexts of Robinson Crusoe," and Michael Shinagel's review essay of Maximillian Novak's Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions. Another significant interest of Johnson's was abolitionism; hence we are delighted to include Brycchen Carey's "William Wilberforce's Sentimental Rhetoric: Parliamentary Reportage and the Abolition Speech of 1789." Judith Stanton's "Feast of Anxieties: New Looks at British Fiction, 1700–1833," shows how many Johnsonian themes echo in the fiction of the long eighteenth century. Johnson, finally, is a touchstone of Enlightenment thought without being an original thinker himself, so it is appropriate for us to include this year a major review essay on a major Enlightenment book, that of the late Roy Porter. James Gray, in "Roy Porter's Opus Magnum et Ultimum," examines at length Porter's long fascination with the English Enlightenment, a work with which Johnson and his circle are closely connected and in which many of them often appear.

In 1926, Ronald S. Crane, in the preface to the first eighteenth-century bibliography, spoke of the limitations on space in any listing of publications about the period. Therefore, he said, "I have deliberately excluded a large number of publications which, in my judgment, contribute nothing new in the way either of fact or of interpretation." The book reviews in The Age of Johnson are similarly exclusive. While they continue to be among the longest reviews in any contemporary scholarly publication, and while we try to be comprehensive with respect to books devoted largely to Johnson, there are many exclusions of recent publications that, however admirable, make little or no fresh contribution to fact or exegesis. Yet a review in The Age of Johnson will almost always be the longest review that a scholar or a collection of essays will receive in any publication. Scholarly fashions change, but the need for definitive reviewing remains constant. We have arranged the reviews in Volume 14, as we have the essays, to encourage our readers to read them through and to savor the remarkable learning and scholarship which our authors and reviewers bring to their commentary.

The acknowledgments of a learned journal are usually silent, but one which we are pleased to make this year is our thanks to Loren Rothschild for permission to reproduce Joshua Reynolds's portrait of Johnson (the “Blinking Sam” portrait) on the dust jacket of this volume. Furthermore, the editors gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Department of English and the School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania.

Paul J. Korshin

Jack Lynch

1 March 2003