After a year-long hiatus, The Age of Johnson returns to annual publication with volume 19 in Johnson;s tercentennial year. According to long-standing practice, articles on Johnson appear first, followed by those on his circle. Earl A. Reitan makes a suggestive argument about Johnson’s authorship of a short but critical note to an article on the War of Jenkins' Ear in the Gentleman's Magazine early in his career. Two essays then examine Johnson's last great work, the Lives of the Poets: H. J. Jackson, who explores the meaning of fame in those critical biographies, and Anthony Lee, who traces several previously unnoticed connections between Rambler 31 and the Life of Dryden, tracing both back to an anonymous seventeenth-century satire.
Where Reitan, Jackson, and Lee are concerned with the minutiae of individual texts, Julie Crane offers a more expansive, though equally learned, meditation on Johnson's use of "interruption" and exploring his own relationship with the realistic novel. Johnsonians of course know Rambler 4 and the fictional practice of Rasselas, but Crane advances the intriguing argument that "there was a novelist, if a reluctant one, in Johnson." And the final Johnsonian essay is Robin Dix's account of three little-known manuscript references to Johnson. I was pained to receive news of the death of Robin Dix of Durham University, who died on 30 December 2007, just weeks after this essay was accepted for publication. It's a testament to his scholarship and commitment to the profession.
From Johnson himself we move on to his immediate circle, represented in this volume by Robert G. Walker's essay on "Boswell’s Use of 'Ogden on Prayer.'" Walker argues that this work, which disappeared from the Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides as Boswell revised it, is in fact "one of the most important in the aesthetic shaping of the work."
After the Johnsonian essays come a set of studies of eighteenth-century British literature and culture. Michael F. Suarez, S.J., in "Secular Lessons," offers the most comprehensive treatment yet of a genre that flourished in eighteenth-century Britain, the biblical parody. David Fairer, who has earned a reputation as one of our age's the most learned and sensitive readers of eighteenth-century poetry, investigates the notion of "looking" in William Shenstone, exploring Shenstone's connection between the aesthetic and the ethical. And William Gibson traces the genealogy of a witticism through a wide array of eighteenth-century texts.
In "Perfect Patterns of Conjugal Love and Duty," Emily Bowles-Smith gives one of the most thoughtful readings of George Ballard's Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, a work often cited by feminist scholars but rarely examined minutely. Another writer whose name better known than his works is John Horne Tooke, whose Epea Pteroenta; or, The Diversions of Purley was an influential and widely read work of linguistic criticism. Brijraj Singh sees the Diversions "poised at an interesting moment in intellectual history between Lockean materialism and something that, though it cannot be described as idealism, which is the natural antithesis to materialism, may be called logocentrism." The last two articles look at women's fiction Rebecca Hussey, who reads Sarah Fielding's David Simple novels and argues "Cynthia is in many ways a more convincing hero than David," and Eve Tavor Bannet, who brings a transatlantic perspective to the publication history of Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple.
As always, The Age of Johnson sports a substantial and lively set of reviews, beginning with extended review essays on two major publishing projects. The first is Robert Folkenflik's account of Roger Lonsdale's magisterial edition of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, which Folkenflik calls "not just the best edition of The Lives of the Poets," but "the best edition of any text of Johnson's, ever." The second is Nora Nachumi's masterly account of a ten-volume collection of actresses' autobiographies, arguing that "Reading the entire collection . . . enables a more nuanced understanding of the theatrical world in which these actresses moved."
After the review essays come nine shorter reviews, covering a mix of books on major canonical figures (Philip Smallwood on Johnson's criticism, James Buchan on Adam Smith, and Louise Barnett on Swift and women), literary movements (Brycchan Carey on slavery and abolition, Jennie Batchelor and Cora Kaplan on British Women's Writing in the Long Eighteenth Century), and social history (Emily Cockayne on filth).
The Editor gratefully acknowledges the support of the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers UniversityNewark Campus.
7 February 2009