Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading
Through a careful examination of what and how Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) read, Robert DeMaria, Jr. develops a four-part taxonomy of reading in SAMUEL JOHNSON AND THE LIFE OF READING. In his youth Johnson studied diligently, reading so intensively and extensively in Latin and Greek that when he matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford, the Master there remarked that no one had ever come to college better prepared.
Unhappily for Johnson, he lacked the money to continue his formal education and was forced to leave Oxford after only thirteen months. For most of his life he earned his living by his pen, and this writing career compelled him to peruse rather than study books. That is, instead of reading for general knowledge, he sought specific information, whether this was illustrative quotations for his DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1755) or textual emendations for his critique of William Shakespeare published in 1765 or biographical details for his LIVES OF THE POETS (1779-1781).
Johnson also contributed to and edited various journals, swelling the rivers of journalism that flooded the eighteenth century. Newspapers and other ephemera encourage what DeMaria calls “mere reading,” and this approach carries over to other kinds of texts as well. Johnson was wary of journalism, but he thought that its merits outweighed its drawbacks.
Johnson was even more ambivalent about novels, which promote what DeMaria calls “curious...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
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