Joseph Addison and Richard Steele created with their Tatler and Spectator papers a vogue for the periodical essay that lasted almost to the end of the eighteenth century. One of their greatest successors in this genre was Samuel Johnson, who wrote three series of articles for weekly newspapers, naming them for the personae he adopted in each. The RAMBLER essays were published between 1750 and 1752; the ADVENTURER, in 1753 and 1754; and the IDLER, in the Universal Chronicle, in 1758 and 1759.
Throughout his life Johnson lamented his tendency to while away his hours in inactivity, and he must have taken wry pleasure in beginning the third series by assuming the role of one who deliberately devoted his life to useless pastimes. In keeping with his role as the Idler, Johnson tried to keep the tone of these last essays lighter than that of his earlier works. However, he inevitably included some of his characteristic reflections on the burdens of life, commenting on the inevitable disappointments that follow most hopes, on the tendency of friendships to dissolve through suspicion, separation, envy, or competition, and on death and his hopes for immortality.
These serious reflections comprise only a small portion of the IDLER; more often Johnson comments in an amusing vein on the follies of his age. Even his language is more informal than usual, for he has substituted a flowing colloquial style for the carefully...
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