The prose of Dr Johnson, its techniques, characteristics and forms (With special reference to its Latin elements and Johnson's personality)

Duncanson, Robert Alexander (1978) The prose of Dr Johnson, its techniques, characteristics and forms (With special reference to its Latin elements and Johnson's personality). MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Three main approaches to Johnson are biographical, generic and historical criticism. Passages from his works, his distrust of fiction, and his love of biography recommend the first. His original readers' ignorance of him, his works' failure to represent fully what we now know of him, and the counter claims of context and genre challenge it. The generic method, which emphasizes the role of the writer as a disinterested barrister, is supported by Johnson's recognition of genre lore and the bulk of personation in his work, but Johnson was devoted to the moral imperative of truth, incompetent in role-playing, and consistent in his expressed opinions. Historical criticism, which notes Johnson's artistic aim of instruction by delight, over-values didacticism, and is aesthetically incomplete. Each method is pertinent only as it clarifies the appeal of his texts to an ideal untutored reader. The biographer may use Johnson's works to explain his life, the critic should use his biography to interpret his works. Despite their different dispositions and their historical inaccuracies, the main authorities for Johnson's life and character concur about his personality. They admit his remarkable aggression, but also insist on his almost indiscriminate charity, Johnson's aggression is the mark of a man critically insure of his worth. Johnson was essentially solitary, and hostile, even in dealings with his mother and wife. Freudians give the best descriptive elucidation of his behaviour, that he suffered from an obsessional neurosis. This view of Johnson's character suggests what to expect in his prose; a controlled use of language, which avoids authorial inferiority, and employs an almost ritually prescribed recurrence of devices. Although Johnson's Latin learning is impressive, he was, like many Augustans, selective in his veneration of the ancients. His imitations of Juvenal suggest that moral caution made him perceive imperfectly Juvenal's ironic tone. Macaulay's view of Johnson's Latinate diction as a defensive public gesture is not fully satisfactory, nor is Nichol Smith's view of Johnson's Latin poetry as a protected means of expressing private feelings, but clearly Johnson does use Latin as a defensive measure. Johnson is in practice a linguistic conservative. His English prose is Ciceronian. His age fostered intellectual conservatism, a belief in human uniformity, and the invariability of moral values. Latin contributes to Johnson's vocabulary, effecting dignity and generality by abstraction and scientific imagery, and to his rhythm where the fixed stress in polysyllables enforces that disciplined formality which the analysis of his personality might lead one to expect. Johnson's images are to be judged not by the standards of an Academy, but by his own five criteria; propriety, generality, coherence, parallelism, and tradition. Johnson's written images are impeccable in propriety, less excellent in generality, and more than adequate in coherence. In parallelism he is seldom to be censured, and his respect for tradition is indubitable. Inconsistency does obtain between his criteria, but he adheres to them closely and pleases our reason without indulging our fancy to excess. By observing these limits he achieves the power of narrow splendid clarity. Johnson's use of and feeling for rhythm has been generally disapproved, perhaps partly because of his critical attitude towards rhythmical effects, his scepticism about the accommodating of sound to sense, and his firm disbelief in literary inspiration, perhaps partly because he excelled in a particular type of rhythm which corresponded to his obsessional personality, but which, in its isochronism, and its use of amplification and expansion contradicts the modem idea of English style. The pleasure given by Johnson's rhythms may be analysed in, terms of novelty, beauty, and greatness, but is particularly located in our perception of a tension between his hard words and rhythms and his easy images and sentiments. He is read with effort, but pleasure. Johnson is to be judged not by his beliefs, which are hardly peculiar to him, but by his manner of expressing them. The age of Johnson revered decorum, and he is justified by a decorum which is neither dramatic nor generic but a common internal verbal fitness, or interior propriety of parts in a sentence. Textual explication of Rambler 145 suggests how Johnson power reveals itself. Ultimately he is to be judged and justified only in our experience of reading him.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: Adviser: T F Wharton
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 1978
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1978-73176
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 08:56

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