Johnson's political writings are many and varied, ranging from
anti-Walpole satires early in his career (Marmor
Norfolciense, A Compleat Vindication of the Licensers of
the Stage) through pamphlets defending the North ministry in
the 1770s (The False Alarm, The Patriot,
Taxation No Tyranny). These explicitly political
publications are usefully collected in one volume by Donald
Another major collection of political writings is the set of
Debates in Parliament, which Johnson wrote from 1741
for the Gentleman's Magazine. Parliament had forbidden
the press from reporting the debates, but the magazines ignored
the law and sent reporters to provide accounts of the debates to
the public. They used a transparent disguise: the Gentleman's
Magazine pretended to report on "Debates in the Senate of
Lilliput," with the real names of political figures
anagrammatically twisted: Walpole and Pitt became Walelop and
Ptit, for instance. Johnson took over this reporting task in 1741,
although he may never have actually attended a single debate:
although the Debates are supposedly reported word for
word, Johnson worked only from rough notes taken by those who
were there, and developed them into lengthy speeches.
The standard edition of the major works on politics is
Political Writings, ed. Donald J. Greene, vol. X of the
Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (New Haven: Yale
Univ. Press, 1977).
The Debates in Parliament have not yet appeared in the
Yale Edition; the most accessible edition is vols. 10 and 11 of
the 1825 Oxford Works, although the pretense of the
fictitious names was dropped.
There's been a big debate raging in the last few years over
Johnson's political sympathies. The orthodox camp, of which
Donald J. Greene, Howard Weinbrot, and Thomas Curley are the
major spokesmen, holds not only that Johnson wasn't a Jacobite
but that he wasn't the bigoted Tory legend has made him out to be
(particularly Boswell and Macaulay). On the other side, Howard
Erskine-Hill and Jonathan Clark argue for a Johnson who's not
only very High-Church and Tory but a Jacobite sympathizer. The
issues are hashed out at great length (not to say beaten to death
well, okay, let's say beaten to death) in The Age of
Johnson: A Scholarly Annual, volumes 7 and 8. The Jacobite
Nonjuror case is laid out most systematically in the collection
of essays edited by Clark and Erskine-Hill.
- Donald J. Greene, The Politics of Samuel Johnson, 2nd
ed. (Athens, Ga.: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1990). This has been
the most important work on Johnson's political opinions since
its first publication in 1960. The long introduction to the
second edition, which brings the debate up to date, helped to
spark the current controversy.
- Howard Erskine-Hill, "The Political Character of Samuel
Johnson," in Samuel Johnson: New Critical Essays, ed.
Isobel Grundy (London: Vision Press, 1984). One of the early
reactions to Greene's portrait of a Whiggish Johnson.
- J. C. D. Clark, Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion, and
Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994). A book-length study of
Johnson's politics, placing him in a High-Church and Tory
- Jonathan Clark and Howard Erskine-Hill, eds., Samuel
Johnson in Historical Context (London and New York: Palgrave,
2002). The most systematic statement of the Johnson-as-Jacobite
position, with eleven essays by both historians and literary
scholars making the case that "Johnson was a Tory, a Nonjuror and
a Jacobite sympathiser."
- John Cannon, Samuel Johnson and the Politics of
Hanoverian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). A
moderate look at Johnson's politics, paying less attention to
Jacobitism than some of the other studies.
- B. B. Hoover, Samuel Johnson's Parliamentary
Reporting (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California
Press, 1953) is the most extended study of the Debates in
This is part of a Guide to Samuel
Johnson by Jack Lynch. Comments are welcome.